John Wheeler Brown (AM0667)

John was born on December 24, 1807 in New London. He was the son of Benjamin (12/4/1781-1/22/1848) and Hannah Brown (c. 1784-1/28/1870), both of New London. They had at least two sons, both whaling masters, John and Benjamin (AM0646). John married Mary Brooks (b. 3/10/1810) in New London on May 9, 1830.They had three children: Mary (1844-1916), John (b. 1846), and Frederick (1851-1873). In Seamen’s Protection certificate #6278 issued in New London on June 23, 1830 he is described as 5’3” in height with light eyes and complexion and dark hair. The census reports for New London for 1850 and 1860 show the family living in New London, John’s occupation is shown as “sea captain” and “shipmaster.” Mary died on December 29, 1879. From 1873 to 1879 John was employed by the U.S. Customs Service in New London as “boatman and messenger” for an annual payment of $480. John died on August 3, 1883 in Brooklyn NY. John and Mary are buried in Cedar Grove Cemetery in New London (#312-1).

John’s wife came from a family of sea captains. She was a sister of Capt. Parker Smith (AM4534). She had five brothers all of whom were captains, a sister who married a whaling agent, and another sister who married Capt. John Rice (AM4065).

Before beginning his career as master, John served on the crew for three voyages, all on ships with New London as home port: COMMODORE PERRY (AS1137) 1823-1824 (the crew list shows him as 15 years of age) and STONINGTON (AS2437) 1827-1829 and 1829-1830.

John served as master for six voyages of two ships with a home port of New London.

FRIENDS  (AS1418): (ship, 403 tons, built in Portsmouth VA in 1811, broken up in 1859). He was master for four voyages on FRIENDS. Sailed September 1836 for the Falkland Islands, returning in April 1839. AV05318. Sailed in July 1839 for New Zealand, returning in February 1841.AV05319. Sailed in July 1841 for the Atlantic and Indian Ocean (AOWV) or south seas (Starbuck and Decker), returning in May 1843. AV05320. Sailed in July 1854 for the North Pacific, returning in June 1857. Wood Abstracts 3-545. AV05325. John’s brother Benjamin was both her owner and agent for the first three voyages. For the 1854 voyage, the agent was Benjamin F. Brown’s Sons. See AM0646.

HANNIBAL (AS1529): (ship, 441 tons, built in New York NY in 1821, crushed by ice in Cumberland Sound and abandoned in October 1861). John was master for two voyages on HANNIBAL.

Sailed in October 1843 for the Northwest Coast, returning in June 1846. John left the ship, to be replaced by John C. Brooks (AM0630). Dennis Wood Abstracts describe the circumstances of Capt. Brooksbecoming replacement master. Abstract 1-283 records that HANNIBAL sailed from Honolulu on April 12, 1844 for the NW Coast and “Returned to Honolulu on May 28 on Acct. Capt. Brown’s illness.” She continued whaling, returning to Maui on October 12 when she sailed for New Zealand, “Brooks Master Capt. Brown remains sick.” Abstract 2-316 picks up the story in a new logbook: “Brown Master sailed Oct. 12 for the NW Coast….Brooks Master. Capt. Brown having returned home sick.” Starbuck records that “Captain Brown left the ship and came home in the Daniel Webster, sick.”

John recovered from the undisclosed illness and sailed again as master of HANNIBAL on July 1846 for the Falkland Islands, returning in June 1849. AV06132

John’s brother Benjamin was both her owner and agent for both voyages on HANNIBAL.

Sources used: see sidebar and sources cited in text.

George Shaw (Mystic Seaport Museum) January 2024