Search billions of records on


W. F. Brown


REV. W. F. BROWN, D. D., Canonsburg, Penn. In publishing a brief record of the life of Rev. Dr. W. F. Brown, we can furnish no better sketch than that written and read by Hon. John A. McIlvaine, Judge of the Washington County Court, at a college class reunion in 1830.

Born under the shadow of Jefferson College, of which both his father and grandfather were popular and beloved presidents, our classmate naturally began his classical course within its walls. He was enrolled a Senior "prep" in 1859, but at the end of his Freshman year he remained at home in order that his brother might enlist as a soldier. The next year, 1862, he entered our class as a Sophomore. Although descending from a long line of learned and pious ancestors, which drew toward him the respect of the class even before his acquaintance was fully made, his own innate qualities soon caused him to be very popular. While having reason to be proud of his parentage, he was extremely modest, and in his intercourse with his fellow-students he never by word or deed referred to the honorable connection with the college which his birth gave him. From all public performances he shrank, only assuming a prominent position when in the line of duty. At college he showed a preference for the classics and was especially fond of Latin, which accounts for the high compliment passed upon his Latin exegesis when he was licensed to preach. Rev. Dr. George Marshall, who was then chairman of the examining committee, pronounced it the best that had been presented in the Presbytery during the thirty years he had been a member. But while studying the ancient languages he spent much time with the goddess of music and the clear, melodious tones of his fine tenor voice were a source of delight to us all. Possessing this natural gift to a high degree, after his graduation he frequently aided his five brothers in giving vocal and instrumental concerts, which were highly appreciated by all who heard them, and which were given for the benefit of churches and educational institutions. Of the many patriotic songs he sang while at college there was one entitled "Wake Nicodemus," which he selected as the subject of his commencement oration. He was a member of the Philo Society, but never joined a secret fraternity, although often importuned so to do. In this matter he religiously adhered to and followed the request of his father, notwithstanding that at one time it left him the only student in the college who did not belong to a fraternity.

Three years from the time he left college he graduated at the Allegheny Theological Seminary, and was licensed as a Presbyterian minister to preach the Gospel. For several months he supplied the Fairview Church, and also the congregation then worshiping in the College Chapel. In 1870 the Canonsburg congregation desired his whole time, and he became the successor of Rev. Dr. Jonathan Edwards, who was its pastor while he was president of the college. Three other calls were at the same time offered to Brown; but, being strongly urged by the congregation he accepted the call to the "College Church" of which both his grandfather and father had for many years been pastors. Owing to the transfer of the college classes to Washington, the students' side of the chapel was left vacant, but in a short time the congregation so increased under his ministration that the hall on each Sabbath day was filled. While pastor of this church he taught in the Linnean Academy, and was afterward professor of Latin in Jefferson Academy for three years. While preaching and teaching here he secured, through the alumni of Jefferson College, a donation of $2,100 for their former beloved Greek professor, Dr. William Smith. In this labor of love he wrote and sent out some 1,700 letters.

After six years of labor in Canonsburg, he received a call to the Presbyterian Church in Charleston, W. Va., and also a call to the First Presbyterian Church of Newark Ohio. The latter he accepted, and, being duly installed there, he preached for the period of two years, when, on account of throat trouble, he resigned, and upon the advice of his physician he did not preach for one year. About the same time his wife's health demanded a change of climate, and for a number of years they spent their winters in the South, where he preached in some of the leading churches, his services always being in demand. For quite awhile, when in New Orleans, he supplied with great acceptance the First Presbyterian Church during the absence of their distinguished pastor, Rev. Dr. Palmer. In 1884, Rev. William Ewing, Ph. D., having resigned, our classmate was chosen principal of Jefferson Academy, at Canonsburg, which position he ably filled for four years, when he was compelled to abandon this work on account of the severe and protracted illness of his wife. As a teacher he was thorough and faithful, which the high rank taken afterward by his pupils in colleges and seminaries fully attest. His government in the academy was that of love, and by his gentlemanly and polished manners as well as by the quality of the work done, he won the respect and affection of his scholars. Under his administration the institution flourished, and he proved himself to be a most successful teacher. As a preacher, this brother is both able and eloquent. His sermons evidence deep thought and originality. He is especially strong in his descriptive powers. He has a fine presence and a good voice, and never fails to hold the attention of his audience. A year ago, 1889, he received the degree of Doctor of Divinity from Franklin and Marshall College, at Lancaster, Penn., and also from the University of Western Pennsylvania, in recognition of his ability as a preacher and a teacher. Referring to this degree a Pittsburgh paper says: "Upon no more worthy man has the highest honors of these time-honored institutions been conferred." But while our classmate has become prominent, he has not been able to respond to the many calls to come up higher. Within the past few years he has had more than one invitation to prominent churches and wider fields of labor and influence, but sickness in his family prevented him from accepting these positions. As intimated, Mrs. Brown has been a great sufferer for years, and in relieving her pains he has manifested a spirit similar to Wendell Phillips, who, when urged to accept the most tempting offers, replied that neither money nor glory could induce him to deprive his suffering wife of whatever assistance and comfort he could bestow. If, as one of our brightest stars, Dr. Brown's light has been for a time partly hid from the world, it has shone in his ministerial and educational work at home, and has also brightened the dark rooms of sickness in many houses, and has cheered the sad heart of one whose deepest sorrow has been that her feeble health and severe pains have caused clouds to surround the brilliancy of her devoted husband. His wife was Miss Mary Houston, one of Canonsburg's brightest and most attractive young ladies, who during her years of sickness has given sunshine and comfort to many by her deeds and words of charity and love.

During the years 1890 and 1891 Dr. and Mrs. Brown made an extensive tour through Europe, chiefly for the benefit of the latter's health. While visiting the principal foreign countries and cities they spent much time in Italy, lingering for many months in Rome, which gave the Doctor an opportunity of studying the interesting and historical objects of the Eternal City. Shortly after returning home he was frequently called upon to speak of his travels in public, and soon his name and fame spread over the lecture field, he having added to his scholastic learning the polish and distingue of the Continental tourist. His lectures are said to be highly literary, entertaining and instructive, and in this field he has won the reputation of being an original, magnetic and eloquent speaker.

But, successful as he might be in the lecture field, in which his eloquence, grace and wit could be displayed to great advantage, he still clings to the work of preaching and teaching, the professions he chose when he entered upon the active duties of life. He is, therefore, to be found every Sabbath in the pulpit, and during the week he gives instruction in Jefferson Academy, in which institution his services have again been called into requisition.

Commemorative Biographical Record of Washington County, PA, page 89

Rev W. F. Brown was the son of Rev. Alexander Blaine Brown and grandson of Rev. Matthew Brown.


All documents, photos, materials and graphics contained in the Men of the Cloth pages are copyrighted by the submitter and by this site.  You may not use them elsewhere, whether in print or electronically, without written permission. Space  provided by Rootsweb and
Old Photos & Genealogy Blog
Copyright 2002-2007, All rights reserved.