Craig R. Johnson – The Brownell Family
Dr. Pardon Brownell (1788-1846)
The patriarch of an accomplished and adventurous family, Dr. Pardon Brownell was born in Rhode Island in 1788. Educated as a physician, he was a naval surgeon during the War of 1812 on the privateer, Yankee, which had been outfitted by the wealthy and prominent Rhode Island family of his wife, Lucinda De Wolf.
Leaving his medical practice in Providence, he moved with his family of wife and six children to East Hartford in 1824 where he lived, as a prominent citizen, for the remainder of his life.
Not only a town physician, in 1839 he served one term in the State House of Representatives, and seven terms as Town Treasurer.
He was one of the three original trustees of the prestigious English and Classical School Association, the building of which now houses the Town’s Board of Education.
Entrepreneurial by inclination, he invested in the in the so-called Silk Culture, a cottage industry serving silk manufacturing, the mills of which mostly located in Tolland and Windham counties. The so-called “cocoonery” for the raising of silkworms that he had built out from the attic story of his house is still evident in what is now Main Hardware on Main St. The worms were fed daily with the leaves of mulberry trees that people planted all over town, harvested and then sold to him.
He died in 1846 at the age of 58.
Henry Howard Brownell (1820 – 1872)
Now largely forgotten, but once a poet of some note, eldest son, Henry Howard born in 1820 was titled by Supreme Court Justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes, our “Battle Laureate” for his Civil War poetry, which was actually composed in the heat of battle.
If Hartford’s Harriet Beecher Stowe, as greeted by President Lincoln, became noted as “the little lady who started the big war,” Henry Howard Brownell was the man who gave its cause a militant marching rhythm, for it was he who wrote: “Old John Brown lies a-mouldering in the grave – Glory, Glory Hallelujah / His Soul is Marching On!” in his poem, “Words That Can Be Sung.” Ironically, later these words were sung as lyrics when a parody of them inspired Julia Ward Howe to compose “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
A frustrated teacher and practicing lawyer, Henry’s major interest was in the writing of poetry, publishing much of his florid rhymes in the Hartford Courant. Then came the firing on Fort Sumter and Henry’s talent and imagination was soon in, for him, the inspirational grip of the Civil War.
After publishing a stirring rhymed verse transcription of the “General Orders” of David G. Farragut, our country’s first naval admiral, Farragut appointed Henry an acting ensign and his personal secretary while serving on his flagship, the USS Hartford.
It was on the deck of the Hartford, during the Battle of Mobile Bay, the most important naval action of the Civil War, that Brownell wrote his finest poetry as part of a very popular collection published in a work titled, “War Lyrics and Other Poems.”
While his war poems excelled that of his notable contemporary, John Greenleaf Whittier, (to whom he was often compared) his post-war poems, unfortunately, too often tended to be bloated and affected and thereby preventing him from gaining a secure place in the history of American literature.
A lifelong bachelor, he died in 1872, at the age of 52, from cancer of the cheek.
Clarence Melville Brownell (1828 – 1889)
Clarence Melville Brownell, the youngest child, was born in 1828 and raised in East Hartford, even serving 2 terms as Town Clerk. Failing at a career of writing he left town for a life of adventure and exploration.
Traveling to Cairo, Egypt in 1861 he joined an expedition departing from Khartoum to search and explore the headwaters of the Upper White Nile. He kept a journal describing the journey, landscape, wildlife and vegetation, along with indigenous inhabitants and their settlements.
Sadly it was published posthumously as Last Journal of Clarence Melville Brownell, with its last entry dated May 13, 1862 shortly before he caught a fever and died at the age of only 34. Buried in Egypt, his marker here is a memorial stone.
Edward Rogerson Brownell
Born in 1826, Edward Rogerson followed in his father’s steps and became a physician. Later moving to Louisiana he tried combining, with poor success, both a rural medical practice and cotton growing.
This resulted in a bitter separation between him and his wife, Pamela Layard, who remained behind in Louisiana with five of their children, while he returned
East with a sixth, the eldest son, Francis, settling in the home of his mother in Bristol, Rhode Island, but also spending much of his time here in East Hartford.
Nonetheless, he was another adventurous Brownell and died in 1889 while exploring the West Indies. That being where he is was buried, his marker here, like that of his brother Clarence, is also a memorial stone.
Charles DeWolf Brownell (1822 – 1909)
Charles DeWolf is not buried in Center Cemetery. While born in Rhode Island in 1822 and buried there, he lived in East Hartford until he moved to New York City at the age of 36.
Like his brother Henry, he became a lawyer, and, like with Henry, his heart was not in it. As did both Henry and Clarence, he tried his hand at writing, publishing the book, The Indian Races of America.
But it was with painting he found his true calling for which he had genuine talent.
After study with exceptional teachers in Hartford and Dresden, Germany, he set up his first studio in Hartford in 1857, the year he painted the iconic painting, and deservedly so, “The Connecticut Charter Oak”, now in the Wadsworth Atheneum.
It was at his next studio in New York City where he was influenced by the painters of the Hudson River School.
He married Henrietta Knowlton of Bristol, Rhode Island, the hometown of his mother’s family, the DeWolfs, and where he set up his last studio.
He had a long and very successful career as a painter of notable distinction, allowing him and his wife to travel extensively throughout America and Europe.
Living until the (ripe old) age of 87, it is most likely he who arranged for this row of uniform marble markers.
Their simplicity belie the varied, rich history and impressive, often colorful, accomplishments by the members of this adventurous family.