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David Brown (1798-1865), "My Favourite Ancestor"

This was originally given as a talk to Tay Valley Family History Society

David Brown was my favourite ancestor (at least one of my favourites).  Researching the surname BROWN as many of you will know has its own problems and it was therefore fortunate to find him mentioned in John A R Macdonald’s History of Blairgowrie.  His was a rags to riches story, as far as I can determine.

David was baptised David Allan on 9 August 1798 at Cargill.  The entry unfortunately reads:
Baptised David son to Betty Allan a bastard
The identity of his father was not identified.

David married Helen Moncur in 1822 at Inverarity and their first child, James, was born at the farm of Cransley in the parish of Fowlis Easter the same year.  More children followed by which time they had moved to Blairgowrie.  The OPR entries for the next child also gives David’s occupation as ‘labourer’ but in 1827 he is a vintner and by 1831 an innkeeper.

The 1841 census lists the family at Thorngreen, parish of Kinloch, where David was a farmer and this was the family home until David’s death in 1865 and for a few years after.  But back to Macdonald’s book.  It described David as follows:
David Brown of Thorngreen: leesee of the principal hotel in the town, then Brown's Hotel; propretor of a coach, "Braes of Mar," which ran beween Perth and Braemar; who also ran stage-coaches to Coupar Angus and Dundee; carried on distilleries at Blairgowrie, Ballied, and Pitcarmic; and farmed Marlee, Thorngreen, Grange of Airlie,  Auchteralyth, besides having sheep grazings in Inverness &c

His story was getting a lot more complex.  It seemed to resonate with some anecdotal evidence that a distant relative had told me about a family hotel where Queen Victoria was meant to have stayed, requiring its proprietor to collect the best linen, china etc from neighbouring hotels for the duration of her visit.  David wasn’t just an innkeeper but, according to Macdonald, the main one in Blairgowrie.  Brown’s Hotel did also become known as the Queen’s Hotel, which people might remember. It still exists, though not as a hotel.

Whether the Victoria story is true or not, the more information I acquired the better it looked.  It is still something I have to delve into further.  The description of him having distilleries, owning a coach service and having extensive agricultural interests begged the question – Where did it all come from?  He was a labourer on a farm and becomes one of the principal businessmen in Blairgowrie with interests there and beyond.

A number of his daughters (though not Christina, my gg grandmother) married other successful businessmen. One married Robert Grant, whose Atholl Arms Hotel in Dunkeld is still a going concern, but the one I love to mention is Jessie, who married James Calder, whose breweries at Alloa are quite famous. I myself am known to be partial to a Calder’s Cream Ale or three from time to time.  The fact that I was never tempted to try this particular brand before learning of the family link makes me wonder what too much family history research can lead to.

Back to David and his success - I still don’t know the answer.  He may have been very lucky or been a very astute businessman, yet I tend to wonder whether the unnamed father may have had some input.  During the last few months I have received extracts of someone else’s research from a number of years ago.  Lurking in the Kirk Session minutes for Coupar Angus was the following:
Compeared also Betty Allan servant sometime ago to James Brown farmer at Newmill parish of Cargill and declared that the said James Brown was the father of the child with which, she said, she then was.  As the guilt had been contracted in another parish she was informed that it behoved her to satisfy in that parish and for this purpose the Clerke was de??? to give her a line of introduction to the Kirk Session of Cargill, which she received accordingly.

Although I’ve yet to identify him properly, I now have a lead.  There may possibly be something in the Cargill Kirk Session for example.  My theory is that James gifted or bequeathed David something which gave him a starting point at least into the businesses he developed.  I can’t prove anything yet but have been trawling through a number of other local Brown families hoping for a clue.  Other clues exist in the names David Brown & Helen Moncur gave some of their children:  Margaret Thomson Brown, Christina Henderson Brown, Sarah Williamson Brown, Agnes Dick Brown.  In an age when middle names were not common amongst ordinary folk, these must mean something.

I can see my research into David continuing for quite some time.  It is this process of gradual revelation that perhaps intrigues me most, little fragments of information coming together. One gem I got was a copy of an advert from the Perthshire Advertiser advertising David’s coach service.  I came across it while researching something completely different and it always reminds me of the need to be vigilant while doing research.  The accidental find is sometimes more rewarding that what you start looking for.  To conclude, David Brown is my favourite ancestor because I know so much and so little about him.

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