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Encyclopedia Dubuque


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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.

BROWN, Charles Oliver

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Family History: http://records.ancestry.com/Charles_Oliver_Brown_records.ashx?pid=40421599


BROWN, Charles Oliver. (Battle Creek, MI, July 23, 1848--1941). When he was four years of age, Brown and his parents moved to Toledo, Ohio where his father had a blacksmith shop. At the age of eleven, he drove a team on the canal from Toledo to Cincinnati (Miami and Erie Canal). He attended the Toledo Grammar School. (1)

After the outbreak of the CIVIL WAR in 1861, Brown's father, Major Oliver M. Brown, organized Company C of the 3rd Ohio Cavalry. Charles Oliver Brown went off to war with his father as a bugler at the age of thirteen and saw action in twenty-five battles. He was wounded in action and earned the nickname, "The Boy Bugler" of Sherman's Army. At age sixteen, he was made chief of the regiment's 26 buglers, the youngest chief bugler in the Union forces at that time. (2)

Brown enrolled in Oberlin College in 1871. In his junior year, he was listed as an instructor in penmanship and bookkeeping. In 1875-76, he was listed as an instructor in Greek and teacher of penmanship and bookkeeping. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in June 1875. Brown married into a family which had close ties to Charles Grandison Finney, the "Father of Modern Revivalism," and Brown later admitting receiving hours of counsel from him. (3)

The Rev. Mr. Charles O. Brown accepted the call made by the church and began his ministry on September 3, 1876 at a salary of $900.00 per year and house rent. From 1880 - 1885 he served at the Congregational Church of Galesburg, Michigan, taught at Olivet College in Olivet, Michigan, and served as pastor of the First Congregational Church of Kalamazoo, Michigan. (4)

Brown began his work in Dubuque at the First Congregational Church (later FIRST CONGREGATIONAL UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST) on the first Sunday of January, 1886. He practiced "Finneyite revivalism." According to this belief, each individual was a "monarch of one's own destiny." The preacher was to present a straightforward argument for conversion, inform the sinner that it was in his/her power to choose, and then appeal to him/her to do so. Brown added to this a strong call for military preparedness, a fear of Roman Catholic pressure on the public schools, a critical view of inherited wealth, a belief that real labor grievances only occurred in "the old world," and total abstinence from alcohol. (5)

In the spring of 1886, Brown presented "Talks of the Labor Troubles" in six separate evening talks. (6) His solution to labor unrest called for hard work and equality of opportunity. In 1890 he gave a series of talks entitled "The Public Schools and Their Foes." In them, Brown suggested the Roman Catholic effort to establish separate schools was a danger similar to slavery. To those who suggested that public schools encouraged immorality, Brown suggested a visit to DUBUQUE HIGH SCHOOL where they would see:

              the air of gentle courtesy and refinement which prevails
              there could never arise from years of immoral teaching. (7)

Brown remained with First Congregational through its fiftieth anniversary. Despite his popular following which saw the church attendance soar and him nearly being elected a United States Senator without campaigning, he left Dubuque in 1890. (8) Brown later weathered an attempted blackmail in which the culprits were discovered. (9) He served on a committee which authored and published The History of The Third Ohio Cavalry (3rd Ohio Cavalry). (10)

In the early 1930s, Brown figured in the controversy as to whether General William Tecumseh Sherman actually made the remark, "War is Hell." Most authors have first attributed Sherman's statement, "War is Hell" to his presentation at the Ohio State Fair in 1880. Brown was very clear that he heard the remark at the Michigan Military Academy, Orchard Lake, on June 19, 1879. In support of Brown's memory, the Oak Park, Illinois periodical, Oak Leaves noted in 1940, "When Oak Leaves editors are in need of accurate information about obscure bits of history or literature, Dr. Brown can be depended upon to throw light on the subject when other sources fail." (11)

Brown helped organize and then served as vice president of La Salle Extension University. He was one the first speakers engaged by the Chautauqua, part of the time with Bishop John Heyl Vincent, founder of that movement. He wrote two books, one on the "Evidences of Christianity" first delivered in short talks to audiences of his young people. The second was entitled "Labor and Its Troubles". (12)

Brown became very active in the Grand Army of the Republic after the CIVIL WAR and frequently attended veteran's reunions. He and his wife May attended the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg where President Franklin Roosevelt dedicated the Peace Memorial. In 1940, one year before he died, Brown was one of a squad of Civil War veterans invited to the Chicago showing of the movie, "Gone with the Wind." (13)



1. Wallace, Dewey D. Jr. "Charles Oliver Brown at Dubuque: A Study in the Ideals of Midwestern Congregationalists in the Late Nineteenth Century," Church History, Vol. 53, 1984, p. 46

2. "Charles Oliver Brown," Wikipedia

3. Wallace, p. 47

4. Ibid.

5. Wilson, p. 48

6. Wilson, p. 52

7. Wilson, p. 53

8. "Celebrating Our Heritage--First Congregational United Church of Christ, 150th Anniversary, 1989, p. 6

9. Wikipedia

10. Wikipedia

11. Wikipedia

12. Wikipedia

13. Wikipedia