Letter to a Friend

Above image: Jesse Wolcott (above left) was a friend and neighbor of Alfred Brown (center) in Australia. In 1884, Wolcott left Australia for a trip to New York which included a visit to Alfred’s brother, Alonzo in Poughkeepsie. A letter from Wolcott to Alfred is the basis for the first-person narrative dramatization of the visit published here, written by Alfred’s great granddaughter, Jan Green. Photos provided by Jan Green.

Closeness of Two Brothers Half a World Away Recalled 140 Years Later

A version of this article was published in the Northern/Southern Dutchess News on January 25, 2023.

Introduction by Bill Jeffway

Brothers Alfred Brown (1823-1897) and Alonzo Brown (1835-1908) were likely born as Free Blacks in the Quaker stronghold south of today’s Millbrook. Both seem to have found work in Poughkeepsie as young men or teenagers. While Alonzo spent the rest of his life in Poughkeepsie, around the late 1840s Alfred took the extraordinary step of moving to Australia. The half-century they shared into old age was filled with affection, and most importantly for us, filled with letters. Some of those letters, as well as photographs, have been carefully curated for many years by Alfred’s great granddaughter, Jan Green, of New Zealand.

We are pleased to share here an excerpt of a narrative recently written by Green that takes the 1884 letter her great-grandfather Alfred received from an Australian-based friend of his named J.M. Wolcott, describing his visit to Alfred’s brother Alonzo in Poughkeepsie. The narrative beautifully captures the scene from the foot of Main Street up to what is today the small side street of Crannall Street near Catherine Street where Alonzo was a highly successful tinsmith.

In 2015, Green left research materials in DCHS’s research library, which she recently updated. In support of her ongoing effort to continue to locate descendants and information related to the two brothers, or their parents Henry Brown (1788 -ca. 1850s) and Judith Talmon (1794-1790).

Letter to a Friend

By Jan Green

Wednesday 16th July 1884

J.M. Wolcott is the name I am known by, but I prefer to be called Jesse. After two weeks, give or take, I boarded a day boat [in Albany] for Poughkeepsie. In recent years the old boats had been replaced with two iron hull ships, the New York, and the Albany. They were about three hundred feet long and could hold several thousand passengers. As I planned to be away for just one night, I had packed my carpet bag. Disembarking at the Main Street Landing it was evident that this was the only landing now operating with the railroad increasingly taking over passenger transport. The docks were a far cry from their glory day when the Upper Landing in North Water Street shared its space with the whaling dock. Alfred and brother George worked on the whaling ship Mogul in the 1840s and it was here that the two whaling companies operating would butcher and process their catch.

I took a tram car and road passed the Exchange Hotel which had seen better days. Built fifty years ago, she was once an impressive establishment that offered visitors to Poughkeepsie quality accommodation. By 1850, proprietor John Grant was known for his innovation in producing ale by using a steam engine and operating an icehouse.

The tramcar made its way up Main Street, now in the 1880s lined with fine buildings and bustling industry.

I held the trade card in my hand that I had carried with me from Australia as I pulled up at my destination on the corner of Eighmie Street [now Crannall Street] and Main Street. As I disembarked with my carpet bag I looked up and the man inside, working in the front window of his premises, was watching me. I had, at last, arrived at the business of H. A. Brown. Alonzo, as he was called, was the younger brother by twelve years of my friend Alfred. It had been over thirty years since he had seen his brother but uncannily, Alonzo said that he was thinking of Alfred when the tram car pulled up. Alonzo lived at 4 Eighmie Place, a couple of doors away from his workplace with his wife Julia and nineteen-year-old daughter Ella.

The next day Alonzo and I went up College Hill to see where Alfred used to work. The Collegiate School, opened in 1836, with its Parthenon colonnade was now empty. The grounds and the view were beautiful and with no plans for the building there is talk that the area will become a park within the next few years.

From there we travelled a short distance to 92 Catharine Street where Mrs. Brown lived with her daughter Sarah. Judith Brown, Alfred’s mother, was eighty-eight years of age, Sarah almost seventy. Visiting them was a granddaughter Mary Elizabeth, the only daughter of George and Jane Brown who lived in Brooklyn. I was able to talk to them about life in Australia and tell them about their son, brother and uncle, his life and his family. Mary Elizabeth, a lovely young woman, was very interested in life in Ballarat and expressed her desire to meet her uncle and his family one day. I had to impress on them how unlikely that would be, Alfred was no longer a young man and the journey from Australia to America was long and costly. It was with sadness that they realized that Alfred’s home is in Australia and that is where he will stay.

After bidding a fond farewell, Alonzo took me to the Soldiers War Memorial Fountain that had been unveiled on the 4th July 1870 to honor the local veterans of the Civil War, which Alonzo had served in. Instigated by Dr H. Eastman, mayor and well-respected businessman, who had donated seventy thousand dollars towards the memorial. Following his death in 1878 the twenty-seven-acre property was left to his wife Mary. We then walked through widow Eastman’s gardens, adjacent to the Memorial Fountain in Montgomery Street.

That evening Ella played the piano for her father and me. Alonzo’s home had several pieces of Australian memorabilia that Alfred had sent him over the years, all displayed in pride of place. These included postcards and photos of Australia, an enlarged photo of Alfred’s daughter Mary Ann hung above the mantel piece and even a photo of the Victorian Assembly was framed. Alonzo shared the latest letter he had received from Alfred, which was sent to him after I had left Melbourne. He told me he would write to Alfred within the next few days. I also planned to correspond, we thought that our letters may go by the same mail. With that I took my leave, calling into Schuyler Line offices on Broadway to check for mail from Australia and returned to Waterford, Saratoga. On 23rd July I wrote to my friend Alfred and gave him the news of my visit…

Above: Full version of Letter to a Friend by Jan Green.