JAMES BERRY BROWN was born July 12, 1837, in Camden, Preble county, Ohio. He was the scion of a long puissant
line of ancestors commencing almost at the threshold of the pioneers of American freedom. Possessed with the stimulus
of a high ambition and the heritage of a sturdy ancestral stock, he has proved himself the heir of moral purity
and excellence and of great educational force and power in the community in which he has lived for the last fifty
All his ancestors were Friends or Quakers in religious faith, and the earlier ones came to this country with the
William Penn colonists near the close of the seventeenth century, and settled near Camden, New Jersey. Later they
moved to Virginia, and still later from there to North Carolina, where they were at the time of the Revolutionary
war. After this they divided on the slavery question, the proslavery wing going further south, finally becoming
slaveholders, and those opposed to slavery came north and settled in Ohio, near Circleville and in Preble county,
where they formed, with other Friends, quite a colony. Mr. Brown's mother, Nancy (Berry) Brown, was of Scotch-Irish
descent. Her parents were Scotch Covenanters, or Presbyterians. His grandfather served with William Henry Harrison
in the War of 1812.
As soon as he was old enough he attended school, such as they had in those days. In the fall of 1847 the family
moved to Lee county, Iowa, where he also attended school until the spring of 1849, when his father, as did many
others, caught the gold fever, and started across the plains to California with ox teams. Although he was only
twelve years of age at this time, his father, before starting for California, put him to work with a neighbor farmer
for the summer at $4 per month. His father, however, soon returned from California, broken in health, and James
Berry was thrown upon his own resources not only for his own living and education, but he had to assist the family
He received his early education in the schools of Ohio, and finally, after they had moved to Iowa, by dint of the
strictest economy, he was enabled to attend the state normal department of the University of Iowa in 1855 and 1856,
where he could not stay to graduate, but did stay long enough to receive from the head of that department a certificate
entitling him to teach in the state of Iowa "all the English branches." He taught his first school in
Cincinnati, Appanoose county, Iowa. He was then only nineteen years of age and in that school he enrolled sixty
four pupils, ranging from five to twenty one years of age indeed a big task for the first school of a young man
of only nineteen years. His school must have been a success, for he taught there three years. When not teaching
he was going to school, working on the farm and in the mills to get means to acquire more schooling that he might
be the better prepared for educational work, his chosen life work.
With the Pike's Peak gold excitement in the spring of 1859 came the "parting of the ways" which comes
to most men. He caught the fever, like many others, and in May, 1859, he, his brother, Jesse R. Brown, and another
partner, drove from his father's home in Iowa for Pike's Peak, elated and hopeful of great success. He left a father
and mother, a brother and three sisters, expecting to return soon. But they never met again. Before they reached
Pike's Peak they changed their plans and headed for California, the land of gold and sunshine. After a long, slow
and tedious journey through deserts, over mountains and across plains they arrived in Butte county, on September
His first work in California was herding sheep on Table Mountain. The following summer he worked on a farm near
Chico. It was here he cast his first vote, which was for Abraham Lincoln, the martyr and the greatest man of his
time. It took nerve to so cast a vote in some places in this state at that time. The state was then in a political
turmoil. Speakers were then going up and down the state discussing the great question that was disrupting the Union,
and the state was saved to the Union only by a hair's breadth. The rebel sentiment was strong in many parts of
Mr. Brown was in San Mateo county when Fort Sumter was fired upon. He attended the great Union demonstration on
July 4th of that year in San Francisco, where General Sumner (who had just succeeded Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston,
who had for some time been in command of the Department of the Pacific, and who was later one of the leading generals
in the Confederate army) was the notable in the great procession and demonstration.
Mr. Brown, then as now, was loyal to the core, and on November 26, 1861, at the Presidio, enlisted in the first
regiment that was mustered to go east, via isthmus, into active service at the front. But to his great disappointment
the regiment was retained on this coast, split into small detachments, which detachments relieved the regulars
stationed at the various localities so they could be taken east where hostilities between the north and south had
commenced. Mr. Brown's company and one other were sent to Santa Barbara, where they remained until April, 1862,
when they were returned to San Francisco Bay and landed on Alcatras Island. They remained there but a short time
when they were sent to Fort Humboldt, in Humboldt county, where they remained in the service until their terms
had expired and they were then taken to San Francisco and discharged. In 1864 their service in Humboldt county
consisted mainly in tramping over the mountains suppressing the uprisings of the Indians.
Having seen much of Humboldt county during this service, and having formed a favorable opinion of the county, he
decided to return to it; so, on January 5, 1865, he took passage on the old bark Jeanette, Captain Smith in command,
and after a voyage of twenty nine days, with nothing left to eat but salt codfish, pea soup, hot cakes and coffee,
landed at the foot of F street in Eureka.
In coming here it was his purpose to again take up the vocation of teaching. His first position was as teacher
of the Bucksport school, where he remained three years. In April, 1868, he was elected principal of the Eureka
schools, and in the following November he was appointed county superintendent of schools. He filled these positions
jointly until the end of 1874, when he declined reelection as county superintendent, and devoted his whole time
to his work as principal of the Eureka schools. In the fall of 1886 he was again elected county superintendent
of schools. He then resigned as principal of the Eureka schools and devoted his whole time to his duties as superintendent.
He served as superintendent in all twenty two years, and as teacher in this county thirty two and one half years.
He has been engaged in educational work in this county for forty eight and one half years.
Mr. Brown is of a positive, unbending nature, and maintained the strictest discipline in school, severe at times,
and some thought on occasions too severe and needlessly so. He was an enthusiastic worker in the school room, and
had the faculty of awaking in his pupils the same enthusiastic spirit he possessed, as well as the faculty of imparting
to them the knowledge he had gained.
While he demanded and compelled the most rigid deportment in the school room, the most exact compliance with his
rules of government, he was genial without and held the highest esteem and respect of his pupils, and we believe,
among the thousands that attended his school, not one can be found today that does not honor and respect him proud
that they had once been a pupil of his and all feel that his teachings and the influence he exerted upon them while
they were under him have largely moulded their lives in the right direction and are proud to call him teacher.
The influence upon their lives of his sterling integrity and his moral purity and excellence can never be fully
known, but undoubtedly it has assisted largely in the betterment of their lives, and thereby in the upbuilding
of this community.
The teacher of our youth attunes the chords that stretch far down through the coming centuries and as they are
attuned so will they resound.
Mr. Brown recognized the fact that a school should fit the pupil for the struggle of life, and not to relieve him
from it; that an education should not be a surface shine, but should evolve character and fit the pupil for the
opportunity when it comes, and it comes at least once in a lifetime to all.
Many of his recommendations while superintendent of schools of this county have been formulated and enacted into
laws and are now a portion of the laws of this state governing our school system.
This man stands out preeminently as an educator, the upbuilder of character, the moulder of moral sentiment the
man who, probably more than any other man in the community, instilled into the rising generation truthfulness of
thought which leads to honesty of action.
It is great consolation to him in his advanced years to have his old pupils, now many of them the fathers and mothers
of families, come to him and renew the old time memories of by gone school days, as they frequently do.
Mr. Brown was made a Mason in 1868, is a past master of Humboldt Lodge No. 79, F. & A. M., of which lodge he
has been secretary for thirty five years, and which office he now fills. His reports to the Grand Lodge of Masons
of California are models of neatness, full and concise in statements, and perfect in form so much so that they
have attracted the attention of the Grand Lodge.
He helped organize what was known as the Eureka Guard, from which grew the present company of the Naval Reserve,
and which was a company of the National Guard of California. It was organized in 1879. He was elected first lieutenant
at its organization and afterwards captain; was finally commissioned and Mustered brigadier general of the Sixth
Brigade of the National Guard of California, and is now on the retired list as such.
He is a charter member of Colonel Whipple Post No. 49, G. A. R., and a past commander of the post. His love of
country and interest in the growth of patriotic sentiment is second to none. He takes great interest in the Grand
Army and loves to meet with the boys of '61 to '65 around the campfire and hear them spin their old time war stories.
His present family consists of his wife, Adele Cummings Brown, a daughter, Katherine Lueve Brown, and himself.
The above is a brief sketch of his life, nothing in it startling, strange or heroic; yet it shows an effort to
accomplish the best that was in him, and, through his calling, the impress for good he has made upon the consciences
of the thousands of youths of our land is 'far reaching, beyond estimate, and cannot be measured in dollars and
cents. He was and is a man of high ideals and his aim was to so teach and act that those who went forth from under
his tuition should have like ideals. The best one can do is equal to the best any other one can do. Pompey buys
a brush, whitewashes a fence, and earns fifty cents. This is the best he can do. Patti sings a song and earns $1500.
Millet paints "The Angelus" and earns $150,000. If each does his best, isn't each entitled to equal credit?
Today Mr. Brown is honored and respected by all his grown up pupils, by his neighbors and friends, by all who know
him, as being a man of sterling integrity, of moral purity and force, of truthfulness in thought, of honesty in
action. His sun will go down, but his influence for good will live on and on, always tending towards the light.
History of Humboldt County, California
With a Biographical Sketches
History by Leigh H. Irving
Historic Record Company
Los Angeles, California 1915
Humboldt County, CA
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