John Brown (1736-1803) was born in Providence, R.I., the fourth son of merchant James Brown II (1698-1739) and Hope (Power) Brown (1702-1792). He began his working life in partnership with his three brothers (Nicholas, Joseph and Moses) and his uncle as Obadiah Brown & Co., a mercantile firm that traded in rum, slaves, molasses and other goods. The firm was renamed Nicholas Brown & Co. after the death of Obadiah in 1762.
Correspondence, financial records and diaries, mostly of merchant John Francis, his wife Abigail (Brown) Francis, their son Gov. John Brown Francis, and his wife Ann B. (Carter) Francis. Among the most important items are John Francis's two 18th century mercantile diaries; Abigail (Brown) Francis's diary/memorandum book from 1792-1815; and eight of John Brown Francis's political letters from his tenure as Governor of Rhode Island.