Skip to main content

John E. and Elizabeth Savage Brownlee Family Papers

Identifier: MSN/EA 0504

Scope and Contents

The Brownlee Collection includes 79 manuscripts, ranging in date from 1852 to 1898. The majority of the items are letters written to John E. and/or Elizabeth Savage Brownlee in the decades following their emigration from Ireland. The greater number were written by family members, including John Brownlee's father Robert (ten letters); his half brothers Thomas and Hugh Young (eight and six letters, respectively); Elizabeth Brownlee's sister Sarah Ann McKee (five letters), and many others besides. Also among the Brownlees' correspondents were John Ward (four letters) and James Stott (six letters), older men who were good friends of Robert Brownlee. The heart of the collection is a group of 32 letters (mostly personal letters to John Brownlee) dating from 1852 to 1857, the years immediately following John and Elizabeth's arrival in America. Nine different correspondents are represented in this group; almost all either preceded or followed John and Elizabeth to America, in the 1840s and 50s. Six of the letters were written from Ireland, and a seventh from Liverpool. As a persistent theme, the letters of the 1850s treat the personal and vocational adaptations necessary in making the transition from the old world to the new. Also among the earlier letters are two written by Thomas Lowry Young concerning an army expedition from Salt Lake to Fort Yuma, California in 1855. The post-Civil War letters in the collection are generally of lesser interest than the antebellum material. They include around ten business letters directed to John Brownlee, mostly in the 1870s; a group of personal letters written to Elizabeth Brownlee in the early 1880s, whose prevailing topic is Elizabeth's failing health; and some letters written by and to the Brownlees' children, mostly after 1890. There are also a small number of non-epistolary manuscripts, most notably a pair of small account books belonging to John Brownlee, with content dating from the 1870s.


  • Creation: 1852-1898


Conditions Governing Access

There are no access restrictions on this collection

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright status for collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Biographical / Historical

John E. Brownlee was born in 1827 at Ballymena, County Antrim, Ireland, the son of Robert (1805-1885) and Ruth Brownlee. The family was Protestant, of Scots descent. Around 1830 they moved to Killyleagh, County Down, where John Brownlee was raised, and where he was instructed in the trade of his father, a baker. In 1851, at Liverpool, Brownlee married Elizabeth Savage (1827-1883), of Downpatrick, County Down; they would have ten children, at least six of whom survived to adulthood. Shortly thereafter the couple emigrated to America, living initially in New York City, where Brownlee worked as a ship's baker. In 1856, with the help of his half-brother Hugh Young, Brownlee purchased a farm in Sylvania Township, Potter County, Pennsylvania, in the remote north-central part of the state. (The first of Brownlee's relatives to settle in Potter County seems to have been another half-brother, Robert Kennedy Young; the area subsequently attracted a good many family members, Brownlees, Youngs, and Carsons, including John Brownlee's father, Robert, who emigrated from Ireland in 1854). John Brownlee built a saw mill, a grist mill, and a shingle and planing mill, as timber and lumber operations moved into the area after mid-century. He ultimately established a successful lumber manufactory, John Brownlee & Sons, at North Wharton in Potter County. Three of his sons would eventually join the business. Elizabeth Brownlee died in 1883; Brownlee subsequently married Rebecca Courtney, who outlived him.

Of other family members figuring in the papers, mention should be made of the twin brothers Hugh and Thomas Lowry Young, natives of Killyleagh and sons of Robert Brownlee's second wife (and so half-brothers of John Brownlee). Hugh Young (1832-1912) emigrated in 1850 and lived in Potter County before making a name for himself as a correspondent for Horace Greeley's New York Tribune, covering the turmoil in Kansas from a Free Soil perspective. He was a delegate (from Kansas) to the Republicans' first national convention, in 1856. That same year he returned to Pennsylvania, where he would spend the remainder of his life. After the Civil War Young became a financier of some prominence, ultimately serving as National Bank Examiner for the city of Pittsburgh (1891-1903) and president of Pittsburgh's Federal National Bank. Thomas Lowry Young (1832-1888) emigrated in 1847 and joined the U. S. Army in 1848; he remained in the service for ten years, rising to first sergeant. In August 1862 he was commissioned major in the 118th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, a regiment with which he saw considerable service in the field before resigning, as colonel, in 1864. Young then returned to his home in Cincinnati and passed the Ohio bar (1865). By the 1870s, he had a thriving legal practice and had also become a well-respected figure within the state's Republican heirarchy. Chosen as the party's candidate for lieutenant governor in 1875, Young was elected and became Ohio's 33rd governor when the incumbent, Rutherford B. Hayes, left office to become President of the United States. Young thereafter served two terms in the U. S. House of Representatives (1879-1883) before returning to his law practice in Cincinnati.


1 container; (77 folders)

Language of Materials



Around 80 manuscripts retained by John E. and Elizabeth Savage Brownlee in the decades following their emigration from Ireland to the United States in 1851. The greater number are personal letters written by family members.


Most of the collection (Folders 1-73) is arranged chronologically, one item per folder. Four additional folders (74-77) include two of John Brownlee's account books.

John E. and Elizabeth Savage Brownlee Family Papers
George Rugg
April 2008
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the University of Notre Dame Rare Books & Special Collections Repository

102 Hesburgh Library
Notre Dame IN 46556