Liberty Hall Family
For over 130 years, the Brown family lived in Liberty Hall. The first residents were Margaretta and John Brown and the last resident was Mary Mason Scott. Four generations of family members lived at the home. Women family members became leaders in their church, civic organizations, and historic preservation, while others became writers or artists. Several of the men in the family became lawyers and some had political careers, still others became farmers.
The First Generation: John and Margaretta Brown
John Brown (1757-1837) served Kentucky for over twenty years as a lawyer, congressman, and United States Senator. John grew up in Virginia, attended college at Princeton University (then the College of New Jersey) and graduated in 1780 from the College of William and Mary with a law degree. In 1782, he studied law with Thomas Jefferson. John Brown and Jefferson remained friends and corresponded throughout their lives. The two Virginians were also both Democratic-Republicans.
Shortly after moving west in 1784 he began representing the District of Kentucky in the Virginia Legislature. At this time, a movement amongst many Kentuckians to separate from Virginia was growing. Kentucky’s settlers felt the distance from Virginia’s capital, Richmond, was too great. They also felt that Virginia had failed to provide adequate protection from the conflicts with Native Americans. Kentuckians also wanted free navigation of the Mississippi River, an economic necessity, then controlled by Spain. John’s connections in the East and West proved advantageous in the statehood debate. His political allies in the East included Virginians James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. His membership in Danville’s Political Club introduced him to Kentucky’s early leaders. In 1792, after eight years and several petitions, Congress approved separation and Kentucky was admitted to the Union as the 15th state. Brown became one of the state’s first U.S. Senators, chosen by the newly formed Kentucky Legislature, he served for three terms from 1792-1805.
When John married Margaretta Mason he was 42 years old and she was 26. Soon after their marriage, they had their first son, Mason (1799-1867). In 1801, the family moved into Liberty Hall and their second son, Orlando (1801-1867) was born. They had three more children, none of whom survived into adulthood: Alfred (1803-1804), Alfred (1804-1804), and Euphemia (1807-1814).
Raised in a religious household, Margaretta Mason Brown (1772-1838) grew up in New York City. Her father, Reverend John Mason was a Presbyterian minister. She attended a school run by Isabella Graham, a noted educator. She was also taught by Graham’s daughter, Joanna Bethune, at Graham’s school.
Margaretta was an avid reader and writer. She began writing poetry at age thirteen and continued throughout her life. As an adult, Margaretta became a devoted letter-writer. Through correspondence with friends and family, she expressed strong political and religious views and demonstrated her knowledge of current events.
With John away in Washington for extended periods, Margaretta’s new life in Kentucky was challenging. In 1802, she wrote to John, “I do not feel as helpless as I thought I should—when people are obliged to depend upon themselves, they frequently find, that they possess resources of which they were ignorant…”
The Browns helped to establish a Sabbath school for boys in 1810 and Frankfort’s First Presbyterian church in 1816. In 1819, Margaretta became the first superintendent of a Sabbath school for girls and served as its treasurer. Margaretta was also a teacher at the Sunday school and early classes met in the home of fellow teacher and neighbor, Elizabeth Love, and at Liberty Hall. In 1824, Margaretta is thought to have written a dictionary of religious terms for her students entitled Food for Lambs or Familiar Explanations of some Religious Terms.
John and Margaretta Brown enslaved at least 14 individuals who lived at Liberty Hall. To learn more about the enslaved at Liberty Hall and the Browns’ views on slavery, click here.