Brownells of Fairhaven Pt. I

By Shelley Dziedzic (all rights reserved, November 2011)

The tombstones of Helen and Rebecca Brownell stand inconspicuously among other Delanos and Brownells who have gone to their final rest in Riverside Cemetery in the quaint town of Fairhaven.  The shape and inscription is plain, solid, and enduring.  One would think that had Emma L. Borden, the elder sister of the infamous Lizzie Borden not been sojourning with the Brownells of Green Street at the critical moment when the hatchet fell back in Fall River on August 4, 1892, nobody today would even remember the Brownells.  They would be wrong.

Just as Lizzie Borden enjoyed the confidence and camaraderie of Miss Alice Russell and her widowed mother back in Fall River, Emma Borden had found a confidante and friend in the Brownell family.  Helen Mar Brownell was born in 1838, thirteen years older than Emma. Helen’s mother, Rebecca Delano Brownell was widowed in 1884, when her husband, Captain Allen Brownell died after a successful career as a ship’s captain, both in whaling and in transporting prospectors and investors to California via schooner during the great Gold Rush.  Captain Brownell had retired from the sea and was enjoying life as a gentleman farmer until his passing at the age of 83, a ripe old age for the times. 

There has been much conjecture over the decades about exactly how and why Emma Borden found herself spending the end of the summer in Fairhaven with the Brownells.  Helen Brownell was a seamstress, but the relationship does not seem to be based in the least on the possibility that Emma was staying on Green Street to have dresses made in August of 1892. In the New Bedford Standard on August 25, 1892 a reporter speaking only to Rebecca Brownell got his quote:

“In speaking of the tragedy, Mrs. Brownell did not hesitate to speak strongly in support of Lizzie’s innocence. She said that both of the girls always spoke in endearing terms of their father. Emma, she stated, had intended to remain in Fairhaven all summer.”

Clearly the Brownells  knew not only Emma, but Lizzie very well also.  A visit to Ancestry.com will reveal that the Brownells and the Bordens shared their family tree and that Helen and Emma shared a common great-great grandmother in Penelope Read.  It is likely, in days when families kept track of such things, that this was a very good reason for Emma, who was a noted family correspondent and promoter of family ties, would have desired to vacation with the Brownells.  Helen was an ideal older sister figure and the home was delightfully situated on a tree-lined avenue leading to the pleasant waterside resort of Fort Phoenix with all of its summertime attractions.

Ft. Phoenix in 1912

Ft. Phoenix Bathing Beach 1906

It is known that after the acquittal of Lizzie Borden in New Bedford in 1893, Emma continued to visit Helen and her mother in their home on Walnut Street.  Mrs. Brownell would pass away in 1897.  Curiously, in 1893, the Brownell residence at #19 Green Street( now 132), the Moses Delano home, was vacated by Helen and her mother.  Moses was Rebecca’s brother. The family boasted a long and distinguished heritage as ship builders and boatwrights. During Lizzie’s trial, the pair lived briefly at 31 Union Street and in 1894, they moved to 23 Walnut. Helen, in 1894 is still listed as a dressmaker in the New Bedford-Fairhaven directory.

Green Street 1903

Helen’s father, Allen Brownell was born February 16, 1801 in Little Compton , R.I. the son of Robert and Roby Fuller Brownell.  Allen’s grandparents were Luceanna Borden and John Brownell. The family line can be traced back to York, England to Thomas Brownell.  

http://brownellfamily.rootsweb.ancestry.com/BrownellsMove.html

Rebecca Delano was born August 2, 1814 in Rochester, Massachusetts, now known as the area called Mattapoisett to Joshua and Eunice Ellis Delano.  Rebecca was a good deal younger than her husband when they married on October 19, 1837.  The couple would have five children, all but Helen had died by 1892.

Helen Mar, b. 3/27/1838 d. 1919

Roby Fuller, b. 3/11/1840, d. 1841

Frederick,     b. 2/13/1842, d. 1861

Peter Fuller, b. 6/26/1846, d. 1891

Allen Fuller, b.5/14/1849, d. 1890

Son Frederick followed his sea-going father in a whaling career but died and was buried at sea.

·      Frederick Stevens Brownell

13 FEB 1842- 12 APR 1861

On board of the Philippe Delanoye-buried at sea

The Philippe De La Noye (basis for the name of Delano) was a whaling ship.  The above information is courtesy of Ancestry.com.

A New Bedford Whaler

Voyages of whaling vessels named Phillipe De La Noye

ID

Vessel Number

Rig

Port

Destination

Departure

Arrival

11576

2184

Ship

Fairhaven, MA

Pacific

Jun

1848

May

1852

11577

2184

Ship

Fairhaven, MA

Pacific

Sep

1852

Sep

1855

11578

2184

Ship

Fairhaven, MA

Pacific

Dec

1855

Jul

1860

Son Allen was also, for a time, a mariner, according to the 1880 census but later left the seafaring life.

Captain Allen Brownell, Helen’s father served as Master on the following ships:

ID

Rig

Vessel

Port

Destination

Departure

Arrival

7998

Brig

Juno

New Bedford, MA

Atlantic

Apr

1838

May

1839

9062

Bark

Mars

New Bedford, MA

Pacific

Jun

1841

Aug

1845

2789

Bark

Chase

New Bedford, MA

Atlantic

Oct

1846

Aug

1848

John Allyn, schooner, (John Allyn Mining and Trading Company), from New Bedford, February 13, 1849.

(sometimes spelled John Alleyn).

The wharves at New Bedford

Capt. Brownell died June 16, 1884. Rebecca died March 24, 1897, at age 82.

Rebecca Delano Brownell (1814-1897)
Oil on canvas. Height 32 inches. Width 28 inches
Private Collection

 

“The portrait of Rebecca Delano Brownell, circa 1829, by John S. Blunt (1798– 1835) of New Hampshire, is significant in that it depicts the only known female whale boat captain. Upon the death of her husband, the widow Brownell assumed her spouse’s duties and became quite successful in her own right. Her proud determination is evident in her expression.”

http://www.portsmouthathenaeum.org/blunt/curator.html

There is some dispute as to the date of this portrait.  As Rebecca was born in 1814, this portrait indicates an older woman and may have been painted later.

Peter F. Brownell, Helen’s brother

Joshua Delano, Rebecca’s father

Eunice Ellis Delano, Rebecca’s mother

 

Helen’s short obituary in The Star

Helen Brownell appears in city directories as a dressmaker on Walnut St. for a good many years following her mother’s death in 1897.  It would be interesting to find any correspondence between Helen and Emma Borden, and to know if Emma attended Helen’s funeral in 1919.  The conversations between Emma and Helen during Lizzie’s trial and afterwards would be well worth hearing, and one can wonder what Mrs. Brownell thought about it all. Helen would die at the Green Street house, living 81 years, 3 months and 11 days.  How she came to return to Green St. is unknown. She had lived all her quiet life in Fairhaven and to date no photograph or letter of Helen’s has been found.  She would die, curiously, of the same illness which plagued Emma Borden- nephritis.  The house on Green Street has been recently renovated and very little of the interior is as it was on the day Emma Borden received the telegram from Dr. Bowen bidding her to catch the first train back to Fall River.  The Brownells were her alibi, and such was their word as to Emma’s being on Green St. at the time of the murder that neither of the Brownells were called to testify on the stand during Lizzie’s trial. 

 

 

The Brownells had known great adventure and great tragedy in their lifetimes. Conversations on Green St. must have been anything but dull.  Part II will detail the life on the high seas of Rebecca and Allen Brownell- a tale of gold, mutiny and hardships.

Green Street house as it looked November 1, 2011

Owners of the Green Street house after Helen died in 1919.

* Many thanks and appreciation for help researching this article go to Debbie Charpentier of the Millicent Library, Fairhaven, Chris Richards, Barbara Morrissey, JoAnne Giovino,Paul Cyr of the New Bedford Public Library, Michael Dyer of the Whaling Museum Library, Peter Reid of Riverside Cemetery, and Jane Bettencourt at Town Hall, Fairhaven.


Brownell name meaning

English: habitational name from any of various places called Brownell, for example in Yorkshire, Cheshire, and Staffordshire, from Old English brun ‘brown’ + hyll ‘hill’.

5 thoughts on “Brownells of Fairhaven Pt. I”

  1. I owned 130 Green Street until 1994. The house pictured is not 130 Green St but the Moses Delano house just north of #130 (The Joshua Delano Jr home). Which house are you referring to?

    • Helen and her mother lived at #19 Green Street which, when renumbered, became 132, the blue house pictured above. She was in #130 staying at the time of her death- why, I am not sure, but she did move twice from 132 as it describes above in the article.

  2. What a beautiful city! Thanks for the info.

  3. Barbara Morrissey said:

    I agree with JoAnne, completely. It was wonderful having the time to “investigate” the Brownells with you, Shelley. The weather and the company were divine!

  4. Jo Anne Giovino said:

    Thanks for the mention Shelley. But, none was needed. That was one of my all time favorite adventures. What could be better than sharing a beautiful autumn day in Fairhaven with the best of friends???? We do great sleuthing when we all put our noggins together.

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