The African-American experience in columbus blog
This blog features brief articles on the African-Experience in Columbus from the Underground Railroad to the civil rights era.
By Matt Doran
The two-story white house at the corner of Livingston and Linwood Avenues in Columbus is shrouded in myth and mystery. While many of the local legends are false, the house does have a fascinating history dating back to the decade before the Civil War.
Identified as a stop on the Underground Railroad by the Friends of Freedom Society, the house was originally occupied by an African-American woman, Caroline Brown, and her two children, Edward and Constantia.
The Neighborhood Design Center has unpacked the history of this antebellum home in a recent publication: The Caroline Brown House and the History of the Streetcar District.
The story of the Caroline Brown House begins in 1848 in Henrico County, Virginia (near Richmond). John D. Brown, a slaveholder and plantation owner, died on March 6 of that year. Brown owned seven slaves according to the 1820 census and perhaps more by the time of his death. His will specified that Caroline Brown, his “indentured servant,” was to be emancipated and a sum of money given to her son Edward (who was likely the son of John D. Brown as well), to move to Ohio and build a house for his mother. Three years later, the administrators of John D. Brown’s will purchased an 11 acre plot (Lot 29) in Township 5, just outside the city limits of Columbus at the time.
Caroline, Edward, and Constantia arrived in Columbus around 1852. Caroline was close to 70 years old by this point, but Edward was only around 21 and Constantia around 19. (There are differences in the years of birth in various census records.) Edward built the house for his mother–originally a single-story house with four rooms and a flat roof. The Browns, none of whom could read or write, lived in the home through the Civil War.
No records indicate how many runaway slaves may have found safe harbor at the home. The house did have tunnels suitable for hiding. Some neighbors believed the tunnels led to a nearby barn and ended near Main Street. About ½ mile away, the Kimball House, near Main Street was also an Underground Railroad stop.
Caroline Brown died in 1869 and Edward maintained possession of the home. By this time, Constantia had married a German (Prussian) immigrant, John Johnson, and had four children of her own. Edward sold the house to Asa Parker in 1877. Edward, who never married, apparently went to live with Constantia and her family at that time. In the 1880 census, the Johnsons and Edward Brown, all listed as “White,” show up living in the same household in Marion Township, on the south side of Columbus, and working as farmers. We know little else from historical records about their lives or deaths.
Teaching Columbus is a pubic history and civic engagement initiative by and for Columbus educators.