Nicholas Brown’s 1804 letter affirming his gift of $5,000 to support a named chair also gave the college its present name, Brown University.

Credit: Brown University Libraries

Nicholas Brown’s letter

It was a bargain by any standard: With his gift of $5,000, alumnus Nicholas Brown gave his family’s name to the University in perpetuity.

By Charlotte Bruce Harvey  |  December 22, 2009  |  Email to a friend

On September 3, 1803, the Corporation of what was then called Rhode Island College put out an appeal for donors, voting as follows: “That the donation of $5,000 Dollars ... shall entitle the donor to name the College.”

Nicholas Brown Jr., class of 1786, answered the call. On September 4, 1804, he dispatched the letter at right. “Gentlemen,” he wrote. “It is not unknown to you that I have long had an attachment to this Institution as the place where my deceased Brother Moses and myself received our education.”

Nicholas continued: “This attachment derives additional strength from the recollection that my late Hon d. father was among the earliest and most zealous patrons of the College & is confirmed by my regard to the cause of Literature in general.” Indeed, his
father, also named Nicholas, had served Rhode Island College in the 18th century as a builder, benefactor, and treasurer.

Nicholas Brown: Nicholas Brown To purchase naming rights, young Nicholas gave the College $5,000 to endow a professorship in oratory and belles letters in perpetuity. In exchange, the University has since borne his name – and will in perpetuity.

Nicholas Brown’s original letter remains in the University Archives in the John Hay Library. It has been scanned and you can now read it online at the Center for Digital Initiatives. 

Reprinted with permission, Brown Alumni Magazine.