William Silvan Brown, scion of a prominent Montreal family and victim of the Goliad Massacre, was born at Montreal, Canada, on February 6, 1812. He was the eighth child of James and Lydia (Slater) Brown of Montreal. Lydia Slater was born at New York City on October 3, 1781, shortly after her parents' arrival from Ireland. James Brown was born in Glasgow on January 20, 1776. He arrived in Canada in 1795 and worked at the Quebec Gazette, where he formed a lifelong friendship with the publisher, John Neilson. After moving to Montreal, James founded the company which to this day publishes the Montreal Gazette. He was a magistrate in Montreal, and owned and operated the first paper mill in Canada, along with a sawmill and extensive farming operations in the village of St. Andrews, about forty miles west of Montreal.
William Silvan Brown grew up in St. Andrews in a prosperous family. He was educated by tutors in his junior years, and received his formal education in Montreal. In 1834 his father's business operations suffered a severe setback that forced William and his three brothers to forge their own careers. William's brother John Ogilvy established an auction company in Montreal. On September 11, 1835, William wrote to his brother, telling him of his circumstance and requesting his brother to sell all his belongings.
He carried with him a letter of recommendation from his employer to Horrace Billings of 35 Broadway, New York, which said in part, "His business acquirements are such as must render him useful to any merchant as he is competent to undertake about any task that may be reposed in him."
During his journey south, William may have seen posters advertising the rewards for joining the cause of Texas independence. There is little doubt that offers of free passage, equipment, and land appealed to him. On November 13, 1835, at New Orleans, he boarded the American schooner Hannah Elizabeth, in the company of three other recruits bound for Matagorda, Texas. On November 18, the schooner struck a sand bar at the entrance to Matagorda Bay and in that vulnerable position was attacked by the armed Mexican schooner General Bravo. Mexican soldiers boarded the Hannah Elizabeth and took William prisoner, along with his fellow recruits, Thomas Pugh, Edward Scrugham, and Alonzo Marsh. The prisoners were chained and placed in the hold of the General Bravo until the ship reached Matamoros on December 2. Daniel W. Smith, consul of the United States at Matamoros, secured the release of the four men on December 24. In his deposition, the consul noted that William S. Brown was a British subject, while Pugh, Marsh, and Scrugham were citizens of the United States.
Upon his release in Mexico, William made his way to Texas and joined Colonel Fannin's division of the Army of the Republic. He was placed in Capt. Ira Westover's company and quickly rose to first sergeant, artillery. He was again taken prisoner by Mexican soldiers when Fannin surrendered after the battle of Coleto, March 20, 1836. On March 27, Colonel Fannin and approximately four hundred soldiers, including William Silvan Brown, were methodically murdered by order of General Santa Anna.
Montreal newspapers carried the following announcement on November 18, 1836:
The Brown family Bible contains the following entry:
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Alan O. Brown, James Brown, A Biography and Family History, Vol. 1 (1967), Vol. 2 (1995) (copies in New York Public Library, and National Library of Canada, Ottawa). Obituary, Montreal Gazette, National Archives of Canada, microfilm AN5.8 MG539, p.3, col.2. John H. Jenkins, ed., Papers of the Texas Revolution, 1835–1836 (Austin: Presidial Press, 1973).
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Alan O. Brown,
“Brown, William Silvan,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 18, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
December 17, 2002