BROWN, JOHN (c. 1798-30 March 1869) reputedly became Cleveland's wealthiest African American citizen during a 40-year career as the city's most notable barber. Born of free parents in Virginia, he came to Cleveland in 1828 and in barbering took up a trade nearly monopolized in the 19th century by AFRICAN AMERICANS. He married Margaret, the widow of an established barber, Samuel Stanton, in 1834. Until its destruction by fire in 1854, Brown was the proprietor of the barber shop in one of Cleveland's finest hotels, the New England House. Widely known as "John Brown the barber," he parlayed his earnings through real estate investments into an estate estimated to be worth from $35-40 thousand.
Joining JOHN MALVIN and other Cleveland blacks in organizing a school for the city's African American children, Brown for a period maintained the resultant schoolhouse almost entirely at his own expense. He was also active in the black community's social life, participating in debates before the colored Young Men's Union Lyceum. Brown was acknowledged as an intelligent and formidable barber shop conversationalist on politics, religion, and philosophy. Less known at the time were his activities in the Underground Railroad, in which his downtown shop often served as the last stop for fugitive slaves before embarking on a lake vessel to freedom. In the face of Ohio's initial reluctance to recruit black troops during the CIVIL WAR, his 2 sons, John and Charles, went to join a black regiment in Massachusetts. Dying during a visit to Akron, Brown was survived by his wife Margaret, 2 sons, 2 daughters, and a stepdaughter. His son John followed in his footsteps as a barber. His stepdaughter, Lucy Stanton (see LUCY ANN STANTON), was the first black woman to complete the Ladies Course at Oberlin College and later married of WILLIAM HOWARD DAY. Brown and Margaret are buried in WOODLAND CEMETERY.