John Brown (1722–87)

John Brown, theologian

John Brown, theologian

A famous and influential figure in the history of Haddington, the Reverend John Brown was born in Carpow by Abernethy, Perthshire. Orphaned at the age of 11, he educated himself while working as a shepherd. Not only did he pick up reading and writing, but he also went on to learn Greek, Latin and Hebrew. He worked as a schoolmaster and was a soldier in the defence against the Jacobites before becoming a preacher. He was the first student of divinity for the Burgher branch of the Secessionist Church and he was ordained and preached at Haddington, where he lived until his death.

A prolific author as well as being an inspirational preacher, he wrote several texts on religion which were widely popular and it was said that there was hardly a house that did not have a copy of his most famous work – the Self-interpreting Bible. Robert Burns himself makes mention of Brown’s literary talent in his poem ‘An Epistle to James Tennant’ when he says:

‘My shins, my lane, I sit here roastin’
Perusing Bunyan, Brown and Boston’

As well as Burns, Brown is also said to have met and influenced two further famous Scots – the poet Robert Fergusson, whom he met in Haddington cemetery, and the philosopher David Hume, who said Brown preached ‘as though Christ were at his elbow’.

East Lothian Archives hold a large collection of his original manuscripts, including the ‘Dictionary of the Holy Bible’, ‘Scripture Key Part 2 – A View of the Prophecies therein contained concerning Adam and Noah and their families’ and ‘Tracts for Self-improvement’.

Like a lot of our records, the manuscripts found their way to the archives by accident. Deposited with a local solicitor some time ago they were only found recently, when the firm closed down.  East Lothian Archives were given a large black metal box stamped with ‘Manuscripts of the Reverend John Brown’ on the lid which contained the original handwritten drafts of several of Browns works –including the ‘The Dictionary of the Holy Bible’, ‘Scripture Key Part 2 A View of the Prophecies therein contained concerning Adam and Noah and their families’ and ‘Tracts for Self Improvement’. See our blog on Lothian Lives for some images from this deposit.




15 thoughts on “John Brown (1722–87)”

  1. GM Linder says:

    An Embossed Leather bound John Brown Bible with Brass fittings has come into my possession. It appears to be a complete history of Rev. Brown works. There is no date of publication, so I’m assuming it is a possible first edition. It is illustrated with full colour plates. It was published by Edward Slater, 2 Green Street, East Parade, Bradford.

    Unfortunately the first three pages are torn but not badly and would be easily restored.

    Do you know of anyone who would be willing to restore these pages? Or is there someone who would like this Bible to add to their collection.

    I am not able to send a photo at present, don’t know how I would do this!

    I live near Cockermouth, Cumbria and you can contact me by email,
    [email protected]

  2. Dale Mason says:

    I have a copy of the 1792 edition, printed by subscription in Nee York with President George Washington being the first listed subscriber. Would love to see a copy of the original 1778 edition that John Brown used personal funds ton help bring to fruition. Do you have one in your archives, or know if anyone who has a copy? Did that original printing include the Ussher chronology dates like the 1792 and successive editions did? Were there any illustrations or art in the 1778 original? Was the 1778 original one single volume, or more? If you can point me to a person or institution that tells more about that original 1778 edition I would be extremely grateful, and could share details about the 1793 edition in return. Thank you. (Dale Mason, Kentucky, USA)

    1. Dale Mason says:

      Please correct my typos above, including “New York” and “1792” rather than 1793. Thank you.

      1. HanitaR says:

        Dear Mr Mason,
        Thank you for the information. We do have some documents in our archives relating to John Brown but not the original edition you are referring to. You might like to contact the National Archives of Scotland or the National Records of Scotland.
        All the best.

        1. Dale Mason says:

          Thank you very much. This suggestion is helpful.

          1. Dale Mason says:

            Greetings Hanita. And again, thank you for your earlier reply! Unfortunately, I have not been able to locate a museum or other location that has a copy of Rev. John Brown’s 1778 first version of his amazing self-interpreting Bible that he penned there. If at any time you or any reader of this post can share more info with me as to someone who has acces to a copy, I would be most grateful. (I can be reached via email to [email protected].) Also, the article above notes that you have, “the ‘Dictionary of the Holy Bible’, ‘Scripture Key Part 2 – A View of the Prophecies therein contained concerning Adam and Noah and their families’…” Is it possible to read that via a scan or digital version? It sounds like a great fit for research I am at present involved in related to Rev. Brown of Haddington.

          2. HanitaR says:

            Hello Mr Mason,
            I’m afraid we do not have a digital version of the John Brown manuscripts in our collection at present. For further enquiries, please email [email protected] and one of our archivists will respond accordingly.
            Thank you and best wishes.

  3. Fay says:

    We have a copy with photographs throughout ; don’t want to part with it as it has a list of the children’s birth dates born in the 1800’s but would be interested to find out when they might have purchased it & what it would have cost . It belonged to my grandmother’s family .

    1. HanitaR says:

      Dear Fay,
      Thanks for getting in touch.
      A lot of families would have had a Brown’s bible.
      They can be valuable depending on the edition you have. Unfortunately, we do not have the resource to give you a valuation but there are quite a few for sale through auction sites and antiquarian booksellers which may give you an idea. You could also do a bit of family history research based on the details in your Bible so as to determine when it could have possibly been purchased.
      Best Wishes,
      Hanita

  4. Kit says:

    I have an illustrated Bible (1833 edition) listing Rev John Brown, that I would like to donate to your archives, if you are interested. Thank you.

    1. HanitaR says:

      Dear Kit,
      We already have a considerable number of this Bible in our Archives. Thank you for thinking of us anyway.
      Regards,
      Hanita

  5. Marjorie Luckhurst says:

    Eglwys Newydd, Hafod Church, Cwmystwyth, Wales. We have a Rev. John Brown bible in the church. Were they readily available to people in the 1700’s and are they valuable as we
    leave it in the church?
    Marjorie Luckhurst, Church Warden

    1. FrancesW says:

      Hi Marjorie,

      Thanks for getting in touch.

      A lot of families would have had a Browns bible though most would have been fairly plain.

      They can be valuable depending on the edition you have. Unfortunately we can’t give you a valuation but there are quite a few for sale through auction sites and antiquarian booksellers. If you had a quick look online you can get an idea of the possible value of your copy.

      I hope this is of some help,

      best wishes,
      Fran

  6. Mr Eric Broughton says:

    We have an holy bible with John Browns name in it, thismost be over two hundredyears old is it worth anything of value.

    1. fitza says:

      John Brown’s Self Interpreting Bible was a very popular publication.

      We are not able to provide advice on valuation of items, but hopefully if you are wishing to value it you will be able to find a local auctioneer or rare book dealer to help you with that.

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