Former Slave, Frank Brown, comes to Clay

Posted on August 1, 2012

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Morgan School Frank Brown Children (3)

A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate to receive a booklet on the Reminisces of Joseph H. Schaefer*.  There is a photo of the Morgan school in our “Welcome to Clay” book and in the gathering of school children are four little black pupils who attended the school.  Joseph solves the mystery.

Having lived in Liverpool, he talks of its people in the late 1890’s.  It seems that blacks were not very welcome especially after the Civil War and were discouraged from living in or visiting the village.  But according to him, one “negro” became a respected farmer and a well liked citizen of the Liverpool and Clay area.  With the ending of the Civil War, Captain William Weller (part of the well-known Wellers who were founders of Clay) brought to his home in Clay a black lad, Frank Brown, who had been his servant during the war to work for him on his farm.  After a few yeas, Frank married and bought a neighboring farm.   His family of several children attended school and church with other rural children in perfect harmony.  Frank’s turkeys were considered the best because he had beech trees on his property and the nuts the turkeys ate gave them a wonderful flavor.  According to Liverpool historian, Dorianne Guitierrez, Frank also worked in a livery stable in Liverpool.

While Frank worked for Captain Weller, he was required to delivery grist to Crawford Mills, mainly while the children were in school.   One winter day he was barraged with snowballs.  He stopped his wagon and said to the school children, “Boys, why are you treating these horses like this?  They are gentle and hard workers.  Mr. Weller would feel awfully bad if he knew how you tried to hurt them.  You are trying to make them run away from me, but they won’t do it when I talk nice to them.  You know they teach you in school to be kind to animals and this is a good time to do it.  Any time you want a ride, just hop on.  I’m going up to the mill and after that, if anybody lives out my way, I’ll take you home”.  Many hopped on and after that everybody was his friend.

One day, Frank pulled up in front of the school as teacher, Miss O’Neil, was dismissing the lower grades.  As it would be 30 or 40 minutes until the upper grades were dismissed, Frank asked her how she would like to take the little kids for a sleigh ride.  She said “surely” and went back inside the school house to bundle them all up and they all hopped on the bobs.  With blankest and straw to keep warm, they had a “jolly” time riding around the old village of Liverpool.  They returned just as the older students were leaving.  The happiness had shown on their little faces and their thankfulness to the “nice man, Mr. Brown” so impressed the older ones.  ‘The transformation was complete’.  He won them all over!  (If anyone has heard of this family, maybe from there great grandparents, please contact me to add to the story.)

*LIVERPOOL IN THE NINETIES, by Joseph H. Schaeffer, published by Onondaga Historical Assoc., 1957

Dorothy Heller, Historian

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