Happy Birthday, Moses Brown

September 23

Please join us in celebrating our founder, Moses Brown! One of Providence’s most famous sons, Moses Brown was a Quaker who exemplified a life of the mind, body, and spirit and served as a fitting role model for the school that came to bear his name.

Born in 1738, Moses’ own principal education came via apprenticeship in his uncle’s shipping business. With his brothers, Moses led one of the most prosperous businesses in the colonies. He was deeply engaged in public affairs, serving in Rhode Island’s General Assembly. His civic interests were wide, from starting a hospital and a bank, to paving streets and building bridges. He was one of the founders of the Providence Athenaeum, the R.I. Historical Society, and a school for the Female Society for the Education of Colored Children.

In the 1760s, Moses experienced what could be called a spiritual awakening. He began studying Quakerism, quit his business ventures and converted to Quakerism. From this period can be traced a passion that drove Moses for the remainder of his life:  the abolition of slavery.  Perhaps ashamed of having participated in slavery, having come to believe that “liberty is the greatest blessing that men enjoy, and slavery the heaviest curse,” Moses freed the people he had enslaved and provided them education, care, and the use of an acre of land for farming. He worked tirelessly to convince others to do the same by leading efforts in the R.I. Assembly to pass a law proscribing the trading of enslaved people and organizing the Providence Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade.  His home was one of the main stations on the Underground Railroad.

Moses’ natural curiosity led him to explore education, science, technology, law, medicine, and farming, and his compassion led him to apply his knowledge to many projects. Moses played a key role in the development of Brown University, was an early champion of public sanitation, and helped introduce Providence to the revolutionary practice of vaccination. He also sponsored Samuel Slater in nearby Pawtucket, launching the American industrial revolution.

There might be no better role model for the founding of a school. Moses led the efforts to create a school for Friends in Rhode Island, donating 43 aces from his Providence farm in 1814 to provide a location and helping to raise funds for its first building (Middle House). The New England Yearly Meeting School opened on January 1, 1819 with 11 students. Moses maintained an office in the new space and helped the school deliver on its stated purpose: to educate Quakers and non-Quakers alike, provide opportunity to those seeking it, and deliver a course of advanced studies for students of high qualifications.

Remembered as an educational pioneer, Moses Brown embodied the ethos of not only doing well in the world but doing good. As we reflect on MB’s mission today – to inspire the inner promise of each student and instill the utmost care for learning, people and place – we honor our founder and his inspiring legacy.