Who was John W. Brown?

One of the biggest mistakes that people make is to think that the JOHN W. BROWN is named after the abolitionist John Brown who led a raid on an armory in Harper's Ferry.  This is completely incorrect. 

First you need to understand how Liberty Ships were named as they were being cranked out quickly in the early 1940's in large numbers. The earliest ones were easily named after famous Americans (particularly those who had signed the Declaration of Independence), but it moved onto other noteworthy and famous Americans.  17 Liberty ships were named after important African Americans in History, like Booker T. Washington, and the only African American female named Liberty ship the SS Harriet Tubman.  There were over 2000 Liberty ships built in just a few short years, so coming up with names became more difficult. Groups that could raise more than $2 million in war bonds could propose names.  Other times, names were notable union leaders because it became an incentive to those working in the shipyards.  All liberty ships were named after deceased people, but there is one exception.  According to Wikipedia, 'The only living namesake was Francis J. O'Gara, the purser of the SS Jean Nicolet, who was thought to have been killed in a submarine attack, but, in fact, survived the war in a Japanese prisoner of war camp.'

John W. (William) Brown was born in 1870 in Canada and at some point moved to Maine with his family.  If you're ever in Bath, Maine, you can't help notice Bath Iron Works (BIW), a full service shipyard specializing in the design, building and support of ships built for the U.S. Navy, including the recent USS ZUMWALT.  Back to John W. Brown....  He started as a joiner at Bath Iron Works and became an american citizen in 1896.  He eventually became involved in the labor movement and would help organize unions and strikes, if needed.  He even wrote a union column called "Workers Should Know" from 1936-1940.  

Brown and his wife Eva owned a house in Woolwich, MaIne, across the river from Bath, and raised 3 daughters there. There is still family around and we are proud to have had his family on board the SS JOHN W. BROWN a couple of times for cruises.

In 1941 Brown was semi retired and was an adviser to Local 4, Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers of America at Bath Iron Works.  John William Brown died in 1941 at the age of 71.  He accidentally shot himself with his shotgun.  In the book Good Shipmates written by crew member and the last managing editor of the Baltimore Evening Sun, Ernest F. Imhoff, the grandson of John W. Brown spoke about his grandfather.   Earle A. (Skip) Gainsley Jr said in 2002, that the target of the shotgun was to be a whippoorwill that had been keeping the family awake at night.  He told his wife "I'll get that damn thing if it kills me".  

That's this weeks history lesson, folks.  Come back 'round and see what we have going on next week.  HINT, hint, hint... we are leaving for NYC next Wednesday!!!!   Tickets are still available for this once in a lifetime (and trust us, it's been a LOT of effort to make this trip come to fruition) event.  Here is the link for eventbrite to order tickets.  

Project Liberty Ship, Inc is a 501(c)3 non-profit, all volunteer organization engaged in the preservation and operation of the historic ship JOHN W. BROWN as a living memorial museum. Gifts to Project Liberty Ship are tax deductible.


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