King Brown’s gift: From New York to Idaho… and back again

Thursday, December 7, 2017 - 11:15am
D. Joshua Taylor

This post is written by D. Joshua Taylor, President of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society.


Among the many items I have gathered over the years, few are as precious to me as a handmade wooden chest that sits atop my bookshelf.

Cracked and nicked from many years of use, the chest was constructed from apple boxes by my second great-grandfather, Nathaniel “King” Rider Brown, and was given to his grandson, who gave it to his sister (my grandmother), who gave it to me when I was 12 years old.

Within my family, the simple chest connects four generations and is one of my most treasured links to New York.

King (as he was known by his family and friends) was born in Cornwall, New York, in 1870. In his youth, he sold apples from his family’s farm on the streets of New York City. Sometime in his mid-20s, he headed off for adventures in the Klondike Gold Rush. King used the boxes that had once held the apples he sold to cart his possessions west.

Though he did not find his fortune in the Klondike, he did find another treasure—my second great-grandmother, Hattie Jane Stiles. Both had family from New York but soon settled in Idaho where they raised their children to adulthood. Some years later King and Hattie became grandparents.

King Brown's gift holds some of my most treasured memories.

For one grandchild, Robert Quimby, King presented an extremely special gift: a wooden box constructed from apple boxes to be used as a toy chest. Though Robert Quimby passed away before my birth, I was told that the wooden chest was amongst his most precious belongings. His sister, my grandmother, held onto the chest with the intention of passing it (and the story of King Brown) along to a grandchild of her own in the future.

When I began my first genealogical adventures in New York, my grandmother gave me the box and passed along the story of King Brown, his time in the Klondike, and his tales of selling fruit from apple boxes on the streets of New York City. She also told me of her brother and the adventures they had found themselves in as children.

Through King Brown’s gift, my own New York story had been preserved and sat waiting to be rediscovered.

Many years have passed since the chest came into my home. Since then it has traveled with me across the country. It has seen the snow in Boston, the sunshine in Los Angeles, and now the vibrant energy of New York City. It seems extremely fitting that the chest made from apple boxes now sits in the same city where its maker had once sold apples on the streets. After more than 100 years and four generations, King Brown’s gift has returned to New York.

Today the chest holds some of my most treasured memories—handcrafted toys gifted to me by my grandparents on holidays and birthdays, memories of my own trips to the Klondike, and other small mementos from my genealogical adventures.

Though simple and a bit worn, the chest is part of my New York story.

Yet, King Brown’s gift is far more than the wooden chest that sits atop my bookshelf. It is a legacy of strength and adventures that connects multiple generations of the family—and will continue to do so for many years to come.


What treasures tell your family story?

Family treasures play such an important part in telling our families’ stories.  They are shared from generation to generation and tell the stories of those who came before us. 

One of the many ways we are preparing for our 150th anniversary in 2019 is by encouraging our community to share the stories, mementos and artifacts that mean so much to your family - feel free to leave a story in the comments, or send us an email if you're interested in sharing any of your family stories on our blog - I hope that you will share your story as well!

But most importantly, we need your financial support to continue connecting families to their New York history.

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Please donate now to support the NYG&B’s annual fund; making your gift today can help ensure your story and the stories of your friends, colleagues, neighbors and community members will be preserved. 

I hope we can count on your support this year as we begin laying the groundwork for the NYG&B’s next 150 years.

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That is a lovely story, Josh. I did not know that King Brown sold apples in New York. I do remember Robert Quimby Allison. He was most noticeable as a very kind young man. I was a little girl, a year younger than Lora Marie, the youngest of the eleven. Bob entertained us, taught us took care of and was always kind to us. I believe it was he that brought a radio into the Allison household. When my husband and I were in Alaska, we journeyed to Dyea where I cried a bit and then we left and journeyed a far piece down the highway to Eagle, Alaska. I did not know that King Brown had been in Eagle until we found the record of his land deals in there in the Eagle library archives. We did know that my husband's great-grandfather William Martin Woody had been there. Yup, that means that our grandfathers knew each other. We later did research in Fairbanks and found reference to the two of them in the same article. In Eagle, we found both of their names on the same document. Those Eagle men and at least one woman were amazing. They were subdividing land and reselling it. The survey of the new territory had not been done, there really was no land to buy and sell, but they were doing it. Somewhere, I learned that when King Brown left, he "owned" some land and had a garden. He sold the garden and gave the land to the church which is still standing in Eagle. It's an unforgettable story. I have King Brown's coffee can and of course, having lived with him for ten years, many memories. I just wish that I had been old enough to ask a lot of questions. The only thing that he told me about Alaska was that he was on a crew that was digging out the bodies from the avalanche on Chilkoot that took place April 3, I think. He said the bodies were flattened. He had a few sayings as well of course. I loved the smell of his pipe and can remember all the ritual that went with it. We ate lunch together many times on the breadboard in his kitchen. We always picked the turkey carcass until it was clean. He made sheepherder beans, which I still make. He was mostly blind, I think from Macular Degeneration. They have always said it was snow blindness, but my eye doctor said that snow blindness was not a lasting condition. He did have symptoms of macular as I discovered when my mother had it. Peripheral vision would be the give away on that. King Brown had angina and would have spells of pain. The remedy at that time was whiskey, which he carried in a flat glass medicine bottle. He did not use it often. I believe he had 2 Tablespoons before he went to bed. He smoked two hand-rolled cigarettes a day. His breakfast was jowl bacon, whole wheat toast and a bowl of oatmeal. He cooked it himself. He did his own lunch as well, He ate with us at dinner. He was a Republican and my father, Pete Hamon, was a devoted FDR man. There were serious arguments. King said, "Sometimes, I think everyone is crazy but thee and me and sometimes I don't know about thee." I think many have said that but repeated as well. Now that I have written all this, I need to copy and paste into "Dad's" (I called him Dad) bit that I keep on the computer. I always felt at home in New York City as well. The visit we had with King's sisters, in Cornwall-on-the-Hudson was memorable. I was 12 years old, I think. Such nice ladies and very much Quakers. Please forgive my running on and most especially if you have heard all those words before. All the best of everything to you. Orinda Spence