Davis Brown, "Newfane Hermit"


Death of a Local Celebrity -- The Newfane Hermit


---Davis Brown, whose death was announced in the Phoenix of Nov. 1, was born Dec. 22d, 1807, in the town of Newfane. His father was a farmer, shoemaker, hatter, and a manufacturer of combs on a small scale, and was in quite easy circumstances for those days. Davis was the youngest of the family, which consisted of three boys and two girls. he was the pet of the family and one of the greatest laborers known in the neighborhood. When he was twenty-two years of age he met a young lady, Catherine Blanchard by name, and towards her experienced for the first time in his life, the tender and irresistible passion of love; but his love was not reciprocated, and she was soon married to another man. It was his one great disappointment -- the turning point of his life. After Miss Blanchard's marriage he purchased a small piece of land, and on it, beneath a majestic pine, he dug a grave.


It was thought by his friends that he meditated suicide, and great efforts were made to take his mind from his troubles. They were partially successful. He seemed to have resigned his idea of suicide, but his life was sadly changed; his laboring propensities were gone; his great passion for work changed into a greater passion for books. He spent his time in reading and writing. About this time he wrote a small book, entitled "Florencia Mangrove," in which Miss Blanchard figured as the heroine. He got five hundred copies of this work printed; he sold some, gave away some, and kept the rest.


From the time he was twenty-two until he was forty-four, the course of his life glided along smoothly. He spent his time mostly in reading and writing poetry. Books were the all-absorbing passion of his life. Books of travel were the most to his taste. He brought home volume after volume, and their contents were speedily devoured. The one great aim and ambition of his life seemed to be to collect books. At his decease he had, probably, the largest collection of books and papers of any private individual in the State.


His poetry was written under the nom de plume of "Hermitas." If he got offended at any one, he would "show them up in poetry," as he called it. At the age of forty-four he married after a short courtship, a very estimable lady, Sallie M. Fuller by name. With her he lived happily for about four and a half years, when she died, leaving an infant daughter. After his wife's decease he placed his daughter in the care of his sister-in-law, where she has made it her home ever since. During the time he lived with his wife, his parents, who had lived with him, died.


Soon after his wife's death he sold the old homestead where he was born and had always lived, and purchased a farm in the same neighborhood; but he was not contented, and soon bought back one-half of the old place and the whole of the house. Now commenced his hermit life in earnest. Sometimes he would let one-half of his house to a small family for a short time, but most of the time he lived alone. He always appeared to enjoy having the neighbors come to see him, and frequently he would return their calls.


About the year 1864, or 1865, he made a contract with I. N. Thorn of Brattleboro to supply him with a quantity of herbs every year. In pleasant weather in summer and fall he might be seen scouring the hills and valleys in search of lobelia, peppermint, &c. After he had enough collected to make him a load, he would put it in a bag, and placing it upon his shoulders start for B. After he had disposed of his herbs, he would go to the book bindery and buy old books and papers to bring home. Many in Brattleboro were familiar with his peculiarities.


I have often heard him speak of trading with Mr. Edwards and Mr. Thorn. In 1870 his health began to fail, and he gave up gathering herbs, and in fact all manual labor. He was always troubled with asthma. I have heard him remark that he had not been to bed to lie over two hours for thirty years. He had an arm chair which he sat in day and night, and when he was at home he kept a fire all of the time, day and night, summer and winter. Four days before his death he suddenly lost the use of his limbs.


His friends, becoming alarmed, wished to call in a physician, but he would not consent. He said that a doctor could do him no good. He would not even be moved to a bed, because he thought he should be much easier where he was. At about half-past nine o'clock in the evening of Oct. 18th, 1872, he quietly breathed his last. Sitting in his chair, his soul quietly took its departure from its tenement of clay, and passed into the hands of "God who gave it." His remains were taken to Stratton and interred by the side of his wife.


Merle Alladyn.


Vermont Phoenix, November 8, 1872.


Davis Brown's trade in Brattleboro was with the pharmacist Isaac N. Thorn.


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