William Brown 1777 -1857

William Brown is a national hero in Argentina, the founder of the Argentine navy and one of the founding fathers of the Argentine State.

While it is agreed that he was born in Foxford, Co Mayo, there are conflicting versions of his early life.  One states that his family emigrated to Philadelphia when William was 9 years old, that his father soon died of yellow fever and that he was taken on board as a cabin boy by a merchant captain.  The other is that he was the illegitimate son of George Brown, a revenue collector in Foxford and taken under the wing of Admiral Lord Howe and employed as a midshipman.  Both versions have him spending time both in the British Royal Navy and the merchant service, both have him captured by the French and, after either escaping or being exchanged,  he then returned to England where he married Eliza Chitty.

In 1810 the couple sailed to Argentina on a ship reported to have been owned by William – but where he got the finance for this is not reported.  William took part in trading up and down the River Plate, trading between Montevideo and Buenos Aires and this must have been very profitable for within 2 years he had bought land in Buenos Aires and built a quinta.  However this was the time of wars for independence against Spanish rule and eventually the Spanish navy destroyed Brown’s schooner.  Consequently, in 1814, Brown was offered the job of setting up an Argentine navy to defend the trading ships which were necessary to the local economy.

After a series of battles the final destruction of the Spanish fleet was completed by 17th May and ever since this date is known as the Day of the Argentine Navy and on his return to Buenos Aires, Brown was received like a hero.  In recognition of his valour and honourable services during the naval campaign of 1814, the government promoted him to the rank of Colonel, and transferred the ownership of the frigate the Hercules to him.

One version is that he spent 14 years peacefully farming, another, more substantiated, is that he carried on fighting in the various wars, was captured in Barbados, sent to England and then he returned to Buenos Aires.  There he was accused of insubordination, a hero no longer.  Nevertheless in 1826 when Brazil and Uruguay declared war on the United Provinces of the River Plate (to become Argentina) William Brown was appointed Admiral and had a famous victory when his 5 ships routed the 31 enemy ones.  He was a hero again. In 1828 he was appointed Governor of the Province of Buenos Aires and resigned from the navy.  However 10 years later he was called upon again when a French fleet blockaded Buenos Aires and he was a hero once more.

In his later years he kept up his merchant activities and some farming and is believed to have returned to Foxford in 1847 when he hear about the famine but he returned to Buenos Aires where he died in 1857.