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In this video, John Nicholas Brown II (1900–1979) speaks to an audience in Newport circa 1974 about his ancestor’s role in the naming of Brown University. From the time of its founding until the receipt of the $5,000 gift from Nicholas Brown on September 6, 1804, the school had been known as Rhode Island College.

Nicholas Brown II (1769–1841) was the sole surviving son of Nicholas Brown (1729–1791), eldest of the “Four Brown Brothers” of Providence, known for their mercantile and political activities.  Throughout their lives, the Browns sought greater respectability by funding civic projects in Providence and offered the land and buildings to attract the Rhode Island College to their town in 1770.

Nicholas Brown graduated with the first post-Revolutionary War class in 1786.

Nicholas’ generosity was motivated by his desire to transform the college so its graduates would have a moral compass to deal with the effects of industrialization and urbanization. As one of America’s first philanthropists, Nicholas II perpetuated Brown's mission of preparing students to live lives of usefulness and reputation.