From a tough emigrant life to the American Civil War, the Irishman John Thomas Browne who became a Democrat politician and Mayor of Houston.
John Thomas Browne, better known as John T, was born 175 years ago in Ballylanders on the 23rd of March 1845. By 1851 famine had ruined the land and the six-year-old John T Browne went with his parents and four siblings on a coffin ship across the Atlantic Ocean. Tragically one of the Browne children, a baby girl, died on the voyage and was buried at sea.
Shortly after arriving at New Orleans the patriarch of the Browne family took ill and died.
Life was extremely tough for the Browne family. Young John T's widowed mother was forced to place her children in an orphanage in New Orleans in order to go out and find work for herself. Within months she took her children out of the orphanage and went to Houston Texas where her brother emigrated to years previously.
A priest called Fr John Gunnard arranged for John T Browne and other immigrant youngsters to go to Washington County where he worked at Spann Plantation but also received an education there.
From there Browne got his first job in a brickyard in Madison County before going back to Houston where he worked as a messenger for the Houston and Texas Central Railroad.
When the American Civil War broke out in 1861 Browne joined the Confederate Army where he served with the Second Texas Infantry and was wounded during battle. He was then sent back to Houston where he served as foreman for the railroad.
After the war, Browne went into the grocery trade and married Mary Jane Bergin, a daughter of Irish immigrants, and together they would have six boys and six girls. They were the first couple to exchange vows in the new Catholic Church of the Annunciation in Houston.
In 1872 he went into business with Charles Bollfrass, opening Browne & Bollfrass grocery store in Houston.
In 1887 Browne entered the world of politics when he joined the Democrat Party and represented Houston's Fifth Ward on the City Council. In 1892 he ran for and won the position of Mayor of Houston in a landslide victory. The Limerick man would serve as Mayor for four years before retiring in 1909.
He would become a much-respected mayor of Houston. In his first term as mayor, he tackled the city's budget deficits and set about improving street paving and sewage. He also set up a fully paid Houston Fire Department. He would go on to serve four terms in the Texas House of Representatives, retiring from public service in 1909.
Browne was affectionately known in Houston as The Fighting Irishman and became one of the oldest surviving Confederate veterans of the Civil War in Texas, overseeing commemorations and memorial events.
For a man who was born during the Irish Famine and survived the treacherous journey on a coffin ship, along with the tough start in New Orleans and served in the American Civil War, the Ballylanders native lived to the ripe old age of 96. John T Browne died on the 19th of August 1941 and was buried in Glenwood cemetery Houston.
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