Thomas Brown, (1738—March 8, 1797) was an American colonial era husbandman, businessman, and land speculator. Along with his brother Basil, he acquired the bulk of the (Brownsville) lands towards the end of the American Revolution from Thomas Cresap[notes 1](Cresap's War, Lord Dunmore's War), early enough to sell plots to Jacob Bowman in 1780 and Jacob Yoder who respectively made business firsts in 1780 and 1782; Jacob Bowman founded a trading post and tavern. Yoder got in a crop big enough to ship to New Orleans and invented the flat boat on Redstone Creek, inaugurating the water craft construction businesses which made the town an industrial powerhouse for the next seventy years.
When Brown traveled to or actually purchased the lands is murky, but it is accepted he formally founded the town of Brownsville, Pennsylvania in 1785, and he was further documented as personally laying out plots and boundaries himself at the age of 47 in that same year then advertising them for sale 'back east'. Based on his sales to Bowman and Yoder, he apparently had been selling lots for all the 1780s, before 1785.
His lands were in the area generally called Redstone or Redstone Fort or Redstone Old Fort or sometimes[notes 2] Fort Burd (from construction in 1759).
The first flat boat (1782), and in 1811, the first steamboats on North America's inland rivers —among thousands and hundreds of others until well into the 1850s— were built in the town.
Brown could not anticipate that his town would become the major steamboat construction center on the Mississippi watershed, but was arguably a forward thinker, a man forward thinking enough that he acted before the early 1780s—whilst the Indian threat was diminishing but still very real, and the French-Canadians were a similar but more remote threat— to realize the land at the Monongahela crossing ford of The Nemacolin Trail would be a valuable parcel. Unlike many others, he was not enticed by the many flatter better farmland plots available to the west now that the west side foothills and rivers were the last obstacles to travel.
Across was a complex of ancient Native American trails that foot traffic and mule trains could use heading west. The Brownsville site was a rare low banked region along the length of the hills leading down river, and the end of the shortest Wagon Trail leading back over the pass to the east across the mountain barrier range. The main Nemacolin trail lead west across mostly dry footing into the Ohio Country—and reached another wider river crossing near today's Wheeling, West Virginia on the Ohio. Either the preferred switch to traveling on the river or the trails would bottleneck settlers at Fort Burd and so offered great opportunities to outfit them on their westward trek. The booming businesses of Brownsville and surrounding communities did precisely that starting in 1782 (first flat boat built on Redstone Creek by ) even before Thomas Brown personally came west into the settlement and until sometime in the 1870s–1880s when large numbers of pioneers stopped taking boats to Missouri to connect with the California, Mormon, or Oregon Trails[notes 3]
In its heyday, Brownsville was of such promise as a growing community that its residents bragged that Pittsburgh would never amount to anything because it was too close to Brownsville. The original settlement of the community was at the eastern bank of the Monongahela River, on the Nemacolin Trail from Cumberland, linking the Potomac and the Monongahela rivers for western-bound traders and settlers. One of the first settlers, named Cresap, sold his land to brothers Thomas and Basil....
The site itself is steeped in history, once the location of Indian burial grounds and fortifications, the area was the intended destination of Chief Nemacolin when he guided the Cresap expeditions across the mountains, establishing the Nemacolin Trail which later became the approximate route of the National Road. In 1759, during the French and Indian Wars, Fort Burd was constructed very near the Castle's current site. In 1780, Jacob Bowman purchased a building lot from Thomas Brown, co founder of Brownsville for 23 English pounds. He named the site in honor of Chief Nemacolin, setting up a trading post and later building the Castle around it.
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Farmer Jacob Yoder on the Monongahela River in western Pennsylvania built the first flatboats in 1782. Even after steamboats came on the scene on inland rivers in 1811, river men continued using flatboats because of their low cost.