HISTORY OF HOLMES COUNTY -- The First Settlers of Holmes County --- Brownells:  Holmes County Pioneers

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(From the book "Heart and History of Holmes County" by Anna Paget Wells (used by permission of the publisher, Sue Cronkite))  This book is chock full of pictures and what has been used within this web site is only a small about of the book.  It can still be ordered from Sue Cronkite or from the Holmes County Advertiser, 112 E Virginia Avenue, Bonifay FL 32425; phone 850-547-2270; fax 850-547-9200

BROWNELLS: Holmes County Pioneers

Anthony Brownell, 1808 – 1884, a Holmes County pioneer, settled in a portion of Walton County that was later incorporated into Holmes. He and his descendants have done much to shape the history of Holmes County.

Brownell built what was probably Holmes County’s first resort hotel at Ponce de Leon Springs. McKinnon, in his history of Walton County, described it like this:

"Now as this spring came to be quite a resort, especially for the young people after pleasure and lovemaking in the woods, it will be well to interject this though here. Anthony Brownell, from the upper part of the county, built what was then a large hotel, a neat double-pen round log house, rooms 18 feet by 18 feet, with a 12-foot hall between, nice shed rooms on one side and a 12-foot gallery on the front. He had patronage, but the war came on and broke up his enterprise, and he sold out the plant and the building fell into decay."

From 1853 to 1856, Brownell of superintendent of schools and probate judge in Holmes County. At that time, the two offices were combined.

Through the years, many of Brownell’s descendants have served in public office in Holmes County. His only son, Daniel Jackson Brownell, was sheriff shortly after the Civil War. Near the end of the 1800s, a grandson, J M Brownell, was a county commissioner. Another grandson, Angus Brownell, served as clerk of the court.

In recent years, one of Brownell’s great-grandsons, Robert Earl Brown, served as county judge. Another great-grandson, Charles Q Padgett, served as chairman of the Board of County Commissioners.

A number of Brownell’s descendants have also taken an interest in education. They include Dan W Padgett, John K Padgett, John Brownell, Michael Stafford, Betty Lee, Beulah Benton and Marshall Holmes.


Daniel Jackson Brownell, 1832 – 1872, was sheriff of Holmes County when the county seat was located at Cerro Gordo, on the west side of the Choctawhatchee River.

He was shot in a duel fought in 1872 in which both participants were killed. I learned about the tragedy some years ago when I was inspired by our country’s Bicentennial celebration to delve into Holmes County’s past. I found many people who knew that both men were killed, but no one could remember Brownell’s antagonist.

Some time later, a relative remembered a rhyme about the duel and it gave the name of the other duelist:

        "Brownell killed Boutwell;

        "Boutwell killed Brownell."

It’s hard to reconstruct what happened more than 100 years ago, but this is the story as it was told to me:

Sheriff Brownell was at home with his family when a disturbance occurred at the county seat. Someone came to tell the sheriff about the situation, so he mounted his horse and left for Cerro Gordo, the duel followed, and both of the men were killed.

Soon afterward, the sheriff’s wife heard the sound of a galloping horse’s hoofs and remarked, "Children, I heart your father coming." But what she heard was the hoof beats of a horse bearing a messenger with the news that heir husband and father was dead.

Brownell’s wife was Christian Morrison, daughter of Allen and Mary Douglass Morrison. The couple had six children, four boys and two girls. The sons were John, Edward, Porter and Angus. One of the girls was named Kate and she married a man named Boney Benton. I did not learn the name of the other daughter, as it seems that she died at an early age.

All of the slain sheriff’s children settled in Holmes County and played interesting roles in the county’s history.


John M Brownell, 1853 – 1940, a pioneer Holmes Countian, was a farmer, rancher, turpentine man and merchant. In addition, he found time to serve as postmaster of Fair Plan, Fla, in 1884, and in 1898, he was appointed the first postmaster of Prosperity, Fla.

He was a public servant, serving for many years as a county commissioner, a job that he held at the time the county seat was moved from Cerro Gordo to Westville in 1894. Brownell established a pattern of public service that was to be followed by many of his descendants.

John M Brownell was the son of Daniel Jackson Brownell, who was slain while serving as sheriff of Holmes County, and the grandson of Anthony H Brownell, who was active in public life during Holmes County’s infancy. He married Frances Isabelle Arrant and they were the parents of 14 children.

By E A Williams (Holmes County Advertiser, 1940)

Mr Brownell (Uncle John as he was familiarly known) was one of Holmes County’s oldest settlers, having come to this section as a young man. He was successful in business, engaging in farming, stock raising and merchandising for many years. He was postmaster when the place of his home was known as Prosperity.

The Brownell home was known for its fine hospitality and many strangers and friends have enjoyed its kindly associations and ample comforts. Mr Brownell was a friend to all in need. In an unpretentious way he made himself helpful to many who alone are able to appreciate his kindly spirit.

Like many of his period, he embodied the rugged virtues of the pioneer. With the passing of these venerable people, the world loses personalities of unique worth, unfortunately, too, a standard of rugged honor that these times lamentably lack, and the future will sorely need.


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This page was last updated on:  17 June 2002 , 08:42 PM