Browne, J. Ross (John Ross), 1821-1875

Alternative names
Birth 1821-02-11
Death 1875-12-08

Biographical notes:

American author, journalist, and government official.

From the description of J. Ross Browne papers, circa 1840-1875. (University of California, Berkeley). WorldCat record id: 81540733

Irish-American traveler and author.

From the description of Letter to Harper & Brothers, 1853 March 29. (University of Virginia). WorldCat record id: 52128935

John Ross Browne was born in Beggar's Bush, Ireland, on February 11, 1821. After moving to the United States he, in 1840, became a reporter for the U.S. Senate, and first came to California in the early 1840s during a whaling cruise. Browne served as a reporter for the California Constitutional Convention of 1849. Other government jobs Browne held included U.S. Investigator of Custom Houses and Indian Agencies from 1855-59, U.S. Commissioner of Mineral Resources from 1866-68, and U.S. Minister to China during 1868-69. He died in Oakland, California on December 8, 1875. Browne wrote extensively on his travels and experiences.

From the description of J. Ross Browne gold rush letter, 1858 Oct. 14. (California State Library). WorldCat record id: 156915775

Diplomat and author.

From the description of J. Ross Browne papers, 1844-1863. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 79452023

American author and diplomat, onetime minister to China. Browne is considered an eminent authority on the American West.

From the description of Letter, 1868. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 122367767

Biographical Sketch

J. Ross Browne - author, journalist, traveller, government servant - was born near Dublin, Ireland on February 11, 1821. His father, Thomas Egerton Browne, a crusading Irish editor and publisher, emigrated to America with his family in 1833, after his prison sentence for sedition had been commuted by the British Crown to banishment. The family settled eventually near Louisville, Kentucky, where the elder Browne became editor and proprietor of the Louisville Daily Reporter.

Young Browne's travels began early and he never ceased travelling until his death. Starting as a flat boat deck hand on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, he then studied medicine briefly, and eventually embarked on a career as a writer and journalist. He became a police reporter and newspaper correspondent and tried his hand at creative writing with Confessions of a Quack, or the Auto-Biography of a Modern Aesculapian, based on his medical school experiences, which was published in 1841.

The family moved in that year, also, to Washington, D.C., where Ross assisted his father in reporting the proceedings of the Congress in the Globe, the forerunner of the Congressional Record. A year later he signed on as a seaman on a whaler, an experience which resulted in the publication, in 1846, of Etchings of a Whaling Cruise, with Notes of a Sojourn on the Isle of Zanzibar, in which he exposed the abuses suffered by the crew members. After his return in 1844, he married Lucy Anna Mitchell, daughter of a Washington, D.C. physician, and settled in the city, taking up a career in government service, where he became private secretary to the Secretary of the Treasury. Accepting a minor revenue service assignment which would take him to California, he sailed around the Horn on the Pacific in 1849, and, while in California, became the official reporter for the convention which drew up the state's constitution in 1849.

Returning to Washington, he published the Report of the Debates in the Convention of California on the Formation of the State Constitution in September and October 1849, and in 1851, set off on his travels again, to Europe with his family, as a correspondent for the National Intelligencer.

In the autumn of 1852 the Browne family returned home to Washington and he entered government service again, as a secret agent investigating federal activities connected with the collection of revenue and disbursement of public monies, involving custom houses, Indian agencies and U.S. land offices. In 1868 President Johnson named him minister to China, but he was recalled from Peking in 1869 because of his disagreement with the prevailing government views on “opening” China.

Browne's literary career kept pace with his other activities, and the observations made in the course of his travels were published either as books ( Yusef, 1853; Crusoe's Island, 1864; An American Family in Germany, 1866; Adventures in the Apache Country, 1869), or as articles appearing in journals such as Harper's, Graham's Magazine and Overland Monthly. His several published reports, written while in government service, include Reports upon the Mineral Resources of the United States (1867), Resources of the Pacific Slope (1869), and Report of J. Ross Browne on the Mineral Resources of the States and Territories West of the Rocky Mountains (1868).

The Browne family finally settled in Oakland, California, and in 1870 he began construction of the home that became known as "Pagoda Hill." The closing years of his life - many of them still spent away from his home - were occupied by his real estate and mining ventures. He died on December 9, 1875.

From the guide to the J. Ross (John Ross) Browne Papers, [ca. 1840-1875], (The Bancroft Library)


Loading Relationships


Ark ID:


  • Indians, treatment of
  • Ambassadors
  • Women authors, American
  • Land tenure
  • Voyages to the Pacific coast
  • Journalists
  • Diplomats--Biography--Sources
  • Authors, American--Biography--Sources
  • Whaling
  • Dakota Indians--Government relations
  • Indians of North America
  • Authors, American


  • Authors
  • Diplomats


  • Oakland (Calif.) (as recorded)
  • Minnesota (as recorded)
  • California (as recorded)
  • California (as recorded)
  • California (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • California (as recorded)
  • China (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)