Of Course We Knew There Was More Than One.
If you are familiar with my first post, Willie Brown Census Record Found, you have already read about a Census Record found for a 1920 Willie Brown. The claim theDeltaBlues makes is that this record is for THE Willie Brown, also called “little” Willie Brown by other researchers and scholars. Little Willie Brown was the one we have all come to love – friends with Robert Johnson, playing partner of Charlie Patton and Son House. But what about the other Borwn that is so often discussed?
Several artists – Dick Bankston, Ledell Johnson and others also mentioned a Willie Brown touring and playing the blues not only ion the Delta region, but in the same areas as Little Willie Brown. This Brown – known to others as “Big” Willie Brown – apparently did not make records. Of course, then there is this whole thing about being married to Josie. Could there possibly be two Willie Browns, both married to a Josie, both from/playing in the same area, and both known by an overlapping group of friends and musicians? Apparently, there is.
Here is a 1920 Census Record for a Will Brown, living in Washington County, which is just below Drew.
Examining this record shows us a few things as well.
In this record, it is for a Will Brown. It also shows this Brown married to a Josie, and having four kids: Zadie(son), Slater(son), Blanch(daughter), and Mithe(daughter).
The records is from Washington County, which is just below Drew, part of Beat 4. It also shows all of Josie’s parents were from Mississippi, as well as Brown’s. What is also interesting is the ages listed. It has both Brown and Josie at 28. This would put this Brown’s birthdate somewhere around 1892. The record also indicates that Brown and Josie could read and write. It shows Josie as having no occupation – which is interesting, and has Brown listed as a farmer.
I firmly believe that THIS was the Willie Brown that Evans wrote about. It just seems to make more sense. First of all, this Brown is close to the Drew area, which would having him playing in that region. Secondly, if this is the proficient guitarist Josie Mills, and they were married by 1911, it would put them both at the age of 19 or 20 – which makes a far more compelling argument than Brown being married at the age of 11. This record, I believe, is for BIG Willie Brown – 6 foot tall, 225 pounds. The previous Census Record Discovered, was for the Brown we hear on recordings – LITTLE Willie Brown, friend of Son House, Patton, and Johnson.
But, in a nutshell, there is still a lot to be discovered. Yes, we now have 2 Browns in 1920 married to a Josie. Could it have been the same Brown? It seems unlikely. Two Census Records, two different physical descriptions, and more make a more compelling argument for there to be several Browns playing the guitar in and around the Delta.
This new record does prove some facts wrong in my previous article though. There is more than one Willie Brown and Josie. There is more than one Census Record showing a Brown married to a Josie. But in the same respect, it helps to prove the other document as being for the Brown we love. First of all, the birthdate is a much closer match than this record. Knowing Brown to be born in or around 1900, the other record makes a more compelling argument for Little Willie Brown (though the date is still off – it’s off by less). It also helps to prove Wardlow and Calt were correct and Evans was wrong – there was a different Brown living in the Drew area – and both married to a Josie.
All in all, I firmly believe this Census Record is for the Willie Brown David Evans discovered in his research. Tall, heavy, playing in the Drew area, and married to Josie Mills. The other record found, is more than likely for the Little Willie Brown we all know. But then again – it could be another Brown entirely….