a tree-rific journey into family history

“Yankee Jim” Brown: my outlaw ancestor

James B. Brown, my 4x great-grandfather, married Morelda (sometimes Zurilla) Wilson in Morgan County, Alabama in 1846. They had five known children: Isaac Van “Dock” Brown, Sarah Ann Brown Graves, Lena Jane Brown, James H. Brown, and Mary Brown. Another family historian recorded that in the Civil War, Yankee Jim was a neutralist. He lived at Brown’s Point located on Brindlee Mountain in Alabama. The Union troops ravished the countryside, but they spared James Brown’s whiskey distillery. After the war, he moved to Marshall County before dying at his daughter’s residence in Cullman County in his mid-late 90s.

In April 1906, James B. Brown lay on his deathbed in Cullman County, Alabama. As oral tradition has it, the nearly 100-year-old whiskey distiller left his sons with one last shocking revelation:  he came to Alabama some 70 years before to escape the law. He was the sole survivor in a shootout with the law that resulted from an illegal counterfeiting ring (perhaps in his home state of Pennsylvania). He rode south to Alabama where he assumed the name James Brown. Apparently, his deathbed confession did not include his real identity.  He was known as Yankee Jim because of his accent although other accounts record him as nicknamed Dago (an ethnic slur for Italian descendants). In census records, he lists his mother as a New Yorker and his father from New York or Wales. The lack of solid information regarding Jim’s real identity or his crimes has made this a brick wall in my research. So if you know if any Pennsylvania counterfeiting shootouts, please leave a comment.

Morgan County, Alabama marriage record for James B. Brown and Morelda Wilson dated July 24, 1846. Her name is sometimes given as Zurilla or Sarillda.




Isaac Van “Dock” Brown (1847-1919), the son of a secretive scoundrel, is pictured here with his wife Caledonia Jones (1853-1891).


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19 thoughts on ““Yankee Jim” Brown: my outlaw ancestor

  1. virginia on said:

    i am related to yankee jim. he looks italian to me. my father said that his grandparents on the brown wilson side made wines etc. sounds italian. story goes that he was working for printers that printed money somewhere in ny. they were busted so he ran out of the back door. to avoid prosecution, my male cousins are dark skinned with wavy hair and prominent noses. according to my cousin in arab al. they tested their dna and came up caucasian native and african. i sometimes wonder if he was hiding his african roots to protect his family . He is rumored to have had two families. One up north and a newer one in the south.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this! I am sending you an e-mail with some specific questions. Very exciting!

  3. Pingback: Isaac Van “Dock” Brown and Caledonia Jones: Happy 142nd Anniversary! | Genealogics

  4. Anonymous on said:

    ok good morn checked to see if u left message or got my last one. I am Virginia. gg granddaughter of Fennimore and molly or mary brown. I am oldest of 4 girls. my father was no. 3 of 10. his mother died from cancer when he was 18. brown Wilson side has familial polyposis. a colon disease causing early deaths if not caught early. if u call me I will explain it better. you need to know. it can start in teens. multiple polyps that can become malignant un treated. we have saved many with this knowledge and lost many because a long time ago no one knew. family history is important. Family history can save lives.

  5. Thank you for contacting me. I look forward to learning more about our shared heritage. Do you have an e-mail address?

  6. Anonymous on said:

    what happened to you? 205 757 7108

  7. I’m sorry, but I would prefer to find out more about you and your research through e-mail before calling you.

  8. Anonymous on said:

    Hello,I also would prefer to remain anonymous at the Grandmother was a Sister to Mrs.Maudie Wilson May,and they both were the Daughters of Fennemore&Mollie Brown Wilson.I understand there’s Cherokee Indian ancestry on The Wilson side of the Family.That’s what I’m interested in finding out.Any help or comments would be Greatly appreciated.Thanks,Anonymous.

    • Thank you for your message. I didn’t get any Native American ancestry on my dna test. I was expecting some from Mary Etta Childers Brown, the sister in law of your ancestor.

      • Anonymous on said:

        I understand my Great Grandfather,Mr.Fenniemore Wilson was 1/2 far,I haven’t been able to go back any further than Him,though.

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