George Brown: Pioneer of Orthodoxy in Chicago

In March, I gave a lecture at Holy Apostles Greek Orthodox Church in Westchester, Illinois, on the subject of Chicago’s Orthodox history. Since then, I’ve begun to probe deeper into the early history of Orthodoxy in Chicago. Many people have asked about one man in particular — George Brown, an early leader of Chicago’s Orthodox community.

At a landmark meeting of the Chicago Orthodox in 1888, Brown was elected president of the fledgling multiethnic proto-parish. He offered this speech (reported in the Chicago Tribune the following day, 5/14/1888):

Gentlemans, union is the strength. Let everybody make his mind and have no jealousy. I have no jealousy. I am married to a Catholic woman but I hold my own. Let us stick like brothers. If our language is two, our religion is one. The priest he make the performance in both language. We have our flags built. It is the first Greek flags raised in Chicago. We will surprise the Americans. Let us stick like brothers.

The Tribune also reported that Brown was a veteran of the American Civil War. Three years later, the community was still trying to start a full-fledged parish, and Brown was still in a leadership role. From the Chicago Inter Ocean, we learn that “Mr. George M. Braun, a Greek, who is one of the leaders in the movement for a church in this city, says that they have been promised a priest of the orthodox faith as soon as they have erected a church.” Ultimately, no multiethnic parish was founded; instead, separate Greek and Russian churches were established in 1893.

Four years later, Greece was on the brink of war with Turkey, and thousands of Greek Chicagoans prepared to return and fight for their home country. The Tribune (2/15/1897) reported,

George M. Brown, a barber, No. 32 Wells street, and, in spite of his English name, of pure Greek blood, was seen last night at his home in North Market street, between Kinzie and Michigan. He rubbed his hands gleefully when told of the latest cable news.

“I am glad to hear this,” he said. “There are 2,000 of my fellow-countrymen in Chicago who will return to their native land to fight against the hated Turks. I hope it will end in driving the Musselmans [Muslims] out of Europe. We have been holding meetings for some time and almost without exception the Greek residents are anxious to fight. I do not know positively, but understand the resident Consul favors the movement and has promised its support. As soon as war is declared, and I guess the news of today is a practical declaration of war, we shall write to the Consul at New York and offer our services. Many of us can and will willingly pay our way back, but the majority will require assistance, which I have no doubt will be furnished by the proper authorities. The Greek colony numbers 3,000 and there are few women and children. If passage money is assured, it is probable 2,000 would embark for Greece without delay.”

Recently, I searched the US Census records to see if I could find Brown. And I did: the 1880 Census lists George Brown, a 40-year-old barber who was born in Greece and living in Chicago. He is listed along with his 26-year-old wife, Louisa, who was born in Italy (which is consistent with his statement in 1888 that he was “married to a Catholic woman”).

The couple also appears in the 1900 Census, along with their children. (The 1890 Census records are unavailable.) Here’s the family:

  • George, born in Greece in May 1840, immigrated to America in 1855. He and Louisa had been married for 28 years as of the 1900 Census. This puts their wedding sometime around 1872. George still ran a barbershop in 1900.
  • Louisa, born in Italy in June 1855, immigrated to America in 1870. She must have met George not long afterwards, since they were married by 1872 at the latest. The Census reports that Louisa could neither read nor write, although she could speak English.
  • Son Leo was born in Illinois in March 1883. His occupation is listed as “Laborer in Grocery.”
  • Son Lycurgos (clearly George picked this name) was born in Illinois in June 1884, and in 1900 he worked as an “Errand [boy] in Office.” Incidentally, the early Greek organization in Chicago was known as the “Society of Lycurgos.”
  • Daughter Asphasia (or Aspasia) was born in Illinois in May 1890. She’s listed as being “At school.”
  • Daughter Consulata was born in Illinois in September 1895.

I can’t find George Brown in the 1910 Census; in fact, I can’t find anyone who even possibly is a match — that is, (1) named George, (2) born in Greece sometime around 1840, and (3) living in Illinois. It’s entirely possible that Brown died between 1900 and 1910. Even in 1900, at age 60, he had surpassed the average lifespan of Americans in his day.

In trying to track down the Brown children, I started with son Lycurgos, for the obvious reason that there can’t be more than one Lycurgos Brown — right? Wrong, actually: In the 1920 Census alone, there were no fewer than six men named Lycurgos (or Lycurgus) Brown. Only one was reasonably close in age to our Lycurgos (who would have been 36 in 1920), but that man, aged 38, was born in Texas, as were his parents. I haven’t been able to find any of the other Brown children in later Censuses, either. However, I found possible matches for daughter Aspasia in the Social Security Death Index. We know that she was born in May 1890, and according to the SSDI, Aspasia Pantek and Aspasia Constantinou were both born in that month. If anyone wants to take the baton and try to track down George Brown’s descendants, go for it — it would be great to see what, if anything, they know about their ancestor.

Finally, further digging turned up the fact that our George Brown’s actual surname was Kotakis. He seems to have dropped it after coming to America. So, here is what we know:

  • George Kotakis was born in Greece around 1840.
  • He came to America in 1855, took the surname “Brown,” and fought in the Civil War.
  • He married an Italian woman named Louisa around 1872.
  • He was living in Chicago by at least 1880, and he worked as a barber.
  • He was a leader in Chicago’s early Orthodox proto-parish, becoming the community’s president in 1888.
  • He had at least four children — two sons and two daughters.
  • He may have died between 1900 and 1910.

If anyone out there has any information that can add to our knowledge of George Brown, please email me at mfnamee [at] gmail [dot] com.

[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]

UPDATE: I may have found Lycurgos Brown, George’s second son. On November 16, 1917, a girl named Elizabeth Veronica Brown was born in Cook County, IL (i.e., Chicago). Her birth certificate lists her mother as the former Clara Scanlan, and her father as George Lycurgus Brown, age 33, born in Chicago. Doing the math (1917 minus 33), this man would have been born in 1884 — the same year as our Lycurgos Brown. It’s entirely possible that our Lycurgos actually had the first name of George (after his father), but went by his middle name as a child.

We can verify this hypothesis by revisiting the Census records. In 1910, George L. Brown, a 25-year-old shipping clerk, was living in Chicago with his wife Clara, 3-year-old son George E., and 7-month-old son Daniel P. And according to the Census, George L. Brown’s father was born in Greece, and his mother was from Italy. This is our guy.

I can’t find George Lycurgos Brown in the 1920 Census, but in 1930, he’s still in Chicago. Here is the family:

  • George, age 46
  • Clara, age 42
  • Daniel, age 21
  • Gordon, age 17
  • Elizabeth, age 12
  • Robert, age 5
  • Clara G., age 3
  • Thomas M., newborn

George Lycurgos Brown’s youngest children would thus be in their eighties today, and it is entirely possible that one or more is still alive. I wonder how much they know about their grandfather, the original George Brown?

UPDATE 2: Sorry for all the updates, but I’ve now traced George Brown’s line down to the present day. Son George Lycurgos Brown’s daughter Elizabeth married a man named Russell Garrett. Elizabeth died in Chicago in 2004, and according to her obituary, her descendants include daughter Elizabeth Balfanz and grandchildren Michael and Rebecca Balfanz.

I’m sure George Brown has dozens of other surviving descendants, through his various other children and grandchildren.

3 thoughts on “George Brown: Pioneer of Orthodoxy in Chicago

  1. I’ll make additional updates here in the comments…

    I found two more of George Brown’s children in the 1930 Census — Leonidas and Consolata. (See here: http://tiny.cc/pfyey)

    The household is as follows:

    Leonidas A. Brown, 48
    Loucia Brown (George’s widow), 78
    Edward W. Gardner, 37
    Consolata Gardner, 34
    Edward Gardner, 7
    Mary T. Gardner, 0

  2. And here is George Brown’s daughter Aspasia in the 1910 Census (living in Lorain, OH):

    Pauos A. Canolas, 23
    Aspacia J. Canolas, 21
    Elaine B. Canolas, 2 months

    In 1920, the family was still living in Lorain, but Aspacia was going by the more American-sounding name of Jessie:

    Ponas Canalos, 34
    Jessie Canalos, 32
    Elaine Canalos, 9
    Katherine Canalos, 8
    George Canalos, 5
    Daniel Canalos, 2

    According to the SSDI, the youngest child, Daniel, lived all his life in Lorain: 11/6/1917 to 9/21/1997. A standout boxer, in 1974, Daniel was inducted into the Lorain Sports Hall of Fame: http://www.lorainsportshalloffame.com/view_inductee.php?id=304

    The other son, George, lived from 1/16/1915 to 10/23/1992. He died in Erie, OH.

    Some of the Canalos descandants now run a business called Soundwaves Recording:

    http://www.soundwaves.org/shoppingcart/pages/Soundwaves%E2%80%99-Staff.html

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