Joseph Brown was born in Providence, Rhode Island on December 3, 1733. He was the fourth of six children born to Captain James Brown and Hope Power; he and his sisterand four brothers were the great‑great‑grandchildren of Chad Brown, who was one of the original settlers of Providence with Roger Williams.
Joseph and his surviving three brothers were key figures in the history of Providence. As such, all four are used to effect in author H.P. Lovecraft’s novel, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, where Lovecraft makes them all part of the “select group bent on Curwen’s extirpation.”
Joseph began his career in the family trading business (Nicholas Brown & Company) but found his life’s work in architecture and science, particularly the study of electricity and astronomy.
He was one of four noted Providence residents with a scientific bent who ordered a telescope from England, and set up a viewing platform (near what is now Transit St.) to observe the Transit of Venus in 1769
In the years from 1770 until his death he designed a number of buildings that still stand in Providence, including University Hall (1770); Market House (1773); his own house (1774); the First Baptist Church (1774); and John Brown’s house. He was also one of the patriots involved in the burning of the Gaspee in 1772, and served in the Rhode Island General Assembly (prior to statehood).
Named the first professor of experimental philosophy at Brown University, a 1784 stroke prevented him from assuming this role, and he died the following year.