Brown, Rev. William

From Helderberg Hilltowns of Albany County, NY


Rev. William Brown was b. 21 Aug. 1758, Stonington, New London, CT, son of William and Lydia Palmer Brown.



He entered the army about the beginning of the Revolution and was soon appointed fife major under Gerneral Washington.[1]


He was a circuit rider preacher known as 'Old Saddle Bags'[2] Tradition says that he was the first Methodist preacher in the town of Knox.[3]

From Knox Sesquicentennial:

Reverend William Brown, said to have been the first Methodist preacher, was a circuit rider who, when young, served the "circuit" which included Berne, Reidsville, Middleburgh, and Schoharie, as well as Knox. Reverend Brown lived on a small farm in Knox and for many years he rode the wilderness trails of his circuit with his bible in his saddlebags. He was known far and wide throughout the hills by the affectionate nickname, "Old Saddlebags, the Circuit Rider."

According to Arthur Gregg, the author of Old Hellebergh, the Reverend Brown became the subject of a legend that was told and re-told wherever the hill town people gathered. Mr. Gregg relates that Reverend Brown was summoned to the manor of the patroon, Stephen Van Rensselaer, to account for his failure to meet the payments of his rent. Old Saddlebags appeared before the expensively-dressed patroon, clad in his homespun coat, leather breeches, and high boots, and asserted that his delinquency was a consequence of his calling, which was to preach God's word to scattered groups of Christians who were themselves so poor that their contributions were insufficient for his rent.

The wealthy patroon could not believe that the uncouth bumpkin standing before him was in truth a preacher, and he seized upon the occasion to expose this rough-hewn tenant, and also to provide a comic entertainment for his friends. Accordingly, he invited Reverend Brown to preach a sermon in the big, two-steepled Dutch Church at Albany. But the man who had ridden the long miles of his circuit, carrying the Word to small congregations was not so easily discomfited, and "Old Saddlebags" rose to the occasion magnificently. For the text of his sermon to the elegant congregation he chose Matthew 19: 24: "It is easier for a camel to go through the needle's eye than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven." And doubtless Old Saddlebag's straitened circumstances lent greater fervor and eloquence to his words. At any rate, Mr. Gregg relates that the patroon, who had expected a comic performance, was deeply impressed. When the service ended, Van Rensselaer approached the horseback preacher and said: "Tomorrow, we shall fix the deed – a valid deed – free from rent forever." Old Saddlebags rode home to the distant hills, and behind his back the two-steepled church faded in the distance.

Marriage & Children


The Reverend William Brown and his wife and child were buried in a tiny plot on a farm on Knox Cave Road which is now owned by Mr. Grennan [1977]. This small plot can still be seen. The inscription reads simply: Rev. William Brown, born Oct. 24, 1758, died April 25, 1834, aged 75 yrs. 6 M. 1 da.[4] (Williams Family Burying Ground).


Evangelical magazine and gospel advocate, Volume 5:

In Knox, Albany county, on the 25th of April last, [1834] Rev. William Brown, a local preacher of the Methodist connection, aged 76 years.

Additional Media


  1. My First Severn Years, by Rev. George Coles, p. 223
  2. Old Hellebergh.
  3. History of the County of Albany
  4. Knox Sesquicentennial