For the past few weeks several oddly named political figures from the New England region of the United States have received profiles on their respective lives and careers, and that theme continues with the following account on the life of Imla Keep Brown, a member of the Massachusetts State Board of Agriculture. Before getting too in depth on Brown's public life and accomplishments I would like to mention that I've always been slightly hesitant when it comes to adding state officials who've occupied offices on the "State Railroad Commission", "State Board of Equalization", "State Board of Health" or "State Board of Agriculture". All of these positions sound as though they could be non-political but are offices within the perimeter of the state government, and the men and women who occupied these posts were either appointed or elected to them, and in the case of Mr. Brown, his four year stint as a member of the Massachusetts State Board of Agriculture places him squarely in the gray area of a "sort-of-political figure", if that makes sense!
Imla Keep Brown was born in Guilford, Vermont on May 4, 1815, one of seven children born to Isaac and Derinda Keep Brown. Bestowed the unusual name Imla Keep upon his birth, Brown looks to have gained his odd first and middle names in honor of a Massachusetts born Texas pioneer and physician named Imla Keep, mentioned by the Handbook of Texas webpage as being one of Stephen Austin's "Old Three Hundred" colonists. This Imla Keep (1785-1854) was born in Groton, Massachusetts and practiced medicine and farmed in both Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi. He married three times during his life, and died in Vicksburg, Mississippi in 1854.
Imla K. Brown's early life in Guilford saw him work the family farm, later attending schools in the towns of Brattleboro and Townsend. Brown taught school in Bernardston, Massachusetts during the late 1830s and married in March 1838 to Eunice Emmeline Connable (1814-1872). Their marriage of thirty-four years saw the birth of three children, Laura Keep (born 1841), Emma Wright (1846-1894) and Abbott Channing (born 1849). Following Eunice Brown's death in 1872 Imla remarried in Bernardston, Massachusetts to Hattie Cook Larrabee (born 1838) in November 1874.
Around 1837 Brown relocated from Vermont to Bernardston and after purchasing a farm belonging to his father-in-law "became one of the town's most successful farmers." Brown served Bernardston as a town selectman from 1857-1859 and 1861, and during his time in this office his fellow selectman was none other than Polycarpus L. Cushman (1822-1901), a nephew of Polycarpus Loring Cushman (1778-1855), a prominent Bernardston resident, farmer and member of the Massachusetts State Senate and House of Representatives. Brown's connection to the Cushman family furthered in 1861 when his daughter Laura married Henry Clay Cushman, a son of Ralph Cushman (1783-1863), a younger brother of the previously mentioned Polycarpus Loring Cushman. Imla Brown would continue his relation with the Cushman family as a trustee and President of the Cushman Library in Bernardston.
In 1868 Imla Brown reached his highest degree of public prominence when he was elected by the Franklin County Agricultural Society to represent that county on the Massachusetts State Board of Agriculture. His tenure on the board saw him serve alongside eminent Swiss-American zoologist and geologist Louis Agassiz (1807-1873), who also taught at Harvard and was the founder of the Museum of Cooperative Zoology. Brown's term (1868-1871) saw him serve on the board committee on Abortion in Cows, while also taking in part in pertinent agricultural topics of the day. During the 1869-1870 term Brown took part in the Hampden County Agricultural Society's annual agricultural fair and cattle show, being a special guest "reporter" at the behest of fellow board member William Birnie. Brown later reported on the event at the next board session, noting that:
"In the various combinations of wood and iron employed in agriculture a great improvement has been made, yet a farmer must use his brains as well as his muscles. In mechanics, in science, commerce or law, it is understood that the man who is most truly alive to his calling is the one that wins. The same really is true in regard to farmers. They must wake up and join the advancing march, or be left behind."After leaving the state agricultural board in 1871 Brown continued farming in Bernardston and in 1874 was elected as the President of the Franklin County Agricultural Society, serving one term. In addition to farming Imla Brown is remarked as being a "constant attendant and a liberal supporter of the Unitarian Church". He died in Bernardston on January 10, 1892 at age 76 and was survived by his second wife Hattie. A burial location for both Imla and Hattie remains unknown at the time of this writing.
From the 1870 Massachusetts State Board of Agriculture Report.