Buried secrets

Woman gets grave marker 124 years after suicide

Staff photo / Raymond L. Smith The Rev. Carl Kish of St. Robert Bellarmine Church in Cortland, far right, consecrates the grave of Martha Brown, a 22-year-old servant who worked at the Day Mansion across from the present day Kinsman House and killed herself on Feb. 27, 1897. Brown’s newly consecrated grave is at Oakwood Cemetery. Attending the Thursday ceremony were Dr. Ronald Brooks, a historical re-enactor; Lisa George, wife of historical re-enactor Dr. Greg George, center; Pa Shehai and Susan Keegan.

WARREN — After 124 years, Martha Brown’s spirit may be at peace, newly given absolution by a Roman Catholic priest.

The 22-year-old servant had been buried unceremoniously after reportedly dying via suicide — after being rejected by the prominent Warren family of the man she loved.

Historical re-enactors Greg George and Ron Brooks last week held a service at Brown’s gravesite in Oakwood Cemetery, led by the Rev. Carl Kish of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in Cortland.

The absolution forgave Brown for any sins she may have committed.

Brooks is a prominent authority on Gen. Simon Perkins. He has consulted with George on verification of historical aspects of Brown’s life.

The re-enactors arranged to have a gravestone with her name and death date placed at the previously unmarked gravesite. The stone was donated by George.

The gravesite was consecrated by Kish during the service. The priest prayed over the site and sprinkled holy water. Brooks and George, each of whom have played members of the Perkins family over the years, have been particularly interested in Brown’s death, because it is believed by some she was carrying the unborn child of Henry Bishop Perkins Jr.

The two men do re-enactments with the Peter Allen Players in Kinsman.


Perkins Jr., born in 1871, was the son of Henry Bishop Perkins Sr., who had been a wealthy businessman and state senator and was a native of Warren.

Brown was born in Ireland and moved to Warren with her family.

She worked at the Day Mansion, which was located across the street from the present day Kinsman House.

She died on Feb. 27, 1897, after ingesting an unknown amount of ammonia.

Her body was found in a shed located on Perkins flats, between the Perkins Mansion, which is now Warren City Hall, and the Mahoning River.

Her death was ruled a suicide. A coroner’s report described her as a single white woman with dark brown hair — and pregnant.

Rumors swirled and her death was seen as suspicious.

Speculation was Brown had confronted Perkins about the pregnancy and she was rejected by the prominent family. However, no concrete evidence exists that this took place.

But some still accused Perkins Jr. of somehow being involved with her death, according to Brooks.

It later was proven that Perkins Jr. was not in the area at the time.


Shortly after the coroner’s investigation was complete, Brown’s body was quietly taken by an uncle, William Nesbitt, and buried.

Nesbitt, a groundskeeper, knew Perkins Jr., due to their mutual love for agriculture.

Brooks described Nesbitt quietly taking the body of the young woman and burying her, not even providing a gravestone.

On Oct. 19, 1900, Perkins Jr.’s body was found on the riverbank west of the Kinsman property. A bullet wound to the head was the cause of death, and there was a suicide note. It read, “Look for me on the river bank (in the) back of Kinsman’s,” which seemed to prove that the death was by his own hand.

It was noted in an obituary he was overworked and overstressed from taking care of his father, who had been in Connecticut for health reasons. Folklore connected his suicide to the death of a young woman that Perkins Jr. loved, believed to be Brown.

Henry Bishop Perkins Sr.’s body was found on March 2, 1902, hanging by a railing in the attic of his office, which is now the law director’s office in the city hall complex.

Perkins Sr.’s death, it’s been said, was brought about by distress over his son’s death.


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