John Green Brady

From Orphan Train Rider to Governor

By Kaily Carson

John Brady was born June 15, 1848 in New York City. At some point in his young life, his mother passed away. His father remarried, and John ran away from his home when he was eight years old. According to legend, John was found on the streets by Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. For a while, John lived at a refuge for homeless boys on Randall’s Island – probably the House of Refuge. It may have been at the refuge that he met his lifelong friend and fellow future governor, Andrew Burke.

By January 1859, John Brady was in the care of the Children’s Aid Society. John and his friend Andrew were selected for an orphan train, and on January 26, 1859, they left New York City with 51 other boys. When they arrived, the boys were distributed to families from various towns near Wabash. John Brady was taken in by Judge John Green of Tipton, Indiana. According to author Annette Fry, Mr. Green chose John because he “considered him the homeliest, toughest, most unpromising boy in the whole lot. I had a curious desire to see what could be made of such a specimen of humanity.”

John’s adoptive father was a successful state legislator and later became a judge. He and his wife, Mary, had two other children living at home when they took John in. John eventually added their last name to his own, becoming John Green Brady. The Greens helped John attend Yale College, and he graduated in 1874. Then he attended the Union Theological Seminary and graduated in 1877. He then traveled to Texas, with the intention of setting up a training farm for boys from New York. In 1878, he abandoned that plan and moved to Alaska, which had been purchased by the United States just a decade earlier in 1867.

In Alaska, he organized the Sitka Boy’s Home under the direction of the Presbyterian Board of Home Missions. However, he resigned after a short time over disagreements regarding profits and trade training for the boys. John continued to serve native Alaskans as an independent missionary and worked for a trading company. In 1887, John married Elizabeth Patton, and together they had five children.

Soon, John became interested in politics, and in 1884, he was appointed to the Sitka Commissariat, a type of department for supplying food and equipment. He began campaigning for governorship during the presidency of Benjamin Harrison, and, finally, in June 1897, John Brady was appointed as the Governor of Alaska Territory by President McKinley, just as the Klondike Gold Rush began.

John promoted Alaska’s natural resources, and helped expand trade and settlement within the territory. He called for statehood as early as 1899, and although Alaska wouldn’t become a state until 1959, John was still a very successful governor. He was reappointed in 1900 and 1904, by Presidents McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt.

When John Brady met Theodore Roosevelt in 1900, he supposedly told him, “Your father picked me up on the Streets of New York, a waif and an orphan, and sent me to a Western family, paying for my transportation and early care. Years passed and I was able to repay the money which had given me my start in life, but I can never repay what he did for me, for it was through that early care and by giving me such a foster mother and father that I gradually rose in the world until I greet his son as a fellow governor of a part of our great country.”

In 1905, John invested in the Reynolds-Alaska Development Company, and allowed the company to advertise him as a shareholder and guarantor. Some saw this as a conflict of interest, and the public outrage over the incident led John to resign as governor in 1906. John denied any wrongdoing, and when they Reynolds-Alaska Development Company crashed in 1907, John lost everything he had invested. He worked for years to restore the investments of other stockholders who had invested based on his advice.

John left Alaska in 1909, and spent most of the rest of his life traveling the United States and lecturing and writing about Alaska. In 1910, the Children’s Aid Society wrote about him in their Annual Report, recognizing him as one of their great success stories. John returned to Alaska in his final years, and he died there in 1918 after suffering from diabetes and a stroke.