Admiral William Brown, also known as Guillermo Brown, was born in Foxford, Co. Mayo, Ireland, on 22 June 1777, and died in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1857. He is known as the father of Argentinian Navy..
The Brown family emigrated to Philadelphia, USA, about 1786, when William was only nine years old. Shortly after arrival, William's father died of yellow fever, leaving William to make the best he could of his life.
One morning while wandering along the banks of the Delaware River, he met the captain of a ship then moored in port. The captain enquired if he wanted employment and Brown answered yes. The captain then and there engaged him as a cabin boy, thereby setting him on the naval promotion ladder, where he worked his way to the captaincy of a merchant vessel. During the Napoleonic wars, Brown’s ship was seized by a French man-of-war, and he was made a prisoner and sent to Lorient. On being transferred to Metz he succeeded in escaping disguised in a French officer's uniform. He was recaptured, however, and then imprisoned in the fortress of Verdun. From there, in 1809, he escaped in the company of a British colonel named Clutchwell and eventually reached German territory, from where after marrying in England he travelled to Montevideo, Uruguay, where he started to trade on his own account.
Brown became part owner of a ship called the Eliza, trading between Montevideo and Buenos Aires. When the Eliza met with disaster and ran aground, Brown carried his cargo inland, and having disposed of it profitably, he next crossed the Andes to Chile. He had by now accumulated sufficient capital to enable him to purchase a schooner called the Industria, with which he opened a regular sailing-packet service between Uruguay and Argentina, the first such venture in South America. At this point the Spanish colonial government stepped in sensing a threat to its mercantile interests.
Spanish ships destroyed Brown’s schooner, and took drastic effects to nullify Argentina’s attempts to defend her coasts against Spanish raiders. As a result of the incident, Argentina resolved to provide ships to protect her coasts and trade, with Brown being appointed Commander-in-Chief.
Brown resolved to attack the formidable Spanish squadron with his ill-equipped navy of seven ships. On 8 March 1814 Brown took his tiny fleet to sea and within 48 hours was engaged in a furious battle. Land and sea forces saw action at Martin Garcia, a fortified island twenty miles above Buenos Aires, commanding the two rivers Parana and Uruguay, and known as the Gibraltar of the River Plate. Brown failed to win possession of the island -- his flagship, the Hercules, was badly battered and ran aground. Argentine forces attacked vigorously by land and sea on 14 March, and after a stiff contest succeeded in gaining possession of Martin Garcia. The Spanish commander took his ships to Montevideo hotly pursued by Brown, whose naval forces were now increased by the addition of three armed merchant vessels. The Spanish blockading squadron was now blockaded itself by Brown and his fleet. Montevideo was threatened with starvation. Brown, pretending to retreat, drew the Spanish forces away on 14 May from the protection of the fort guns, and two days afterwards on 16 May an engagement took place in the course of which Brown’s leg was shattered by a cannon ball. Undeterred he continued to issue orders and direct operations while stretched on the deck of the Hercules. In a panic the Spanish squadron rushed for shelter to port, but three of their ships were captured. As a direct result of this engagement the River Plate was freed from Spanish control and Montevideo fell to the Argentines.
As the hero of the action, Brown was made commander of the navy. His flagship, the Hercules, was presented to him as a personal gift and reward for his services against the traditional oppressor and enemy, Spain. Brown did long remain inactive. Uruguay had been a bone of contention between Spain and Portugal for three centuries, and now it played the same role in relations between Argentina and Brazil. On 14 December 1825, war broke out between Argentina and Brazil. The Brazilians initiated operations by blockading Argentina. In this emergency, Argentina, under Brown's guidance, improvised a new naval squadron of which he took command. As a counter move to the blockade of Argentina, he vigorously attacked the Brazilian coast, shattered Brazilian shipping, and at the hard fought battle of Juncal (24 February 1827), with seven ships and eight 1-gun launches he destroyed the entire opposing Brazilian squadron of seventeen ships and took its commander prisoner. On 11 June 1827 the decisive battle of Los Posos took place between the Argentine and Brazilian forces in view of Buenos Aires, Argentina having only eleven ships while Brazil had thirty-one warships. After a violent encounter the Brazilians were routed and peace of a sort followed, with Brown acting as Argentine Commissioner when the Treaty of Montevideo was signed on 4 October 1827.
In 1847 Admiral Brown visited his native Foxford accompanied by his daughter. Ten years later, on 3 May 1857, he died, and is buried in the Recoleta cemetery in Buenos Aires.