The two major components of this collection are diaries, 1813-1816, 1838-1842, 1855-1870, and correspondence, 1838-1869. There are also speeches, easy and poetry written by James Brown, and a number of documents relating to his political career.
The diaries were kept primarily as a record of work. The first diary shows an established pattern. He described the weather, work done, with whom and for whom, money received or spent, trips, some personal comments. If he made a major change in his work, he was likely to begin a new diary. When he went to work in Maine for a few months in 1816, he mentions keeping a diary there, but reverted to his old diary on his return to Charlotte County.
The diaries of 1838, 1844 and 1855, cover periods of time spent on work assigned by the New Brunswick government -- as supervisor of roads and bridges and as a commissioner to examine the schools -- and are detailed enough to form a basis for official reports. However, Brown had no particular aversion to including personal matters or general observations and all of these diaries contain much that would not appear in his final reports.
In 1856, he resolved to keep a diary on a more regular and unified basis. At the same time he explained his method of making brief notes as he went about his daily tasks and then writing the in his diary as he found leisure to do so. From this time his activates as a politician, family man and farmer were recorded in the same diary.
References to farming can be found throughout the diaries and letters. The diary of 1863-1870, describes daily work on land that Brown cleared fifty years earlier. Some of his theories on agriculture can be found in a speech to the Charlotte County Agricultural Society (MS7/2); and in sections of A Report on Agriculture in New Brunswick by Johnson.
Correspondence, 1838-1869, includes letters to and from Brown, his family, friends, constituents and members of the government. Many contain both personal & political or official matters. For this reason, and because it is useful to use the letters in conjunction with the relevant diary entry, they have been arranged in a straight chronological order.
The number of family letters is relatively small but they do provide a vivid picture of Brown and his family. Most of these letters are from the period of his second marriage to Catherine Cameron.
The correspondence of January-March 1861, contains a number of letters to Brown as Surveyor General and his replies, and give an idea of the variety of issues encountered in that office.
The correspondence of August 1861-June 1862, covers James Brown's trip to England, Ireland, and Scotland. Many friends in New Brunswick gave him letters of introduction and asked him to call on relatives in the old country. A number of these letters give insight into how New Brunswick was promoted to potential immigrants. A few letters dating to this period were written by James Brown's son, John C. Brown, who accompanied him on the trip, to family and friends in New Brunswick.