Charles Buck Theological Dictionary 
A sect that arose among the puritans towards the close of the sixteenth century; so named from their leader, Robert Brown. He was educated at Cambridge, and was a man of good parts and some learning. He began to inveigh openly against the ceremonies of the church, at Norwich, in 1580; but, being much opposed by the bishops, he with his congregation left England, and settled at Middleburgh, in Zealand, where they obtained leave to worship God in their own way, and form a church according to their own model. They soon, however, began to differ among themselves; so that Brown, growing weary of his office, returned to England in 1589, renounced his principles of separation, and was preferred to the rectory of a church in Northamptonshire. He died in prison in 1630. The revolt of Brown was attended with the dissolution of the church at Middleburgh; but the seeds on Brownism which he had sown in England were so far from being destroyed, that Sir Walter Raleigh, in a speech in 1592, computes no less than 20, 000 of this sect. The articles of their faith seem to be nearly the same as those of the church of England.
The occasion of their separation was not, therefore, any fault they found with the faith, but only with the discipline and form of government of the churches in England. They equally charged corruption on the episcopal and presbyterian forms; nor would they join with any other reformed church, because they were not assured of the sanctity and regeneration of the members that composed it. They condemned the solemn celebration of marriages in the church, maintaining that matrimony being a political contract, the confirmation thereof ought to come from the civil magistrate; an opinion in which they are not singular. They would not allow the children of such as were not members of the Church to be baptized. They rejected all forms of prayer, and held that the Lord's prayer was not to be recited as a prayer, being only given for a rule or model whereon all our prayers are to be formed. Their form of church government was nearly as follows.
When a church was to be gathered, such as desired to be members of it made a confession of their faith in the presence of each other, and signed a covenant, by which they obliged themselves to walk together in the order of the Gospel. The whole power of admitting and excluding members, with the decision of all controversies, was lodged in the brotherhood. Their church officers were chosen from among themselves, and separated to their several offices by fasting, prayer, and imposition of hands. But they did not allow the priesthood to be any distinct order. As the vote of the brethren made a man a minister, so the same power could discharge him from his office, and reduce him to a mere layman again; and as they maintained the bounds of a church to be no greater than what could meet together in one place, and join in one communion, so the power of these officers was prescribed within the same limits.
The minister of one church could not administer the Lord's supper to another, nor baptize the children of any but those of his own society. Any lay brother was allowed the liberty of giving a word of exhortation to the people; and it was usual for some of them after sermon to ask questions, and reason upon the doctrines that had been preached. In a word, every church on their model is a body corporate, having full power to do every thing in themselves, without being accountable to any class, synod, convocation, or other jurisdiction whatever. The reader will judge how near the Independent churches are allied to this form of government.
The laws were executed with great severity on the Brownists; their books were prohibited by queen Elizabeth, their persons imprisoned, and some hanged. Brown himself declared on his death-bed that he had been in thirty-two different prisons, in some of which he could not see his hand at noon-day. They were so much persecuted, that they resolved at last to quit the country. Accordingly many retired and settled at Amsterdam, where they formed a church, and chose Mr. Johnson their pastor, and after him Mr. Ainsworth, author of the learned Commentary on the Pentateuch. Their church flourished near 100 years. Among the Brownists, too, were the famous John Robinson, a part of whose congregation from Leyden in Holland, made the first permanent settlement in North America; and the laborious Canne, the author of the marginal reference to the Bible.
Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature 
a sect of Puritans so called from their leader, Robert Brown He was born, it is supposed, at Totthorp, Rutland, and educated at Bennet College, Cambridge. His Puritanism was first of the school of Cartwright, but he soon went far beyond his master. He went about the country inveighing against the discipline and ceremonies of the Church of England, and exhorting the people by no means to comply with them. In the year 1580 the Bishop of Norwich caused him to be taken into custody, but he was soon released. In 1582 he published a book entitled The Life and Manners of true Christians, to which was prefixed, A Treatise of Reformation without tarrying for any. He was again taken into custody, but released on the intercession of his relative the lord treasurer. For years afterward he travelled through various parts of the country, preaching against bishops, ceremonies, ecclesiastical courts, ordaining of ministers, etc., for which, as he afterward boasted, he had been committed to thirty-two prisons, in some of which he could not see his hand at noon-day. At length he formed a separate congregation on his own principles; but, being forced to leave the kingdom by persecution, they accompanied Brown to Middleburg in Holland.
Neal observes that "when this handful of people were delivered from the bishops, they crumbled into parties among themselves, insomuch that Brown, being weary of his office, returned into England in the year 1589, and, having renounced his principles of separation, became rector of a church in Northamptonshire. Here he lived an idle and dissolute life (according to Fuller, bk. 10, p. 263), far from that Sabbatarian strictness that his followers aspired after. He had a wife, with whom he did not live for many years, and a church in which he never preached. At length, being poor and proud, he struck the constable of his parish for demanding a rate of him; and being beloved by nobody, the officer summoned him before Sir Rowland St. John, who committed him to Northampton jail. The decrepit old man, not being able to walk, was carried thither upon a feather-bed in a cart, there he fell sick and died in the year 1630, and eighty-first year of his age." After Brown's death his principles continued to gather strength in England. The Brownists were subsequently known both in England and Holland by the name of Independents. But the present very large and important community known as the Independents do not acknowledge Brown as the founder of the sect; they assert, on the contrary, that the distinguishing sentiments adopted by Brown and his followers had been professed in England, and churches established in accordance with their rules, before the time when Brown formed a separate congregation.
Neal enumerates the leading principles of the Brownists as follows; "The Brownists did not differ from the Church of England in any articles of faith, but they were very rigid and narrow in points of discipline. They denied the Church of England to be a true Church, and her ministers to be rightly ordained. They maintained the discipline of the Church of England to be popish and anti-Christian, and all her ordinances and sacraments invalid. They apprehended, according to Scripture, that every church ought to be confined within the limits of a single congregation, and that the government should be democratical. The whole power of admitting and excluding members, with the deciding of all controversies, was in the brotherhood. Their church officers, for preaching the word and taking care of the poor, were chosen from among themselves, and separated to their several offices by fasting and prayer, and imposition of the hands of some of the brethren. They did not allow the priesthood to be a distinct order, or to give a man an indelible character; but as the vote of the brotherhood made him an officer, and gave him authority to preach and administer the sacraments among them, so the same power could discharge him from his office, and reduce him to the state of a private brother. Every church or society of Christians meeting in one place was, according to the Brownists, a body corporate, having full power within itself to admit and exclude members, to choose and ordain officers, and, when the good of the society required it, to depose them, without being accountable to classes, convocations, synods, councils, or any jurisdiction whatsoever." — Neal, Hist. of Puritans, 1, 245-6; Mosheim, Ch. History, 3, 181, 412. (See Congregationalists); (See Independents).