Rev. Edward Brooks, Chaplain

Edward Brooks. The Rev. Edward Brooks is one of five Continental Navy Chaplains listed in Mess Night Traditions by Charles J. Gibowicz (2007). Son of Samuel Brooks (1700-1768) and Mary Boutwell (1698-1772), Edward was born on the ancestral homestead at Medford, MA on 31 October 1733. Some sources note 4 November 1733 as his birthdate, however, it is suspected that this later date is his baptism. Brooks graduated from Harvard College in 1757, serving after his studies as Harvard’s librarian from 1758 to 1760. Brooks was ordained on 4 July 1764 at North Yarmouth, ME succeeding Rev. Nicholas Loring who died the preceding year, as the third settled minister of that congregation at the “Church Under the Ledge”. Details and participants of Brooks’ ordination service appear in the 12 July 1764 edition of the Boston News Letter. The sermon preached that day by Dedham minister Rev. Jason Haven is still extant. Just a couple of months after his ordination, the Reverend Edward Brooks was married at North Yarmouth to Abigail Brown on 23 September 1764. Abigail, daughter of Haverhill minister Rev. John Brown and Joanna Cotton, was born in 1732. Abigail Brown Brooks bore four children; Cotton Brown born 1765 and died 1834; Mary born 1766 and died 1839; Peter Chardon born 1767 and died 1849; and Joanna Cotton born 1772 and died 1841. The older three children were born in North Yarmouth while the youngest was born in Medford. The Brooks’ third child was named in honor of Edward’s intimate friend and Harvard classmate, lawyer Peter Chardon who died young at Charlotte Town, Dominica in the West Indies just months before the boy’s birth on 6 January 1767. By the time of Peter Chardon Brooks’ birth, serious theological differences were already evident between the reverend and his congregation at North Yarmouth. His disaffected parishioners’ petition for change is recorded in Life and Letters of Phillips Brooks by Alexander Viets Griswold Allen (1900) ; “we humbly conceive that your preaching among us has not been agreeably to Calvinistic usage and therefore disagreeable to the foundation that we understood you settled with us upon and also disagreeable to our sentiments, and therefore matter of grievance to us.” After unsuccessful attempts were made to resolve the disagreement, the Rev. Edward Brooks was advised by an ecclesiastical council in November 1768 “to accept fifty pounds legal money and be dismissed”. Heeding the sound advice, the em-battered parson resigned his charge in March 1769. Also recorded in Allen’s Life and Letters of Phillips Brooks is the reverend’s request to be dismissed from his call at North Yarmouth, clothed in Christian grace and charity, “I now request you would grant me a dismission from my relation to you as your pastor, so that I may be relieved from my ordination vows to serve you in that capacity. May God sanctify it to you and to me and all other dispensations of his Providence. May you under his divine direction and blessing succeed in getting another pastor to be set over you who shall feed you with spiritual knowledge and understanding, who shall preach the Gospel to you in that plainness and simplicity in which it was left by Christ your teacher and Lord. May peace be restored and established among you, and may you be built up in faith and in holiness and in comfort with eternal life.” William D. Williamson in an article published in Collections of the Maine Historical Society (1895) sums up the sad situation with the comment, “Rev. Mr. Brooks was a very worthy man, perhaps better fitted for labor in the world than in the church.” Eschewing any idea of accepting the charge of another congregation and returning to his hometown of Medford later that year, Edward Brooks purchased land on the west side of Grove Street from John Francis, Jr. and turned his attention to farming. He was succeeded in the pastorate at the First Congregational Church of North Yarmouth by the Rev. Tristram Gilman on 8 December 1769. While residing in Medford, Brooks occasionally preached as pulpit supply for the Rev. Ebenezer Turell at the newly constructed First Parish Church on High Street. The Rev. Brooks’ opposition to orthodox Calvinist theology did not disappear with his retreat to a life of laity in Medford. When the Rev. David Osgood was called to succeed Turell as pastor there in 1774, Brooks and others in his family tenaciously opposed the strict Calvinist preacher. However according to Allen in Life and Letters of Phillips Brooks, when Osgood was finally settled, “it is to their credit… when their resistance failed, a letter was sent to the new pastor, signed by them, declaring that their opposition was over, they acquiesced in the situation, and stood ready to attend his ministry and aid him in his work”. Commenting on the contrast between the Rev. Edward Brooks’ perceived failure in Christian ministry and his exemplary military service during the Revolution; Allen further theorizes “in his devotion to his country he may have found consolation for the humiliation of his dismissal from the service of the church”. Although his vocation might suggest a more peaceable role, Edward Brooks like others in his family- Captain John Brooks, Lieutenant Caleb Brooks and Thomas Brooks- was quick to respond to the hot action around Concord Bridge on 19 April 1775. According to the testimony of Peter Chardon Brooks in History of the Town of Medford, the Rev. Edward Brook was a “Son of Liberty”. His father wrote Peter, went to Lexington “on horseback, with his gun on his shoulder and in his full-bottomed wig”. The youngster remembered well, “I was eight years old, and frightened enough at hearing the guns at Menotomy, and seeing them glisten, from our garret-window. Those were times that tried men’s souls, but not their purses: for they had none. They were as poor as rats.” In his writings almost fifty years later in 1824, the Rev. Joseph Thaxter also recollects details of the day; “the Rev. Edward Brooks, who lived at Medford, got intelligence of a small party going with relief to meet the British; they had a wagon-load; Mr Brooks mustered a few men, waylaid them near West Cambridge meetinghouse, and shot the horses, and wounded the lieutenant who commanded them, took several prisoners before the British came up, and retired”. The reverend’s participation in the capture of the convoy of provisions at Menotomy destined to provide relief for British regulars marching up the Concord Road occurred just a mile from his own house. After the Redcoats retreated through Menotomy toward Boston, Brooks is credited with saving the life of an enemy lieutenant left behind. The preacher is said to have conveyed the injured officer by horseback to his home where he recuperated until his wounds healed. Lieutenant Edward Thorton Gould of His Majesty’s Own Regiment of Foot remained in the care of the Brooks family until he was exchanged for an American officer in February 1776. It is reported that even Mrs. Brooks participated in the historic events of the day, serving “food and chocolate, but no tea” from her Grove Street home to the weary but victorious returning Minutemen. It is often claimed that congregational minister Edward Brooks was the first chaplain to serve in the Continental Navy, although some evidence suggests Rev. John Reed was serving on the frigate Warren as early as February 1777. A photograph of the Marine Committee warrant appointing Brooks to serve as Chaplain for the ship Hancock dated Boston 12 April 1777 and signed by John Hancock as President of the Continental Congress appears in The History of Medford written by relative Charles Brooks and others (1885). The Hancock was one of the first thirteen frigates of the Continental Navy authorized by the Continental Congress on 13 December 1775 and was built at Newburyport, MA. The 32-gun frigate was placed under the command of Captain John Manley on 17 April 1776 and reportedly launched on 4 July 1776, the birthday of the nation. Interestingly, the day was also the twelfth anniversary of the ordination of Rev. Edward Brooks. The Hancock spent the entire winter of 1776-1777 in Boston waiting for cannon while fitting out and manning her crew. It is written that Rev. Edward Brooks joined the ship due to his poor health, a motivation which appears highly unlikely. It seems much more plausible that Brooks finally sensed a call to minister to a congregation that might accept his contemporary theology, a parish of marines and sailors going to war at sea. Five weeks after entering on board, Brooks sailed with the fleet on the Hancock’s first cruise from Boston on Wednesday 21 May 1777 on a voyage to St. George’s Bank in search of British fishing vessels. Also with the ship was fellow Harvard alum Dr. Samuel Curtis of Marlborough sailing as Surgeon. In concert with the Continental frigate Boston under the command of Hector McNeill, the Hancock captured the 28 gun British privateer Fox on 7 June 1777 in a bloody engagement. No doubt Curtis and Brooks had ample opportunity to exercise their healing gifts in the action. One month later on 8 July 1777, after being abandoned by McNeill and the Boston, the frigate Hancock along with the prize ship Fox were captured by the British 44-gun Rainbow and 32-gun Flora after a thirty-nine hour chase. Chaplain Brooks was carried to Halifax as a prisoner of war with 228 other officers and men of the frigate Hancock. While confined there on parole, Brooks contracted smallpox- perhaps from his inoculation by friend and fellow shipmate Dr. Samuel Curtis. Reverend Brook’s name appears first on a list of Hancock’s men inoculated by Curtis at Halifax Prison in July 1777 which was among several of the doctor’s documents sold at auction in July 2013. According to Helen Tilden Wild in Medford in the Revolution, desperate to assist her husband, Brooks’ wife Abigail conveyed funds to him at Halifax by Captain Salter, a Tory prisoner-of-war to be exchanged there. When the cartel returned to Massachusetts, it carried a letter from the Chaplain to the Hon. James Bowdoin dated 8 November 1777 pleading for his release; as well as, for the exchange of thirteen of his room-mates. Counted among the cleric’s mates at the Halifax Barracks were Hancock’s 1st Lieutenant Stephen Hill, 2nd Lieutenant Joseph Adams, Captain of Marines Seth Baxter, Sailing Master John Diamond and Surgeon Samuel Curtis; Tarter’s 1st Lieutenant John Guliker [or Galeker]  and 3rd Lieutenant Oliver Reed; Freedom’s 2nd Lieutenant John Hooper; and frigate Boston’s 2nd Lieutenant Simon Gross, 1st Lieutenant of Marines Robert McNeill and 2nd Lieutenant of Marines John Harris. Rev. Edward Brooks left Halifax on 29 January 1778 on the cartel Favorite having been exchanged for Parson Lewis, a British chaplain. Letters from HMS Rainbow’s Captain Sir George Collier to Massachusetts Commissary of Prisoners Robert Pierpoint dated 9 November 1777 and 17 January 1778 reveal that it was the desire of Brook’s captor to instead exchange him for a Reverend Mr. Eagleston taken at Cumberland. Chaplain Brooks arrived at Boston on the cartel brig Favorite on 29 January 1778 in the company of a number of those on whose behalf he had written. Arriving home at Medford in February 1778, Brooks’ reunion with his family was tempered by the reality his “health (was) hopelessly shattered”. An image of Brooks’ Oath of Fidelity & Allegiance dated 19 June 1778 after his release from captivity is also included in The History of Medford (1903). According to its author Helen Tilden Wild, while in poor health and not able to do active service, the Rev. Edward Brooks continued the cause of the Revolution financially by contributing bounty money for new recruits. Rev. Edward Brooks died 6 May 1781 at Medford, MA at the age of forty-eight. An inventory of his estate made shortly after Brooks’ death valued his real estate, which included the farm inherited from his father along with the house and several acres of land on Grove Street purchased upon his return to Medford in 1769, at just over 1,036 pounds. His personal estate and belongings were valued at just over 421 pounds. While not a paltry sum, Freeman Hunt in Lives of American Merchants (1856) reminds us, “the state of the country at the close of the Revolutionary War was one of extreme depression, and the family of Mr. Brooks was left at his decease in narrow circumstances. Neither of the sons enjoyed the advantage of a collegiate education”. After his father’s death, second son Peter Chardon Brooks was apprenticed in the city of Boston, walking seven miles to and fro daily. In tribute to Brooks’ widow, Richard B. Coolidge in a 1927 paper delivered to the Medford Historical Society concludes, “at the death of her husband, Abigail Brooks, with the same fine spirit with which she had served the tired soldiers, brought up her four fatherless children”. Abigail Brown Brooks followed her husband in death on 29 November 1800. The couple is buried at Grave 5, 212 Oak Avenue in the Oak Grove Cemetery at Medford. Their grave marker can be viewed at: The couple’s oldest son Cotton Brown Brooks was to become grandfather of Bishop of Massachusetts Phillip Brooks and his three brothers, all episcopal clergymen. Second son Peter Chardon Brooks, a merchant in the marine insurance business, was to become reputedly one of the hundred wealthiest persons in American history.

This entry was posted in Chaplains, Continental Navy Officers, Navy Wardroom, Warrant and Petty Officers. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *