Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Hannah Brooke Briggs (1770-1851)
MSA SC 3520-15899

Biography:

Born on June 5, 1770 in Montgomery County, Maryland. Daughter of Roger Brooke IV and Mary Matthews Brooke. Married Isaac Briggs on August 27, 1794. Eight Children: Anna Briggs Bentley (b. 1796); Mary Brooke Briggs (b. 1798); Deborah Briggs (b. 1799); Sarah Bentley Briggs (b. 1801); Isaac Briggs (b. 1803); Elizabeth Briggs (1807-1865); Margaret Briggs (b. 1812); William Henry Briggs (b. 1815). Died at "Sharon" in Montgomery County on December 26, 1851. 

Hannah Brooke Briggs was the daughter of Roger Brooke IV, a wealthy landowner in Montgomery County. She was also the wife of Isaac Briggs, a nationally renowned surveyor, engineer, and agriculturalist who played crucial roles in the construction of the Erie Canal and the road from Washington, D.C. to New Orleans, as well as the founding of the forerunner to the United States Department of Agriculture.1

Born in 1770, Hannah Brooke Briggs was alive to see America transform from an English colony into the independent United States. Hannah and her family were Quakers, a religion which deplores violence, and most of her family and community members chose not to enlist in the war effort, but rather to remain at their homes and tend to their families. Hannah was one of the eight children of Robert Brooke IV and Mary Brooke, who owned several thousand acres of land throughout Montgomery County. When her father passed away, Hannah inherited several hundred acres of land that would eventually become the location of "Sharon," the Briggs family estate.2

While at "Sharon," Hannah took great pride in her gardens, as well as the food that she cooked and ate. She wrote very fondly of the vast array of different fruits and vegetables that she grew at the estate, including corn, peas, beans, potatoes, clover seed, raspberries, cherries, cabbages, locust trees, and what her son Isaac Briggs Jr. referred to as "the finest piece of oats in the neighborhood." In addition to produce, the farms at "Sharon" also contained a variety of livestock, including chickens, turkeys, and oxen. In a letter to Isaac Jr., she raved about a stuffed and baked chicken "nearly as large as a turkey," and enclosed dried currants for Isaac's wife so that "she may think of me."3

Hannah handled several major land transactions in her lifetime, including the purchase of several hundred acres of land throughout Montgomery County, as well as a house in the town of Brookeville, near her estate.4 Because Isaac's work required him to be away from his family for very long periods of time, Hannah was often left in charge of business decisions such as this land transaction. Hannah and her children lived at the Brookeville house for a short period of time while Isaac was in New York engineering the Erie Canal. After the Briggs family moved back to "Sharon," the house in Brookeville was occupied by Hannah's daughter Anna Briggs Bentley and her husband Joseph E. Bentley.5

With Isaac away for months, or even years at a time, Hannah and her family became very meticulous about writing weekly letters. Isaac would always take great care in making sure that his family knew exactly where to send their weekly letters so that he could receive them promptly. In fact, when either Isaac or Hannah would go more than a week or two without hearing from the other, they would express deep concern, often thinking that the other had fell ill or died, imagining that these were the only reasons that the other would not write. On one occasion when Isaac was not able to write due to the isolating nature of his work, Hannah was provided with an update that was personally written by Thomas Jefferson, who was an intimate friend of Isaac Briggs.6 When they were able to write to each other, Hannah and Isaac would often express profound love for one another, as well as the same strong feelings for their children. It is quite clear that Hannah was the matriarch of a very tight-knit, loving, and caring family.

Hannah played a very active role in the Sandy Spring Monthly Meeting along with many other women in her largely Quaker community. Unlike many members of the Brookeville community who had moved to Montgomery County after the town was founded, Hannah had been a member of the Sandy Spring Meeting since her birth. By the time she was an adult, she was acting in several leadership positions with the meeting, including appointments to confer with the men on the admittance of new members, as well as appointments to attend the Baltimore Quarterly Meeting, which was a gathering of Quaker representatives from throughout the state of Maryland.7 Hannah also served as an elder, a leader and role-model in the Society.8 Aside from the meeting, Hannah also practiced and preached her Quaker virtues at home. In her correspondence, she often spoke of God in a quite reverent manner, especially when it came to her or her family members being afflicted with illness. She often advised them to "be cautious, be prudent," and to remember that, whatever the outcome may be, it was always part of God's plan.9

Hannah did all of this even though she lived in generally poor health, and constantly struggled with sickness. She often spoke in correspondence of her troubles with rheumatism, which caused her a great deal of pain. Her ailments prevented her from taking trips to visit her husband while he was away on business. This caused a considerable amount of stress for the couple, who were very fond of each other, and very frustrated that they were not near one another. On top of her rheumatism, Hannah was also stricken frequently with colds, swelling, and other ailments that often confined her to her bed. Her daughters, including Elizabeth, Mary, and Deborah, would all face similar struggles with sickness, some even being confined to their beds for months at a time with the same illnesses that plagued their mother. Toward the end of her life, Hannah also suffered from blindness, stating that she wrote letters "as well as bad sight would let me." In addition to her own family members, Hannah would plead with extended family members and friends alike to come to "Sharon" whenever they fell ill. People would often oblige and make the journey, as many of them felt that fresh air and a change of atmosphere would be helpful. "Sharon" still stands today as a nursing home for the elderly and infirm, just as Hannah utilized it throughout her life.10

By the time of her death, Hannah had sold off much of the land that she had inherited and purchased. Although her husband had died nearly a quarter century earlier, Hannah was not left alone in her household. Several of her children, including her daughters Sarah and Elizabeth, and her son Isaac, along with their children, remained in the home until at least 1850. Hannah died at "Sharon" on December 26, 1851.11

Kyle Bacon, DAR Research Fellow, 2012.

Notes:

  1. Isaac Briggs, "Address from the American Board of Agriculture to the Citizens of the United States," Alexandria Expositor, February 28, 1803, p. 3; Isaac Briggs, "Be it Known," The Orleans Gazette and Commercial Advertiser, April 26, 1806, p. 4. This article describes Briggs' appointment of a deputy while surveying the road from DC to New Orleans; "From the Albany Argus," Rochester Telegraph, December 8, 1818, p. 2. This article describes Briggs' efforts in engineering the Erie Canal; Monthly Meeting at the Clifts Collection, marriage certificates from Sandy Spring, West River, and Indian Springs meetings, marriage certificate, Isaac Briggs and Hannah Brooke, August 27, 1794, pp. 215-216 [MSA SC 2978, SCM 639-1].
  2. Sandy Spring Monthly Meeting: Births, Deaths, and Membership: Births, p. 3 [MSA SC 2978, SCM 667-3]; MONTGOMERY COUNTY COURT (Land Records) 1794-1795, F-6, p.58, 61, 63, 66, 68, 71, 74, 77, 79. Hannah Brooke's inheritance of land from her father, Roger Brooke IV [MSA CE 148-6]. 
  3. Isaac Briggs, et. al. Briggs-Stabler Papers, 1793-1910. Maryland Historical Society collection no. MS 147, boxes 1-4. This collection includes a variety of personal correspondence between Isaac and Hannah Briggs, as well as letters to and from their children. Also included is a variety of business correspondence between Isaac Briggs and people such as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John C. Calhoun, and other prominent figures in early United States history.
  4. MONTGOMERY COUNTY COURT (Land Records) February 14, 1804, Liber L, p. 255. Deed, Richard Thomas to Hannah Briggs, lots 42 &43 in Brookeville, Maryland [MSA CE 148-12]; Ibid., February 23, 1838, Clerk BS, Liber 8, p. 535, Mortgage, James P Stabler to Hannah Briggs, land outside of Brookeville, Maryland [MSA CE 148-34]; July 2, 1838, Clerk BS, Liber 9, p. 50. Deed, William Farquhar to Hannah Briggs, land outside of Brookeville, Maryland [MSA CE 148-35].
  5. Briggs-Stabler Papers, MS 147, box 2, 1819 folder, January 8, 1819.
  6. The Library of Congress, American Memory Series: The Thomas Jefferson Papers, 1606-1827. Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Hannah Briggs dated December 5, 1804.
  7. Sandy Spring Monthly Meeting: Minutes, Women, 1811-1824 [MSA SC 2978, SCM 667-3]. Hannah Briggs' name can be found on the first page of the first series of Women's minutes, as well as on various pages throughout the series.
  8. Hannah apparently served as an elder at least two separate times. Quarterly Meeting for the Western Shore; Rough Minutes, Ministers and Elders, 1814-1826, May 10, 1823, p. 88 [MSA SC 3123 SCM 574-1]. Quarterly Meeting for the Western Shore; Minutes, Ministers and Elders, 1815-1891, March 10, 1829, p. 60 [MSA SC 3123 SCM 576-1].
  9. Briggs-Stabler Papers, MS 147, box 4, 1836 folder, January 23, 1836.
  10. Ibid., January 4, 1836.
  11. MONTGOMERY COUNTY COURT (Land Records) November 11, 1844, Clerk BS, Liber 12, p. 417. Deed, Hannah Briggs to William Farquhar, land outside of Brookeville, Maryland [MSA CE 148-38]; 1850 United States Federal Census, Montgomery County, Maryland. Roll: M432_295, p. 347B, Image 73; Sandy Spring Monthly Meeting: Births, Deaths, and Membership: Deaths, p. 11-12 [MSA SC 2978, SCM 667-3]. 

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