Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)


Gerard Brooke (1768-1821)
MSA SC 3520-15902

Biography:

Born on August 12, 1768 in Montgomery County, Maryland. Son of Basil Brooke (ca. 1742- August 22, 1794) and Elizabeth Brooke (ca. 1741- August 17, 1794). Three Siblings: James Brooke (b. May 5, 1766); Deborah Brooke Pleasants (September 4, 1770 - February 21, 1835); Basil Brooke Jr. (April 28, 1772 - August 1, 1857). Married Margarett Thomas (June 11, 1769 - March 5, 1797) in 1789. Three Children: Richard Brooke (1790-1862); John Thomas Brooke (b. 1791); Elizabeth P. Brooke (b. 1794 - after 1821). Died in 1821 in Brookeville, Montgomery County, Maryland.

Gerard Brooke was a major landowner who lived in the town of Brookeville, Maryland in the early part of the nineteenth century. At its height, his landholdings comprised some 2,000 acres in Montgomery County.1 He was primarily engaged in renting his land to tenants, in addition to making minor business transactions in his community and cultivating cash crops.    

Gerard Brooke’s grandfather was James Brooke the Elder, who acquired some 33,000 acres of land in Montgomery County. Gerard Brooke was the one of the heirs of Basil Brooke, son of James Brooke the Elder. When Gerard's parents died within a week of one another in 1794, he inherited a smaller, but still large, tract of land taken from his grandfather’s large holdings consisting of about 1,000 acres.2 His landholdings fluctuated throughout his life as he bought and sold various parcels; however, the bulk of his property remained intact. 

Like the majority of his neighbors and extended family, Brooke was a Quaker and a member of the Sandy Spring Meeting. In 1789, Brooke married Margarett Thomas. They had three children together before her untimely death in 1797 at the age of 28.3 Her father, Richard Thomas Sr. lent a substantial amount of money to the young family, which ultimately was never returned before Thomas's death in 1806.4 After Margarett's death, Brooke made his full time residence in a house in Brookeville.5  

The majority of Brooke’s income came from renting his land to tenant farmers. He achieved moderate wealth by these means. In 1805, for example, Brooke had seven tenants on his land. Their combined total rent for the year earned Brooke a tidy sum of $660. This would have been a substantial amount of money at the time: by contrast, a carpenter in Brooke’s employ was making less than $350 a year. The bulk of Brooke's capital came from the proceeds of cultivating crops such as tobacco, rye, and corn. However, his tenants would also sometimes do work for or sell goods to other local wealthy Brookeville residents such as Richard Thomas Jr. and Caleb Bentley. In these cases, the employer or buyer would pay Brooke the rent, in lieu of paying the worker directly for his labor or product. It is important to note that Brooke did not always receive cash as payment; often he would accept labor instead. For example, in 1804, he sold three bushels of potatoes and two hundred weight of straw to Charles B. Hutton who repaid Brooke by “ploughing [sic] a lot of ground, hauling a load of hay to Brookeville, [and hauling a] load of wood for [Brooke’s] sister.”6

It appears that Brooke had a good deal of involvement in the professional lives of his tenants. Tenants were usually expected to do a certain amount of upkeep on the lands they were renting such as repairing barns and fences. Brooke would also arrange for internal improvements on his land such as paying for barn construction on the parcels that he was leasing. In some instances, he was very specific with which crops he wanted grown and where. Brooke was wary of tobacco as a crop due to its high level of soil depletion and carefully regulated its cultivation on his lands.7

Beyond collecting rent, Brooke sold his own crops and livestock. He sold these products to his neighbors and relatives, and at markets in Georgetown and Baltimore. These included cattle, sheep, horses, corn, rye, hay, and cider. In addition to selling his crops and livestock, Brooke also supplemented his income by selling homespun manufactures such as farm tools, textiles, paper, soap, baskets, and shoes. In some instances, it appears that Brooke purchased crops from his tenants and then sold these items elsewhere for a profit.8

On the land that he did not lease to tenants, Brooke utilized a variety of labor sources to cultivate crops and raise livestock. At least one indentured servant, William Jones, was contracted to serve Brooke. Upon his release in 1808, Jones was compensated a sizable sum of $53, plus another $16 in exchange for furnishing his own clothing during the previous year. In 1810, eight free persons were living in the Brooke household, probably servants or laborers of some kind.9

Brooke was also a slaveholder. In 1790 he owned at least five slaves.10 Official government records such as census and tax assessments fail to record slave ownership after 1790, yet there is clear evidence in Brooke’s personal accounts that there were slaves in his possession into the nineteenth century. In 1806, he inherited one elderly slave from his father-in-law, Richard Thomas Sr., and took on joint custody of another two from the same inheritance.11 In that same year, he makes note of “a negroe [sic] boy Joshua who I have purchased for 100 dollars.”12 Interestingly, this slave was sold by Sarah Thomas, his wife’s niece, and sister-in-law of Caleb Bentley. In May of 1814, Brooke rented a slave named Nace to a neighbor, William H. Dorsey, for a period of two years under the condition that Dorsey was responsible for providing him clothes. Furthermore, many of Brooke's wealthier tenants were slaveholders themselves. Even though he was a slave owner, Brooke was a devout Quaker. When the Society of Friends officially denounced slavery in the 1770s, Brooke, like many of his neighbors in Brookeville, responded by freeing his slaves. In 1794, Brooke manumitted six slaves, and in 1815 he manumitted another.13 Still, the fact that Brooke and other prominent Quakers owned slaves so late into the nineteenth century is curious since slave-ownership ran counter to official Quaker doctrine by the 1770s. The Sandy Spring Meeting minutes confirm that these condemnations were echoed on a local level. Yet regardless of what was said, in practice, the pillars of Brookeville society were either implicated in slave ownership, profiting from it, or were closely related to someone who was. Gerard Brooke's accounts help to substantiate this picture of labor in Brookeville. 

Of the many land transactions that Brooke engaged in throughout his life, one in particular was unique. In 1812, Brooke sold a parcel of approximately thirty three acres of land to two free African American men, Caesar Williams, and his nephew George Williams. The total cost of the land ($750) was considerable, especially for two men who occupied a marginalized class in society. George and Ceaser continued to make payments for this land until Brooke's death in 1821 and even then never fully paid off the debt.14 Curiously, this sale was never officially recorded in any deed filed with the county land office. Therefore, the Williams's legal ownership could have been drawn into question by Brooke's heirs after their father's death. Why Brooke, who was very well acquainted with the legal procedure for land sales, would have conducted such a murky agreement is a mystery.  

Brooke also acted as a trustee, administering the 650 acres of land belonging to his sister, Deborah Pleasants. In 1801, he purchased a house in Brookeville for her exclusive use and subsidized her living expenses. She lived in this house until 1815, when Brooke relinquished trusteeship of her estate to her other relations and sold the house.15

Brooke was a founding member of the Columbian Agricultural Society, an early institution for the improvement of agricultural techniques and sciences based out of Georgetown. During the period of his membership, the society was responsible for publishing the first ever agricultural journal in the U.S. called, “Agricultural Museum.” In 1810, he was also chosen as one of several judges for the society’s first ever convention, where he was jointly responsible for selecting winners in the domestic manufactures competition.16 This convention was purportedly attended by President James Madison.

Tragedy and personal hardship were not unknown to the Brooke family. Gerard and Margarett's second son, John Thomas Brooke suffered from mental illness and was a continual emotional and financial burden for his family. By January 1816, John had cost his father an incredible $7,000 in various living expenses and doctors' fees. By the time John had turned 28, his health had deteriorated so much that his family could no longer take care of him. In 1819, Gerard and his brother Basil brought John to the recently opened Friend's Asylum in Philadelphia to live out the rest of his life. A cousin, Deborah Briggs, relayed the incident in a letter to her father Isaac Briggs shortly after: "Poor John Brooke is thought a confirmed maniac...[Gerard] appeared very anxious...[and] was heard to say the Hospital was the proper place for him. His family have been in much affliction on his account and until they found they could no longer keep him without endangering their own lives would not consent to let him go. He became outrageous & they lost their influence over him.”17

Gerard Brooke’s wealth was stable throughout his life, but never grew to outstanding proportions. In his old age, it appears that Brooke’s personal property and monetary assets diminished as he gradually transferred his estate to his son, Richard Brooke. When he died in 1821, his personal property was comparatively little for his social standing.18

Jackson Gilman-Forlini, DAR Research Fellow, 2012.

Notes:

  1. MONTGOMERY COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF THE TAX (Assessment Record) 1813-1830, Gerard Brooke Real Property, 1813 Assessment Districts 1 and 4, MdHR 20,115-3-1 [MSA C1110-3, 01/18/14/019]Intimate knowledge of Brooke’s finances can be gleaned from his extant account book dating from the years 1802 until his death in 1821. This important record provides detailed insight into daily business transactions, loans, debts, and sales, with his relatives, neighbors and tenants.
  2. MONTGOMERY COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF THE TAX (Assessment Record) 1793-1797, Gerard Brooke Real Property, 1795 Assessment District 4, MdHR 20,115-1-1 [MSA C1110-1, 01/18/14/017].
  3. Monthly Meeting at the Clifts Collection, marriage certificates from Sandy Spring, West River, and Indian Springs meetings, marriage certificate, Gerard Brooke and Margarett Thomas, April 22, 1789, pp. 195-196 [MSA SC 2978, SCM 639-1]; Sandy Spring Meeting records, Register of Births and Deaths: Deaths pp. 1-2 [MSA SC 2978, SCM 667-3, 638-1].
  4. MONTGOMERY COUNTY REGISTER OF WILLS (Estate Record) March 12, 1807, “A list of Debts due the Estate of Richard Thomas late of Montgomery County Deceased,” pp . 82-84, MdHR 12,392  [MSA C1138-8, 01/17/08/007].
  5. MONTGOMERY COUNTY COURT (Land Records) November 22, 1803, Liber L, p. 161, Gerard Brooke to Joseph Elgar, lots 12 & 13 in Brookeville [MSA CE 148-12]; January 15. 1805, Liber M, p. 67, Joseph Elgar to Caleb Pancoast, lots 10-13 in Brookeville [MSA CE 148-13]; January 26, 1806, Liber M, p. 481, Caleb Pancoast to Gerard Brooke, lots 10-13 in Brookeville [MSA CE 148-13].
  6. SPECIAL COLLECTIONS (Mary Farquhar Green Collection) Account book of Gerard Brooke, 1803 transaction with Charles B Hutton [MSA SC 566-1-98, 00/09/06/06].
  7. Ibid., These conclusions can be reached by examining the account book as a whole. Brooke makes personal comments and notes on several of the transactions throughout the account book.
  8. Ibid., These sorts of transactions take place several times according to multiple entries in the account book.
  9. Third Census of the United States, 1810, Population Schedule, Montgomery County, Maryland, Roll: 14 p. 974.
  10. First Census of the United States, 1790, Population Schedule, Montgomery County, Maryland, Roll: 3; p. 42.
  11. MONTGOMERY COUNTY REGISTER OF WILLS (Estate Record) 1811-1814 (no date given), “A Division of Negroes above the age of 45 years belonging to the Estate of the late Richard Thomas of Montgomery County deceased made by th [sic] appraisement,” Liber H, pp. 245-246,  MdHR 12,394  [MSA C1138-10, 01/17/08/009].   
  12. SPECIAL COLLECTIONS (Mary Farquhar Green Collection) Account book of Gerard Brooke, 1806 transaction with Sarah Thomas [MSA SC 566-1-98, 00/09/06/06].
  13. MONTGOMERY COUNTY COURT (Land Records) 9 December 1794, Liber F-6, p. 89. Manumission, Gerard Brooke to Negro Young and others [MSA CE 148-6]; MONTGOMERY COUNTY COURT (Land Records) 17 July 1815, Liber S-19, p. 265. Manumission, Gerard Brooke to Negro Nace [MSA CE 148-19].
  14. SPECIAL COLLECTIONS (Mary Farquhar Green Collection) Account book of Gerard Brooke, 1812 transaction with Ceaser and George Williams [MSA SC 566-1-98, 00/09/06/06].
  15. Ibid., transactions pertaining to Deborah Pleasants cease in 1815.
  16. "Columbian Agricultural Society," Independent American, May 26, 1810, pg. 3, Georgetown, District of Columbia.
  17. Isaac Briggs, et. al. Briggs-Stabler Papers, 1793-1910. Maryland Historical Society collection no. MS 147, Box 2, 1819 folder, letter from Deborah Briggs to Isaac Briggs.
  18. MONTGOMERY COUNTY REGISTER OF WILLS (Estate Record) December 24, 1821, "Inventory of the personal property belonging to Gerard Brooke, desc." Liber N, p. 161, MdHR 12,399 [MSA C1138-15, 01/17/08/014]. 

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