Edward Brooks

Chaplain Edward Brooks, Continental Frigate Hancock

Edward Brooks was born October 31, 1733 in Medford, Massachusetts. He was the son of Samuel and Mary (Boutwell) Brooks.

Edward graduated from Harvard College in 1757, serving after his studies as Harvard’s librarian from 1758 to 1760. He was ordained minister of the First Congregational Church on July 4, 1764 at North Yarmouth, Maine succeeding Rev. Nicholas Loring who died the preceding year. Just a couple of months after his ordination, the Reverend Edward Brooks was married at North Yarmouth to Abigail Brown on September 23, 1764. Abigail was born in 1732 and was the daughter of Haverhill minister Rev. John Brown and Joanna Cotton.  

After some time, serious theological differences became evident between the reverend and his congregation at North Yarmouth. 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, he resigned his charge in March of 1769. He was succeeded in the pastorate at the First Congregational Church of North Yarmouth by the Rev. Tristram Gilman on December 8, 1769.

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. 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.

Although his vocation might suggest a more peaceable role, Edward Brooks like others in his family (John Brooks, Caleb Brooks and Thomas Brooks) was quick to respond to the hot action around Concord Bridge on April 19, 1775.

According to the testimony of Peter Chardon Brooks in History of the Town of Medford, the Rev. Edward Brooks 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. On April 12, 1777, Edward Brooks was given a warrant appointing him to serve as Chaplain for the ship Hancock. The Hancock was one of the original frigates of the Continental Navy authorized by the Continental Congress on December 13, 1775 and was built at Newburyport, Massachusetts.

The 32-gun frigate was placed under the command of Captain John Manley on April 17, 1776 and reportedly launched on July 4, 1776. The Hancock spent the entire winter of 1776-1777 in Boston waiting for cannon while fitting out and manning her crew. Five weeks after entering on board, Chaplain Brooks sailed with the fleet on the Hancock’s first cruise on May 21, 1777. The voyage was to St. George’s Bank in search of British fishing vessels. In concert with the Boston under the command of Hector McNeill, the Hancock captured the 28 gun British privateer Fox on June 7, 1777 in a bloody engagement. One month later on July 8, 1777, after being abandoned by McNeill and the Boston, the Hancock along with the 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 Hancock. While confined there on parole, Chaplain Brooks contracted smallpox. Chaplain Brooks left Halifax on January 29, 1778 on the cartel Favorite having been exchanged for Parson Lewis, a British chaplain. Arriving home at Medford in February of 1778, Brooks’ reunion with his family was tempered by the reality his health was hopelessly shattered. While in poor health and not able to do active service, the Reverend Edward Brooks continued the cause of the Revolution financially by contributing bounty money for new recruits.

The Reverend Edward Brooks died May 6, 1781 at Medford, Massachusetts 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 £. His personal estate and belongings were valued at just over 421 £. 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”.

Sources: Department of the Navy, Naval History Division (Michael J. Crawford, Editor),  Naval Documents of the American Revolution: Volume 11, American Theatre, Jan. 1, 1778-March 31, 1778, (Washington, D.C., 2005), 148; New England Historic Genealogical Society, Proceedings of the New England Historic Genealogical Society at the Annual Meeting, 3 February 1915: Memoirs, (Boston, 1915), xvi;  Charles Brooks and William H. Whitmore, History of the town of Medford, Middlesex County, Massachusetts: From its first settlement, in 1630, to the present time, 1855, (Boston, 1855); Freeman Hunt, Lives of American Merchants, (New York, 1856), 133-137; Shepherd Brooks biography; Selected Wartime Service Records of Chaplain Edward Brooks.