The Journey of Jehiel Brooks

Our neighborhood is named for him, his mansion still stands hard by the railroad tracks, and we probably have an image of him in our minds based on his only known photograph (see above). During his time living in Washington, from 1836 to 1886, Jehiel Brooks was known as a cantankerous country gentleman and farmer, but many aren’t aware of his full story, though his journey winds through some fascinating aspects of American history.

Early Life

He was born in 1797 to Hananiah and Elizabeth Brooks at St. Albans, Vermont, close to the Canadian border. The first Brookses to immigrate to the United States were Henry and his son John, who in the mid-1600s moved from Manchester, England to Concord, Massachusetts. They were followed by a long line of biblically-named descendants; Ebenezer, Eleazar, Adonijah, Hananiah and finally Jehiel. All had large families and spread quickly throughout New England. Hananiah was living in Hancock, Massachusetts, in the far western reaches of the state, when the “shot heard round the world” was fired at Concord in 1775. He volunteered in June and marched across the state to join in the siege of Boston. Hananiah served throughout the Revolutionary War, wintered at Valley Forge, saw Major John AndrĂ© hanged, and fought in the battles of White Plains, New York and Bennington, Vermont, where he was severely wounded.

After the war, Hananiah moved to St. Albans where his uncle Eleazar had lived since 1785. His father Adonijah soon joined them and began to raise livestock on a five acre plot of land at St. Albans Point on the bay. A number of Adonijah’s brothers and sisters also settled there. Almost a century later, many Brooks descendants were still living in St. Albans, as can be seen in this 1857 map. The St. Albans Point cemetery is still known as Brooks cemetery to many locals. Click to enlarge.

Map of the counties of Franklin and Grand Isle, Vermont : Baker, Tilden & Co., 1857. Library of Congress

Hananiah and family left St. Albans around 1800 to venture further west. What is commonly called the Northwest Indian War of 1786-1795 had ended with the treaty of Greenville, which opened up the territory of Ohio for American settlement. That is where Hananiah headed, winding up in what would become the fledgling town of Conneaut, just over the Pennsylvania border on Lake Erie (marked with a red dot on the map below). Jehiel grew up there, surrounded by early white settlers and the remnants of the Native American tribes that had been driven away.

Portion of a 1796 map of the United States, published by Abraham Bradley. Library of Congress.

Hananiah Brooks was not wealthy, but he was able to make sure his children got a decent education, starting with the small school in Conneaut opened by a Mr. Loomis in 1802. Even though they were an old, established family, all of Hananiah’s children claimed poverty at one point or another in their lives, including Jehiel and Hananiah himself.

The Army

In 1812, when Jehiel was 15 years old, war broke out between Great Britain and the United States. Some websites list Jehiel as serving with the First Regiment of the Ohio Militia during the war, but I have been unable to find any verification of that. However, I did find one letter written in support of Jehiel’s later quest for a government position that referred to him as “my old Western friend and fellow soldier of the War of 1812.” Exactly what he did during the conflict I have been unable to determine. I did find records for Jehiel’s father, Hananiah, and his two older brothers, John and James, who all served in the 3rd Regiment (King’s) in the Ohio Militia during the war. It’s possible Jehiel served in a voluntary capacity, assisting around one of the camps.

The War of 1812 ended with the Treaty of Ghent, ratified in February, 1815. In the fall of that year, Jehiel, then 18 years old, was hired as an Acting Lieutenant of Ordnance under Captain R.D. Richardson at Newport, Kentucky, just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. That did not mean he was actually in the U.S. Army, he was more of a hired hand. With the war ended, the Army began downsizing quickly, and official appointments became difficult to get. That is what Jehiel was after. He worked for nearly two years, was given some important responsibilities, and even got to meet General Andrew Jackson in Nashville, where he pleaded his case for an appointment. In a letter to the Adjutant General he later wrote:

I laid my case before Gen’l Jackson, and the vouchers I produced to him of the services I had rendered, together with that I was then performing, caused him to promise me his aid. But on my return to Newport, I was informed by a letter of Col. Wadsworth to Capt. R that no appointments would be made that season. I, accordingly, left the Corps and engaged in other pursuits until Capt. R should go on to the City when I again renewed my application. Having for nearly two years given all my attention to the obtaining of military knowledge, and having become very much attached to military pursuits – likewise feeling that I was entitled to some little claim for an appointment, agreeably to regulations regarding appointments, I could not easily abandon the idea.

On April 30, 1818 Jehiel got his appointment, as a 2nd Lieutenant in Co. F of the 1st Infantry Regiment. He spent the rest of 1818 on detached duty recruiting in Ohio. There he worked with Capt. George Gray, who would become an important factor in his life. In early 1819 he was promoted to 1st Lieutenant, and joined the rest of his regiment in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Fort Baton Rouge was then the westernmost Army post in the United States, and Jehiel began working on the construction of the Pentagon Barracks there. Those buildings still stand and are listed in the National Historic Register.

The Pentagon Barracks in Baton Rouge. They now house the Office of the Lieutenant Governor as well as private apartments for state legislators. Library of Congress

Jehiel became fascinated by Louisiana. Once controlled by the French, then the Spanish, and finally Americans, it has a complex cultural legacy. Louisiana became a state only seven years before Brooks got there. As he learned more about the region and more settlers arrived, he saw possibilities for land speculation that whet his appetite.

In July of 1820 he was granted a four-month furlough, and returned to Cincinnati. As the end of his furlough approached, he requested that it be extended, as he had come down with a “severe illness” that he claimed prevented him from traveling to Baton Rouge. The extension was denied, at which point Brooks had a decision to make. On November 2, 1820, he wrote to the commanding officer at Baton Rouge:

From the situation of my private affairs in this Country at present, & the Commanding General refusing to extend my furlough (as I have been informed by him today,) I tender the resignation of my commission in the United States Army.

Becoming a Lawyer

The resignation was accepted and Brooks left the army for good. He went back to Cincinnati and began to study law. This is likely when he rejoined the Ohio Militia, rising to the rank of Colonel, a title he would hold onto the rest of his life. He got his law license in 1823 and began a practice in Hamilton, Ohio, just north of Cincinnati.

Jehiel Brooks 1823 license to practice law in Ohio. Click to enlarge. Brooks-Queen Family Collection, The Special Collections of the University Libraries at The Catholic University of America.

After he had established himself for a few years, Brooks felt it was time to move on. According to a friend, he moved to Louisiana in 1826 for his health. I am not sure why the hot, steamy area around the Red River would be a healthy alternative to Cincinnati, but that is where Brooks went; to Natchitoches (pronounced NAK-a-dish), about 170 miles northwest of Baton Rouge. He might have been encouraged to come by his old army friend George Gray, who in 1819 had been appointed Red River Indian Agent there. Dealing primarily with the Caddo and Quapaw Nations, Gray knew a great deal about the entire region of northwest Louisiana and how the Native Americans there interacted with the quickly arriving white settlers. As Indian Agent, Gray was the intermediary between the Nations and the Americans, and as the sole representative of the federal government, had considerable power to control trade and land acquisition.

At Natchitoches, Brooks set up a new law practice, and often visited with George Gray, either in Natchitoches, or at the Indian Agency at Caddo Prairie.

Front Street in Natchitoches, La. Library of Congress

Natchitoches was nestled on the banks of the Red River, which flowed eastward from Mexican Texas, through a bit of Arkansas, and then south through Louisiana where it joins the Atchafalaya River. It should have been ideal for river commerce, but north of Natchitoches, it was not. That’s because it was blocked by a 150-mile long, centuries old log jam, known as “The Great Raft.”

Even after clearing, the log jams could return. This colorized picture is from a clearing operation on the Red River in the 1870s. Noel Memorial Library, Louisiana State University Shreveport

The Great Raft began forming long before any Europeans arrived on the scene. The banks of the Red River were composed of erodible soil, and with periodic flooding, trees that line the banks were easily dislodged. There were other log jams on American rivers, but none like this. At its peak, the Great Raft reached 165 miles in length. Red River historian Robin Cole-Jett put it this way:

The “log jam” was indeed immense. Every Spring, flash floods would dislodge cottonwoods, post oaks, pines, and other trees along the sandy, silty banks of the river. Huge trees sunk to the bottom of the shallow river along bayous, creating a natural dam as more and more of them toppled onto each other. The jam allowed water to back up into large, deep lakes, but was porous enough to create a constant and consistent river south of the dam.

The Great Raft worked to the advantage of the Caddo tribes. The regular floods left behind rich, fertile fields they used for planting a variety of crops. It also served as a barrier, keeping the Caddo more isolated from hostile tribes and land-hungry Americans. But plans were in the works for removing the raft. If successful, the landscape would be substantially altered. New land, ripe for growing cotton, could be available, if the Caddo could be moved from it.

A New Job

George Gray died suddenly in November 1828, and the Red River Indian Agent position became available. Brooks wanted the job, and quickly enlisted friends and acquaintances far and wide to recommend him to a variety of congressmen, the Secretary of War, and the President himself. Canny regarding this political appointment, Brooks made sure a few letters mentioned his long-time and ardent support for President Jackson and his policies, and that he was formerly in Jackson’s army. He travelled to Washington to personally lobby for the job.

Letter supporting Jehiel Brooks as Red River Indian Agent sent to Peter Buell Porter, Secretary of War, by the interpreters and the blacksmith who worked with the Native Americans. Click to enlarge. Brooks-Queen Family Collection, The Special Collections of the University Libraries at The Catholic University of America.

It was during this brief time in Washington that Brooks likely met Ann Margaret Queen, daughter of the wealthy Washington farmer Nicholas Queen. They would soon begin courting. Perhaps lucky in love, Brooks was less fortunate with his job quest. The Red River Indian Agent job was awarded to Capt. Thomas Griffith instead. Disappointed, Brooks returned to Natchitoches and his law practice. However, about all Griffith was able to accomplish was to move the agency from Caddo Prairie to Natchitoches before ill health overtook him as well. With his quick demise, Brooks once again began peppering various representatives and senators with letters of recommendation. This time it worked.

Notification of Brooks’ appointment as Indian Agent. Click to enlarge. Brooks-Queen Family Collection, The Special Collections of the University Libraries at The Catholic University of America.

With his appointment in hand, Brooks felt he could move his life forward. On May 19, 1830, just two months after his appointment, he married Ann Queen. Her father Nicholas then gifted her over 200 acres of his farm in Washington. Eventually, that land would become the neighborhood of Brookland. Nicholas Queen was also one of the larger slaveholders in Washington County, and provided a female servant to accompany his daughter as the couple migrated to Louisiana. It was the start of a new life.

For Jehiel Brooks, his time as Indian Agent would color the rest of his life. The reputation he had been working so hard to establish and maintain would come under serious strain, affecting his legacy among both Native Americans and Washington lawmakers. That’s the next chapter of the story.


Brooks-Queen Family Collection. The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives. The Catholic University of America. Washington.

Child, Hamilton, Gazetteer of Franklin and Grand Isle Counties, Vt., for 1882-83, Syracuse NY, 1883.

Crockett, Walter H., Soldiers of the Revolutionary War Buried in Vermont, Vermont Historical Society, Clearfield, 1904.

Index to the Compiled Military Service Records for the Volunteer Soldiers Who Served During the War of 1812; Microfilm publication M602, 234 rolls; Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1762 – 1984, Record Group 94; The National Archives in Washington, D.C.

Ledgers of Payments, 1818-1872, to U.S. Pensioners Under Acts of 1818 Through 1858 From Records of the Office of the Third Auditor of the Treasury, 1818-1872. NARA microform publication T718. 23 rolls. Records of the Accounting Officers of the Department of the Treasury, 1775-1978, Record Group 217. National Archives, Washington, D.C.

Letters Received by the Office of Indian Affairs, 1824-1880. Caddo Agency. National Archives and Records Administration. Washington, D.C.

Letters Received by the Office of Indian Affairs, 1824-1880. Red River Agency. National Archives and Records Administration. Washington, D.C.

Ledgers of Payments, 1818-1872, to U.S. Pensioners Under Acts of 1818 Through 1858 From Records of the Office of the Third Auditor of the Treasury, 1818-1872. NARA microform publication T718. 23 rolls. Records of the Accounting Officers of the Department of the Treasury, 1775-1978, Record Group 217. National Archives, Washington, D.C.

Records of the Adjutant Generals Office, Letters Received, 1805-1889, Record Group 94; The National Archives in Washington, D.C.

Williams, William W., History of Ashtabula County 1798-1878, Philadelphia, Williams Brothers, 1878.

3 thoughts

  1. Bob: Wasn’t Anne’s father, Nicholas Queen, also the former owner of Queen’s Hotel, or the Indian Queen Hotel? – John Feeley


    1. It was Queen’s Hotel, on Carroll Row to the east of the Capitol building, where the Library of Congress is now. There was also the Indian Queen Hotel on Pennsylvania Ave., and the two are often confused. Nicholas was the proprietor for a few years, leasing it from Daniel Carroll. The exact years are unclear, but probably around 1818-1826. According to one source, it was commonly called Nick Queen’s Hotel.


  2. I enjoyed this interesting story, which reflects quite a lot of research. Thank you. I also appreciate the small details, like the hanging of Major John André (I needed to peek at Wikipedia to refresh my recollection) and the Great Raft. Fascinating!


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