About John Brooks
John Brooks (baptized May 4, 1752 – March 1, 1825) was a doctor, military officer, and politician from Massachusetts. He served as the 11th Governor of Massachusetts from 1816 to 1823, and was one of the last Federalist officials elected in the United States. He served in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War and in the state militia for many years afterward. In the post-war years he also had a medical practice in Medford, Massachusetts, and served as president of the Massachusetts Medical Society.
John Brooks was born in Medford, Massachusetts, the son of Caleb and Ruth Albree Brooks, who were local farmers, and baptized on May 4, 1752. After education in the local schools, Brooks studied medicine with Dr. Simon Tufts alongside Benjamin Thompson. In his free time he engage in military drills with other local boys and carefully watched the maneuvers of British Army troops stationed in nearby Boston. When his apprenticeship with Dr. Tufts ended Brooks established a medical practice in Reading, where he was active in the local militia.
Revolutionary War service
When Paul Revere gave the alarm that sparked the Battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, Brooks, then 22 and a major in the Reading militia, marched with his unit in response. His troops were among the first to reach Concord as the British took the road back to Boston, and are credited with beginning the running battle that took place. Brooks later described that day as the most difficult of his life. He then joined the Continental Army as a major in Bridge's Regiment, and was among the troops sent to fortify Breed's Hill on the night of June 16–17. He missed the next day's Battle of Bunker Hill, because he was sent by Colonel William Prescott to request reinforcements. He continued to serve in the Siege of Boston, transferring to the 19th Continental Regiment in 1776. One of Brooks' subordinates in this unit was William Hull, with whom he formed a fast friendship. After the British withdrawal from Boston, Brooks' regiment next saw action in the October 1776 Battle of White Plains, and was in General George Washington's retreat across New Jersey afterward. Brooks was ill in camp when the army engaged in the Battle of Trenton on December 26. At the end of 1776 he transferred to the 8th Massachusetts Regiment, where he was promoted to lieutenant colonel.
The 8th Massachusetts was among the forces Benedict Arnold led in relief of the Siege of Fort Stanwix in upstate New York, and was present at the Battles of Saratoga. In the second battle on October 7, 1777, Brooks gained a reputation for fearless leadership in assaulting the Hessian fortifications on the British right. In the winter of 1777–78 Brooks was at Valley Forge, where he served as a leading drill master under Baron von Steuben. Brooks was temporarily named adjutant to General Charles Lee when the army followed the British across New Jersey in 1778, engaging them in the Battle of Monmouth. Brooks' regiment was involved in garrison duty either in New England and the New York City area until the end of the war.
In 1783 Brooks played a prominent role in events that became known as the Newburgh Conspiracy, concerning army pay arrears and pensions at Newburgh, New York. He was one of three officers who delivered a letter to the Continental Congress, and participated in hearings in which the army delegation outlined serious discontent among the officers at Newburgh. He then carried letters back to the army headquarters, and took part in actions orchestrated by Washington supporters to put down any ideas of mutiny. He was accused, apparently falsely, of informing Washington of the conspiracy (Washington was tipped off by Alexander Hamilton to anticipate unrest.) Historian Richard Kohn writes that details are lacking of Brooks' actions and motivations in the critical days of the conspiracy in February and March 1783, but describes his role in the affair as "crucial".
Post-Revolution and War of 1812
After the war Brooks returned to medical practice, taking over the office of Dr. Tufts in Medford. He also remained active in the state militia, and joined the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company in 1786. In the militia he rose to the position of major general, and led troops that assisted in putting down Shays' Rebellion in 1787. He was elected to the state convention that ratified the United States Constitution in 1788.
In 1792 Secretary at War Henry Knox offered Brooks a position as brigadier general in the Legion of the United States, a reorganization of the United States Army headed by General Anthony Wayne. Brooks refused the appointment, which went instead to his friend William Hull. He was again offered a position as brigadier general in the United States Army by George Washington when war was threatened in 1797, but refused. During the War of 1812 Brooks was the state militia's adjutant general.
Governor of Massachusetts
Brooks, a strong Federalist, served in the state legislature for a number of years, and was elected governor in 1816, replacing the retiring Federalist Caleb Strong. He won reelection annually until 1823, when he retired from public service. The politics of the state continued to be dominated by Federalists, despite their general decline elsewhere in the nation, in part because Brooks adopted moderate positions that denied the opposition Democratic-Republicans opportunities for vigorous opposition. He included Republicans in patronage appointments, and courted Republican politicians on the national level, including President James Monroe.
The Panic of 1819 and the granting of statehood to Maine (which was until 1820 part of Massachusetts) introduced fractures in the strong Federalist party system in the state. Dissident Federalists such as Josiah Quincy III joined Republicans in calls for a constitutional convention, citing the state constitution's requirement that Maine be allocated representation in the legislature as a reason. Brooks lobbied against the idea, but a convention was held over his objection. Nine amendments produced by the convention were eventually approved, but Federalists managed to block most of the substantive reforms that had been sought.
Brooks announced in 1822 that he would not seek reelection in 1823. The 1823 election saw the victory of Republican William Eustis over Federalist party leader Harrison Gray Otis. Otis did not even carry his hometown of Boston, and the election is widely regarded (along with the election of former Federalist Josiah Quincy as Boston mayor) as marking the effective end of the Federalist Party as a force in Massachusetts politics.
Brooks was a leading member of the Massachusetts Medical Society for many years, serving as its president after his retirement from politics, and was also president of the Bible Society of Massachusetts. He died in Medford on March 1, 1825, and was buried in Medford's Salem Street Burying Ground, where the family grave is marked by a large obelisk.
Family and legacy
Brooks married Lucy Smith, with whom he had five children, two of whom died young. His two sons were both active in the United States military. The Maine towns of Brooks, established in 1816, and Brooksville, founded in 1817, were named for him.