Thursday, 19 October 2023 14:19

The Peebles Family of Brookwood Manner

By Thea Hotaling | Sponsored by The Saratoga County History Roundtable | History
Peebles Home – Brookwood Manor Photo provided by The Saratoga County History Roundtable. Peebles Home – Brookwood Manor Photo provided by The Saratoga County History Roundtable.

The story of the Peebles is a portrait of an early American family. It is a story spanning over 100 years of endeavors, patriotism and influences covering the colonial era, the war of independence, and the periods of the local formation of the new nation, the industrial revolution and further land expansion.

Thomas Peebles (1729-1774) was of Scottish lineage. When he arrived on the northern frontier at Halve Maen, the region was part of the County of Albany, in the Province of New York, under British rule. His wife Elisabeth Bradt (1739-1806) was born into Dutch Albany families, and together they settled in Halfmoon. About 1763 they started construction of their home on a parcel of land that bordered the Hudson River for water access and by the Great Road (the Kings Highway) for land travel. Their homestead known as Brookwood Manor still stands today adjacent to Halfmoon Lighthouse Park on Route 4 & 32.

In 1770, Thomas was appointed by British royal authority the position of Justice of the Peace. In Colonial America, this was one of the most powerful public offices opened for a colonist; it was the judicial, executive, and legislative powers rolled up in one. He was reappointed two years later.

What role Thomas Peebles would have played in the war for independence is unknown. Fate cut his life short - he dies in 1774 at the age of 45 years and is buried on the property.

With her husband’s sudden death, Elizabeth was a 35-year-old widow with five young children. In 1775 she opened their home for lodgers; it became known as the Widow Peebles tavern. This not only provided widow Elizabeth income for the family, but a needed service for the increasing number of persons journeying the Great Road - the main transportation route between Albany and Forts George and Ticonderoga.

The Widow Peebles tavern appeared to be a respectable establishment mostly for lodgings rather than a rowdy stop for a pint or two! It is noteworthy that on the 1779 Isaac Vrooman map of the region specifically commissioned by General Washington, only one tavern is highlighted by name. That tavern was owned and operated by the Widow Peebles. Elizabeth was an early female entrepreneur – in a 1788 published list of the 40 Halfmoon innkeepers, Elizabeth was the only woman owner.

The tavern had many prestigious guests. In December 1775, the patriot Robert Treat Patine documented lodging at Widow Peebles in his diary. Paine was traveling the northeast drumming up military and monetary support for the independence cause, meeting several days with George Clinton and Philip Schuyler. He would later be a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

In 1783 General George Washington journeyed through upstate New York conferring with people regarding the formation of the new nation and personally visiting the Saratoga battlefields. Included in his entourage was Alexander Hamilton and Gov. George Clinton. It was during this tour that he and company lodged at the Widow Peebles. In General Washington’s records he highlighted paying the Widow Peebles “extra for feed and attention for the horses.”

With these and other people frequenting the inn, Elizabeth Peebles and her children were exposed to peoples of all walks of life, including political and military leaders. The family would see first-hand the activities passing by their home on water and land. All the Peebles would become supporters of the colonists’ cause.

When the local call for New York County militia units sounded in October 1777, Thomas and Elizabeth’s eldest child, Hugh, enlisted. Barely a teenager, Hugh becomes a quartermaster for the 12t h regiment serving under Colonel Jacobus van Schoonhoven. This local militia was formed to reinforce the Continental Army during the Saratoga Campaign. Hugh would spend his young adult life in some military capacity, spanning approximately 25 years. After the revolution, he served with the newly- formed NY state military, including a 1786 appointment as paymaster for the town of Queensbury.

The younger son Gerrit Peebles was only 8 years old during the Battles of Saratoga. He was too     young to fight in the Revolutionary War but would be appointed a captain in the NYS militia in 1789. Like his older brother Hugh, Gerrit would follow in merchant businesses, including the formation of the Cohoes Manufacturing Co. He would relocate to the growing Lansingburgh village, become Sheriff of Rensselaer County and purchase Havor Island in Waterford with his wife Maria Van Schaick; hence the isle becomes known as Peebles Island.

Daughters Maria and Rosanna Peebles both married revolutionary war veterans and raised large families. The youngest Peebles child, daughter Gertrude, spent her youth assisting her mother at the tavern. She was there in May 1791 when Thomas Jefferson and James Madison stayed at the Widow Peebles during their sightseeing tour of upstate New York forts and battlefields. Gertrude married Benjamin Tibbits, a merchant in Troy who unfortunately died young. She later married the widower Rev. Dr. Eliphalet Nott who is best known as the longest reigning president of Union College.

Elizabeth Peebles operated the tavern for 20 years until 1795 when she turned over the property to her sons. The Peebles family, one of the original twelve families of Halfmoon, served travelers and the military, fighting for the revolution, and shaping the new nation locally. They would help start churches, the first public school systems, the first local banks, a library, agricultural societies, serve as trustees, and raise children who continued in their footsteps.

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