Sunset at Gowanus Bay

Sunset at Gowanus Bay
Sunset at Gowanus Bay, Henry Gritten, 1851

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Discovery of an Abraham Brewer in Berkeley County, Virginia

I recently obtained a copy of The 1774 List of Tithables and Wheel Carriages in Berkeley County, Virginia, edited by William H. Rice (Parsons, WV: McClain Printing Company, 2006). The book is available on, and I do recommend it for anyone researching persons in Berkeley Co., Va. at the time of the Revolutionary War. On page 39 is found, "Abraham Brewer", with one tithable, on the list constructed by William Magaw. As the author explains in his introduction, "tithables" were adult males over the age of 21. They were persons who would be taxed. Unfortunately the lists provide no insight into size or composition of each "tithable's" family. All that can be taken from the list is that those recorded are either heads of families, or they are single men. The significance of this piece of information is in the fact that it is the earliest found mention of a man named BREWER (or Brower, Brouwer, Bruer, etc.) living in Berkeley County, Virginia.

We currently have two unplaced men named BREWER who can trace their earliest documented record to Berkeley Co., Va., or it's parent county, Frederick Co., Va. The one who has a possible relationship with this Abraham Brewer, is Henry Brewer who died 20 February 1829 in Adams Co., Ohio. A descendant of Henry Brewer has participated in the Brewer DNA Project, and from his Y-DNA test results we know with certainty that Henry Brewer was a descendant of Adam Brouwer of Gowanus, L.I. Just how Henry descends from Adam Brouwer, is not yet known. There are numerous accounts, many of which can be found online in "Family Trees" uploaded to various websites, that Henry Brewer was a son of an Abraham Brouwer and a Mary Wilts. The origins of this claim seem to lie with a late 19th century/early 20th century ancestor pedigree constructed by a descendant who was interested in participating in a lawsuit involving claims to the supposed inheritance of Anneke Jans. To date I have set this claim, and this couple aside, as I was unable to locate any record of a man named Abraham Brouwer (Brewer or Brower) in Berkeley Co., Va. This can now be reconsidered. However, finding Abraham Brewer on a list of tithables in Berkeley Co. in 1774, does not in itself constitute a proof of a relationship between Henry Brewer and this Abraham Brewer.

Focusing on Henry Brewer for a moment, the one verifiable record that we have from him regarding his early life, is his application for a pension for service during the Revolutionary War. In his application (filed in 1818) he states that he served at Martinsburg, Virginia, first in 1779 and again in 1782, and that he was born in March 1765 (but does not say where, nor does he give his parent's names). In 1774, Henry was too young to be recorded on the list of tithables. For the purpose of collecting the names of those who are found on the 1774 list, Berkeley County was divided into districts. Each district was described and had a single individual who was given the responsibility of constructing the list of taxable persons within each district. The district in which Abraham Brewer is found was the responsibility of a William Magaw, and was described as "from the mouth of Opeckon up Potomack to Watkins' Ferry thence up Watkins' Ferry Road to Beeson's Mill thence down Tuscarora to Opeckon and thence to the beginning." William H. Rice provides a map of the districts and I've placed a scanned copy online here. The district described is approximately in the middle of the map, and you can find the names of Tuscarora Creek, Watkins' Ferry Road and Beesen's Mill, that form the boundary. You will also see that Martinsburg, the location mentioned by Henry Brewer in his pension application, is within this district. Given that, and the fact that there are no other men named Brewer on the 1774 list in this district (there is a Michael Brewer listed elsewhere which will be addressed later) it would be very reasonable to believe that Henry Brewer was probably a son of this Abraham Brewer. This Abraham Brewer's ancestry, however, is still to be discovered.

It is also claimed that Henry's mother was named Mary Wilts. Looking into her possible identity, I find that the name WILTS is not found at all on the 1774 list. A similar name, WILLIS, is found. In fact, the district that was recorded by Robert Carter WILLIS, is directly northeast of William Magaw's district. Fortunately, this WILLIS family is rather well known. There are published accounts of the WILLIS families in Virginia beginning with Byrd Charles Willis, A Sketch of the Willis Family of Virginia... (1898) and continuing up to Elizabeth Willis DeHuff, Descendants of John Willis of Will in Richmond Co., Virginia (1962). From these, and others, it is apparent that the WILLIS family of Berkeley County in 1774, was intermarried and had other relationships with some of the more "notable" families of Virginia (Reade, Warner, Lewis, Carter, etc.). No mentions of persons named BREWER are found in these accounts and so it seems unlikely that Mary WILTS was an error for Mary WILLIS. I find no leads to her identity among the 1774 list. It is certainly possible, perhaps even likely, that Abraham Brewer married his wife (whether it be Mary Wilts or someone else) prior to coming to Berkeley County, and so a search for her identity may have to be undertaken elsewhere in place and earlier in time.

Berkeley County was created in February 1772 from the northern third of then Frederick County. William H. Rice states that this 1774 tax list is the earliest list of persons from Berkeley County and it was only first found by him and published in 2006. It had been unknown prior to William H. Rice's discovery of it in the archives room of the Handley Regional Library in Winchester, Virginia. Checking Larry G. Shuck, Berkeley County, (West) Virginia Deeds and Wills Abstracts; Deed Books 1-5 (1772-1781), Will Books 1-3 (1772-1805) (Apollo, Pa.: Closson Press, 1935), I find no mention at all of any person named BREWER (or any variation). It is possible that Abraham Brewer did not own land in Berkeley County during his time there (although Deed Books from later dates need to be searched). What is found (by looking through the indexes to both Rice and Shuck), is a large number of names that would be familiar to anyone who has done much research on the families found in colonial New Jersey and New York, both of Dutch and English origins. That a descendant of Adam Brouwer, should be found as "far west" as Berkeley County, Virginia, prior to the Revolutionary War, is something that is certainly within the realm of the possible.

All that can be taken from this new information, for now, is that Abraham Brewer was an adult, over the age of 21 in 1774, living in Berkeley Co., Virginia, in the district that included Martinsburg, and therefore is, so far, the only viable candidate to be the father of Henry Brewer, who enlisted at Martinsburg in 1779. It's a start. We can assume that Abraham was born prior to 1753, and prior to say 1747 if he is in fact Henry Brewer's father. From here we can look for possible matches within the universe of known descendants of Adam Brouwer who are named Abraham.

I mentioned a Michael Brewer above. Rice, who states that the original lists he transcribed were in very poor condition, has a "William Boyd? and Michael Brewer, 2 tithables" in Robert Carter Willis' district (page 34). Rice explains that some names were duplicated, and in the same district is a "George Bruner and Michael Bruner, 2" (page 32). Checking Shuck, there are a couple of deeds involving Michael Bruner, one in August 1775 (page 23) and a second in November 1777 (page 38). No other mention of a Michael Brewer is found, and it is possible that Michael BREWER was an error for Michael Bruner.

The other BREWER who can be documented at an early time in the area of Berkeley and Frederick Counties, (as mentioned in the second paragraph above) is John Brewer, born 25 March 1761 or 1762, who states in his pension application that he served while living at Winchester, Frederick Co., Va., as a replacement for his father, Richard Brewer. John Brewer died in Fayette Co., Pennsylvania in 1848, and this line most likely descends from Jan Brouwer of Flatlands, L.I.

The profiles of the above mentioned Abraham Brewer (Brouwer) and Henry Brewer will be updated when the Brouwer Genealogy Database is next updated.

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