Sunset at Gowanus Bay

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

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

"A Copy of the Will of Adam Brower"

This document, "A Copy of the Will of Adam Brower," is from the William B. Bogardus Collection (Box 5 WIL WW-86). It is described by the correspondent of Bill Bogardus as a "typewritten copy of a handwritten copy" made in 1986. The will belongs to Adam BREWER of Monmouth County, New Jersey, who wrote is will August 22, 1768 and was proved March 15, 1769 in Monmouth County. I do not have an original copy of Adam's will to compare this "copy" to, so I cannot verify it's accuracy. My own account of Adam Brewer's will comes from the abstract published in Calender of New Jersey Wills, Administrations, Etc. vol. 4, 1761-1770 (Documents Relating to the Colonial History of the State of New Jersey, First Series, Vol. 33 [1928]). An original of this will does need to be located.

What I would like to point out about this copy is the copyist's statement (on the third page) that he "corrected some of the spelling," noting that (in his belief) the surname of the testator had been misspelled as BREWER instead of BROWER. This leads to two points that need to be expanded upon.

First, when "copying" or transcribing an original document, it is essential that the the transcriber refrain from "correcting" any spelling or punctuation errors. The original must be transcribed just as it appears. Researchers who later use the transcription can interpret the "errors" as they see fit, often by incorporating their own wider experience with other records from the same place and time. When transcribing, do not "correct" the original document.

The second issue has to do with the evolution, as I prefer to see it, of surnames, and the copyists conclusion that the surname (in this case BREWER) was incorrect. In this specific case the testator of the will was known as Adam BREWER. He lived in Monmouth County, New Jersey in a community that was dominated by the English. During the period in which Adam lived it was persons of English ancestry who ran the courts and who recorded the records. They consistently recorded Adam's surname as BREWER. To my knowledge there is no record referring to Adam, during his adulthood, in which he is called anything other than BREWER. In addition, his descendants who continued to live in Monmouth County and surrounding counties in New Jersey, are consistently called BREWER in all records in which they are found. Looking back, we can only conclude that Adam's "correct" surname was BREWER. If the copyist in this case were to spend time searching out other records that pertain to this Adam Brewer, he would no doubt reach the same conclusion.

What I have just stated above is also relevant to my statement about the "evolution" of surnames. Adam was a grandson of Adam BROUWER of Gowanus, Long Island. In the past I have often heard from correspondents the statement, "my ancestor changed the surname from, Brouwer to Brewer," (or from ___ surname to ___ surname, you fill in the blank with whatever family name you've had this experience with). In fact, very few, of our ancestors consciously, or deliberately, changed their surnames. Records from the period in which Adam lived, were not written by Adam. They were recorded by others (court clerks for example). It was not so much that Adam called himself, BREWER, as it was that others, called (and recorded) him as BREWER. As time progressed more and more records accumulate in which Adam is called BREWER. Soon, his children and grandchildren are also recorded as BREWERs. With time, the original surname of the progenitor ancestor, in this case BROUWER, is lost, and possibly even forgotten. Adam Brewer didn't abruptly change is surname. Over time, court records and other documents changed it for him. The name "evolved," for lack of a better word, and descendants today are largely found with the surname BREWER. Much later on, twentieth century family researchers discover the progenitor's surname and make the assumption that somewhere along their line of descent an ancestor "changed" the family name. This didn't happen.

The New Netherland colony of the 1600s included three families with the surname BROUWER who left descendants that continue today (Adam of Gowanus, Jan of Flatlands, and Willem of Beverwijck). Generally through the 1600s we see their names recorded as BROUWER. As the 1600s gave way to the 1700s and as settlers grew in numbers and found new communities we begin to notice the evolution of the name from BROUWER to BROWER or BREWER. And if we take the time to analyze just what is going on we can see that the later two names were not the result of deliberate changes by one ancestor. What we see is that those families (descended from the three progenitors mentioned above) who remained in the immediate vicinity of the original New Amsterdam (now lower Manhattan in New York City) continued to be found with the surname BROUWER even into the twentieth century. New Amsterdam was the heart of Dutch culture and many of the original families of this area retained their "Dutchness" for a considerable period of time. Those who wrote the records largely used the Dutch variation of the surname, which is BROUWER. Into the 1700s we can see that those families who settled in the areas of northern New Jersey (Bergen County), in the Hudson Valley of New York, the area around Albany and the Mohawk River Valley to the west, and in Kings and Queens Counties, Long Island, all areas that were still dominated by Dutch families, areas where many of the clerks were still Dutch, and where many people still spoke Dutch (or German). In these areas we find that the surname is primarily recorded as BROWER. During this same period other families moved into Monmouth County and the other counties of southern and western New Jersey, where English families were more numerous, and where those who governed and wrote the records were English, and where the primary language was English. Those who settled in towns dominated by English families (as Adam Brewer did) see their family name recorded as the English variation, BREWER. After the American Revolution and into the 1800s, as settlers moved westward and the ties to their ancestors of the 1600s were weakened, and as they became "Americans," and as English became the primary language of the expanding nation, we can see that the surname BREWER is overwhelmingly favored by those who wrote the records. Today, if you are a descendant of one of the three original BROUWER progenitors, and if your ancestors were among those who left the original New York/northern New Jersey area for places west early on (late 1700s to early 1800s) you will likely have the surname, BREWER. If your ancestors remained in the immediate New York/northern New Jersey area, then you will more likely have the surname, BROWER. These present day names were not the result of onetime, deliberate, name "changes" by some ancestor. They were the result of the choices ancestors made in the locations in which they migrated to and settled in. The BROUWER, BROWER and BREWER names found today owe their existence more to the surrounding environment in which ancestors settled then they do to anyone ancestor himself.


  1. As usual, fascinating. Great work, thanks so much for your efforts.

  2. When it came down to legal hearing for the Anneke Jans Bogardus, The children and grandchildren of Adam Brouwer & Deborah Allen all recieved an letter from the courts.


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