Sunset at Gowanus Bay

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

Friday, July 12, 2013

Children of Peter Brewer and Hannah Sanborn: Rensselaer Brewer

Rensselaer Brewer was born 5 November 1820, certainly at Highgate, Vermont, and died 16 November 1897 at Boas, Richland Co., Wisconsin. The dates are from his certificate of death which names his parents as Peter Brewer and Hannah Sandborn.* It is Rensselaer's death record that is our source for the surname of his mother Hannah. Unfortunately the name of the informant is not included on the record. Therefore, we do not know how to gauge the accuracy of the statement regarding Hannah's maiden name.

Rensselaer Brewer was married to Phebe Honsinger on 1 September 1845 at Swanton, Franklin Co., Vermont. Phebe, born 20 December 1823, was a daughter of Michael Honsinger and Anna Dowel. She died on 30 April 1914 at Richland Center, Wisconsin. Rensselaer and Phebe had five known children.

In 1850, Rensselaer is found on the U. S. Federal census at Swanton, Vermont, age 30. In the household are Phebe Brewer (who would be his wife) and Richard Brewer (who would be a son, although we must remember that relationships were not specifically stated on the 1850 census). Rensselaer is enumerated as "Ranscher" Brewer, an example of only one of the numerous ways the spelling of his given name was mangled by those recording various records. Previous to 1850, Rensselaer and Phebe had two daughters, Samantha who died at age 16 months in 1848 and Josephine who died at about three weeks in 1849.

Soon after 1850 Rensselaer moved his family west to Wisconsin where so many others from northern Vermont had moved to. "Rensellen" Brewer is found on the 1860 U. S. census at Marshall, Richland Co., Wisconsin. His age is given as 40 years. On the census Phebe is recorded as age 38, Richard Brewer is age 10, and Lillie Brewer is age 8. All were born in Vermont.

In April 1843, Rensselaer Brewer bought two parcels of land in Highgate, Vermont from Peter Brewer. In March of 1844 he sold the same two parcels to Schuyler Brewer. In December 1844 Schuyler sold the same land back to Rensselaer, and in October 1847, Rensselaer Brewer of Swanton bought a parcel in Highgate from Jacob Brewer of Highgate.

During the Civil War, Rensselaer apparently served as a private with the 12th Wisconsin Infantry, Company I.

Three children of Rensselaer and Phebe Brewer lived into adulthood. Richard and Lillie are mentioned above. The third child, Michael, is first seen on the 1870 U. S. census at Dayton, Richland Co.,Wisconsin, where Rensselaer and his family is enumerated. Michael E. Brewer was born 24 March 1866 and was no doubt named for his maternal grandfather, Michael Honsinger. He was married to Catharine Templemire in Richland County on 17 November 1888. The couple is found in Richland County through the 1910 U. S. census. They had one known child, Hazel Phebe Brewer, who was born 4 June 1894. Catharine died in 1917, and in 1920, Michael is found in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, his age understated as 49, employed as a meat packer. In his household is his daughter Hazel P. Chase, and her husband, Fred Chase. Michael died in August of 1936 in Oklahoma City. To date, Hazel P. (Brewer) Chase is the only known grandchild of Rensselaer Brewer and Phebe Honsinger. Hazel had a daughter, Waunetta J. Chase, born in 1920.

Rensselaer's daughter, Lillie Brewer, was born 19 January 1852 in Franklin County, Vermont. She came to Wisconsin with her family and on 20 March 1870 was married to Benjamin Baxter at Sylvan, Richland County. They were apparently divorced soon afterwards. The 1910 census describes Lillie's marital status as divorced, and she is enumerated on that census as Lillie S. Brewer at Richland Center, Wisconsin. In 1880 she was enumerated as Lilly Baxter, a niece in the household of  P. C. (sic) and Lucy Brewer (Peter Earl Brewer and Lucy Edson). In 1900, as Lilly Brewer, "widow," she is enumerated with her mother, "Febe" Brewer in Dayton, Richland Co., Wisconsin. In 1920 she is found in Oklahoma City, and in 1930 at Hemet, Riverside Co., California. Lillie Brewer died on 21 Dec 1931 in Hemet, Riverside Co., California. Evidence of children or descendants has not been found.

Rensselaer and Phebe Brewer's eldest son, Richard "Dick" Brewer, has one of the more unexpected stories of any descendant of Adam Brouwer I have yet to come across. Richard was born 19 February 1850 at St. Albans (or possibly Swanton), Vermont. He went to Wisconsin as a child with his parents and sister Lillie. As the story has been told (both in published accounts and in correspondence with descendants of related lines) as a young man in Richland County, Richard Brewer fell in love with a woman who instead chose to marry one of his Brewer cousins. Heart broken, he immediately left Wisconsin, and in 1870, age 19, Richard Brewer is found in Marion, Jasper Co., Missouri, working on the farm of John Schooler (age 31, with a family). Soon after, he went to the New Mexico Territory and found work as a ranch hand in Lincoln County. From this point on, the life story of "Dick" Brewer has been told and written about, most notably by the well regarded Lincoln County historian, Frederick Nolan. In time Dick Brewer became a ranch owner himself, and in 1878 found himself in the middle of what is known as the Lincoln County War, which essentially was a feud between larger rival ranch owners that was settled with violence. In February 1878, John Tunstall, an Englishman, one of the larger ranch owners and a friend of Dick Brewer, was murdered by members of the Jesse Evans Gang who were under the sphere of another ranch owner, John Dolan. Dick Brewer was chosen to organize a posse, who called themselves the Regulators, to hunt down and capture the alleged murders. Among those in the posse was a young man, perhaps only 16 years old, who would become famous as "Billy the Kid," but at the time was known by the name of Henry Antrim**. The Regulators were in essence, Billy the Kid's first "gang," and Dick Brewer was his first, "gang leader." Things went wrong from the start for the Regulators, and the posse turned from being a group whose intent was to capture known murders to a gang of murders themselves. In April 1878, there was an encounter at Blazer's Mill in which the Regulators surrounded Andrew "Buckshot" Roberts who holed himself up in one of the buildings. During the ensuing gunfight, Dick Brewer was shot in the eye and killed by Roberts, who was in turn shot dead by Brewer's posse. A first hand account of John Patten (interviewed many years later) states that the two (Brewer and Roberts) were buried together in one coffin at Blazer's Mill. This was only the beginning of the Lincoln County War, and later events would supply the stories that would make legends out of Billy the Kid and some of the other participants. The period would be written about extensively and movies would be made. In the 1988 movie, The Young Guns, the part of Dick Brewer was played by the actor Charlie Sheen. Dick Brewer had just recently turned 28 at the the time he was killed. He was never married and left no known descendants.

Richard "Dick" Brewer

*The record of Rensselaer's death can be obtained through the Wisconsin Historical Society website. You will need to use their Genealogy search tools, specifically the Wisconsin Genealogy Index. Here they have Rensselaer indexed as "Reneilaer Brewer" and list his death date as November 16, 1892 (which is in conflict with the year 1897 as recorded on the actual record). The photocopy of the record that will be sent to you (should you choose to buy it) will be stamped, "Uncertified copy. Not valid for certification purposes. It is illegal to make this document available to the public in electronic format."

**The current belief is that Billy the Kid was born Henry McCarty, or William Henry McCarty, and went by the name of Henry Antrim, the surname being that of his stepfather, when he first came to Lincoln County. He was also known as William H. Bonney, which apparently was an alias he used during the peek of his notoriety. The name, Bonney, has been suggested as his mother's maiden name. His mother's name was Catharine, and she is usually referred to as Catharine McCarty. The identity of Billy the Kid's natural father is not certain.

See the Brouwer Genealogy Database website for source citations to vital data. Rensselaer Brewer and his family is also online at

A photo of the building in which "Buckshot" Roberts was cornered can be found online, placed there on the R.E.H. Two-Gun Raconteur website.

A list of Frederick Nolan's work can be found on his Wikipedia page. As you can see he is a rather prolific author who has written in a number of genres, on various subjects and under pen names. Recommended are The West of Billy the Kid (1999) and The Lincoln County War: A Documentary History (2009).


  1. Hi, Chris!

    Thank you for this post! It was amazingly helpful to me! I'm not a Brewer, but I'm working on a book where Dick Brewer is a major part and I was curious as to what happened to Michael and Lillie.

    I was wondering if you also knew anything about what the future held for Matilda J. Davis Brewer, the woman Dick loved who married his elder cousin, Henry Brewer, and their family? I found some on Find A Grave (dot com) but I'd like to know how accurate it is.

    Also, last but not least, Richard's middle initial was 'M' we have any proof anywhere that it stood for Michael?

    Thank you again and best wishes,

    Tamsin L. Silver

    1. Tamsin, I'm not aware of Richard Brewer's middle name. If his middle initial was M then Michael would be the first guess as that was the name of his maternal grandfather. But I cannot confirm that.
      All I have and know regarding Richard's siblings and his cousin's wife Matilda Davis can be found online at the Brouwer Genealogy Database website where there are source citations -
      Much of it is second hand and should be followed up on by anyone, including yourself, who would have a greater interest in the extended family. Note that I only follow families up to the early 1900s and even then not completely (I'll leave that to others).
      Richard's brother Michael was married (Catherine Templemire) and they had a daughter, Hazel. His wife died in 1917 and Michael went to Oklahoma as did his daughter and her husband, Fred Chase. Michael died in Oklahoma in 1936.
      Lillie did marry a Benjamin Baxter in 1870, but the marriage apparently was short, as she is found with her maiden name BREWER on census records beginning in 1880. In 1910 and 1930 her marital status is "divorced." She died in Riverside Co., California in 1931, but is said to be buried (Find A Grave)in Richland Co., Wisconsin. I would suggest following up by looking for death certs in both Wisconsin and California, and perhaps a burial record in Wisconsin. I don't know what happened with the marriage (other the mentions of divorce on the later census records), or what became of Benjamin Baxter. There was an obit for Lillie, but I do not know the newspaper in which it was published (but probably one in Richland Co., WI). The text, which can be found online at the BGD, came to me second hand and I have not followed up on it.
      If you haven't done so already, I'd simply suggest starting with the info found on the BGD website (link above)and use the indexes to locate the individuals of interest. The text of Lillie's obit can be found there. Good luck with your book!

  2. I am related to Richard Brewer, my grandmother was a Brewer from the Boaz, Wisconsin area.Richards parents are buried near my grandparents. I find the article above very interesting, thank you!

  3. Can you explain to me if there is a direct connect between Richard Brewer of this article and Peter Brewer, married to Louise Pfiefer, who's daughter was Hazel Brewer Shultis, my great grandmother.

    1. Janet, the Peter Brewer you ask about and Richard "Dick" Brewer would be first cousins.
      Peter (1846-1938) > Sylvester (1804-1879) > Peter Brewer (1779-1844).
      Richard "Dick" (1850-1878) > Rensselaer (1820-1897) > Peter Brewer (1779-1844).

  4. Can you tell me if there is a direct connect between Richard Brewer of this article and Peter Brewer, married to Louise Pfiefer, daughter was Hazel Brewer Shultis, my great grandmother.

  5. I am absolutely captivated by that photo Richard Brewer. Dare I say, "in love" with it.

  6. I am a descendant of Richard Brewer.


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