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Sheboygan County, Wisconsin Genealogy & History

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Frederick W. Brooke

Source: "Portrait and Biographical Record - Published 1894 by Excelsior Publishing Co., Chicago" Pages 729 - 732

Frederick W. Brooke, a retired farmer residing in Sheboygan, is one of the well-known characters of this county. His career has been a varied one, and will be of interest to many, though but an outline of it can here be given. He was born in Kirkstead, Lincolnshire, England, June 6, 1835, being a son of Thomas and Mary (Auckland) Brooke. The family from which he springs came originally from near Hull, England, and settled at Kirkstead. His grandfather, John Brooke, was for some twenty-five or thirty years Parish Clerk at that place, and was buried in the Kirkstead churchyard. The wife of John Brooke, who was in her maidenhood a Miss Graves, of Boston, Lincolnshire, lies by his side.

The father of the gentleman whose name heads this account was born at Kirkstead, on the 10th of June, 1807, and in early life served six years as an apprentice to the wagon-maker's trade in Loweth. On reaching manhood, he was married, September 13, 1831, in the Episcopal Church at Kirkstead, to Miss Auckland, who was a native of that place, born February 1, 1814. Of this marriage there were thirteen children, seven born in England, and six in the United States. In his native land the father of this family carried on a wagon-shop on his own account. Believing that he could better provide for his growing family in the New World, he decided to sever the ties of kindred and country and cross the ocean never to return. On the n t h of May, 1845, accompanied by his ten-year-old boy, Frederick W., he sailed from Liverpool, and after thirty-nine days arrived in Philadelphia. Crossing the mountains to Wheeling, W. Va., he commenced to work at his trade.

Soon after his arrival he received a letter from his wife, saying that she could not muster sufficient courage to leave her native land and friends and entrust herself and children to the perils of an ocean voyage. Advised, however, by her relatives to join her husband in this country, she consented to make the attempt, and accordingly wrote a letter to that effect to her anxiously waiting husband. In the mean time he had gone on a flatboat to New Orleans, so that the second letter failed to reach him before his departure, and not until he had returned did he learn of the purpose of his wife. It was in the fall of the same year that he hastened to New York, and found his wife keeping house, while his eldest son helped to support his mother and the other children by working in a printing office. After a happy re-union the family went to Wheeling, where the father worked as a "jour" for a time, and then went into partnership with his employer. They^ did a prosperous business, manufacturing vehicles for Southern markets.

In 1850 Thomas Brooke came to Sheboygan County to prospect, returning in the fall. During the summer of 1851 he brought his family here, and they made their first home in a house boarded up, but neither lathed nor plastered. To make it comfortable in the winter, Mrs. Brooke tacked carpet on the sides of the room, after the fashion of wall-paper. In the spring of 1852 Mr. Brooke built a wagon-shop in Hingham, where for nearly thirty years he pursued his trade uninterruptedly. His estimable wife died in 1854, and was laid to rest in the Onion River Cemetery. Having retired from business, he spent his last days with his children, dying at the home of his daughter in Sauk County, Wis., October 13, 1881. His remains were interred beside those of his wife. For many years both husband and wife were active members of the Episcopal Church, though late in life the former became identified with the Methodist Episcopal Church. Politically, he was a Republican, and in early life was a Whig.

Of the children of this pioneer couple John, who was born October 20, 1832, is a farmer of the town of Lyndon. Thomas, born November 10, 1833, died March 27, 1834. Frederick W. is the next. Emma, born January 28, 1837, wedded Lewis Twist, a farmer of Sauk County. Eliza, who was born October 26, 1838, and learned the printer's trade with H. N. Ross, of Sheboygan, moved to Baraboo, Wis., and worked on the Baraboo Public. She married P. Stetson, who died in 1889, and she died in the following year. Albert, born November 6, 1840, died August 13, 1861. Agnes M., born October 13, 1842, died April 1, 1843. Agnes Amelia, born April 3, 1844, wedded Thomas Chapman, and lives near Elroy. Virginia M., born February 9, 1847, died July 20, 1849. Virginia I. and Susan R., twins, were born March 16, 1850. The latter died in July of the same year, and the former died in the spring of 1852, from eating wild parsnip; and Thomas A., the youngest of the family, who was born June 4, 1852, wedded Elzina Palmer, and is living on the old homestead in this county.

Mr. Brooke whose name heads this biography had very meagre educational advantages. As his father was poor and had a large family to support, Frederick W. was early called upon to help make his way in the world. For about six months he attended a school conducted by an Irish teacher. When eleven years of age, Mr. Brooke commenced to hack brick in a yard for five cents a thousand. By close application, he could earn from twenty-five to fifty cents per day during the summer season, while in the winter he would work in a cotton factory for seventy-five cents a week. One winter he was employed in a nail-mill at $2 per week. For three winters he went on a packet plying between Wheeling and Parkersburg, making two trips a week. As soon, however, as the season opened for making brick, he returned to that occupation, in which he was engaged for five seasons. In 1849 Mr. Brooke visited all the navigable tributaries of the Mississippi below La Crosse. At St. Joseph, Mo., he was taken sick aboard the boat, on which he returned to St. Louis. Having secured accommodations at a boarding-house, he paid his bills as long as his money lasted, but when a week's board was due his landlord told him he must either pay up or leave, and refused to let him take away his clothes. Going aboard a boat that landed at the wharf, he was so fortunate as to meet his brother John, who furnished him all the necessary funds.

In those days much of the travel was by water, and it was no uncommon thing to see from fifty to one hundred boats tied up, at one time, at the wharf at St. Louis. With his brother Mr. Brooke continued the journey homeward. Early in the spring of 1850, he went by the Ohio, Mississippi and Illinois Rivers to Chicago, thence up the lake to Sheboygan, his purpose being to visit his uncle, Robert Lawson, in Lyndon Township. When Mr. Brooke was ready to return, he found that his exchequer was empty. His uncle gave him $5, which, however, was spent before he left Chicago. On reaching Cincinnati, he met his father, who was making his first visit to this county. When our young adventurer got back to Wheeling, he had saved a snug little sum of money. In 1851 he accompanied his parents to Sheboygan County, coming by way of Beaver, Pa., by canal to Erie, and thence by the Lakes, landing at Sheboygan in October. He helped his father move the house onto his place, build a shop, and begin the work of clearing a farm.

One hot summer day, while chopping in the woods, an employment for which he had no especial admiration, he said to his mother that he believed he would go back to Wheeling and learn the trade of brick-layer. Having no money and his parents not being able to furnish him any, he went to Sheboygan to see if he could find something to do, whereby he might earn the necessary funds to carry him to Wheeling. With the little package in hand that his mother had prepared for him, he started on his journey. The first man of whom he sought employment was Bill Ayers, of Sheboygan. Mr. Brooke hired for two barrels of fish per month, which he sold to emigrants for $7 per barrel. He was inexperienced as a fisherman, but was willing to undertake anything whereby he could make the raise of some ready cash. He was thus employed for about two months, though in the mean time he helped to get out the timbers that went into the first harbor constructed at Sheboygan. Going to Chicago, and thence to Peru, our subject secured employment as a 'bus driver between that city and La Salle, but as soon as the first boat came up he resigned his position and started for New Orleans. After making a trip up the Red River to Indian Territory, Mr. Brooke found his way to his old employer in Wheeling, with whom he served three years at brick-laying. For each year's services he received his board, washing, $50, and the privilege of attending school three months.

Having mastered his trade, our subject was engaged in working on the long tunnel near Harper's Ferry, for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. By laying bricks in that vast structure, Mr. Brooke made the money with which he began to rise in the world. Having worked there till spring, he returned to his home in Wisconsin. During his four years' absence many changes had taken place; his youngest brother had been born, his mother had died, and his father had married again. With the money he had saved, and by the assistance of his father, he purchased a part of the farm which he now owns. For a number of years he worked at his trade during the summer season, and in winter devoted himself to clearing and improving his land. Among the important structures on which he has done the brick work might be mentioned the block put up by King & Schrage, also the residence of A. P. Lyman, now owned by Fred Karste, both of Sheboygan; at Sheboygan Falls the residences of W. H. Prentiss, H. Giddings and Dwight Hill, and the woolen factory of Hill & Clarke. At Plymouth he erected the first brick structure, Carl Schwartz's foundry; the residence of B. Nutt, near that city, was also built by Mr. Brooke. For some two years he was employed on Way land University, at Beaver Dam, he and another workman laying all the outside brick. He has also worked at La Crosse, St. Louis and Memphis, Tenn., where he contracted to do brick work for three seasons.

In the spring of the year 1859 his brother Albert began to learn the trade with him, and for some time they were together interested in contracting. Mr. Brooke sub-contracted and built the jail and Sheriff's house at Hernando, Miss., also at Panola, in the same State; he built a large block at Carrollton, and another at Lexington, besides doing much work along the line of the Mississippi Central Railroad in that State. When the war broke out, he and his brother Were making their own brick and contracting at Vaiden, Miss. All that they had made for two years was invested in that business. His brother, while out hunting with a friend, was accidentally shot and killed. This was one of the saddest experiences of Mr. Brooke's life.

The breaking out of the war caused our subject to lose nearly everything he had invested in business in the South. In 1862 he went to work for the Confederate Government, fixing up hospitals, continuing this work about eight months. In February, 1862, Mr. Brooke decided to come North, but to get out of the Southern Confederacy at that time was no easy task. Mounting a good horse, he rode about twenty miles and stopped for the night at a public-house. As he sat by the fire, a rebel Major came in and asked where he was going, but as Mr. Brooke had not made up his story yet, he thought it best to ask the Major where he was going. The Confederate officer soon convinced our subject that he spoke with authority, and unless a satisfactory explanation of his business could be made, Mr. Brooke would be sent at once to Confederate headquarters. The latter explained that he was doing secret service for Gen. Loring, stationed at Granada. After asking a number of searching questions, which the secret service gentleman answered fairly satisfactorily, the matter was dropped for the time. The Major, being invited to spend the evening with some accomplished ladies, asked Mr. Brooke to accompany him, which he cheerfully did. The evening was spent in conversation and in listening to exquisite music, the Major becoming very much interested in the ladies. At midnight Mr. Brooke arose, bade them good night, and said to the officer he would like to have the pleasure of seeing him in the morning at the hotel. Returning to his place of entertainment, he told the negro hostler that he would give him a dollar to have his horse at the door promptly at three o'clock in the morning, and then lay down for a few hours' rest. At the appointed hour a tap was heard at his door, and in a few moments Mr. Brooke was in the saddle, hieing Northward as fast as his horse could take him. By daylight he was some eighteen miles away. Whether the Major called is not known, but if he did, he certainly failed to meet Gen. Loring's messenger there.

Near Holly Springs, Miss., Mr. Brooke met a guerrilla, who purchased his horse for $200, and advised him, as a means of getting within the Union lines, to buy cotton and take it to market at La Grange, Tenn., which lay within those lines. He hired an old Southerner to draw the cotton into town, paying him $50 a bale for his services, as he would have to run the risk of losing his oxen, wagon and all. Our subject accompanied the old gentleman and his wife on this hazardous trip, which was made in the night. About three o'clock in the morning, they came upon the Union pickets, who refused to let them pass before sunrise next morning, nor would they allow them to camp near the picket line. Going back about half a mile, Mr. Brooke and his company took shelter in an old deserted house and built a fire to make themselves comfortable. They had not enjoyed their quarters long, before several men stepped in and demanded, "What does this mean?" They informed their captives that they were Saul Street's men, which meant that they were robbers, but in fact they were Union cavalrymen. Placing a revolver to Mr. Brooke's head, they ordered him to step out, which he did without hesitation, but as he passed the old lady, he dropped into her lap, unknown to them, a rolled-up belt containing about $1,400. When outside the building, our subject's arms were pinioned and he was searched, but finding nothing of value he was released and his captors went their way. On reaching La Grange, Mr. Brooke sold the cotton, for which he had paid twenty-five cents per pound in Confederate money, for seventy-five cents in greenbacks. From the Federal authorities he got transportation to Memphis, and there secured transportation to Cairo. From there to Sheboygan he had to pay his way, arriving in the middle of March, 1863, when he at once began to improve his farm.

On the 10th of November, were united in marriage Mr. Brooke and Miss Eliza Johnson. The bride was born in Monroe County, N. Y., August 10, 1843, being a daughter of Ephraim Johnson, one of the early settlers of Sheboygan County. Mr. and Mrs. Brooke began their domestic life in the old-time log house, which was subsequently replaced by a good farm house, and was surrounded with barns and other necessary buildings. Mr. Brooke owns a good dairy farm of one hundred and ninety acres, on which he keeps about thirty-six cows. Having made that his home until 1890, he removed to Sheboygan, where he has a comfortable home at No. 2037 Eighth Street, though he still superintends his farm. Since coming to the city, he has been engaged in dredging, as Inspector of Sewers, and in other city work.

Politically, Mr. Brooke is a Democrat, though he cast his first Presidential vote, while at Beaver Dam, for Fremont. Socially, he is a Royal Arch Mason. Mrs. Brooke is a member of the Baptist Church.

Mr. Brooke has a record of which he may deservedly be proud; commencing when a mere child to battle his own way in the world, he has passed through an unusual amount of hardships, and by industry and perseverance has accumulated a snug fortune, which insures him a sufficient income for the rest of his days. His course in life has been marked by honorable and upright dealing, and in the community where he is best known he has the warmest friends.

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