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John Brees (8 Nov. 1738-24 Mar. 1829)

Provided by Merlin Russell.  Thanks Merlin!

Updated 06.02.01 -  Thanks again Merlin.



John’s parents were John Breese (1713, England-4 Mar. 1803, Basking Ridge, Somerset County, New Jersey) and Dorothy Riggs (1713, N.J.-1803, N.J.) [1, pg. 3; 2, pg. 481].


On November 8, 1738, John Breese was born [1, page 3] in New Jersey.


On January 30, 1769, at age of 30, John married Hannah Gildersleeve (9 June 1750-15 Jan. 1844) [1, pg. 4; 2, pg. 481].  Hannah’s father was Zophar Gildersleeve (c. 1707-?) [11].  Ten months later their first child, Stephen, was born on November 22 [1, pg. 4].


 The Michael Shoemaker Book has daughter Deborah born on February 15, 1773, and her twin sister Phebe born three days later on the 18th.  The Breese Family has the girls born on the 18th [1, pg. 4].


 On June 21, 1775, their son Elias was born [1, pg.4].


On December 10, 1776 John enlisted in Monmouth, New Jersey as a private in Captain William Bond’s company, in the 4th Battalion, 2nd Establishment in New Jersey Continental Line.  His Colonel was Ephraim Martin [1, pg. 5; 2, pg. 481; 7; 14].  On December 24 (or 14 [7]), 1776 he was taken prisoner [7, 14 pg. 154] between Brunswick and Princeton on a march from Monmouth to Morris Town [7]. 

John also served in the militia [14, page 154].

 John is listed on the Muster Roll for the month of May 1777 [7].

 On August 31, 1777, their son Samuel was born [1, pg. 4].

 In 1779, an army of about 4,500 Continentals led by Major General Sullivan battled with the Iroquois Confederacy (Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora tribes) and destroyed their crops, which were being used to supply the British.  The expedition found Indian lands that had been cultivated for years, including apple and peach orchards.  The soil exhibited a high degree of cultivation.  Although their systems were crude, they were superior to any of the other Indians occupants of the country.

 John, age 40, was in the expedition commanded by Major General Sullivan against the Six Nations of the Iroquois [1, pg. 5].   John’s brother Henry Breese (29 Aug. 1753-3 Jun. 1835) was also a Revolutionary War soldier, and was also in Sullivan’s campaign under Colonel Israel Shreeve [1, pg. 6].  On Sunday [17, pg. 18] August 29, Henry Brees celebrated his 26th birthday in a successful encounter against the Iroquois [6].  On September 1, 1779, the army passed over the ground where Horseheads now stands [1, pg. 5; 2, pg. 481].


 On September 24, 1779 Major General Sullivan mercifully disposed of as many as 300 of his pack horses which were weary and worn from the campaign.  The village of Horseheads was named after the bleached skulls found by later settlers [4; 17, pg. 28].


On September 29, 1779, John and Hannah’s son Lewis was born [1, pg. 4].


On September 15, 1781, their son Azariah was born [1, pg. 4].


On May 1, 1784, their son Silas was born [1, pg. 4].


On March 17, 1785, their daughter Hannah was born [1, pg. 4].

“As to the time when John Breese removed to and settled at Horseheads there seems to be some descrepancy of dates, which it would be interesting to have removed, but which I am aware would be difficult to do with entire satisfaction.


John L. Sexton, Jr. in his sketches of Elmira, Horseheads, etc., says of Horseheads: ‘The first permanent settler of Horseheads was John Breese, who came here in 1787, and built a house in 1788.’ And again: ‘John Breese first settled in Horseheads in 1789…The first white child born in Horseheads was Sarah Breese, Feb. 18, 1789.’


Elmira Gazette, Vol. 11, No 4, published 1874.  The history of Horseheads written byDeWitt C. curtis, Esq., and published in the ‘Elmira and Horseheads Directory.’  July, 1868, in the ‘Historical Sketch of Horseheads,’ page 2, etc., gives a fuller and somewhat different account from that given by Sexton of the first settlement of that village.


He makes the arrival of John Breese on the flats about two miles below Elmira, to have been June, 1787. ‘In 1789 he, with his family moved to Horseheads.  On the 18th of February, in the same year, Mrs. Breese gave birth to a daughter who was named Sarah, who is still living, -1868-and is the widow of the late John Jackson.’  She was probably born on the Lebens Hammond place below Elmira before the removal to Horseheads. ‘She was undoubtedly the first white child born in the Chemung Valley” [1, pp. 6-7].


“Dr. D. William Peterson gives the date of John Breese’s coming into the Chemung Valley as 1798.” [1, pg. 7].


 A record of Samuel Breese, brother of John states: “On the third day of June, 1789, John Breese, Henry Breese and Samuel Breese, sons of John Breese and Dorothy Riggs, left their homes in New Jersey and migrated to Pennsylvania, taking their families with them.  John had married Hannah Gildersleeve and had eight children.  Henry married Ruth Pierson and Samuel had married Hannah Pierson, and had four children.

 They arrived in Wilkesbarre on the 11th of June, 1789.  On account of unsettled condition of land titles at Wyoming, John passed up the river, stopping for a year or two at Hammond’s place below Elmira, and finally came to a satisfactory place at Horseheads, where he bought land and settled for life, and where at his death he left a fine property and a long line of descendants.” [1, pg. 7].

 “…John Breese, who came here in 1789, was the first permanent settler.  Mr. Breese with his wife, whose maiden name was Hannah Gildersleeve, and eight children, came from Somerset County, New Jersey.  They started in the spring of that year, traveling through the wilds of Northern Pennsylvania till they reached the Wyoming Valley.  Taking the river at Wyoming, they followed it to Tioga Point, stopping a few days here to rest, with an acquaintance, they embarked again, and coming up the Chemung, stopped at the Flats, about a mile and a half below the present city of Elmira, arriving in June 1787” (sic)[1, pg. 11].  Note: The children were Stephen, Phebe, Elias, Samuel, Lewis, Azariah, Silas and Hannah although Deborah must have also been with them.


“Mr. Breese found settlers had already preceded him.  They were Lebeus Hammond, Lebeus Hampton, Samuel Tubbs and Phineas Stephens.  Of these, Samuel Tubbs had a family.  These settlers, having ascertained that Mrs. Breese had taken the precaution to bring along a good supply of tea, were not long in paying her a visit.  Mrs. Breese received them under a tent, constructed from the cloth covering of their traveling wagon, and here, with the old family chest for a table, was held the first tea party in the Chemung Valley.

Mr. Breese, not content that his wife should bear all the honors of the occasion, brought out his case of 12 three pint bottles of rum he had brought from New Jersey-all the party drinking to the health of the new comers in flowing tea cups and tin basins..  And it is still a question which his numerous descendants are unable to answer, which the company best enjoyed-the delicious flavor of Mrs. B.’s old hyson, or the exhilerating contents of Mr. B.’s New Jersey case of three pint bottles.” [1, pg.11]

“When coming to this county, they came with two yoke of oxen attached to a big lumber wagon; they also had a brood mare and four cows, a part of their goods were on a flat boat they constructed themselves, that they poled up the river.  They milk their cows, strain their milk in their churn that set over the hind axle of the wagon, and at night, it would be churned and fit to take out, so they would have plenty of butter and buttermilk for their use. They were six weeks in making their journey, and would often times have to wait for rain to raise the rivers they could come on, making their first stop just below Elmira.  Stopping there through the winter, the following summer they came and settled just below where Lyman Jackson now resides, living there for two years.  Then they bought and built on the farms where mrs. Hoffman and Horace breese now live in Horseheads, for it was Horseheads, then as well as now, for the horses’ headslay along the Indian trail for a mile.  There were 85 grandchildren who lived to be men and women…” [1, pg. 13].

“John and Hannah (Gildersleeve) Breese were among the earliest permanent settlers at Horseheads, now Chemung Co., N.Y.  It is quite possible that they settled temporarily on the Hammond Flats below Elmira, then Newtown, in 1787, and, in 1788-9, removed to Horseheads.  Their daughter, Sarah, born Feb., 1789, was doubtless the first white child born in the Chemung Valley.  They came from Somerset Co., N.J., to the Wyoming Valley, Pa., and from thence went up the Sesquehanna River.  The section in which they settled was, until 1791, in Montgomery Co., N.Y.  In 1791 Tioga Co., N.Y., was formed from Montgomery, and Chemung Co. was formed from Tioga, March 29, 1836.” [2, pg. 481]

“In 1789, Mr. Breese, with his family, came to Horseheads, building the first log house, which he located on the east side of the road leading from the river to Seneca lake, on the farm now owned by Civilian brown, a short distance south of the village” [1, pg. 12].  A granite marker located on the east side of South Main St. reads: “1789 NEAR THIS SITE WAS ERECTED A CABIN BY JOHN BREES, PIONEER SETTLER OF HORSEHEADS, MEMBER OF EXPEDITION COMMANDED BY GEN. JOHN SULLIVAN.  PARTICIPATED IN THE BATTLE OF NEWTOWN; AND LATER RETURNED WITH HIS FAMILY AND BECAME THE FIRST WHITE SETTLER OF THIS SECTION.  ERECTED BY THE BREESE FAMILY ASSOCIATION”.  This property was later owned by John C. Murphy and Civilian Brown, Esq. [5; 12, pg. 339].  It was also owned by the Douglass family (see Breese Homestead Sold, below) and Menzo Brown, son of Civilian Brown [12, pp. 339 & 340].


On February 18, 1789, their daughter, Sarah was born.  She was the first white child born in the Chemung Valley [1, 2, 9, 12].




According to the Horseheads Reporter, the original Breese homestead, located a half mile east of the village, has become the property of Royal Douglass, who the last week purchased the property from his father, Josiah B. Douglass.  The property was acquired by Mr. Douglass about ten years ago on the death of Horace Breese, who was a grandson of John Breese, the original owner of a large tract of land east of the village and who was said to have been the first white child born in this locality.  The Douglass family are closely related to the Breese family and so the farm will continue to be in the family of Breese which is so well known everywhere.  Mr. Douglass, the younger, who has acquired the property, is a planner and a worker, a true specimen of our best young manhood, and his friends believe that he lacks only one thing-a wife.  Mr. Douglass is a great-great grandson of the original owner.  Mr. Douglass’ brother, Floyd G. Douglass of Jamestown, has acquired a half interest in the property with his brother and will move here soon.” [16].

Their son John Brees (III) was born in the log cabin on the farm on April 29, 1791[1, pg. 4; 2, pg. 482; 12].

“May 30, 1794, John Brees bought from John Sayre and his wife, Sally, 170 acres of land, lying on the east bank of Newtown Creek for 125 pounds, New York currency,…” [2, pg. 481].

In 1798, John Breese built the first grist mill in Horseheads [9, pg. 59; 12 pg. 341].


“…Nov. 27, 1802, he [John] bought from Archibald Kane of Montgomery Co., N. Y., Lot 8, 200 acres of the tract of 5,000 acres granted to Zephaniah Platt.” [2, pg. 481].


In 1803, John’s parents, John and Dorothy (Riggs) Breese, died March 4 and November 23, respectively.


“June 10, 1807, Nathaniel Tell sold to Benton Paine, James Sayre, Jr. and John Breese about 2 acres of the Nathan Tell farm ‘lying on the west side of the road from Horseheads settlement to the innage of John Miller, and near the intersection of said road with the race leading from the village of Newton to the Catherine Swamp.’...’In trust for the inhabitants now residing in the vicinity of Horseheads, for a burying ground.’” [2, pg. 481].


The 1810 Tioga County census has John Breese along with Lewis, Flas (I believe a probable typographic error for Elias), Samuel, Silas and Azariah (As mentioned above, on March 29, 1836, Chemung County was formed from Tioga County).  These were probably all John’s sons.  John (29 April 1791-29 May 1882) would have been 19 and may not have been recorded.  John’s last son Henry, might be the “Henry G.” listed in Sullivan County but this is merely speculation.


On March 24, 1829 John died.  He is buried in Maple Grove Cemetery, Horseheads, New York next to his wife, Hannah [3].  The stone lies flat and reads “John Brees died March 24, 1829 AE 90 Y.”



(Mrs. Harris Terwilliger of Horseheads, great-great granddaughter of the original John Brees, very kindly checked my facts and graciously allowed me to use some material she had gathered.)


The tombstone of John Brees, Revolutionary Soldier and first settler in our town, lays flush with the ground in Maple Grove Cemetery.  Beside it is that of his wife, Mrs. Hannah Guildersleever.  Originally, both of the stones were in the old burying ground in what is now Grand Central Avenue.


 John’s stone is white with an urn and tree-of-life design so popular in the early and middle 1800’s.  Hannah’s also white, has just the weeping willow decoration.


On John’s stone is the following: “John Brees Died March 24, 1829, Aged 90 Y.”  In one corner on the bottom is “R. Lyon,” indicating that one “R. Lyon” sold and probably designed the stone.


John Breese was born in New Jersey, Nov. 8, 1738, making him forty-one years old when he and his two brothers Henry and Samuel, came through here with the N.J. troops in the Sullivan campaign of 1779.


In 1887 the brothers John, Samuel and Henry, set out from their Somerset Co., N.J., home to establish new homes in the promising wilderness through which they had campaigned.


Samuel and Henry came only as far as Wyoming, Pa., site of the horrible massacre (1778); while John and Hannah with their eight children and other relatives pushed on to the plains below Elmira.


Here, on Feb. 18, 1789, a daughter, Sarah, was born.  She is believed to have been the first white child born in what is now Chemung County. (She became the wife of John Jackson, another early settler in Horseheads).


In the spring of 1789, John Brees moved his family farther north along the same route he had marched over during the Sullivan campaign.  When he came to the very spot where he and other New Jersey troops had camped on August 31, 1779, the second night following the battle of Newtown, (Sun. Aug. 29, 1779) he built his first home, a cabin of hewn logs.  It was about 300 feet from the Brees marker (created by the Brees family) on South Main Street or about in front of the Wigsten farm house.


(During the Sullivan campaign the army, over 4500, camped in the form of a hollow square, with some 1000 pack horses and many beef cattle protected in the center.  Certainly such a large group took up considerable space on the pine plains that was to become our village of Horseheads).


Two more children were born in this original log house (the final count was 11 children), one of these was John Brees, Jr., born on April 29, 1791, who later opened up the “John Brees road”, leading to what was later the village of Breesport.


This road is better known to us as the Bowman Hill Road.  The first log house was built on what is now the State Farm. (There are still four John Brees Jr., descendants living on part of the original farm.  They are Royal Douglass and two sons, Paul and Hugh, also Mrs. Fanny Peterson, a sister of Royal Douglass).  Note:  Royal Douglass also helped me with facts about the family and the John Brees road.


Let’s see, we left the Revolutionary Henry Breese way down at Wyoming, Pa., in 1787.  However, his stone is in the little old cemetery, northeast of Horseheads, at the junction of the Red-Drive Inn road and Sullivanville Road.


After putting his stone together jig-saw fashion it read: “Henry Brees, Died 3, June 1835, 81 y 9m 4d”.  His wife, Ruth Pierson lies beside him.


It seems that the Brees brothers went home to New Jersey for a visit in 1791.  John, Sr., printed a glowing picture of his home and the crops growing on the very land they had marched over in 1779.


The result?  Henry, who eventually had 11 children, pulled up stakes at Wyoming and settled in Horseheads, probably on the farm from which this cemetery was taken.


Henry was born in N. J. on Aug. 29, 1753.  If you notice, the Battle of Newtown was fought on Henry’s 26th birthday.


The third Revolutionary Brees brother, Samuel, lived and died at Wyoming, Pa. but probably visited his Horseheads relatives.  Before we leave this cemetery where Henry is buried I would like to point out a few interesting things about it.


While there are only 16 legible stones still standing anyone can see there are many more graves here.  There are even a few ordinary field stone markers left.  Such easily comeby tombstones and boards with names and dates cut on them were the usual means of indicating early graves.  Remember this was a wilderness for many years after the pioneers arrived.  Money was scarce and places where standard cut tombstones could be purchased were far, far away over many bad roads.


It is equally obvious that these plain field stones and early rotting boards were never meant for permanency, as families died off or moved away no one noticed or cared that more and more of these crude markers were lost.  Then too, the very earliest graves were on the family farms, maybe one or two graves, and then the family moved on and were forgotten, these graves were soon lost.


In this cemetery is a most intriguing stone.  It’s a rather large stone, fairly well preserved, reading: “Matthew, son of Samuel and Deborah McConnell, Died Jan. 31, 1815.  Then at the bottom of this same stone is “also William Johnson, aged 20 years.


Now the McConnell’s were early settlers here; and Deborah, wife of Samuel, was the daughter of John Brees, Sr.; but who was Wm. Johnson: and what happened on Jan. 15, 1815, to Matthew McConnell and Wm. Johnson?  It would seem that whatever fate overtook them, found them together.


Was there a January thaw that melted the ice on a pond or creek and these boys (possibly skating) went down together?  Did they get lost on a visit to some friends and perish in the cold?  who knows?


 Sometimes the tales that tombstones DON’T tell are so frustrating!”[15].


The road leading from Hanover Square (the center of Horseheads) to Breesport (in 1999 was called East Franklin St.) was originally called the John Breese road [5, pg. 7; 10; 12, pg. 340].  John was also known as “Revolutionary John” [10].


[1] The Breese Family, 20 pages.

[2] The Michael Shoemaker Book

[3] Visit to Maple Grove Cemetery, Horseheads, Chemung County, New York

[4] Horseheads History, Horseheads Cultural Center and Historical Society, Inc.

[5] Early History of Horseheads by Mrs. Roy D. Waid, 32 pages

[6] Henry Breese/Brees History, Steele Memorial Library, Elmira, Chemung County, New York

[7] Military records of John Breese from the National Archives

[9] Pioneers of the Southern Tier by Doris Reynolds Hoiland, 1974

[10] Horseheads, N.Y. 200th Birthday Celebration, 1979

[11] e-mail from Bob Schieferstin dated 10 December 1996

[12] History of Tioga, Chemung, Tompkins and Schuyler Counties, New York

[14] Official Registry of the Officers and Men of New Jersey in the Revolutionary War by William S. Stryker, 1967, Genealogical Publishing Company

[15] Elmira Historical Museum, Scrapbook 41, page 15.  There are several typographic errors that were unaltered from the original.

[16] Elmira Historical Museum, Elmira, New York, Scrapbook 4, page 2.

[17] A Bicentennial Remembrance of the Sullivan-Clinton Expedition, 1779, 1979, published by Sullivan Clinton ’79, A         group of County Historians from 12 Counties, 32 pages.

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