John Brees (8 Nov. 1738-24 Mar. 1829)
Provided by Merlin Russell. Thanks Merlin!
Updated 06.02.01 - Thanks again Merlin.
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].
November 8, 1738, John Breese was born [1, page 3] in New Jersey.
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-?) . Ten months later their first child,
Stephen, was born on November 22 [1, pg. 4].
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].
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 ), 1776 he was taken prisoner [7, 14 pg. 154] between
Brunswick and Princeton on a march from Monmouth to Morris Town .
John also served in the militia [14, page 154].
John is listed on the Muster Roll for the month of May
On August 31, 1777, their son Samuel was born [1, pg.
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 .
On September 1, 1779, the army passed over the ground where Horseheads
now stands [1, pg. 5; 2, pg. 481].
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].
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,
“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
On February 18, 1789, their
daughter, Sarah was born. She was
the first white child born in the Chemung Valley [1, 2, 9, 12].
“BREESE HOMESTEAD SOLD.
THE FIRST WHITE CHILD IN
CHEMUNG COUNTY BORN THERE
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.” .
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
On March 24, 1829 John died. He is buried in Maple Grove Cemetery,
Horseheads, New York next to his wife, Hannah . The stone lies flat and reads “John
Brees died March 24, 1829 AE 90 Y.”
“TALE OF TWO TOMBSTONES By
(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
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.
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
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
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
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
(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
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
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
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?
the tales that tombstones DON’T tell are so frustrating!”.
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” .
 The Breese Family, 20 pages.
 The Michael Shoemaker Book
 Visit to Maple Grove
Cemetery, Horseheads, Chemung County, New York
 Horseheads History, Horseheads Cultural Center and Historical
 Early History of Horseheads by Mrs. Roy D. Waid, 32 pages
 Henry Breese/Brees History, Steele Memorial Library, Elmira, Chemung
County, New York
 Military records of John
Breese from the National Archives
 Pioneers of the Southern Tier by Doris Reynolds Hoiland, 1974
Horseheads, N.Y. 200th Birthday
e-mail from Bob Schieferstin dated 10 December 1996
 History of Tioga, Chemung, Tompkins and Schuyler Counties, New York
 Official Registry of the Officers and Men of New Jersey in the Revolutionary War by William S. Stryker, 1967, Genealogical Publishing Company
 Elmira Historical Museum, Scrapbook 41, page 15. There are several typographic errors that were unaltered from the original.
 Elmira Historical Museum, Elmira, New York,
Scrapbook 4, page 2.
Copyright © 1999 by John Breese McKenzie. All rights reserved