Amherstburg Freedom Museum

Family Histories


Brooks Family

The Brooks Family Part 1- A Faithful Volunteer

Over the years, the Museum has had countless volunteers who have given their time and energy to ensure that Mac and Betty’s dream of sharing Black History with the world lived on. One such volunteer is the late Glovanna Brooks Johnson. From the opening of the museum to the end of her life, Glovanna was a devoted supporter of the museum and we are grateful to her for her efforts. As a tribute to Glovanna, this month’s family history will highlight members of the Brooks family.

We begin with Jonathan Brooks Sr. who married Francy “Fannie” Holmes in 1836 at the Regular Baptist Church in Gosfield Township. According to the 1871 Tax Assessment rolls, Jonathan owned 30 acres of land, 10 of which were cleared and cultivated. The couple had four children: Jonathan McNab Jr. (1842), Angeline (1847), Mary (1854), and Amelia “Milly” Ann (1857). Jonathan and Francy, along with two children, Jonathan and Angeline, are listed on the 1851 Census, but ten years later, in 1861, Jonathan but not Francy is listed with all four of their children: Angeline, Mary, Jonathan and Amelia. Jonathan Sr. is also listed as a widower, meaning that Francy passed away some time between 1851 and 1861. The following 1871 census lists John Brooks and three of his daughters Angeline, Mary and Milly (Amelia).

Angeline never married and lived on the family homestead until her death in 1887. No information was available for Angeline’s sister Mary, but Amelia went on to marry George Andrew Kirtley. Amelia and George had at least two children: Le Roy and John Harley Kirtley who was born on September 26, 1890. A record for WWI Veterans in Michigan lists Le Roy’s military service beginning on October 27, 1917 at Camp Custer in Detroit. He served in the 367th Buffalo Division as a Private. Le Roy’s parents are listed as Andy Kirtley and Millie Brooks Kirtley, while Le Roy’s wife is listed as Blanche Ross who was born on November 29, 1896 in Orange, NJ.

Jonathan and Francy’s son, Jonathan McNab Jr., married Harriet Griggs, the daughter of Peter Griggs and Maude Peters. Jonathan and Harriet lived on the family farm on Lot 8 of the 3rd Concession. According to his 1915 obituary, Jonathan “was an honest, straightforward citizen whom everyone spoke well of.” Harriet’s obituary also reveals details of her life. It says she “was a native of Virginia, and came to Colchester when a child with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Griggs. Here she married Johnathan Brooks, a well-known citizen of his day, who died four years ago. Of a large family of fifteen children only four are living – Lizzie, Mrs. Clingman, Detroit; Barbara, at home; Walter, of Colchester South, and Della, Mrs. Henry Harris of Colchester South.”

As mentioned in Harriet’s obituary, she and Jonathan had fifteen children. We were able to identify ten: Elizabeth, Charlotte (1867), Francis (1869), Barbara (1870), Walter (1871), Levi (1872), Letitia (1874), Amanda (1879), Millia (1880), and Adelle “Della”(1883). Elizabeth married Eraustes Clingman, who was born in 1857, the same year as Elizabeth, in Colchester South. Eraustes and Elizabeth had two children: Frederick Emanuel Clingman and William G. Clingman who was born in 1890. Frederick Emanuel was born on June 3, 1886 in Colchester South and married Nora D. Jackson (born circa 1887 in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia). Frederick and Nora had 6 children: Montrose, Howard, Alfreda, Clara, Juanita and Winola.

Charlotte also married into the Clingman family. She married Augustus Clingman, the son of Gabriel Clingman and Mary Ann Atkins, on June 1, 1888 in Colchester South. When you consult the Clingman family history at you will learn that Augustus was born on April 3, 1859 in Colchester South and he and Charlotte had three children: Alfred Clingman (born on June 3, 1884 in Colchester South); Garnet Clingman (born on August 15, 1888) and Dessie Clingman (born on December 4, 1895 in Colchester South).

Jonathan and Harriet’s next child was Francis (born 1869). On March 2, 1887, she married Henry Lewis, the son of Peter and Mary Lewis, and the couple lived on a farm in Colchester. The 1891 Census lists Francis and her husband Henry Lewis along with their daughter Mary E. who was 2 years old at the time. According to the records, Francis’ sister Barbara, who was born circa 1870, never married and lived at home with her parents, Jonathan and Harriet.

What we publish is not a complete history of any family and is based on the documents that are available. We welcome photos and information to fill in the gaps. See you next week for part 2.

The Brooks Family Part 2- “A man among men”

The next child of Jonathan and Harriet is John Walter, but we will discuss his siblings (Levi, Letitia, Amanda, Millia and Adelle) first considering there is substantial documentation on his line. John Walter’s brother Levi was born on March 2, 1872. He married Lilly Harris in 1883 in Gosfield. They owned a farm on Lot 6 on the 4th Concession in Colchester South. According to his obituary from the Amherstburg Echo Levi “was born in Colchester South, and was married to Mary Johnson, daughter of the late George Johnson, who survives him. They had no children. He is also survived by his aged mother, one brother, Walter, and four sisters – Mrs. Henry Lewis, Miss Barbara Brooks, Mrs. Harris, of Colchester South, and Mrs. Elizabeth Clingman, of Detroit.”

Letitia was born circa 1874, while Amanda was born circa 1879. Sadly, Amanda died of typhoid fever at the age of 14 on October 1, 1893. Letitia and Amanda’s sister Millia was born circa 1880, but no further information was available for her. Adelle “Della”(1883), the next child of Jonathan and Harriet Brooks, married Henry Harris, the son of Henry Harris Sr. and Annie Fletcher. At the time of their marriage, Adelle was 34, while Henry was 38. Neither were married before and Henry worked as a farmer.

John Walter Brooks, the next child of Jonathan and Harriet, was born in 1871. He married Mary Harris, the daughter of Henry Harris and Christina Anne Fletcher. John Walter Brooks was active in his church, Central Grove A.M.E., and he must have been very well respected considering the lengthy obituary written in the Amherstburg Echo documenting his life. The article, printed on December 17, 1953, says “He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Brooks and his parents too spent most of their lives in Colchester South. Walter Brooks was highly respected in the township and especially by his neighbors who valued his friendship and his readiness to lend a helping hand in any emergency. It is not what he was, nor even what he does which directly expresses the worth of a man but what he is and was and Walter Brooks was a man among men – a man of sterling worth and character – and I think that to have known a good man like him – a man who through the chances and mischances of a long life has carried his heart in his hand like a palm branch – waving all discord into peace, helps our faith in God, in ourselves and in each other.”

The article goes on to say “His pleasant smile will be remembered by the many friends he has left behind for many years. The funeral was held on Saturday, December 11th from the J.H. Madill and Son funeral home to Central Grove Church where funeral services were conducted by Rev. Brookenshire, who in his discourse paid a fine tribute to the worth of the deceased. Burial was in the family plot in the Central Grove Cemetery and the large crowd that attended the services was mute evidence of the respect and esteem in which the family are held in the township of Colchester South and elsewhere. Walter Brooks was a Christian gentleman what more can we say.”

Mary Harris Brooks, John Walter’s wife, was also active in the community. According to the Amherstburg Echo, Mary was the President of the Sodality Club at Central Grove A.M.E. In April 1921, the Sodality Club hosted an event with a concert committee that consisted of Earley Brooks, B. Johnson, Mrs. Earley Brooks and Mrs. Jessie Morgan, who “will give the greatest concert of the season at Central Grove church.”

What we publish is not a complete history of any family and is based on the documents that are available. We welcome photos and information to fill in the gaps. See you next week for part 3.

The Brooks Family Part 3- Military Service

John Walter Brooks and Mary Harris had two sons named Oliver and Earl Chester. Oliver was born in 1891 and later married Louise Viola Watkins, the daughter of William Watkins and Mary Redd and they resided in Windsor. According to their marriage record, Oliver worked as a cook while Louise was a forewoman born in Sandwich, Ontario. Sadly, Louise passed away from influenza at the age of 24 on February 3, 1920. Louise, referred to as Lulu in a death notice, passed away at her parent’s home on Peter Street in Sandwich.

Based on articles from the Amherstburg Echo and The Border Cities Star there was an influenza outbreak in Essex County at the time of Louise’s death. In an article from The Border Cities Star it mentions an influenza and pneumonia outbreak and refers specifically to Louise Watkins Brooks. It says “Influenza and pneumonia still continue to take heavy tolls in the Border Cities, although the number of deaths during the past 24 hours is somewhat less than has been the case since Saturday. Doctors and nurses are being worked to the limit and the beds in the hospitals are full, and with a large waiting list”

The article continues by referencing resident’s whose lives were claimed by the illness including Louise Brooks and says “Mrs. Oliver Brooks (nee Louise Watkins) died at the home of her mother, Mrs. Mary Watkins, 733 Peter street, Sandwich, early Monday morning. The deceased was well known in the younger set in Sandwich. She was 23 years of age and was married to Mr. Brooks in August … She is survived by her husband and mother; three brothers, Clarence, Raymond and Homer; and five sisters, Mrs. Idell Small, Mrs. Lillian Jones, and Mrs. Maud Pritchett, of Sandwich; Mrs. Eliza Foster, Detroit; and Emma at home.”

Oliver’s brother, Earl Chester, was born in 1896 and married Leona Anderson, who was the daughter of Munroe Anderson and Matilda Addis Stewart. At the time of their marriage, Earl worked as a cook as is recorded on his marriage record and a record of Border Crossing at the port of Detroit in April 1914. Earl also worked as a farmer and as a Rural Postal Carrier for the Harrow Post Office. A message of thanks from Earl and Leona is printed in the Amherstburg Echo on January 8, 1937 and says “Thanks – Mr. and Mrs. Earl Brooks, couriers of R.R. No. 1 of Harrow, again desire to express their appreciation to the boxholders for the many gifts during the holidays and extend to each their best wishes for a very prosperous New Year.” Additionally, according to the Amherstburg Echo, Earl was a clerk for the Central Grove A.M.E. Church and acted on a committee for a 1935 Emancipation Day Celebration which included activities such as picnics, speeches and a baseball game.

Following a move to Detroit, Earl bravely served in the United States Army during WWI. According to Earl Chester Brooks’ draft registration card for WWI, he worked as a labourer for Michigan Copper and Brass in Detroit and lived on Jefferson. Further evidence of military service in the Brooks family is found in the Museum’s family history binders. According to a Certificate of Service found in the collection, Oliver Brooks enlisted in 1st Depot Battalion, W.O. Regt. on May 25, 1918 and he served in Canada, England and France with the Canadian Forestry Corps. It also says that he was discharged at London, Ontario on May 23rd, 1919 because of “DEMOBILIZATION” and that he received British War & Victory Medals. A 1919 letter discusses the military service of Pt. Ollie Brooks and mentions his parents Mr. and Mrs. Walter Brooks. It says “The following is a letter sent to Rev. Jefferson, pastor of the A.M.E. church, Central Grove, from the Senior Chaplain, London: London Area, O.I.S.M.F.C., 8&9 Terminus Place, Victoria Station, S.W. London, Eng., O.I.S.M.F.C., 31st March, 1919.”

The letter goes on to say “4005165, Pte. Ollie Brooks. Harrow, Ont. Dear Sir, – The margically named Soldier will be returned to Canada probably for discharge, in the near future. Our information is that he is a Methodist and that before enlistment he belonged to the congregation of which you are now the pastor. We are not able to say precisely when he may be expected home, and it is also important to state that the decision as to final discharge from the army depends upon the exigencies of the military situation or the circumstances in any particular case. The probabilities are, however, that in the majority of cases such as this, men are going back to civil life. It goes without saying that those who have taken an active part in the defense of the institutions and privileges of our Homeland will appreciate them more than ever after temporary separation from them; and we hope this will prove to be true, in a special sense, of worship as carried on in their home churches, and in general, of everything our churches have to offer their members in opportunity and responsibility. We know that you need only to be advised of any men of your congregation returning home to extend all your church privileges. Yours very sincerely, D.V. WARNER, Major, Senior Chaplain, London Area, O.S. Military Forces of Canada. The correspondent, who has known Ollie Brooks from childhood, wishes to say that Mr. and Mrs. Walter Brooks should be proud of a son who has shown loyalty to his country and reverence to his Maker whilst engaged in military service. There will be a grand reception and a hearty welcome extended to the soldier boy on his arrival home.”

What we publish is not a complete history of any family and is based on the documents that are available. We welcome photos and information to fill in the gaps. See you next week for part 4.

The Brooks Family Part 4 – Some Johnson (and Brooks) Family Stories

Returning to Earl Chester Brooks. He and Leona Anderson had five children including Glovanna (1917), Yvonne (1920), Juanita Faye (1922), Frances Leona (1925), and Goldie (1926). Yvonne married Estes Smith, while Juanita married into the Salmon family, Frances into the Carrington family and Goldie into the Sharpe family.

Glovanna Brooks married Marcellus Johnson, the son of Peter Johnson, and the couple lived in Harrow. Marcellus and Glovanna had four children: Sheila, Gloria (Amos Gilmore), Barbara (Bradley) and Glenn (Sharon). The book Some Johnson Family Stories, From Slavery to Present, shares information on Marcellus, who was born in 1906. It says “He and his wife of over 50 years, Glovanna (nee Brooks) occasionally grow produce at home, where they have lived over 30 years together … Marcel operated an independent wrecking business with his son Glen for several years, and has worked in farming, in factories, and doing janitorial labour.” The book adds that Glovanna was an active Board Director here at the Museum and loved to read.

Some Johnson Family Stories also includes Marcellus’ memories of his grandfather’s stories of escaping enslavement and says “When they left the South they had to go by night and they said when they were getting ready to go they had to walk by two old, bad, white dogs – and said they never made a move, and they don’t know how on earth they didn’t, because if they did they would’ve been in trouble. Then they got to the river and some people told them which way to go. And they followed the North Star.”

Marcellus continues by telling what life was like growing up without electricity and transitioning from a horse and buggy to a car. According to Marcellus “And we did some of that too … light an old lamp, had to carry it around – no electricity. [You] couldn’t go to the wall and snap on a light. [You’d have to] put kerosene in an old lantern and light and go outside to do your chores – you would have to have an old lantern … Well, you know [there’s been] a change from the horse and buggies and wagons, things like that. Look up and see an airplane going by … I never saw one of those while I was young. Didn’t know what an airplane was … If you went to church on a Sunday they would tell you what’s going to happen in the middle of the week. When the social is going to come or anything like that. That’s the way we got [news] – no radio – no telephone, I mean … No telephone. No. Didn’t know what a telephone was. I don’t know – I was a man before I had a telephone … Made a lot of difference, you know. If you want something you could call somebody. Before, if you wanted anything in Harrow, you couldn’t call anybody. So, [later] … if you wanted anything in Harrow you could call, or if you wanted to talk to anybody about anything, whether they wanted to do this or do that – it helped. Yeah, old telephone made a difference, that was a big difference.”

What we publish is not a complete history of any family and is based on the documents that are available. We welcome photos and information to fill in the gaps. See you next week where we will celebrate another amazing family.