Thomas Westbrook

Thomas Westbrook
Thomas Westbrook
Born 1675[1]
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Died 11 February 1743/1744 (age 69)
Falmouth, Maine
Occupation Commander in the "East", Colonel of militia, King's mast agent, councilor, mill owner, speculator, innkeeper
Spouse Mary Sherburne
Children Elizabeth (married Richard Waldron (Secretary))
Parents John Westbrook and Martha Walford

Colonel Thomas Westbrook (1675-1743/1744) was a military figure in colonial America. The City of Westbrook, Maine is named after him. Thomas Westbrook's varied career included the role of senior New England militia officer in Maine. He was active during the French and Indian Wars. In addition to this senior militia role he was a scout, a colonial councillor, an innkeeper, a King's Mast Agent,[2][3] a mill owner, and a land speculator.

One of the most energetic and useful men of New England during the first half of the [eighteenth] ... century was Thomas Westbrook. Colonel Westbrook's services in the wars with the Indians, and as a leading inhabitant and business man of old Falmouth, render everything with which he was connected of interest to the present residents of the towns whose territory once formed a part of that ancient jurisdiction. He was the foremost public man of the town. His daring expedition to Norridgewock in winter, for the capture of Father Rasle and the private papers of the priest, which were brought off, has been the theme of all writers of the annals of his time. He was a native of New Hampshire and early came into public life as a councilor.[4]



Born in 1675,[1] he was the son of John Westbrook and Martha Walford of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. His siblings included Mary who married Nathan Knight,[5] and whose family continues to own and operate the "Smiling Hill" farm.[6][7]

Thomas married Mary Sherburne, daughter of the mariner John Sherburne and his wife Mary Cowell. The restored Sherburne house at Portsmouth, New Hampshire's Strawbery Banke, has been identified as theirs. Their only child, Elizabeth, married Richard Waldron (Secretary) of a prominent colonial New Hampshire family.[8][9]

Though he had no sons, he was the namesake for several descendants all bearing the name "Thomas Westbrook Waldron". A great-great-grandson of this name,[10] a US consul who died in 1844 at Macau, was commemorated in a 1 May 2009 Washington DC ceremony by Secretary of State Clinton.[11] The names "Thomas Westbrook" or merely "Westbrook" as given names were in use among descendants well into the twentieth century.[12][13]

Early adulthood

[Globe Tavern[14][15] on the Plains in Portsmouth, New Hampshire]

"Thomas was the Administrator of his father's estate in 1697, [including a] ... 100 acre farm and contents ... in that year the farm was sold to Nathan Knight who wed Thomas's sister Mary Westbrook".[5]

In his youth (1704) he applied for a commission as scout and "Indian fighter" and had three men to accompany him while scouting during Queen Anne's War.[16]

In 1716 the General Assembly of the Province made a grant to Thomas Westbrook, to keep the only public house at the Plains, in consideration that he should lay out six acres of land for the accommodation of drawing up the militia of the town."[17] From at least 1720 he was the owner and proprietor.[18]

He moved to Falmouth (near modern Portland, Maine) "as early as 1719" to enter the lucrative business of providing masts to the British navy as a private contractor. He was one of only a few European-descended residents there at that time.[19]

Captain and colonel

During the years 1721-3[20] Westbrook became a captain in the militia and, after the fall of Colonel Shadrack Walton from favour with Massachusett's acting Governor William Dummer, became the colonel in charge of the militia in the "East" (Maine)[21][22]

A focus during the Dummer's War was the New England effort to apprehend Father Sebastien Rale, a Jesuit priest and French national who resided with and, the New Englanders thought, guided the natives to raid and kill or abduct New England colonists. The General Court of Massachusetts in December 1721 directed the militia to apprehend Rale and bring him to Boston to answer these charges.[23]

In January 1722 Colonel Westbrook led a group of militia that, unable to find Rale, seized a strongbox containing his correspondence with Marquis de Vaudreuil, the French Governor in Quebec, and a hand written dictionary of the native Abenaki language. In the minds of New Englanders of the day,[24] the letters proved French complicity in urging native American tribes to attack New England settlements, and they were conveyed to authorities in Boston.[25] The dictionary is now in Harvard University's Houghton Library[26] The strongbox itself was retained by Westbrook and descended through his family and through the Massachusetts Historical Society until his descendant[27][28][29][30] the Catholic Reverend E.Q.S. Waldron willed it to the Maine Historical Society.[31][32] The strongbox was given to the Maine Historical Society on 20 May 1886 by Mr. William Goold on behalf of E.Q.S. Waldron.[33] An expandable colour image is on the website.[34]

Westbrook was not present during an August 1724 raid which culminated in the death of Rasle and the slaughter of fleeing native villagers.[35]

Abenaki couple

He was present at the December 15th, 1725 Falmouth peace treaty with the Indians, "Dummer's Treaty", which ended the hostilities, apparently his last act as a militia officer.[36]

King's Mast Agent

He was appointed as King's Mast Agent in 1727 and moved the "King's mast business" from Portsmouth to Falmouth.[37] The mast agent was charged by the Crown with marking, protecting and providing trees which were suitable for ship's masts in the Royal Navy.

Harrow House

Westbrook "became a citizen" of Falmouth in August 1727.[9] He built his "splendid seat"[38] of "Harrow House" with garrisons on the south side of Stroudwater River on a 69-acre (280,000 m2) property.[39] It was likely at this home that Westbrook entertained Governor Belcher and other guests.[40]


He built two mills, a gristmill whose stones still survive[41][42] as markers of other historical sites, and a papermill.[43] Native chief Polin travelled to the governor to protest Col. Westbrook's failure to provide a way for spawning fish to get past his mill.[44]


As early as 1710[26] he was part of the King's Council appointed by the governor, and held his post (though often absent) until 1730 when he resigned voluntarily.[45][46] In 1733 he was briefly in Boston as a representative to the council from Falmouth and courted by Governor Jonathan Belcher to be a supporter of the Massachusetts government. He showed little interest in these duties and was fined for being absent.[47]

Prosperity and bankruptcy, death

Waldo ... struck upon him

With the young[1] Brigadier General[26] Samuel Waldo (pictured at right) he became a land speculator of as much as 15,000 acres[43] in the Falmouth area (near present-day Portland, Maine). The two partners prospered until, for reasons that are not entirely clear, Waldo "[who had] led him into large land speculations ... then struck upon him in an unfortunate time."[48] "Waldo by unscrupulous or ruthless means divested Westbrook of his lands and much of his wealth by 1743..."[26]

"In 1743, Waldo recovered judgement against him for ten thousand five hundred pounds, which he levied upon his property, and swept it nearly all away."[49]

A copy of one of his later letters, desperately seeking a loan, survived and was transcribed near the end of Trask's Letters of Colonel Thomas Westbrook. Unlike most of his letters, this one was probably not dictated and captures Westbrook's choice of spelling as well as his desperation.

July 29, 1740.

Sir my desterse is so grat I know not how to Turn myself for Want of money. If you cold any Ways helpe me I shall tack it as a favor. Mr. Robrds is going to Portsmouth, and I want to send sum money to Plastd. Pray consider the hard case of your frind and sarvant


He died heavily in debt[26] on 11 February 1743/1744 "of a broken heart caused by Waldo's Acts".[51] He expired in a smaller cottage adjacent to his beloved Harrow House, which had been lost to his creditors. Despite his bankruptcy his estate was valued at seven thousand, three hundred and two pounds.[52] In contrast, his probate inventory totalled £1052/14/5 and included a house, a pew in Rev Smith's meetinghouse, and books.[53] His Globe Tavern later appears among the property owned by his grandson Thomas Westbrook Waldron though the date of transfer of this property and of his son in law's house is unknown.

Secret burial

"[H]is family was forced to spirit his body away in the middle of a nighttime snowstorm in order to prevent the Waldo family from claiming Westbrook's remains and holding them "hostage" until debts were paid".[1] The burial location was unknown[54][55] until the 1976 bicentennial celebrations except to descendants of his sister Mary (Westbrook) Knight.[56] The gravesite, located at Smiling Hill Farm, has been marked by the Daughters of Colonial Wars in Maine and is pictured on the Knight family farm's website.[57]

City named for him

Seal of City of Westbrook

In 1814 the town of Stroudwater was created from Falmouth. Within a couple of months, the town was renamed Westbrook in honour of the Colonel.[58][59] "...[I]t was a member of the Knight family -the descendants of Westbrook['s sister] who were holding the secret of his burial place - who proposed naming the town after him."[1]

Letters of Colonel Thomas Westbrook

From the title page of his collection of letters

His reports of activities as a militia captain and colonel to Governor Dummer were a series in the New England Historic & Genealogical Register (including vol 44, 1890 to vol 45, 1895) and then published in a book: Letters of Colonel Thomas Westbrook and others relative to Indian affairs in Maine, 1722-1726.[60] This work is often cited as a primary source in histories of that time.


  1. ^ a b c d e John Ballentine, "American Journal", "Q and A - Westbrook History Matters to Andrea Vasquez", (posted May 26, 2010) At: accessed 22 August 2010
  2. ^ Aileen B. Agnew, "Big Timber: the Mast Trade", My Maine Memory accessed 26 December 2010
  3. ^ Letter, Thomas Westbrook to William Pepperell, 25 May 1734 Maine Memory accessed 26 December 2010
  4. ^ William Goold, Portland in the past (1886), p.171 at: [1] accessed 21 August 2010
  5. ^ a b Myrtle Kittridge Lovejoy, Earle G. Shettleworth, and William David Barry, This was Stroudwater: 1727-1860, (1985) p.5 as cited by Craig Bryant at accessed 23 August 2010
  6. ^ "Smiling Hill Farm History" at accessed 21 August 2010
  7. ^ "Our 12th Generation" accessed 21 August 2010
  8. ^ William Goold, Portland in the past (1886), p.208 at: accessed 21 August 2010
  9. ^ a b William Blake Trask (ed)., Letters of Colonel Thomas Westbrook .... (1901),p.5, at: accessed 22 August 2010
  10. ^ C.H. Cutts Howard, Genealogy of the Cutts Family of America, (1892), entry 1390, p.123 at accessed 22 August 2010 has an entry on this individual who can be followed back to Colonel Westbrook (entry 108) on p.34
  11. ^ "American Foreign Service Association's Memorial Plaque Ceremony" Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of State, C Street Lobby, Washington, DC, May 1, 2009 at:
  12. ^ "SAR Application", Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) Patriot Index
  13. ^ Rootsweb page
  14. ^ "Globe Tavern at the Plains, Portsmouth, New Hampshire" at:
  15. ^ C.S. Gurney, Portsmouth, Historic and Picturesque, (1902), p.59 at:
  16. ^ Dan L. Thrapp (ed)., "Thomas Westbrook", In: Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography, p.1536 at accessed 22 August 2010
  17. ^ C. S. Gurney, Portsmouth, Historic and Picturesque, (1902), p.59 at:
  18. ^ "Globe Tavern at the Plains - Portsmouth New Hampshire", accessed 21 August 2010
  19. ^ Southgate, History of Scarborough, cited In: William Goold, Portland in the past (1886), p.198 at: accessed 21 August 2010
  20. ^ Robert Bayley, The First Schoolmaster in Falmouth (Portland) Maine and Some of His Descendants In: SPRAGUE'S JOURNAL OF MAINE HISTORY accessed 21 August 2010
  21. ^ Dan L. Thrapp (ed)., "Thomas Westbrook", In: Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography, p.1536 at:
  22. ^ William Goold, Portland in the past (1886), p.197 at: accessed 21 August 2010
  23. ^ William Goold, Portland in the past (1886), p.177 at: accessed 21 August 2010
  24. ^ Rev. T. J. Campbell, SJ, Pioneer Priests of North America 1642-1760, (1911) vol.3, pp.299-300 accessed 23 August 2010. "It is alleged that in the strongbox were found very compromising letters from Vaudreuil. As the Governor of Quebec had to do his best to keep the Indians attached to the French, and as the limitation of territory had not yet been officially made, it might very easily happen that an Englishman would find Vaudreuil's letters very inflammatory without involving any culpibility on the part of the Governor. It all depends in the point of view, and no good can result in discussing the tenor of the letters."
  25. ^ William Goold, Portland in the past (1886), p.181 at: accessed 21 August 2010
  26. ^ a b c d e Dan L. Thrapp (ed)., "Thomas Westbrook", In: Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography, p.1536
  27. ^ George E. Hodgdon, Reminiscences and Genealogical Record of the Vaughan Family of America, (1918) pp.6-8 at: accessed 5 September 2010
  28. ^ ""Proceedings at May Meeting, 1886", In: Collections of the Maine Historical Society Collections of the Maine ... By Anonymous, Maine Historical Society, p. 331 at: accessed 6 September 2010
  29. ^ Great Great Grandson Edmund Quincy Sheafe Waldron, b.6 July 1812 Dover NH, d.16 April 1888 in Pikesville, Maryland as per Ward-Wright tree at Rootsweb Worldconnect site accessed 30 August 2010
  30. ^ Wilfred H. Paradis, Upon this granite: Catholicism in New Hampshire, 1647-1997, p.17 at: accessed 6 September 2010
  31. ^ William Goold, Portland in the past (1886), p.183 at: accessed 21 August 2010
  32. ^ "Maine" In: Historical Magazine and Notes and Queries Covering the ..., vol 5, p.76 which recounts the reading of Rev. Waldron's letter within the Maine Historical Society's January 24, 1861 meeting.
  33. ^ "May 20, 1886", In: Collections of the Maine Historical Society Collections of the Maine, p.331 at: accessed 10 November 2010
  34. ^ "Sebastien Rasle strongbox, ca. 1720 - Contributed by Maine Historical Society" at: accessed 22 August 2010 (The webpage maintained by this society makes no mention of Westbrook's role and describes the New England force which took the strongbox as "British")
  35. ^ William Goold, Portland in the past (1886), p.185 at: accessed 21 August 2010
  36. ^ William Goold, Portland in the past (1886), pp.191,196 at: accessed 21 August 2010
  37. ^ William Goold, Portland in the past (1886), p.199 at: accessed 21 August 2010
  38. ^ William Goold, Portland in the past (1886), p.208 at: accessed 21 August 2010
  39. ^ William Goold, Portland in the past (1886), p.204 at: accessed 21 August 2010
  40. ^ Goold
  41. ^ Scottow's Stockade Fort accessed 28 December 2010
  42. ^ William and Rufus King Stone accessed 28 December 2010
  43. ^ a b William Goold, Portland in the past (1886), p.205 at: accessed 21 August 2010
  44. ^ "August 10, 1739" In: A RIVER DAMMED - The History of the Presumpscot River from 1725 to 1800 at: accessed 21 August 2010
  45. ^ "Father of City Lived An Exciting Life Indeed", newspaper article, at Westbrook Historical Society
  46. ^ Minutes of a General Assembly meeting, 2 December 1730 In: Nathaniel Bouton, (ed)., "Journal of General Assembly", Provincial and state papers, New Hampshire Historical Society, vol. 4, pp.769-770 accessed 2 January 2011
  47. ^ Michael C. Batinski, Jonathan Belcher, Colonial Governor (1996), p.99.
  48. ^ Judge Freeman, compiler of Smith's Journal, as quoted in Portland in the Past at Google Books, p.208
  49. ^ William Willis, The History of Portland, from 1632to 1864; with a notice of a previous ..., p.355, footnote at: accessed 26 August 2010
  50. ^ William Blake Trask (ed)., Letters of Colonel Thomas Westbrook and others relative to Indian affairs in Maine, 1722-1726. (1901) p.187.
  51. ^ Judge Freeman, compiler of Smith's Journal, as quoted in Portland in the Past at Google Books, p.208.
  52. ^ William Goold, Portland in the past (1886), p.209 at: accessed 21 August 2010
  53. ^ Maine Probate Abstracts "Vol Viii: 1749 -1753" page 331
  54. ^ William Goold, Portland in the past (1886), p.211 at: accessed 21 August 2010
  55. ^ Westbrook Historical Society, "Col. Westbrook burial plot" at: accessed 21 August 2010
  56. ^ Isabel T. Coburn, "The Westbrook Secret: A Skeleton In The Woods Solves A 232-Year Old Mystery", Portland Evening Express, Tues, July 27, 1976, (with photo of Westbrook's partially exhumed skeleton) copy at Westbrook Historical Society
  57. ^ "Smiling Hill Farm History" accessed 21 August 2010
  58. ^ Westbrook Historical Society, "Things to know about Westbrook" In: "Collections" (webpage) at accessed 21 August 2010
  59. ^ Geo. J. Varney, History of Westbrook, Maine From A Gazetteer of the State of Maine (1886), at: accessed 22 August 2010
  60. ^ William Blake Trask (ed)., Letters of Colonel Thomas Westbrook .... (1901) at: accessed 22 August 2010

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