Fowler T. Brodhead (1828-1902), famed linguist and foreign language teacher to President Grover Cleveland

New York. Grand ovation to Governor Cleveland in the city of Buffalo, October 2nd. Scene on Main Street / From sketches by C. Upham. 1884. (Credit Library of Congress digital archives http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3c07331); Cleveland was 28th Governor of NY (1983-1985) and prior to that had been Mayor of Buffalo in 1882.

While perusing some old papers on Fulton History, I came across several exceedingly sad obituaries for the very gifted and talented Fowler Thayer Brodhead, who at one point in his life had taught foreign languages to a young Grover Cleveland (1837-1908), but in later years seems to have completely withdrawn from society. He died at 75 from what appears to have been a great deal of self-neglect, in spite of having substantial financial means at his disposal. While the articles seize strongly upon what became of Fowler after his mother’s passing in 1885, an event that supposedly sparked his mental and physical decline, his gifts and talents cannot be denied and deserve to be remembered, especially by those of us who share his Brodhead DNA.

From the Illustrated Buffalo Express, February 16, 1902: “Fowler T. Brodhead, famed as a linguist, teacher of Grover Cleveland, later a hermit, was buried in the Brodhead family plot in Forest Lawn last Friday. […] The story of his life is a tale of sadness. His father came to Buffalo from Hudson in 1830, a lawyer and graduate of Williams College, whose wife was Miss Nancy Thayer of Lee, Mass. The first American Brodhead was Captain Daniel Brodhead of the Yorkshire Regiment that came from England in 1664 and wrested New Netherlands from the Dutch. The Brodheads lived at Washington and Huron streets in 1837 and for years thereafter. The father was a law partner of Judge Masten. Fowler Brodhead was born in Hudson in 1828. He attended Fay’s Academy at Washington and Huron streets and then went to Albany to study medicine. He returned to Buffalo without finishing his course and studied French and German. He taught in the high school and gave private lessons. He became known as a proficient linguist, speaking several languages fluently. It, was related of him that be once sat down with a Frenchman, German, Italian and Spaniard and conversed with the four, each in his own language, fluently, and with ease. He wrote poems in several languages and wrote a play, The Burning of Buffalo, for the old Metropolitan Theater.”

I checked the online records for Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo and found Fowler and his parents William W. Brodhead and Nancy Thayer Brodhead. I went ahead and created memorial pages for them on the Find a Grave website. The three are located in Section: BB Lot: 143-N PT Spaces 1, 2, 3.

Volume 4 of The Brodhead Family has William listed on page 303. William Wheeler Brodhead (F-401) was the son of Luke Brodhead (1777-1845); Luke was a son of Daniel Brodhead and Hester Wyngart and a brother of my fifth-great-grandfather Garret Brodhead. William was baptized on 10 September 1797 at Linlithgo RDC, Livingston, Columbia County, NY, and married Nancy Lucretia Thayer on May 25, 1825 in Westfield, MA.  William “lived in Red Hook, NY at the time of his marriage and later lived Buffalo, NY where he was an attorney in 1850 and a private school teacher in 1860.” Fowler is listed as G-1226, but no information is given for him.

The newspaper articles point to Fowler’s withdrawal from society as coinciding with the death of his mother Nancy in 1885; he died with $4,000 to his name which was a substantial sum in 1902 (about $111,000 today). He lived at 82 10th Street in Buffalo; where the house once stood is now a vacant lot.

A notice of sale that appeared in the Buffalo New York Courier on October 24, 1903, offers the names of several Brodheads: two of Fowler’s nieces and a great-nephew. Charlotte Brodhead and Mary Gertude Brodhead (b. 1829 and 1837 respectively) were daughters of James Oliver Brodhead (1803-1841; Brodhead Family F-404) and wife Caroline Wackerhagen. James Oliver Brodhead was the brother of William W. Brodhead. Francis Reynolds Brodhead (b. 1863) was a nephew of the two sisters via their brother Thomas C. Brodhead (1835-1877), son of James Oliver Brodhead.

As sad as Fowler’s end was, clearly his was a life well lived at least up to a certain point. I’m glad I came upon his story. I do not want him to be forgotten especially since he had no wife or children to pass his story down along the line to today’s generations.

Illustrated Buffalo Express – 16 February 1902 (Credit: FultonHistory dot com)

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Buffalo Morning Express, 12 February 1902 (Credit: Fulton History dot com)

Buffalo Morning Express, 12 February 1902 (Credit: Fulton History dot com)

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Buffalo NY Courier 12 Feb 1902 (Credit: Fulton History)

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Buffalo New York Courier, 24 October 1903

Categories: Brodhead, Cleveland Grover, Death, New York, Obituaries | Tags: , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Fowler T. Brodhead (1828-1902), famed linguist and foreign language teacher to President Grover Cleveland

  1. Fowler Brodhead sounds so talanted. It’s too bad that he seems to have struggled with intereracting with others.

    Like

    • Hi, Sheryl; Thanks for stopping by the blog. Yes, a sad end for him; many struggles, and I suppose back then mental illness was not really treated; too bad he had no family to keep better track of him, not that he perhaps would have been open to that.

      Like

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