Brodhead family members, next time you are in our nation’s capital, stop by 1500 Rhode Island Avenue NW to have a look at the exterior of this Beaux-Arts-style mansion built in 1879 for Detroit-born John Thornton Brodhead (1851-1904) and his wife Jessie Maude Willis (1858-1929). A photo currently on eBay reminded me that several years ago I had come across a reference to the “Brodhead Mansion” in DC and had always meant to go back and research which specific Brodheads had once lived here. And now, I know.
The architect of the mansion was Scottish-born John Fraser; later renovations (1912) were overseen by architect John Russell Pope. Subsequent occupants of the “Brodhead Mansion” included: Alexander Graham (and Mabel) Bell, US VP Levi P. Morton (President Benjamin Harrison’s administration), the Russian Embassy, and US Secretary of State Elihu Root (President Teddy Roosevelt’s administration). Beginning in 1939 and for many years thereafter, the National Paint and Coatings Association occupied the building. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the building has served as the Embassy of Hungary since 2016.
Married in 1877, John T. Brodhead and Jessie Maude Willis did not live in this large home for very long. John, who had been actively serving in the US Marines at the time of his marriage, resigned his commission in 1881, after turning down a three-year assignment in China in order to stay in the US with his family. The couple, together with their three small children (more would follow), returned to Detroit where they both had family and John started a real estate business.
John T. Brodhead was a descendant of Daniel Brodhead and Hester Wyngart and their son, Revolutionary War hero Captain Luke Brodhead. His grandfather was Reverend John Brodhead (m. Elizabeth Harrison), and his father was Colonel Thornton Fleming Brodhead (1820-1862; m. Archange Macomb (1870-1891)) who was mortally wounded during the second battle of Bull Run in August 1862. After his father’s death, John (age 11) was sent to Washington DC to live with his Uncle John Montgomery Brodhead (1803-1880), Thornton’s older brother who was then serving as Second Comptroller for the Army and Navy services. Perhaps his arrival in his Uncle’s household was a blessing given the uncle and his wife had already lost their two only children, Alfred, d. 1853, and Thomas, d. 1855. (Side note: Mary Rebecca Brodhead Pike, featured previously on this blog, was the sister of Colonel Thornton F. Brodhead and John Montgomery Brodhead.)
Some photos of John T. and Jessie Brodhead appear on Find a Grave and Ancestry.com. I haven’t found any that I can use here without requesting special permission or paying a newspaper archive (e.g., Detroit Free Press). Scroll down for links to those pages and for a family tree showing John’s descent from Daniel and Hester Brodhead, who were among the original European settlers of Pennsylvania’s Minisink Valley.
I will leave you with the abundant biographical information on the John T. Brodhead family that is included in the below publication. You will learn that John’s wife and her family were equally as interesting and impressive.
Biographical information from pp. 600-606 of The City of Detroit, Michigan, 1701-1922, Volume V, Illustrated (Detroit & Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1922):
JOHN THORNTON BRODHEAD. The history of the Brodhead family is closely interwoven with the annals of Detroit, through connection with many of the prominent families of the city and with many, of the leading events which have shaped Detroit ’s record and marked her development. In the old home stead on Jefferson avenue, where once stood the Sacred Heart Seminary, John Thornton Brodhead was born on the 12th day of September, 1851. His father, General Thornton Fleming Brodhead, a colonel of the First Michigan Cavalry during the Civil war and an oﬂicer during the Mexican war and afterward owner and editor of the Detroit Free Press, was born at South New Market, New Hampshire, in 1820. There the old Brodhead homestead still stands. His father was the Rev. John Brodhead of the old Granite state and Thornton Fleming Brodhead was the youngest of a family of twelve children. He came to Detroit in 1816 and when a young man of twenty-six years was mustered into the military service of the country on the lst of March, 1847, as a member of the United States infantry, serving throughout the Mexican war under General Winﬁeld Scott. Early in his military experience he was promoted to the rank of ﬁrst lieutenant and adjutant and on the 20th of August, 1847, was brevetted captain for gallant conduct and conspicuous bravery in the engagements of Contreras and Cherubusco, Mexico. On the 2nd of December, 1847, he was regularly commissioned captain and was mustered out with that rank on the 3rd of August, 1848. Again making his way to Detroit, he became postmaster of the city in 1853, under the administration of Franklin Pierce, then president of the United States and an own cousin of Mr. Brodhead. In the meantime he had purchased the Free Press and was the owner and editor of the paper for a number of years. He married the widow of William Abbott, son of Judge Abbott, her maiden name having been Archange Macomb, daughter of William Macomb, and a niece of General Macomb.
Archange Macomb, wife of General T. F. Brodhead, First Michigan Cavalry, and mother of John T. Brodhead of Detroit, was born in the old homestead on Grosse Ile. She was the daughter of William Macomb, and granddaughter of Commodore William Macomb, the original owner of the island. She spent many years of her life in Detroit with her distinguished husband, after his death returning to the old home with her six young children, to spend her last days there. She died in 1891, at the age of seventy-one. Her life and her devotion to her children were most beautiful, as she was both father and mother to them. There were six children of this marriage, the eldest being the wife of Hon. William D. Balfour, M. P. for Ontario. Her son, Edward Blake Balfour, was a ﬁrst lieutenant in the Canadian army in the World war and was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, having saved a thousand lives of his country men by destroying a gun which was turned on the British and was in process of loading. Another son, Major Thornton Balfour, is still in the Canadian army. The second of the family of General Brodhead was John Thornton Brodhead of this review. The third of the family is Mrs. J. Kearsley Webster, whose late husband was a great-grandson of Major Samuel Kearsley, to whom George Washington presented his sword in appreciation of his bravery, at the time of Braddock’s defeat. This sword is now in possession of Mrs. J. Kearsley Webster. A notable fact is that since the sword was worn by Washington, it has changed hands but three times. Eleanor Macomb Brodhead was the fourth member of the household and with her sister, Katherine Julia Brodhead, was living in the old homestead on Grosse Ile until it was destroyed by ﬁre in the summer of 1921. Because of the pleasant memories and the sweet associations arising from years of occupancy of the old homestead by the different generations of the family, the sisters are now erecting a bungalow on the site of the old home. In the garden there are pear trees which were planted more than a hundred years ago and are still in perfect condition, bearing fruit in the year 1921. The sixth member of the family of General Brodhead is Mrs. F. B. Howard, whose husband is a civil engineer of Detroit. Mrs. Howard has one son who served in the Marine Corps in the World war and was wounded at Belleau wood. The story of the brilliant advance of the American troops has been graphically told in the work published by the commanding oﬂicer there under the title, With the Help of God and a Few Marines.
Not only was General Brodhead closely associated with the military affairs of the country and with news paper publication in Detroit but also with the legislative history of the state. In 1855 he was state senator at Lansing and although a stanch democrat was a warm personal friend of Abraham Lincoln. During the Civil war Mr. Brodhead organized the First Michigan Cavalry company of ﬁfteen hundred Wayne county men, receiving his orders directly from President Lincoln because of his past military experience. He took his ﬁfteen hundred men to Washington, where they were thoroughly equipped. Here he was joined by his little son, eleven years old, and together they rode through the battle of Harper ’s Ferry. He was made a brevet general for bravery but two weeks later was killed at the second battle of Bull Run, before his title had been conﬁrmed. Following his demise his wife spent her last years on the old Macomb homestead on Grosse Ile. General Brodhead was but forty-one years of age when he passed away on the 30th of August. Laying down his life on the altar of his country, the last words of his dying lips were: “The old ﬂag will triumph yet.” His son, John T. Brodhead, was a lad of but eleven years when his father died. He had been attending the public schools up to this time and afterward went to Washington to the home of his uncle, John M. Brodhead, who was a comptroller in the treasury department through appointment of President Pierce and served in that position through several successive administrations. In the national capital John T. Brodhead attended the public schools for a time and later was graduated from the Polytechnic School in New York city. He was then appointed to the Marine Corps of the United States Navy by General Grant and was assigned to duty at the Charles town navy yard at Boston. Later he was in service at Pensacola, Florida, and from there went to Annapolis, where he remained for but a brief period, having in the meantime been tendered the opportunity to join the Marine Corps with the rank of second lieutenant under Admiral Worden. He joined the Mediterranean ﬂeet as officer on the ﬂagship Franklin, and while the ship was stationed at Nice, France, he met Miss Jessie Willis of Detroit, who later became his wife. About this time the ship proceeded under orders to Spain to bring the notorious Tammany chief, “Boss” Tweed to New York. Lieutenant Brodhead had personal charge of Tweed on the trip and learned a good game of cribbage from him. Lieutenant Brodhead was the youngest oﬂicer on the ﬂagship but at all times proved his capability in the faithful discharge of every duty devolving upon him.
In New York city on the 12th of May, 1877, he was united in marriage to Miss Jessie Willis, a daughter of Richard Storrs Willis, of Boston, who had settled in Detroit. He was a brother of the poet, N. P. Willis. Following their marriage Lieutenant and Mrs. Brodhead maintained their home in Washington, where three of their children were born, enjoying all of the charm and advantages of the brilliant Washington life in oﬂicial circles. An opportunity to go to China was offered Lieutenant Brodhead but since this would necessitate leaving his family for a period of three years he declined and resigned his government position, returning with his wife and children to Detroit, where resided both his own and his wife’s relatives. Here he established a real estate business and as the years passed he prospered in its conduct. He was very popular in social and business circles and was also a most devoted husband and father, his love for his mother and his consideration for the members of his immediate family being beautiful to see. His memory is fragrant with loving thought, free from every discord and of most kindly and generous acts. He was ever chivalrous, loving and tender to womankind and strong and manly among men.
The children of Mr. and Mrs. John T. Brodhead are as follows: The eldest daughter, Jessie, became the wife of Robert Wagner, a prominent California artist, and died leaving two children, Leicester and Thornton. The eldest son and second child of the family was Thornton Brodhead, who served as a member of the Naval Reserves during the Spanish-American war and won distinction in the battle of San Juan, when he and two others were summoned before their superior ofﬁcer and complimented for their ﬁne marksmanship in the handling of the gun of which he had charge. He was but nineteen years of age at the time and was under ﬁre for the ﬁrst time. Following the close of hostilities with Spain he was for three years in the service of the Paciﬁc Mail Steamship Company and he is now lieutenant commander of Michigan Naval Militia stationed in Detroit, holding the rank of lieutenant commander in the World war. He married Elise Moran, a daughter of John V. Moran of Detroit. Archange Macomb, the second daughter, is with her mother at the family home on Lodge avenue. John, affectionately known as Jack Brodhead, lives in St. Louis, where he is general manager of the Ford agency. He married Dorothy Farrish of that city. Alexandrine Cairns, became the wife of Duncan J. McNabb, a broker, who during the World war was in the Navy Aviation Corps. Willis, unmarried, the youngest of the family, is in St. Louis with his brother, being president of their concern. He is a graduate of the State University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, having taken an engineering course and during the World war was a captain in the Marine Corps.
The father of this family, John Thornton Brodhead, was a member of the Loyal Legion, also a member of the Detroit Club and his personal qualities made for popularity wherever he was known, causing his death, which occurred in 1904, to be greatly deplored by all who knew him. The old Brodhead home on Grosse Ile on the banks of the Detroit river was called Archdale, in memory of the mother, Archange Macomb. Mrs. J. T. Brodhead has presented a large crayon portrait of Colonel Thornton F. Brodhead to the post office to be hung in the gallery.
While the later generations of the Brodhead family have every reason to be proud of their ancestry in the paternal line, they have equal reason to cherish the records of their ancestors on the distaff side. The mother, Jessie Willis Brodhead, is the daughter of Richard Storrs Willis, a representative of an old and distinguished family, prominent in connection with early American annals, the name ﬁguring potently in relation to events of national history as well as in the world of art and letters. One of his biographers has said of Mr. Willis: “He was possessed of the ﬁnest musical and literary talents and his scholarly attainments, as well as his patrician bearing and gracious personality, endeared him to all who knew him.” He was born in the city of Boston, February 10, 1819, a descendant of Nathaniel Willis, one of the Puritans, who came to America from England in 1626 and settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he became a deputy to the general court in 1638. During succeeding generations the prestige of the family name has been maintained at the same high standard associated with that of the progenitor of the family in America. In 1776 the Independent Chronicle was ﬁrst published by Nathaniel Willis, grandfather of Richard Storrs Willis, who occupied the same building that had been used by Benjamin Franklin when he was a printer. His son, Nathaniel Willis, Jr., and his wife, Hannah Parker Willis, were the parents of John Storrs Willis, who was n journalist of distinction and became the founder of three papers, the Eastern Argus of Portland, Maine, the Boston Recorder and that most universally popular and admirable periodical for young folks, the Youth’s Companion.
Richard Storrs Willis attended Channing Hall, a. preparatory school and later was a student in the Boston Latin school. In 1837 he entered Yale and soon became prominently identiﬁed with its literary and musical societies. He was elected president of the Beethoven Society and during his second college year wrote compositions for the college orchestra and choir and arranged the scores for many songs of German students. It was at this time that Mr. Willis composed the Glen Mary Waltzes, which enjoyed a long period of popularity. He was graduated from Yale in 1841, with the degree of Bachelor of Arts. Immediately afterward he went to Germany, where in the next seven years he perfected himself in harmony under Schuyler von Wurtensee and in counterpoint and instrumentation under the celebrated Professor Hauptmann of the Conservatory and conductor of the Thomas Schule. Mr. Willis had as friends and companions the leading literary and musical geniuses of the day. On a trip to Europe he was accompanied by the great Mendelssohn; Gutzkow, the dramatist; Freuligrath, the poet; Bayard Taylor, American author and traveler; and Professor Hoﬁman von Fullersleben, the poet. Mr. Willis learned to speak the German language quite perfectly and this enabled him to do considerable literary work for the reigning Landgrave of Hesse Darmstadt, who created and bestowed upon him the title and diploma of Doctor of Music. At the close of this seven year period of study in Europe, Mr. Willis returned to Yale, where he was instructor in the German language. Later he went to New York, where he became a contributor to the Albinon, the Musical Times, the Tribune and the Catholic World. About this time he founded a magazine devoted to the ﬁne arts which he called, Once a Month. He also wrote an admirable treatise on church music, which was most favorably commented upon by many periodicals. Later he wrote many student songs, sacred songs, patriotic songs and lyrical compositions. This lyrical gift seemed to be a family trait since Nathaniel P. Willis, the well known poet, was a brother of Richard Storrs Willis and his sister was familiarly known to the public under the nom de plume of Fanny Fern.
In 1854 Mr. Willis was married to Miss Jessie Cairns of New York, who died in 1858. At the time of her marriage she was singing in The Little Church Around the Corner, one of the famous old churches of New York, and Mr. Willis was organist under Dr. Houghten. Mrs. Willis’ mother was spiritually and ﬁnancially one of the pillars of The Little Church Around the Corner, and she owned much property in that locality and gave Mr. Willis and his wife the old homestead just opposite The Little Church. There the three daughters of the family were born. They spent the summer months at their grandmother’s country seat on Long Island near the home of William Cullen Bryant, with whom the daughter, Jessie, afterward Mrs. Brodhead, was a great favorite. Mr. Willis, who in 1861 married Mrs. Alexandrine Macomb Campau, numbered among his intimate friends Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and their contemporaries. Later Mr. Willis took his family to Europe, when his daughters were grown and there they spent four years. The daughters attended the convent of the Sacred Heart at Orleans, France, and also the Sacred Heart convent just outside of Brussels. While sojourning at Nice his three daughters married officers of the United States ﬂagship Franklin. Annie, the eldest, became the wife of Lieutenant Aaron Ward, who later was a rear admiral of the United States navy. Blanche became the wife of Lieutenant William H. Emory, who later commanded the Bear on the Greely relief expedition and was commander of the Yosemite during the Spanish-American war, while the third daughter, Jessie, became the wife of Lieutenant John T. Brodhead. After the marriage of their daughters Mr. and Mrs. Willis returned to Detroit, where Mrs. Willis had extensive property interests, owning one-third of Belle Isle. They built their summer home, Insulruhe, on Belle Isle and spend the winter seasons in New York. Mr. Willis passed away in 1900, while Mrs. Willis survived until 1910, both dying in the faith of the Catholic church, of which they had long been devoted members. Mrs. Brodhead has inherited much of the literary talent of her distinguished father and has made many contributions to periodicals, besides being the author of a number of published volumes. She is a Daughter of the American Revolution, prominent socially and is identified with many of the leading charitable organizations of the city.
1-Capt. Daniel Brodhead b. 20 Apr 1693, Marbletown, NY, d. 22 Jul 1755,
Bethlehem, PA, bur. Old Moravian Cemetery, Bethlehem, PA
+Hester Gerritse Wyngart b. 1697, c. 14 Mar 1697, d. After 1743
|—-2-Capt. Luke Brodhead c. 22 May 1741, Shawnee RDC, Smithfield Twp (Monroe
| Co.), PA, d. 19 Jun 1806, Stroudsburg, Monroe Co., PA, bur. 20 Jun 1806,
| Shawnee Presb. Church Cemetery, Shawnee on Delaware, Monroe Co., PA
| +Elizabeth Harrison b. Cir 1745, Bridesburg, Philadelphia Co.,
| Philadelphia, PA, d. Bef 1797
| |—-3-Rev John Brodhead b. 5 Oct 1770, Lower Smithfield, PA, d. 7 Apr
| | 1838, Newfields, New Hampshire
| | +Mary Dodge b. 1789, d. 1875
| | |—-4-Col. Thornton Fleming Brodhead b. 5 Dec 1820, Newmarket
| | | (Rockingham County), NH, d. 2 Sep 1862, Alexandria, Alexandria
| | | City, Virginia, bur. Elmwood Cemetery, Detroit, Wayne Co.,
| | | Michigan
| | | +Archange Macomb b. 1817, d. 30 Oct 1891, bur. Elmwood
| | | Cemetery, Detroit, Wayne Co., Michigan
| | | |—-5-John Thornton Brodhead b. 12 Sep 1851, Detroit, Wayne,
| | | | MI, d. 1 Mar 1904, Detroit, Wayne, MI
The children of John T. and Jessie Brodhead were: Jessie Willis Brodhead (1878-1906), Richard Thornton Brodhead (1879-1947), Archange Macomb Brodhead (1881-1971), John Brodhead (1888-1970), Alexandrine Cairns Brodhead (1889-1971), and Ignatius Loyola Willis Brodhead (184-1977).