Is This Why I Couldn’t Find Peter?

John Brooks, (who died as a soldier of the War of 1812), and his first wife Hannah Grosbroek had two children together before she died. The eldest, a daughter, died as an infant, but Peter, their youngest, lived long enough to be raised by his step-mother Dinah.

Poor Peter had it a bit tougher than his half-siblings because both of his biological parents had died by the time he was 12, while they still had their mother Dinah. To top it off by the time he was about 13 or 14 he was being raised by two step-parents, as Dinah had married her second husband Robert Little.

Until this last week have not been able to find anything on Peter Brooks beyond his father’s guardianship papers in 1815. Then I saw this intriguing record at ancestry.com.

(if no image is seen be sure to download the file from the link)

This document, that you see reference to above, is a prison discharge record for Auburn Prison, and in this discharge record is listed a Peter Brooks, born about 1803, in Albany, New York. All of that data matches the Peter Brooks I have been looking for these past few years. But is it him?

According to this record Peter was in prison for 7 years for breaking gaol [jail]. Which also means that he had been in jail longer than those 7 years, because he had to have been in jail to have broken out. He was released in 1829 at the age of 25. If he served the whole sentence, that means he was in prison when he was 18, and possibly earlier. If this is indeed the same Peter who is a grand half-uncle of mine, then it is no wonder I have been unable to find him. And him being so elusive to me before makes a good case to this being the Peter I have been looking for.

What I have to do next is see if the Albany Archives have any court records that might inform me as to the reason for Peter’s incarceration in the first place. Hopefully, I will also be able to confirm that he is the right Peter.


Auburn Prison where Peter was incarcerated, is in Auburn, NY, and opened in 1817. It was built with the intention of using a congregate system. The inmates worked and ate together during the day, but went into isolation at night. The work they were expected to do consisted of hard labor working on bridges, ditches, quarries, and other difficult and tedious tasks. They also had to make items like barrels, buckets, clothes, shoes, boots, tools and saddles. These were sold at a profit making the Auburn system the first to wade into the prison manufacturing industry a trend that continues to this day.

Floggings, though outlawed as a sentence, became the primary means of discipline. This soon became known as the Auburn Prison System, which owes many of it’s attributes, such as better food and health care and an increased emphasis on rehabilitation, to the Pennsylvania system. [Yes, because everyone knows a good flogging fixes everything.]

Silence was the over-riding theme of the Auburn system. John D. Cray, a deputy warden at the Auburn Prison, said silence took away the prisoner’s ‘sense of self’, which made them more obedient, and prevented them from corrupting each other. Thus the prisoners did everything without talking. They also wore a uniform of white with broad horizontal stripes. When they moved anywhere as a group, they had to walk in lockstep with their hands grabbing the side of the prisoner in front, and their elbows at their sides covering the hands of the prisoner behind. If one stumbled, many would fall and, of course, later be flogged.

This was Peter’s life for 7 years.

Unfortunately, after this ‘released from prison’ record, I have again been unable to find Peter Brooks in any records. Maybe he was a repeat offender. I guess it is off to the court records in Albany, New York.

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