Origins of a Farmer-Soldier Tradition:
The Jennings of Brookfield

Nicholas Hollis
All Rights Reserved

Brookfield’ sons, including Moses Jennings, grandson of Stephen Jennings (and son of Jonathan Jennings), answered the muster roll on August 9, 1757, and raised three companies of militia as part of a force rushed to relieve the besieged British garrison under Lt. Colonel George Munroe at Fort William Henry. The fort stood at the foot of Lake George, New York--a distance of over one hundred forty miles from Brookfield (but only seventeen miles from Fort Edward on the Hudson River, where British general Webb and nearly 4,000 troops watched and refused to reinforce Munroe). Surrounded, and heavily outnumbered by a French force of nearly 11,000 (regulars, civilian militia and Indian warriors from numerous tribes) on August 3, commanded by the Marquis de Montcalm, Munroe’s gallant stand became desperate as French mortar and artillery pummeled the defenders from trenched positions which drew closer to the fort each day of the siege. Montcalm had assembled his army at Fort Ticonderoga (Carillon). Munroe’s surrender, and the subsequent “massacre” by Indians of some of his disarmed troops and civilians, took place before the colonial reinforcements arrived. Marching via Kinderhook under Captain Jabez Upham, the Brookfield unit learned of Munroe’s fate and returned home. 

(Photo courtesy of Nathan Farb)

FORT TICONDEROGA--Built in 1755, seventy-seven years after Jennings heroics on Lake Champlain, as part of New France's network of strategic waterway strongholds, this fort played an important role in the French & Indian War and the American Revolution.

Gripping stories of duty and frontier sacrifice passed down the Jennings generations in Brookfield. Moses' son, Joel Jennings, enlisted at age sixteen during the Revolutionary War in 1778 and was part of a colonial force which reinforced Saratoga and Ticonderoga a year later. Benjamin Jennings, probably an older brother or cousin, had mustered in Brookfield on April 19, 1775, hours after Paul Revere's ride, and marched for Lexington. Although it is unlikely the Brookfield unit reached Lexington (or Concord) in time for the electrifying events of that day, they reinforced the revolution at a critical juncture and probably helped drive the Redcoats back to Cambridge. Two months later Jennings and his unit were at Bunker Hill where the patriots delivered General Howe's regulars a staunch, bloody repulse before retreating when ammunition ran out. The records of North Brookfield indicate that Benjamin had 16 1/3 months of military service by 1778 and that he re-enlisted in 1779 and 1780. He was sent to North River and family tradition holds that Captain Hamilton built him a small house after the war in recognition of his meritorious service.

JENNINGS FARM--This hilly spread in central Massachusetts produced dairy, pork and shoe leather. The farm remained in the family for more than two hundred years, nurturing many generations of farmer-soldiers, who served in every conflict from King Philip's War through WW1.

Brookfield town records reveal on May 2, 1790 Joel Jennings married Zillah Walker. Their first son, Calvin, was born on December 16, 1792 at the family farmhouse built on land inherited from Moses dating back to Stephen Jennings' holdings. Calvin and his younger brother, Charles, worked the farm with their father, who died at age 51 on October 21, 1813. Calvin was serving as a captain in the militia during this time as part of the mobilization for the War of 1812.

Years later, Calvin's first son, Joel Albert Jennings (1821-1873), would gather "family lore" from his grandmother, Zillah. Joel Albert seemed interested in old, "fortified houses" adjacent to Jennings' property and stories of his ancestors' sacrifices on the frontier. He seemed particularly interested in the house of Edward Walker which stood on the south side of the river, west of Mason's brook and north of the house of William B. Hastings, his grandfather. The Walker house, built after Queen Anne's War, belonged to the family of Joel Albert's great grandmother, Marcy Walker (Moses Jennings' wife).1/  By the late 1830s recollections of the colonial days were fading and the New England Renaissance, with its emphasis on literature, education and humanistic enlightenment was in flower. Joel Albert's flair for history and academic discipline, supported by his educationally-minded parents, led him to graduate Williams College (1845) and Harvard Law School (1849). An industrious student, Joel Albert, financed his schooling by tutoring and other assorted jobs, but made a poor vocational choice (law) and soon gave up his legal practice in Port Jervis, New York, captivated by the lure of California's Gold Rush and Manifest Destiny.2/ His wife, Susan Bates Jennings and young family, including William Nevinson Jennings (1847-1934), moved back to Brookfield to live on the farm with Deacon Calvin Jennings/Laura Hastings and the Elijah Bates' family of North Brookfield. Joel Albert and Susan Bates had married in 1846, traveled and taught together in Georgia, but she refused to follow him west. Later in life, she became a successful literary agent in New York City. A younger brother, Calvin Walker Jennings, enlisted in the 12th Pennsylvania Cavalry in April 1862, served as a bugler for Company B and saw action on many key battlefields, including Second Manassas, South Mountain, Antietam, Gettysburg, Monocracy and the defense of Washington (Fort Stevens). He was honorably discharged in July 1865. 3/

FORT JENNINGS--Named for Lt. Col. William Jennings, Jr. (1771-1831) whose legendary campaigns against Tecumseh's Indian Confederation included service under General Anthony Wayne at Fallen Timbers (1794) and General William Henry Harrison at Tippecanoe (1811), once stood on Auglaize River in Northwestern Ohio. Jennings who also commanded troops in the War of 1812, spent most of his life as a farmer in Kentucky.

Courtesy of Mac Miller

OLDEST HERO AT THE ALAMO  -- Gordon C. Jennings, a native of Connecticut, at age fifty-four, was a few years senior to Davy Crockett on March 6, 1836. Both were part of the legendary garrison which died defending Texas freedom.

Over the years Deacon Calvin and Laura Hastings became among the most prominent citizens of Brookfield as the driving forces of the town's congregational church. An account of Deacon Calvin's life appeared in the Worcester Daily Spy newspaper on November 15, 1887 on the occasion of Calvin's 95th year, in which he was described as a rugged conservative, devoted to hard work. 4/

Calvin's grandson, William Nevinson Jennings, grew up on the Jennings farm at Brookfield, which consisted of 125 acres in the 1850s, including about a dozen cows. The principal activity was butter production for sale, but the family also produced its own pork. William remembered his grandfather in later years as a stem disciplinarian, but credited him with abstaining from corporeal punishment, except once when he was "walloped for sassing a neighbor.” At the outbreak of the Civil War, "Willie" and his brothers, Arthur Bates Jennings and Emerson Pratt Jennings, moved to New York City where their adventuring father, Joel Albert had secured a teaching position, having returned from California. Later, William would build a successful printing business and two of his sons, John Edward Jennings (1875-1945) and Francis Bates Jennings (1885-1957) would graduate from Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons and serve as officers in the U.S. Army medical corps in France during World War I. Curtis Herman Jennings (1876-1934), sole son of Civil War veteran Calvin W. Jennings,  (1842-1917),  served in the US Navy during the Spanish-American War and in WW 1. He also became a doctor and distinguished himself as a pioneering leader in the field of radiology (x-ray).


Lt. Francis Bates Jennings

Yale Mobile Medical Unit #39, American Expeditionary Force, in France (1917-1919)


SONS OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION -- Gravestone of Joel Jennings (1762-1813) stands with veteran's decorations in Brookfield cemetery. Joel's long lived wife, Zillah Walker Jennings (1766-1852) and daughter, Fanny Jennings (1805-1836) are with him.


Educational Pioneers -- Monument in Brookfield for Deacon Calvin Jennings family bears testimony to sacrifice and commitment to education. Jennings' daughters excelled as teachers. Sabrina Jennings (1823-1890), an early graduate of Mt. Holyoke, founded the Neversink Academy at Port Jervis, New York in the 1840's.

Notes and Additional Reading

I/ History of North Brookfield, Massachusetts, J.H. Temple, (1887), p.169

2/ Forty Years Record of the Class of 1845 - Williams College, (1885), pp.87-89

3/ Leather and Steel: The 12th Pennsylvania Cavalry in the Civil War, Larry B. Maier, (2001)

4/ Worcester Daily Spy, November 15,1887, p.3 (Column 5)

Randolph Herald, February 21,2002, "From Randolph to Washington", (Section B).

Springfield Union-News, May 13, 2002, "Hatfield Raid a Story of Courage, Heroism" 

In Jasper County: The First Two Hundred Years, Marvin L. VanGilder, Carthage, Missouri, 1995, pp.16,18, 20, 31

Our 'Dances with Wolves' Ancestor, The Joplin Globe,  November 15, 2004 (Andy Ostmeyer), Joplin, Missouri

"Forgotten Farmer-Soldier Remembered," The Central Record, Lancaster, Kentucky, June 2, 2005, pp. A7, 12.

"Hero's Grave Gets Headstone."  Danville Advocate-Messenger, May 19, 2005.


Jennings Heritage Project
P.O. Box 5565 - Washington DC 20016

Tel: (202) 296-4563

Cornerstone for Courage

Stephen Jennings : The Brookfield Years

Jennings Heritage Project

Heritage Preservation


"Leadership Education and Character Development Through Historical Scholarship"