Caleb Brewster

Today’s post is written by Jackie Kilby, Archives Technician at the National Archives at College Park, MD.

After the end of the American Revolutionary War numerous veterans were disabled, or invalid, and petitioned for pensions to the United States Congress and/or their State Governments.  One such person was Caleb Brewster, a name made recognizable by the television show Turn: Washington’s Spies, as played by Daniel Henshall, and the book Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring, by Alexander Rose.

Caleb Brewster was essential to the communication of the Culper Spy Ring, as he coordinated the exchange of intelligence and instructions between Major Benjamin Tallmadge and General George Washington and the spy ring.  Brewster did not join the Intelligence Service until 1778, but joined the Revolutionary War effort in 1776.

Caleb Brewster was injured on December 7, 1782 during a naval exchange with British troops on Long Island Sound.  He was hit by a musket ball through his shoulder, or “breast,” as he described in his letter to President George Washington.  Due to this injury he was placed on an invalid list.  After the end of the war, Brewster was supposed to receive a pension through the Continental Congress, and then the United States Congress.

In 1790, Brewster presented his petition for pension to Congress, and was approved, under the condition of returning all his notes accumulated during his service to the Continental Army.  After much effort he was approved for his pension, and was eventually able to procure an “enhanced price,” going from three shillings to thirteen shillings and sixpence, or roughly equal to half his pay as a lieutenant.  But Brewster was astounded by the Auditor of the Treasury’s refusal to execute a Final Settlement of his accounts.  

In his letter to Washington, Brewster is pleading for his assistance in the passage of a bill currently before Congress which could facilitate the settlement of claims of widows, orphans to invalid pensions, as well as ease the process for individual petitions.  Brewster describes the struggles he has endured in regard to his invalid pension and details the denial of two applications for pension with Connecticut and New York.  Both were denied, with Connecticut and New York each citing the other as his official State of residence and/or military service.

Brewster was a veteran of the American Revolution, wounded in a naval skirmish supporting the American Revolution, and a major part of the Culper Spy Ring.  His struggles to receive adequate compensation for his injuries echoes many of the issues our veterans face today.  It was mainly due to Brewster’s importance to the intelligence operation, and his association with numerous Revolutionary War officers, in addition to President Washington, which allowed him to advocate for veterans rights, which just so happen to help his own situation, directly to the President.

George Washington commented on Brewster’s injury on December 10, 1782, in a letter to Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge, stating “I see nothing irreparable, [and] little occasion of serious regret, except the wound of the gallant Captain Brewster, from which I earnestly hope he may recover…” (Johnston, Henry Phelps, ed. Memoir Of Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge . New York, NY: The Gilliss Press, 1915).

Caleb Brewster ended up returning to service for the United States and joined the precursor to the Coast Guard, the Revenue Cutter Service.  He served until the end of the War of 1812 and retired with his wife to Connecticut.  

Black Rock Plaque.jpg
Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Alissa Flockerzi from Coast Guard Compass

The location of his home near modern Bridgeport is honored with a plaque from the Black Rock Community Council. Moreover, the Memoir of Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge makes many references to Brewster’s courage and significant contributions to the Revolutionary War.  He was revered by his commanding officers and praised by President Washington, and yet he had to struggle to obtain his benefits.  Brewster’s means were self-serving, but ended up assisting numerous other Revolutionary War veterans and veteran families applying for pensions.

NARA Sources:

Brewster, Caleb – State: Continental Troops, Regiment: Second Regiment, Artillery (NAID 30858847).  Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War, 1894 – ca. 1912. Record Group 93, War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records, 1709 – 1939.

Letters Received, 1789 – 1906 (NAID 583574). Department of State. Office of the Secretary. (9/1789 – ). Record Group 59, General Records of the Department of State, 1763 – 2002

“To George Washington from Caleb Brewster, 15 March 1792,” Founders Online, National Archives.

Additional Resources:

Further material on Caleb Brewster is located at the Fairfield Museum and History Center.

Caleb Brewster: Revolutionary War Hero, Coast Guard Compass, Official Blog of the U. S. Coast Guard.

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