Where is Lieutenant John Brooks, Jr.?


Too long on lonely isle neglected,
Marked by no stone, thy dust has slept,
By humble turf alone protected,
O’er which rude Time each year has swept.

… But now with kindred heroes lying,
Thou shalt repose on martial ground,
Thy country’s banner o’er thee flying,
Her castles and her camps around.*

Marine Lieutenant John Brooks, Jr. was, everyone agreed, the most beautiful man in Oliver Hazard Perry’s fleet. A Harvard graduate and son of Revolutionary War General and Governor of Massachusetts John Brooks, the dashing young officer probably wasn’t expecting to be sent to the back country. But in 1812, Lieutenant Brooks was arrested and found guilty by court martial for cheating at cards — behavior hardly befitting an elite Marine. So it was off to Lake Erie, where the U.S. was reluctantly preparing a Naval defense for its vulnerable inland lakes.

Now is not the time to submit a briefing of the War of 1812 for readers who don’t know much about it. (I certainly didn’t before I started writing this blog.) It was kind of a fussy, frustrating war that something to do with the British fighting to win back the colonies, Americans fighting for the honor of their young country, the Indians fighting to earn some territorial sovereignty, and everyone fighting to claim control of the Northwest Territory.

And that last part is why the Battle of Lake Erie was such a big deal. The decisive victory gave Americans control of Lake Erie, the British were forced to abandon Fort Malden (that’s just a jump across the river from Grosse Ile and you can visit!) and the Americans were able to win back Detroit.

You remember the Battle of Lake Erie: that’s the one where Perry wrote to William Henry Harrison: We have met the enemy and they are ours. Perry’s victory was in part amazing because he left his destroyed flagship, the Lawrence, and rowed a small boat under heavy fire to his undamaged Niagara, where he continued to fight the exhausted British fleet. (He brought a blue flag that had flown on the Lawrence that read Don’t Give Up the Ship.)

Fatefully, Lieutenant Brooks was assigned to the Lawrence — which the British annihilated. Almost every one of the ship’s 136 men were injured or killed, and all of its guns destroyed.

Lieutenant Brooks was talking to another officer when he was struck by a cannonball and slammed across the boat. The impact shattered his hip and “mangled him in a most frightful manner,” but he stayed alive for an hour, bleeding to death and imploring someone to shoot him or bring him a pistol. No one did.

Many of the 30 sailors killed aboard the Lawrence were buried at sea, but three officers from the American fleet —including Lieutenant Brooks — and three British officers were buried the next day on South Bass Island, near Put-in-Bay.


In 1817, a movement was started to bring Lieutenant Brooks to Detroit. He wasn’t from Detroit, and perhaps had never been in Detroit. Maybe Detroiters felt he deserved a burial more honorable, ceremonious and public than the one he had been given. Maybe someone influential in Detroit cared for him or his family. I don’t know.

I do know that the movement succeeded. At the end of October, 1817, Lieutenant Brooks was exhumed and brought to Detroit. A funeral procession marched through the streets to Fort Shelby. Reverend Sylvester Larned performed the service and *a Captain of the Fifth Infantry wrote the poem I excerpted at the beginning of this post. General Macomb and Governor Cass attended.

Lieutenant Brooks didn’t stay at rest at Fort Shelby for long: in 1826, the Fort, which Congress had just given to the City of Detroit, was demolished. Military burials at the Fort were moved to a new city cemetery bounded by Michigan, Lafayette, First Street and Wayne. The remains from that cemetery were later moved to the Clinton Street Cemetery, and the remains from that cemetery were removed to Woodmere and Mt. Elliott in 1869.

So where is Lieutenant John Brooks? Is he still beneath Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial at Put-in-Bay? A Park Ranger there suggested to me that the unit sent to retrieve his body may not have been very particular about which one they chose.


I can’t find him in cemetery records at Woodmere; he wasn’t Catholic and wouldn’t be at Mt. Elliott; could he be beneath a building downtown, at the War of 1812 memorial site on Washington Blvd., or somewhere else?

Writing at the turn of the century, both Silas Farmer and Clarence Burton reported the records were lost — and with them, the remains of Lieutenant John Brooks, Jr.

And this is why, dear readers, I have been crazed, distracted, waking up in the middle of the night. All week. Where is Lieutenant John Brooks? How do we find out? I have to know.

#battle of lake erie#detroit cemeteries#lieutenant john brooks#mysteries#ohio#perry victory and international peace memorial#war of 1812


  1. William G. Krejci - February 21, 2013 @ 3:17 pm

    Greetings Amy,
    I must admit that I find myself rather intrigued by your article here on the disposition of the remains of Marine Lieutenant John Brooks Jr. For my part, I grew up in a small town outside of Cleveland, Ohio but have spent many a summer on Put-in-Bay with my family and friends. I frequently visit Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial and know a little more about the story from a friend who works as a park ranger there. It is through this friend that I learned the possibility that the remains interred beneath that monument may not be those of the six officers who had fallen at The Battle of Lake Erie. For that matter, they may not even be human bones. He suspects that they may be the remains of a cow or a sheep.
    When the remains of those soldiers were originally laid to rest on that island, all that was known of their site was that it was near a willow tree about a hundred feet from the shore of the bay in a small clearing. The willow was identified some years later and a chain was installed around its base. When the tree fell in 1900, a monument of cannonballs was placed at the site of that tree.
    Now, when the team was set to uncover the remains for the interment in the vault beneath the monument, then under construction, this small monument of cannonballs was dismantled and a tent was placed over the site. What little remains were recovered managed to fit into a copper case roughly 2 feet cubed. This box was then carried in a bier and brought to the monument.
    Like I said though, their burial site was “near” the willow tree and even that was pretty vague.

    As to the remains of Lt. John Brooks.

    I read your article here and thought to give it another look. I won’t lie. It has kept me up at night as well, wondering where his remains may now be.
    I thought to begin by looking at articles from 1817 that made mention of the burial of Lt. Brooks in Detroit. It was here that I stumbled across an article in the Berkshire Star (Stockbridge, Mass) dated Nov. 27, 1817 (reprinted from the Detroit Gazette.) This article claims that, aside from collecting the remains of Lt. Brooks, they would also locate and re-inter the remains of one Major Andrew Hunter Holmes, 32nd Infantry, already buried in Detroit, who had fallen on Aug. 4, 1814 at Fort. Mackinac. If this plan was followed through, I present the following facts.
    When Fort Shelby was sold to the City of Detroit, the remains that were interred on those grounds were carried to the City Cemetery called “Cemetery Lane” between Antoine and Beaubien Streets, 100 feet south of Gratiot with the entrance near Jefferson. This occurred around 1827.
    In 1834, that cemetery was closed and the remains were located to a new city cemetery at the current site of the parking lot of the Eastern Market near Wilkins and Russell Streets. It should be noted that I found an article pertaining to this, that is of extreme interest.
    The article was dated May 6, 1834 and appeared in the Newark Daily Advertiser (Newark, NJ) and was a reprint from the Detroit Courier. In short, it stated:
    While excavating the site of the “ancient burial ground in this city” for the vault of the “new Presbyterian church” – located a coffin supposed to contain the gallant Major Holmes – killed in the assault of Fort Mackinac in 1814 – coffin heavily loaded with cannonballs should it need to be thrown over for sinking (the body was brought to Detroit in 1814 by vessel on Lake Huron, but the crew were ready to sink his coffin, should they be captured by the British and his remains be defiled by enemy hands) These remains were identified by an old resident of Detroit who knew that he was buried thus. The remains are now removed to the “upper cemetery of this city.” (Eastern Market Parking Lot)
    I then learned that this “upper cemetery” or “second city cemetery” existed from 1834 until around 1878 and that the remains were exhumed and relocated to, not only Woodmere and Mt Elliott Cemeteries, but also to Elmwood Cemetery.
    So if I’ve got all my ducks in a row, Major Holmes was brought from Fort Mackinac in 1814 to the City Cemetery in Detroit. In late 1817 or early 1818, he was exhumed and reburied with Lt. Brooks at Fort Shelby. When that fort was closed in 1827, the major was returned to the City Cemetery and there he laid until 1834, at which time he was removed to the second City Cemetery (or Upper Cemetery as the article refers.) Then, between 1869 and 1878, his remains were moved again to either Mt. Elliott, Woodmere or Elmwood Cemetery. My best guess is that Lieutenant Brooks followed him on this journey from Fort Shelby to wherever he may now be. Perhaps the clue to finding Lt. Brooks rests with those who were buried with him at Fort Shelby.
    I hope this points you in the right direction and maybe we both can finally get some sleep over the matter.
    Wishing you all the best,
    William G. Krejci

  2. William G. Krejci - February 21, 2013 @ 4:48 pm

    Correction: The old city cemetery “ancient burial ground” that closed in 1834 to make way for the Presbyterian church was the “Clinton Street Cemetery” and the new city cemetery was located at the market parking lot on Napoleon and Russell Streets. (source: Detroit 1835 City Map.) Sorry for the hasty post before double checking this.

  3. Mike Cervellino Sgt USMC - October 7, 2013 @ 8:12 pm

    No matter the final resting place of this Marine, he will always have a honored memorial on South Bass Island. Recently on a trip to Put in Bay with my wife I visited this memorial to pay my respect. Some of the other visitors found it strange that I placed a single flower at the original burial site and in the rotunda of the tower. When during conversation with someone on the observation deck, who witnessed my actions I was asked if I was related somehow to one of the Fallen at the battle. I replied yes ” I am related to Lt. John Brooks, United States Marines. He is my brother. ” A look of humor and bewilderment crossed her face. As I stepped on to the elevator I heard one of the Park Rangers inform the lady that ” Marines are a strange bunch”. Indeed we are! No better friend. No worse enemy


  4. christopher baldwin - November 11, 2015 @ 9:35 am

    I have John Brooks’ silver congressional officer’s medal from the battle of Lake Erie. I am taking it to Washington DC shortly where it will be verified. Hopefully they will display it either at the Marine Museum or the Navy Museum. It would be great if they could find his grave. I am hoping to set up a display at the Erie Maritime Museum that is dedicated to the Battle of Lake Erie.

    Best wishes.

  5. Chet Hearn - February 24, 2016 @ 11:54 am

    You already have more than I can find. I scanned The Building of Perry’s Fleet on Lake Erie and found no references to Brooks. I found a few in The Perry’s Victory Centenary – 1913. I no longer have Roosevelt’s Naval History, and there is nothing in my Marine books. Most of the information about Brooks is on the web, which you likely have.
    Once I have your email address, I will work up and send you a brief attachment.

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