Robert D. Brewington 1894: Oldest Odd Fellow
This advertisement from the Missouri Courier newspaper dates R.D. Brewington’s business presence in Hannibal to Jan. 1, 1852. Source: genealogybank.com
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
In this 87th year, during the final month of 1894, retired tanner and merchant Robert D. Brewington of Hannibal, Mo., professed to the Hannibal Courier-Post that he was the oldest living Odd Fellow in the world.
Born in 1808, he told the newspaper that as a young man living in his home state of Maryland, he was recruited by Franklin Lodge No. 2, I.O.O.F., and in 1829, he was initiated into membership when he reached his 21st birthday.
“Mr. Brewington still loves the principles of Odd Fellowship as well as he did a half century ago,” the Courier-Post reported, “but he is now old and feeble and cannot attend the lodge meetings. He was not only a member of the subordinate lodge but of the encampment also and is well posted. The old gentleman is quite proud of the honor of being the oldest Odd Fellow living and Hannibal is proud of him as a citizen.” (The story was republished in the Palmyra Spectator on Dec. 6, 1894.)
R.D. Brewington died Dec. 30, 1900, and his remains are buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery. While proud of his affiliation with the Odd Fellows, history best remembers Mr. Brewington as maternal grandfather to Admiral Robert E. Coontz (1864-1935) who would go on (after Brewington’s death) to serve as Chief of Naval Operations during the first world war.
Firmly associated with the Pike County, Mo., Democratic party in September 1840, Robert D. Brewington, a tanner by trade, put his name up for consideration to serve as a delegate to the upcoming Democratic convention scheduled in Jefferson City on Oct. 8, 1840.
Whether or not he attended the convention is unclear, but what is known is that Brewington, while raising his family in Pike County during the ensuing decade, remained active in Democratic county politics.
In August 1844, Democrats R.D. Brewington and John B. Woods lost their bids for the state legislature to William Biggs and Gilchrist Porter, both on the Whig ticket.
In May 1848, R.D. Brewington served as a delegate from Cuivre Township at Pike County’s Democratic Convention on May 8, 1848.
In those early years of the 1840s, Robert D. Brewington operated the Tanyard, situated not far from Clarksville, Mo., in a valley then known as Scott’s Spring.
The Pike County Genealogy web site hosts a story about Scott’s Spring and Brewington’s affiliation with the property. (The story was originally published in the April 17, 1902, edition of The Press Journal.)
“A half mile east of the Prairie on the old road leading from Clarksville to Ashley, and perhaps three times that distance from the town of Cyrene, is the well known locality called ‘Scotts’ Spring’.
“The fountain from which the locality takes its name sends out a pure, limpid stream of water from beneath a ledge of limestone situated in a sort of amphitheater.
“In 1836 it was known as Gooch’s Tan-yard, being owned by a man of that name, who was in someway related to the family of Rev. James W. Campbell.
In the early 1840s Mr. R.D. Brewington became possessed of the property and he established a tannery upon a large scale a little farther down the branch, which he operated for several years.”
In October 1842, R.D. Brewington advertised this business in a Bowling Green, Mo., newspaper, The Radical:
“Leather, Boots and Shoes, for sale … Those who wish the above articles can purchase them cheap for cash, wheat, good hides, tallow or bee’s wax.”
In the early 1850s, before the hissing and clanking of steam locomotives echoed through the Bear Creek bottoms near Hannibal, before electricity illuminated stores and houses, before the introduction of public schools to the general populace, and before Hannibal’s streets were paved by anything besides dirt and rock, R.D. Brewington and his wife, Elizabeth, moved their family from what was once known as Scott’s Spring, Pike County, to Hannibal, Missouri.
In November of 1855, R.D. Brewington opened a store on the second floor of a building on the west side of Main Street, in the block known as “Commercial Row.”
Neighbors included Wm. F. Kercheval’s dry goods store; Wm. Hawkins’ store; J.P. Rayburn’s dry goods store; Temperance Hall; D.K. Garman’s book store; Wood and Hoaglan’s Emporium of Fashion; the law office of M.P. Green; and the new Monroe House. Brewington’s leather shop was located on the second story of a building next door to the new Monroe House.
Main Street 1859
Associated in business in 1859 with P.H. Holme, the storefront was located on the west side of Main Street, between Centre and Bird.
Early employees were Benton Coontz*, clerk; James Higgins, shoemaker; Charles Howard, saddler; James McDaniel, bootmaker; George A. Parker, shoemaker; and William W. Parsons, shoemaker.
R.D. Brewington announced plans, via the Hannibal Daily Messenger on Aug. 31, 1859, that in addition to his storefront on Main Street, he was opening a tanning house on Collier Street, between Sixth and Seventh. He explained that he planned to use the common weed, dog-fennel, in the tanning process, rather than the more traditional bark.
Also in 1859, R.D. Brewington was elected to serve as first ward councilman for the city of Hannibal.
Next week: The Brewington leather merchants on Main Street.
* Benton Coontz married Mary, oldest daughter of R.D. Brewington, on Nov. 29, 1861.
Note: While several Odd Fellow lodges had existed in New York City sometime in 1806 to 1818, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows was officially organized on April 26, 1819 in Baltimore, Maryland, by Thomas Wildey and four other members of the fraternity from England. Source: https://odd-fellows.org/history/
Mary Lou Montgomery, retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Books available on Amazon.com by this author: "The Notorious Madam Shaw," "Pioneers in Medicine from Northeast Missouri," and "The Historic Murphy House, Hannibal, Mo., Circa 1870." She can be reached at Montgomery.firstname.lastname@example.org Her collective works can be found at www.maryloumontgomery.com
Robert D. Brewington, 1808-1900, as identified by Robert Lopez on ancestry.com
This clipping lists the members of the Liberty Fire Company in Hannibal, Mo., on April 1, 1852. Note that R.D. Brewington served as president. genealogybank.com
Leather stretching photo
Underwood & Underwood. Stretching and drying loft / Underwood & Underwood. , ca. 1915. New York: Underwood & Underwood. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/89709168/ Library of Congress.
Elizabeth R. Bacon Brewington, 1817–1892, as identified by Robert Lopez on ancestry.com