Thomas Peebles (1729-1774) and his wife Elisabeth Bradt (1739-1806) began building a home in about 1763 (during the French sand Indian War) in the Van Schiack Patent at what is now known as Routes 4 and 32 at the intersection of Brookwood Road in Halfmoon, Saratoga County, NY (although it was then Halve Maen, on the northern frontier of Albany County).
Their land bordered the Hudson River. In prehistoric times it had been on a major path connecting the Mohawk River used by indigenous people, especially the Mohican and Mohawk, to access the Lake George and Lake Champlain Valleys, and the fishing ground and settlements along the Hudson toward what became Albany.
Their homestead, known as Brookwood Manor, was on what was known as the Great Road (the Kings Highway) and still stands today adjacent to Halfmoon Lighthouse Park.
In 1770, Thomas was appointed by British royal authority to the position of Justice of the Peace, and reappointed two years later. In Colonial America, this was one of the most powerful public offices open to colonists. What role Thomas Peebles would have played in American Revolution is unknown as his life was cut short when he died in 1774 at the age of 45. He is buried on the property.
With her husband’s sudden death, Elizabeth became a 35-year-old widow with five young children. In 1775 she opened their home for lodgers and it became known as the “Widow Peebles Tavern.” This not only provided income for the family, but a needed service for the increasing number of people traveling the Great Road – the main transportation route between Albany, Old Saratoga (now Schuylerville) and Lake George.
On a 1779 map by Isaac Vrooman commissioned by George Washington, only tavern highlighted by name was that of Elizabeth Peebles. A 1788 published list of the 40 Halfmoon inn keepers, Elizabeth was the only woman owner.
The tavern had many prestigious guests. In December 1775, the patriot Robert Treat Paine lodged at Widow Peebles’. Paine was traveling the northeast drumming up military and monetary support for the independence cause, meeting several days with George Clinton and Philip Schuyler. He had already been to the First Continental Congress and signed the Continental Association. He would also be a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
At the inn Elizabeth Peebles and her children were exposed to all walks of life, including political and military leaders. The family would see first-hand the activities of the military units, teamsters, and others passing their home. The Peebles all supported of the revolutionaries’ cause.
When the call for county militia units sounded in October 1777, Thomas and Elizabeth’s eldest child, Hugh, enlisted. Barely a teenager, Hugh became a quartermaster for the 12th regiment serving under Colonel Jacobus Van Schoonhoven, formed to reinforce the Continental Army during the Saratoga Campaign.
Hugh would spend his young adult life in some military capacity, spanning about 25 years. After the revolution, he served as military paymaster for the town of Queensbury.
After the Revolution in 1783, George Washington journeyed through Upstate New York conferring with people regarding the formation of the new nation and personally visiting the Saratoga battlefields. Included in his entourage was Alexander Hamilton and George Clinton. The all lodged at the Widow Peebles’ and Washington paid the Widow Peebles “extra for feed and attention for the horses.”
Elizabeth’s younger son Gerrit Peebles was only eight at the time of the battles at Saratoga. He was too young to fight in the Revolutionary War, but was appointed a captain in the New York State Militia in 1789. Like his older brother Hugh, Gerrit would follow in merchant business, including the formation of the Cohoes Manufacturing Company.
Gerrit Peebles relocated to the growing community of Lansingburgh (established before Troy), became Sheriff of Rensselaer County, and inherited Havor Island in Waterford from the family of his wife Maria Van Schaick. The island is now known as Peebles Island, home to Peebles Island Park and the headquarters of the New York State’s Bureau of Historic Sites as well as the Bureau of Historic Preservation Field Service.
Daughters Maria and Rosanna Peebles both married Revolutionary War veterans and raised large families. The youngest Peebles child, daughter Gertrude, spent her youth assisting her mother at the tavern and was there in May 1791 when Thomas Jefferson and James Madison arrived during their sightseeing tour of upstate New York forts and battlefields.
Gertrude married Benjamin Tibbits, a Troy merchant who died young. She later married the widower Eliphalet Nott who is well known as the longest reigning president of Union College (1804-1866).
Elizabeth Peebles operated the tavern for 20 years. In 1790 the census recorded five slaves in her household. In 1795 she turned over the property to her sons and died in 1806.
Thea Hotaling has a lifelong passion for history and lives on land that was once owned and worked by the Peebles family. John Warren contributed to the essay.
Illustrations, from above: The Peebles family home and inn, Brookwood Manor, in Halfmoon; and a portrait of Elisabeth Bratt Peebles (probably ca 1780s).