Children of Thomas Brooks (1775 – 1838) and Wife Sarah Whitlock: James R. Brooks (1818-aft. January 1851) — From Alabama to California for the Gold Rush

Two of Thomas and Sarah’s children, Margaret (married Ransom Van Winkle), and Thomas, went to the Midwest, Margaret and Ransom settling in Illinois and Thomas W. in Missouri. Then there’s James, the son I’ll focus on in this posting. He headed to California during the Gold Rush, and apparently died there. Did these far-flung siblings keep in touch with each other? Thomas Brooks’s estate records in Morgan County, Alabama, suggest that there was at least some communication, since Ransom Van Winkle (and, I suspect, his wife Margaret) came back to Alabama when final shares of the estate were distributed, and while there, collected Thomas W.’s share to take to him in Missouri. 

9. James R. Brooks, the ninth child of Thomas Brooks and Sarah Whitlock, was born 26 December 1818 in Wayne County, Kentucky. This date of birth is recorded in his parents’ bible. The bible register gives his name as James with no middle initial.

Alabama Years

As the previous posting about James’s brother Samuel, who was the sibling closest to James in age, notes, the 2 October 1838 will of their father Thomas Brooks in Morgan County, Alabama, shows Thomas leaving these two youngest sons the whole of his land in Morgan County on which he and wife Sarah lived, and all his livestock (horses, cattle, hogs, and sheep), wagon gear, and farming utensils.[1] The will also stipulates that James and several other of Thomas’s children were to have $100 legacy money that he had already given to their siblings, money that I think came to Thomas and Sarah Whitlock Brooks’s children from the estate of their grandfather Thomas Whitlock, who died around May 1830 in Cumberland County, Kentucky.

At the 20 April 1839 sale of Thomas Brooks’s personal estate in Morgan County, James and Samuel were primary buyers.[2] Both brothers bought two beds and their furniture. In addition to those items, James also purchased a lot of books, a trunk, and a pair of saddlebags. As I noted when I discussed Samuel’s life, in my view, as these two youngest sons to whom Thomas willed his land and homeplace launched their married lives, they were setting up houses and perhaps intending to farm together the land that had come to them from their father.

A noted dated the day of Thomas Brooks’s estate sale in the amount of $5.00 shows James Brooks co-signing with Mark J. Lindsey and Jacob H. Huffaker for the debt.[3] Mark Jefferson Lindsey was James’s nephew, son of James’s oldest sister Jane Brooks and husband Dennis Lindsey. And Jacob H. Huffaker appears to be a relative of the husband of James’s sister Hannah, Wesley Huffaker.

Though the will of Thomas Brooks left his land and homeplace to sons Samuel and James, it is not clear to me that they ended up owning that land — except that James seems to have purchased a piece of it. On 29 January 1840, as executor of Thomas Brooks’s will, his son Charles filed a petition in Morgan County court to sell the land of the estate.[4] Citations were issued to Jane Lindsey, Samuel Brooks, James Brooks, and David Dinsmore Lindsey to approve this sale. These were the children still living in Alabama at this point — Dinsmore Lindsey acting on behalf of his wife Sarah.

17 June 1840 promissory note to Thomas Brooks estate signed by James Brooks with Mark Lindsey and H.H. Terry as co-signatories, in Thomas Brooks’s loose-papers estate file in Morgan County, Alabama

As a previous posting notes, documents in Thomas Brooks’s estate file show that the estate’s land was sold pursuant to an April 1840 court order, with the land sale held on 17 June 1840, and recorded 25 March 1841.[5] Of the two tracts put up for sale, David Dinsmore Lindsey bought a tract of 80 acres and his brother-in-law James R. Brooks both bought tracts of 80 acres. James paid $422.40 with Mark Lindsey, father of Dinsmore Lindsey, and H.H. Terry acting as James’s bondsmen. In Thomas Brooks’s estate file is the 17 June 1840 promissory note signed by James Brooks with Mark Lindsey and H.H. Terry as co-signatories, promising to pay $211.11 within twenty-four months.[6] The 80 acres that James purchased on 17 June were the east ½ northeast ¼ of section 31, township 7, range 5 west.

Morgan County, Alabama, Deed Bk. D, p. 655-6

Shortly after buying this portion of his father’s land, on 26 July 1840, James bought from Mark Lindsey and wife Mary Jane Dinsmore Lindsey another 80-acre tract in Morgan County, the west ½ southeast ¼ of section 32, township 7, range 5 west.[7] This deed is discussed in a previous posting. In my view, James was buying land in Morgan County at this point with the intention of farming as he launched a life as a married man. On 2 April 1840 in Lawrence County, James had married Jane Puckett.[8]

I have not been able to find any information about Jane beyond this marriage record. Though Christine South Gee and Irene Dabney Gallaway do not include Jane among the children of Jared Puckett and Anne Collins in their books on the Puckett family,[9] I’m quite sure that Jane was a sister of Jared and Anne’s daughters Carolina/Caroline Puckett, who married James’s brother Alexander Mackey Brooks (and then Mark Lindsey’s son William Burke Lindsey), and Mary Ann Puckett, who married James’s brother Samuel K. Brooks. 

Both Gee and Gallaway state that Jared Puckett and Anne Collins had daughters Carolina (m. Alex Brooks and Burke Lindsey), Mary Ann (m. Sam Brooks), and Dosha Ann — but they list no daughter Jane. The 1820 federal census shows Jared and Anne with two females under 10 (born 1810-1820).[10] In 1830, this household had one female aged 10-14 and three females aged 5-9.[11] Census data show Carolina born about 1818, and Mary Ann’s tombstone says she was born 27 June 1820. To me, it seems very likely that Jane was one of Jared and Anne Collins Puckett’s daughters born between 1825 and 1830 — and that Alexander, Samuel, and James Brooks all married Puckett sisters.

4 July 1840 receipt of James R. Brooks to Milton McClanahan for $100 legacy money, in Thomas Brooks’s loose-papers estate file in Morgan County, Alabama

On 4 July 1840, James R. Brooks received from Milton McClanahan, administrator of Thomas Brooks’s estate after Charles Brooks resigned his executorship, his $100 legacy money payment from the estate. The receipt signed James Brooks is in his father’s estate file in Morgan County, Alabama.[12]

27 June 1842 receipt of James R. Brooks to Milton McClanahan for $250 from estate of Thomas Brooks, in Thomas Brooks’s loose-papers estate file in Morgan County, Alabama

On 27 June 1842, James wrote and signed another receipt, this one for $250.[13] This receipt states that James R. Brooks, as he signed, was receiving from Milton McClanahan as administrator of Thomas Brooks $250 as part of his “Claim and interest in the said estate as one of the heirs at law of the said Thomas Brooks Dec’d.” The original receipt is in the estate file. 

As a previous posting indicates, another note in the estate file shows James’s brother Charles on 22 June 1842 writing Milton McClanahan from Itawamba County, Mississippi, assigning his interest in Thomas Brooks’s estate to James R. Brooks, with Charles and James’s nephew John Wesley Lindsey witnessing Charles’s note, the original of which is in Thomas Brooks’s estate file.[14] A digital copy of this document is at the posting I’ve just linked.

Move to California

Following this and prior to 1850, it seems James then left Alabama for California to hunt for gold. The next record I’ve found for him is his listing on the 1850 federal census, where he’s at Dutch Creek in El Dorado County, California, living in what seems to be a boarding house with nine other men and listed as a miner.[15] James’s name is given as Jas. R. Brooks; the census says he was 32 years old and born in Kentucky. Two of the men in the household are physicians, three are merchants, and the rest are miners. Every person listed on this census page is a man, most of them young, most miners, and most living in groups that suggest they were living in boarding houses in a town that had turned itself into a mining camp for the gold rush.

El Dorado County is in the bend on the eastern side of northern California, on the Nevada border. In 1847, James Wilson Marshall found gold at Sutter’s Mill at Coloma in El Dorado County, and when word of this discovery got out early in 1848, hordes of people (mostly men, of course) from around the country flocked to El Dorado County seeking to make a fortune.[16] During the gold rush, the county was the third most populous in the state, after San Francisco and Sacramento Counties.[17] Dutch Creek, where James R. Brooks was living in 1850, is less than a mile from Coloma and Sutter’s Mill.

If James went to California specifically due to news that gold had been found there, and had not moved there earlier for some other reason, then it seems likely he moved from Alabama to California in 1848-9. I find no deed records in Morgan County showing that he ever sold the land he had acquired there. I have not discovered what became of that land. Since his wife Jane was not with him when he was enumerated on the 1850 federal census, I assume that she died at some point after their marriage on 2 April 1840 and the point at which James went to California. I have found no evidence that the couple had children. 

Following his listing on the 1850 federal census, the only record I have found for James is the 20 January 1851 list of heirs of Thomas Brooks when the final settlement of Thomas’s estate took place in Morgan County, Alabama.[18] The list of heirs includes “James Brooks Calaforna.” A digital copy of this list is at the posting I’ve just linked. This document suggests to me that James was alive on that date — or was thought by his family members back in Alabama still to be living.

After this, I have been unable to find any record of James R. Brooks. I do not know when and where he died. I find no indication that he returned from California to Alabama. The 1860 federal census shows two James Brooks in El Dorado County, California, neither of whose biographical information matches that of James R. Brooks. Fires in 1910 and 1920 destroyed most of the early records of El Dorado County, so that finding information about James R. Brooks in the records of this county is hampered by this record loss.

The 1870 federal census shows a James Brooks with wife Sarah living in a hotel in San Francisco, with Tennessee-born William Barry the hotel owner.[19] The census shows this James Brooks as 51 and born in Kentucky, with a wife Sarah who is 38 and also born in Kentucky. James is a clerk in a store. Also listed in this entry showing people living in William Barry’s hotel is an Anna Brooks, aged 2 and born in California, who appears to be enumerated with Lindsey Baker Tarpley and his wife Sarah. I’m pretty sure this is a man named James Knox Brooks and is not James R. Brooks, however.


[1] The original holographic will, apparently written by Thomas’s grandson John Wesley Lindsey, son of Dennis Lindsey and Jane Brooks, is in Thomas Brooks’s loose-papers estate file in Morgan County. A transcribed copy is in Morgan County, Alabama, Orphans Court Final Record Bk. 7, pp. 134-5. Thomas’s signature to the will indicates that he was feeble and apparently very sick when the will was made, hence the need to have John Wesley Lindsey write the will as Thomas dictated it.

[2] 20 April 1839 account of sale of personal estate of Thomas Brooks, Morgan County, Alabama, compiled by Charles Brooks, in Thomas Brooks’s loose-papers estate file in Morgan County, Alabama.

[3] 20 April 1839 promissory note to estate of Thomas Brooks, by James Brooks, Mark J. Lindsey, and J.H. Huffaker, in Thomas Brooks’s loose-papers estate file in Morgan County, Alabama.

[4] Morgan County, Alabama, Orphans Court Minute Bk. 5, p. 383.  

[5] Ibid., p. 397.

[6] 17 June 1840 promissory note to Thomas Brooks estate signed by James Brooks with Mark Lindsey and H.H. Terry as co-signatories, in Thomas Brooks’s loose-papers estate file in Morgan County, Alabama.

[7] Morgan County, Alabama, Deed Bk. D, p. 655-6.

[8] Lawrence County, Alabama, Orphans Court Marriage Bk. B, p. 258.

[9] Christine South Gee, The Roots and Some of the Branches of the Puckett Family Tree (Columbia, South Carolina: State Commercial, 1958), p. 10; ane Irene Dabney Gallaway, Puckett Points: Some Facts Concerning the Family of Richard Puckett of Lunenburg County, Virginia, Together with Data Relating to the Allied Families of McConnico and Daugherty, Compiled from Personal Accounts, Old Letters, Histories, County Records, etc. (priv. publ., 1931), p. 12.

[10] 1820 federal census, Williamson County, Tennessee, p. 33.

[11] 1830 federal census, White County, Tennessee, p. 5.

[12] 4 July 1840 receipt of James R. Brooks to Milton McClanahan for $100 legacy money, in Thomas Brooks’s loose-papers estate file in Morgan County, Alabama.

[13] 27 June 1842 receipt of James R. Brooks to Milton McClanahan for $250 from estate of Thomas Brooks, in Thomas Brooks’s loose-papers estate file in Morgan County, Alabama. 

[14] 22 June 1842 note of Charles Brooks to Milton assigning Charles’s interest in Thomas Brooks’s estate to his brother James R. Brooks, in Thomas Brooks’s loose-papers estate file in Morgan County, Alabama.

[15] 1850 federal census, El Dorado County, California, Dutch Creek, p. 418B (dwelling 6/family 7; 28 November). 

[16] Paolo Sioli, Historical Souvenir of El Dorado County, California: With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Its Prominent Men & Pioneers (Oakland: P. Sioli, 1883), pp. 61-3.

[17] See Online Archive of California, description of the collection “Register of the El Dorado County Gold Rush Papers, 1852-1865,” mss 53, at the OAC website.

[18] 20 January 1851 list of heirs of Thomas Brooks compiled by David Dinsmore Lindsey, in Thomas Brooks’s loose-papers estate file in Morgan County, Alabama.

[19] 1870 federal census, San Francisco County, California, San Francisco, ward 7, p. 205A (dwelling 479/family 643). 

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