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Fayette County, Iowa  

 History Directory

Past and Present of Fayette County Iowa, 1910

Author: G. Blessin


B. F. Bowen & Company, Indianapolis, Indiana


Vol. I, Biographical Sketches



~Page 1160~













Colonel George F. Brockway

Photo scanned courteously of Dorothy Grosse

The gentleman whose name appears above it too well known to the citizens of Fayette county to need a formal introduction, but this compendium of biography would be incomplete without a record of his career, a matter in which his neighbors and fellow citizens feel a deep interest. George F. Brockway inherits the sterling qualities of the Irish-Dutch ancestry on his father’s side, and the no less sturdy French-Scotch blood of his mother’s people, these different nationalities forming a combination which, centering in a single individual, accounts for intelligence and manly qualities and for a character which will ever stand for rectitude and a high sense of honor.

Colonel Brockway was born near Quincy, Illinois, April 28, 1841, and is a son of Isaac and Susan (Bushaw) Brockway, the former of Irish lineage of the father’s side and Dutch on the mother’s side, the latter in the same manner of French and Scotch descent. Isaac Brockway was a native of New York, but when a young man went to Illinois to enter an institution near the city of Quincy with the object in view of fitting himself for mission work among the negroes in Canada, and spent ten years in this preparation, during which time he acquired superior educational training. He was active in assisting runaway slaves on their way to Canada by means of the “Underground Railroad,” in which, for several years, he took a zealous interest. In the meantime his father, Samuel Brockway, had moved to Kosciusko county, Indiana, and being

blind, called upon Isaac to come and care for him, this being about the year 1849. Prompted by filial duty, the latter obeyed and from that time until their respective deaths he remained with his parents and ministered to their necessities and comforts, and continued to live there until his wife’s death.


About 1860 or 1861 he exchanged land in Indiana for real estate in Fayette county, Iowa, the latter being on Crane creek, Bethel township, to which he removed the latter year, bringing with him a sorghum mill which he set up and operated for some years thereafter. In 1870 he disposed of his interests in the above named township and transferred his residence to Chickasaw county, where he lived during the four years ensuing, then moved to Illinois, where he spent two years, removing at the expiration of that time to Chanute, Kansas, where his death subsequently occurred at the ripe old age of eighty-four years. By his first marriage Isaac Brockway had six children, and his second marriage resulted in the birth of five children: Minnie, Isaac Brockway, Jr. (who now lives at West Union, this state), Milo, Luela and Orra.

George F. Brockway spent his early life at the parental home, and while a mere youth learned by practical experience the true meaning of honest toil. While in Indiana he decided to sever home ties and make his own way in the world, accordingly, in company with the hired hand, he stole quietly away without his father’s knowledge and went to Michigan, being about sixteen years old at the time. After spending a few months in that state, he made his way to Walworth, Wayne county, New York, where his mother’s sister was then living, and with his aunt he made his home during the next few years, working for neighbors by the month. At the expiration of the period indicated he engaged with the Quakers at Farmington, Ontario county, for whom he started work at a monthly wage of six dollars, invariably receiving an increase in wages with each new contract, and remaining in that locality until the national sky became overcast with ominous clouds of civil war, when he severed his connection with his employers and tendered his services to the government, enlisting on October 15, 1861, in the First New York Battery, under Capt. T.J. Kennedy, with Auburn as headquarters. This was the “banner” company of the Empire state at that time and shortly after the organization was completed it reported to Secretary Seward at Washington, D.C., and was given a very flattering reception at the White House by President Lincoln, who, in a brief, but felicitous speech, congratulated the men as follows: “Soldiers, I am glad to see you, and presume that you are glad to see me. If you do your duty in accordance with your appearance we will have nothing to fear; God bless you.”

After protesting at remaining longer at Washington, the battery was assigned to the Army of the Potomac under General McClellan, from which time until the cessation of hostilities it took part in some of the most noted campaigns of the war, its record of thirty-two important battles, to say nothing of skirmishes and minor engagements, equaled by few such organizations and exceeded by none. Captain Kennedy resigning after the battle of Williamsburg, the command afterwards fell to Lieut. Andrew Cowan, who proved a brave and faithful officer until mustered out after Lee’s surrender. A special bronze panel has been placed on their monument at Gettysburg, on which Mr. Brockway is shown as number six, in the act of fixing ammunition. He was the only available man on his gun when the battery was ordered to change position. The First New York Battery consisted of six guns, with six horses, three drivers and six cannoneers to each, besides the officers, and regardless of loss this quota was maintained in full throughout the war. Possessing mechanical skill of a high order, Mr. Brockway was made artificer, and in this capacity, by untiring energy, methodical measures and courteous treatment, he was, by acclaim, given the title of “Colonel.” The greatest loss sustained in any one engagement was at Cedar Creek, where, within a comparatively short time, twenty-one brave men gave up their lives for their country, besides the loss of one gun, but the latter was re-taken by a volunteer squad just previous to the capture of twelve thousand Confederates by the Union forces. Not infrequently were the men on duty the entire night.

Although Mr. Brockway was not in the battle of Cedar Creek, being on detached duty, he worked all the following night remounting the gun that had been disabled during the day’s fighting. He was the first one to re-enlist in the battery. The real service of this splendid battery will never be adequately known and only approximately estimated. At the expiration of the time for which it entered the service the entire command was kept intact until the close of the war, though few of the original members were with it when the Confederacy collapsed and the Grand Review at the national capital took place. The battery was assigned an important place in that never-to-be-forgotten parade, and attracted the enthusiastic attention of the throngs which it passed, because of the splendid appearance of the officers, men and guns. Mr. Brockway was rendered totally deaf in the right ear during his service. Receiving his discharge shortly after the review, Mr. Brockway returned to New York, where he remained until 1866, in February of which year he came to Iowa, where his father was then living and whom he had not seen since leaving home when a youth of sixteen.


By diligence and economy the meanwhile he had succeeded in accumulating eighteen hundred dollars. With this neat little sum he purchased a mill-site at a point of Crane creek known as Port Washington, investing the greater part of his means in the venture. In due time he began to develop the water power at the above place, but, losing his wife about that time and experiencing other reverses, he finally after considerable financial loss abandoned the enterprise and purchased seventy acres of land adjoining a part of his present farm, and began work of its improvement. The land was covered with scrub and small timber and much labor was required to reduce it to cultivation, but in due time the owner’s efforts resulted in the making of a comfortable home and the placing of himself in comparatively easy circumstances.

By judicious management Colonel Brockway has been enabled to add to his possessions from time to time until he owns a half section of as fine land as Eden township can boast, nearly all under cultivation and improved with good buildings, fences, etc., the farm being especially adapted to stock, in the breeding and rising of which he has been more than ordinarily successful. In connection with his agricultural and live stock interests he has a large plant for the manufacture of sorghum, and also operates a threshing machine during certain seasons, for which a gasoline engine furnished the motive power.

As stated in a preceding paragraph, Colonel Brockway has a natural aptitude for mechanical work and all kinds of machinery, and on his place are various contrivances and devices which during a year save him no little time and money. He has been successful in nearly all of his undertakings and is today not only among the leading farmers and stockmen of his part of the country, but also occupies a prominent place among the county’s financially strong and public spirited citizens. Prior to and after the breaking out of the great Civil war he was an ardent admirer and stanch supporter of President Lincoln and he continued with the Republican party until 1896, when he cast his vote for William Jennings Bryan. Since then he has been practically independent in politics, advocating principles and measures which he considers to be for the best interests of the people and voting for the best qualified candidates irrespective of party.

The domestic life of Colonel Brockway dates from May 1, 1867, when he was united in marriage with Almira Rogers, daughter of James Rogers (see sketch), the ceremony taking place at West Union. Mrs. Brockway died in 1875, leaving no issue, and two years later the subject married Sarah Leese, of Bremer county, this state, the union being blessed with five children: Major A., who farms a part of the home place and whose wife was formerly Cora Young, of Fayette county; Mary, the second in order of birth, has been a teacher for a number of years in Michigan and now holds an important position in the high school of Hawkeye, this county; Barry, who is a farmer and stock raiser of Eden township, married Minnie Houser and lives on a part of the homestead; Myra is still with her parents and has the reputation of being an expert cook and housekeeper; Katie, the youngest of the family, died in infancy.


~transcribed by Nancy Schroeder





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