Dr. John Brosnaham

John Brosnahan/Brosnaham, son of Andrew Brosnahan and Margaret Rim, was born and raised in the small town of Catskill, New York.1 He was christened there 28 June 1791 in the Dutch Reformed Church of Catskill.2 He left home to go to medical school in New York City at what is now Columbia University. According to their records, he entered the college of Physicians and Surgeons in 1811 and attended classes there during the 1811-12 session but his name is not listed among the graduates.3

In 1814 he took part in the War of 1812, going aboard the privateer General Armstrong in New York City as it’s surgeon. Before heading out to sea, he signed a document on September 3d giving his father power of attorney while he was away.4

They left New York on 9 September 1814, reaching the neutral port of Fayal [Faial] in the Azores at 10:00 a.m. to take on water and supplies. At eight that evening they were attacked by four boats from the British vessels under the command of Robert Lloyd: the Plantagenet, the Rota, and the Carnation.5 The crew of the General Armstrong fought back, getting the best of the larger ships. In the end, Capt. Reid had to scuttle the General Armstrong and move his crew into the safety of the fort. The Americans lost two of their crew, but the British lost many more.6 According to many accounts of this battle, by delaying the British ships who had orders to rendezvous in Jamaica before heading with a larger force to New Orleans, Andrew Jackson was able to prepare his defense of that city and defeat the British. Another source says that the delay made no difference.

In a letter written by Captain Reid, 4 October 1814, explaining the circumstances of the destruction of the General Armstrong, he mentions that though they had several injured crew members, "It gives me much pleasure to announce to you that our wounded are all in a fair way of recovery, through the unremitted care and attention of our worthy surgeon." At the end of the letter he announces that they "expect to sail to-morrow in a Portuguese brig for Amelia Island, who takes the whole of our crew." Amelia Island was on the northernmost coast of Florida. From there, the crew made it's way up to Savannah. Dr. Brosnaham eventually made it to Wilmington, North Carolina, were he then signed aboard the USS Saratoga.7

By 1818 there were petitions before Congress to compensate the crew for their losses. There seemed to be argument both for and against, but a bill, H.R.115, was put forward to compensate them for their losses in the amount of $10,000 to be distributed as prize money by the Secretary of the Navy to Captain. Reid and the officers and crew.8 Years later, in 1858, there was a Senate bill, S.273, directing the Secretary of the Treasury to pay to the owners, officers and crew of the General Armstrong, the sum of $60,739.00 in full compensation for all losses sustained. From this sum was to be subtracted the $10,000.00 already paid as prize money.9 It is not known how long it took for a portion of this money to reach Dr. Brosnaham, but Cynthia Richardson said that her Aunt Maybelle Brosnaham had a beautiful rosewood piano which was bought with some of the money received from the General Armstrong "booty."10 According to Cynthia Richardson, she had papers which she gave to the Pensacola Historical Museum that included letters from Captain Reid who was later accused of being drunk during a battle. In clearing his hame he asked Dr. Brosnaham to write letters on his behalf. Dr. Brosnaham did and Captain Reid wrote and thanked him.11 A copy of one letter that Dr. Brosnaham wrote on behalf of Captain Reid was published in the Spirit of the Times in 1845.

After the war, John Brosnaham lived for awhile in Matanzas, on the north coast of Cuba, east of Havana, before moving to Pensacola.12 On 20 June 1816 he married Maria Josefa Martinez in St. Michael's Church in Pensacola.13 They had three daughters, Margareta Silvestre, Clotilda Santiago, and Angelina Petrona, born between 1818 and 1823.14 Maria Josefa died in 1823 and was buried in St. Michaels Cemetery in Pensacola.15

John Brosnaham married again, this time to Isabella Eugenia Sierra, daughter of a Spanish surgeon, Eugenio Antonio Sierra and his wife Francesca Dauphin. They were married 30 December 1828 in Escambia County.16 John and Isabella had five children: Florida, John A., Amanda, Georgiana, and George. He spent the rest of his life in Pensacola, well-known, loved, and surrounded by his many children and grandchildren. He died 11 June 1871 and is buried in St. Michaels Cemetery.17

In 1821, Andrew Jackson was appointed commissioner to receive possession of East and West Florida and become governor of the territory. As he approached Pensacola, he stayed at the home of Don Manuel Gonzalez at Gonzalia, fifteen miles from Pensacola. As a stand-off ensued between Jackson and the Spanish Governor of West Florida, Jose Callava, Rachel Jackson headed into Pensacola, occupied a house on the corner of Palafox and Intendencia Streets, the home of John Brosnaham.18 When the first city government for the Territory of Florida was appointed by Andrew Jackson on 19 July 1821, John Brosnaham was one of the aldermen.19

During the Civil War, most of the population had left the city. As acting mayor of the City of Pensacola, John Brosnaham surrendered the city over to U.S. Army Lieut. Richard Jackson on May 10, 1862.20 John apparently also kept a diary. On 21 July 1863 his total count of the inhabitants was “72 Whites and 10 Colored.” John was the only Brosnaham still in town.21

There are several stories that have been handed down in the family. One that was told to George Brosnaham Jr. by his grandfather, Dr. John Brosnaham, was that the Brosnaham family "left Ireland for Ireland's good!" Another story told how, when each of his daughters married, he gave the groom $10,000. When one widowed son-in-law (Shuttleworth or Renshaw) was about to marry a second daughter, he was quoted as saying "he'd be damned if he was going to give that man another ten thousand!" He also kept money under his bed - as well as his tombstone; it rested under his bed for many years.22

Related Links
The Brosnahan/Brosnaham family
Descendants of Andrew Brosnahan and Margaret Rim - with sources and index
Family Group Sheet for John Brosnaham and Maria Josefa Martinez
Children of John Brosnaham and Maria Josefa Martinez
Children of John Brosnaham and Isabella Eugenia Sierra
Copy of marriage certificate of John Brosnaham and Isabella Sierra, 1828
Family Group Sheet for John Brosnaham and Isabella Sierra
Power of Attorney given to Andrew Brosnaham by his son John Brosnaham, 1814
Gravestones of John Brosnaham and Isabella Sierra Brosnaham
Gravestone Inscription for Maria Josefa Martinez, first wife of Dr. John Brosnaham
Obituary of John Brosnaham, 1871
Obituary of Isabella Sierra Brosnaham, 1889
Will of Dr. John Brosnaham

  1. His obituary notes that he was born in the town of Algiers, on the North River in New York, but no Algiers has been found even in old gazeteers of New York nor in local histories of the area around Catskill where his tombstone says he was born. There was a small town of Athens, just north of Catskill right on the Hudson River. The Hudson River was sometimes referred to as the North River. Both times he married he gave his place of birth as Liverpool. In different census records his birthplace is given as England, New York, and Algiers. I have chosen to go with his tombstone, his baptism in Catskill and two censuses that list his birthplace as New York. The family name was originally Brosnahan but ended up Brosnaham by the time John settled in Pensacola.

  2. Reformed Dutch Church, Catskill, Greene County, New York, 1732-1833 [and three other churches], transcribed by the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, and edited by their archivist, Royden Woodward Vosburgh, 1919-1921 ; copied, typed and indexed by Mrs. Jean D. Worden. p.45, 28 June 1791, parents: Andrew Bruschenham and Pegge Bruschenham, child: John, Witness: none."

  3. Letter from Bob Vietrogoski, Columbia University, Health Sciences Division, to Anne Field, 10 September 1998, According to the Archivist/Records Manager at the Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library, Columbia University, Bob Vietrogoski, John Brosnaham entered the College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1811, but his name does not appear on the list of graduates. Included with the letter are two lists of students during 1811-12, plus a copy of the Columbia University Alumni Register 1754-1931 which lists him entering in 1811 and noted that he is deceased.

  4. Bible records from Dr. George O. Brosnaham (Information in papers sent to Anne Field by Cynthia Brosnahan Richardson). Document signed by John Brosnaham on 3 September 1814.

  5. Letter written by Dr. John Brosnaham defending Capt. Samuel C. Reid, commander of the privateer “General Armstrong.” The letter was written many years after the battle, but Dr. Brosnaham felt it was his duty to clear the captain’s name and the newspaper felt it should be published for the sake of justice. Spirit of the Times; A Chronicle of the Turf, Agriculture, Field Sports, Literature and the Stage (1835-1861). New York: May 10, 1845. Vol. 15, Iss. 11; pg. 125; Proquest: American Periodical Series Online.

  6. The General Armstrong and the War of 1812, Website of . http://libraryautomation.com/warof1812/. Accessed 16 February 2008.

  7. Library of Congress: American Memory website, A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774 - 1875, Annals of Congress, 15th Congress, 1st Session, Annals of Congress, 15th Congress, 1st Session, Pages 2481 through 2490, Privateer General Armstrong, p.2491.

    "Excerpts from the Diary of Dr. John Brosnaham," in Pensacola History Illustrated, Vol. 6, no. 2, Summer 2003, pp. 15-16. A copy of the Diary is in the Pensacola Historical Society Archives.

  8. Library of Congress: American Memory website. A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774 - 1875, Bills and Resolutions, House of Representatives, 15th Congress, 1st Session, "A Bill Authorizing a sum of money to be distributed among the officers and crew of the late private armed brig, General Armstrong," 4 March 1818. H.R. 115.

  9. Library of Congress: American Memory website. A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774 - 1875, Bills and Resolutions, Senate, 35th Congress, 1st Session, Mr. Mason, from the Committee on Foreign Relations, submitted a report, (No. 194,) accompanied by the following bill; A Bill For the relief of the owners, officers, and crew of the brig General Armstrong, 19 April 1858.

  10. Letter from Cynthia Brosnahan Richardson to Anne Healy Field, 6 March 1985. Cynthia worked to return the family name to Brosnahan, but the name remains Brosnaham in all the records and the descendants all go by Brosnaham.

  11. Letter from Cynthia Brosnahan Richardson to Anne Healy Field, 6 March 1985.

  12. Obituary of John Brosnaham, reprinted as part of a January 22, 1933, Pensacola News-Journal article: "Aged Clipping Announcing of Death of John Brosnaham Is Found in 107-Year-Old Bible." Copy of clipping from Cynthia Brosnahan Richardson.

  13. "Dr. John Brosnaham," by Virginia Parks, Pensacola History Illustrated, Vol. 6, No. 2, Summer 2003, pp.11-13. The source for the marriage in this article was St. Michael Marriage Records 19 and 30, transcribed from microfilm by Dicey Villar Bowman in the Pensacola Historical Society Archives.

  14. The 1820 Spanish Census of Pensacola lists D. Juan Bronnaham, age 35, married, white, born in England, and occupation: Medical doctor. Listed with him are his wife, Da. Josefa Martinez, age 19, born in Pensacola, and their daughter, Da. Margarita, age 1, born in Pensacola; also listed is Magdalena Ros, single, age 14, no relationship stated.
    Coker, William S. and G. Douglas Inglis, Spanish Censuses of Pensacola, 1784-1820: a Genealogical Guide to Spanish Pensacola, Perdido Bay Press, 1980, p.122.

  15. Maria Josefa was buried in St. Michael's Cemetery in the Tapiola Lot. On the St. Michael's Cemetery interactive website, Maria Josefa cannot be found. However, in the 1930s it must have been legible as it was recorded by Minnie Cohen. Maria Josefa's gravestone read: "Rueguen por el alma de Dona Maria Josefa Martinez, mujer legitima de Don Juan Brosnaham, natural de esta plaza y de edad de 23 anos, 24 dias, que fallecio el 16 de noviembre del ano 1823. RIP." (Pray for the soul of Dona Maria Josefa Martinez, wife of Don Juan Brosnaham, native of this place, aged 23 years, 24 days, who died the 16th of November, of the year 1823. RIP.) This transcription was taken from St. Michael's Cemetery Records, [Pensacola, Escambia Co., Florida], Lola Lee Daniell (Bruington), comp. D.A.R., 1938, 1939. FHL Microfilm 850397, p.31.

  16. Escambia County, Florida, Marriage Records, County Clerk's Office, [Pensacola], Escambia Co., Florida, Vol. A-F, 1822-1870, FHL Microfilm 941001, Book A, p.36. 30 December 1828, marriage record for John Brosnaham and Isabella Eugenia Sierra. They were married by James Coleman, former pastor of the Catholic Church of Pensacola.

  17. St. Michael's Cemetery Records, [Pensacola, Escambia Co., Florida], Lola Lee Daniell (Bruington), comp. D.A.R., 1938, 1939. FHL Microfilm 850397, p.43.

  18. Bowden, Jesse Earle, Gordon Norman Simons, and Sandra L. Johnson, Pensacola, Florida's First Place City: A Pictorial History, Norfolk, Virginia, The Donning Co., 1989, p.44.

  19. Carter, Clarence E., ed. The Territorial Papers of the United States. Volume 26. Washington, DC: NARService, 1962. Volume 22, page 131.

  20. Bowden, Jesse Earle, Gordon Norman Simons, and Sandra L. Johnson, Pensacola, Florida's First Place City: A Pictorial History, Norfolk, Virginia, The Donning Co., 1989, p.69. Although Cynthia Richardson wrote in one of her letters that it was John A. Brosnahan who was the mayor who turned the city over to the Union forces, his obituary says he spent the Civil War years in Molino, a town north of Pensacola.

  21. “Pensacola Inhabitants of 1863, From the Diary of Dr. John Brosnaham, 21 July 1863,” Original taken from a clipping in a notebook of Escambia County, Florida Miscellaneous Records in West Florida Regional Library Genealogical Collection, undated and no source;

    "Union Defenses of the City of Pensacola, Florida (1862-1865)" submitted to Pensacola and Northwest Florida History Illustrated, 2013, by Brian Mabelitini, pp.6-7. https://www.academia.edu/2420366/Union_Defenses_of_the_City_of_Pensacola_Florida_1862-1865_

  22. Letter from Cynthia Brosnahan Richardson to Anne Healy Field, 6 March 1985. She quoted Ashton Brosnaham, grandson of Dr. John A. Brosnaham, as the source of the tombstone story.

Anne Healy's Genealogy
Created October 2002
18 February 2008
Updated 14 August 2021
Photographs and web page content, Copyright © 2002- , Anne Field, all rights reserved. Please feel free to link to my web page. Please do not copy and paste my images onto other webpages without permission. For permission to use any pictures or content on my web pages, please email me at