Robert Brooke (Virginia governor)

Robert Brooke (c. 1760  February 27, 1800) was a Virginia planter, soldier, lawyer, and politician who served as the tenth Governor of Virginia as well as in the Virginia House of Delegates, and as Attorney General of Virginia at the time of his death.[1]

Robert Brooke
10th Governor of Virginia
In office
December 1, 1794  December 1, 1796
Preceded byHenry Lee III
Succeeded byJames Wood
Attorney General of Virginia
In office
1796  February 27, 1800
Preceded byJohn Whitaker Willis
Succeeded byPhilip Norborne Nicholas
Member of the Virginia House of Delegates for Spotsylvania County
In office
October 17, 1791  November 30, 1794
Serving with Francis Thornton, John T. Brooke, John W. Willis
Preceded byJohn Marshall
Succeeded byMann Page
Personal details
Bornc. 1751 (1751)
Spotsylvania County, Colony of Virginia, British America
Died (aged about 49)
Fredericksburg, Virginia, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic-Republican
SpouseMary Ritchie Hopper
ChildrenRichard Brooke
Alma materUniversity of Edinburgh

Early and family life

"Federal Hill," John Keim house, 504 Hanover Street, Fredericksburg, by Frances Benjamin Johnston, c. 1927.

Robert Brooke was the second son born to the former Anna Hay Taliaferro and her husband, Richard Brooke (1732-1792), at a family plantation (possibly "Smithfield") in Spotsylvania County in the Colony of Virginia.[2] His birth year is uncertain; probably 1751 but possibly near 1760 or even 1761.[3] His grandfather Robert Brooke, a skilled surveyor, had been one of Lt. Governor Alexander Spotswood's "Knights of the Golden Horseshoe Expedition" and the family was important in nearby Essex County. Brooke had at least three brothers: Dr. Lawrence Brooke, Judge Francis T. Brooke, and John T. Brooke. All became patriots in the American Revolutionary War, and the latter two also served in the Virginia General Assembly.

Thus, Brooke was born into the First Families of Virginia, and received a private education suitable for his class. He sailed to Scotland for further studies at Edinburgh University.

In 1766, Brooke married Mrs. Mary Ritchie Hopper (the Ritchies being another prominent Essex County family) in Tappahannock, Virginia, the Essex county seat, and they had several children, including Richard Brooke (1787-1824), who would marry Selina Poe in Richmond and have children.[4]


As he returned home at the beginning of the revolution, British admiral Howe captured his ship, and sent Brooke back to England. He then traveled to Scotland, then to France, and reached Virginia in a French vessel carrying arms for the continentals. Brooke joined Captain Larkin Smith's cavalry company, was captured at Westham near Richmond by Simcoe in 1781, was exchanged, and rejoined the army's 7th Continental line.

After the war, Brooke read law, and on February 7, 1785, he and future U.S. Supreme Court justice Bushrod Washington were admitted to the Virginia bar and began their legal careers in Fredericksburg and surrounding counties.[5][6]

In 1787 Virginia property tax records, Brooke did not live in Essex county but owned 23 adult slaves and 18 children there (as well as 9 horses and 51 cattle) and like his brother John T. Brooke also owned a house in Fredericksburg (Gustavus Wallace paid tax on both city homes).[7] In that state tax census, their father owned 22 adult slaves and 20 children on his Spotsylvania County plantation and their brother Dr. Lawrence Brooke owned 6 adult slaves and 8 children in Spotsylvania.[8] Their grandfather's still-unresolved estate owned 20 adult slaves and 19 children in nearby King William county.[9] His brother Francis T. Brooke owned property in Fauquier County, but the tax was paid by Humphrey Brooke because Francis was underage.[10]

In 1791, Spotsylvania County voters elected Robert Brooke as one of their representatives in the Virginia House of Delegates, alongside Francis Thornton (who had owned 18 adult slaves and 3 children in Spotsylvania County, 10 adult and 8 child slaves in King George County and 11 adult and 18 child slaves in Gloucester county, all in the tax census four years earlier). Both men won re-election the next year, but in 1793 his brother John T. Brooke succeeded Thornton and in 1794 John W. Willis (whom Robert Brooke had succeeded three years earlier) replaced John T. Brooke.[11] In that 1794 session, Governor Light Horse Harry Lee resigned and left the Commonwealth in command of federal forces to quell the Whiskey Rebellion, so fellow legislators elected Brooke governor in his stead. Brooke took the gubernatorial oath of office on December 1, 1794 and served two years.

In 1795 Robert Brooke built a home in Fredericksburg upon Federal Hill, which looked over Sandy Bottom to Marye's Heights, a thousand yards away.

When Brooke left office in 1796, legislators elected him, a Democratic-Republican, as the state's attorney-general to replace James Innes, who had resigned to accept a federal position as commissioner under Jay's treaty.[12] Fellow Fredericksburg attorney Bushrod Washington, President Washington's nephew, had also sought the position as state attorney general.

Brooke was a prominent Freemason in Virginia. In November 1795 he succeeded James Mercer as Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Virginia, and would in turn be succeeded by Major Benjamin Day of Fredericksburg in 1797.[13]

Death and legacy

Brooke died in Fredericksburg while still attorney general on February 27, 1800. The Library of Virginia holds his executive papers as governor.[14] His former Fredericksburg home, which he named "Federal Hill", was occupied by Union forces during the American Civil War (as was his plantation in Spotsylvania County). The Fredericksburg house survives today, as a private residence (with door and door canopy replaced from the adjacent photograph) although listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1796, the Virginia General Assembly split what had been vast trans-Appalachian Ohio County, and created Brooke County), which they named to honor the outgoing governor, though since the American Civil War it has been in West Virginia.


Brooke (England) AND Taliaferro (Venice, Italy)

  • Father Richard Brooke, b. 1732
  • Mother Ann Hay Taliaferro, b. September 7, 1731
  • Robert Brooke (1760—d. February 27, 1800, Fredericksburg, Va.)
  • Married 1786 Mary Ritchie
  • Children: Richard Brooke, b. August 14, 1787
  • Descendants: Many living as of 2009.
  • Related to Washington family; descended from Patrick Henry's family (John Fontaine m. Martha Henry); Patrick Henry's family descended from Gen. Alexander Spottswood's family of Virginia, of "Knights of the Golden Horshoe" history.


  1. Tyler, Lyon Gardiner (1915). Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company. pp. Vol. 2, p. 46.
  2. "Robert Brooke". Retrieved August 20, 2016.
  3. according to his descendant Robert Brooke Jr.'s Sons of the American Revolution application approved December 11, 1941 and available on
  4. SAR application
  5. Silvanius J. Quinn, The History of the City of Fredericksburg, Virginia (Richmond: The Hermitage Press, Inc. 1908) p. 130
  6. Alvin T. Embrey, History of Fredericksburg, Virginia (Richmond: Old Dominion Press 1937) p. 154 says Brooke, Washington and a number of other luminaries were sworn in by Judge James Mercer on April 30, 1789, shortly after he assumed his appellate office
  7. Netti Shreiner-Yantis and Florene Speakman Love, The 1787 Census of Virginia, (1987 Genealogical Books in Print) vol. II pp. 886, 1344
  8. 1787 tax p. 870
  9. 1787 tax p. 1195
  10. 1787 tax vol. 1, p. 290
  11. Cynthia Miller Leonard, The Virginia General Assembly 1619-1978 (Richmond: Virginia State Library 1978) pp. 185, 189, 193, 197
  12. Tyler vol. 2, p.. 149
  13. Quinn p. 220 lists seven grand masters from Fredericksburg, including the author, who held that position in 1907.
  14. Library of Virginia


  • Maury Family Tree by Sue West for family—privately printed.
  • Recollections of a Virginian in the Mexican, Indian, and Civil Wars by Maj. Gen. Dabney Herndon Maury
  • Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography, Volume IIII—Governors of the State—1776–1861
  • Obituaries in Fredericksburg Virginia Herald, February 28, 1800, and Richmond Virginia Argus, March 7, 1800.
  • Biography in John T. Kneebone et al., eds., Dictionary of Virginia Biography (Richmond: Library of Virginia, 1998– ), 2:267–269. ISBN 0-88490-199-8.
Archival Records
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