Amos and Jerusha Brewster of Norwich, Conn., married in 1761, and would both die famously: he in a battle that helped turn the American Revolution toward victory and she in a murder that remains unsolved to this day.
For Amos, life ended in 1777 on the battlefield at Fort Mifflin in Philadelphia.
The British army sought to finish off the Americans. British general William Howe was ensconced in Philadelphia while George Washington and his army retreated toward Valley Forge.
A Hero’s Death
British naval ships proceeded up the Delaware River with needed supplies. A force of 200 to 400 Americans stationed at Fort Mifflin, including Amos Brewster, had orders to prevent them from reaching Philadelphia.
For nearly six weeks, this small contingent of men succeeded in stopping the British Navy from completing its mission. Bombarded daily, the American soldiers rebuilt their fort each night. Then on November 15, a force of six British ships armed with more than 200 cannon approached the fort, which had only 10 guns.
At one point, more than 1,000 cannon shots an hour poured down upon the fort. That night the Americans, with no remaining ammunition, had to torch the fort and evacuate. Their contribution to history: delaying the British advance while Washington dug in at Valley Forge.
Amos, however, died in the action.
The Brewster genealogy proudly notes: Amos Brewster served in the Revolutionary War and died of wounds received at Fort Mifflin, he being one of the heroic three hundred who defended the fort so valiantly when besieged by the British. The old New England valor was in Amos and he fell with his face toward the foe.
Jerusha Brewster, now a widow and living at the couple’s Canterbury, Conn., home, raised the couple’s four children alone. And by 1800 she was living with her daughter and son-in-law, Lovisa and James Morse.
Jerusha Brewster had a difficult relationship with her son-in-law. Early in 1802, Jerusha left home for several weeks, and upon returning in April her fortunes took a turn for the worse.
Newspaper accounts say that the morning after she returned home, Jerusha made pancakes for her daughter and three grandchildren:
“She had been absent from the family for more than a fortnight; she left a bowl of flour in her cupboard; and the morning after her return she made some pancakes of the flour,” reported the newspaper. “While she was preparing her breakfast, two of her grandchildren came into her room, to whom she gave cake. Soon after, her daughter, Mrs. Morse, who always treated her mother well, came in with her child of nine months old; she ate two, giving the child a piece, and went out.”
According to the newspaper, Jerusha Brewster then began her breakfast. She had nearly finished when the children and the mother were taken with puking.
“The daughter, Mrs. Morse, sent word to her mother not to eat any more of the cakes; she came into her daughter’s room, and in about five minutes was taken with the most violent and racking vomiting.
“The physician was called and by proper antidotes arrested the fatal progress of the poison in Mrs. Morse and her children, but had no efficacy upon the old lady.”
A jury at the inquest subsequently gave a verdict of ‘poison, and by design.’
“The body was opened and a considerable quantity of arsenic taken out,” reported the newspaper. “The cakes that remained were examined, and pieces of poison were found in them. “
Suspicion immediately fell on her son-in-law James, for it was well known that James and Jerusha Brewster had lived together ‘quite unhappily.’ James had also served in the Revolutionary War; and some sources say he served as a teen under General Washington.
With no proof against James in the murder, the authorities could do nothing more than question him and let him go. He and Lovisa would move to Centerville in western New York, where they passed away, she in 1841 and he in 1845.
At the funeral of Jerusha Brewster, the minister, Rev. Waterman, chose to deliver a sermon aimed at her killer. He spoke on the Biblical passage from Corinthians: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil.”
This story about Jerusha Brewster was updated in 2022.