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Brief Biographical / Historical Sketch

Biography

Hugh Henry Brackenridge, born in 1748 in Scotland, moved to Pennsylvania with his family as a young child. Brackenridge began a teaching career when he was fifteen years old, continuing his own education in 1768 at the College of New Jersey, now Princeton University. While attending Princeton, he became an avid participant in the American Whig Society and collaborated on works in this literary society with its founders, Philip Freneau, William Bradford, and James Madison.

After graduating in 1771, Brackenridge taught in Maryland while completing his Master's degree in divinity at Princeton. He went on to serve in George Washington's army during the Revolutionary War as a chaplain. Following this experience, Brackenridge published a magazine in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania called the United States Magazine between 1778 and 1780. However, the magazine was unsuccessful and Brackenridge changed professions again. Brackenridge was admitted to the bar in 1780 and moved to Pittsburgh in 1781.

The formation of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, in which Pittsburgh now resides, is partly credited to Brackenridge and his dual effort to enhance the legal system and educate the common man of the frontier. In Pittsburgh, Brackenridge started a law firm and became an active member of the Allegheny County Bar with Alexander Addison and John Woods. Brackenridge is credited with establishing the first bookstore and the first Pittsburgh newspaper, the Pittsburgh Gazette, and continued his own literary works as well as essays on law. He won an election to the state assembly, where he fought for the adoption of the Federal Constitution and obtained endowments for the establishment of the Pittsburgh Academy (University of Pittsburgh). He became unpopular locally for siding with Pennsylvania in maintaining that western lands should not become a separate state dubbed "Westylania". He also fashioned himself as a mediator who sought to preserve unity with the federal government during the Whiskey Rebellion. After this spell of bad publicity, Brackenridge ran for the United States Congress, but was defeated by Albert Gallatin in 1793, a political rival he despised. Brackenridge's opinions of Gallatin are reflected in his correspondence with Alexander Addison, and are located in the Addison papers listed in the "related materials" section below.

In December 1799, Governor Thomas McKean appointed Brackenridge a justice of the Pennysylvania Supreme Court. During his years as a judge (1799-1814), beyond penning foundational legal codes for the state, Brackenridge wrote satires, narratives, and published more of his sermons. Modern Chivalry is probably the most famous of his narratives that is full of humor and truth morals and was written for the good of the public; it was published in 1796 after his political career had ended. The story brings to light political corruption, greed, poor leadership and lack of education--all characterized by Brackenridge with wit.

Brackenridge wrote prolifically throughout his life, publishing such works such as The Battle of Bunker Hill (1776), The Death of General Montgomery, The Siege of Quebec (1777), Modern Chivalry (1796), and Law Miscellanies (1814).

Brackenridge's family life in Pittsburgh is unclear, but he did have one son, Henry Marie, who was cared for by friends in his early life, and was sent to Louisiana by his father for a proper French education. Henry Marie Brackenridge became a prominent figure and judge during his time, and carried on the literary interests of his father. Please refer to the "related materials" section below for information about Henry Marie and other Brackenridge family members. Hugh Henry Brackenridge began a second family with his wife, Sabina Wolfe, adding two more sons and a daughter, William, Alexander, and Cornelia. Hugh Henry Brackenridge died in Carlisle, Pennsylvania on June 25, 1816.

Much less is known about Andrew Watson (1755-1823). He is briefly mentioned in the 1889 book History of Allegheny County as a landowner on Market Street in 1795, and as a signatory on an 1817 petition. Andrew Watson married Margaret Thompson (1759-1829) and they had at least one child, a daughter named Elizabeth Watson. Elizabeth Watson married Reverend Doctor John Black (1768-1849) and together they had eleven children, including John Black and Andrew Watson Black. There is some confusion in the papers about who is being referenced by the name "Andrew Watson." The Andrew Watson appearing in the papers after 1823 may in fact be the grandson, son of Elizabeth Watson and John Black. Based upon the papers in this collection, land changed hands between Andrew Watson and Brackenridge , and between their family members after both Brackenridge and Andrew Watson had died. Andrew Watson also appears to have conducted business on Brackenridge's behalf, including land lease, sales, and payment of taxes, when Brackenridge was in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.