Ohio Biographies

General Roeliff Brinkerhoff

No compendium such as the province of this work defines in its essential limitations will serve to offer fit memorial to the life and accomplishments of the honored subject of this sketch,—a man remarkable in the breadth of his wisdom, in his indomitable perseverance, his strong individuality, and yet one whose entire life has not one esoteric phase, being as an open scroll, inviting the closest scrutiny. True his are "massive deeds and great" in one sense, and yet his entire accomplishment but represents the result of the fit utilization of the innate talent which is his and the directing of his efforts along those lines where mature judgment and rare discrimination lead the way. There is in General Brinkerhoff a weight of character, a native sagacity, a far-seeing judgment and a fidelity of purpose that command the respect of all. A man of indefatigable enterprise and fertility of resource, he carves his name deeply on the records of Ohio.

General Brinkerhoff was born in Owasco, Cayuga county, New York, June 28, 1828. The Brinkerhoffs of America are all descended from Joris Dericksen Brinkerhoff, who came from Drentland, Holland, in 1638, with his wife, Susannah, and settled in Brooklyn, New York, then New Netherlands. The members of the family are now numerous, for the most part residing on Long Island and in the valley of the Hudson, but a few of the representatives of the name can be found in almost every western state. Most of these are descended from Hendrick, son of Joris Dericksen Brinkerhoff, who settled in New Jersey in 1685. General Brinkerhoff, of this review, is of the seventh generation in America. His father, George R. Brinkerhoff, was born near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, but his grandfather, Roeliff Brinkerhoff, came from Hackensack, New Jersey. His ancestors on his mother's side—the Bouviers—and on his grandmother's—the Demarests—were French Huguenots, who, fleeing from religious persecution, found safety and a home among the tolerant Dutchmen of New Netherlands.

Roeliff Brinkerhoff, the subject of this sketch, was employed as a school teacher in his native town when but sixteen years of age, and at the age of eighteen he was in charge of a school near Hendersonville, Tennessee. At nineteen he was the tutor in the famiily of Andrew Jackson, Jr., at the Hermitage, and there remained until 1850, when he returned to the north and became a law student in the office of his kinsman, the Hon. Jacob Brinkerhoff, of Mansfield, Ohio. In 1852 he was admitted to the bar and entered the practice, remaining in active connection with the profession until the war of the Rebellion. During that time, from June, 1855, until 1859, he was also one of the editors and proprietors of the Mansfield Herald. In September, 1861, he entered the military service as first lieutenant and regimental quartermaster of the Sixty-fourth Ohio Volunteer Infantry, and in November of the same year he was promoted to the position of captain and assistant quartermaster. In the succeeding winter he was on duty at Bardstown, Kentucky, and after the capture of Nashville he was placed in charge of the land and river transportation in that city. Subsequently to the battle of Pittsburg Landing he was ordered to the front and placed in charge of the field transportation of the Army of the Ohio, and after the capture of Corinth he returned home on a sick furlough. He was then ordered to Maine as chief quartermaster of that state. Later he was transferred to Pittsburg, Pennsvlvania, in charge of transportation and army stores and thence to Washington city as post quartermaster, remaining on that duty until June, 1865, when he was made a colonel and inspector of the quartermaster's department. He was then retained on duty at the war office with Secretary Stanton until November, when he was ordered to Cincinnati as chief quartermaster of the department. In September, 1866, he was brevetted a brigadier-general of volunteers and was also tendered a commission in the regular army, but declined the honor. On the 1st of October, at his own request, he was mustered out of service, having completed five years of continuous service in the army. General Brinkerhoff is the author of a book entitled The Volunteer Quartermaster, which is still the standard guide for the officers and employees of the quartermaster's department.

On the 3d of February, 1862, General Brinkerhoff married Mary Lake Bently, of Mansfield, a daughter of Baldwin Bently and a granddaughter of General Robert Bently, by whom he had four children,—two sons and two daughters: Robert Bently, Addie Horton, Mary and Roeliff. Robert is a lawyer in New York city; Addie is at home; Mary is deceased; and Roeliff is judge of the probate court of Richland county.

It so happened that the most active years of General Brinkerhoff's life covered the most important events of the anti-slavery period, commencing with the repeal of the Missouri compromise and closing with the war of the Rebellion and the reconstruction and reconstructive incidents growing out of it. During that period it was his fortune to know intimately many of its leading men, and again and again he has been at the turning points of history and has taken a part in shaping events. During all these years, in many ways, as educator, lawyer, editor, soldier, statesman and philanthropist, he has been active and prominent. Among the close friends of General Brinkerhoff at that time, and for years afterward, were Salmon P. Chase, James G. Blaine, General Garfield and General R. B. Hayes.

For several years after the war General Brinkerhoff was an active factor in politics, and was prominent in conventions and upon the platform, in many directions and in many states. In 1873 he retired from active politics and accepted the position of cashier of the Mansfield Savings Bank, with which he has been associated ever since, and for years past has been its president. In 1878 General Brinkerhoff was appointed a member of the board of state charities and has continued in that position under all administrations and is now serving his eighth term.

As a philanthropist there are but few men, if any, more widely known. He has visited and inspected, probably, more benevolent and correctional institutions than any other man in the world, for he has traveled for that purpose in every state in the Union except one, South Dakota; also in the Dominion of Canada, the republic of Mexico, and all the countries of western Europe; and the record of his observations in these directions is a history of all modern progress in dealing with the dependent, defective and criminal classes. The great advance made in the last two decades in the care of the insane by the abolition of mechanical restraints, and other improvements, was inaugurated in Ohio, and no one, perhaps, has done more to educate public opinion upon these subjects than General Brinkerhoff. The establishment of the Toledo Hospital upon the cottage system, which really marked a new era in the treatment of the insane, was largely due to General Brinkerhoff, who was a member of the commission to locate the asylum and select plans for its construction, and his earnest advocacy for the segregate or cottage system secured its adoption. For a time it was known as "Brinkerhoff's Folly," but it is now recognized as the model asylum of the nation.

The Ohio Archeological and Historical Society was organized in October, 1875, at General Brinkerhoff's home in Mansfield, and he was its first president. After serving for several terms he declined a re-election, and was succeeded by General R. B. Hayes, and upon the death of ex-President Hayes General Brinkerhoff again became the president of the society, which position he continues to hold.

General Brinkerhoff early took an interest in historical matters. He came to Richland county to make it his home in 1850, and conceived the idea of preserving the annals of its early history. He married the daughter of one of its best known pioneers, and his associations brought him in contact with the men and women of those days, and he felt that a record of their lives should be preserved for the instruction of the generations that would follow them. With this object in view he began to gather information in regard to pioneer times. The results of his labors have been given to the public, not only in newspaper articles but also in book form. Pioneer meetings were held at irregular intervals and in November, 1898, the Richland County Historical Society was organized, with General Brinkerhoff as the president and A. J. Baughman, secretary.

General Brinkerhoff is a charter member of the Mansfield Lyceum, and for the past thirty years has been one of its principal supporters. He was also active in the establishment of the Mansfield Library and the Museum. The Sherman-Heineman park is one of General Brinkerhoff's creations. He conceived the idea of the park and worked indefatigably until the same became a beautiful reality, extending for a mile and a half along the western border of the city. He is one of the park commissioners and is the president of the board. Future historians will proclaim the fact that General Brinkerhoff was a benefactor of his day and generation.

Professor A. H. Currier, of Oberlin College, in the April number of the Bibliotheca Sacra, 1901, reviews General Brinkerhoff's book. Recollections of a Lifetime, from which the following extracts are taken: "The 'Lifetime,' whose 'Recollections' are here garnered and dwelt upon, has certainly been filled with memorable, and marked by an extraordinary, public service. On this account the writing of the book and all that is implied of personal satisfaction in the record are justified. He would be a captious critic who would accuse the author of unbecoming egotism. There is no more egotism here than is needful to give an autobiographical sketch of this kind an interesting personal flavor, like that given to conversation by a person of wide experience, who takes us into his confidence and talks with us freely of the notable people he has met, the important events he has witnessed, the impressive scenes and places he has visited, and the enterprises of public concern he has had a hand in promoting. This is in substance what General Brinkerhoff does in his book. Among the prominent events he witnessed and describes were the Pittsburg Convention of February 22, 1856, at which the Republican party, previously existing only in a few states, became national in extent. He was present likewise at the national Republican convention in Philadelphia, June 17, 1856, where Fremont was nominated for the presidency. He was present in Washington at the inauguration of Lincoln in 1860. He was present four years later at Ford's theater when Lincoln was assassinated,—heard Booth's pistol shot, saw the assassin scramble over the front rail of the president's box and to the stage, run across it and disappear, and felt the horror and dread that thrilled the audience as the truth gradually dawned upon them of what had occurred."

"Few men have traveled so much with such open-eyed intelligence as he. We have interesting accounts of cities and states, east and west, north and south, and over the sea. He confesses that he has been a man of 'hobbies,' —using the word 'hobby' as signifying 'a favorite theme of thought and study outside of regular business pursuits.' Into these avocations his mental power and public spirit have overflowed or found congenial employment. In them, moreover, he has manifested not simply a brief superficial interest, like that of most men in such things, who take them up to gratify a transient curiosity or passing whim, but an interest so deep and thoroughgoing that he has achieved in each a notable success, which has made him through them a great public benefactor."

"General Brinkerhoff has come to be widely known as one of the foremost authorities of our country and times upon the subject of charity organization, penology and prison reform. The fact that he was selected to write the article on Prison Discipline, in the American Supplement to the ninth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, is proof of this."

While undoubtedly he is not without that honorable ambition which is so powerful and useful as an incentive to activity in public affairs, he regards the pursuits of private life as being in themselves abundantly worthy of his best efforts. His is a noble character—one that subordinates personal ambition to public good and seeks rather the benefit of others than the aggrandizement of self. His is a conspicuously successful career. Endowed by nature with high intellectual qualities, to which are added the discipline and embellishments of culture, his is a most attractive personality.


From Centennial Biographical History of Richland County, A. J. Baughman, Editor, Lewis Publishing Co., Chicago, 1902