Amos and Jerusha Brewster of Norwich, Connecticut married in 1761, and would both die famously: he in a battle that helped turn the American Revolution toward victory for the colonists 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. With British General William Howe ensconced in Philadelphia and American General George Washington on the run and seeking winter quarters at Valley Forge, the British army sought to finish off the Americans.
British naval ships were ordered to proceed up the Delaware River with needed supplies. A force of 200 to 400 Americans stationed at Fort Mifflin, including Amos Brewster, were ordered 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 rebuild their fort each night until, on November 15, a force of six British ships armed with more than 200 cannon approached the fort, which had only ten guns.
At one point, more than 1,000 cannon shots an hour were poured down upon the fort, and that night the Americans, with no remaining ammunition, were forced 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, Connecticut home, was left to raise the couple’s four children. And by 1800 she was living with her daughter and son-in-law, Lovisa and James Morse.
The relationship between Jerusha and her son-in-law was a difficult one. 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; 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.
“Mrs. Brewster then began her breakfast, and had nearly finished, when the children and the mother were taken with puking, the two children first, then the mother and infant. 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 of inquest sat upon her body and gave a verdict of "poison, and by design." The body was opened and a considerable quantity of arsenic taken out. The cakes that remained were examined, and pieces of poison were found in them. “
Suspicion immediately fell on Jerusha Brewster’s son-in-law James, for it was well known that James and Jerusha had lived together “quite unhappily.” James was also a Revolutionary War veteran, 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, her in 1841 and him in 1845.
At Jerusha’s funeral, the minister, Rev. Waterman, chose to deliver a sermon aimed at her killer, speaking 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."