James Gloster Brehon (1740-1819)

Written By Mathew Shaeffer

James Gloster Brehon was born in Ireland around 1740.  He received a liberal education in Ireland before moving to America.  Brehon first settled in Maryland and was living there when the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776.  As the Revolutionary War intensified, Brehon moved to Warrenton, North Carolina and practiced medicine before joining the revolutionary forces. Brehon was appointed a navy surgeon, and throughout the Revolutionary War, he served at many different posts. After America secured independence, Brehon returned to North Carolina.

In Warrenton, Brehon once again practiced medicine. Aside from being a prominent physician, Brehon was a student of the sciences and studied botany and other scientific subjects. Brehon’s innovative spirit enabled him to seize opportunities to use his scientific and medical knowledge to accumulate a wealthy estate. Dr. Brehon married Mildred Willis, the daughter of John Willis and Mary Hayes, in 1783. James and Mildred Brehon had no children of their own, but they later adopted Brehon’s nephew James Gloster Somerville as their son.

James Gloster Brehon supported and became a trustee of the Warrenton Academy when it was chartered in 1786. Alongside Brehon, other prominent North Carolinian trustees included Nathaniel Macon, Willie Jones, and William Richardson Davie. The Warrenton Academy was built in 1805 on a tract of land donated by James Gloster Brehon. Between 1800 and 1818 the Warrenton Academy changed its name to the Warrenton Male Academy to differentiate it from the Warrenton Female Academy. Among the prominent students of the Warrenton Male Academy were Braxton Bragg, Thomas Ruffin, and Matt Ransom. In 1897, Professor John Graham presided over the Warrenton Male Academy and changed the name to Warrenton High School. However, it was often referred to as the John Graham School. The last graduating class from Warrenton High School was in 1981.

James Gloster Brehon died in Warrenton on April 9, 1819.  In his will, James G. Brehon required his nephew to change his name to Brehon to inherit his fortune. So, James Gloster Somerville officially changed his name and inherited Brehon’s wealth and estate. Like his uncle, James Gloster Somerville Brehon became a physician. The name change, combined with the similar profession and a large number of Glosters and Brehons in Warrenton, cause confusion among historians interested in local Warren County history. James Gloster Somerville Brehon died in Warrenton on October 2, 1839.