"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Isaac Brock

The Oldest Man in America.

Isaac Brock, who died on September 3, 1909, was mostly famous for not dying earlier. This picture of him appeared in a widely published ad for Peruna, a patent remedy.  This particular instance appeared on January 23, 1904 in the  Holbrook Arizona Argus.  On January 23, 1904, if we accept that he was born on March 1,1788, Brock would have been 115 years, 10 months, 23 days old. 

 Ads like this began to appear in American newspapers in 1899. 

The Oldest Man in America 
Tells How He Escaped the Terrors of Many Winters by
Using Pe-ru-na.
Born before the United States was formed. 
Saw 22 Presidents elected. 
Pe-ru-na has protected him from all sudden changes. 
Veteran of four wars. 
Shod a horse when 99 years old. 
Always conquered the grip with pe.ru-na. 
Witness in a land suit at the age of 110 years. 
Believes Peruna the greatest remedy of the age for catarrhal diseases. 

In late 1888, a photographer visited Waco Texas and took a photo of Isaac Brock that became the basis for the explosion of Peruna ads about him.  This appears to be a 1908 newspaper half-tone of that photo, taken from a January, 1908  Peruna ad. He claimed to be 119 in January of 1908.

 A  1899 article in the Los Angeles Herald notes the photographer's visit and the provenance of the stick Brock is carrying.  (See May Live in Three Centuries)
Last week, at the request of President J. C. Deane of the Texas Photographers' association, Uncle Isaac came to Waco and sat for his picture. ln his hand he held a stick cut from the grave of General Andrew-Jackson, which has been carried by him ever since when occasion seemed to call for the use of a cane.

The Herald had another illustration derived from the 1888 photo. 

Isaac Brock

The article emphasizes that  Brock was a veteran of four wars.

 Uncle Isaac is a dignified old gentleman, showing few signs of decrepitude. His family Bible is still preserved, and it shows that the date of his birth was written one hundred and ten years ago...

He fought as has been stated, in the war of 1812, and in the war between the Texas republic and Mexico. Also in the war between the United States and Mexico. In the late civil war he was gunner in the battery at Galveston, and was under fire of the United States gunboats. In addition to having fought in the four wars mentioned, he fought Indians on the Texas frontier for six years, and slew one in a hand-to-hand combat. Attention was called to him recently when he in court as a witness to testify in a land suit. The question of his age came up, and he deposed that he was one hundred and ten years old. It did not surprise any one, for the lawyers and spectators knew Uncle Brock’s age.  

Dewitt G. Wilcox MD in his 1905 Presidential Address to the Homoeopathic Society of New York, described writing to Brock's physician in Yellow Springs. 

As for instance: One ad. of Peruna showed nearly a lifesize picture of an old man, whose testimonial stated that he was 117 years old, attributed his excellent health and old-age to Peruna. etc., signed "Isaac Brock, Valley Mills. Texas." I wrote a physician at said place, asking particulars and enclosing the ad. His reply was:

DEAR Sir: -In reply to your letter will say I have known Mr. Brock for twenty-five years, He does not know his exact age, but I know he is very old and entirely blind for the past five years. So far as his attributing his old age to the use of Peruna, it is all rot. I don't think he ever heard of Peruna until about eight or ten years ago, when by accident a photographer at Waco, N. M. happened to meet him and induced him to sit for his picture. It appeared in all the Texas papers. The Peruna people got hold of it and furnished him all the Peruna he could drink, free. So far as him giving testimonials. I have heard his son-in-law. Ed. Daghand, say that he never gave them permission to use his name. Am very glad to give you any information I can.

 Yours very truly. ---------­ 

Here we have one species of quack criticizing another. The remark about drinking Peruna is a reference to the fact that Peruna was 28% alcohol. 

The San Saba County News reported on a suicide attempt in 1892, in which 114-year old Isaac Brock unsuccessfully tried to use laudanum and his pocket  knife to end his life.   “His daughter was drowned in the Bosque while bathing last spring, which has preyed on his mind until life is not worth living.”

When Isaac Brock died on September 3, 1909 newspapers all over the country carried short notices that the Oldest Man in America had died at 122 years of age, most cited his family bible and some his court testimony. A exception is the insightful obituary that appeared in the Waco Semi-Weekly Tribune on September 8, 1909, which describes his humble funeral, deteriorated mental state and residence in the county home. 

An historical marker at China Springs Cemetery notices Isaac Brock.

An unusual grave is that of Isaac Brock (1787-1909) who lived in three centuries. In addition to its link to the history of the China Spring community and its residents. 

His headstone in the Cemetery is inscribed:

Isaac Brock
Mar. 1. 1787
Sept. 3. 1909
Aged 122 Yrs
6 Mos & 2 Days
He died as he lived
— a Christian

Added by:  The Simple Life on 5 Jul 2017

At the foot of his grave is a confederate marker that reads:

Isaac Brock
Pvt Co H 19 Texas Inf
Mar 1 1787    Sep 3 1909

Isaac Brock
Added by:  Annette Foster Ditto on 23 Apr 2010

The Gerontology Wiki is skeptical of Brocks claim to have been 122 Years old.
Isaac Brock (claimed birth 1787/more likely 1805 or 1812 – 3 September 1909) was an alleged supercentenarian, the subject of news coverage in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th century due to his claims of longevity. According to varying claims, and his gravestone, he was born on 1 March 1787, which would have made him 122 years and 164 days at the time of his death. If his claim was true, he would be tied with Jeanne Calment as the oldest person ever.

 Despite the claims of very advanced age, occasionally celebrated in modern press coverage in Texas, Brock was more likely born around 1805. U.S. census reports from 1880 and 1860 put his birth around 1805 or 1812 respectively.

Terri Jo Ryan's article  The legend of Isaac Brock: Was Waco man the oldest person who ever lived? published in both The Waco Tribune and The Comanche Chief, agrees with that skepticism. She cites Annette Foster Ditto and the U.S. Census for a birth date  in 1805.

Annette Foster Ditto, married to Brock descendant Stephen Wayne Ditto, said that she thinks Brock was likely born around 1805. It was his father, David — who married a first cousin, Eunice — who was born around 1788 in Anderson County, S.C., she said. The Isaac who was born in 1787 in Buncombe Co., N.C. was actually Eunice’s brother, she said.

Indeed, according to the 1880 U.S. Census, Isaac Brock of McLennan County, Texas, was a 75-year-old farmer (not a 93-year-old one). He was listed as a 48-year-old blacksmith in the 1860 federal census, when he was a resident of Rusk County. His enlistment papers as a private with Company H, 19th Texas Infantry in 1862 list his age as 53. Of course, he told one newspaperman that he gave officials the wrong age so he could get in.

 And she cites Carolyn Ballinger for the suggestion that it might all have been a joke.

Carolyn Ballinger reported on the Brock family genealogical forum that: “Isaac ‘Texas’ Brock, as he is called, was a man who liked to ‘pull one’s leg’ and gave the (birth) date of his uncle as a jest — you have to know the Brock men to understand what I am saying. The reporter who put all the misinformation in the paper didn’t check his facts very well. Dear ol’ Isaac also told people he was once a Texas Ranger, served in the Mexican-American War, etc. And if you check you find that none of it is true.”

 Isaac Brock
Added by: Genevieve on 29 May 2013

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