R. B. Westbrook

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R. B. Westbrook was present at the October 30, 1875, meeting of the newly formed Theosophical Society at Mott Memorial Hall in New York City. He was elected as a Councillor, and in 1877 as Vice President (along with Alexander Wilder).

Identification of "R. B. Westbrook"

Historian Josephine Ransom wrote of him:

JUDGE R. B. WESTBROOK was for a time a Professor of Philology in a British University. He was made a Vice-President of the Society in 1877, and was much appreciated by H.P.B.; but nothing more was said of him.[1]

Her source of information about the "Professor of Philology" has not been identified, but that claim seems unlikely. Genealogical research has only uncovered one R. B. Westbrook who is likely to be among the earliest members of the Theosophical Society. These are the main points to be considered:

  • Henry Steel Olcott put the letters D.D. and LL.D. after Westbrook's name, indicating that Westbrook was qualified as a clergyman and an attorney.[2]
  • Alexander Wilder referred to "Dr. R. B. Westbrook, of Philadelphia,"[3] and Westbook himself signed his "Reminiscences of Original American Theosophists" as being written in Philadelphia.
  • Hiram Corson referred to him as "Judge Westbrook" in his compilation of Madame Blavatsky's letters. [4]

Therefore it is necessary to identify a clergyman-lawyer named "R. B. Westbrook" who was a judge and was associated with Philadelphia. The one possibility seems to be Richard Broadhead Westbrook.

Personal life of Richard Broadhead Westbrook

Richard Broadhead (or Brodhead) Westbrook was born on February 8, 1820 to John and Sarah Broadhead Westbrook in Dingman's Ferry, Pennsylvania, and was baptized in Sussex, New Jersey.[5]

His career seems to have begun with teaching school, progressing into the Christian ministry.[6] In 1860, he was working in Philadelphia as a Presbyterian clergyman.[7] He entered the University of the City of New York to study law. He was admitted to the bar in 1863, and began paying "licensee fees" for work as a lawyer in New York.[8] By 1870 he had established his legal career and was quite prosperous, living in Andover, Sussex County, New Jersey in a large household with his wife Sarah, six children aged 1 to 28, and a servant.[9] "Later he became interested in Pennsylvania coal lands and retired in 1882."[10] His wife died around that year.

On August 19, 1899, he died in Pascoag, Rhode Island. An obituary states, "He was also an author of repute. In 1870 he published a work on marriage and divorce; in 1882 a work entitled the Bible, and in 1884 one entitled Man, Whence and Whither, besides others of later date."[11] The book Marriage and Divorce was published by the author through J.B. Lippincott in Philadelphia, 1883; the others may no longer be extant.

Theosophical historian Michael Gomes has added another dimension to the biographical picture: "In 1889 he [Westbrook] was President of the American Secular Union".[12]

Connections with Theosophists

Both Judge Westbrook and his wife Sarah were acquainted with Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, according to one of her letters.[13]

In September 1889 he published an article entitled "Reminiscences of Original American Theosophists" in ..The Religio-Philosophical Journal. It describes in incident when he introduced a "distinguished Unitarian preacher, Rev. W. R. Alger, of Boston" to Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and Henry Steel Olcott. Westcott had great respect for the Colonel, but came to believe Madame Blavatsky to be a fraud.

Notes

  1. Josephine Ransom, A Short History of The Theosophical Society (Adyar, Madras, India: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1938), 114.
  2. Henry S. Olcott, "The First Leaf of T.S. History" The Theosophist 12.2 (November, 1890), 65-70. Minutes from several meetings in 1875-1877 confirm his memory on this point.
  3. Alexander Wilder, "How 'Isis Unveiled' Was Written" The Word 7.2 (May 1908). Available at Theosophical University Press Online website.
  4. Hiram Corson, compiler. Some Unpublished Letters of H. P. Blavatsky Available from Theosophical University Press Online website.
  5. 1820 U.S., Dutch Reformed Church Records.
  6. "R. B. Westbrook Dead" (obituary) in August 25, 1899 issue of a Pascoag, Rhode Island newspaper.
  7. 1860 U.S. Census.
  8. U.S., IRS Tax Assessment Lists, 1863.
  9. 1870 U.S. Census.
  10. "R. B. Westbrook Dead" (obituary) in August 25, 1899 issue of a Pascoag, Rhode Island newspaper.
  11. "R. B. Westbrook Dead" (obituary) in August 25, 1899 issue of a Pascoag, Rhode Island newspaper.
  12. Michael Gomes, " R.B. Westbrook's 'Reminiscences of Original American Theosophists'" The Canadian Theosophist 71.2 (May-June, 1990), 28. Available at KatinkHesselink.net website. He was quoting from The Religio-Philosophical Journal (May 18,1899), 4-5; a another similar sketch of Westbrook's life is given in the Freethinker, London, Aug. 18, 1889, p. 329.
  13. H. P. Blavatsky, The Letters of H.P. Blavatsky, Volume 1 (Wheaton, Illinois: Theosophical Publishing House, 2003), 253 and 256.