History Lesson: The inventive hermit of Hammond

History Lesson: The inventive hermit of Hammond
Published: Feb. 17, 2023 at 6:31 AM EST
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HAMMOND, New York (WWNY) - So far, these history lessons have featured an inventor from Lewis County, then one from Jefferson County.

This time, we look at one from St. Lawrence County. His name is Ezra Brockway.

“He was born around 1802 in Grenville Ontario, Canada, and he ended up coming over to Ogdensburg at some point in time,” Hammond historian Donna Demick said.

It’s important that he was originally Canadian, because when the Patriot War broke out in 1837... Brockway fought as a patriot.

“He was in the battle of the windmill, and he even was shot as he was trying to get away,” Demick said, “and apparently lost three fingers.

As the tale goes, he made a makeshift raft and paddled across the St. Lawrence while he was being shot at. He made it back to the U.S. and decided he was done dealing with people, so he abandoned his family and settled into life as a hermit on Cedar Island in Chippewa Bay.

There, he spoke with spirits, gardened, and made magical concoctions.

“He had such a green thumb, and when he went to make his medicinal concoctions, he would use herbs, plants, weeds, and bark,” Demick said, “and make up those concoctions that got to be quite famous in the north country.”

His biggest success was Brockway Salve. It was a cure-all ointment that everyone had to have in their cupboards. What was in it? We’ll never know.

“The salve was so famous and sought after, the recipes were sought after by many, and even while he was on his deathbed, a lady came and insisted he give her the recipe,” Demick said. “He said, ‘the recipe is right here in my head and there it will remain.’”

He died with that secret recipe, buried in Hammond with an unmarked grave.

“As eccentric of a man as he was,” Demick said, “he helped a lot of people with his remedy, Brockway Salve.”