Editor’s Note –– This is the last of a three-part continuation of a story that originally appeared in the Feb. 16, 2016 edition of The Times-Gazette about 19 letters an area family found dating as far back as the late 1700s. Nine of the letters were found around 1970 under a mound of hay in a barn on a Burns family farm near Buford. Excerpts from the last of the 19 letters appear below. Excerpts from the other letters have been published in published as part of this series. The excerpts are reproduced as they were originally penned. The letters continue below, with commentary by descendent and author James F. Burns interspersed between them.
The second series of the letters, published earlier this week, left off with a June 20, 1805 letter from Alexander Burns in Ireland writing to his brother James in Pennsylvania to inform his brother of their father’s death. This series begins with the last paragraph from that letter, although by the time James received this letter, his first two children had died from disease.
Your mother is much obliged to you for the name of your daughter and I likewise for the name of your son. As God has given you a famley we hope you will bring them up in his feare and service, and guard against the degeneracey of the times, both in princable and practice. By your fathers will he has left you one geanue to help buy your wife a coat.
Your loveing and affectionate brother till death, Alexander Burns
A letter of condolences to Elizabeth and James came from his uncle James Harshy in Markethill, Ireland. The uncle’s words below may seem stern and stoic, but such was the nature of their Calvinist faith, which totally trusted God’s sovereignty.
May 17, 1806. Dear Nephew, I am sorry to hear of the death of your two children in the letter to your brother dated October 7, 1805. But still I hope you are in the way of your duty, that is to submit to God’s will and to be thankful for every dispensation of his providence which he is pleased to send your way, that is to say, the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord.
We are still enguaged in a bloody war and although the sword has not reached us, yet the miserable effects has. For there is nothing but one heavy tax after another and even the very windows and cur dogs are not exempt from tax. These things has put me in a great mind to go to America.
I conclude with my kind love and my familys, while we remain James and Margaret Harshy
After burying their two children, James and Elizabeth endured a long lonely winter. But the following spring brought new life, a son John born on April 19, 1806. Once again the cabin’s walls resounded with the echoes of a child’s cries and laughter. But with those two tiny graves so close by, the family wanted a fresh start in Ohio. They waited a full year for their infant son to be strong enough for an overland trip from western Pennsylvania to Wheeling and then down the Ohio River by flatboat to Clermont County. Brother Alexander’s next letter of 1807 was forwarded to their new home, a 50-acre farm near Owensville.
April 1, 1807. Dear Brother and Sister, Be thankful that you and I both live in peace and plenty while other places is tormented with war and bloodshed. Dear brother, I caution you to consider your latter end before it bees too late. Your souls concearn is what you should always mind, for God Almighty has told us to seek first the kingdom of heaven and his rightiousness, and all other things, that is temporal blessings, will be added unto them.
Dear brother, your mother is declining fast. She and sister Sarah and I is living together as yet. Sarah (sends) her love to you and is not tired of staying with her mother as long as she lives. But Sarah intends to come over to you as soon as possible after her mother’s death.
This letter is coming to you by the hands of Miss Hannah Acheson.
Your ever loving and effectinate brother till death, Alexander Burns
The Achesons, close neighbors of the Burns in Ireland, sent sons John, David, and Thomas to America to start a mercantile business in Washington, Pa. John had left a pregnant wife, Mary Hogg, behind. When daughter Hannah was born, Mary took her to John’s parents for them to raise. Hannah grew up to be a comely young lady who became engaged to the son of a much-admired local minister named Thomas Campbell. The Rev. Campbell and Hannah came to America on an 1807 voyage, Hannah bringing the Burns family letter above. The Rev. Campbell founded a new denomination, the Disciples of Christ Church, in which both Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan were raised the next century. Campbell’s son, the Rev. Alexander Campbell, founded Bethany College and gained fame nationally as an antislavery debater and author.
May 16, 1810. Dear Brother, Your mother died Sunday November 15th 1807, aged 72 years. Your sister Jane has two twins, three daughters and one son. Your unkel Harshy has got the third daughter married, Agnes to William Fulton. Your brother Greer had a long sickness and we think that he would not recover. Your brother Robert has two sons and two daughters. Our uncl Bigam and aunt is both ded and dauter Sara.
Our nebourhood has been very much disturbed by a set of cow and horse theefs that got harbour amongst us. One of them was taken and made to (tell) on the rest and told of a great [deal] of horse (stealing) and a dredful murder. You nabor Archabald Little’s son is under the sentence of death (for) robbing Mongo Dixon. Michael Turner has a son hanged. Your sister and I is living together. Her vitling [cooking] is reasonable. Taxes is got very grate.
I remain your sincere brother, Alexander Burns
By the time the next surviving letter was written, 1825, brother Alexander had married, but sister Sarah had neither married nor been able to come to America. Meanwhile, James and Elizabeth had added seven more children to their family in Clermont County. Sadly, James died in 1821 at the age of just 52. It took a long time for word to reach his family back in Ireland.
June 7, 1825. Dear Sister (Elizabeth), I heard of my brother James’ death from a letter which David Acheson sent to his brother [in Markethill]. Dear sister, as that distressing visitation were not joyous but grievous, hope it may bring forth in you the fruits of good living to the praise and glory of God. As there is a large family left fatherless, you have the promise of the Almighty who has said I am a father to the fatherless and a husband to the widow. Dear Sister, I hope through the strength of Divine Grace you may be enabled to bring up your children in the fear and love of God, that you may be able to say – Lord, Here I am and the children which thou has given me.
I hope you children will remember the following caution from the pen of their uncle. Dear children, be sure (to) take your mothers advice. Pray to God morning and night that he may preserve you from the dangers to which youth are exposed. Remember to keep holy the Sabbath Day and read the Word of God. It will point you out wherein you ought to go and may God enable you so to do.
My family consists of six children, 2 sons and 4 daughters. We had seven but our oldest son James is dead at the age of 5 years. My brother Robert and family is well as are sisters Agness, Sarah, and Jane. Miss no opportunity of writing and when you write, direct (it) to the care of Mr. John McCalla, shopkeeper in Markethill.
Your loving brother and sister, Alexander and Mary Burns
April 9, 1827. Dear Sisters and Nephews, I received your kind letter dated 1 February 1826 and it gave me great joy to find you all in good health. We are also in very good health, thanks be to the Almighty God for all his mercies to us poor and unworthy sinners. Owing to the great heat last summer, our crops were very bad and spoiled the fodder so it was very dear and scarce. Money is also got very scarce and, what is worse, the linen trade that many live by in this country has completely failed. So that a vast number of our neighbours are selling off their little property and emigrating to Canada and other parts of America, whether for better or otherwise we cannot tell. We have plenty to eat and drink and some clothes to wear so we are as content and happy as can be expected. You (asked) in your letter if uncle James Harshy was well. I must inform you that he is in good health and all his family. Joseph Greer is dead about 9 years ago. The widow and one son and 2 daughters live together and they are the most unfortunate family you ever knew. Give me kind love to all your family.
Your loving brother till death, Alexander Burns
Brother Alexander in Ireland died just five years after his last letter of 1827. James Burns’ Clermont County will of 1821 bequeathed: “to My Beloved Wife Elizabeth her full support and management of the farm without controls during her Widowhood…and to my Sons, John, James, and Joseph, coequal shares of my lands & tenements, and all the goods and chattels that remain at the decease of My Beloved Wife…and to my Daughters, Nancy, Amelia, Elizabeth, Martha, and Sarah, one hundred dollars as they arrive at age, and my sons to stand accountable therefore.”
As part of settling his modest estate, three neighbors made an inventory of James’ personal property, the list profiling Ohio farm life in the 1820s: “One bay horse, one wagon, twelve sheep, five head of yearlings, hay, flax, flaxseed, two hundred pounds of corn, one spade, one shovel, two axes, one loom, one spinning wheel, one rifle gun and pouch, one clock, two tables and cradle, one chest and looking glass [mirror], books, two plows and harrow.” Total value $611.25.
James and Elizabeth’s oldest surviving child, John, married Melinda Rapp in 1836 and had eight children, oldest son Jacob marrying in 1862 and establishing the Highland County farm near Buford where nine of the family letters were discovered under a hay mound years later. John Burns died at age 75 in 1881 and was buried in the Rapp Cemetery near Owensville.
James F. Burns grew up in Anderson Township near Coney Island and now lives in Gainesville, Fla.
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