Editor’s Note –– This is a three-part continuation of a story that orginally 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 some of the 19 letters appear below and others will be published in upcoming editions. The excerpts are reproduced as they were originally penned.
Our ancestors were rural, religious people in sharp contrast to today’s more secularized city folk. These pioneers poured into southwestern Ohio from the 1790s onward, rugged, religious, and ready to turn untamed forests into farms. They stamped their Bible-based cultural imprint on the surrounding countryside for generations to come.
The two sets of Burns family letters, the one almost burned and the other almost buried, that were found in Highland and Clermont counties reveal this religiosity of our ancestral stock. Eighteen of the Burns letters were written to son James in Pennsylvania and then Ohio by his parents, brother, and an uncle back in the north of Ireland.
These letters tell the story of the ancestors of a Highland County family, these ancestors experiencing sectarian conflict and hardships in Ireland and then personal tragedy that triggered their move to Ohio. When James Burns sailed from Belfast to America on The Wilmington in 1792, he carried with him a letter of introduction to his uncle Alexander Burns with whom he was to live in western Pennsylvania.
May 7, 1792. Dear Brother Alexander, The bearer of this letter, if life and health permit, will be my eldest son. As you under Providence will be Father, Mother, and uncle to him, his mother and I hope that you will let him want for nothing that you can confer on him. We freely recom-mend him to God and your care.
Your loving brother and sister till death, James and Jane Burns
July 31, 1793. Dear James, Your mother hopes you will remember who is your great preserver and support. Take care of what company you keep and remember the Sabbath day and you may expect to thrive the better all week. Your brother Robert has enlisted in the militia.
Your loveing father, James Burns
May 5, 1794. Dear Child, Mind your duties to God and you will be doing a kindness to yourself. Read His Word on the Lord’s Day and remember they that seek Him truly shall find him. Let us know the affairs of America. It is reported that you have trouble with the Indians, and we are willing to know the truth.
Your loving father and mother, James and Jane Burns
May 2, 1796. Dear Son, We have had troublesom times between protestants or Orange Boys and Deffenders or papists, severals killed on both sides in their various scuffels. The Orange Boys has not left a papist family in the lower part of our county but that they have driven away. Endeavour to be wise to Salvation. Think that this world is not your home but that one day you must enter another where you must abide forever.
Your loving parents till death, James and Jane Burns
July 11, 1796. Dear Brother, There has been great Troubles here between Orangemen and papists and some of both parties executed. The truth is there was faults on both sides, bringing Trouble on peaceable people. That is often the case, the innocent suffer with the guilty.
Your loving and affectionate brother till death, Alexander Burns
Nov. 12, 1796. Dear Son, We are looking every day for an invasion from France and the most part of Ireland are uniting together under the name of United Irishmen and striving for liberty. The war must be supported and if people grumble, they are counted as rebels, hurried away to jail, and tried for treason.
With our sincere wish for your welfare, James Burns
May 10, 1797. Dear Son, The people of this kingdom are under the severity of a military law, occasioned by the unfortunate war that our (Prime) Minister continues with the French.
People are prevented from consulting with others or entering into any combination against government. Sickness proves mortal to many here; may God enable us to take notice of these warnings. Suffer not the world or any other enemy to cheat you of your day of grace. Let Lodwick McCarroll know his family is all well except Tom who is not very stout.
Your dear father, James Burns
October 18, 1797. Dear Child, Fearing that if the French invade, the Liberty men would join them, our government made an act to disarm the people and all take the oath of allegiance. Houses were burned, some sent to gaol, some shot on the spot. Give my love to your uncle and aunt. And let Lodwick McCarroll know that his brother Tom died last May.
Your loving father, James Burns
The Orangemen-Papist sectarian conflict resurfaced in modern times as the Irish Republican Army’s terrorist campaign in Northern Ireland. The 1790s sectarian Troubles in Ireland became embroiled with a larger Anglo-French War which evolved into the Napoleonic Wars of 1803-1815.
May 10, 1799. Dear Son, Although you and I are far distant from each other, yet we should not forget each other’s eternal welfare. Seek God earnestly at a throne of grace, relying only upon Jesus Christ for Salvation as he is offered in the Gospel. We are all hastening from time to Eternity. Our Kingdom appears to be (still) involved in trouble. Although we have the blessings of peace and plenty, only God knoweth how long it may be so.
Your loving father and mother, James and Jane Burns
James Burns grew up in Anderson Township near Coney Island and now lives in Florida.