Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Impatient Man at My Elbow

My 5x gr-grandfather, Thomas Burris (c1722 – 1789), made sacrifices in what Americans call the French and Indian War. He fought from darn near the inception of hostilities. According to Hawthorne in the Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, Vol. III (pg 107), Burris “fought at the Battle of the Meadows in early July 1754, and was one of the number ‘who received the present of a Pistole from the Country as an acknowledgement of their gallant behavior upon that occasion.’” Of 400 Virginians engaged in service to The Crown, 17 were killed and 43 wounded (a 15% casualty rate in nine hours of combat). According to an unknown book; found in Burris Family Folders at the public library in Winchester, Kentucky: “George Washington personally presented [Burriss] with a pistol for bravery. The citation is in Washington's handwriting. He is referred to as Sgt. Burrus.”
See note: A Pistole was probably not a weapon.

It's incontrovertible that the 22-year-old Col. George Washington knew Private Burris, ten years his senior. Both a Thomas Burris and Thomas Bhurras are listed on a roll for the Virginia Regiment which surrendered Fort Necessity to the French and their native allies that summer. Washington, however, sternly and suspiciously noted that he was uncertain whether some of his troops arrived in camp after the battle.

19th century rendition of Fort Cumberland in 1755.
This gruesome letter, from Lt. Col. Adam Stephen, to Washington (in charge of Virginia troops at Fort Cumberland on the Potomac River (right), where routed Virginians had retreated and been joined by Marylanders) describes how Burris became a casualty between 9am and noon on 25 Sep 1755. Another man "who would not venture to Run" was captured. Wounded by a tomahawk, “Burris was lucky enough to escape.”

Maryland Gazette, 2 Oct 1755
Burris was tomahawked the year following the Battle of the Meadows at Fort Necessity. It is likely that the regimental surgeon, Scotsman James Craik (1730-1814), performed the amputation. The Maryland Gazette (Annapolis), dated 2 October 1755, has an account of this affair (left). Stephen’s incident report does not mention a wound to the head.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania now occupies the land on which the French Fort DuQuesne stood. Young Washington was one of British General Edward Braddock’s two aides in an attack on Fort DuQuesne. Private Burris had likely seen action at Braddock’s Defeat/ Battle of the Monongahela/ Battle of the Wilderness on 9 July, 1755. He served in Company M, under Capt. George Mercer, maternal cousin to George Mason.

The National Archives have done an excellent job of  cross-referencing Burris entries in their collection of Washington's papers. Following the hyperlink trail, I met with some consternation their next revelation. In this letter, Col. Washington - while at his headquarters in Winchester, Virginia - writes Stephen, his second-in-command, about the ‘villain Burrass:’
6 September 1756 –  [Cpl. Philemon Waters and Thomas Burris both served in Mercer’s company.] “Waters and Burrass behaved extremely ill when they were sent down last. If I could lay my hands on them, I would try the effect of 1000 lashes on the former, and whether a General court-martial would not condemn the latter to a life eternal! I shall not at this time enumerate the different kinds of charges laid to both—but desire you will enquire minutely of Mr Burrass what he did with the mare he brought from Fort-Cumberland: She was a creature belonging to the Heirs of Theobald, [poss. Michael Teabolt] caught by Captain Ashby for me. I intended to have had her appraised, and allowed the heirs her full value. She was first carried to Fort-Cumberland, then brought down by that villain Burrass, and here sold or swapped—I want to know to whom, that I may get her, & do as I first intended.” 
Washington carries on for many paragraphs, explaining how he wants plunder handled in the future.

It was on 25 May 1757 that the Virginia House of Burgesses resolved that the Treasurer pay £10 out of Public Money ‘in his hands’ to Burris “as a Recompence for the Loss of his Arm in the Service of his Country,” which was, at that time, more likely Virginia than England.

Journals of the House of Burgesses, page 478. Entry for 25 May 1757.

I'd like to think it a tribute to Burris' character that, despite wounds received, he persevered in wartime service. Fitting his abilities to military need, he was chosen to act as a courier. Because some correspondents referred to the messenger, my ancestor remains in the historical record.

Commisary officer Maj. John Carlyle writes Washington from Alexandria. The one-armed Burris is apparently back in good graces: he had delivered Washington’s letter written on 27 August. Five days later, we have this reply.
1 September 1758 – “It is Extream Wett Weather & Burriss In his Shirt I recolected I had the Suit of Cloaths that was At Williamsburg I therefor Lett him have them to Carrey Up & Deliver to You.”
What service was Burriss then performing for his country? Was he modelling a fine suit of clothes? More likely he stood; tired, wet and bedraggled; in worn buckskins. Carlyle had added fineries to his saddlebag.

Also dated 1 September 1758 is a letter destined for Washington from his mentor, George William Fairfax, penned at Fairfax’s plantation Belvoir. He begs off in the second sentence, writing,“… I dont care to detain the bearer.” 

Near the end of this rather short note, Fairfax writes:
“And being call’d upon by an impatient Man at my Elbow, which I hope will be a sufficient Apology to conclude with all our Compliments …”
In the curator’s notes we find:
“The impatient man was Thomas Burris who brought down from GW at his camp the two [now] missing letters to Fairfax (dated 22 & 27 August) as well as the missing letter of 27 Aug. to John Carlyle, and the missing letter to Humphrey Knight referred to in Knight’s letter of 2 September. Burris got back to Fort Cumberland from Alexandria and Winchester on 11 Sept. with letters from Alexandria and environs, written by John Carlyle (1 Sept.), George William Fairfax (1 Sept.), Sarah Cary Fairfax (1 Sept., missing), Humphrey Knight (2 Sept.), John Patterson (2 Sept.), and probably John Kirkpatrick (3 Sept.), and with letters from Winchester and environs written by Charles Smith (7 Sept.) and perhaps by Christopher Hardwick (3 Sept.).” 
The unmarried Washington was supposedly sweet on Fairfax’s wife, Sarah (Cary) Fairfax. It is not unlikely that the missing note from her was deemed too personal to survive. A purported love letter from Sally, dated 12 September 1758, is thought to be a forgery. The date of the missive fits the scheme of things, however.
See note: Convergence on the Cary clan.

On the cover of a letter, written 2 September 1758 by Humphrey Knight at Mount Vernon, to be delivered to Washington, was the notation: “Sr I was obli[ged] to let Bu[rris] have 2.6 shillings before [he] would go away: H.K.” Knight, reporting the plantation’s profitability to its owner, may have sought to highlight fiduciary responsibility to his employer. Burris seems not only impatient, but insistent.
Washington's map of route between HQ & Ft. Cumberland.

These curator’s notes give readers a sense of the time Burris was investing, and how far he traveled between collection points. It may have taken ten days to get from one end of the circuit they've described to the other. 
(See Google map here.) 

Washington's map (right) relays his perception of the geography Burris operated in, when close to the front lines. Missives from landed gentry do little to describe the risks he faced as a wartime courier.

On 7 Sep 1758 Capt. Charles Smith writes Washington from Fort Loudoun, which was under Smith's authority.
“I was oblig. to keep Burris one Day after he came from Alexandrey, there being many Gentlemen at cort wanting to write to ther friends at camp & withall to send the Last Papers up. I have kept a hors Burris Wrode Down here very Poor, which most People says he is yours …” 
Memories of ‘sharp dealing’ may have lingered in Smith’s assessment of Thomas Burris’ character. The consequences of being caught trading in horseflesh a second time could have been deadly for Burris. The selection of able mounts might indicate Burris' desire to succeed in his task ... in difficult terrain.

Smith continues about the horse more than a week later:
18 Sep 1758 – “The Horse that Burres rode Down is a Light bay about 14 Hands high, favours a horse I have seen you have no brands, only some white hairs Groing on the top of his Neck the Reason of my Stoping him—Burres first told me he was Your’s, & you Lent him & afterwards Offered him for Sale, hardwick says he Does not know him to be Yours.”
From the curators:
“Thomas Burris brought GW’s letters down from Fort Cumberland to Winchester and Alexandria in late August. Smith took this horse - the ‘Light bay’ - from Burris on Burris’s return from Alexandria to Winchester [en route] to Fort Cumberland. This was the same “villain Burrass” who in 1756 “sold or swapped” one of GW’s [Teabolt’s estate’s] horses …” 
Is there an aspersion here, cast by curators in the National Archives?

A month later, Smith continues to contend with the ‘Light bay.’ He writes Washington on 12 October 1758, “I have sent the Horse I Stopt from Burris to Your Quarter …” The man responsible for Washington's Bullskin Plantation reports he does not recognize the horse as Washington's.

Thomas Burris, Sr. had married Frances Tandy (1730-1816) in 1750. They’d had four daughters (including my 4x gr-grandmother Sarah) by the time Tom lost his arm in 1755. Two more children were born between his trauma and the inception of Burris’ courier service. Daughter Jane was likely conceived in late September or early October of 1758, around the time Burris disappears from this set of records.

North American hostilities between France and Britain ended in 1760. Frances bore Thomas two more sons and two daughters in peacetime. Thomas lived out his days in Orange County, Virginia, but Frances and the children migrated to his Kentucky lands after his death. [See Condemned to a Life Eternal.]

Notes ~
Burris' Pistole:
A Pistole was probably not a weapon. It was likely a Spanish doubloon, perhaps in addition to ‘bounty money’ of £2 8p Burris received for service from 29 July – 29 September 1754. A 'Pistole' is also colloquialism for a land patent greater than 100 acres. I’ve found no land records for Burris/ Burras/ Burrace/ Burroughs/ Bhurass/ Birris/ Burrows from that era. His 1788 will, however allocates more than 2000 acres in Kentucky, perhaps granted during the revolutionary era.

Mapmaker and surveyor George Washington aspired to follow Fairfax into land speculation. According to Loudermilk, the 'New Store' in Stephen's 1755 account of Burris' wounds (above) was a storehouse or magazine, situated by the Ohio Company of Virginia and protected by Fort Cumberland. Those with access to men like Mercer and Washington had opportunities to cash in on westward expansion. In 1767 Washington acquired the land on which the Battle of The Meadows was fought. He kept title to the 234-acre tract that he called 'Mount Washington,' until he died.

Side Note on Sarah Cary:
Sarah Cary (1730-1811) and I both are to have descended from Col. Thomas Randolph (1683-1729) and wife Judith Fleming (1689-1743). Cary’s great, great-grandparents are my 6x great-grandparents … via Randolph lines that lead, individually, to each of my maternal grandparents.

1 comment:

  1. See the Google map of Burris' sphere of influence with Washington, here:


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