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Henry Burnett - An Ohio Pioneer
(10 April 1801 - 28 August 1876)

Obituary Biography,   Description from Son's Biography,   Will

General Burnett's relationship with his father had the normal prickliness of father/son relationships, and the strong stubborn streak in both men didn't help matters. As a pioneer from New Jersey to Ohio with his own father, Henry Sr. was forced to concentrate on working for the survival of his family, and didn't acquire a formal education. Henry Sr's opinion was that his children didn't need what he hadn't had himself. But Henry Jr. wasn't satisfied with this position and, as strong minded as his father, Henry Jr. ran away from home at the age of fifteen to get his own education.

Even though Henry Jr. left home early, his father's will shows that he loaned money to his son. And Henry Jr. spoke with respect of his father's natural, intellectual gifts.

A deeply moral man, as well as stubborn, Henry Sr. was open-handed with the poor and oppressed, publicly declaring his unwillingness to follow the laws requiring the return of escaped slaves, and Henry Sr. was part of the underground railroad which moved slaves north and to safety. Because of his respect for the laws of society, he was also willing to accept the fines that went with breaking laws with which he disagreed.

Death of an Old Pioneer

Youngstown Evening Register and Tribune
August 31, 1876
Death of an Old Pioneer
Sketch of the Life and Struggles of Mr. Henry Burnett
Interesting Reminiscences of Early Days

Henry Burnet, an old and respected citizen of Youngstown, died at his residence at Lansingville, one of the suburbs of this city, about half past three o'clock on Monday afternoon, the 28th inst. [10 Apr 1801 - 28 Aug 1876], aged 75 years, 4 months and 17 days. He had lain sick about three weeks, of a bilious intermittent fever, complicated with chronic disease of the kidneys.

Mr. Burnett was one of the pioneers of this part of the State. His father, Samuel Burnett, was a native of Morristown, New Jersey, the family being a prominent and influential one in that State, and came of the good old Scotch and English family of that name. The father, Mr. Samuel Burnett, was a man of liberal education, and at one time of considerable fortune, but meeting with reverses and loss of property about the time of or soon after the revolutionary war, he finally concluded to emigrate to the west, and along about the year 1798 he moved to and took a piece of land near the site of the present town of Hudson in Northern Ohio.

This district was then an unbroken wilderness. Here in the year 1801, April 11th, his son Henry was born, and here in the midst of the limitless forests many of the years of his boyhood were passed. Later and along the year 1808 or 9 Mr. Samuel Burnett moved to Warren, Ohio, and he and old Mr. Quinby (to whom Mrs. Samuel Burnett was related) erected a large log cabin on what is now known as Quinby Hill, and both families lived in it for some time.

Mr. Burnett's youth was passed with no opportunities for education, and what little he acquired was under the instruction of his parents at home. His time as a boy was mainly devoted to hard work in assisting his father in his hard battle with rugged nature, and in helping him to gain a livelihood for a large family.

In those early days, when white settlements were far apart, when there were hundreds of Indians to every white man, when there were no roads or bridges or means of communication between the white settlers save by blazed paths through the far stretching dark old forests, when there were no mills, stores, shops, or any of the conveniences of civilization, struggles had to be encountered and hardships and sufferings endured of which we in this later time can have little or no conception. Under these circumstances Mr. Henry Burnett was reared. Without the advantages of any early education, he yet was endowed with great natural abilities, and with an iron constitution.

While pursuing usually the avocation of a farmer, he from time to time, took contracts to build bridges, roadways, mills, furnaces, etc. He was a tireless ceaseless worker; an active busy man, buoyant, full of hope and energy. His mental characteristics were rather extraordinary. Without having studied mathematics a day in his life, he had invented a system of his own, by which he could take a chain and compass and survey an irregular piece of land, and give the number of acres, as accurately as any of the surveyors.

When making estimates for roads, railway tracks or other earth works, he would run his own levels, and make, in his head, without aid of paper or pencil, his computations of cubic feet or yards of excavation or fill; and in erecting buildings he would, in the same manner, compute the number of perch of stone in the cellars, the number of feet of boards and timber, etc., required for the buildings, never placing a figure on paper until the calculation was complete and then putting down only results.

By this mathematical system of his own, he used also, in the prime of his life, to compute very accurately and rapidly, the interest on contracts or notes, on which irregular payments had been made. His skill in this respect has often been tested by accomplished scholards, and it was found that he could make his computations and give results much more rapidly than they with paper and pencil.

He was a good judge of character and had great mental and physical energy. He was also a man of very ernest and deep religious convictions, and yet with broad catholic views. He believed undoubtedly in the religious doctrines of the church of the Disciples, and yet believed that all professing christians of every church and creed who lived up to thier faith, would be saved. He was the first person baptized into that church on the Western Reserve, about fifty years ago. He has often told, with a twinkle of pleased recollection in his eye, how, in riding along the roadway one day, with the Reverend Walter Scott, of Pittsburgh, they fell upon the discussion of religious subjects, and how in combatting, the Rev. Mr. Scott's views, the truth in a moment seemed to flash upon him, and with him to be convinced was to all. So he requested the minister to proceed at once to a place where water could be found and baptize him, which was done. Thereupon a great revival set in, under the preaching of this minister at Austintown, where based alone upon the word of God and not upon any creed or rules of faith or doctrine of purely human origin. Mr. Burnett, John Henry and a few others, set about it at once to have a church and place of worship. Mr. burnett gave the ground, selecting as the site of the building a spot where flows, from the side of the hill, a clear ever living spring of cold water, and made the lot large enough to include this spring, he saying that that spring of ever flowing, pure, crystal water should be typical of the pure love of man and faith in the Redeemer that should flow out from that church upon the world forever. Upon that site was built the old Austintown church, where has assembled and worshipped, for nearly fifty years one of the most ernest and influential congregations in the whole body of that church.

Mr. Burnett moved to Youngstown from Austintown about 32 or 3 years ago, having bought the farm and for many years lived on the spot where Wm. J. Edwards, Esq., now resides. He bought this farm about 150 acres, for thirty-five dollars an acre, and thought he was doing well, when in a few years after, about 1846, he sold it for sixty dollars an acre. he little thought then that within half the span of his life this farm would be a part of the city of Youngstown and be worth from two to three thousand dollars per acre.

When he removed to Youngstown he united with the Disciple church here, he having been one of eight who had paid for the grounds and the church building. His heart was always very ernestly with his church and its work. One year he invited the various churches to hold their yearly meeting on his farm at Flint Hill, which was done, he feeding and providing for the multitudes who came.

In the latter years of his life his affections seemed to turn back to the old church at Austintown like a heart turning back with tender recollections to the scenes of its childhood; and frequently on these Sunday mornings, when the weather permitted, he would be seen driving many miles to the old church at Austintown to worship on the old spot and mingle his prayers with the brethren whom he had known and loved in the early days of his Christian life, and with whom he had fought the good fight, as he belived, for the triumph of the pure Word of God.

In his last sickness he was without doubt, anxiety, or trouble in regard to his future state. His faith was unquestioning in the immortality of the soul in the divine character of Christ and His will to save and bless with everlasting peace and happiness those who believe in Him and keep His commandments. He suffered during his illness all that mortal could suffer, and his anxiety to be released and to enter upon the peace which he believed the Saviour had in store for him, became very intense. The only impatience shown by him during all his long illness and much suffering, was when told by any one that he was likely to get well. A couple of days before he died he half rose in his bed, and said to one of his children, with an appealing, supplicating look and voice, "Don't you think I will be able to get off tonight." And on the day before he died he repeated with touching fervor the following verse:

"Let cares like a wild deluge come,
And storms of sorrow fall,
May I but safely reach my home,
My God, my heaven, my all."

One peculiarity of his religious faith (if peculiarity it may be called) consisted in his belief that a Christian's faith and professions must be supplemented by good works to be of any avail. All through his life, when driving by the highway, when sitting alone by his fireside or in busy crowds, like the refrain of an old song, he kept ever repeating, "By their fruits ye shall know them." And this deep conviction of religious duty had him always to the side and help of the poor and the unfortunate. The hungry never came to his door without being fed, or the naked without being clothed.

And often he used to start out to hunt up the poor and suffering. When he found them he would carry them food and clothing, and often brought whole families of the miserably poor and homeless into his own house and until his own table, feeding and strengthening them back into hope and courage to commence the battle of life anew. In his last illness, when many poor people were coming to his door to inquire after him, "I can't talk to these poor people, I'm too weak; but treat them with great respect; be kind to them."

All through his life he had a profound sympathy for the colored people. He was among the first of the Abolitionists and old Anti-Slavery guard in this part of the State. His house was one of the permanent stations on the underground railway. Many, many times in storm and cold, has he been roused from deep slumber by the knock of the trembling fugitive, and been compelled to start forth on his long night drive, carrying the poor slave one stage further on his way towards freedom. Among those who at an early day started the Anti-Slavery agitation and discussion here were: Mr. Burnett, John Kirk, Dr. Baine, Wilson Thorne, John Holcomb, and Dr. Garlick.

Two or three young men, among others Nathan Holland and J.K. Wick, concluded to test the sincerity of the AntiSlavery professions of these men and their associates; so one evening they got themselves up in the best posible imitation of Southern plantation darkeys, and started out on their rounds to visit every leading Abolitionist. They told a doleful story, and then asked for help in the way of food, clothes and money. The disguise was so perfect that all were deceived. In the main they found the persons they visited liberal, and ready to respond according to their means, but in some cases, which they casually mentioned from time to time thereafter as occasion served, they received a profusion of good wishes and abundance of sympathy, but nothing more. Mr. Burnett, thinking them the genuine article, aroused his household, had a good supper served for them, a lot of food put up in a parcel to carry with them, gave them some clothes and money, and sent them on their way with his blessing.

When the fugitive slave law was passed, Mr. Burnett was in great trouble of mind. He recognized fully the obligations to his government and the general duty of loyalty and obedience to law. But here was a law to obey which might at some time bring him into conflict with the law of God as he understood it. After more trouble or shelter or succor to the flying xx. The law of God says feed the hungry, clothe the naked, succor and help those in affliction. This law says at the call of the master or the officer of the law I must turn out and help hunt down and bring back into bondage the poor fugitive; the law of God says "let the oppressed go free;" as for me I openly announce that when the poor slave comes to my door for food, shelter, clothing or help on his way to freedom, he shall have them; if fined for the act, I will pay my fine so far as I am able, if imprisoned I will patiently endure my imprisonment, but that which the Lord commands me to do that will I do, as I understand it, even unto the death", and his acts were according to his words.

Many men are above the average, approach greatness in some one particular. Mr. Burnett's strongest characteristic perhaps was his broad and deep humanity, his ernest and deep sympathy with the poor, the suffering or the unfortunate.

Governor Tod said many times that had Mr. Burnett, with his strong natural faculties, been given the advantages of a thorough education, he would have been one of the first men of the land, but we think that those moral qualities usually located in the heart were as strong in his nature as any of the faculties of his brain.

He was a man of most deep and tender affections; towards his children it was a passion so deep and tender, so true and steadfast under all errings, that no words can compass or measure it; and few parents have ever passed from the world more deeply loved and revered than he. While he was a man of quick and violent temper, his sense of right and justice were so strong, his determination to do and be right so unyielding, that the moment his passion had passed he was ready to make apology or reparation where wrong had been done.

With Mr. Burnett passes away another one of the early settlers and pioneers. They were of a grand type and character. They were sturdy, honest and brave, industrious and temperate. Something after the manner of the old puritans they carried into all the practical affairs of life their deep religious convictions and influences. They were ernest in purpose and tireless in endeavor. Striving to do no wrong, they had the manly courage to submit to no wrong. Such men, with their might courage, strength and purpose, have changed the trackless wilderness, the frowning forests and the reeking swamps into green fields, the sun-lighted hills, the pleasant valleys we have around us. Savage nature passes on before them and after them follows smiling plenty. Civil and relgious liberty are ever safe in such hands, and we should gather up and preserve the leading incidents in their lives, as our dearest public possessions.

Mr. Burnett was buried Wednesday from the church of the Disciples in this city, the funeral services being conducted by the Rev. Mr. Smith and the Rev. Mr. Calvin. The funeral was attended by a large concourse of his neighbors and friends.

A good old man, a true christian, has gone to his rest.

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Henry Sr. As Described in Biography of Henry Jr.
XBiographical Cyclopaedia and Portrait GalleryX
Vol. 6, page 1354

Returning to the grandfather of General Burnett, we find him a man of rare culture and polish for the times in which he lived. But there was also latent in his character the stern will-power and rugged self-reliance which had earlier enabled his Puritan ancestors to contend successfully against the obstacles of a new country. Finding himself impoverished by his patriotism, he left the State shortly after the close of the Revolution, and removed his family as far west as the territorial wilderness of Northern Ohio.

For many years a severe struggle for existence ensued, and, while he succeeded in establishing a substantial home, he could not confer upon his children the educational advantages he had enjoyed, nor create about them the atmosphere of comfort and civilization he had enjoyed in the older State. Consequently the father of General Burnett manifested more of the rugged force and less of the cultivation and refinement nad gentle bearing of the grandfather. Yet the father, notwithstanding, was a remarkable man. He was a builder, contractor, and farmer, and while devoid of anything more than the merest rudiments of an English education -- not having mastered the simple principles of arithmetic in schools -- he yet had devised an original system of mathematical calculation which answered all the purposes of his business. When Henry had mastered, not merely arithmetic, but the higher mathematics, he found his father's methods of computation as convenient and accurate as the rules in the books.

The tastes and propensities of the son, however, reverted to the grandfather rather than to the father. The latter discouraged him in the acquirement of any education beyond that comprised in the very limited curriculum of the primitive district schools, wishing him to follow a business career rather than a professional life. But the boy's tastes inclined him to study, and his aspirations pointed to a professional career.

As a spur to his ambition he had the example of a brilliant career of a man of his own name in Ohio, a first cousin of his grandfather, Judge Jacob Burnet, already mentioned. [Research shows their relationship to be more distant.] This man was an able lawyer and jurist, a judge on the bench, a State senator in the early Ohio Legislature, and the author of "Notes on the Early Settlements of the Northwestern Territory" -- one of the most valuable and interesting contributions to the early history of that region.

The determination of the father that his son should follow his own homely business, and abandom his dreams of education and distinction, at length aroused the resolution of Henry, who seemed to have been born with his full share of the hereditary willpower. Accordingly, one night, he stole out of the loft where he slept, and with a bundle of clothes, forty-six dollars in his pocket -- which he had carefully saved -- and two books -- "Thaddeus of Warsaw" and the "Lady of Lyons" -- he left his home, and set about the realization of his own dreams.

Will of Henry Sr.
July 21, 1876

Henry Burnett

I Henry Burnett of Youngstown Ohio being of sound mind and memory, do make and publish this my last will and testament.

Item 1st
I desire first that all my lawful debts be paid by my executor out of the proceeds of my property after my decease.

Item 2nd
I desire that my wife Nancy Burnett shall hold all of my property, both real and personal after the payment of my debts, and enjoy the use and benefit of the same during her natural life if she should succeed me; but if she dies before me, then I desire that all my property be disposed of as herein after provided of the payment of debts, and if my said wife shall succeed me, then I desire at her death that my property be distributed as herein after provided.

Item 3rd
I give and bequeath to my daughter Sarah Ann Hultz and her heirs the house and lot -- situated in the city of Youngstown on North Street, bounded North by the Atlantic and Great-Western RailRoad, South by xx Street, being the same now held by her; Also two lots to be selected by me or my executor from the average land on the East Side of Rine Street in Lansingville. Said lots are fifty (50) feet front on said Rine Street and one hundred and twenty: or one hundred and twenty-five feet deep. I further give and bequeath to my said daughter, Sarah Ann, out of the proceeds fo the balance of my property not herein specificially bequeath, the sum of Three hundred dollars in money. I further remit to my said daughter Sarah Ann all of her indebtedness to me of whatsoever description.

Item 4th
I give and bequeath to Eliza M. Burnett, wife of my son R.D. Burnett and her heirs the following distributed real estate to wit: one lot of land fronting fifty (50) feet on the Hazellion road and extending back to the Miller land and bounded south by the Yxx R.R. and west by lot sold to the Miller Boys; also the farm I now own in Lawrence County Penna; and the house and lot I own in Niles Ohio formerly owned by Rogers. The said house and lot in Niles however is bequathed to said Eliza M. and to be deed to her only if upon the full and final settlement of my estate by my executor, and if my said estate shall in any manner be held liable for any sum for which I may have become bail or security for said R.D. Burnett or if my estate shall be charged with any debts of said R.D. Burnett in any manner whatever. The said Niles property shall be charged with such sum and my executor is authorized to execute and deliver a deed of the same to said Eliza M. Burnett only when such sums is paid by said R.D. Burnett to my executor or secured to be paid to the satisfaction of the other legatees herein named.

I further will that the said Eliza M. Burnett and her heirs receive one sixth of all the balance of my property not herein specifically bequeathed, or the proceeds thereof should the same be sold by my executor. But -- all of said bequest is subject to an advancement of seventeen hundred dollars received by said R.D. Burnett from me in my life time, and with which I desire his interest to be charged.

Item 5th
I give and bequeath to my daughter Harriett Marr and her heirs the following real estate to wit: The house and lot in Hazelton, whcih she now has the use and benefit of and which I have intended to be hers as an advancement to her. Also I give to my said daughter one sixth of all the balance of my real and personal property, not herein specifically bequeathed, or the proceeds thereof should the same be sold. But said bequesst is subject to an advancement of Three Thousand dollars with which I desire her interest to be charged.

Item 6th
I give and bequeath to Lizzie Burnett, wife of my son Ailett R. Burnett and his heirs one sixth of all my real and personal property not herein specifically mentioned, or the proceeds thereof if the same shall be sold. But said bequest is subject to an advancement of Four Thousand dollars with which I desire his interest to be charged.

Item 7th
I give and bequeath to Maggie E. Burnett wife of my son Hiram and his heirs one sixth of all my property both real and personal not herein specifically bequeath or the proceeds thereof if the same shall be sold. But this bequest is subject to an advancement of Twenty five hundred dollars with which I desire her interest to be charged.

Item 8th
I give and bequeath to my son Henry L. Burnett one sixth of all my property both real and personal not herein specifically bequeathed, or the proceeds thereof if the same shall be sold. But said bequest is subject to an advancement of Eighteen hundred (1800) dollars, with which I desire his interest to be charged.

Item 9th
I give and bequeath to Lorena Burnett wife of my son John S. Burnett and his heirs one sixth of all my real and personal property not herein specifically bequeathed, or the proceeds thereof should the same be sold by my executor, but this bequest is subject to an advancement of Thirteen hundred dollars, with which I desire her interest to be charged.

Item 10th
It is my will that my executor deed to my legatees the property bequeathed to them as herein before provided. And that all the said legatees, if possible agree upon a division and partition of the balance of my property at my death or at the termination of my wife's life estate therein, instead of selling the same and dividing the proceeds. But in case said division cannot be made with the consent of all of said legatees and to their satisfaction, then I desire that said property be sold in due form of law by my executor and the proceeds thereof distributed as heretofore provided, defraying each legatee with the advancements as specified.

Item 11th
I hereby nominate and appoint John Gibson to be the executor of this my last will and testement.

Item 12th
I hereby revoke all other wills by me made.

Youngstown Ohio
July 21, 1876

Henry Burnett

Signed and acknowledged by said Henry Burnett as his last will and testement in our presence and signed by us in his presence this 21st day of July A.D. 1876.

Charles R. Trusdale
James F. Wilson

(Information collected by James Opfield)

General Burnett
General Burnett

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