Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Fathers, Part 1

Even with slaves doing the heavy work, farming was a hardscrabble existence for landowners in the hills of western Virginia before the Civil War. Near Hale’s Ford, James and Elizabeth Burroughs (left) owned 207 acres, but less than half of that was arable.

The place was called a plantation, but the Burroughs were neither wealthy nor affluent; their equity was of the human variety: about a dozen slaves. One of them was called Jane, who, impregnated by a white man from a neighboring plantation, gave birth to a boy on April 5, 1856. He would be known as Booker T. Washington (below right), who would one day become a great educator and founder of the Tuskegee Institute.

Elizabeth bore James 14 children. When war came in 1861, most of the boys went off to join the Confederacy, some of them never to return. The ones who came back stood on the porch of the big house in 1865 as the Emancipation Proclamation was read to their family’s slaves, among them 9-year-old Booker.

“All of the master’s family were either standing or seated on the veranda…” wrote Washington in his 1919 autobiography. “There was a feeling of deep interest, or perhaps sadness, on their faces, but not bitterness… They did not at the moment seem sad for the loss of property, but rather because of parting with those whom they had reared and were in many ways very close to them.”

Among those standing on the porch was returning soldier Ambrose Hammett Burroughs and his 6-year-old son, the boy to whom he had given his own name and who had grown up in all these years of his father’s absence.

At his death in 1861, James Burroughs’ estate was listed at just over $7,000, about $5,000 of that being the value of his slaves. With their freedom, not much was left, and the plantation would disappear, just as Hale’s Ford would evaporate from maps.

Jane and her son, Booker, would leave immediately for West Virginia, where he would work in the mines before leaving to begin his education at the age of 16 at the Hampton Institute.

The confederate veteran A.H. Burroughs would go on to earn a doctorate in theology and become the “marrying clergyman of Franklin County,” for the more than 3,000 couples he would unite.

His son would take a much different path.


Anonymous said...

What a great beginning....can't wait to see what interesting twists and turns this story will take.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Impressive. My mom always said we were related to the Wright brothers and Cyrus McCormick, who invented the reaper, but I've never been able to prove it. I know thet Booker isn't a relative of yours, but it's impressive nonetheless.

Park Burroughs said...

Well, the consensus of historians is that Washington was fathered by this fellow Ferguson, owner of a neighboring plantation, but some say it could have been one of the Burroughs men, which would make him a cousin of some kind.

Ellipses said...

Genealogy seems like it could be so much fun if you could ACTUALLY find information on your relatives beyond your grandparents...

With my last name, I'd think it would be a lot easier to follow the family tree... But alas, it is not... So I create little stories about how I come from a long line of super-secretive templar knights, of whom there is no record :-)