The History of the Burleson Family in America
As given in a speech by Helen Burleson Kelso, Editor of the BFA Bulletin, at the BFA reunion held in Decatur, Al, June, 1991.
Edward Burleson


    We tend to feel a great deal of pride when we read or hear of a distinguished ancestor, and feel that their success in the past gives us a touch of glory, too.  On the other hand, we feel no shame, but manage to distance ourselves quite effectively when we learn of an ancestor who has not brought honor to the family name.  Neither of these attitudes is quite logical, since we certainly have had no control whatever over either the successful ancestor or the one who may have been less so.  There is some Biblical mention of this, however, when we read in Exodus, XXXIV.7:...visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's chiddren, unto the third and fourth generations. But enough of that.

    What we can learn from both the good and the bad is a hint of our own strengths and weaknesses, some of which could very well be genetic in orgin.  When we recognize certain if these traits in ourselves, then it is possible for us to have some control.

    Our earliest proved Burleson in America, Edward Burleson, seems to have quite a temper, and was quite willing to defy authority.  This character trait revealed itself in the Spring of 1685 when he was called to the Court at Springfield in the Massachusetts Bay Colony for "being a disturber & molester of the peace at a town meeting, abetting others and himself voting contrary to law & professing he would do it, although it cost him five pounds, for which disturbing and abusive carriages tending to the breaking of all good order & disturbing the peace, for which his Court Judge meet, he pay as a fine to the Courts five pounds and Courts charges".  The ruckus, in which our Edward seems to have been a ringleader, was no doubt due to the fact that many of the settlers in Suffield objected to their minister, Rev. John Younglove.  Edward's friend, neighbor and possibly his relative, David Winchel, was also highly critical of Mr. Younglove, and on the same day David also appeared in court and was fined four pounds and charges.  Edward and David and others were very upset by Rev. Younglove's sermons.

    Again, in March of 1691, David & Jonathan Winchel, and Edward Burlison, all of Suffield, were called to court to answer charges of " reproachful and scurrilous vile speeches against Mr. George Philips their late minister."  No doubt, Edward Burleson was serious about his religion, as were all Puritans.  In fact, it was not until 1710, with the arrival of Rev. Ebenezer Devotion, that Suffield's Congregational Church had a minister who pleased its members, and he served the church in Suffield for 31 years.

    Documents which we have already published tell us that Edward was a planter and also a flax dresser, a somewhat incendiary occupation, as we have learned from one deed which we have published. The discovery of Edward's occupation gives us a bit of a clue as to his origin, if he was indeed the original immigrant, since one would reasonably expect a flax dresser's country of origin to be one where flax is grown.

    We know that Edward Burlison was an inhabitant of Suffield when he took the oath of allegiance to the King of England January 31 1679  Edward was married to Sarah __ ? ___. Her maiden name and the date and place of their marriage has not been provided. A secondary source states that he was in the area in 1664, but we have not yet found the actual record.

    Edward and Sarah's children were born in Suffield  The oldest was John, born 9
Oct 1677, a cooper, who married Sarah Holiday (sometimes spelled Halliday) 16 Nov 1698. Sarah's father Walter Holiday was also a cooper.

    John and Sarah's children, all born Suffield, were:

Sarah born 20 Nov 1699;
John born 28 Dec 1701 who married Mehepzibah Bromley 29 Feb 1 728;
Jonathan born 11 Jun 1704;
Mercy born 12 Jan 1706 but not baptized until 15 Mar 1713;
Joseph born 26 Nov 1708;
Abigail born 11 Nov 1710 (baptized 3 Jul 1715);
Mary born 6 Feb 1713 married her cousin Daniel Burlison 20 Sep 1744;
Elizabeth born 28 Mar 1715 married James Davis 2 Feb 1740;
Rachel born 29 Nov 1716 married John Warner, Jr., 14 Apr 1741.

    Edward and Sarah's second child was Fearnot, born 18 Dec 1679, a carpenter, who married Elizabeth Buckland 8 Feb 1705. Fearnot and Elizabeth's children were:

Esther, born 15 Feb 1706 at Windsor, Hartford Co., CT, married John Matson/Matteson 30 Jul 1723 at Simsbury;
Elizabeth, born 2 Jul 1709 at Windsor;
Ebenezer, born 8 May 1711 at Windsor, married Sarah Brace 19 May 1736 at Windsor;
Job, born 7 Aug 1714 at Suffield, married Thankful Gaines 3 May 1744 at Hartford;
Daniel, born 7 Mar 1717 at Suffield, married Mary Burleson 20 Sep 1744 at Cromwell, Middlesex Co., CT;
Mary, born 3 Mar 1720 at Hartford.

Edward and Sarah's third child was Return, born 5 Apr 1682, who died, 4 Oct 1709, having been lost at sea.

Edward and Sarah's fourth child was their daughter Mary who was born 22 Jun 1682. She married Isaac Cornwall 29 Jul 1714.

    The youngest child was Edward, born 1 Mar 1686, a cripple, who learned the tailor's trade at Hadley, Massachusetts. He also taught school in a remote part of the village of Suffield. No record of marriage has been found for Edward, but we have found evidence of his love for Elizabeth Jesse, whom he was forbidden to marry. Apparently, being unable to marry his one true love, he never married.

    As we all know, the first Edward of Suffield died there in 1698, leaving a modest estate which included "old Bibles and other books".  In all the many documents left which pertain to this first known and proved Burleson in America, there is nothing to suggest that he was anything more than a farmer and a flax-dresser. On the other hand, when I make this statement, I do acknowledge that we will, no doubt, learn more about him and his family in the future.

    We do not have time to detail all of Edward's hundreds of known descendants, many of whom have brought a great deal of honor to the name of Burleson. However,  since that strange "Sir Edward" story (Sir Edward supposedly arrived in 1716 at Preston, Connecticut or Jewett City, Connecticut, depending upon the story-teller) keeps popping up, I did try to find its source, and I think I may have succeeded.

    Edward's son John, born in Suffield in 1677, had a son John born 1701, also in Suffield. This John did go to Preston, Connecticut; he married there in 1728 and then moved back to Suffield, then back to Preston, then on to Rhode Island in 1742, where he died in 1759 leaving a will naming his children. John's son Edward Burleson was born 1737 in Suffield, and it is through his descendants that this "Sir Edward" story seems to have been a family tradition. This latter Edward had a son Edward who was the father of Allen Briggs Burleson (b. 29 Nov 1816 RI d. 29 Dec 1887 Jewett City, CT m. Mary Lathrop Fanning 23 May 1853 at Jewett City, Ct). Edward and Mary had a son Edward F. Burleson who was the source for the "Sir Edward" story which was repeated in a New London County, CT biographical publication in 1905. Edward and Edward F. both seem to have been in contact with Dr. Rufus C. Burleson back when Rufus was working so diligently on Burleson family history, and the story was repeated by him, and copied by many others.

     One would expect that if our first Edward Burleson in America had been knighted either before or after his arrival in the colonies, that such an honor would be reflected in the documents which pertain to him. This is not the case. It is possible that some earlier Burleson exhibited valor in some war, which attracted the attention of the crown, but that, too, is yet to be discovered.  But Sir Edward or not, his 1716 arrival date is completely wrong. And we have proved it wrong again and again. With the validity of that date for the arrival of the first Edward in America proved false, we have, at the same time, destroyed the much-quoted 1726 arrival date for Aaron.

    There was one custom in the early congregational church which does present a possibility for our "Sir Edward", and that was the tradition of addressing church ministers as "Sir" rather than "Rev." or "Father". It is possible that Edward served informally as a preacher on the numerous occasions that Suffield was without a minister in those early days. If so, he could have been called "Sir Edward", affectionately rather than officially. We also know that Edward's son Fearnot, when he died in 1732 in Suffield, left, among many other items, a large number of religious books, bibles, an ordination sermon, and also a tuning fork, which suggests more than a passing interest in church work. Whose ordination sermon was it that Fearnot kept? Another mystery.

     As most of us know, Jo and John Burles (a customary abbreviation for Burleson and usually spelled Burles: the colon indicating the "son" suffix) arrived in New England in 1635, John aboard the "Blessing" and Jo. aboard the "Defence".  Without further information, they can not be linked to our early Edward of Suffield. We also know that Edw. Burriston (may or may not be Burleson) arrived in Virginia in 1663, followed by Jno. Barthelson in 1674, An. Burlinton and Ann Burlison in 1681. Again, without further evidence, we can not assume that they fit into our family tree, although it is possible, of course. It is good to remember that many people who arrived in the colonies returned to England, either temporarily or permanently, and that the documentation for many of the Virginia arrivals was falsified in order for the "importer" to get more land. Sort of like a Duval County, Texas, Box 13.

Aaron Burleson

The first documented Burleson in the South was Aaron, who received a crown grant 15 Dec 1749 in Lunenburg County, Virginia, in an area which became part of Bedford County just a few years later. His land was on both sides of the Little Otter River.  Aaron also appears on a 1748 tithe list in Lunenburg County, with 1 tithe. Jonathan Burleson appears on the same list, with 1 tithe. By 1749 John Burlinson shows up. Then in 1752, Jonathan appears as head, with John listed in his household, for a total of 2 tithes. Aaron does not appear in 1752 and whether his absence is due to incomplete lists, or to his moving away, we can not say.

    In Bedford County, Virginia, order book lA and lB, 1754-1761, we find Jonathan and John Burleson in trouble with the authorities for refusing to assist a Constable in the execution of his office. And again, for causing a riot.

    Apparently, they objected to the actions of the Constable and were very vocal about it. The trait of opposing authority, vehemently, in the face of a perceived injustice or wrong is once more recorded in the courts.

    Later, in Howard County, Missouri, 28 May, 1822 the State of Missouri indicted Edward Burleson (son of James, son of Aaron "II") for inciting a riot. The reason for said riot was not stated, but whatever the cause, we suspect some Burleson temperament was involved. Still later, in Hardeman County, Tennessee, 1828 and 1829, the same Edward, his brother Joseph and their father, James Burleson, defended themselves in court following an indictment for a riot. They did have to pay a fine. One does wonder what caused them such excitement that would lead them to riot. All three moved to Texas, where they made outstanding contributions to that state's history, and none were known for unreasonable behavior.

    Family tradition has given us certain names of the 7 sons and 5 daughters of Aaron "I". We have no proof, one way or the other, although, curiously, the surnames of his traditional married daughters are nearly the same as the surnames of the married daughters of Daniel & Elizabeth Burleson Shipman, named in his will dated 8 Nov 1798 Warren Co., KY. Daniel Shipman's will named his daughters: Sarah Harrington, Anna Lee, Lucy Gage, Phoebe Crawford, Rebecca Cisco, and Mary Johnson. Of course, proof of Elizabeth Burleson's marriage to Daniel Shipman has not been found, either, although family tradition is strong in this regard, reinforced by other clues.

    Jonathan Burleson and his son (?) John clearly were both of age by 1749 Virginia, and one would expect both of them to have had families. As a matter of fact, it is not outside the realm of possibility for Jonathan to have been the father of Aaron "II" AND John as well. We note that John and Sarah Holliday Burleson of Suffield had a son Jonathan born in Suffield 11 June 1704. So far, we have found no further information on him, unless he is the Jonathan Burleson found in 1749-1761 Virginia.

    By 11 September, 1757 Aaron Burleson is recorded on the Savannah River, in St. Paul Parish, Georgia, and he received a crown grant there 1 May 1759. It is likely that the 1749 Virginia crown grant and the 1759 Georgia crown grant were to the same Aaron Burleson for whom an administration was recorded in Wilkes County, Georgia December, 1783. Family tradition has said that Aaron Burleson "I" died in NC in 1763 but there appears to be no evidence to support this tradition.

    Aaron Burleson is found, October of 1761, on Richiand Creek in Cumberland County, North Carolina, and also on Dunham's Creek. James Burleson was in Anson County, North Carolina in October, 1779, when he signed a petition. Numerous Burlesons, including Aaron, appear in other early North Carolina records, but with little in the way of clues as to their parentage. We do thank heaven for those Burlesons who left wills or deeds naming their children. Otherwise, proving our lines would be hopeless.

    Burlesons, including Edward of Suffield, have fought and defended their families against hostile Indian tribes throughout our early history. Burlesons have participated bravely in all of the wars of colonial America, as well as the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and all wars up to and including the most recent "Operation Desert Storm". Records from these wars have been of great help with many of our Northern and Southern families.

    Without a great deal of difficulty, almost all the Northern Burleson lines can be traced back to Edward of Suffield, while our Southern lines can be proved only to:

Aaron of Georgia (was he Aaron "I"?);

Aaron"II" (son of Jonathan? or John? or of Aaron "I" by a first wife?); Served in the Rev. War from NC. Left will probated in Washington Co., NC (now TN) 27 May, 1782, naming his 13 children and his wife (not named - but proved
by later deeds to be Rachel). Their children were John, Jonathan, Joseph, Elizabeth, Thomas, Sarah, Aaron, Rachel, Nancy, Abigail, Mary, Rhoda, and James.

David (son of John? or Jonathan?);
Served in the Rev. War from NC.
Left will dated February, 1828 in Rutherford Co., TN
naming his wife Ursula and their sons John, Moses, David, William,
Hill K., and Isaac and daughters Sarah Rolling, Mary Brooks, Nelly
Rolling, Margaret Pope, and Ursula Self.

Isaac of Stanly Co., NC (son of ?);
Served in the Rev. War from NC.

Isaac of Buncombe Co., NC and moved to Monroe Co., TN (son of ?).
Was he the Isaac who served in the Rev. War from SC?
It is thought that he is the father (by a first wife) of
Edward Burleson of Buncombe Co., NC. Isaac left a will in Monroe Co., TN
naming his wife Polly and their children Isaac M. H., Octavy D., Charlotte,
William, John R. D., and Vanburin.

Jesse (probable son of Aaron of Georgia by a first wife). Served in the Rev. War from NC - was in Valley Forge encampment.
Left a Family Bible giving birth dates of all his children whose names were Aaron, Sarah, Elizabeth, Daniel, Salathael, Isaac, William, and Jane.

    Time does not permit going into detailed genealogy or a detailed history of any of the families mentioned, in spite of the fact that some of the history is very interesting. These families have made very significant contributions to progress in every part of America, and we owe each of them our gratitude for their many sacrifices in helping to make America the best place to live on earth.

    I have given merely the highlights of what we know of the earliest Burleson families in America.  Although we have published much important information, we still have a great deal of work to do in all the old records not yet studied, and there are plenty of those waiting for volunteers.

    In the early days most of our ancestors were farmers, who were then and still are the backbone of America. Many also learned trades, such as our Suffield Burleson coopers, carpenters, tailors. All were called to military duty when the need arose. The women cooked, and spun, and sewed, and many learned to play a musical instrument. On the frontier they were also expected to know how to use a gun, because when the men were away, the women defended the home. One common thread found among the early Burlesons both north and south was a religious zeal, and we have found among our Burlesons many church leaders of various Protestant faiths. Also, a love of music.

    Any one of the names mentioned today could be the subject of a fascinating book. So get busy, you Burlesons, and start writing!