I’m the little one sitting on my great grandfather George Henderson Burris’ knee (below). He lived to a ripe old age of 101 years of age. My sister is standing in back and my brother is in the lap of our great grandmother Magdalene Whitley Burris. My great grandfather was not a rich man though he was known to be kind and generous with what resources he had. My grandmother Eva, his daughter, used to say that her dad had so little because he gave much in support of others. It is said that George Henderson Burris buried many a friend and neighbor who could not otherwise afford the expenses.
Great-grandpa George was a talented man. He played the accordion, sang and played the harmonica. He was also deadly accurate with a slingshot!
My Burris and Whitley families intermarried for generations as George Henderson Burris’ grandfather Joshua Allen Burris married Mary Whitley. And, Joshua Allen Burris’ grandfather Solomon was the first in his family to settle in now Stanly County. Going back to the 1700’s, in Solomon Burris’ land grant, neighbor George Whitley served as chain bearer. Like Solomon, George Whitley may also have been among the first of his family to reside in now Stanly County.
From Solomon Burris’ revolutionary war pension application, it was declared that his bible was last known to be in the hands of his father in down-east Bertie County NC. Solomon also made the declaration that he was born in Anson County …which statement I question. From sources unknown, it is also believed that Solomon married Judith Taylor in Surry County located in northwest NC. Solomon must have journeyed all over our state!
On Friday evening a small group of us met to share supper at Jay’s Downtowner in Albemarle. Sitting across from me was Gary Walter who pulled out a few photographs he was sharing with Pam Holbrook. For many years the photos had resided in a little box treasured by Gary’s grandmother. Eventually being passed down to Gary, he’s spent much effort reconstructing a great family adventure told through his magnificent collection of imagery.
For this blog post, Gary Walter has graciously allowed me to share some of his prized photographs beginning with a headshot portrait (below) of his ancestor John Adam Burris along with a wonderful group photo of the John Adam Burris family. Gary explained that John Adam Burris was a sawyer and was one of many saw mill operators contracted to clear timber along the Yadkin River basin in preparation for construction of the Narrows Dam. Among the images are pictures of the dam during various phases of construction. There’s also images of the family logging crew believed to be comprised of John Adam Burris’ brothers and sons along with members of the Dry family. John Adam Burris is of course the crew leader.
As you can imagine, the dinner at Jay’s went exceedingly well as discussion ranged from the most recent births to the depth and breadth of our Burris family. And, the evening will live on with me forever as I’m truly bedazzled that members of my family were involved in the taming of one of North Carolina’s most rugged waterways.
As we were about to break-up, Gary pulled out his computer to help another person better understand their lineage. Listening in on the conversation, it was at that point that I learned Gary and I are relatively close cousins. His John Adam Burris is a brother of my great grandfather George Henderson Burris’ father, Hiram Alexander Burris.
I also learned that my George Henderson Burris is the oldest son in a large family having 13 brothers and sisters with one being a half-sister. George’s mother is Dovie Ellen Love, the daughter of Henderson Love, the son of Thomas and Susannah Polk Love. Henderson Love served in CSA Co. B. 5th Reg. NC. He died of pneumonia in Richmond VA on 12 Nov 1862.
Growing up, I vaguely remember being shown and hearing stories about a civil war pistol owned by my great grandfather George Henderson Burris. I believed he used the gun in service as a soldier. However, that could not have been the case as George Henderson Burris was born in 1874, after the war’s end. If the gun was in fact a remnant of the war, I’d like to believe that it once belonged to George’s namesake grandfather Henderson Love who died in the war. It would have been the right thing for the gun to end up in the hands of Henderson Love’s oldest grandson.
The Saturday Session
I was overwhelmed by the large number participating in the Saturday session at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church located near the crossroads of Frog Pond USA. A special thanks goes out to those who made sure everything went smoothly. Zelma Eudy handled registration and directed me to sit with others who shared my family linage out of Solomon. As it turns out, Thomas Napier, the fellow I sat beside, descends from my great grandfather George Henderson Burris’ younger brother Adam Alexander Burris. Like myself, it was Thomas’ first time participating in the Burris family reunion.
The morning session began with the lighting of a memorial candle in honor of those who had passed during the previous year. There was an icebreaking activity aimed at getting people up and about to meet and greet. Then, Pam Holbrook and Brenda Combs spoke about Pleasant Grove Baptist Church and its beginnings on land previously owned by David Wright Burris. Participants also heard about Solomon and Judith’s graves and how they had been moved in 1939 from the nearby Commie Willis Cemetery, also known as the Burris burial ground. The move was due to the sale of land surrounding the cemetery which raised concern among family members about future care for the primitive graveyard. The 1939 reinterment memorial celebration was attended by more than 1000 people. Can you imagine what that celebration must have looked like? There was also discussion on choosing a date possibly in January to clean the remaining Commie Wills graveyard.
Prepared by Dwight Eudy, we enjoyed an absolutely wonderful lunch that included choices of roast, chicken, ham, and more. Yum!!! Following the meal, participants heard a passionate talk from Lynette Hartsell on her new book outlining a different view on the lynching of Alec Whitley.
Though the day was cold and dreary, newfound cousin Thomas Napier and myself made our way out to the cemetery following conclusion of the gathering. We were joined by yet another whose name and lineage escapes me. I was shown the graves of Solomon and Judith as well as those of their son Joshua and his wife Sarah Springer. We also saw the graves of Joshua’s son Allen Burris and his wife Lucy Hinson.
At this point an older fellow came upon us and happened to be interested in the same stones Thomas Napier and myself were studying. It turns out that Larry Burris is my grandmother Eva Burris Thomas’ first cousin. Wow! Larry is the son of Green Thomas Burris, a younger brother of both my great-grandfather George Henderson Burris as well as Thomas Napier’s Adam Alexander Burris. They were all nephews of the above mentioned John Adam Burris who logged in preparation of the Narrows Dam construction.. So, …there in the misty cemetery we held our own little reunion of sorts, sharing stories about our family experiences. If for no other reason it’s times like these that make family reunions a must-do for anyone interested in learning about their heritage.
There’s so much more that could be said but that’ll have to wait for another day. I did learn of one Burris family member who clipped the tips off his fingers in order to avoid the civil war. There was also a mysterious grave stone for yet another family member adorned with a carved and crosshatched image of a hand (see below). About this, our little group hypothesized everything from death by small pox to it being the means of hiding or correcting a mistake made in carving.
Following the reunion, Larry Burris and his wife met me at Love’s Grove UMC in Stanfield where we walked the cemetery. Larry’s father, Green Thomas Burris, is buried next to his brother being my great grandfather George Henderson Burris. Nearby is buried their father Hiram Alexander Burris who married Dovie Ellen Love. And near to them were the graves of Hiram’s parents, Joshua Allen Burris and wife Mary Polly Whitley Burris.
I always thought that Love’s Grove “Protestant” Methodist church was founded by Phoebe Love, wife of Michael Garmon Love. I believed that land for the church was given in memoriam to Phoebe’s husband Michael Garmon Love who died in the civil war. This is true, but Larry Burris pointed out that in the 1880’s our common ancestor Joshua Allen Burris and wife Mary Polly Whitley Burris also donated land to the church. The deed identifies the land as “joining the meeting house tract.”
Remember that Joshua Allen and Mary Burris’ son Hiram married Dovie Love, the daughter of another fallen civil war soldier named Henderson Love. Henderson Love is the namesake of my great grandfather George Henderson Burris. Henderson Love is also the brother of Phoebe who first gave land for the church. It appears the beginnings of Love’s Grove may have been in part a matter between the extended Love and Burris families.
At the end of day, Larry Burris and myself went our own ways with standing invitations to stay in touch. It was good that two families so close had reconnected.
This past Saturday I paid a visit in China Grove with Larry and his brother Bill Burris. Theirs had been a large family of 17 children including two sets of twins! The children were born to Green Thomas Burris by his two wives: Martha Little and Etta Mae Mabe.
I also learned that Larry’s full name is Larry Hiram Burris honoring his grandfather Hiram Alexander Burris. And, Bills full name is Bill Henderson Burris honoring both his uncle George Henderson Burris and his great-grandfather Henderson Love. And I’m George Thomas honoring my great-grandfather George Henderson Burris as well as my other great-grandfather George Washington Thomas. It’s cool! These are names I know, these are my family!
As it turns out, Bill and Larry Burris also shared with me the old and very important portraits which had passed down to them. Below are images for Mary “Polly” Whitley, the wife of Joshua Allen Whitley. Mary is George Henderson Burris’ grandmother making her my great-great-great grandmother. Also included are pictures of graves and portraits of Hiram Alexander and his wife Dovie Ellen Love Burris.
(after clicking on the images above, look to the bottom and click on “Full Size” to see more detail)
The Solomon and Judith Burris reunion is held every year on the third week in October. I had a great time and very much recommend it! Reunions are a wonderful way to meet all those cousins you’ve always wondered about. Reinforce what you know and learn much more! Family doesn’t just happen; memories will fade and family will die if we don’t exercise them through sharing. Without doubt or hesitation, Larry and Bill expressed their pride in being raised in a wonderful family. I’m glad the Burris family really cares as is evidenced by their active efforts to maintain family roots. They are truly interested in the story of who they are and from where they came. With that being said I’ll close and I hope to seeya next year! Come join us!