The accepted start for many of our Carolina families passes through the counties bordering the Chowan River in northeast North Carolina. As early as the late-1600’s, Virginians were drawn to the fertile flood plain previously the home of several tribes of Indian. Records lead us to this place and it is there where dwindling sources fail in linking our story to family further back in time. Responding to this gap in history, most of us pounce on probabilities that we spread with others from early arrivals along the Chesapeake. Sure, it’s possible we first lived in a place like Jamestown though other possibilities shouldn’t be ruled out.
As for my Burris family, we first appear in earnest after 1740 in Bertie County. Our history is tempted by others with variants of our name already established in the area. Provable connections to family prior to 1740 have yet to be made.
During the 1740’s our Burris/Burras/Burroughs family began buying and selling land along the network of swamps south of the Wiccacon River. The Wiccacon snakes west to east emptying into the west side of the Chowan River in the county of Bertie. Bertie was formed from what was previously known as the Chowan Precinct. Family deeds in the area mention Killem, Chinckapin, Flat, and Horse Swamps. Also mentioned are Maul’s Swamp, the River Pocoson, and Blount’s Branch; all of which are part of the intertwining network south of the Wiccacon.
In this area also settled a fellow named Capt. John Campbell who probably came to Carolina during the 1730’s. A native of Coleraine, Ireland and at one point living in London, John established a plantation along the Chowan that he called Lazy Hill. It is said that John Campbell has the esteemed honor of being the first to bring seine net fishing to America. His plantation once stood on the east side of a town he founded that was aptly named Colerain, North Carolina. John Campbell also owned land in other regions of the state. In the 1750’s and 60’s John Campbell of Bertie County purchased three tracts of land totaling 2280 acres on the Pee Dee River and Jones Creek in Anson County. Note that ca. 1778 our Joshua Burris Senior and his son Joshua Burris Junior received land grants on the same waterways in Anson. Curious, and to make it more interesting, John Campbell began selling off his large holdings in Anson County beginning in 1775 with the last sale occurring in May 1778. That’s the same month and year that Joshua Burris entered his land grant in the county! Could Joshua Burris have been introduced to the lands of Anson County by way of some business or personal relation with Capt. John Campbell? How well did they know each other?
In testament to the life of Capt. John Campbell, a full page article dated 8 May 1927 appeared in the Charlotte Observer. The introductory paragraph for that article follows:
Of importance to me is how the life record of John Campbell intersects with the opening chapters of our Burris family history. But first, a word of caution! Please note that just as there is a lack of evidence connecting our family to a past in Virginia, what I’m about to suggest includes its own leaps of faith. Even so, this is radically cool stuff and the historical connections are worth being told.
The following came to me by way of a wonderful site called Sally’s Family Place. As relates to the above mentioned John Campbell, copies of the entries shown below are housed at the British Public Records Office, London. Note that copies of these records are also available on microfilm at the North Carolina State Archives:
Nov-Feb 1739/40 London – Embargo placed on Mary and Mariane by British Public Records Office.
27 th of Feb 1739/40 an Order of Council and Warr for “discharging from the Embargo the Snow Mary and Mariane John Campbell Burthen 100 tons or thereabouts Navigated with five men now in the River of Thames bound for North Carolina loaden with Sundry Merchandise in a perishing condition, and having on board 50 poor foreign protestants and Servts whom he has maintained on board ever since 23rd Dec last.” [PRO, 1734-1740]
Piquing my curiosity, this record offers a possibility that we have never considered. Simply put, is it possible that our Burris family was among the “50 poor foreign protestants and servts whom he [John Campbell] maintained on board?” Sitting in the River Thames and bound for North Carolina, was our family among those poor fifty onboard the ship Mary and Marianne who would soon lay eyes on Campbell’s Lazy Hill Plantation? Did they work off their debt of gratitude through labor in establishing Capt. John’s plantation? I can imagine the men on board a ship crossing the ocean and of their conversations of what they would see and do in the new world.
But, at this point I’ve not seen the names Campbell and Burris jointly named in records prior to the 1760’s. And, there’s certainly nothing linking our family to the ca. 1740 voyage from England to the shores of the Chowan River. Connecting our family to the Captain, it was in 1765 that Joshua Burres witnessed a conveyance from Simon Parker of Edgecombe to Wm. Robinson. The 200 acres adjoined Pettforms meadow, Chinkapen Swamp, and Capt. John Campbell’s land. Joshua Burres who witnessed the transaction is believed to be the son of James Burras who died ca. 1767. And, this James Burrass had a son James whose life is at the center of this article.
It was in 1777 when Stephen White of Bertie sold to James Burroughs [Burras] 100 acres called Jackson’s Landing on the west side of the Chowan. James is the son of James Burras Senior who died per a will recorded in 1768. The actual will does not survive. The above mentioned deed to James Burras states that the land is “where the said Stephen White now lives and lately purchased from John Campbell, merchant.” So, this land had been owned by Capt. John Campbell prior to our earliest known ancestor’s purchase of the said tract. In 1785 James Burras sold the same land to John Moore, merchant of Edenton. James Burras’ wife Ann signed the transaction. Online, I’ve seen Ann’s maiden name as being “Bryant.” I’ve yet to find proof.
From the 1739/40 record in London, we know that Capt. John Campbell was in the business of shipping goods and people across the Atlantic. And like Capt. John, his son James is also recorded as being involved in the maritime industries. In possession of the “handsomest vessel ever built in America,” Capt. John’s son James Campbell placed an advertisement in the North Carolina Weekly Gazette which was published in New Bern. The year was 1777, the American Revolutionary War was heating up, and James sought to hire a crew in order to “cruise against the Enemies of the Thirteen United States.”
Two years before James Burras purchased the previously mentioned land from Stephen White, Joseph Lawrence also sold 100 acres to James Burroughs. This land was situated on the “west side of the Chowan on Mill Swamp joining the road and Burrough’s old line.” Of importance, the deed was witnessed by James Burroughs’ son Reuben as well as a person named Lucy Burroughs. As has already been shown, records prove that James Burris’ wife is named Ann. Could her name be Lucy Ann? Or, is she somebody else?
And then, in 1787, James Campbell [son of Capt. John Campbell] sold 100 acres to James Sorrell. The conveyance was for “part of land belonging to James Burras who conveyed it to Joseph Laurence, who sold it to sd. Campbell on south side of Flatt Swamp joining Dempsy Kail and the Wiccacon Road.” Here again there is a connection between the Campbell family and our earliest known ancestor. Truly an important deed, this transaction names neighbors whose connections with our family extend into the 1830s. The deed also provides us a glimpse of where our family land might be located. Signaling a move west, in 1787 James Burroughs now of Orange County sold to James Askew 100 acres of land. Again, James Burroughs’ wife Ann signed the deed.
The following year, on 1 May 1788, James Campbell placed a notice of reward in the paper for the return of a run-away mulatto named Arthur. The slave did not take his “negro cotton jacket and trowsers, but took away with him a new suit of blue cloth clothes.” Arthur “went to one James Burras’s on Orange County where he has a wife” and “soon after let out for Georgia, Cumberland, or South Carolina and will try to pass so a free man. Any person apprehending him to me on Chowan River, in Bertie County, shall receive a reward of TWENTY POUNDS.” Once again James Burras is linked to the Campbell family though this has to be James Burroughs Junior as we know his father passed ca. 1767.
Time flies and in 1802, and being for love and the affection towards his son, James Burroughs of Orange County gave Reuben Burroughs 200 acres on the waters of New Hope Creek. The deed states that the tract was “part of the land James Burroughs purchased from John Moore.” Could this be the same John Moore, merchant of Edenton, who purchased James Burroughs’ land in 1785 Bertie County? There would be more land transactions for the Burroughs’ family including an 1808 land grant to Reuben Burroughs for 106 acres adjoining his father’s land. From what I can tell, the family lived somewhere near the crossing of New Hope Creek and present day Hwy 15/501 between Chapel Hill and Durham.
James Burrows/Burroughs, the father, died ca. 1807 as per his loose estate record filed in Orange County. And, before the estate was settled, on 30 Jan 1813, the life of James’ son Reuben Burress came to a brutal end. From newspapers we learn that he was murdered while on horseback along the road leading to Chapel Hill. The following article appears in the North Carolina Star which was published in Raleigh:
The murderer was apprehended and the case was quickly ruled upon. The following appeared in the local newspaper back home in the area where the Burroughs family had once lived:
With father and son now dead, settlement of the estate of James Burras Jr moved forward. From the loose estate papers, survey below represents the New Hope Creek lands of James Burroughs and how they were divided among his heirs:
We knew of Reuben and now the estate papers introduces us to James and Ann Burroughs’ other children. By 1818 Zacchaeus and Bryant had moved south and are recorded as purchasing land in southern Chatham County where The History of the Sandy Creek Baptist Association records the two as representatives of Fall Creek Baptist Church:
I could carry the children’s story further but for now will end with final thoughts on the family of Reuben Borroughs. To that end, I’ve always wondered how, in the old days, tragic events such as the fatal shooting of Reuben Borroughs impacted the family. Did they cave in sadness to such devil’s play or do they move forward with head held high? From another newspaper article we learn of Reuben’s wife Jane and what kept her busy following the untimely death of her husband.
In reading the above, I’d love to learn more about Jane Burroughs …of the school and how it evolved. This is special and I can imagine somewhere near the school was the family plot and resting place of James Burras and his son Reuben. But, knowing the area has now been overtaken by roads and businesses along the 15/501 corridor, is there any possibility? I wonder.
In closing, it’s plain to see that there was a real connection between our Burras/Burroughs family and that of Capt. John Campbell. But, when did any ties begin and do they span the great pond. In honesty I kind of doubt the latter though facts leave open the very real possibility that we indeed came over as late as 1740. And, this is but one possibility luckily brought to light by way of another’s blog post and the discovery of a legal record housed in London. I’m sure there are more possibilities if only we knew what they were. To those who subscribe to Newspapers.com, please take a look at the crazy wonderful article written in 1927 about Captain John Campbell of Coleraine, Ireland.