Tag Archives: Virginia

Mrs. Elizabeth Keckley

Mrs. Elizabeth Keckley was fashion stylist to the stars of Washington DC in the mid-1800s. As dressmaker and companion of Mary Todd Lincoln, she worked in the White House during Abraham Lincoln’s presidency.

Mrs-Elizabeth-Keckley-1861-wikicommonsBut Elizabeth Keckley was not born into American high society. Well, in a way she was. She was born in 1818 in Dunwiddie County, Virginia. Her father was Col. Armistead Burwell, owner of the plantation. Her mother was Agnes, one of the plantation slaves. So Lizzy, as she was known, was born into slavery.

Agnes was born on the Burwell plantation in 1786. Her mother’s name was Kate.  An accomplished seamstress, Agnes made clothes for the entire household. She also could read and write. She taught her daughter her skills.

Early years of Elizabeth Hobbs

Some time after Elizabeth’s birth, Agnes married George Pleasant Hobbs, a slave on a neighbouring plantation. When Elizabeth was 7, Hobbs was allowed to live on the Burwell plantation with her mother and her. But soon after he was forced to move, maybe to Kentucky or Tennessee. He never saw his family again. All three being literate, and allowed to correspond, they kept in touch by letter. Elizabeth believed George Hobbs was her biological father. Only shortly before Agnes died did she tell her daughter the truth of her parentage.

Elizabeth-Keckley-Hist-marker-Alliance-for-Historic-Hillsborough-NC-wikicommons
Hillsborough NC historical plaque

When Elizabeth was 14, she was sent to the Hillsborough NC household of the Burwell’s eldest son Robert, a Presbyterian minister. There she was forced into a sexual relationship with Alexander McKenzie Kirkland, a friend of Rev. Burwell. She had a son by him about 1838. She named the baby George.

Elizabeth returned to Virginia in 1842, to the household of Armistead’s daughter Anne and her husband Hugh Alfred Garland. Armistead Burwell had died in 1841. His widow Mary now lived at the Garlands, as did Elizabeth’s mother Aggy.

St. Louis, Missouri

In 1847 they all moved to St Louis, Missouri. Hugh Garland, a lawyer, was in financial trouble and hoped the move would improve his situation. He acted for the slave holders in the landmark Missouri case Dred Scott v. Sanford. Elizabeth kept his household afloat with the money she made making dresses for St. Louis society ladies.

In St. Louis, Elizabeth renewed an acquaintance with James Keckley from Virginia. He said he was free. They married. There is little about him in the autobiography she later wrote: “I lived with him eight years, let charity draw around him a mantle of silence.” She kept his surname, however.

While deciding whether to marry Keckley, she asked Hugh Garland if she could buy freedom for herself and her son. She did not want to have more children born into slavery. The price was $1,200 Garland said, knowing she had little chance of saving that amount of money.

Family tree of Elizabeth Keckley

Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley family tree
Tap to enlarge. ON connection may be Maj. L. Burwell’s great-grandfather Edmund S Burwell.

Then Hugh Garland died in October 1854. Armistead Burwell Jr., a Vicksburg MS lawyer and Unionist, came to sort out his brother-in-law’s estate. He convinced his sister Anne to honour the agreement Elizabeth had reached with Hugh.

But raising $1,200 was still a huge problem. She decided to go to New York and fund-raise among anti-slavery groups there. Anne told her she could go if six white men would guarantee to cover the Garland “loss” should she not return. Five men agreed. Not enough.

Hearing of her distress, one of Elizabeth’s St. Louis clients stepped in. Mrs. Le Bourgois said she still owed Elizabeth money for dresses she’d made. Others also paid their “debts” or loaned Elizabeth money. So Elizabeth got the money she needed and, in November 1855, her emancipation papers.

She stayed in St. Louis another five years, working as a seamstress until she paid back those who had loaned her money. In 1857 her mother Agnes, who had gone to Armistead Jr.’s home in Vicksburg, died.

Washington DC

In 1860, Elizabeth and George moved to Washington DC. At first she taught dressmaking, then set up her own shop. Her contacts in St. Louis proved useful, and she gained a reputation as Washington’s preeminent dressmaker. Mary Todd Lincoln became a client. Eventually Mrs. Lincoln asked Elizabeth to work exclusively for her.

George-KirklandAnne Garland and her children returned to Virginia in 1861, no longer welcome in St. Louis due to their Confederacy sympathies. Her son Col. Hugh Garland Jr. was killed in the Battle of Franklin TN in 1864. He was Commander of the 1st Missouri Infantry.

Elizabeth’s son George, Hugh Jr.’s cousin, also fought and died in the Civil War. He enlisted under the surname Kirkland in the (white) 1st Missouri Volunteers of the Union Army. Pvt. Kirkland died in the Battle of Wilson Creek August 10, 1861. (Read more about him.)

Lincoln White House and after

Amazon link for Behind the Scenes
Tap for Amazon link

Mrs. Keckley spent the war years at the White House with the Lincoln family. In 1866 she published her autobiography, entitled Behind the Scenes, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House. It shocked Washington society, and angered Mary Lincoln. Mrs. Keckley meant it as a defence of the impoverished and increasingly criticized former First Lady. But the book was seen as airing private matters and trading on connections. Her social standing, and dressmaking business, plummeted.

Elizabeth moved to Ohio in 1892 where she became head of the Department of Sewing and Domestic Science Arts at Wilberforce University. She was then 74. She returned to Washington where she died at the age of 89. Examples of her dressmaking – including the gown Mrs. Lincoln wore for her husband’s 2nd inauguration – are in museum collections. So too is a quilt she made from scraps of the silks and satins she’d used in making those gowns. (More on Mrs. Keckley’s design style.)

Keckley-quilt-1860s

Distant cousins, maybe

If my Canadian Burwell family is related to the Virginia Burwells, then Elizabeth Keckley is my 8th cousin 4 times removed. That makes Armistead Burwell and his whole slaveholding family my cousins as well. Mrs. Keckley reconciled that somehow. She didn’t sugarcoat her years in slavery, but she remained in contact with Anne Garland to the end of her life.

Whether or not we are related, it’s interesting. Within the immediate family of Armistead Burwell, you find those who were enslaved and those who enslaved them. Those who worked for slavery and those who worked against it. Soldiers in the Union Army and in the Confederate Army. America in a nutshell maybe.

The White House Historical Association gives more details on Mrs. Keckley’s life and that of the Burwells. George Kirkland’s photo is from Petersburg Preservation. Below are links to a biography of Mrs. Keckley and a historical novel about George Hobbs Kirkland, both by Jennifer Fleischner.

James Burwell UEL

Confused by many men centuries ago named Samuel, Adam, John and James Burwell in my database, I gave up trying to sort them out. I then picked up my mother’s family history binder. It pays to do that occasionally.

So here is a letter from the late Lloyd Burwell to my mother about their mutual great-great-grandfather James Burwell UEL. Also included is information on James’ brothers and father and possible connection to the Virginia Burwells. I removed only small parts not relevant to family history in my transcription. (See my Burwell Family Tree.)

31 July 1983, Dear Ruby…

lloyd-burwell-1983-pg1I am sending you a copy of the obituary of James Burwell as you requested. I am also sending you copies of several other items…

Upper Canada Land Petitions

The list I made of the Upper Canada Land Petitions from PAC in Ottawa includes our ancestor James Burwell (No. 1 and 12) and our ancestor Lewis Burwell (No. 8). The others are the other sons and daughters of James (brothers and sisters of Lewis). The list of Upper Canada Land Grants on the same page includes James (No. 1) and Lewis (No. 10). I have copies of all the petitions and grants in these lists.

I have included copies of the Land Grants for Lewis (Warrant 3855) and James (Fiat 2347) together with the Certificate signed by Col. Talbot certifying that James Burwell had completed his settlement duties 2nd July 1819. I have also included a copy of the survey for Lot 13 North, Talbot Road East Branch. By the assignment recorded on Warrant 3855 it is evident that Lewis did not take up his Crown Grant. Instead he sold his right to a land agent by the name of James Anderson.

I had first seen the Biographical Sketch of James Burwell by Lorenzo Sabine (p 277) back in 1974 and wondered where he got his information. Two years ago I found out when Wm. Yeoger, curator of the Eva Brook Donly Museum in Simcoe, published the results of his searching old newspaper records at the Ontario Archives (OA) including the obituary of James Burwell reported in the Church of England paper “The Church”.

When vacationing in New Brunswick

When vacationing in New Brunswick in 1976 we visited Esther Clarke Wright in her home. She listed James Burwell in her book The Loyalists of New Brunswick among some 6000 Loyalists she had researched. She is a PhD; a retired professor of history from Acadia University in Wolfville NS. I did not get any new information from her.

I also went to the Dept. of Lands & Mines in Fredericton NB to look at the original Crown land grand maps. I did not find a reference to a specific lot but did get a copy of the land grant to the Regiment of 38,450 acres and reference to James Burwell being entitled to 250 acres. I believe he sold his right to his officer, Captain John Borberie.

At the PAC in Ottawa

At the Public Archives of Canada (PAC) in Ottawa I researched through microfilms of the British Military Records and ordered copies of all the Muster Rolls that listed James Burwell. I made a list (copy enclosed) of the ones I found. James Burwell had a brother Samuel and his father’s name was also Samuel. Since there is a Samuel Burwell listed on some of the Muster Rolls, we can speculate that it may be James’ brother or father.

William D. Reid (now dead) was an archivist at O.A. On p. 43 of his book “The Loyalists in Ontario” he lists James Burwell and his 10 sons and daughters who received Crown Grants of land. Actually there was an eleventh child, Timothy, but there is no evidence that he applied for or received a Crown Grant.

I am enclosing a photocopy of the monument in Fingal cemetery near the east gate having inscriptions on three faces for 1, Lewis Burwell, 2, his wife Levonia Williams and 3, Laura A. Kennedy. I transcribed Laura’s year of death as 1881 but have since found her mother Amy [d/o Lewis and Levonia] age 25 in the 1881 census so Laura, being age 15 at death, must have died in 1891.

I am enclosing a photocopy of a 1908 newspaper clipping I found in a scrap book at the O.A. about Levonia Burwell, wife of Lewis. Lewis died at age 42. Did you ever hear what the cause of death was?

Mahlon and James Burwell 1st cousins 1 remove

I am enclosing copies of p. 327 and 328 from Vol II July 1920 of Tyler’s Quarterly Historical & Genealogical Magazine. The chart supplied by Mr. Raymond W. Smith of Orange NJ shows our ancestor James as being a first cousin of Col. Mahlon Burwell. Maria Burwell who married Howard Johnson spoke of Mahlon Burwell being a cousin of her father Lewis [s/o James and Hannah]. According to this chart they would be 1st cousins once removed.

lloyd-burwell chart1 James Burwell
James and Mahlon Burwell Chart by Lloyd Burwell

I am also enclosing a photocopy of a 1935 newspaper account of the celebration of Maria Burwell’s 100th birthday. I believe I copied it from a clipping owned by Gertrude Bowes of New Liskeard, Ont.

I am enclosing photocopies of the last two pages of a 16 page article by Archibald Blue in 1899 about Col. Mahlon Burwell. He quotes Lorenzo Sabine in the Biographical Note with reference to James Burwell, then states that his relationship to Adam Burwell, the father of Mahlon, is uncertain. I have a copy of Adam Burwell’s petition for land which Archibald Blue states “appears to be lost”. The record is with the Upper Canada Land Petitions at PAC in Ottawa.

USA to Bertie Township

In James Burwell’s 1811 petition for land (Vol 37 B10/24) he states that he sent his brother (not named) with his cattle and goods from Presque Isle on the south side of Lake Erie to Upper Canada on or about the 1st day of July 1798 and that he arrived with his family in the Township of Bertie on or before the twelfth of July 1798. It would appear that the date 1796 stated in James Burwell’s obituary and all subsequent quotes by others is in error. Adam Burwell also affirms (he was a Quaker at the time) that James Burwell’s cattle and goods were brought to his farm in Bertie about the 19th of July 1798.

No mention is made of the relationship of James to Adam. Adam Burwell came to Upper Canada 12 years earlier than James, i.e. in 1786. He had been a spy for the British during the Revolution.

I am enclosing photocopies of the 10 pages of genealogy of the Burwell family of Virginia as recorded in Colonial Families of the Southern United States of America. It is Edward Burwell identified as 2-6 at the bottom of the 1st page (p. 94) that is referred to following the chart in Tyler’s Quarterly on p. 328.

Lewis Burwell family Bible

Mr. McDermott who lives in Fort Erie, Ont. is the present owner of the family bible of Lewis Burwell of Brantford, the surveyor and younger brother of Col. Mahlon Burwell. I have photocopies of all the family information recorded in this bible.

Lewis, writing in the bible in 1837, states that about the year 1607 or 1610 his great-grandfather Edward Burwell was named in a Royal Charter to a Plantation Company, who came from the city of London to the Province of Virginia. He states that his great-grandfather’s son John who married Agnes Lee removed from Virginia to the Province of New Jersey. He states that his grandfather John had several sons and the youngest son was his father Adam who married Sarah Vail, daughter of Nathaniel Vail of New Jersey. Also in this bible Lewis records the death of James Burwell, a cousin who died at Port Talbot on 25th June 1853 aged 99 years and 5 months.

Our ancestor John Burwell

I find it hard to believe that our ancestor John Burwell who is said to have left Jamestown, Virginia in 1721 would be the son of Edward Burwell who was in Virginia in 1648. John Burwell is believed to have been born in 1705 and Edward in 1625. This would make Edward 80 years old when John was born. It seems to me there should be another generation in between.

lloyd-burwell-1983-pg7Well I think this is enough genealogy for one letter.  I trust it will all be of interest to you…

Your (2nd) cousin, Lloyd Burwell

Also see my Burwells in US & Canada. I will post the papers referred to above in a photo gallery or post format.

Burwells in US & Canada

Lt. Col. Mahlon Burwell (ON)
Lt. Col. Mahlon Burwell (ON)

There is a Burwell family in southwestern Ontario and one in Virginia. No one is sure if they’re related. I wonder if the link might be through Burwells in Connecticut.

The Ontario Burwells are United Empire Loyalists. Fighting for the losing side in the American Revolution, they fled New Jersey north to still-British Canada. The Virginia Burwells fought on the American side. In the War of 1812, the two again fought on opposite sides. In the American Civil War, the Virginia Burwells, plantation owners, fought on the Confederate side.

Burwells: Carter's Grove sevamarkers.umwblogs.org
Carter Burwell’s VA plantation, Carter’s Grove

An obituary of James Burwell of Fingal says he was grandson to John Burwell “who removed from James Town, Virginia, in the year 1721, a relative of the extensive family of Burwells in that county.” A relativeSpeculation has been that this John Burwell (1695-1763) was the son of Lewis Burwell Jr. and Martha Lear.

Burwell Family Chart, Canada and USA

Burwell Family Tree chart D Stewart
Click for large image

I suggest instead that John and Lewis Jr. were 3rd cousins twice removed, related through two cousins in England. One cousin, John’s great-great-grandfather, came to Connecticut. The other died in England but his widow and son Lewis (Sr.) moved to Virginia. Molly’s Burwell Family webpage has Samuel Burwell of Connecticut as John’s father. From this, I found what seems like a feasible line back to England and thus to the Virginia line.

Other Burwells

Lewis Burwell 'Chesty' PullerThe story of the Virginia Burwells is like Gone with the Wind with spin-offs. There are two Burwells I will write more about. They are on the bottom right side of my chart.

Lt. Gen. Lewis Burwell Puller is a descendant of Lewis Burwell V. Nicknamed Chesty, he was the most-decorated Marine in US history.

Wikipedia says he is a distant cousin of Gen. George S. Patton. I haven’t looked into that, but it sounds like they were spiritual kin if not actual. A quote mascot_of_the_Marine_Corps,_English_bulldog_Pfc._Chesty_XIV,-Arlington,_VA-wikicommonsattributed to Lt. Gen. Chesty is: “We’ve been looking for the enemy for some time now. We’ve finally found him.  We’re surrounded. That simplifies the problem”. The Marine Corps Bulldog mascot is named after him.

George “William” Kirkland is a descendant of Armistead Burwell, Lewis’ brother. First known as “Garland’s George,” he enlisted as “William Kirkland” in the Union Army during the Civil War. He died in Madam Elizabeth Keckley UNC Librariesthe Battle of Wilson’s Creek in Missouri.

Pvt. Kirkland was born into slavery, son of Elizabeth Keckley. Armistead Burwell fathered – and owned – Elizabeth. He later gave her to his legitimate daughter Anne, who married Hugh Garland of North Carolina. Andrew Kirkland, friend of the Garlands, fathered Elizabeth’s son George.

Elizabeth bought emancipation for herself and her son. She then set up a dressmaking business in Washington DC and became friends with Mary Todd Lincoln. She wrote a memoir entitled Behind the Scenes, or, Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in The White House.

Comments, corrections and additional information are welcome.