Thursday, October 20, 2011

David Burns

So where did the land the White House stands on come from? Yesterday's foray into ghost hunting brought up the answer - David Burns. So I thought I'd share some background on the founding of Washington and the gathering of its land:
A very fortunate man was David Burns, another of the original land-holders. His property was situated largely in what is now the fashionable northwest quarter of the city. Burns—" crusty Davie Burns," as he was called—was a very bigoted, choleric Scotchman; fond of controversy, and never known to agree with any one in the slightest particular. He lived in a rude cottage near the river, and cultivated a large plantation extending over the spot where the White House now stands. The demand for his land made him very wealthy, and his only child, Marcia Burns, was known in all the country around as " the beautiful heiress of Washington." For some time Burns was opposed to the projected transfer of land to the government, and the President and the commissioners had several conferences with him in his cottage to explain the advantages of the plan. On one of these occasions, so the tradition runs, the testy old planter answered one of Washington's arguments by this outburst: " I suppose, Mr. Washington, you think people are going to take every grist from you as pure grain; but what would you have been if you hadn't married the rich widow Custis I" The usually sedate Washington at this audacious remark is said to have actually lost his temper, and left the house in indignation. He afterward spoke of the impertinent Scotchman as that obstinate Mr. Burns," and would never meet him again.

2 comments:

Barb said...

I am a descendant of the Burnes family, my ancestor, Frederick Burnes, was the younger brother of David Burnes II, the eventual owner of about 700 acres in present day old downtown Washington, DC.

I have been researching our Burnes family for many, many years and I have come to the conclusion that David Burnes simply wanted a fair price for the land that he was selling to the government for the new capital. He had been threatened with eminent domain, and all he really wanted was a fair price for his land, he wasn't going to give it to the government. Especially, when they decided that they needed all of his land, not just part of it. How would he grow the crops that he needed to grow to feed his family? It's an interesting story, indeed, and I've been lucky enough to find a treasure trove of original documents from that time.

He, and his wife, Anne Wight Burnes, had two children--John and Marcia. John was born in 1772, but he died in 1795. And, Marcia, born in 1782, the heiress to all of her father's, grandfather's and great grandfather's land holdings, and there was a lot!! She was said to be the richest woman in America at the time of the inheritance, she married John Peter Van Ness in 1802 and signed all of her wealth over to him, as was the custom of the day!!!

She was quite a woman, very active in the local social life, very good friends with Dolly Madison and it is said that she is the only woman to have had a public funeral in Washington, DC. She died of cholera in 1832.

Quite a history and quite a family!!! When I read the letter from Washington calling David Burnes, "the obstinate Mr. Burns," I knew that I was related!!!

Barbara Gregory Price
Burnes Descendant

Parker/Bruns said...

Writing for Barbara Gregory Price, I too am a Burns Desendant, We should get together to compare notes!! I have been looking for other relatives and have a wealth of info. John G. Burns, III
thurzab@aol.com