Burnet Family
Morris Co. Up


Biographical and Genealogical History of Morris County New Jersey. Illustrated. Vol. II., Lewis Publishing Company, New York and Chicago, 1899, pp6-15.

The Burnet Family
by Mrs. Helen M. Brittin

(Numbers in brackets [6] indicate the page number.)

[6] Some one has said it is as hard to realize the infancy of a city or town as for a grown-up man to think as a child, —to go back to the time when powers were untrained and habits unformed, and to believe in his childish griefs, quarrels, hopes and fears, weakness and dependence. So, too, it is hard to look back to the days when Madison was an unbroken forest, with no inhabitants but the Indians. The year 1740 is the probable bottom [7] of our history; but it is so far away that we can only discover a few of its general outlines.

Who first explored this section and brought the desirability of the land to the notice of the white people is not certainly known, but from tradition and old deeds and records there is reason to warrant the belief that two young men (relatives of William Burnet, governor of New York from 1719 to 1728) were passing through this valley from Elizabethtown on their way to visit their uncle, Aaron Burnet, at Whippany, when they found a few cleared spots used by the Indians in raising corn and tobacco, well watered by perennial springs and sheltered by the surrounding hills. They were so impressed with the natural advantages of this place that they took measures to secure from the Indians a large portion of land. There is a tradition in the family the "the boys bought one thousand four hundred acres of the Pompton Indians on their first visit, and afterward two thousand acres, which comprises all of Madison and its surroundings." Surely the red man's title was easily relinquished and for ever and ever quit-claimed!

David and Daniel returned to Elizabethtown and Southampton, Long Island, and at the opening of the year 1740 returned to Bottle Hill, and brought with them other pioneer settlers, whose names have a familiar sound to-day, —Carter, Miller, Coyle, Genung, Potter, Thompson, Cook, Meeker, Bruen, Budd, Howell and Bonnell. These men, with others who came in, established the colony. We have authentic history that this is true, and also papers, deeds, etc., as well as tradition, to prove the identity of the Burnets in the first settlement of Bottle Hill. The above names of the early settlers appear on the index at the clerk's office in the court-house at Morristown more than a thousand times, in exchange of property on record back in 1700. It is well to remember that Elizabethtown and Newark were settled long before, and that the sons of the early settlers passed westward over the first mountains into the valley of the Passaic, settling in Hanover, Whippany and Morristown. Their principal center of these settlements was on the Whippany river where the village now stands, and the first church ever organized in what is now the county of Morris was formed there, about the year 1718.

As this is biography rather than history, we will now see that these young and early settlers were not reckless adventurers, but were persons of substantial character, intelligent, industrious and some of them pious. Some [8] peculiarities they had, —faulty, too, doubtless, —and yet they were men to be honored for their bravery and revered for their virtues. Like their brothers in Southampton, wherever they went the church and school-house, too, followed in their wake. The first church in this section was built on the site of the present cemetery in Whippany. Not until 1738 was a successful effort made to erect a church in Morristown, and in 1748 land was given for a house of worship, and a church-yard in Bottle Hill, by David Burnet, one of the two young men who first scaled the hills, penetrated the forests and looked down upon the beautiful valley of the Passaic.

"Who were the Burnets?" Burk's General Armory mentions thirteen families in Scotland and England, of the name of Burnet, as having coats of arms. John Burnet, attorney of New York, previous to 1792, had a bookplate, which contains a coat of arms, as follows: Argent; three holly leaves in chief proper, and a hunting horn in base, sable garnished gules; crest, a hand issuing out of a cloud about to prune a vine fruited, all proper. Motto, "Virescit vulnere virtus.: This distinguished family dates back to one Robert Burnet, a baron of Leys, who received his commission from King James the First. His son Alexander was a Scottish advocate of reputation, who had a son, Robert Burnet, constituted by Charles the First one of the senators of the College of Justice, and was Lord Chimond. He married Rachael Johnston, sister of Sir Archibald Johnston, of Warriston, one of the principal popular leaders of the civil war in Scotland. They had three sons, Thomas, Gilbert and William. Thomas was physician to King Charles, also a clergyman eminent for learning, genius and virtue, who probably would have succeeded Tillotson as archbishop of Canterbury had not his heterodoxy stood in the way. His will was written at Southampton March 16, 1679. Mary Burnet, his wife, was sole executrix, witnessed by John Foster and John Laughton. A true copy was made by John Howell, clerk of Suffolk county, at the clerk's office, August 28, 1890. The two distinguished men, Bishop Gilbert Burnet and Dr. Thomas Burnet, died the same year, 1715, —one seventy-two and the other eighty years of age; there is no doubt as to their relationship to each other and to Governor William Burnet.* Gilbert Burnet was the renowned Lord Bishop [9] of Salisbury, who wrote various theological treatises, among which is an Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England. He left in manuscript his celebrated History of My Own Times, and a full narration of what took place from the Restoration to the year 1713, during which period the author advanced from his seventeenth to his seventieth year; he was married three times and left a family.

*Since this outline of the history of the Burnet family was written, I have found that historians differ in regard to the relationship of the three distinguished men, Thomas, Gilbert and William Burnet. One says, "They belonged to entirely different families;" another that "they were cousins;" another that "two of them were brothers and one a nephew;" still another (who I incline to believe is right), that "they were brothers and children of Robert Burnet (Lord Chimond). The same coat of arms is used by the descendants of each of the three, and Dr. Thomas Burnet wrote the Life of Bishop Gilbert Burnet. Who could do this as well as a brother? I have read the last will and testament of each of them. Dr. Thomas Burnet's will was executed at Southampton, Long Island. Governor William Burnet's will was executed in Boston October 14, 1729. In it he mentions his "brother Gilbert" and his son Gilbert, and Thomas, Mary and William. Bishop Gilbert Burnet dated his will October 12, 1711. This will was proved by his son William, who was executor. It is in Somerset House, London, in the prerogative court of Canterbury, in book "Fagg," folio 58. At this distance of time it cannot be hoped to construct complete family records. In 1672 he married Lade Margaret Kennedy (daughter of the Earl of Cassilis), who was distinguished for her extensive knowledge as well as for her beauty. In 1688 Dr. Burnet was advanced to the see of Salisbury, and at this period he married Mrs. Mary Scott, a lady as famed for her private virtues as for her wealth and noble birth. In 1700 he married Elizabeth (eldest daughter of Sir Richard Blake). She was born in 1661 and married first Robert Berkley, Esq., who died 1693. She was distinguished for her devotion to her church and charity. Bishop Burnet's first wife was remarkable for her beauty, the second for her fortune and the third for her piety. On March 17, 1715, he died of a pleuritic fever, in the seventy-second year of his age.

William and Thomas Burnet resided in Yorkshire after they left Edinburg, only a short time before coming to Lynn, Massachusetts. William was made governor of New York and Massachusetts, and also the second colonial governor and chancellor of New Jersey. He married Mary Vanhorn and had four children, —Gilbert, Thomas, William and Mary. His will was executed in Boston October 14, 1729, and an inventory of his personal estate covers twelve closely written pages, as shown by Abraham Vanhorn, Esq., a copy of which is held by William Nelson, Esq., corresponding secretary of the New Jersey Historical Society, Newark, New Jersey.

Dr. William Burnet, son of Dr. Ichabod, was graduated in Newark while the College of New Jersey was located at that place, and settled there after completing a course of medical studies in New York. Dr. Burnet took a very active part in the Revolution, was chief physician and surgeon in an important section of the army during the war, and was a member of the congress of the United States for 1780-81. In 1754 he married Mary Camp and became the father of eleven children, among whose descendants we find the names of many of the most eminent citizens of New Jersey. Dr. Burnet was one of [10] the founders of the State Medical Society, and was its president from 1767 to 1786. Of his six sons, his first-born and namesake, William Burnet, Jr., studied medicine with his father and settled in Belleville, where he practiced his profession. He inherited the patriotism of his father, and like him gave himself to his country as surgeon in the Continental army. He married Joanna, daughter of Joseph Alling, another patriot of the Revolution, who commanded a company of minute men in the township of Newark. Dr. Burnet, Jr. had three daughters: Abby, who married Caleb S. Riggs, Esq., a lawyer of New York; Mary, who married Chief Justice Joseph C. Hornblower; and Caroline, who married Governor William Pennington.

William Burnet Kinney was born at Speedwell, Morris county, in 1799. His grandfather was Sir Thomas Kinney, an English baronet, and his mother was Hannah Burnet, daughter of Dr. William Burnet, a relative of Governor Burnet and chancellor of New Jersey. Chief Justice Joseph P. Bradley, of the United States supreme court, married a granddaughter of Dr. William Burnet and daughter of Judge Abraham Kinney, an officer in the war of 1812. William Burnet Kinney, on June 19, 1851, after occupying the editorial tripod of the Newark Daily Advertiser during a period of eighteen years, entered on a season of well-earned rest, having been appointed United States minister to Sardinia by President Zachary Taylor; and the paper was most successfully conducted by Thomas T. Kinney, son of William B. Kinney, who had the sagacity to secure editorial assistance.

Dr. Thomas Burnet, brother of Gilbert and William Burnet, came from Edinburg, Scotland, to Lynn, Massachusetts, where he was married, December 3, 1663, to Mary, daughter of Rev. Abraham Pierson, who was one of the early settlers of Southampton, Long Island. They were formed into a church organization at Lynn. A few months afterward a settlement had been effected in Southampton, so they brought their minister, Rev. Abraham Pierson, with them, and erected their church edifice in the second year of their settlement. Dr. Thomas Burnet was born in 1635, and died in 1715. According to Hon. George R. Howell's Early History of Southampton, page 206, the names of the children of Dr. Burnet are as follows: John, Aaron, Lot, Joel, Dan, Mordecai, Matthias and a daughter, Miriam. Dan and Mordecai were of the associate settlers of the town of Elizabeth, New Jersey, in 1699-1700 (Hatfield's history). Dan and Elizabeth Burnet had children, —Daniel and Dr. Ichabod. Daniel was a sea captain, and his enterprising [11] faculties found exercise in foreign commerce. He built vessels and engaged extensively in the West India trade, and married at Port Royal. He was a man of ample means and of more than ordinary intelligence and sagacity. His wife died in early womanhood, leaving two sons and considerable property in the West Indies, and he wisely determined to give his children as good an education as the times afforded. They were brought from Port Royal, after the death of their parents, and place at school in the small town of Elizabeth, and by provision of their father's will their inheritance was "to be invested in real estate, under Dr. Ichabod Burnet as guardian," who was a noted physician of the times, son of Dan Burnet, son of Thomas Burnet. Hatfield says "he was born about 1687 and lived to be ninety years old."

Daniel and David Burnet, acting under the advice of Dr. Ichabod and Aaron Burnet, commenced at once to secure and divide the land among the colonists upon their arrival in Morris county; but delay involved the loss of a planting season. It is said by the descendants of Luke Carter that he drew the first furrow and planted the first land in Chatham township in 1740. David Burnet built the first house near "Kallamazue Spring," at East Madison, and in 1748 gave land for "a meeting-house and graveyard." His uncle, Aaron Burnet, of Whippany, was the first person buried in this churchyard; he was one hundred years old. Daniel Burnet, son of David, gave the land for a new church to the parish in 1823, as well as much time and money, but he did not live to see it dedicated; he died July 12, 1824. It is now (1898) called "the old-fashioned Presbyterian church," but to the descendants of Daniel Burnet there clusters around it a sacred enchantment that no modern edifice can ever fill.

Daniel Burnet's house, on the Bryce place, was the abode of a generous hospitality. In private life he was a conspicuous figure; he was genial, and possessed of humor and a fund of witty anecdote. He had a large family, and gave to each of his children a house and considerable land on their wedding day. The following is taken from the old family Bible record: Daniel Burnet was born December 17, 1758, and married Mary Parsells, who was born October 17, 1756. Their children were: Catharine, who was born September 13, 1781, and married Squire Force; Elizabeth, who was born April 9, 1783, and married Enoch Miller; Nancy, who was born February 17, 1785, and married Daniel Sargeant; David, who was born September 9, 1786, [12] and married first Lydia Crane and secondly Harriet Bunn; Ichabod, who was born November 12, 1788, and married Joanna, a daughter of Captain William Day, of Chatham; Abby, who was born September 25, 1790, and married David Force; Squire Burnet, who was born December 13, 1793, and married Mary Hight; John Burnet, who was born June 20, 1795; and Mary, who was born September 21, 1798, and married Collin Robertson, sheriff of Morris county, and whose son Alexander was a member of the legislature several years, and also senator from Morris county.

Perhaps there was no trait of the character of the father of this family (Daniel Burnet) more pronounced than that of steadfast adherence to principle and an unflinching courage in the maintenance of his convictions. In 1812, amid the excitement of enlistment, this patriot suspected disloyalty in one of his sons-in-law, and therefore obtained from him the confession: "My father and grandfather were ever loyal to their country and their king: how could I be otherwise?" It is needless to add that he immediately left in a hurry the comfortable home which Daniel Burnet had so generously provided, and espoused the unpopular English side, joining the British army at Montreal, where he died within the first year, suddenly, at the dinner table, of apoplexy; but as his action was the result of education and an honest opinion, there was no personal ill will against him, but rather sympathy for his family—a young wife of twenty-nine years and four little girls, —Maria, Malinda, Hetty and Adelia, all of whom their grandfather tenderly cared for until they were married. Maria married Ezra Howell; Malinda went south and died unmarried; Hetty married William Beach, and Adelia married her cousin, John P. Force, at Augusta, Georgia, one of the most successful business men in the state. His brothers Miller married Miss Lamar and Ward married Miss Julia Harper, of Greensboro, Georgia, members of distinguished families in the south. Benjamin Conley, another cousin, was mayor of Augusta three terms. He married Miss Semmes, sister to Captain Semmes, of the Alabama. At the close of the Civil war Benjamin Conley was president of the senate of Georgia. Governor Bullock refused to "reconstruct the state," and therefore was deposed, divested of his high office, and the president of the senate, Benjamin Conley, was made governor and led Georgia back into the Union. He also founded the university of Atlanta, and schools all over the state for the poor, etc. Although Mrs. Conley lost one hundred thousand dollars' worth of slaves by the Civil war, and her [13] brother was an officer in the Confederate army, she stood firmly and loyally by the side of her noble husband, and for eight days entertained Union officers and soldiers at their beautiful home and on the plantation near Montgomery, during the "march to the sea," etc.

Daniel Burnet built a hotel in 1800, that was destroyed by fire in 1870. It was located next to Mr. Paulmier's store, and in the days of the stage¬coach from Morristown to Elizabeth was kept by his son-in-law, Daniel Sargeant, who sold out to Robert Albright. One of Mr. Sargeant's sons became a noted physician at Somerville, New Jersey, and another a most successful business man, whose two sons, .. S. S. Sargeant and A. V. Sargeant, established the Sargeant Manufacturing Company in 1869 in Newark. Their line is general and special saddlery hardware. The capital of the company is seventy-five thousand dollars, and their sales reach the large amount of over one hundred and fifty thousand dollars annually (1886). " It is worthy of note that the Burnets gave land in 1803 for a brick academy, in which two or three generations were educated, and that Ichabod Burnet, son of Daniel. was among- the first teachers. This land has been given to the township by the heirs (since a new public school was established near the railroad station) for a public building.

Judge Joseph P. Bradley, in a sketch of Dr. William Burnet in Pennsylvania Magazine of History, vol. 3. page 308, says: “William was a physician of Newark, New Jersey, a graduate of Princeton. He had children: William, born about 1756; Ichabod, 1758; John, 1760; Jacob, one of the founders of Cincinnati, a judge, United States senator, etc.; George Whitefield, graduate of Princeton, 1792, of Dayton, Ohio; David G., first president of Texas in 1836; and Hannah, wife of Judge Kinney.”

Matthias, son of James Burnet, was born at Bottle Hill, New Jersey, in 1747, graduated at Princeton in 1769, and was settled in Jamaica as pastor of the Presbyterian church, where, according to Thompson's History of Long Island, he continued highly respected and useful until 1785, when he removed to Norwalk, Connecticut, and took charge of the Congregational church, and there died in 1800. The interment was in his native place, in Hillside cemetery, Bottle Hill. His wife was Fanny, daughter of Rev. Azel Roe, of Woodbridge, New Jersey.

From the History of Essex and Hudson Counties, New Jersey, compiled by William H. Shaw, vol. 1, page 53, the following incident is copied (1884):

[14] At the commencement of the Revolution a committee of safety was appointed in Newark, the members of which were Dr. William Burnet, Justice Joseph Hedden and Major Samuel Hayes. The committee held daily sessions and was presided over by Dr. Burnet. The Doctor was a grandson of the distinguished English prelate, Bishop Burnet, and, like his grandsire, was a man of great decision and force of character. To serve his country he promptly relinquished a lucrative medical practice and abandoned the pleasures of a delightful home life. After establishing a military hospital in Newark, he became surgeon general of the American army and was stationed at West Point at the time of the discovery of Benedict Arnold's treasonable compact with Sir Henry Clinton, the British commander. It is also related that when the news of Major André's capture at Tarrytown was brought to the Point, the Doctor sat at the table while Arnold read the note from Lieutenant Colonel Jameson announcing the fact. Arnold preserved his countenance but immediately excused himself and withdrew, 'to attend upon an urgent and important service.' Very soon he was hurrying with all speed to the ship of refuge which lay at anchor in the Hudson below the Point, and which, with singular appropriateness, happened to be name the Vulture. The Doctor's son, Major Ichabod Burnet, was an aide on General Greene's staff, and was selected to bear to André, after his conviction as a spy, the official announcement of his fate. He also attended the brave and handsome but unfortunate British adjutant general upon his execution at Tappan.

"Dr. Burnet gave to his country, besides his service as a true and valued patriot, a posterity distinguished for its public and private worth. Jacob, one of his sons, settled in the Northwest territory, when it had but fifteen thousand inhabitants, and when Cincinnati, where he made his home in 1796, contained but fifteen rough-finished houses. Jacob served as a magistrate, a legislator and ultimately as a United States senator. Another son, David Burnet, achieved even greater distinction. After filling many important public trusts, he finally became the first president of the short-lived republic of Texas, now a brilliant star in the constellation of American states. Dr. Burnet, himself upon the close of the war, resumed his practice and filled the position of judge of the court of common pleas, and was president of the New Jersey State Medical Society. He died suddenly in 1791, in his sixty-first year."

In the record of one hundred and sixty years, we find a few instances of official life in the family of Burnets. There have been two chief justices, four governors, five judges, five doctors, three colonels, three captains, three clergymen, some few deacons, a few merchants at home and abroad, an occasional justice of the peace, a few lawyers and some good mechanics. For the most part the Burnets occupy the post of honor known as quiet private citizens.

"He that holds fast the golden mean,
And lives contentedly between
That little and the great,
Feels not the wants that pinch the poor,
Nor plague that haunts the rich man's door,
Embittering all his state."

Transcribed by Brianne Kelly-Bly


This page was last modified on:  01 January, 2014

Copyright ©1999-2014 by Brianne Kelly-Bly, all rights reserved.