Erie County (PA) Genealogy
Faces & Biographies of those who left Erie County

William Burrows and Family

Written and Contributed by Beth Simmons


Harbor Creek Township coordinator Beth Simmons has extracted and transcribed several articles from John Miller, 1909, History of Erie County, Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago, Chapter 35, “Notable People; Horace Greeley, Ida M. Tarbell, Senator Burrows and Others Who Went Away and Some Who Came,” p. 404-406. This is the extract for William Burrows.


William Burrows and family

                A family that has become notable, some of them attaining to distinction is that of William Burrows, who in 1832 moved into Erie county, settling upon a farm in the southern part of North East. William Burrows was married in 1818 at Busti, Chautauqua county, N. Y., and there six children, five sons and a daughter were born, and this large family came with them when Mr. and Mrs. Burrows moved into Erie county. Two more children came into the family while living in North East, Jerome Bonaparte, January 18, 1834 and Julius Caesar, January 9, 1837. Today of the three members of that family that remain one, Julius C., is a member of the United States Senate from Michigan, and another, Jerome B., (both born in Erie county), is a judge of the Seventh Circuit Court of Ohio. But while they lived in Erie county they were of God’s poor, and they put up a brave struggle to get ahead. Recently a representative of the New York Tribune, interviewed Senator Burrows with reference to his early life, and in telling of the struggles of his youth the Senator said he thanks God that he did not have to start life “handicapped with a million dollars and an automobile.” His first acquaintance with real work was made when he was but a lad with a neckyoke and two buckets over his shoulders gathering maple sap.

                “You were born in a log cabin on a farm in Northwestern Pennsylvania?” said the interviewer.

                “Yes, on the side of a hill in Erie county. My father built a new house when I was a child which I thought to be remarkable commodious and elegant. Even when we moved into it with our belongings- there were ten of us in the family, seven sons and a daughter – it seemed entirely two large and oppressively lonely. I went back to look at the old house several years ago, keeping its stately proportions in mind as I had always remembered them, but I couldn’t find it. I saw a weather-beaten little hut of one and a half stories, with three rooms down-stairs and an unfinished attic. I was distressed and amazed to learn that it was the imposing palace of my childhood. My six brothers and I worked on the farm and attended district school in the winter.

                “We left North East in the early spring of 1850 and bought a farm in the famous 19th District of Ohio, which was represented in Congress by Joshua R. Giddings, and at a later day by James A. Garfield, and which was also the home of Senator Benjamin F. Wade, the furious abolitionist. We were very poor. Money was scarce. Markets were few and far apart. Farm products had to be traded to merchants for calico and other goods. I got a little money by peeling apples and drying them in the sun. I milked five cows twice a day, and walked three miles to an academy at Kingsville. One winter I did chores at a man’s house for my board. Then I got a room at the academy, sweeping the building and ringing the bell for my tuition. My mother gave me a bed and a box stove, and I did my own cooking.

                “I worked hard, but it was a contest with poverty all the time. The young men of today don’t know what it is to fight for an education, and those who are clothed and fed and given every opportunity by their fathers are utterly unappreciative. I found that I was making no headway, and went to Jefferson, the county seat, where I was engaged as principal of the village schools. The children of Wade and Giddings were among my pupils, as were the sisters and brothers of William Dean Howells, the novelists. My salary was too small to remember.”

                In 1860 Mr. Burrows moved to Michigan, where he took charge of the Richmond Seminary, occupying all his spare time with the study of law, his legal studies having begun at Jefferson while he was principal of the Union School. In 1861 he was admitted to practice law in the Supreme Court of Michigan. He had settled permanently at Kalamazoo, and there early in 1862 raised a company of the Seventeenth Michigan Regiment with which he served as captain until the fall of 1863, when he was assigned to the staff of General Welsh, serving with distinction until the winter of 1864, when he was honorable discharged. Then he entered politics. In 1865 and again in 1868 he was elected prosecuting attorney; in 1872 he was elected to Congress as a Republican, and again in 1878, serving then continuously until 1895. His speech in the 51st Congress on the McKinley Bill placed him in the fore-front of the defenders of protection. He was elected to the United States Senate in 1895, and re-elected. In June of 1908 he was temporary chairman of the National Republican Convention that nominated Taft, and his speech upon taking the chair was a notable deliverance, outlining the policies of his party in the pending campaign.

                Nor was he the only notable individual of his father’s family, or alone in the brave and determined struggle to make progress. They were all of the same blood, and the same fibre. They were all true and typical American citizens, and all imbued with the same quality of patriotic devotion. The oldest of the brothers, William R., died in Arkansas in 1846. When the Civil War broke out the remaining six boys of the Burrows family entered the arm, all in the service at the same time. Jerome B. became a lawyer, and, like his brother Julius, rose to preferment among his fellow citizens, becoming in time a judge of the Circuit Court of Ohio. Nor was there one of the family who did not attain to prominence. Three of the family are still living: Hamilton at North East, aged 80; Jerome B., at Painesville, Ohio, aged 75; and Julius C., at Kalamazoo, Mich., aged 72.


This page was last updated on  Friday, November 21, 2008 .

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