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Longmeadow Go West! Persis and John Burt

Faithful readers of this blog may recall an article written by Beth Hoff on March 25, 2021 titled "Westward Bound," about the adventurous travelers Harvey Stebbins and his bride Julia Robinson. "West" in that story was the new state of Ohio, very much the frontier in those days. More recently this author told the story of James Cooley who moved to Ohio and became the ill-fated charge d'affairs to Peru. After his death, his widow married another Longmeadow man, Jonathan Ely. By this point, we decided to round up how many Longmeadow-ites made the migration to the new state of Ohio, and we're already well over a dozen!


This story will be the third in the series of "Longmeadow Go West," telling the story of John Burt of Longmeadow and Persis Meacham of nearby Enfield. As in some of our other stories, much of the information comes from letters that were saved by descendants. In this case, those descendants live right here in Longmeadow--the 14th generation of Burts to live here! And the treasure-trove contains more than letters, as you'll soon see.


William Burt Harlow, Ph.D. wrote an article in The Connecticut Magazine, vol. 10, #4, 1906 called "Courtship of a Sergeant in the War of 1812" about his grandmother Persis Meacham and grandfather John Burt. Persis was born in 1785 on Enfield Street in nearby Enfield, CT. John Burt, son of Colonel Gideon Burt of Longmeadow was six years her junior, but that didn't deter him from courting Persis.


John decided to follow his father's career, so he procured a commission as a sergeant to serve in the War of 1812. He served at Sackett's Harbor on Lake Ontario in New York and Fort Michilimackinac in Michigan. Having signed up for a five year stint, Persis was impatient with being left behind. In a letter written to John in February of 1816 she complains about his lack of letter writing; "I received your letter yesterday with much pleasure as well as surprise, for I had long since supposed myself forgotten by you." Ouch!


She goes on, "Oh, John! have you got to stay more than two years longer? Three years are allmost past which seems like an eternity!" She then abandons this tact and unsubtly tells him of the romances of his friends and family, "Thanksgiving eve I attended Wm. Stebbins and Eliza B's wedding. Happy, happy union! Your brother [William] has once more received a wound from little Cupid but I think there is a remedy before winter is out. I think he will be firmly bound in Hymeneal bonds with Miss Sally Kibbe; he seems to think of nothing else at present but his approaching nuptials."


John does eventually answer the letter, and "My feelings are rather hurt at finding that you should imagine or even think that you were forgotten by me on account of not punctually writing to you. No, my dear Persis, it is the fate of a soldier's life to be thus disappointed ..." He ends the apology with, "The Indians here are quite peaceable at present. Remember my love to all friends and remains your ever affectionate and unalterable John Burt, Sergeant Artillery, Captain Pierce's Company, 1st Battallion."


Persis was not disappointed--she and John married two years later, on April 26, 1818. Coincidentally, Persis' sister had married John's brother Nathaniel ten years before. John and Persis moved to Euclid, Ohio, traveling by stage, outfitted with household goods amounting to $72 supplied by John's father Gideon.


John was a joiner by trade, and so found plenty of work in the new state. According to William Burt Harlow, "when he was not building houses and barns he was making cradles and coffins. He was easy-going and kind, never demanding what was owed to him." This had detrimental effects on their finances, so when he heard of lucrative work building a canal in the southern part of the state, he moved his family to Chillicothe, Ohio.


The area of the canal was swampy and malarial, and John and Persis' oldest daughter Julia grew sick. John subsequently caught the same dread disease and succumbed at the age of 39, leaving a frail widow and three small children. She made her way back east to family, with the assistance of her brother-in-law, Simeon. He was well-off financially and childless. He owned a controlling interest in a stage route, so sent her $50 and instructions on how to return home. He offers to take her youngest child (Celia) if Persis was willing, and suggested that his brother Nathaniel might be willing to take on another if she couldn't manage.




Poor Persis! She returned home, traveling in the coldest winter weather, with her three children, the youngest being only 8 years old. Persis' parents had both passed away a decade earlier, so she was dependent on her in-laws for help.


Her daughter Julia started working at age 16 in order to support herself and her mother. Younger sister Celia was able to continue her education, and their brother Simeon, according to William Harlow, was, "of a roving disposition and gave his mother much anxiety. He finally ran away and enlisted on board a man-of-war." "He was of little comfort to her [his mother] and finally joined a tribe of wandering Indians, returning with them to Maine where he married among them and died without issue and with no communication with his sisters, who had married well." Persis spent her last days in Worcester, MA with her elder daughter Julia who had also become a widow, and died "among kind friends at the age of sixty-one years."


Persis and John's letters were carefully preserved by their descendants, as well as silhouettes, a painting of Persis, books and other objects.We are grateful for the glimpse into their lives through everyday items treasured by their families.What are you keeping for your descendants?

Contributed by Betsy McKee.


Sources: Ancestry (Gideon Burt's probate documents), Ancestry, The Connecticut Magazine, Vol. 10, #4, 1906, letters, painting and other objects on loan by Burt family. All photographs by the author.

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