This Sunday marks the 140th Burton Family Reunion at Burton Grove and Burying Ground in Mitchell, Indiana. I have participated in 20-25 of them, including almost every year since 1996, and a few years growing up when my parents would drag me there.
My branch of the Burton family arrived in Indiana in 1826, although the father of this tribe, a man named John Pleasant Burton, had been in Lawrence County earlier to secure land and seek out a place to move his family.
John Pleasant Burton and his wife Susannah Stamper Burton were prolific, as were there children. John and Susannah had 13 children, plus written records indicate they had adopted six more children. The attendees of the family reunion this Sunday all trace their roots back to John Pleasant and Susannah. A tall monument to them stands in the cemetery, erected in the 1800s by their descendants.
Neither John nor Susannah are actually buried at this location, but in an original and smaller family cemetery about three quarters of a mile away, tucked into the corner of a cornfield. Their markers are still there, although we had to repair them in the last 15 years.
Nearly all of the 13 children were adults with their own families in 1826, but they came to Indiana as well. Only one of the 13 remained in North Carolina. John and Susannah’s children harvested a great crop of children as well, and John and Susannah had 167 grandchildren.
Over the next couple of generations Burtons spread out all through Lawrence and Orange counties, and census records detail 1,700 of us there in the mid-1800s. Many moved west with the country’s westward expansion, though. A large group moved to Kansas, while others continued to the northwest part of our country. A big group has its annual family reunion in Kansas about the same time we have ours in Mitchell.
Our numbers of attendees have dwindled as people have moved away, and our attendance this year will likely be somewhere between 60-80. For our 125th reunion we had 165 attendees, the largest number anyone could remember.
There certainly have been bigger crowds than our 165. Two newspaper articles late in the 1800s ran a photograph and story of that year’s reunion, and it was much larger than any we have had of late.
All families have stories, and the Burton family is filled with them. A favorite is the story of John Pleasant Burton’s burial, in which a newspaper story gives an account of the large number of people there to pay their last respects. The number the paper gives is quite unbelievable, but it remains a family story nonetheless.
Also, John Pleasant Burton is reputed to have been buried in a vertical rather than horizontal position; that is, he was buried standing up. The lore also says that he was buried with a musket under one arm (he fought in the American Revolution) and a whiskey jug under the other (nearly everyone ran a still in those days.)