The James Burroughs Family

Although eclipsed by the fame of Booker T. Washington, the history of the James Burroughs family is interesting in its own right.

James Burroughs was born near Smith Mountain in Bedford County, Virginia, in 1794, one of eleven children of Baptist minister Joseph Burroughs. In 1818, at age 24, he married 16 year-old Elizabeth Robertson. In 1850 the family moved from Bedford County to the Hales Ford area of Franklin County, onto the 207 acre farm where Booker T. Washington was born in 1856.

James and Elizabeth Burroughs had 14 children. While the five-room house they lived in has not been preserved, the stone foundations are still visible at the home site, now owned by the National Park Service as the Booker T. Washington National Monument.

At the time of the 1860 census the Burroughs family owned seven slaves, 4 of whom were children (including 4 year-old Booker). The farm was largely self-sustaining, producing most of the food and other necessities of life. They raised a small crop of tobacco as their cash crop.

According to the census, 100 acres of the farm was “unimproved” and the family owned 4 horses, 4 milk cows, 5 beef cows, 12 sheep and 16 pigs. In addition to tobacco the farm produced wheat, corn, oats, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, wool, flax, flaxseed, butter, peas and beans.

When the War began in April 1861 the six Burroughs sons all enlisted, five of them joining the “Franklin Rangers,” a company of cavalry organized locally. Two would die in the war, another would be captured, and two more wounded.

In July, 1861 James Burroughs died of lung disease, at age 67, leaving Elizabeth, her daughters and ten slaves (two men, two women and 5 children) to maintain the farm.

Following the war Elizabeth tried unsuccessfully to sell or rent the farm, which she could no longer maintain. Ultimately, she moved to Bedford County to live with the family of her daughter Eliza Witt, and the farm was untended until finally sold in 1893 to John Robertson, likely a relative of Elizabeth.

Elizabeth died in December, 1895 at age 93. She wanted to be buried next to her husband on the farm in Franklin County, but because the roads were too muddy to allow travel, she was buried instead on her daughter’s farm in Bedford County. Only the graves of her husband James and her son Billie (killed at the Battle of Kelly’s Ford in 1863) remain to mark the Burroughs family’s time on the farm.

James Burroughs

Billie Burroughs


2 thoughts on “The James Burroughs Family

  1. Dear Bill, only once have I read a book on the history of the people of our country. Not the wars–not what led up to them or the battles themselves or what followed the peace or armistice. Your posting brings to us a family and in its spare lines we view tragedy and sorrow and the ups and downs up life. thank you. Peace.

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