The McBurney Family, p. 71

McBURNEY FAMILY. It is said that "Great men have short biographies," and though in the present instance, if never before, that sentence is peculiarly applicable, we regret the necessity which compels us to abbreviate the record of this family, whose lives have been an honor not only to this township and county, but to the many States throughout the country where their lot is cast. No family can boast of truer nobility or more prominent ancestry than those who bear the McBurney name. The present generation are very numerous, and have been widely separated, but on August 13, 1891, a re-union was held at Midway, Penn., at the instigation of Mr. J. R. McBurney, to whom we are indebted for an accurate history of these early pioneers.

The long ancestral line begins with the name of James McBurney, born in 1740, in Ballynahinch, County Down, Ireland. Little is known of his early life save that he learned and followed the vocation of a merchant tailor, and in 1762, was united in marriage with Jeanett Milligan, who bore him two children: John and Elizabeth, born about 1764, the exact dates being unknown, and they might have been twins. The little family embarked for America in the fall of 1783, on the first vessel which sailed thence on a peaceful errand after the close of the Revolution. Mr. McBurney was a prominent man in public affairs, having received a commission from Thomas Mifflin, a governor of Pennsylvania, to act as justice of the peace in Cecil township, Washington county, the term of which he was appointed being "so long as you shall behave yourself well." On these conditions, he filled that position till 1815, and this fact might well lead the modern politicians to wonder how long they would fill political offices today if the same terms were required. Ah well; times -- and politics -- have changed since the good old days of our forefathers! James McBurney was a remarkably conscientious and upright man. He acted as a member of the Session in the Associated Reformed Church, at Robinson's Run, being one of the first ruling elders of that body. He first located one mile southwest of McDonald, in 1814 moving to a farm not far from Midway, this county, where he died August 11, 1820, at the patriarchal age of eighty years, and rests in the old graveyard.

John McBurney, a son of this honored pioneer couple, was born in County Down, Ireland, and at the age of fourteen years joined an Orange company, of which he became the captain when eighteen years of age. In 1783, he immigrated to America where in 1793, he was married to Sarah Hunter. She was born in 1774, near Chambersburgh, and walked across the mountains from Chambersburgh with her parents, when but ten years of age, her mother and the baby alone being allowed the luxury of a horseback ride. In early life she joined the Chartiers Associate Reformed Church, of which Rev. Anderson was then pastor. Though met by heavy obstacles and bearing many burdens of care, she was uniformly cheerful and affectionate. After marriage, John McBurney and his wife settled in this county, where children were born of whom the following is a brief record: Jennie, born May 23, 1794, was married September 20, 1814, to Andrew Donaldson, who was elected as ruling elder of the Associate Reformed Church in 1833, and died in 1843, followed by his widow July 8, 1866 (they had ten children, from whom 107 descendants have sprung, eighty-seven of them yet living); James (of whom further mention is made) was born May 27, 1797; Esther, born September 10, 1799, was married February 3, 1826 to Richard Donaldson, who was born December 30, 1799 and they first settled on a farm near Bavington, Penn., remaining there a number of years, afterward moving to Burgettstown, where the remainder of their lives was passed (Mr. Donaldson was ordained an elder in 1833, in the United Presbyterian Church of Robinson township. He died August 7, 1873, and September 30, 1874, his wife was laid by his side. They have had thirty-two descendants, twenty-one of who are yet living); John (of whom special mention is made further on) was born June 29 1802; Eliza, born June 10, 1805, was first married in 1844, to Maj. James Harper, to whom she bore two children (Maj. Harper died in 1854. He was an elder of the United Presbyterian Church of Frankfort, and resided in Harper's Mills. Mrs. Harper was afterward married to Andrew Miller, Esq. She died January 3, 1879; her husband is yet living. They have had seventeen descendants, fourteen of whom are now living); Robert, born September 25, 1808, was married February 1, 1834, to Eliza Welsh, nine descendants having been the result of this union (Robert McBurney was a ruling elder in the U. P. Church of Centre, and also served his township in a political capacity, having been justice of the peace. He died June 1, 1875); Sarah, born April 7, 1811, on May 31, 1835, became the wife of James McCalmont, who settled on a farm near Candor, Penn. (he was an elder in the U. P. Church of Burgettstown, also at Centre. He died in 1890, leaving thirty-two descendants, of whom three are deceased); David, born December 23, 1813, was married February 3, 1833, to Eliza Jane Lyle, and the young couple settled on a farm near Scroggsfield, Carroll Co., Ohio, where he served as an elder in the U. P. Church (he died October 27, 1878, his posterity having numbered fourteen, of whom four are deceased. His widow is yet living on the old home place); and Samuel, born December 21, 1815, has been twice married, and is the only living representative of this numerous pioneer family (on November 4, 1840, he married Sarah Jane George, and settled near the Conotton, in Ohio. She bore him twelve children. After the death of this wife he was married in 1869 to Mrs. Mary E. (McCauslin) George and to them three children have been born. Samuel McBurney has had twelve grandchildren, now having fifteen living descendants. In 1853 he was elected ruling elder of the North Union U. P. Church).

James McBurney, son of John and Sarah (Hunter) McBurney, grew to manhood on the home farm (which he purchased), and there passed his entire life, afterward bequeathing the property to a son. On March 29, 1827, he married Jane Acheson, who bore him four children: John R., Margaret (Mrs. James Moore), Sarah (wife of Joseph Wallace) and Matthew (deceased). This wife died October 21, 1835, and on November 3, 1841, James McBurney was united in marriage with Catherine (Lindsey) Watson. She died September 10, 1870, at the age of seventy-two years. The offspring of this ancestor have numbered twenty-eight, four being deceased. James McBurney died January 15, 1872. He was a Whig in politics.

John R. McBurney, son of James and Jane (Acheson) McBurney, was born June 12, 1831, receiving his early education on the home farm. On October 13, 1859, he was united in marriage with Elizabeth R., daughter of George Robb, and the children who have come to bless their home are as follows: James H. (of Canonsburg, this county); George R., who attended the Ingleside Academy, then Geneva College, finally graduating in 1889, at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Allegheny, Penn., and having since filled various pulpits in the bounds of the Covenanter Church, is now placed, as settled pastor, over the Hickory Grove congregation near Avery, Iowa; Catherine W., a graduate of Geneva College, now teaching in an Indian mission school (Cache Creek) in the Indian Territory; Jennie G., deceased; Matthew R.; Jennie G.; and Wilbur J. After his marriage John R. McBurney settled permanently on the home place. He is a progressive and enterprising citizen, a worthy representative of the honored name he bears. In religious faith he is a stanch member of the Covenanter Church, and, according to the faith of that body, refuses to take an active part in political contests. The grounds of this position may be briefly stated as follows: God, who is the source of all authority, both civil and ecclesiastical, appointed our Lord Jesus Christ to be king of nations, and has given in His Word law to govern nations as well as the Church and individuals. Nations are under obligations to acknowledge Christ as Mediatorial King, and to take the Bible as the standard on which to decide all moral issues. This nation refuses to make acknowledgment in its official document -- the Constitution -- of its true relation to its rightful Sovereign, and is therefore in an attitude of rebellion against the King of Kings. To be identified in the administration of the affairs of government is to become "particeps criminis" in this sin. Hence Covenanters refuse to take part in the administration of this Government until this religious defect of the Constitution is removed. And their attitude to the Government in this respect is one of practical protest. It will be observed that from the earliest ancestor to the third generation of this family, the men all served as elders in their respective churches, with but one exception (James McBurney, who also was elected but declined to serve), while all of the daughters married men who served in the same capacity. Trades, professions and missionaries are largely represented and, though not especially eminent in political or public life, they have ever been among the most useful, honored and prominent citizens of their community and church. The lineal descent of the McBurney family, omitting those connected by marriage, number (as near as can be ascertained) 321 persons.

John McBurney, son of John and Sarah (Hunter) McBurney, was born on the home farm in Robinson township, this county, where his boyhood was passed. On February 7, 1828, he was united in marriage with Jennie Keys, who was born in 1804, in Smith township. The young people settled on a farm in Mt. Pleasant township, and many years afterward moved to Hickory. They were members of the U. P. Church at Mt. Pleasant, in which he was ordained an elder January 24, 1861. He died April 8, 1883, being followed by his faithful consort, September 26, 1884. He was first a Democrat, then a Republican and radical Abolitionist. The children of this family were as follows: Jane (wife of R. R. Thompson, Chartiers township); John (living in Mt. Pleasant township); Sarah (widow of Robert Jeffrey, living in Canonsburg); James (residing in Hickory, this county); Martha (married to James McIlvaine, of Mt. Pleasant township); Ezra (of whom a sketch follows); William A. (a widower, living in Canonsburg, Penn.); and three deceased. Of the thirty-two descendants of this family, twenty-five are living.

Ezra McBurney, son of John and Jennie (Keys) McBurney, was born April 2, 1844, on the old place in Cherry Valley, Mt. Pleasant township, where he is yet living, his education being secured at the neighboring schools. On April 18, 1872, he was united in marriage with Letitia A., daughter of Andrew Russell, who was born in Chartiers township, and in early life was married to Jane Miller. Mr. and Mrs. Russell resided in Mt. Pleasant township until a short time before the husband's death, when they moved to Houstonville, Penn., where the mother is yet living. The father died in 1891. After their marriage, Ezra and Letitia McBurney settled on the farm containing 137 acres of well-cultivated land, and he raises a fine grade of stock. Mr. McBurney served a term in the Union army; he votes the Republican ticket, served as a member and treasurer of the school board, and in church relations he and his wife are members of the U. P. Church at Hickory. Their union has been blessed with five children, namely; Jennie D., born August 14, 1874; Mary L., born January 11, 1876; a son born September 20, 1877, died when eight days old; Mattie L., born May 3, 1879; and Maggie B., born May 20, 1881, died September 17, 1881.

Text taken from page 71 of:
Beers, J. H. and Co., Commemorative Biographical Record of Washington County, Pennsylvania (Chicago: J. H. Beers & Co., 1893).

Transcribed March 1997 by Victoria Smith of San Jose, CA as part of the Beers Project.
Published March 1997 on the Washington County, PA USGenWeb pages at

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