A History of the Burns Family
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PART ONE: Guy's Path to the Dance \


Windham Village, Portage County, Ohio
Spring, 1883

PART ONE Overview
1 - Wildcat Brigade
2 - Battle of Wilderness
3 - Field Hospital
4 - Orphan School
5 - Ladies' Man
6 - Mary Dinger
7 -The Masons
8 - Mary Rebecca
9 - Guy the Wanderer
10 - Farmer Boy
11 - Center of the World
12 - Birthday
13 - Fish Story
14 - Miss Fenn
15 - To the Dance

More Information

Mary Rebecca Mason is industriously chopping cabbage for the coleslaw, while her mother fusses with the lid to the apple butter jar.  Mary's sister Mag, who's come with her young family for Sunday supper, shapes biscuits with a distracted half-smile.  Mary thinks Mag might be pregnant again. She's got that look.

The sweet smell of chicken corn soup fills the kitchen, along with a sense of domestic purpose and harmony. It's quieter than usual, for Mary's brothers Charley and Elmer have gone with her father over to Freedom Station, to see if this will be the day Lorenzo Burns comes in on the westbound train. [1]

Mary is not a great one for singing, but she can't help humming the tune that's been stuck in her head ever since the last church social. The melody is simple and sweet, the yearning mood fits. And the song is Scottish after all, like the Masons themselves. Why not hope for someone across the sea, or at least across the miles, since Windham seems devoid of potential suitors?

Click here to hear the music (first published in 1881)....

Lo's imminent arrival has her thinking about home. Not Windham, but her real home back in Jefferson County, Pennsylvania. Her eyes prickle as she pictures the old farmhouse in Pine Creek where her grandparents, Jacob and Betsy Mason, had built two stout log buildings on a 12-acre claim at the turn of the century. One was little more than a cabin, and the other a stable for the cow, but three generations of Masons had lived on the property since 1802. Out in front, three gnarled apple trees line the road, still perfuming the air every spring. Her grandfather had not planted them, but he had tended them. He was one of the county's pioneers, a hard-working farmer and an active citizen, serving in the constabulary and with the Jefferson Blues, the local volunteer militia. So much history ties the Masons to that land. [2]

Jefferson County is where her parents had fallen in love, when her father David lived for a time with his widowed mother Betsy and his sister Polly Mason Hall at the bustling Hall farm in Eldred. Sweet Eliza Templeton was a serving girl of the Halls, sixteen years David's junior, and he soon lost his head over her. [3] They married and settled in the Mason home, raising a stairstep family of boys and girls.

Mary still isn't quite sure why her father decided they must leave Pine Creek. At the time he blamed the Panic of 1873. [4] Farmers all over the country were hurting, he said, and Ohio was where the opportunity was.  Not for himself, for at 67 he was too old to farm. But for John and Charley, and Elmer and Frank.  And for her and Maggie too. 

And so they'd moved to Ohio in the late '70s, uprooting her heart. She still misses the beautiful trees -- the oaks and chestnuts, beech and hickory -- and the hills and winding rivers of home. Ohio is plain and flat -- good for railroads and farming, but not much else in her estimation. Nearby Freedom had once been called the Eden of the World, but she could scarcely see how the flat swampland around Black Creek could be compared to Paradise. 

Pine Creek Map with Mason farm

Nothing ever happens here. Occasionally someone passes through on the way to somewhere else, as Lorenzo has promised to do, and the longing for home intensifies. But there's no going back now.

Flat Ravenna (near Windham) panorama from late 1800s

The cabbage now chopped and ready for dressing, Mary turns her attention to the funnel cake, which she dusts vigorously with powdered sugar. Her mother and Mag are gossiping now, and so Mary is free to consider the prospect of seeing Lorenzo Burns again. Charley says he'll be all grown up by now. He and Lo have always been good friends, despite their battles. He was the one who'd first called him Lo.  Mary knows of other men named after the fiery and unkempt abolitionist preacher from Connecticut, Lorenzo Dow. But the name is a mouthful, and Charley says the one-syllable nickname is a better fit for an unpretentious country lad, especially one who puts so little stock in religion. [5]
Mary and Mag in their later years

People had called him wild, and there'd been some trouble with Mary Dinger, Mag had whispered to her when their mother's back was turned. But Charley says he has a heart of gold, and he's settled down a little. And Father says he's making a good living now as a travelling saleman, boarding with a family east of Pittsburg. Shouldn't she decide for herself?

What will he be like now, she wonders, remembering the boy with the smiling eyes who used to come to their dances back in Pine Creek. Back then they were smiling mostly at Mag. Had she only imagined he sometimes looked at her too?

Behind her at the back door, Mary hears a commotion as Charley directs the other boys in. Then she turns, and her breath catches just a bit when she locks eyes for an instant with the handsome young man who has followed her brothers into the kitchen. She hopes he doesn't notice, and turns back to the funnel cake, blushing.

Lorenzo's two Pennsylvania loves?
Detail from Lorenzo’s 1877-1878 diary [6]


[1] Chicken corn soup, fennel cake, coleslaw, applebutter, and birch beer were all popular Pennsylvania Dutch dishes at the time.  “Dutch” is thought to be a folk rendering of “Deutsch” – German.

[2] Details about Jacob Mason are from McKnight's history of the region. The 16-foot-square cabin and the 12 x 15-foot log stable were built in 1802. In 1807 Jacob was assessed $14 for his cow. In 1816 he was elected constable, and he served along with his son David with the county militia starting in 1836. The apple trees were planted by John Roll, another Jefferson County pioneer.

[3] In the 1850 census, David Mason is living with his sister Polly Mason Hall, along with 19-year-old Eliza Templeton, probably helping his brother-in-law on the farm.  Eliza’s occupation is not specified, but the Templeton family had lived in the area for years, and she was probably a domestic helper. An elderly woman of 77 named Betsy Mason lives there too; this is probably Jacob's widow, since Jacob doesn't appear in the 1850 census.

[4] The Panic of 1873 triggered the Long Depression of 1873-1879.

[5] Lorenzo was a popular name during this period because of Lorenzo Dow (October 16, 1777 – February 2, 1834), an eccentric itinerant American preacher, whose autobiography at one time was the second best-selling book in the United States, surpassed only by the Bible.

Wikipedia has this to say about him.

Dow's public speaking mannerisms were like nothing ever seen before among the typically conservative churchgoers of the time. He shouted, he screamed, he cried, he begged, he flattered, he insulted, he challenged people and their beliefs. He told stories and made jokes. It is recorded that Lorenzo Dow often preached before open-air assemblies of 10,000 people or more and held the audiences spellbound. He traveled on foot and occasionally on horseback (when someone would donate a horse) throughout what was then the United States. A fierce abolitionist, Dow's sermons were often unpopular in the southern United States, and he frequently was threatened with personal violence. He sometimes was forcibly ejected from towns, pelted with stones, eggs, and rotten vegetables. That never stopped him; he simply walked to the next town and gave the same sermon again. Lorenzo Dow was personally unkempt. He did not practice personal hygiene and his long hair and beard were described as "never having met a comb." When those clothes became so badly worn and full of holes that they were no longer capable of covering him, some person in the audience usually would donate a replacement. The donated clothes often were not the correct size for his skinny body. Throughout most of his life, what little money he ever collected was either given away to the poor or used to purchase Bibles.

The choice of Lorenzo Dow for Lo's first and middle names suggests that at least one of his parents was religious. The other children had more traditional names -- Robert for Liberty's father, Sarah (Sallie) for his mother, etc.

[6] This entry is from the third-to-last page of Lorenzo's diary. The very last date recorded is January 25, 1878, but it's not clear when he inscribed the names of Mary Mason and Mary Dinger on the same page. Did he guess back then that the two Marys would be the mothers of his children?