A Gentleman Named "Pioneer Ben"
Pioneer Ben Burgin 1741 - 1823
Benjamin Burgin, the second child of John & Martha Burgin, was born in Kent County (Shrewsbury Parish) Maryland, November 30,1741 and was christened December 25, 1741. Kent County is on Maryland's Eastern Shore, just across the northern part of the Chesapeake Bay from Baltimore County. Since the seventeenth century it has been the home of a large and important Burgin family, but these were not the only Burgins on the eastern shore of Md. In Somerset County, where the southern end of Maryland's eastern shore borders on Virginia, Daniel Burgin and his wife Mary lived and raised a family on Goose Creek in Somerset Parish.²
Ben moved to North Carolina, sometime between 1765 and 1770. He was last found in Maryland records in 1765. He had worked as a blacksmith and carpenter in Maryland, but in North Carolina, he would operate a tannery. They used the tannin from the bark of the abundant local trees turning the equally abundant animal skins into leather, a commodity much needed on the frontier.
Pioneer Ben (the name most commonly used by most descendants) first appeared in the official records of North Carolina November 18, 1772. It was on a marriage bond in Rowan County, for his marriage to Leah Mann, with Daniel Little as surety and Ad Osborne's signature as a witness.
This bond has been printed repeatedly and many Burgin researchers have assumed that Ben and Leah were married either on or soon after that date. The Family Bible, however reveals that the marriage actually took place three days before the marriage bond, a legal formality, was posted. It states clearly, "Benjamine Burgin & his Wife Leah was Married 15th Nov. 1772."
Records clearly show that Leah was the daughter of John Man(n) who was born c1727. Both he and his brother Robert Mann were dead by 1758. Rowan County records show that both left young orphan children. Under the legal customs of the time, orphans were bound out as apprentices or indentured servants -- boys until their twenty-first birthday, girls until their eighteenth.
The terminology of the indenture order for Leah Mann, dated April 17, 1759 would indicate that Leah's mother was also deceased at the time of the indenture, otherwise the court would not have had to "adjudge" Leah's age. She was adjudged to be five years of age at the time.
Leah was raised as a member of the George Davidson family, a prominent family on the North Carolina frontier. If she was five years of age in 1759, she would have turned eighteen and been released from her indenture in 1772, probably not long before her marriage to Ben.
Benjamin was a prominent citizen of the time. He had close ties to the Carsons, Alexanders, and Davidson families. All of those families held large tracts of land in what is now the McDowell, Buncomb, Burke County area. This is probably responsible for Benís move into the same area. He settled on a tract of land just outside of present day Old Fort.
In the Spring of 1774, Samuel Davidson decided to move across the Blue Ridge and build a cabin near what is now Azalea. This was in direct violation of the 1763 treaty between the British and the Cherokee Nation. The agreement was that the British would settle no farther west of Old Fort than the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The indians would later take a bell from Davidson's grazing horse and use it to lure him to his death. His wife, baby, and servant girl fled back across the Continental Divide, down the mountain to Davidsonís Fort and safety.
Pioneer Ben was part of the retaliatory raid that returned to find, and bury, Davidson's scalped body where he had fallen. They overtook the indians where they were camping on the trail in present Buncombe County and tradition is that the entire party of indians were either slain or fled to safety in the deep woods.
The extent of Pioneer Ben's participation in the Revolutionary War may never be known. Many of his descendants feel that Ben was one of the "Over-the-Mountain-Men" who marched to defeat the British at the battle of King's Mountain in 1780, but there is no evidence either for or against this supposition. It is certainly possible. No record of any Revolutionary service on his part has survived. Perhaps any such documents were destroyed when the Burke County Court House was burned by Federal Troops in 1865.
Ben was active in local, civic and political affairs. A search of the minutes of Burke County court of pleas and quarter sessions shows that Ben served as deputy sheriff, clerk of the court, and justice of the peace. His office as justice of the peace, to which he was appointed not once but twice (he had resigned in 1788) was a much more important position than it is today. He was actually one of the judges of the court of pleas and quarter sessions. A historian of Burke County describes it:
"The court of pleas and quarter sessions was the accepted governing body in each North Carolina county when the state constitution of 1776 was ratified, and it continued to serve this function until 1868 when a new constitution was adopted. Frequently referred to as the "county court" it was composed of justices of the peace appointed for life by the governor, on the recommendation of the county's representative in the General Assembly. The court's jurisdiction extended to all civil actions at common law and to nonfelonious crimes; the court also had exclusive jurisdiction over the crimes of slaves.In the October 1796 court session, Ben and Joseph Young were appointed "judges of the upper election for elector". Ben Adams and James Fallon were selected. Thus Ben participated in the selection of members of the electoral college which elected the second president of the United States . . . John Adams.
Initially, the court appointed all county officers except the clerk of superior courts and wardens (overseers) of the poor. The court also had administrative functions roughly analogous to those of the county commissioners of a later period. It was responsible for assessing and levying taxes; establishing and maintaining roads, bridges and ferries; granting licenses to taverns; controlling prices charged for food; and the erection and regulation of mills. Although the Burke County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions was not a democratic body elected by the people, the record suggests that it operated wisely, efficiently, and honestly."
Pioneer Ben died April 5, 1823; In the 81st year of his age at his home in what had become the community of Lackey Town, on Crooked Creek, near Old Fort. During one of her conversations, with Emily Burgin, Mary Greenlee stated that Ben was probably buried at the Old Ebenezer Cemetery near Old Fort.
Ben had made a will, which was probated in July, 1823, with his sons John and Benjamin the executors, but the will did not survive the burning of the Burke County courthouse by the Union soldiers in 1865. (For a picture Pioneer Ben's homeplace click here!)
The estate was inventoried by John and Ben Jr. September 10, 1823, and Peggy Silvers has preserved the inventory in print (Echoes In The Mist, subtitled The Burgin Family 1677-1989). Among the many items listed were: "One 60 gallon still and 100 gallons of whiskey."
Leah Mann Burgin died August 9, 1837; In the 86th year of her age." Ben's final estate sale was held after her death, November 19, 1837. Most of the remaining items were purchased by members of the family. Ben and Leah had eleven children. Their birth records show that all of them were born in Burke County, NC, but that portion of Burke County is now McDowell County. Their fifth child - Merritt Burgin, born July 10, 1784, was my third great-grandfather.