Burns: The compelling simplicity of Ann Hair

Submitted photo Ann Hair. They moved her name, but not her bones or body.

Submitted photo
Ann Hair. They moved her name, but not her bones or body.

Ann Hair. They moved her name but not her bones or body. The bulldozers and builders came. They moved her name but not her bones or body. Ann Hair.

Ann died in 1812 and was interred in the Hookstown Cemetery in Waynesburg, Pennsyl-vania. The cemetery was closed in the early 1960s to make way — and room — for a housing project.   Some burials were relocated, Ann’s was not. Her name now appears with 63 others on a memorial marker in a nearby cemetery. Ann Hair. They moved her name but not her bones or body.

It was the winter of 1806. Ann and husband John lived in Morris Township, north of Waynesburg, with nine of their 11 children. The two eldest daughters, Elizabeth and Hannah, had married and moved out. But Ann so worried about Elizabeth who lived nearby with husband James Burns. They had married on a cold winter’s day in February of 1799, just a week after Elizabeth’s 17th birthday.

In due time, James and Elizabeth had two children, Jane in 1801 and Alexander in 1804. All was fine, all except James’ wayward way of not writing letters home to his parents back in the north of Ireland. They were all Scotch-Irish, the Hairs and the Burns and most of their neighbors. Reflecting their thrifty Scottish heritage, they were sparse with words, but James to a fault — he had not written home for seven years. But finally James put pen to parchment.

“October 19th, A.D. 1804. Honoured Father and Mother, I was married February 1799 to a young woman of the name of Elizabeth Hair of a respectable family and soon after purchased 70 acres of land from which by good industry I can make a tolerable living. We have two children, the oldest a fine garrel three years old the 28 of last September, the youngest a fine boy the 16 of June last. The garrel named Jane and the boy Alexander.”

So why did mother Ann worry so about Elizabeth? Because of a cruel visitor that came to their frontier cabin some 10 months after James had finally written home. A raging fever that did not knock but did take its toll on the most vulnerable, the young. Jane died on September 25th, just three days short of her fourth birthday. Baby brother Alexander clung to life another 10 days before expiring on October 5, 1805, age 1. The parents, the grandparents, were stunned with grief. Ann did her best to comfort her distraught daughter. The children were buried, life went on. James received stoic Calvinist condolences from his uncle back in Ireland.

Today and yesterday by Dr. James F. Burns

Today and yesterday
by Dr. James F. Burns

“Dear Nephew, I am sorry to hear of the death of your two children … But still I hope you are in the way of your duty, that is, to submit to God’s will and be thankful for every dispensation of his providence which he is pleased to send your way, that is to say, the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”

The leaves fell from the trees that fall, the chill of winter weather soon arriving. Cabin walls which once echoed with children’s laughter were now still. But mother and daughter, Ann and Elizabeth, were soon sharing something special. Both were bearing new life within. Ann was pregnant with her 12th child at age 43. Elizabeth, though she likely was not aware, was newly pregnant when she and James had buried their children back in the fall.

Ann gave birth to a boy, Stephen, in late February and daughter Elizabeth also to a son, John, in April, just a few days after Easter, the Christian embodiment of new life through death. James and Elizabeth wanted a fresh start and moved on to Ohio with infant son John, leaving behind two tiny graves.

As usual, there’s a deeper history of these families. Ann and husband John were Bucks County people by birth, both of their families earlier having worshipped with the Rev. William Tennent of Log College fame — whose four sons, in league with the extraordinary English evangelist, George Whitefield, had led the Great Awakening of the 1730s and 1740s.

Frontier life was physically hard and demanding. Ann passed away at age 49 in 1812, six years after bearing her 12th child. Years later, John moved on to Ohio to be near Elizabeth and another daughter and their children. He had been with the Bucks County Militia at the Battle of Trenton — but couldn’t cross the river due to ice. Washington had made his famous crossing of the Delaware much earlier.

My ancestors were humble farming folks, as were most of yours. I located John’s tombstone in Ohio, having to scrape away overgrown grass to read the last line: “A soldier of the Revolution.” Ann still lies buried in the Hookstown Cemetery under the housing project; yes, they moved her name but not her bones or body. But as Lincoln so eloquently said about dedicating the hallowed ground where our honored dead reside — “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated to (their) unfinished work” of preserving our nation and its founding principles of liberty and equality for all. We’re still working on both.

God bless America and our ancestral heritage.

James F. Burns, a native of Ohio, is a professor emeritus at the University of Florida.

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