Ornamental painter, acclaimed for the famous Concord Coaches; married the adopted daughter of a Countess, Emma Gannell.
John Burgum was born in Birmingham, England, on the 14th May 1826. His parents, John and Mary Burgum lived at Deritend Mill and arranged the baby's christening at St Martin's, Birmingham, on the 3rd June 1826. John's father, John senior, was an engineer. The family later lived in Heneage Street, not far from Deritend, growing up with his three sisters, Jane Elizabeth and Sarah. He was not yet fourteen when he began formal training as an apprentice to Christopher Wright, a clock-dial painter. His pay was to begin at three shillings a week (about 15 pence or 10 cents in modern money). Each year John's weekly pay would increase by sixpence, so that on his seventeenth birthday his wage packet would have soared to five shillings. Then, each birthday, the rise would be one shilling. In John's final year, leading up to his twenty-first birthday, he would earn eight shillings per week (Forty pence or about 25 cents).
John received valuable training of course, during his apprenticeship. However he did have to work six days a week, from eight in the morning until seven in the evening with an hour for lunch. Under his apprenticeship, John was forbidden to "play at cards, dice tables or any other unlawful games" and nor should he "haunt taverns or alehouses". In 1846, John's Indenture of Apprenticeship was transferred when the ownership of the Clock Dial Works, in Summer Road, Birmingham, went to John Wright Fletcher, a dial manufacturer John supplemented his education with visits to museums and concert halls, subscriptions to art magazines and membership of Painting and Sketch Club. . On completion of John's apprenticeship, Fletcher wrote that John had been a "steady, honest and respectable young man."
In 1850 John emigrated to America, entering Boston in 1850. The journey was said to have taken him a month. On his arrival, John was confronted by the sights and sounds of the New World. One of his first sights was an omnibus, highly decorated with landscape pictures, lettering and patterns; the custom of the day. It was later claimed that John stopped the driver and asked where the bus had been manufactured and ornamented. Supposedly he made his way to the Boston factory that first day and secured a job there. In that same year he was recruited by George Main, foreman of the paintshops at the Abbot-Downing Coach factory in Concord. When John went to Concord to work for Abbot-Downing, he could not have known that this was to be where he would live for the remainder of his life.
In 1851 John was invited to the Rolfe-Rumford house in Concord to view several paintings. There he met Emma Gannell, companion and adopted daughter of Sarah Thompson, Countess Rumford. Emma was English, like John, and had a broad cultural background. The two young people immediately took a liking to each other. However, the Countess was dismissive of the young artist. Meeting with such disapproval, John and Emma chose to court secretly.
John Burgum wrote on in Emma's autograph book in 18th September 1851 -
It was over a year before the Countess found out about John and Emma and she was not at all pleased! The Countess's diary read - "Burgum, a name as appears interesting to Emma"! She was convinced that John Burgum (who was of modest means) was simply after their wealth and claimed that neither John or Emma would receive a cent if they continued with their plans for marriage. However, on 30th October 1852, Emma Gannell did marry John Burgum. The marriage was performed by Rev. Nathaniel Bouton at Old North Church. The Countess did not attend the ceremony, ostensibly because of a feverish chill, but she did allow the Burgums to live in the Rolfe House until their own could be made ready.
It is difficult to say whether the Countess changed her mind about John or whether she maintained her stubborn opposition to him as was claimed. The Countess began making plans to return to Europe, but her health was failing and she died on 2nd December 1852. John and Emma remained in the Rolfe House until 1853, when they made their home at 68 South State Street. The wooden house on South State Street still stands to this day, although it is likely that it has been added to and repaired several times.
John's first work for the Abbot-Downing Coach company was the decoration of a circus wagon, but it was the famous Concord Coaches, exported all over the world, that made the company, and john, such a success. In 1853, their first child Sarah Rumford Burgum was born. This was followed in 1854 with a son John Fulton Burgum. In 1855 Mary Gannell (nee Grove), Emma's real mother, travelled to America to visit the Burgums. She stayed for a year.
Another son, Charles Henry was born in 1856 and on 8th July 1858, Emma gave birth to a third son, Edwin Gannell Burgum. Another second daughter, Jane Isabella Burgum was born 7th October 1860, but died eight months later on 2nd June 1861 and in 1862 Mary (Minnie) Jane Burgum was born.
For twenty-five years, John painted designs on coaches and wagons, known around the world throughout the nineteenth century. Each door of the Concord coach had a different scene painted on it, normally relating to the area in which the coach would be operating. Each door was painted by John Burgum. Perhaps the most famous Concord Coach was the "Deadwood Stage" owned later by Buffalo Bill and said to have carried more notables than any other single vehicle.
Concord Coaches played a significant role in the history of the American West and was used by many operators including the Well Fargo Company. The Wells Fargo Bank bought the copyright to the Concord Coach logo and features original Concord Coaches in several museums including San Franciso, Los Angeles and San Diego. Several other Concord Coaches remain in existence, mainly in the state of New Hampshire.
Later John worked in Manchester, south of Concord, decorating steam engines for the Amoskeag Company for several years. He returned to Abbot-Downing, decorating vehicles when there was work to be done, undertaking other painting and decorating commissions, and trying other business ventures.
John actually painted the scene "A trainload of thirty brand-new Concord Coaches en-route to Wells Fargo's depot at Omaha, Nebraska, in April 1868." This was based on a photograph taken on April 15th, 1868. The locomotive "Pembroke" shipment was worth $45,000 including coaches and harnesses. The landscape scenes painted on the door of each stagecoach was by John Burgum, while the scroll work was completed by another ornamentor, Charles Knowlton. Although based on Carr's photograph of the event, John "improved" the original scene in many ways. Edwin Gannell Burgum, speaking shortly before his death in 1948, said, "My father's paintings were often copies of pictures in black and white. He could always see colours in a black and white print and would often remark, 'What beautiful colouring that is', thinking you could see it as he did."
In 1860's John Burgum seemed pre-occupied with inventions, although Abbot and Downing Company provided his salary. Working with paints in the workshop frequently made him ill. On July 20th 1868, after decorating a city coach he wrote, "(it is) a disagreeable job and I get along very slowly". Many of John's evening hours were spent perfecting his inventions. He received a patent for his "Family Bread Cutting Machine" and his "Pork Sinker". His Smoke Consumer was sold in England and his oil cloth and welder were sold locally in hardware stores. Documents indicate a partnership Woodward & Burgum was set up for the manufacture of water-proof oil cloth. In October 1867 John Burgum received two awards from the American Institute of New York. One was for his "Improved Try square" (a right angle gauge for carpenters) and the other for his "Device for keeping Meat and Pickles under Brine, a Novel and Useful Invention Very Effective and Perfectly Simple in its Construction".
J. BURGUM & SON
Decorators and Ornamental Painters
39 State St, Concord, NH
Pictures, Pottery and Beach Pebbles
painted to order.
Please call and examine.
(Address pencilled & changed to 68 South State St)
Emma maintained her own interest in art. The Countess Rumford had encouraged her to draw and sketch as a child. Diaries and notebooks would often carry a sketch of something that had taken Emma's eye. In October 1868 she was awarded a Diploma by the New Hampshire Mechanics and Art Association for an oil painting displayed at their exhibition.
On 20th July 1872, John set out on a trip to England with his nephew, Nat. In correspondence to Hiram Rolfe written on August 1st 1872, he wrote from the SS Columbia, while sailing across the Atlantic. He said, "...made acquaintance of Judge Parmeter of Boston. I found that he was well acquainted with some friends of my fathers, also with a man that I was acquainted with, we were boys and played together." John wrote a very similar letter to his wife. He and Nat. arrived in the city of Glasgow on the 3rd August 1872.
In 1876 a painting of David A. Warde, a leading politician, was painted and presented to the State House, in Concord, the capital of the state of New Hampshire. The artist was John Burgum.
John continued to work on coaches and decorated a horse-drawn omnibus built in about 1880. It is now housed at the Carriage Museum at Stoney Brook, on Long Island in New York State. It is a fine example of the carriage work and decoration being carried out at that time. The "Grace Darling" was commissioned by Simeon P. Huntress, of South Berwick, Maine. He owned a livery company and used the omnibus to transport passengers between the railway stations and the local beaches. It was also used for excursions around the countryside. Large omnibuses like these were called barges and were drawn by a team of up to six horses. Up to forty-five passengers could be carried on this amazing vehicle. Twelve paintings decorate the coach's interior between the roof pillars while other painting adorn the corners and rear door of the coach. These magnificent painting were painted by John Burgum who describes his work on the project in his diaries. (To read the article on my visit to see the Grace Darling, at Stoney Brook, click here. Grace Darling CLICK BACK to return to this page).
Edwin, John and Emma's youngest son, followed in his father's footsteps and often worked with him at the Abbott-Downing Company. In later years they also worked for the Concord Carriage Company, E.Teel and Company, the Union Carriage Company, and the Boston and Maine Railroad. Sometimes they would ornament a coach together, one sketching the design, while the other would apply the finishing touches. Both of them also sought other projects. John repaired clocks, painted small wooden panels for souvenirs, instructed pupils in art, sold packing for valves in machinery and tried to sell diamonds. Edwin made and upholstered furniture and took up photography.
In June 1861, John Burgum had purchased a burial plot at the Blossom Hill Cemetery, just outside Concord. This had been prompted by the death of Jane Isabella Burgum, their baby daughter. Lot 510 cost him twenty-one dollars and sixty cents. The Cemetery Deed read -
The City of Concord, in the County of Merrimack and in the State of New Hampshire, in consideration of $21.60 cents paid by John Burgum in conformity with the Ordinance of the City establishing the Blossom Hill Cemetery hereby grants, bargains, sells and conveys unto the said John Burgum Lot 510 in Blossom Hill Cemetery as plotted and recorded in Merrimack Records, volume 159, page 9.
To have and to hold the same with its appuetenances unto the said John Burgum his heirs and assigns for ever, for a place of burial and for no other purpose whatsoever, subject nevertheless to such general rules and regulations as the City Council of said City of Concord may from time to time establish and the said City of Concord hereby covenants with said John Burgum his heirs and assigns that the Blossom Hill Cemetery aforesaid shall for ever be kept and preserved as a place of Burial for the Dead. 8th June 1861
John Burgum died on 16th April 1907. Three days later he was buried at Blossom Hill Cemetery. John and Emma had been married for fifty-five years. Maybe the Countess was wrong about John Burgum.
The 1920 census shows Emma Gannell Burgum still living at 68 South State Street. She was living with her son and daughter-in-law, Edwin and Addie. Emma died on January 9th 1923, age 97. She was buried in the family plot (no. 501) at Blossom Hill Cemetery.
Edwin Gannell Burgum
Edwin Gannell Burgum continued to work, as his father had done, for the Abbott and Downing Coach Company. Later, in 1939, he wrote an article entitled "The Concord Coach", in which he wrote that he "...was getting into the game as the company was getting out of it." The Abbott-Downing Company had prided itself on the production of hand-built, custom-ordered coaches and wagons. However, as mass-production and diversification became the order of the day in a world of shrinking markets, the company struggled, calling in the receiver in 1909. A rescue package enabled the company to recover and it turned its attention to automotive production (specifically high-quality trucks).Sadly, the company was too small and competition from the giants (Ford, Studebaker, Jewett) proved too much. In 1925, Abbott and Downing was dissolved. When little else was left, Wells Fargo purchased the Abbott-Downing name, identifying its importance to Wells Fargo and the history of the American West.
I do not know when Edwin ceased working for the Abbott-Downing Company, (at the time of his marriage in 1893 he was working as an Apothecary), but I do know that he maintained his interest in its rich, historical past. A 1935 diary of Edwin's contains details of a trip across the United States to California. It describes coaches that were seen at various locations (such as Wyoming and Colorado) and other information about famous coaches. In the 1930's, Edwin ornamented at least three coaches, two of which were exhibited at the New York World's Fair of 1939. Edward Hungerford, leading transportation historian and former Wells Fargo executive, describes in his book "Wells Fargo - Advancing the American Frontier", his conversation with Edgar (sic) Burgum at the World Fair. A Concorc stagecoach was being used in "Railroads on Parade" and Edwin had explained the history and artistry to him.
Edwin died in Concord in July 1948 and is also buried at Blossom Hill. He lies with his wife and daughter in the cemetery lot reserved for the Berry family (Addie's parents). Edwin's brother, Charles, died in Concord on July 13th 1950 and I have little more information about him. Edwin Gannell Burgum's notebook, photographs and clippings (mainly relating to the Concord Coaches) were given, on permanent loan, to the New Hampshire Historical Society by his sons in 1946. I do not know what became of Edwin's second son George. However, I do know something more about Edwin's first son, Edwin "Berry" Burgum.