The following is an excerpt from a paper presented to the Kittochtinny historical society of Chambersburg, by Charles W. Cramer. The paper was entitled "A Franklin County Cousin of Robert Bums." I've used bold type whenever a relative of ours is referred to in the paper. (Appendix, pg. 3 & 10) Mr. Cramer's paper was as follows (in part):

It had been my fancy, when I accepted your committee's kind invitation to prepare a paper for this occasion that I would try to sing "of arms and of men". It was John BOURNS (Burns), the honest, earnest, son of a Scotchman; a sturdy, God-honoring man and a patriot who forged with his hammer the first cannon made in America and who served as a soldier the ranks and then an artificer in the army of Washington, that I purposed writing; and of his son, James Bums, who fought as an officer in the War of 1812; and of Hugh Dinwiddle, who won such recognition for his bravery and knowledge of warfare in the French and Indian war that he was made an officer in the forces of the colonies when the Revolutionary war was precipitated.

It was of these and some of their descendents I set out to tell, when there came, unexpectedly, the knowledge that the story of war heroes must be mellowed, in part, to the peaceful, love-filled measures of a master among poets.


The inquiry led to records in London and in Edinburgh that established the fact that Archibald Bourns (appendix, pg. 10) was a brother of William Burness, the father of Robert Bums; that John Burns, in whose blacksmith shop along the Antietam creek, not so far from Waynesboro, was made the first American piece of artillery, was a first cousin to the great Scotch poet, and there flows in the veins of a number of Franklin county people the same blood that gave such vigorous life to the immortal "Bobby" Burns.


Two of the brothers of William Burness came to this country. Thomas Bourns emigrated from Scotland and found for himself a new home in Mifflin County, Virginia in 1747.

ARCHIBALD BOURNS, the second brother of William Burness. An uncle of Robert Bums, and the Bourns with whose descendents this paper has to do came to America from Lanmark or Edinburgh, Scotland in 1752. With him came his wife, JANET CUTHBERSON, her brother Rev. John Cuthbertson, and Mr. Bournís nephew, Thomas. Archibald Bourns settled in what is now Adams Co., VA. He and his wife and her brother were of the Covenanter faith. The latter was sent out by the Church of Scotland to act as the shepherd of a colony in this section of Pennsylvania.

To Archibald and Janet Bourns were born two sons, James and John. Archibald died while his sons were mere lads and his widow married Francis Meredith. It is of John and his descendents that this sketch will treat - John, the cousin of Robert Bums, in whom Scotland has been so rich.


JOHN BOURNS took to wife ESTER MORROW, daughter of Jeremy Morrow, grandfather of a governor of Ohio. John Bourns (Burns) and his wife left Adams Co., PA in 1773 and selected for their home a beautiful spot on the banks of the east branch of Antietam creek, near what is now Roadside in Washington township, this county.


Here John Bourns established his home and, thrifty Scot that he was, inaugurated at once in industry. Of the timbers of the forest he put up his house along with it a sawmill and a blacksmith shop and then he was ready to rear a family and build up a business. In accord with strict accuracy it must be told that the sawmill was the first pretentious structure completed by the thrifty Scot. In it he sawed the lumber for his permanent home and his smithy. He must have been a resourceful man, for while he was a sickle smith by trade, he could saw out the timbers for houses and barns, could fashion irons for wagons and hinges for doors and nails for all sorts of uses.

One of the buildings for which he sawed the timbers is still standing on the eastern edge of Waynesboro. It is not a large structure and externally it does not look much like the house that he built, but the logs that he fashioned are yet in its walls and under the floor. The building was purposed for a schoolhouse and it was used as such and as a place for religious services - Of the strict Covenanter faith - during the revolutionary war and afterward. Not only did John Bourns provide lumber for this building, that it was to be strong enough to resist the attack of Indians, but he hammered out the door hinges and fastenings and all the nails for it.


Old John Bourns must have been a magnificent character. His industry, his versatility, his esteem for education and his devotion to his church were all manifest to all men from his earliest entry into his county, but there was another attribute which was to be demonstrated in notable degree when the revolutionary war began. He was a very sturdy patriot and he did for his adopted country what no other man had ever done before in America.

With his Scotch perspicacity he reasoned that what the American army needed as much as anything was cannon and he set about to make one. He had none of the appliances for casting a cannon, so he determined to create one from wrought iron. He made all his preparations and then called in his neighbors. They came in goodly numbers and they came with enthusiasm for they were all patriots, too, and they came to help in this work of furnishing a war-gun to the army of the colonies. I suspect, too, that they had to see what this indomitable man would make of his undertaking.

They were busy about the Bourns place that day. There was to be no cessation of work and the women of the household aided by some of the housewives of the vicinity, prepared huge and steaming meals for all who were to have a part in this strange adventure.

Everything was made ready. An extra pair of bellows was set up; a big lot of fuel was supplied; the neighbors were assigned their duties and then the momentous work began. Under the leadership of James Bourns, brother of John, the men pumped the several pairs of bellows and kept up a continuous hot fire.

John Bourns had prepared a core of iron and as the neighbors heated iron bars to whiteness, he took them from their beds of coal and welded them around the core. Never did his hammer ring out a lustier sound than was carried out from the blacksmith shop to the hills and sent back in ringing echoes, to penetrate in quivering waves the gaps in the mountains and to follow with increased intensity the rippling waters on the Antietam.

John Bourns worked without resting. His helpers at the bellows relieved each other so that all might gain new strength from the food which was always kept ready for them by Mrs. Bourns and her neighbors At last the cannon was made and there must have gone up a cheer from the patriots gathered in the little blacksmith shop on the Antietam as this contribution to the army of Washington was completed.


With such tools as he had, John Bourns fashioned the bore, and it was smooth and round when he sent it forward to the troops. It was not a monster affair but it spoke with no uncertain sound when the primer was applied to it and nowhere was more execution asked of it than in the battle of the Brandywine, September, 11, 1777. In this engagement the British captured it and there are records extant, which indicate that it was taken to England and placed in the Tower of London.

Singularly enough John Bourns was one of the participants in the battle in which his cannon was captured. He had gone into the army sometime before the battle of the Brandywine and fought there, it must be supposed, with as much determination as he exhibited when he made his wrought iron cannon. But his superior skill as a smith was soon recognized and he was detached from active service as a fighting man and detailed to repair gunlocks and make bayonets for the soldiers.

When the colonists had gained their freedom John Bourns took up his old life at his home along the Antietam and there he lived almost a score of years, a useful citizen. He served a long time as a magistrate and he was a leader among his fellows. He was a Scotch Covenanter in his religious belief and he was tenacious in the practice of its doctrines.


They were not allowed to pick an apple from the ground or crack a nut of that day. These things were all made ready on Saturday and not later than six o'clock or "sun-down" of that day. The food to be eaten on the Sabbath day was all prepared on the preceding day and no cooking was allowed on Sunday, except a cup of coffee for breakfast. Assuredly some of our people of today who make a feast day of the Sabbath would not enjoy hospitality such as his must have been on that day nor would our good wives possess themselves in patience were they compelled to - As Esther Bourns was compelled to - let the washing of the dishes over until Monday.

The Sabbath day was not pre-eminently a day of rest in John Bourns' family, for he started a cavalcade from his home soon after the breakfast hour to some church, maybe in Greencastle or some other place equally as far away, and there listened to one or more sermons each day from an hour and a half to two hours in length. If the journey was to the Welsh run church or to the one near Scotland, the trip was begun on Saturday. When the regular days for the celebration of the Sacrament came around there was no longer absence from home, for these services began on Thursday and continued until Monday evening. All these were sacred days and all unnecessary work was forbidden. When there was no preaching by the minister in one of the churches, the Covenanters frequently journeyed to each other's homes and held services there, laymen expounding the Scriptures and offering the prayers.


Each weekday had its Bible reading and prayer. The day was begun with the singing of a Psalm, the reading and expounding of a passage of Scripture and a prayer, and there was a like ceremony at the closing of the day. Assuredly John Bourns kept bright the customs of his Covenanter ancestors in Scotland for the brief description of his family religious services is a homely telling of what Robert Bums, in "The Cotter's Saturday Night"' so beautifully depicts as the rule in his father's daily life.

John Bourns died April 20, 1802, and was buried in a private graveyard not far from the banks of the Antietam, on the Willow Glen farm now owned by Dr. A. H. Strickler, about two miles southwest of his home and the shop where he had made his famous cannon. He was buried by the side of his wife, Esther, who had died June 8, 1797. Their tombstones still stand and the inscriptions on them are still legible.


John Bourns was the father of eleven children. They were:
1. Margaret, born May 1774; died in early youth
2. Jeremy, born January 4, 1775; died February 1817- married Sarah Renfrew
3. John, born August 24, 1776; died unmarried
4. Sarah, born March 19, 1778; married David Bingham and moved to Ohio and then La Grange, Indiana
5. Archibald, born March 19, 1780; died in his youth
6. Thomas, born February 4, 1782; married a Miss Stewart. They had two children. One died in infancy and the other never married. She died in Chambersburg in October 1863)
7. Elizabeth, born March 22, 1784; married Thomas Patterson
8. James, born March 9, 1786; married Jean Downey
9. Franklin, born June II, 1788; died February 10, 1814 just before his wedding day
10. WILLIAM, born May 18, 1790; married MARY ELIZABETH FLOYD on March 25, 1825 and moved to Richland County, Ohio. They resided in the small village of Rome. (Appendix, pg. 3) Their daughter, ZORADAH, born September 9, 1847 in Rome; died May 12, 1919 in Ganges, Ohio (Where I grew up) married A. WEBSTER CREVELING. Their daughter, VERDA married HENRY HURSH GATES (appendix, pg. 1) Their son, GARLAND WESLEY GATES was my grandfather.
11. Esther, born June 4, 1792; died August 2, 1875; married John Wallace.


Much has been said of the men of the family, but little of the women. Esther Bourns, wife of the cannon maker, was a woman of great strength of character. She helped build a home in the almost unbroken forest and to rear a family of worthy children. One time she displayed in remarkable degree her promptness of decision. She had gone on horseback to visit a neighbor, Taking Jeremy, her second child, then an infant with her. On the way the horse frightened and Mrs. Bourns lost control of it. She quickly realized that she could not manage the animal and hold her baby in her arms at the same time. She must either lose hold of the baby or she must let the willful steed have its way, consequences to her and the child that could be easily guessed. She determined to both save the infant and conquer the horse, so she waited for the opportunity, leaned far off the animal and dropped the baby gently into a brush pile and then proceeded to very vigorously teach the horse that she was its master. The animal was speedily brought up by some expert horsemanship and then taken back to the brush-heap cradle, whence the youngster was taken, cooing and laughing, and then the journey was resumed with the horse ambling along in gentlest spirit.