Robert Burns, promising teacher, 1785-1810
Friday, March 1, 2013
Robert Burns rests in Bedford Center Cemetery, far from other family members. He was orphaned at age 9 when his baby sister, mother and father died within a year of each other.
He and his three brothers faced the future alone.
Parents Robert and Molly Smith Burns built a warm and loving home. The elder Robert’s estate contained luxuries, such as an hour glass, a looking glass, silver spoons, stylish clothing and surveying tools. Its value was several thousand dollars as appraised by Bedford school teacher David Patten and others.
Widower Robert Burns, though in a “weak and low condition” was of sound mind and thoughtful of his sons’ care when he made his will just days before his death. To eldest son, John, he left his desk and gun. The four little boys would receive equal estate shares at age 21.
The will further ordered his executor to give his sons a “common English education and if my said sons or either of them appear to my Executor to have a genius for learning and desire to have an Academical education, then my Will is that each of my sons so appearing and desiring shall have six months schooling at an academy, the costs of which to be deducted out of his or their shares of my estate.”
By Dec. 27, 1796, executor John Burns, a gentleman of Bedford, was auctioning to the highest bidder the dwelling house, personal, and real estate of Robert Burns, late of Merrimack.
This consisted of a farm with a house and barn, farming utensils, horses, cattle, sheep, and swine, household furniture, and wearing apparel. It was probably enough, but no more than that, to support the terms of the will.
Young John, William, and Samuel Smith Burns may not have desired higher education, but Robert certainly did. He showed the needed genius to deserve that six months of schooling.
Thereafter, he attended Dartmouth College on his own, progressing through the classes, but returning to Bedford to teach periodically in one of the district schools. He had earned his way up to the junior class when disaster struck.
The records are silent on what killed “this truly promising young man” in cold February 1810.
At just 25 he was unmarried, childless and without a fully formed occupation. Dartmouth graduates often entered the ministry or served in the Legislature.
His influence, though brief, would be unfairly underestimated without mention of the value he delivered to his students. As a youthful example of a gifted teacher, Robert Burns was in a position to fire next-
Those whose lives he touched were inspired to excel, no matter how long or briefly their hour glasses ran. His elegant gravestone acknowledges their regard.
Melinde Lutz Byrne is a member of the Friends of the Town of Bedford Cemeteries.