Private Robert Burnett of the 58th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry

Remembering Robert Burnett
Born About 1833 - Died May 03, 1892
by Linda Durr Rudd

Robert Burnett was born about 1833, somewhere in Virginia, to parents whose names and history are unknown. In the late fall and winter of 1851-1852, Robert’s slave owner decided to sell him away from his closest kin and he was placed in the hands of slave traders. Robert would have been about eighteen years of age. The slave traders held Robert in Richmond, Virginia, where he and his future wife Jane Harris met and the two became acquainted.

"De way my pa an' ma was sole an' traded 'bout we jes' naturally los' track ob 'em. Back in slave days families would be torn up an' seperated an' when de slave traders 'ud come through de Masters 'ud sell any ob 'em aways from each other if dey could git a good price fer 'em. Sometimes dey would sell de wife an' keep de husband an' sell boys an' girls away from home an' deir folks would never know whut become ob 'em." Ex-Slave Sylvia Floyd in Simpson County, MS

"They were not usually sold until they were twelve years old, however the age of selling depended on their sex, size, ability etc., sometimes a special order would come in for one or two younger ones, like when a family wanted the colored chillun' to play with theirs, you know. The slave girls were trained to do different things such as: weave, cook, sew, and maid service. The ones who were really good, of course brought a higher price at market time." Ex-Slave George Coleman in Lowndes County, MS

The forced migration of Africans Americans slaves from the Upper South to the Deep South steered the domestic slave trade. High birth rate among the slaves in the Upper South met the demand for labor from the expanding plantation region in the lower south, thus, supply met demand. Desire for greater profits motivated most of the sales of slaves.

Slave Traders craved youthful men and women who could endure the long trip to the Deep South. The young men and women were suitable for many years of hard labor and the young women came with an extra bonus, years ahead for childbearing; both Robert and Jane were ideal candidates.

If they traveled by land, Robert and Jane would have been part of a coffle. A coffle was a convoy of slaves, mostly chained or roped together. The average coffle consisted of between 30 and 50 people. Men were placed in front, followed by women without children, children who were able to walk, and lastly, women with infants and small children who had to be carried. Major traders would have as many as 300 people. Determine by the destination, traveling 20 - 25 miles per day, the trip could take up to eight weeks. The destination for Robert and Jane was Natchez, Mississippi.

"I can see de tragic sight, yet, of my people, chained together by deir han's in pairs, lined up in a long row, wid men leadin' 'em, and men at de end of de line takin' 'em to de auction-block." Ex-Slave Foster Weathersby in Simpson County, MS

Traveling by water, they probably left Norfolk, VA, on a steam brig, navigating the Atlantic around the Florida Peninsula into the Gulf of Mexico. The brig would continue up the Mississippi River to the docks at New Orleans. Slaves destined for the Natchez market were transferred to steamboats for the remainder of the trip. The steam brigs which were equipped to carry between 75 and 150 slaves, normally operated between October to May to avoid excessive heat in the tightly packed slave quarters aboard ship.

The Natchez Daily Courier
November 6th 1855

Robert and Jane arrived in Natchez around January 1852, thus traveling by water was probably their travel mode. They and the others in their group would be groomed, well fed, and given new clothes for preparation of their impending sale.

"When dey got to Natchez de slaves was put in de pen 'tached to de slave markets. It stood at de forks o' St. Catherine Street an' de Liberty road. Here dey was fed an' washed an' rubbed down lak race hosses. Den dey was dressed up an' put through de paces dat would show off dey muscles. My pappy was sol' as a twelve year old, but he always said he was nigher twenty." Ex-Slave Isaac Stier of Jefferson County, MS

Charles S. Sydnor’s book, Slavery in Mississippi, described the The Forks of the Road Slave Market as follows: "A short distance out of Natchez in the angel of two roads were several low, rough, wooden buildings, that partially enclosed a narrow courtyard. In front of it usually found the saddle horses of planters or of the traders; inside were the Negroes awaiting sale. The entrance of a planter was a signal for the Negroes to line up, the men on one side and the women on the other."

The slave merchandise would be told how to show themselves off, to look cheerful and to speak up. The slaves would be formed into companies, according to size; the men, women, and children into separate groups. With this arrangement, the families among the group would often see the last of each other in this dreaded showroom.

John Torrey of Union Church, Jefferson County, Mississippi, purchased Robert and Jane. The records did not reveal if Torrey purchased other slaves nor if his purchase of Robert and Jane was coincidental. Robert and Jane arrived at their new place February 01, 1852 which was also the day they were given the permission of John Torrey to marry which was in accordance with the customs of slavery. The couple acclimated to their new surroundings. Jane who was born about 1838, in Virginia, gave birth to their first child February 1853. She became a member of Union Church Presbyterian Church by acceptance and was baptized August or September 11, 1859. Her name is listed among the servants membership list.

Surely, Robert and Jane kept their ears open for news of the Civil War. On May 12, 1862, Natchez surrender to Union forces without a fight. Hearing that Natchez had fallen in the hands of the Yankees and seeing Union Troops passing near Union Church, Robert left the plantation and joined Company C, 58th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry, and enlisted August 19, 1863 at Natchez. The military records described Robert as 5 feet 7 inches tall, yellow complexion with black hair and eyes. Regimental Hospital records showed that Robert suffered with various ailments. He was treated for colds, fevers, ulcer, constipation, acute diarrhea, pneumonia, bronchitis, and rheumatism. Robert mustered out April 30, 1866, at Vicksburg, MS, and returned to John Torrey’s plantation and worked as a farm laborer.

Robert and Jane had ten children, eight were named in the pension and census records. The children were:
Anderson was born February 17, 1853, on John Torrey’s plantation in Jefferson Co., MS. He married Sarah Reed November 11, 1881, in Jefferson Co., MS. They had one son, Frank.
James was born January 11, 1855, on John Torrey’s plantation in Jefferson Co., MS. He married Joanna Roundtree December 29, 1881, in Jefferson Co., MS. They had one son, Cornelius.
Laura was born April 11, 1858, on John Torrey’s plantation in Jefferson Co., MS. She married Green Littleton December 24, 1876, in Jefferson Co., MS. Green was the son of Thomas and Frances Littleton. The Littleton family were the slaves of Neil Buie of Caseyville, Copiah County, MS. Green and Laura's children were Mary, Melvin, Henrietta, Marcus, Thomas, Lizzie, Merryman, Alice, Effie, Alberta, Lillian, and Emmett.
Mary (Mollie) born June 01, 1865, on John Torrey’s plantation in Jefferson Co., MS. Mary may have married three times; first to a man whose surname was Walker, second to Lee Mayberry, and last to Robert Roundtree. Mary and Roundtree had one daughter, Mildred. Mary's children using the surname Mayberry were: Samuel, Carlise, Estella, and Leona.
Robert was born April 06, 1868, in Jefferson County, MS.
Alice was born October 01, 1870, in Jefferson County, MS.
Charlie was born November 24, 1873, in Jefferson County, MS.
Frances born March 1876, in Jefferson County, MS.

Robert health problems started during his services with the 58th Infantry, and continue after the Surrender. He was treated for acute and chronic rheumatism by Doctors W. McArn and J. J. McLean. He had pain in the hips and in the knee joints which over time grew progressively worse. The problems with his joints prevented him from working a full work day. He complained of weak eyesight due to damage caused by gun power. Robert applied for a pension from the United States government and was denied the pension.

Robert succumbed to a combination of diseases. He died May 03, 1892 ,of enlargement of the liver, chronic rheumatism and disease of the heart. Dr. McLean testified that Robert’s frequent rheumatism attacks resulted in organic heart condition which proved fatal. Jane, Robert’s widow, applied for a pension faulting Robert’s service as the cause of his death. Jane’s claim was rejected because "the cause of death cannot be charged to the service on merely a suppositions ground."

Jane Burnett outlived her husband by a few years and received her pension, $12 monthly, as Robert’s widow. Jane died August 08, 1912, at the home of her daughter Mollie Roundtree near Union Church, Jefferson County, MS.


1870 - Jefferson County, Union Church, MS - Page 68
ROBT BURNETT, 34, farm laborer, VA - JANE, 34, cook, VA - Andersonm 17, Jamesm 15, Lauram 12, Molliem 5, Robertm 7, Alise, 6 months

1880 - Jefferson County, Beat 1, MS - Page 132
ROBERT BURNETT 45 - JANE, 45, wife - James, son, 25, Mollie, daughter 16 - Robt, son, 12 - Alice, daughter, 10 - Charles, son, 8 - Frances, daughter, 5

1900 - Jefferson County, Beat 1, MS - Page 3
JANE BURNETT, head, 70, widow - Jennett Carradine, granddaughter, 7

1910 - Jefferson County, Beat 1, MS - Page 6
Green Littleton, head, 56 - Laura, wife, 50 - Mary, daughter, 32 - Thomas, son, 24 - Merriman, son, 21 - Alice, daughter, 19 - Effie, daughter, 13 - Alberta, daughter, 11 - Emmett, son, 7 - JANE BURNETT, mother-in-law, 71, widow - Lillian Liso, granddaughter, 10 - Ladorus Lowe, granddaughter, 8 - Elna Jones, granddaughter, 3 - Lonnie Etter, grandson, 1


Robert Bryant - He verified the death date of Robert Burnett and also testified about Robert's health problems. Bryant was the slave of John McDaniel of Veto, Franklin County, MS. Robert Bryant moved to the Union Church community in 1866 where he first met Burnett.
1880 - Jefferson County, MS, Beat 1 - Page 146 - ROBERT BRYANT, 29, Amanda, 29, Artemis, 8, Adelaide, 7, Lynch, 3, Melissa, 1

Henson Buie - Henson knew Robert and Jane Burnett for about 40 years. He testified that the couple remained married until the death of Robert.

Lewis Buie - He testified that Jane Burnett had not remarried since the death of her husband Robert Burnett.
1870 - Jefferson County, Union Church, MS - Page 69 - LEWIS BUIE, 40, Martha, 35

Bristol Claiborne - He testified that Robert complained about pain in the joints beginning in 1866. Claiborne served with the 58th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry.

J. D. Clark - J. D. knew Robert and Jane for about 30 years. He testified that he had always known Jane as Robert Burnett’s wife and that the couple never divorced.
1870 - Jefferson County, Union Church, MS - Page 66 - Jane Vardiman, 35, Alice, 16, Houston, 14, Alise, 12, John, 10, J.D. CLARK, 24

John Culver - John testified about Robert’s illnesses during the Civil War. John Culver served with the 58th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry.
1870 - Lincoln County, Caseyville, MS - Page 99 - Robt Culver, 32, C. 22, Mille, 7, Robt. 1, Flora, 80, JOHN CULVER, 38

Jack Green - Jack knew the Burnett couple 16 or 17 years prior to the Civil War. He testified about Robert’s health. Jack was a slave of John Torrey.
1870 - Jefferson County, Perth, MS - Page JACK GREEN, 41, Harriett, 34, Thomas, 12, Wade, 10, Ellen, 6, Henry, 4, Emily, 1

Nathan Jacobs - Nathan knew Robert and Jane for about 40 years. He testified that the couple remained married until the death of Robert Burnett and that his wife Jane never remarried.
1870 - Jefferson County, Union Church, MS - Page 69 - NATHAN JACOBS, 38, Minerva, 23, Lizzy, 8, Ellen, 6, Priscilla, 4, Naomi

Calvin McCormick - He testified that he knew Robert and Jane Burnett since he was a little boy. Calvin served with the 6th Regiment, United States Colored Heavy Artillery. Calvin was a slave of John McCormick.
1870 - Jefferson County, Union Church, MS - Page 24 - CALVIN MCCORMICK, 23, Mariah, 21, Dora, 1, Amy Carter, 14

J. J. McLean - He was Robert Burnett’s physician and he was the family physician for the John Torrey family. He knew Robert about 40 years prior to his death. Dr. McLean testified about Robert’s medical conditions.
1870 - Jefferson County, Union Church, MS - Page 1 - Dr. J. J. MCLEAN, 42, Sarah, 35, Sallie, 13, Neil D., 11, Chas Clark, 8, Hugh, 6, Corrie, 3, infant, 8 months, Ailey 9

Joseph McMillan - He testified about Robert’s illnesses during the War. Joseph served with the 58th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry.
1870 - Jefferson County, Fayette, MS - Page 38 - Joe McMillan, 39 , Angetine, 20, Nancy, 2, Jane, 9 months

John Torrey and Margaret Cameron Torrey were Robert and Jane Torrey Burnett's slave owners. John testified that he purchased them February 01, 1852 and that they lived as man and wife.
1870 - Jefferson County, Union Church, MS - Page 68 - JOHN TORRY, 52, MARGARET C., 41, Flora A., 20, Margaret A., 18, Doug A., 16, Mary C., 13, Mary Nichols, 23, Marshal Riggs, 25, Alice L. Riggs, 21, Doug M.,, 1

John Weed - He testified that Robert Burnett complained of pains in his knees and other parts of his body due to rheumatism resulting from exposure while in the line of duty beginning in 1866. John served with the 58th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry.

Slave Owner

The Torrey family were among the first pioneers to settle in the eastern part of Jefferson County, Mississippi. About 1805, just after the Louisiana Purchase, George Torrey, his son Dougald Torrey, Laughlin Currie, and Robert Willis came with their families, slaves, livestock, and furnishings from North Carolina. It is believed they came down the Natchez Trace as far as Bruinsburg in Claiborne County, MS. They stayed there for a couple years, before entering Jefferson County, and made crops as their food supply was low.

John Torrey, son of Dougald Torrey and Flora Gilchrist, was born August 11, 1818 in Mississippi. He married Margaret Catherine Cameron October 08, 1846, in Jefferson County. John was a large land owner and owned 42 slaves during his farming career.

John and his wife Margaret were received by letter as members of Union Church Presbyterian Church on April 18, 1857. Three of John’s slaves were also members: Jane, Ben and Letha. Their names were listed among the servants membership list. John died January 27, 1907, and Margaret died March 15, 1909. Both are buried at the Union Church Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Jefferson County, MS.


Robert Burnett’s Federal Military Pension Records
Civil War Soldiers and Sailor System
African American Migration Experience - The Domestic Slave Trade
Slavery in Mississippi by Charles S. Sydnor
Speculators and Slaves, Masters, Traders, and Slaves in the Old South by Michael Tadman
Goodspeed’s Biographical and Historial Memoirs of Mississippi
The Forks of the Road Slave Market at Natchez
Federal Writer’s Project Slave Narrative of George Coleman - MS
Federal Writer’s Project Slave Narrative of Sylvia Floyd
Federal Writer’s Project Slave Narrative of Isaac Stier
The Federal Writers Project Slave Narrative of Foster Weathersby
1860 Jefferson County Slave Schedule - MS
1860 Jefferson County Federal Census - MS
1870 Jefferson County Federal Census - MS
1880 Jefferson County Federal Census - MS
1900 Jefferson County Federal Census - MS
1910 Jefferson County Federal Census - MS
1920 Jefferson County Federal Census - MS
1930 Jefferson County Federal Census - MS
Union Church Presbyterian Church Cemetery Survey
Natchez Daily Courier, February 06, 1855 - Microfilm Number: 22503
Union Church Presbyterian Church Session Records - Microfilm Number: 36274
Microfilms were found at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

Private Calvin McCormick of the 6th Regiment, United States Colored Heavy Artillery

Private John Culver of the 58th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry

Remembering Their Names