In the year 1066 Walter Le Veutre came to England with William of Normandy. During the conquest in 1080 Le Veutre was made a lord. Receiving the Saxon village of Burnham, county of Norfolk, and of many other manors as a part of his estate. After the Conquest, he assumed the name of Walter de Burnham after the manor, the estate continued to be held by his descendants until after 1700. The ancient seat, "Burnham Beeches," is mentioned in one of Tennyson's poems.
The name is often called and spelled Bernham, Burnam, and perhaps Barnham. In the old Anglo-Sazion it is Beornhom, Beorn and Burn, (a bear), mean ", "chief, hero, man"; others give it's meaning as a "Knight, a Noble"; it also means "a brook, a small river". "Ham signifies, a town, a village, a rich level meadow." The name when applied to a person signifies the lord of a town or a village; when applied to a place it signified a town or village by a river; but it was probably never used as a surname until after the Conquest, when Walter added De Burnham to his name.
This has been an especially hard branch for me to research do to the fact that there were 2 totally different Thomas Burnhams that immigrated in 1635. In many cases this fact is over looked and facts about the 2 men have been incorporated into one. Or the facts were so intermixed that Thomas 1 had the children of Thomas 2, was born when Thomas 1 was born but died when Thomas 2 died. You can imagine my frustration when I kept finding conflicting information. Nothing made sense; I was confused and at my whits end trying to figure it out. Then when I discovered that there actually were 2 Thomas's it all made sense and every thing fell into place.
The first Thomas is one of three brothers who landed in Pemaquid, Main, in May of 1635 when their sip the "Angel Gabriel" crashed against the rocks during a storm. These three brothers, Robert, Thomas (b.1623), and John were sons of Robert Burnham and Mary Andrews of Norwich, County Norfolk, England. These brothers settled in Chebecco/ Ipswich area in the colony of Massachusetts and for the next 300 years produced thousands of Burnham descendants. They are referred to as the Massachusetts Burnhams.
The second Thomas, (b.1617) arrived in America approximately the same year, 1635. Thomas Burnham sailed from Gravesend, England about 1635, for the Barbados and soon after came to Connecticut and ended up settling near Hartford. Many Burnham descendants have come from this original source also. This line is referred to of course as the Connecticut Burnhams. This second Thomas is our Thomas Burnham.
On Nov. 20, 1635. Thomas Burnham, 18 years old, left England for the Barbados, on the "Expedition", Peter Blacklee, Master. He took the oath of Allegiance & Supremacy in the town of Gravesend before sailing from England. He stayed in Barbados and very short time. Many emigrants where leaving Barbados because of political troubles. It is assumed that this is the reason that Thomas left Barbados. He first appeared in Hartford about the time of such political unrest.
He was educated in England and on first coming to this country he practiced law. He was said to have had a very determined character. In immigrating to the colonies he was moved less by religious scruples than by a desire to improve his fortunes. He would appear from the records to have been a shrewd Criminal Lawyer.
On first coming to Hartford, Connecticut, he bought the property on the corner of Main and State streets.
Thomas's first appearance on Colonial or Court Records was September 6, 1649 where he was bondsman for his man Rushmore in Court in the sum of 10 pounds, that Rushmore should appear at the next Particular Court held in Hartford. In December 1649, he was in court again, this time as a plaintiff.
In March 1656, he was sworn as Constable for Hartford. Burnham was made a freeman at the General Court in May 1657. January 1658, he was Attorney for Jeremy Adams. In 1659, he was required by ye General Court to appear to answer for his former carriage
In 1659, he bought a tract of land where he resided, from Tantonimo, (a one-eyed Indian, and chief Sachem of the Podunk Tribe). This land is now the town of South Windsor and East Hartford, a part of which is still in the possession of his descendants.
At a Court held in Hartford, March 14, 1660, the Court ordered "that no person whatsoever in this Colony should purchase lands possessed by the Indians", but in Thomas Burnham's case, allowed him to use the Indians' land in case of their departure.
But in April 1660 the Court heard the report of a Committee appointed look into these matters. This Committee concluded that Burnhams contract with Tanonimo was not valid, it was said that part of the lands laid out for Burnham belonged to Foxena and his successors given to Foxena by his Allies. It was ordered that Burnham could only use the land that Tantonimo could prove was his property. In August 1661 Arramament, Taquis, and four other Indians, Foxena's successors or Allies. Through Foxena's right and title to all the lands at Podunk, and indorsed by the Court, turned over "for ourselves and succesors all our right and title in thos lands aforesayd unto Thomas Burnham and his heirs".
In 1662, he was Attorney for Abigail Betts, who was accused of blasphemy. His defending Betts upset and angered his neighbors. The usual punishment for blasphemy was death. Abigail was not executed, and there does not seem to be any record of what punishment she received. Unfortunately, Thomas had angered the courts and was severely sentenced by the Court for presuming to defend a person accused of so heinous a crime; "he appeals to 'ye Generall Court,' defends himself strongly and shrewdly, and closes by demanding "Justice according to Law," and declares himself a "Subject and Denason of England." There is no record of the sentence of the Magistrates being carried into effect, with the exception of his being deprived of his Citizenship for a time, and prohibited from practicing in the Courts. It was after this that Thomas erected his "Garrison house" and settled on his lands at Podunk. His house at Podunk was one of the five on the east side of Connecticut River, to be fortified and garrisoned during the Indian war of 1675.
In 1666, Barth, Barnard, and Wm Pitkin sued Thomas Burnham, claiming one half the lands at Podunk belonged to Jacob Mygatt, whose claim they had purchased; The Court orders the land divided, but Burnham refuses to surrender possession, and harassed Barnard and Pitkin by frequent suits at Law; On one occasion Burnham's wife Anne, with a company of men and women drove the workmen of Barnard and Pitkin off from the land. Thomas maintained possession of the property.
Thomas was one of the largest landholders in the Colony. In 1676 his holdings along with 14 other men became even larger. In his will dated February 22, 1676 Joshua Uncas, Sachem, son of Uncas, Sachem of Monheag, willed the described land to be shared by the 15 mentioned men." Item, all that tract of land lying from the mountains in sight of Hartford, northward, to a pond called Shemipipic, (now Coventry) East to Willimantucke river, south by said river, West by Hartford bounds".
Even after his death the courts concerned them selves with his land holdings. At a town meeting in 1688 the inhabitants of Hartford appointed a Committee in behalf of the town to look in to Thomas's claim to the lands on East side of the Great River. Thomas had divided the greater part of his land amongst his children by deed before his death. His widow could not produce his will when the Court called for it. In June of 1690 a special court ordered that Caleb Stanley, one of the two witnesses to the will give testimony as to the contents of Burnhams last will and testament.
Fear god and fear no other fear
(See Coats of Arms Pages for details)
Direct Descendants of Thomas Burnham
1 Thomas Burnham 1617 - 1688