Biography of William Burgess

Prominent farmer and delegate to the Constitutional
Convention of 1875 from Franklin County

William Burgess, prominent farmer and delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1875 from Franklin County, was born a few miles east of Russellville in 1826. Died near Pleasant Site, January 17, 1902, having been a life-long citizen of Franklin County. He was a son of Rabon Ellis and Susan (Sugg) Burgess, and a grandson of William and Agnes (Partain) Burgess and of Thomas and Terah (Spenser) Sugg. Both grand-fathers were Revolutionary Soldiers and pioneer settlers of Franklin County.

William Burgess, subject of this sketch, was brought up on the farm and attended the rural schools of those days. He was not a college graduate, yet he read a great deal and kept abreast of the times. He possessed very fine common sense and was noted for his sound philosophy. Following is an article, in part, written by M. L. White, a personal friend of Mr. Burgess, and published in the “Franklin Times” shortly after Mr. Burgess’ death. As far as we know it is authentic:

“I made his (William Burgess) acquaintance in 1861, and have been in his company more or less since that time. I have studied him closely, and had good opportunity to know him, for we deliberately discussed both men and matters. There was a congeniality in our natures which seemed to bring us close together. We were in each other’s confidence and on all occasions unbosomed ourselves and talked on just any subject. He manifested to me no reservation whatever. He was not an educated man–only an ordinary school education such as was common in the county during his young manhood. His was not an ordinary mind. He was naturally brilliant and quick to comprehend. He had gone to higher schools and taken a thorough course in science together with the study of law, no doubt, he would have become an eminent jurist, and had abundance of the essentials as well as luxuries of life.

“He was almost an incessant reader. He did not read any and everything that came along, but read biographies of eminent men such as Webster, Clay, Calhoun and Benton. Although he differed with some of them in policies, yet he admired them because of their statesmanship. He eulogized Grant and Johnson in the reconstruction of the States, but he despised Stanton, Sumner, Beecher, Whittier, Garrison and Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” He would have been glad to pass them into obscurity and their works into oblivion. He was a Democrat of the Jefferson type–no piecemeal, half and half, but from zero all the way up–no political syncophant, no hypocrite, hypocrisy he hated in every form. He was easily distinguished from other men by his natural characteristics. Those whom he liked he admired, and those whom he hated he despised. He was not a reader of fiction. Truth to him was stronger than fiction and of more utility. He was a man of marked individuality. Strong and sincere in his convictions; always had a reason from which he drew his conclusions. He did not agree with a man first for social pastime, but he agreed with him because he saw the man’s conclusions were based upon facts. He always appreciated a favor from any source, and was a gentleman in the true sense when and whenever you met him.

“On the social side he had many warm friends and admirers, at social gatherings. At elections and other political meetings he was generally at his best.”

Mr. White went on to say that Mr. Burgess was very industrious, and also, that he was frequently sought on legal matters. According to Mr. White, he kept up with “the tide of times” by taking several leading newspapers.

Just about three months prior to his death, Mr. Burgess went to Russellville. Hon. C. M. Sherrod, who was at that time editor of The Franklin Times, wrote the following article concerning Mr. Burgess, which was published in the issue of October 11, 1901:

“The editor of The Times had the pleasure of meeting Esquire William Burgess of Pleasant Site last Monday. In many respects Mr. Burgess is a very wonderful man. Born a few miles east of Russellville, for 75 years he has made Franklin County his home, and for all of these years he has commanded the full love and respect of his fellow man.

“He has never had a home except in Franklin County, and now that he has passed the age of three score and ten, he can say to the people of Franklin County: ‘They are my people.’

“Mr. Burgess stated to the writer that he had been taking the county paper ever since one was published in the county.

“Mr. Burgess is afflicted with rheumatism, but his affliction has not soured him, or in any manner detracted from the warm sunshine of his nature.

“He is a great reader and has kept thoroughly abreast of the times, and his opinion on current events is as much to be sought as any man’s in the county. It is a pity that Franklin County has not within its confines more men like Wilson Burgess.” (Added note: the name Wilson Burgess is typed as it is in the book by R. L. James.)

Other people who knew him, have advised us similarly regarding his life and character. He was a farmer and a successful one. He was not a member of the church, but attended church preferring the Methodist. He was a member of the Masonic order.

Mr. Burgess was married when a young man, to Miss Susan Burgess, daughter of Benjamin and Lydia (Ramsey) Burgess, and hence his cousin.

Their children were: Lydia, married Dr. Levi Mahan; F. P.: Modena, married Hon. Geo. C. Almon; J. R., W. W. All of these children are living, except Mrs. Almon.

Source: Source: James, R. L. Distinguished Men, Women and Families of Franklin County, Alabama. Russellville, Ala., Private Publication, 1928. 111 p.

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