Thomas Burnham (1619 – June 24, 1688) was baptised at Long Crendon in Buckinghamshire, England on 28 October 1619, the son of John Burnham, a yeoman farmer. A lawyer and landowner, he arrived in the American Colonies prior to 1645, and lived most of his adult live in Connecticut. He was among the earliest puritan settlers in Connecticut, living in Podunk and finally settling in Hartford, Connecticut. He purchased most of the land covered by the current towns of South Windsor, Connecticut and East Hartford, Connecticut. He was the first American ancestor of a large number of Burnhams. He died in Hartford at the age of 69.
Immigration to America
There is no surviving record of when Burnham arrived in America but it was probably at some point in the early 1640s.
He successfully defended a school teacher, Abigail Betts who had been accused of blasphemy, claiming "Christ was a bastard" and she could prove it through the scriptures. Burnham successfully defended her by asserting that blasphemy was not a capital crime in England, and thus could not be one in Connecticut under its charter. But by "saving her neck" the Puritan authorities disenfranchised him and prohibited Burnham from further practice of the court.
In 1659 he purchased from Tan-tonimo, Chief sachem of the Potunke Native Americans, a tract of land now covered by the towns of South Windsor and East Hartford, on which he afterward lived, and a part of which is still in possession of his descendants. He held this land under a deed from Tanto-nimo, and later in 1661, by a deed from six of the latter's successors and allies, by which they renounce "all our right and title in those lands aforesayd unto Thomas Burnam and his heirs."
The possession of this land led to endless lawsuits, supported by the government, and it was ordered to be divided. Burnham refused to give it up, however, and the contest continued for many years. It resulted finally in the appointment in 1688, at a town meeting of the inhabitants of Hartford, "of a Committee in behalf of this town, to" treat with Thomas Burnham, Senior, upon his claim to the lands on the East side of the Great River." He erected a house on these lands at Potunke, which was one of five, on the east side of the Connecticut, to be fortified and garrisoned during the Indian war of 1675. In 1649-56-59-60, he appears as plaintiff in court, and usually argued his own cases.
Before his death he had divided the greater part of his estate among his children by deed, with the condition that it should remain in the family.
The Burnham family had lived at Long Crendon since at least the early 1500s. Originally labourers, their fortunes improved during the course of the 16th and 17th centuries with several members of the English branch of the family becoming local attorneys from the mid-1600s until the early 19th century. There is no record of Thomas Burnham studying law in England but it seems probable. After he emigrated he married Anna Wright Burnham (1620 - August 4, 1703) in Hartford circa 1645. The daughter of Captain Richard Wright, she was born in Windsor, Hartford, Connecticut and died in Hartford at the age of 83. Their children were all born in Hartford:
- Elizabeth Burnham (?- December 2, 1720)
- Mary Burnham (?- January 25, 1720)
- Anna (Hannah) Burnham (? - March 1716/17)
- Thomas Burnham (? - March 19, 1726)
- John Burnham (?- April 20, 1721)
- William Burnham (by 1649 - December 12, 1730)
- Samuel Burnham (1650 - April 12, 1728)
- Richard Burnham (1654 - April 28, 1731) - A blacksmith, he got into trouble mending guns for the native Americans. Frederick Russell Burnham is one of his descendents.
- Rebecca Burnham (1656 - ???)
- Burnham, Roderick Henry (1884). Genealogical Records of Thomas Burnham, the Emigrant, who was Among the Early Settlers at Hartford, Connecticut, U.S. America, and His Descendants. Hartford, CT: Case, Lockwood & Brainard Co.
- Cutter, William Richard, ed. (1919). American biography: a new cyclopedia 6. New York: The American Historical Society.
- Hinman, Royal Ralph (1852). Catalogue of the first Puritan settlers of the colony of Connecticut. Hartford: Case, Tiffany and Co.
- Soughton, Cathy (January 2012). Thomas 1 Burnham of Long Crendon, Buckinghamshire, and Hartford, Connecticut 166. Boston, Massachusetts: The New England Historical and Genealogical Register.