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Encyclopedia Dubuque


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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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Ancestry: https://www.ancestry.com/discoveryui-content/view/87400930:60525?tid=&pid=&queryId=75ab2594d91e76998c14855154d4cbfd&_phsrc=LFI2933&_phstart=successSource

Photo courtesy: Andrea Wallis Aven

BURTON, John. (Bonsall, Derbyshire, England, abt. 1795--Dubuque, IA, Nov. 21, 1854) John partnered with his brother Thomas first at farming in New York state, then in Dubuque as smelters of LEAD in Durango.

The following is quoted from "The Wallis Family Tree and other facts"

John Rider Wallis, 1959

In 1851 Burton returned to England for a visit. Perhaps traveling about Derbyshire the pretty twenty-year old widow, Mary Barton Gell, attracted the attention of the fifty-year old visitor from the new world. Any any rate, after a year or two arrangements were completed for Mary to come to America. Jodge Robert Bonson related at the dedication of Camp John Burton, the Boy Scout camp donated by Harold and Rider Wallis, that John Burton went down the Mississippi expecting to meet his bride in St. Louis but through misunderstanding Mary embarked for the upriver trip and the ships passed in the night and (they) failed to speak to each other in passing. It was a month later when the meeting took place, probably at the Bonson's comfortable brick home (later Morgans), for Jane Burton Bonson was a sister of John Burton. The marriage for John Burton and Mary Barton Gell must have taken place soon after Mary's arrival in Dubuque. Their first and only child, Mary Burton, was born Sept. 28, 1854.

The mines and smelter had been profitable enough to make John Burton the most important and influential man of the Durango area. Landing in New York in 1828, John Burton made his way "upstate" and established a farm near Albany. In 1835 the lure of lead and tall tales of fortunes in Iowa country across the great river could not be resisted. After a sale of the farm, livestock and personal property, the long trek by canal boat, river and stage coach ended in the beautiful valley of Durango. Brother Allen was very proud to display a sale bill describing the property of John Burton to be offered at auction on the 8th day of February 1831, and another valuable item telling of a giant ox, the property of John Burton, to be on exhibition at Crosley Hotel, Albany. N.Y. with the admission 12 1/2 cents--advertised as the finest ox in this country or Europe, fattened by John Burton of Gilderland, Albany County. The most important keepsake of John Burton is the old leather bound ledger I have with hundreds of entries in his own handwriting. This record was started in 1838 and continues in 1848 and shows amounts paid for minerals, together with items of merchandise, foodstuffs and whiskey ($1.00 a gallon), sold to miners (called "grubstaking the miners") Many familiar names appear, such as Langworthy, Bonson, Carter, Gllespie, Morning. In the front of the book appears the following:

                   "My brother Thomas Burton died
                   the 26th of August, 1847.
                   Prepare our Selves to meet
                   our God--a Mane  a Mane (sic)
                           John Burton"

I have perhaps fifteen to twenty original Government patents on parchment issued by the U. S. Government and signed by or for the President Zachary Taylor Millard Filmore (sic), or Jas. K. Polk.

Grandpa Burton and his brother Thomas established claim to great acres in hills and valleys in the Durango area as soon as they started their smelter near Maquoketa Creek. When a land office was opened in Dubuque, administered by Warner LEWIS title to the land was made secure by obtaining so-called Government parents. A number of the parcels of land obtained by John and Thomas or by John alone were the result of land grants to veterans of the war of 1812 and the Government patents recite the name and military service and company commander of the veteran as "an act to raise for limited time, an additional military force, and for other purposes," approved Feb. 11, 1847-John Graham, private in Captain Baker's company, Second Regiment Illinois Volunteers, etc. As a result of filing mining claims and purchase of land through the Government land office, the brothers, John and Thomas, acquired about two thousand acres in Dubuque, Peru, Jefferson and Center Townships. (On the death of Mary Burton Wallis the need to John Rider Wallis, Trustee, included more items and pages and represented more acres of land than had ever been recorded in one instrument in Dubuque County. In my portfolio I have five letters addressed to John and John and Thomas Burton of Albany, N.Y. who was acting as an agent for John after the sale of the land in New York. The letters are called territorial covers because they were in use before the days of postage stamps and while Iowa was a part of Wisconsin territory, hence the term territorial covers. No envelope was used as the letters were folded and sealed with hot wax and in the upper right hand corner the figure "25" in red ink indicated a payment of twenty-five cents for delivery from Albany, N.Y. to Dubuke Winconsin Ter (sic). The earliest date of the five letters in Nov. 2, 1837 and is marked "favored by Thomas Burton," which seems to place the date of Thomas' arrival in Durango as 1837. The next letter is dated Jan. 14, 1838; the others May, July and August, 1838. The letter of July 8, 1838 is directed to:

                John & Thos. Burton Smelters
                       Dubuke (sic)
                  Territory Winconsin (sic)

The content of the letters is interesting as they reveal rather large money transactions and a reference to a lawsuit to secure judgement on a past due mortgage. Altogether the money transferred from the agent to John Burton seems to have totaled over $5000, a sizeable (sic) amount for a pioneer in a new land. Reference is made to sending a certificate of deposit of $500 and a draft of $789.21 and later $3000.

It is appropriate to insert at this point the facts regarding John Burton uncovered by Judge Robert Bonson and used at the dedication of the Boy Scout Camp referred to earlier.

       Based on information obtained from the records of his
       naturalization and marriage in the office of the Clerk
       of Court of Dubuque County, Iowa, and also on entries
       in my father's diary, I believe the following facts to
       be approximately correct:
       It appears that his first naturalization papers were
       taken out in Albany, N. Y. There are conflicting dates
       in his naturalization papers, one appearing as 1834 and
       the other as 1836. From this paper I would infer that he
       was born in 1799 in Derbyshire, England.
       The picture of the early settlers shows that he came to
       Dubuque in 1836.  He was naturalized in November 1, 1841.
       He was married on November 17, 1852 to Mary Gell.
       He died November 21, 1854 and was buried in [[LINWOOD

The death of John Burton brought great changes to the young wife and for the two months old infant. Mary Barton Gell's sister, Elizabeth Barton, had married Joseph HEROD. They came forward to assume the responsibility of caring for the infant, Mary Burton, and management of the estate of the widow and daughter. It is likely that the young widow moved to Dubuque to live with them.

It was in Dubuque that Mary Barton Gell Burton met General M. S. Stokely. General Stokely's older sister, Frances Stokely Wilson, was the mother of Thomas S. WILSON. General Stokely and Thomas Wilson were involved in a lively business in government land grants. The marriage of General Stokely and Mary Burton took place about 1856.

There were periods of residence at the Moring Farm (Cloie Fork in Allen's time) where Uncle Joe Stokely was born and for a brief period at Derby Grange. But the Dubuque life was neer as glamorous as back east. Many a tale was related of trips to Washington with the Congressman from Ohio (Stokeley) and as a highlight attending the Republican Convention in Chicago held in the great "Wigwam" when Lincoln was nominated for President.

I have a clipping from a Steubenville, Ohio newspaper giving the account of the death of little Anne so we know Grandma had Joseph and Anne and I think one other child by the General. I do not have the date of the death of the General but assume it was in 1860 or 18612 for I have a letter dated June 7, 1861 directed to Mrs. Mary Stokely reappointment of Montford S. Stokely and Geo. Mason joint administrators of the estate of General Stokely and placed their bond at $30,000. This would indicate a very substantial estate to be administered for the benefit of the widow and child of the first and second marriages. The next matrimonial venture, and each seemed to be venture above and beyond the ordinary, was a union with Judge Thomas S. Wilson. Judge Wilson was a distinguished jurist, honored in great measure by the community and the state. As a young lawyer recently arrived from Ohio, Thomas S. Wilson was chairman or mayor of the first city governing body. This was in 1834, less than a year after the first settlement of the area was permitted by treaty with the SAUK AND FOX Indians.

Judge Wilson's mother, Frances Stokely Polk Wilson, was a sister of General Stokely and the only person living during the Revolutionary War to be buried in Linwood Cemetery (honored thirty years ago by a special bronze emblem on the grave by the local chapter of the DAUGHTERS OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION.

Again Grandma Wilson selected a mate many years her senior. The marriage took place in 1864. The important item to record is the fact the fourth marriage was the only one to end in divorce. And this came after several years of hopefully trying to patch up differences. Two children were born to the union, Grace and Ernest. All the good qualities of Grandmother and the Judge were built into Aunt Grace. Ernest Wilson, as late as August 22, 1958, was called heroic in keeping the pumps operating during the greatest and most destructive of the famous lumber yard fires. The story in the local paper fifty-four years after the fire gives this account:

         The lumber piles covered blocks. Heat was so
         intense that 500 feet of railroad track was
         destroyed too. Two men buried in the middle of
         the inferno in a city water pumping station
         kept the water supply up for the firemen.
         Ernest Wilson, Engineer, and Jas. Hoare, his
         assistant, seeing the need for keeping water
         pressure up and seeing the fire sweeping
         down over the pumping station, sealed them-
         selves inside and waged their private battle
         against the flames. They kept from being
         burned to a cinder by keeping water flowing 
         on the roof and over the building and
         operated the pumps to full capacity for more 
         twenty-four hours while flames swept over it.

Aunt Janet was greatly loved by all the family and a host of friends. She was an aunt by virtue of her marriage to Grandmother and Aunty Herod's brother, Stephen Barton. Uncle Stephen, as a young man fresh from England, made the hazardous and unrewarding trek to the gold field of California, returning empty handed in time to enlist for service in the CIVIL WAR. Fever contracted in the south brought about an untimely death. A few years after Stephen's death, Aunt Janet Barton became Mrs. Platt SMITH. Again this was a case of a young attractive widow marrying a man of great prominence but many years older. Platt Smith was another of the pioneer lawyers of the early days. He became recognized as a skillful trial lawyer and later as a famous railroad lawyer and promoter. He was intimately associated with Uncle Herod in early railroad projects such as the DUBUQUE AND PACIFIC RAILROAD--later to become a part of the ILLINOIS CENTRAL RAILROAD. ' A lasting memorial to his [John Burton's] name was created in 1929, when Camp John Burton was dedicated as a Scout Camp. The land for this purpose, some 26 acres, was given by James Harold WALLIS and John Rider WALLIS, both grandsons of John Burton, whose daughter [Mary Burton] had married a Wallis [John William Wallis]. (1)

The smelting furnace was located just south of the present [in 1973] red bridge at Durango- immediately behind the stone structure was a very steep hill. As a young boy my great uncle, Jos. Herod, showed me the remains of a stone flume or chimney built on the hill side and connected with the chimney of the smelter - an ingenious way of increasing the draft to carry the smoke and fumes without building a high vertical chimney. (2)

The Burton's Furnace Road in 2012 undoubtedly relates to the smelter he operated in the 1830s.

Mary Barton Gell Burton. Photo courtesy: Andrea Wallis Aven
Mary Burton, daughter of John and Mary Barton Gell Burton. Photo courtesy: Andrea Wallis Aven
Mary Barton Gell Burton Stokely Wilson, Joseph Herod, and Elizabeth Barton Herod. Photo courtesy: Andrea Wallis Aven



1. Wallis, John Rider. Platt Smith 1813-1882 A Brief Biography; Notes From the Bonson Diary 1840-1854; Rambles Thru Linwood, History in a Graveyard, 1973

2. Ibid.

Amundson, Lloyd. Rootsweb World Connect. http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=GET&db=:383871&id=I17913723

Andrea Wallis Aven--e-mail with Wallis Family Tree and photographs