William Daly Burtchaell
William Daly Burtchaell, shown in the photo below, was born in 1834 in Ireland, but came to the United States to pursue a life in the New World. He built railroads, served in the Confederate Army in the American Civil War and lived the last half of his long life farming in Gwinnett County Georgia near Norcross. He and many of his family members are buried in the Norcross City Cemetery. This is the story of his life and family.
William Daly Burtchaell (referred to below as WDB) grew up in a large family in Kilkenny Ireland, southwest of Dublin, where his father had a pharmacy. WDB’s relative Edward Burtchaell, writing in a family memoir, tells the story of how WDB as a young man earned a scholarship to college:
William D. worked in the drug store. After high school he wanted to go to college. One morning his mother woke him at midnight, fed him some mush, and gave him a sandwich. Then he set out to walk 15 miles to try for a scholarship to Trinity College. They all sat on wooden benches with a number in chalk beneath their feet. The professor had a notebook with each boy's name written on it. He asked them questions on any subject and put a pinprick besides the number when he answered correctly. William Daly won the scholarship and graduated from Trinity.
Trained in civil engineering, he came to the United States in 1854, living at first with relatives in New Jersey, then the next year moving to Florida, anticipating that there would be more opportunities for achievement there. In Florida he met and married Maria Mackey Williams, living in Columbia County, close to the Georgia border, near a settlement known in those days as Alligator. (The name of the town was changed to Lake City in 1859 - local tradition has it that the wife of the mayor at the time, a recent arrival in the town, protested the existing name and insisted that it be changed, refusing to hang her lace curtains in a home located in a town called Alligator.)
Maria Williams Burtchaell is shown in the photo below.
Maria’s parents were Massachusetts native John Lee Williams and his wife Martha Lockhart Mackey Ives Williams, pioneer settlers in the Territory of Florida when it became part of the United States in the 1820s. John Lee Williams was one of two commissioners appointed by the early territorial government to determine a suitable location for the government headquarters. The story of the choice is told in the Wikipedia article on the city of Tallahassee:
Tallahassee became the capital of Florida during the second legislative session. It was chosen as it was roughly equidistant from St. Augustine and Pensacola, which had been the capitals of the Spanish territories of East Florida and West Florida. The first session of Florida's Legislative Council—as a territory of the United States—met on July 22, 1822 at Pensacola and members from St. Augustine traveled fifty-nine days by water to attend. The second session was in St. Augustine and required western delegates to travel perilously around the peninsula on a twenty-eight-day trek. During this session, it was decided that future meetings should be held at a half-way point. Two appointed commissioners selected Tallahassee, at that point an abandoned Apalachee settlement, as a halfway point. In 1824 the third legislative session met there in a crude log capitol building.
John Lee Williams was the second husband of Martha Lockhart Mackey – she married him after her first husband, Jeremiah Ives, was killed during an Indian attack.
WDB enlisted in the Confederate army shortly after the start of the Civil War. He served at first as a Lieutenant in the Columbia Rifles regiment which was stationed at Cedar Keys in the west coast of Florida, north of Tampa. The settlement there was the western terminus of the Florida Railroad, which ran across the state, connecting the Atlantic coast at Fernandina to the Gulf Coast. The soldiers’ assignment was to protect the railhead and its infrastructure, as it was a major center of salt production for the Confederacy during the early war years. They were also tasked with capturing Union commercial vessels that passed by.
Fifty years after his service on the Florida coast Burtchaell wrote a memoir of his activities there, telling of using the small vessels at their disposal to capture merchant vessels that sailed within range.
He quickly grew weary of the inactivity of this Florida posting, so resigned from that command and joined a Florida regiment assigned to the Army of Northern Virginia under Lee. He worked his way up in this new unit from private to Lieutenant, participating in battles in 1862 and 1863 such as Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. During the lull in fighting in the winter of 1862-1863 he was sent back to Florida to round up deserters and draft dodgers and send them to the front.
WDB was captured by Union forces on July 3, 1863, the third day of the battle at Gettysburg, and held as a POW for the remainder of the war. Most of that time he was at the Johnson’s Island prisoner of war camp, on an island in Lake Erie, in Western Ohio. A Burtchaell family memoir describes this prisoner of war camp for Confederate officers, active from April 1862 to Sept 1865:
About 9000 [prisoners] went through. [They] arrived at Sandusky by rail, then a three mile steamboat trip across the Bay (Lake Erie). [The prison] enclosed 16 acres by a 12 foot fence, with twelve two-story buildings. "Hoffman's Battalion", later the 128th Ohio Volunteer Infantry was the usual guard, supplemented by other units. Any American money they had was taken and put into an account to buy things. Prisoners were allowed to swim in the bay during the summer. For several months rations were reduced and no special packages were allowed. Several escaped, some over the ice, a few by steamboat, and one in a stolen rowboat.
WDB’s brother, Peter, a dentist, was living in Boston during the Civil War, and received a number of letters from the military prison on Johnson's Island, some from his brother William D., and others from a Masonic official serving as a go-between (the Masons operated a relief program for the prisoners). These letters, which Peter Burtchaell saved, convey the hardships of the imprisonment and the fraternal bond between the two men.
Burtchaell wrote of his time in Union prisoner of war prisons at Fort Delaware and Johnson’s Island in a letter to the Atlanta Journal newspaper. He quoted a Philadelphia clergyman who said that conditions at Fort Delaware seemed to be designed specifically to result in the death of prisoners. At Johnson’s Island he said that the rations more plentiful, but the rat infestation and lack of medical supplies at the prison led to many illnesses.
WDB was released from Johnson’s Island in March 1865 due to illness, and made his way back to Florida.
Maria Williams Burtchaell’s sister Pamela’s memoirs of the war times and the years after in North Florida are reproduced in the book Cracker Times and Pioneer Days: The Florida Reminiscences of George Gillett Keen and Sarah Pamela Williams. She recalled:
We heard the news of General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox with anguish – to us it was as though the heavens had fallen. My brother-in-law had been taken prisoner at Gettysburg and my sister didn’t hear anything of him for three months. Several men, on their return home, reported him dead. Sister never believed these tales and said she knew he was alive. At last she got a letter from him; he was a prisoner on Johnson’s Island and there he remained for nearly two years, where he was subjected to every kind of hardship. When he was at last released and returned to us, he was quite broken down; so weak that he used to faint.
Sister and her husband started a school soon after he came back. The neighbors built a schoolhouse on a piece of land that was in the central part of the community, about a half mile from my house; and many of the boys who had been in the war went there.
Sister and her family moved to Lake City and her husband started a steam saw mill below the town on the road to Jacksonville. Then he ran a farm on his land beyond Lake City. Finally they moved to Newark, New Jersey and Mr. Burtchaell went to railroading in Duchess County, New York. After living in the North for three years, Sister and the four children returned to us and Mr. Burtchaell went railroading in Alabama.
In 1871 Sister removed with her children to join her husband in Cuthbert, Georgia where he as Chief Engineer on the Brunswick and Albany Railroad.
Sister and her husband wrote me to visit them which I did in May 1872. I went to stay for six months and I was there with them from 1872 to 1877 …
WDB held a number of positions in different locations during those post-war years, but the family settled down in Gwinnett County – they bought land in the town of Norcross GA in 1872, and then acquired farmland near the Chattahoochee River in southwest Gwinnett County within a few years after that. There they built a home, which they called Holyoke, and continued to live there for the next several generations. The house, shown in the photo below, is no longer standing. It was located approximately where the Piedmont Bank building is today, at the intersection of Jones Bridge Road and Peachtree Parkway.
Around the time the Burtchaells arrived in Gwinnett they welcomed her sister Pamela as a house guest, as was noted above. At that point Pamela had recently lost her family ties to Florida, with the death of her mother, husband and son in a short time period of time, and when “Sister” suggested that she come to Georgia to visit, Pamela readily accepted.
Another new person in their circle around that time was Irishman William Spence Kelly. WDB had known Kelly early in his life in Ireland, and after Kelly finished a college education in his home country Burtchaell offered him a job with the Brunswick and Albany Railroad, Burtchaell’s employer at the time. Kelly accepted, and booked passage from Liverpool, England to New York, intending to travel on from there to Georgia. However, during the voyage his ship ran aground and sank near the island of Bermuda. Kelly was rescued, and managed to book passage from Bermuda to Savannah. Kelly’s granddaughter wrote of the stories she had heard of those days from her grandparents, and we pick up the story of his journey to America at that point from her family memoir:
“Upon arriving in Savannah, he [Kelly] took a train to Macon, Georgia. Captain Burtchaell met him in Macon and they drove through the country to Cuthbert. Upon arrival in Cuthbert, it was the usual custom for any newcomer to be introduced to the citizenry and so that night Captain Burtchaell took him over to the local saloon where the men usually gathered and where they had their drinks. My grandfather was introduced and asked to join in with the group. They began their drinking and, one by one, as they had their fill they began to leave. There was an old German watchmaker in the town who was considered the best drinker of them all, and it finally ended up with he and my grandfather as the only two to continue drinking. Finally, the old watchmaker passed out and my grandfather became what we would call the cock-of-the- walk, as he certainly was the best drinker at the time. He used to enjoy telling this because he said the Germans were beer drinkers and they could hold a lot, but it didn’t affect them like the good whisky from Ireland did.
“Anyway, he went to work with Gude and Burtchaell handling their accounting matters. It was while there that he met my grandmother. The [construction] job finished and so everything was moved back to Norcross, Georgia, where Mr. Burtchaell had a farm, and where they kept all of the livestock until a new job was created.
“While they were living at the farm in Guinette [Gwinnett] county, my grandmother and grandfather were married and my father was born there.”
By the time of the 1880 agricultural census in Gwinnett County the Burtchaell family owned over 200 acres of property, with multiple types of livestock (beef, sheep, hogs, poultry) as well as crops of oats and cotton. (The bulk of the land was in woods and forest, though.)
The 1880 Federal Census showed WDB as head of household at age 46, with an occupation as a farmer, and his wife; the family included children George, 20; William, 18; Mary, 13; Martha, 11; and Louisa, 7. Also, a farm laborer named Henry Moore, 28 years of age, lived with them.
WDB was a member of the American Jersey Cattle Club in the late 1800s, and was the owner of “Max Acton”, a certified Jersey bull. The club, and its role of championing the high-quality milk obtained from the Jersey breed, lives on today, now being known as the American Jersey Cattle Association. Their logo from their 1898 annual report (that lists WDB as the owner of the bull) is shown below.
Several relatives recalled in their memoirs visiting the “Burtchaells of Georgia” as they were known in family circles. Joseph Grey Burtchaell wrote"
"He (WDB) purchased 350 acres in Norcross, Georgia, where I spent weeks with him many times. During World War I, he corresponded with his cousins George Dames Burtchaell [a member of the British Parliament representing the Kilkenny region in Ireland during the war years] and alsowith George's brother, Dr. Sir Charles Burtchaell of London who was the King's physician. George was also slated for knighthood but died before it could be confirmed."
Relative Mary Snider Clark wrote to family historian Janes Tunstead Burtchaell that WDB “lived at Norcross, Georgia, just out of Atlanta, on a plantation with a lovely old Southern home”, and she recalled meeting a number of his children and grandchildren.
As reported in the census data referenced above, the Burtchaells had five children, sons George and William, and daughters Martha, Mary and Louisa.
Son George S. Burtchaell married Georgia Blount in Fulton County in 1886 and they lived in Atlanta for many years afterwards, where he followed in his father’s footsteps, pursuing a career as a civil engineer. He was a canine enthusiast, and had a collie named Confidence that was a prize-winner at dog shows.
Daughter Mary (May) lived with her father on the farm near Norcross after the death of her mother.
Son William worked as a railroad machinist, living in Waycross and Lawrenceville, GA.
Daughter Martha (Mattie) never married and taught in the Atlanta public school system for many years, at Girls High and Commercial High. She taught English history and lived with her aunt and uncle (the Kellys) on Peeples Street, then later with her sister Ludie and her family. In her later life she moved back to the farm in Gwinnett to live with her sister.
The story of the marriage of the Burtchaells’ third daughter, Louisa (Ludie), to local boy Reps Jones has some intrigue to it, and the account from a January, 1891 edition of the Macon Telegraph newspaper, under the headline “Love Laughs at Locksmiths”, bears repeating. The paper reported that at that time Ludie had reached 18 years of age, and was anxious to marry her beau, Reps, but the family evidently disapproved, and had not given their permission. The young couple decided to take the matter into their own hands, and the newspaper reported"
Yesterday Mr. Jones furnished his sweetheart with a valise to pack a few things which might be needed to her comfort, and arranged to meet her after night at a point in the road, about a quarter of a mile from her father’s house.
Last night a severe attack of neuralgia took her to her room at an early hour, and shortly after she appeared at the rendezvous, valise in hand, on time. Here a brother of Mr. Jones met her with a carriage. The groom soon after joined the pair. The carriage drove to the Brunswick Hotel [in Norcross], where a minister was waiting to pronounce the resolute couple man and wife. By the next train they were away on a bridal trip to Mississippi.
Ludie and Reps are shown in the photos below.
After 20 years of marriage tragedy struck the couple - Reps Jones was killed in a hunting accident on his farm, in January of 1913. The Lawrenceville News Herald newspaper reported that his double-barreled shotgun accidentally fell from his shoulder and both barrels fired, one of them striking him in the chest, resulting in his immediate death. He left his wife and eleven children.
Maria Burtchaell died on February 24 1897 and is buried in the Burtchaell family plot in the Norcross City Cemetery. Her husband continued to live on the farm near the river for the remainder of his days, selling it to his daughters Mattie and Mae in 1906. Several years later he applied to the State of Georgia for a pension, based on his service as a soldier in the Confederate Army.
The Lawrenceville News Herald newspaper reported that three generations of the family – children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren - held a celebration for the 85 th birthday of their patriarch in May of 1919 at Holyoke. At that point he had resided in Gwinnett County for almost 50 years.
William Daly Burtchaell passed away in August of that year, and is buried beside his wife.
This article drew upon many sources, and was written with the help of many individuals. I especially want to thank Burtchaell family historians Jason Everett and Michelle Morgan, and also Nan Card of the Hayes Presidential Library in Fremont, Ohio, for their help.
Key sources included:
‘’The Genealogy of the Burtchaell Family’’, (2002) [PDF], by James Tunstead Burtchaell III, C.S.C, ,
Cracker Times and Pioneer Days: The Florida Reminiscences of George Gillett Keen and Sarah Pamela Williams edited by James M. Denham and Canter Brown Jr.,
The archives of the Gwinnett Historical Society and the Gwinnett County Library System,
Various articles on the Wikipedia website,
Memoirs and family information posted on Ancestry.com, findagrave.com and similar websites by various individuals, as noted in the text.