Enoch & P. W. Burnett: Builders
Enoch Burnett, Jr. was one of the colorful citizens of Belchertown, Mass. He was born there in 1826 and worked as a carpenter before leaving for California with the Suffolk Mining Company on the bark Drummond. The Drummond left Boston on February 2, 1849 headed around Cape Horn. A few days before he sailed, Burnett secured a passport from the Lt. Gov. of Massachusetts, which is in the Stone House Museum in Belchertown.
The first port made by the Drummond was Rio de Janeiro. In an interview with a Springfield newspaper, the visit was described this way:
“Several of the passengers wished to attend a public reception given by the Brazilian Emperor and his wife. The wearing of a dress coat on such an occasion was compulsory, but Mr. Burnett was the only member of the party who had brought along a coat of this kind, so the one coat was borrowed by those who paid their respects to the royal pair, this incident while in Rio Janeiro causing much amusement.”
The company made pretty good time until, after rounding Cape Horn, they were becalmed off the coast of Chile. When the ship finally arrived in San Francisco on the last day of August, Burnett might have learned that fellow Belchertown native Nathaniel Dudley Goodell, who left New England at the end of March – nearly two months later – had actually arrived two weeks earlier by taking another route via the Isthmus of Panama.
Enoch Burnett was in California from 31 August 1849 to 1 August 1850. There, he and a partner manufactured “gold washers” for sale to the miners. A gold-washer was a cradle-type device used for separating gold from sediment. The Belchertown Historical Association has a model gold-washer, probably a salesman’s sample, and two gold dust bags that Enoch Burnett donated to its collection.
Burnett left California to return to Massachusetts by way of the Isthmus of Panama. According to the same newspaper interview he encountered another difficulty on his return trip:
“At Acapulco the passengers who so desired were permitted to go ashore. Reports of cholera were prevalent, but no signs of its existence being visible, little was thought of it at the time. The second day out from Acapulco cholera broke out among the passengers and during the next 10 days 30 out of the 300 on board died and were buried at sea. The captain, realizing his position, timed his arrival in Panama so that it was reached during the night and fortunately for his purpose a rain storm was in progress. He forbade any of his passengers to leave the ship, but secretly made arrangements to have them landed, so that before morning all had scattered. The passengers left Panama, some on foot and some on the backs of donkeys. In this way half the distance across the isthmus was accomplished and the rest of the journey was made in ‘dugout’ canoes down the Chagres river to the coast, where steamers were in waiting. Mr. Burnett took passage for home, stopping at Havana, and landed in New York Sept. 1, 1850. On the same day Jenny Lind, known as the ‘Swedish Nightingale,’ arrived in New York to fill a concert engagement with P. T. Barnum, to sing for 150 nights at $1000 a night.”
Burnett returned to Belchertown, where he worked as a carpenter and building contractor for nearly thirty years. He worked on many buildings in town, including the house at 22 South Main Street where he built the spiral staircase by the front entrance. The receipt for this project is in the archives of the Stone House Museum.
Now, this dashing figure is Enoch’s older brother, Philetus Watson Burnett. He went by P.W. or Watson. Philetus Watson Burnett (1807-1897) was born in Granby, Mass., raised in Belchertown, and was also a carpenter by trade.
Enoch said his brother preceded him to California by a year, meaning he would have been there very early. He was back east in 1849 and returned to California on the steamer Crescent City in June of that year. He is enumerated in the 1850 census in Charlestown, Mass. with his family, which he brought with him to California in 1852.
Abigail (Burr) Burnett was the daughter of Ansel Burr of Ludlow. The family settled in Sacramento where P. W. worked as a builder. He was a contractor on the construction of the State Capitol building in that city. He is credited with building the stairs.
Interestingly, the lumber business P. W. Burnett founded was still in business as of 1985 and its proprietor, great-great-grandson Burnett Miller, was featured on Ken Burns’ documentary The War, recounting his service during the Battle of the Bulge.
(Images courtesy of the Stone House Museum, Belchertown, MA)
Boston Evening Transcript, 2 February 1849.
Burnett, Philip C., Burnett Family: 260 Years, Rochester, MN, 2003.
Hazen, Mrs. Clara F. Dwight, “Reminiscences of Belchertown Seventy Years Ago”, first published serially in the Belchertown Sentinel beginning 20 July 1917. Abridged manuscript at Stone House Museum, Belchertown, Mass.
“Is Forty-Niner: Enoch Burnett Tells of Early Days in California”, Springfield Republican, 1911 date unknown.
Passport for Enoch Burnett of Belchertown, Office of the Governor, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 29 January 1849.
Sgromo, V. Joseph, letter to Shirley Bock, 12 January 1985, copy in archives of Stone House Museum, Belchertown, MA.
Springfield Republican, 15 March 1897.