Friday, August 10, 2012

Ada Burleigh Helps Uncle Bill Evade Capture

The legend of Bill Johnston includes a cast of interesting supporting characters. In 1838, while Bill hid in the Thousand Islands from two armies searching for him, his niece Ada spent the summer aiding her family in a time of trouble. She consoled her aunt Ann Johnston and often helped her cousin Kate Johnston run supplies to the family fugitive.

Ada Mariah Randolph (July 31, 1801-August 8, 1882) was born Rome, NY, to John Randolph, Ann Johnston's brother, and Olive (Powell). The family moved to Bath, Upper Canada (then named Ernesttown), in 1810 to farm. Ada's father died soon afterward, struck by a falling tree. Bill and Ann Johnston and their young family, who also lived in Bath then, took Ada in to ease Olive's burden.

Ada moved with the Johnston's to Kingston in 1811, and fled with them to Sackets Harbor in 1813. By this time, Ada's defining physical characteristic was evident. Her father John was 6' 4" tall; a height that Ada eventually matched. (The average height of American men in the mid-19th century was 5' 8".)

On a visit to Upper Canada when she was 17, she met Cyrus Burleigh (September 8, 1793-October 9, 1873), then 26. They married at Bath on February 22, 1819. She settled in with her husband north of Kingston and bore six children between 1820 and 1839. Cyrus owned land near Portland and was likely a farmer.

Note: Census records often spell Ada as Ady or Adea or Adah, and Burleigh as Burley. The birth year for Ada and Cyrus also varies. This article is primarily based on records compiled by Ada's great-grandson, Dr. Herbert C. Burleigh. His genealogy research of his and other Loyalist families resides in the Queen's University archives in Kingston. Details of Ada's activities in the summer of 1838 come from John Northman's biography of Bill Johnston.

Aside: Dr. Burleigh's family history records that Olive Powell's family was killed by "Indians" when Ada's mother was young. 

After Bill Johnston burned the Sir Robert Peel in May 1838, Ada came to in Clayton, NY, to render whatever aid her family needed. As a Quaker, Ada would have disavowed the violence of the 1838 Patriot War and the part her uncle Bill played in that conflict. Still, she had no qualms about rowing supplies to Bill's hiding places with Kate. (If her Loyalist husband ever knew she was aiding a major enemy of Canada, it is not recorded.)

British and American military spies shadowed the Johnston family in 1838 hoping to be led to Bill. Despite her great stature, she and Kate always managed to lose those tailing them.

In their later years, Cyrus and Ada (known then to family as “Granny Randolph”) lived with their son Sylvester and his family near Portland, Ontario. When Ada died, her great-grandson Herbert wrote that she was 6' 3" tall and weighed an imposing 225 pounds.

Note: Ada plays a strong supporting role in Counter Currents, my novel about Bill Johnston and the Patriot War. She is cast (fictionally) as an independent-minded woman, who develops a strong attraction to the protagonist, a much younger man.
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