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Burnham Square: At the Crossroad of Life

Terry M. Turner April 6, 2022


Have you heard of a place called Burnham? Burnham Square is now a ghost town about 30 miles south of Dallas and five miles south of the city of Ennis in Ellis County, Texas. Here at the crossroad of life between freedom and slavery. I first discovered my paternal great-grandfather was a freedman in the 1867 voter registration, only two years after emancipation. The original microfilm on Ancestry.com named Warren Turner on page four (4) in Ellis County, Texas. It was astonishing how this document solidified his state of birth and revealed the time he came to the precinct, county, and state. In addition, surrounding him were other Georgians found in probate and court records. Essentially, revealing the names of freedmen, he knew from his childhood and those he worked with during his years of enslavement.

The Burnham Square community in 1870 became Warren Turner and Elvira Davis first place of residence after getting married on February 6, 1869. They were associated with one hundred and ten neighbors like Warren, formerly enslaved men and women from Hancock, Georgia. Yet, they chose to face life together at the crossroad of freedom and made Burnham their first place of residence. They started freedom and marriage simultaneously by choosing to remain close to family and friends. African Americans can find their histories after the American Civil War in ghost towns like this across the south. These towns were once thriving and populated with people working to establish themselves in a changing society. Consequently, their anticipated hope to get a piece of land and gain the American dream becomes a possibility in Burnham Square.

Nevertheless, that hope would soon fade, unlike those made available for whites when the Mayflower landed on Plymouth Rock, New England, on November 11, 1620. In Burnham, land ownership was non-existent in the community for African Americans. But most did have a mule or a horse and lived in their own rented houses. Burnham Square had over two hundred residents on the 1870 census; half were African American families that worked as sharecroppers. The Ellis County July 7, 1867, Tax Roll documented three hundred and sixteen Freedmen that paid taxes that year, and nearly half resided in Burnham.

Their employment came from former slaveholders and men who had fought for the south in the civil war. These landowners were war-torn and suffered mentally and physically from the scars of America's most tragic national conflict; they too faced life's crossroads. Landowners realized their land was useless without workers and needed their former enslaved people to work the land. As a sharecropper on the 1870 Agricultural Census Schedule 3 in the Precinct of Burnham, Warren reported he worked 45 acres of improved land that was cash valued at $850. The cash value of Farming Implements and Machinery was 5 dollars. On June 1, 1870, his Livestock was four (4) Mules and Asses with one (1) Milch Cow; all Livestock valued at $100. During the same year, his crops produced 250 bushels of Indian Corn.

By 1873 the city began to decline with the loss of a railroad stop, and the Post Office packed up and moved to Ennis. Businesses and residents started moving out, and by 1880 the city had no recognition on the Federal Census. The lifeline of Burnham Square would last from 1859 to approximately 1873 while serving as the first place of residence for many freedmen, women, and children. After twelve short years, Burnham Square would be no-more.

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