Family Matters

"Mississippi Just Ain't Like Tennessee"

John P. (Red John) Burgin & His Family, circa 1901

John P. Burgin was born in 1856 in Green County, Tennessee. He was called "Red John" (he had red hair) to distinguish him from his black-haired nephew also named John and only a few years younger. Red John married Donnie J. Isabella circa 1880. John and Donnie had at least eight children, possibly ten.

Sometime around 1905/6 John went to Sunflower County, Mississippi, settling on Howling Wolf Bayou. Alex Burgin and Carl Stokely accompanied him, but soon returned to Tennessee with tales of the wild Mississippi Bayou country.

Evidently "Howling Wolf Bayou" was appropriately named, for they told of having to climb on the barn roof  to escape the wolves. John and his family stayed in Mississippi and carved out a large cotton plantation.

John's second-born, William Merritt was said to have been among those who were severely injured in the sawmill explosion at Big Creek (Cocke County) Tennessee where three other workers were killed outright.

Son of Red John
Merritt Burgin

According to Cocke County, Tennessee historian Mary Ruble, Merritt had a silver plate in his head from an injury received in a sawmill explosion. Ruble, daughter of the local doctor said her father made the plate by flattening a silver dollar.

The boiler explosion and the head injury requiring the implantation of a silver plate was referred to in the novel "Christy" and in the much-loved TV mini-series by the same name. According to Merritt's death certificate, he had been an invalid for twelve years prior to his death.

Catherine Marshall tells a beautiful story in her book. Most of us are aware of the fact that the book is fiction, but pretty much true to the events that actually took place. Although the names of families were changed, many of us have been able to relate to certain incidents and families.

In her book, Catherine indicates that the story begins in 1912 when "Christy" arrives by train from Asheville, North Carolina to teach in a mission school to the economically distressed "highlanders" children, located a few miles from Del Rio, Tennessee (El Plano in the book). To the west of "Cutter Gap" in the book was a mountain called "Hall's Top". The mountain is actually called "Timber Ridge" and is located just above the old James Burgin homeplace.

Source: Peggy Silvers, Echoes In The Mist (The Burgin Family 1677 - 1989)
A PRESS Printing Company 1989 (Contributed by Mary Burgin Sutton)