William Burns Whitnah and Mary Ward

William Burns Whitnah Mary Ward
Born: 8 February 1789, Martinsburg, Berkley, Virginia(1) Born: 1788, Harolsburgh, Pennsylvania (3)
Died: after 16 January 1860 Fulton County, Illinois(2) Died: 2 February 1863, Tecumseh, Lenawee, Michigan (4)
Father: Henry F. Whitenah Father: Thomas Ward(5)
Mother: Margaret Burns

William Burns Whitnah was born 8 February 1789, Martinsburg, Berkley, Virginia. One of three sons of Henry and Margaret Whitenah, he was named for his maternal grandfather, William Burns. About 1814(6), William married Sarah Mounts(7) , most likely in Virginia where William continued to live for several years.(8)

In 1819, William moved to Groveland, Livingston County, New York(9), where his uncle, Robert Burns, had settled a few years before. Family tradition says of this move that the family "disposed of their slaves and moved to N.Y. where they could get away from slave scenes which had become obnoxious to them."(10) Despite this statement, there is no evidence showing that William or his parents ever owned slaves.(11)

It was while in Groveland that William met and married Mary Ward, daughter of Thomas Ward who was born in Harolsburgh, Pa in 1788. (12)

William and Mary lived in Groveland for about 13 years, as shown from the following land sales:

In 1832, the family moved to Lenawee County, Michigan(13). In the History and Biographical Record of Lenawee Michigan, we read:

At that time Michigan was being talked of as a prospective greate State, and, having four sons, he decided to emigrate, with the idea of purchasing the cheap lands that were then to be had. He came to Lenawaee county and purchased 240 acres of land on section 23, in Tecumseh, where he ever after lived. He purchased the land of Powell Champlin, who located it from the government. Mr. Whitnah build a frame house and afterwards put up a brick one. He greatly improved the farm, and soon became one of the responsible, reliable and respected citizens of the township.(14)

Apparently not satisfied to remain in Michigan, on April 14, 1836, the family embarked on another move, this one to Illinois. Originally bound for Galena, they changed their destination to Ottawa because of the scarcity of supplies. They traveled down the Illinois river until they arrived in Fulton County.(15) In 1838, William sold his interest in his father's estate in Berkeley County to his brother John G. Whitnah for $150.

Although sons Andrew and Joseph remained in Illinois, William and Mary apparently returned to Michigan as they appear in the census in years 1850 and 1860.(16)

William died 4 August 1861, and Mary died 2 February 1863.

William Burns Whitnah and Sarah Mounts are the parents of the following children:
  1. Andrew Jackson Whitnah
  2. Joseph Chester Whitnah

William Burns Whitnah and Mary Ward are the parents of the following children:

  1. Thomas Ward Whitnah born 1841 in Groveland. He was a soldier of the Mexican war, and died of sickness at Orazaba, Mexico in 1846 (age 25 years).
  2. Henry Whitnah. Lived in New York.
  3. Elizabeth Whitnah born 6 January 1826 in Groveland and resided on the homestead in Michigan.


  1. History and Biographical Record of Lenawee Michigan, Page 128.
  2. On 16 January 1860, William Burns Whitnah signed an old clock, apparently before giving it to his grandson (see Timeless Treasures). William's death place was provided by Emelie L. Wilson.
  3. Lenawee Michigan page 128.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Early 1800 Wards.
  6. William's first son was born in February 1815.
  7. Sarah Mounts supposedly died on 7 Dec 1853. However, this would have been long after William moved to New York and married Mary Ward.
  8. William was executor for Robert Hasting's estate late 1818. In 1819, he bought items at the estate sale of his father. Also in 1819, William is listed on the Berkeley County Personal Property Tax lists.
  9. History of Fulton County, pg 579. Andrew Whitnah Obituary 1, Andrew Whitnah Obituary 2, Joseph Whitnah Obituary, Lenawee Michigan.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Personal Property tax lists for Berkeley County reported the number of slaves. Henry's household never lists any slaves. It is only in the 1840 Census that John is listed with two slaves. It's possible that William lived outside Berkeley County and owned slaves prior to 1819.
  12. Lenawee Michigan page 128.
  13. See History of Fulton County and obituaries cited above.
  14. Lenawee Michigan page 128.
  15. History of Fulton County.
  16. 1850 Michigan Census, 1860 Michigan Census.