Friday, April 20, 2012

Jabez Burns, D.D.:My Story of The Jabez's, Part 1

Jabez Burns, Baptist Minister,
Paddington, London
circa 1870
Courtesy of the family of Margaret Burns Burmeister,
daughter of James P. and  Mary B. McPherson.

Many families have a plethora of men named William, Thomas, John and James. However, in my McPherson family, the oft used name in the past was Jabez. As a family name, Jabez goes back to 1805, when my great-great-great-great grandmother Burns, a devoted Wesleyan Methodist ,and as such a “dissenter”(from the Anglican Church of England) named one of her sons Jabez Burns, after Dr. Jabez Bunting, a well-known Wesleyan minister of her day.
This Jabez Burns, the first Jabez of our family, my 4x great uncle and brother to my 3x great grandfather William Gibson Burns, is the Jabez of this posting. He was born December 18, 1805 in Oldham, Lancashire, which was surrounded by the burgeoning industrial cities of Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Leeds, and Bolton in the west of England.  Jabez's father, for whom I have no given name, was an apothecary, which might have been a chemist dispensing medicine , or a medical practitioner as it has been said that young Jabez Burns aided his father for a time as a “medical practitioner.”
Jabez' mother died when he was quite young. The death of his father  when Jabez was in grammar school caused him to leave school and  seek employment. Young Jabez was about 17 years old, when he became a clerk, or as some say, a manager, of a Bookseller's establishment in Keighley, York. In this atmosphere, Jabez's taste for learning and writing grew.  Although he spent most of his spare time studying, he did manage to court Jane Dawson and marry her on July 25, 1824, when they were not quite twenty years old. In the next 5 years Jabez and Jane would have two sons, George Burns and Dawson Jabez Burns.

Jabez became a member of the Wesleyan Methodists very early in life, and probably as a young teenager became a member of the Methodist New Connexion. The New Connexion was a Protestant non-conformist church also known as the Kihamite Methodists, who believed that power in the church should reside equally between ministers and the laity. . At the age of 16, he gave his first “public address” at a Methodist house near York.. A year or so after his marriage, he returned to London to pursue religious work and writing.  Although Burns never severed his relations with the New Methodist Connexion, he was baptized, around 1828, by The Rev. Farrent in a general Baptist congregation at Suffolk Street Chapel. After this he engaged in missionary work in Edinburgh and Leith, Scotland, as well at traveling and preaching temperance throughout the area.

By 1830, Jabez Burns accepted a pastorship in Perth, Scotland, where he preached Temperance, which was one of the major subgroups within the Chartist movement of the day. During this five years of pastorship of the Baptist church in Perth, Burns totally embraced the principle of total abstinence.During this period of his life, Jabez Burns was in the same general locality as his brother William Gibson Burns and his family -- and of course, James Peter McPherson.  I wonder if they often came to hear him preach when he was in Perth.

In May 1835, after six successful years in the Perth pastorate, he left Scotland to return to London to pastor the Aeon Chapel, Marylebone, London.. The Pastor Jabez Burns preached at this church for 41 years (1835-1876) and was reportedly one of the most popular preachers in greater London, and the first clergyman of any denomination to preach Temperance from the pulpit. His flock grew from 25 members and a congregation of about 50 to over 400 members, and over 800 in the congregation. Although his strict temperance beliefs, led some old timers to leave the congregation and even start new churches near by, his church grew and prospered during his 41 years as pastor.

Jabez Burns, a prolific writer of religious texts and a renowned preacher, received a D.D. Degree from the Wesleyan University,Middleton, Connecticut, in 1846.  A year later, he traveled to America, as a delegate from the English General Baptist Association to the Free Will Baptist Triennial Conference in the United States. At this time he may have visited his niece, Mary Burns McPherson, and nephew, also named Jabez Burns, who lived in New York City, after emigrating from Scotland.

Later in life, in1872 at the age of 67, he again traveled to America to accept an L.L.D. Degree from Bates College, Lewiston, Maine. He died at his home at 17 Porteus Road, Kensington, London, on January 31, 1876, and was buried in the Paddington Old Cemetery.

The legacy of Jabez Burns, D.D., includes his voluminous writings, which spanned the years 1828 to 1875; his absolute abstinence beliefs and temperance reformer ideals; and his powerful sermons from the pulpit. His nephew and namesake, Jabez Burns (son of W. G Burns) once said that they (the Burns family) were people of “small means, but independent thinkers.” This would appear to be so, as the Chartist and temperance movement were movements of reformers and dissenters --- not the status quo. This reforming idealism still holds sway over our family, flung far and wide by the Jabezes,  starting with Jabez Burns, D.D.

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 © Joan Hill, Roots'n'Leaves Publications


  1. It's interesting how several people within a family may all have the same unusual name. It's really cool that you were able to figure out why the first Jabez in your family was given that name.

  2. I have been working with the Jabez's for -- it seems like forever -- and they still get tangled with one another. So I decided that the best way to make sense of the gaggle of Jabez's is to write about them until each had his own place in my mind. Fortunately, the first Jabez was rather well known, so there was a fair amount written about him. Thanks for reading and finding this post interesting.

  3. I really admire Jabez's sideburns. They would seem to almost form a "J" in their artistic curvature & I wonder about the relative rarity or commonplace historic incidence of such chic calligraphic flourishes in the stylized features of facial hair of the day. Though likewise Scottish, God knows my own male progenitors appear as mere neanderthals compared to the well-groomed patriarchs of your family, Joan. PS my grandfather's name was "Jehu" - the father of King David in the Bible. I am assuming Jabez's handle has similar ancient antecedents.

  4. I enjoyed part one - he certainly sounds like an independent thinker, and luckily he had an opportunity to study despite losing both his parents so young. Looking forward to the next instalment.

  5. We have a plethora of Jabezes in our family tree, too. We are wondering is it pronounced "Jah-bez" or "Jay-bez"? Since the name is rarely used today, I've never heard it spoken aloud.

    1. Heather, So nice to hear from you --- and interesting that you too have Jabezes --- not a usual and familiar name. Do you Jabezes come from that Wesleyan-Methodist background? Or some other? My 3x great grandfather was indeed baptized by the well-known Wesleyan-Methodist minister Dr. Jabez Bunting, and the Jabez in this story was named for him.

      My grandfather was called Jay-bez. My grandmother quite often called him "Jabe," though I don't recall anyone else using that level of familiarity with him --- guys would just call him "Mac."

      Thanks for reading and commenting.