Descendants & Ancestors of Brothers Thomas, Jesse & Joseph Burnett

 of Rutherford Co., NC and Brunswick Co., VA

Updated 7 Nov 2020

Copyright © 2020 [Donald Walker Quigley and Susan Kromer Hunt].  All Rights Reserved

The purpose of the Rutherford NC Burnetts project on Family Tree DNA is to use YDNA testing to identify the descendants and ancestors of three brothers, Thomas, Jesse, and Joseph Burnett, born in the 1730s in Brunswick Co., VA, and moved to Rutherford Co., NC in the 1780s. Published research on these men and their families, along with hundreds of family trees on internet websites such as,, and Family, as well as memorials on all lack conclusive information about the generations immediately before and after the three brothers and thus their conclusions must be considered pure speculation and/or wishful thinking.  Our project is using the relatively recent tool of Y-Chromosome DNA testing to provide evidence about paternal lines that cannot currently be found in normal genealogical paper research.  That does not mean that we do not continue our efforts to find more documentation of the lives and families of the three brothers.  In fact, we put as much energy into traditional genealogical research as we do for our Y-DNA testing program.  Both avenues of investigation are equally important, and their results must be mutually supportive for any conclusions to be drawn.

Our Y-DNA results to date are summarized in the following Block Tree from FTDNA:


Paternal lines for the three brothers have been identified based on strong paper trails to 10 project member testers, all of whom are Burnetts by birth or by non-paternal events (NPEs).  Notice that three other testers fall into a separate block, the “Virginia” Burnett Line, which is related to the three brothers, but probably to cousins or uncles back in Virginia, i.e., to one or more brothers of their father, who was believed to be Thomas Burnett, Sr.  Additional testing is now in progress to provide more definition to the Block Tree.  Testing plans are also being developed to confirm or modify our current family tree as presented in Ancestry: Burnett Primary Sources Family Tree.  We are searching for direct male descendants of several sons of the three brothers or of potentially-related “Stray Burnetts,” who we know were in Rutherford County or nearby in the late 1700s to early 1800s, but without any documents tying them to our Burnetts.  With their permission, we would like to have them do Y-DNA testing.

Our project has produced several research papers based on intense document review, such as those shown below.









(by Donald Walker Quigley, 2020)


Literally hundreds of family trees on currently cite Find a Grave memorials for three brothers, Thomas, Jesse and Joseph Burnett, and their supposed father and grandfather, Frederick and Phillip Burnett, as source information for their trees.  It is important for family researchers using these memorials to understand that much of the information presented in the memorials is simply based on family lore and unsubstantiated publications and books. 

A group of experienced Burnett family researchers and historians would like you to know the following:

·       There is no evidence for Phillip Burnett’s birth (1688 in Scotland), immigration (to New Castle, Delaware in 1708) or death (1723 in Delaware). 

·       There is no evidence for Frederick Burnett’s birth (1708 in Scotland), death ( 1753 in Virginia) or that he was the father of the three Burnett brothers.  Records do exist for a Thomas, John and Joseph Burnett in Brunswick County, Virginia, where the brothers were born about 1735.  It is most likely that Thomas was their father.

·       Rather than Whigs or Patriots during the Revolutionary War, the brothers were more likely Loyalists.  Joseph is believed to have fought for the British as a member of the Steven’s Creek Regiment of Loyalist Militia from South Carolina.  He was killed on October 7, 1780, during the Battle of Kings Mountain in South Carolina, just over the border with North Carolina and about 35 miles from where the Burnett brothers lived during the war in Rutherford County.  Thomas may have indeed been tied to a tree and shot at the time of the battle, but The Tennesse and King’s Mountain Papers of the Lyman C. Draper Collection of Manuscripts indicate that it was more likely Patriots who shot him, as both Thomas and Jesse were identified as brothers and Loyalists.  Jesse is not believed to have actively participated in any fighting, contrary to June Bork’s specultion that he may have been the “Jesse Barnit” that fought with the Virginia Militia from Henry County, which was nearly 150 miles from Jesse’s home.

·       The identities of the various sons of the three Burnett brothers are now being questioned by results of Y-DNA testing of their direct male descendants and by deeper research into available records for the time (late 1700s and early 1800s).  The sons of Jesse Burnett, in particular, have no direct basis in fact from paper records.  His will from 1824 was lost in a Buncombe County court house fire and thus cannot be used to determine his heirs.   Although the testing and research are not complete, there appear to have been more related families of Burnetts in Rutherford County than just the three brothers.

·       Y-DNA testing is also being used to find the ancestors of the three Burnett brothers and their related families. 

The opinions given above were developed from ongoing research by the Rutherford NC Burnetts Y-DNA project at Family Tree DNA.  They are meant to be words of caution to readers of Find a Grave, who should form their own opinions of the facts before naming the memorials as citations in their family trees.






(by Donald Walker Quigley, 2020)



Those of you who have read Fred M. Burnett’s book, This Was my Valley, published in 1960, a year before his death, know it to be full of stories and family lore about the Burnetts who settled in the valley of the headwaters of the North Fork of the Swannanoa River in Buncombe County, North Carolina, around 1810.  Though some of the early family genealogy is a little off, the stories of pioneer life in the mountains of western North Carolina are very descriptive and entertaining.  You can obtain a pdf version of the book, which is now out of print, from the Swannanoa Valley Museum and History Center in Black Mountain, North Carolina.

One of the stories in the book intrigued me from the moment I read it and it had to do with the house built in 1732 by Philip Burnet, who Fred M. Burnett believed to be the immigrant from Scotland that started our Burnett clan in the American Colonies.  As you may now be aware, the only “source” document for Philip is a Find A Grave memorial created by a Burnett descendant based solely on family lore.  Supposedly, Philip was born in 1688 and immigrated to New Castle, Delaware, around 1712.  Because Susan Kromer-Hunt and I have found absolutely no records of a Philip Burnett in Delaware in the early 1700s,  we do not believe he ever existed.  Susan is now fighting a battle with the “owner” of Philip’s Find A Grave memorial to have it removed.  Please wish her well!

In his book, Fred M. Burnett stated some interesting facts about the Philip Burnet House:

·       That he built the house which later became and is still celebrated,

·       That the house still stands and is in a splendid state of preservation, and

·       According to reliable colonial records, it was in the Philip Burnet house that the magistrate of New Castle received the messenger who brought news of the Battle of Bunker Hill in the early stages of the Revolutionary War.

The book has a drawing of the house (Fig. 1) by Kenneth Whitsett, a Charlotte historian, artist, and co-founder of Pictorial Engraving Co.

With all this information, I began a quest to find the house to help prove (or disprove) the story pf Philip Burnet.  What I found was a series of facts and events that must have surely created Philip’s story in the mind of Fred M. Burnett.

Did Philip Burnet build a house in New Castle, Delaware?

After extensive property records search, I found that he did build one in Wilmington (north of New Castle), but it was not built until  about 1914, and is described by an article in House & Garden Magazine of April 1921 (Figs. 2a & 2b).         



Its owner, Philip, Jr., was the son of a Philip Burnet, Sr., who immigrated to the United States in 1849.  Philip, Jr., was the President of Continental Life Insurance Company and apparently quite well off.

Did the house still stand (in 1960) and was it in a splendid state of preservation?

Yes, in fact the house at 2106 N. Grant Ave. in Wilmington is still standing and appears to be in fine condition, as shown by a Google Earth Street View image (Fig. 3).



Did New Castle’s magistrate receive the news of Bunker Hill at the house?

Well, obviously not, as Philip’s house was not yet built in 1775. But there was a house (built in 1732) in which the magistrate did receive the news of Bunker Hill – the Leuvenigh House on the Strand in New Castle, as described in the WPA’s Guide to Delaware, 1934 (Fig. 4).


This historic house appears to be in good condition, as seen is a Google Earth Street View image (Fig. 5).


It was not at Philip’s house? In 1934 the Leuvenigh House was owned by none other than Philip Burnet!  OK, it was his wife who was noted as the owner in a Historical American Buildings Survey (Fig. 6).       

After leaving the house in Wilmington, there was a divorce and wife No. 2 was living in the New Castle house by 1929.  Philip died in 1931.


So, what did Fred M. Burnett’s story of the house(s) in New Castle tell us?  That there was not likely a Philip Burnet as early as 1712-1732 in New Castle, Delaware.  But one did come along later and eventually owned the house he surely would have built if he had existed back then.

And it confirmed what a Burnett family member recently said of how “Uncle Mac” had a knack for storytelling.  Maybe it runs in the family, as this Burnett also said that when one of the hikers on our historic museum hikes that I do ask me if the story I was telling them was true, I replied, “yes, it’s true, I am telling a story”



If your lineage goes back one of the three Burnett brother, we strongly encourage you or a male relative with the last name of Burnett take a Y37 DNA test to find out IF and HOW you connect to the three brothers or their related families. Or, if you or other males relatives have already tested for Y-DNA and have been surprised by Burnett matches rather than their testers with their own surnames, please join the Rutherford NC Burnetts project at FTDNA to see if you are “one of us.”  Nearly half of our project testers do not have the Burnett surname, yet their family histories have been invaluable identifying our Burnetts and the paternal lines they have created.

If you want to know more about Y-DNA testing and how its results are used to identify paternal lines, we strongly recommend a one-hour tutorial Cutting Edge DNA - What's So Big About Big Y DNA Testing? presented by Skip Duett for the National Genealogical Society.  It costs $20, but is well worth it.