Otway Burns

A Brief Biographical Sketch of the Life and Exploits of Captain Otway Burns, Jr. 1775-1850 - Tucker R. Littleton

"Captain Otway Burns was born on the west side of the mouth of Queen's Creek (near Swansboro, NC) in 1775. The son of Otway, Sr., and Lisanah Burns, he evidently took to the sea at an early age and soon earned the reputation of a most skillful navigator. Like his father and his grandfather before him, Otway, Jr., was deeply involved in maritime activity at Swansboro. In 1809 Burns married Joanna Grant, daughter of Colonel Reuben Grant, a Swansboro merchant. Owen Burns, the only child of Capt. Otway Burns, was born to this union in 1810, the same year that Burns bought lot number 6 in Swansboro.

"At the time that Burns bought the lot, it contained a dwelling house on the portion lying between Front and Water streets, and Capt. Burns and his young wife may have resided for a time on that lot. The lower portion of the lot, lying between Front Street and the rivershore, was subsequently used by Burns for a shipyard. It was at this shipyard in 1818 that Burns built the PROMETHEUS, the first steamboat actually constructed in North Carolina. His wife, Joanna, however, had died in 1814, and in 1819 Burns sold his Swansboro lot to William Pugh Ferrand. Thereafter, Burns remained exclusively associated with Carteret County.

"It was his role in the War of 1812 that won Burns his fame and made him Onslow County's most famous native son and the most important figure ever associated with the maritime history of Swansboro. Prior to the War of 1812, Burns was a sailing master operating out of Swansboro, Beaufort, and New Bern, and plying the coastwise trade with such northern ports as Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and Portland. When the War of 1812 broke out, Burns came to the aid of his country by operating a privateer vessel to prey on British ships and commerce.
SNAP DRAGON Model by Jim Goodwin

"In partnership with Col. Edward Pasteur and the other owners of the SNAP DRAGON, most of whom were of New Bern, Burns carried the privateer schooner on three of the most successful voyages ever made by an American privateer. His extraordinary bravery, ingenuity, skill, and heroic exploits made Captain Otway Burns a legend in his own time and North Carolina's most famous naval hero of the War of 1812. Throughout the war the United States had only a token and woefully ineffective navy. The country was forced to rely on the help of private-armed vessels like the SNAP DRAGON, whose entrance into the war was applauded as a great act of patriotism. When our "Second War of Independence" was over, Burns had captured not only a staggering number of enemy vessels and valuable cargoes but had captured the esteem and admiration of his fellow countrymen.

"Following the war, the enterprising Captain Burns returned to his old trade of shipbuilding and eventually at Beaufort tried his hand at storekeeping, salt making, brick making, and investing in the Clubfoot and Harlowe Creek Canal Company. A Democrat in politics, Burns represented Carteret County in the General Assembly from 1821 through 1835. In the latter year, however, Burns' sense of fairness cost him his political future. The eastern counties controlled the legislature because the western counties were not granted fair representation in the General Assembly. When the Assembly in 1835 voted on the matter of calling a special state constitutional convention to consider, among other things, increasing the representation of the western counties, Burns maintained that the westerners should be entitled to fair representation and therefore voted in favor of calling the special convention. His eastern constituents never forgave Burns for casting the deciding vote in favor of the special convention, with the result that Burns was never re-elected to the Assembly. But one of the western counties -Yancey County-named its county seat Burnsville in honor of Captain Burns and in gratitude for his fairness as a statesman.

"In 1836, President Andrew Jackson, himself a hero of the War of 1812, appointed Burns keeper of the Brant Shoals Light-House at Portsmouth. Burns died at Portsmouth on October 25, 1850. He is buried in the Old Burying Ground in Beaufort.

"Today Swansboro's most famous son has two North Carolina towns named in his honor-Burnsville in Yancey County, and Otway in Carteret County. And as of May 6, 1983, North Carolina has two statues of Captain Otway Burns-one at Burnsville atop the mountains, and one at Swansboro in sight of the sea."
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"Otway Burns also built two large vessels--the Warrior in 1823 and the Henry in 1831. These vessels were used to carry cargo from North Carolina to various ports, to include as far away as South Africa and the West Indies.

"The shipyard of Otway Burns was known for quality and workmanship of the vessels that were built there. After building the last of the two Brigs little is known about additional construction at the shipyard.

"What is known is that Captain Otway Burns constructed a very personal vessel for himself. Possibly out of the loss of his Snap Dragon during the War of 1812, he built himself another vessel and also named it Snap Dragon. This ship was sleek and known to have been very fast.

"Otway Burns also built into the construction of this vessel the first-known 'center-board' used in the waters of
North Carolina. This innovation introduced by Burns gave way to a new medium in ship building for his state. This is an example of just one of the little known contributions that Captain Otway Burns gave to the State of North Carolina."
 Above text quoted from Jack Robinson
Images and information from : Yancey County, NC (much contributed by Romie Burns, great grandson of Captain Otway Burns) and author/historian Jack Robinson
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Captain Otway Burns married in 1809 a Miss Grant, daughter of Reuben Grant of Onslow County. By his marriage he had one child, Owen Burns, born in 1810, who became a lieutenant in the United States Navy. After the death of his first wife, he married December 4, 1814, Miss Jane Hall of Beaufort and for her a handsome residence was built in Beaufort near the spot where the Atlantic Hotel afterwards stood; he resided there for twenty-two years.  After her death, he married Miss Jane Smith of Smyrna, N.C., on February 22nd, 1842, and moved to Portsmouth, N.C., where he lived until his death. By his second and third wife he had no issue. (Captain Otway Burns - Patriot, Privateer and Legislator by (grandson) Walter Francis Burns, New York, 1905)
 

Burns Connection
Old Town-New Town Boundary Marker
Northwest corner of Front and Pollock Streets

 

When laid out and named on October 2, 1713, Beaufort contained about 100 acres. To meet the requirements of a township, when incorporated in 1723, Beaufort was increased to 200 acres. 

The marker "indicates the dividing line between Old & New Town and was erected in place of a cannon which formerly stood here; said cannon being part of the armament of the U.S. Privateer Snap Dragon commanded by Capt'n Otway Burns in the War of 1812-15." 


The Old Burying Ground cannon monument was erected by Burns' descendants. The unveiling took place July 24, 1901. Chief Justice Walter Clark was orator.