Monument to Rev. Robert Burns
Portland, Jay County
East of Antioch, Indiana
GPS: 40.372967, -84.925406
M.E. – Methodist Episcopal
In the fall of 1832, a slightly-built man with a bushy beard rose on the door step of one of the first cabins to appear in the thick woods of Jay County. The cabin had been built by John Jay Hawkins, and his widow, Nancy, still lived there, on the banks of the meandering Salamonie River.
To the assembled crowd, the preacher lovingly delivered the first sermon ever heard in the county. And a century later, on the anniversary of this historic event, the Hawkins descendants and members of Methodist churches from miles around commemorated the service and unveiled a large stone monument to mark it for posterity. The monument is still there for viewing.
This intrepid preacher was an elder of the Methodist Episcopal Church. He was Robert Burns, a native of South Carolina who arrived in Indiana in 1824, and “on the Sabbath and week days his voice was heard in the log cabins proclaiming salvation to a people hungry for the bread of life”.
Starting with the Connersville Circuit, Rev. Burns was routinely appointed to enormous charges in the Whitewater Valley, typical of the time. The year before, he had been appointed to an unserved charge— the “Mississinaway,” probably a missionary circuit which lasted only the one year. This could help explain how he found his way into Jay County.
His memoir states that “As a man he was highly beloved; as a preacher he was clear, pointed and successful.“
These qualities evidently earned him a signal honor one hundred years after his appearance in Jay County. Accompanied by special services in Portland, the dedication was highlighted by the unveiling of the marker by Marjorie Lou, a youthful descendant of the original settlers of the Hawkins farm.
The inscription on the monument reads:
On this spot where once stood
the Nancy Hawkins cabin
Pioneer Methodist circuit rider
Conducted the first religious
Service in Jay County
in the fall of 1832
Erected by the Methodists of Jay County October 16, 1932
The granite stone monument shares this rural Pike Township site with the Hawkins ancient family cemetery. The site is located approximately one mile east of Antioch Cemetery on County Road E500S, then one-half mile north on CR S275. The GPS reading is 40 22 22.68,-084 55 31.46.
Robert Burns’ traveling ministry, including years as a presiding elder, continued until 1843, when, his health failing, he took a superannuated (retired) relationship with the Conference. But he remained as active as possible until shortly before his death, in 1877 at Akron, Indiana.
Robert Burns married in Warren County, Ohio, when he was twenty years old. The bride was Delilah Cain, and they had two daughters, Hester and Tabitha. This young family came together to Indiana where the girls later married and raised families of their own. The wife and daughters rest with Rev. Burns in the north section of the Nichols Cemetery in Franklin Township, Kosciusko County. Find A Grave memorial #39977866 contains this information.