Written by Leisa Greathouse; Edited and vetted by Cheri Todd Molter
An enslaved African American man named Kinchen resided on the Thornbury plantation in Northampton County, North Carolina. That plantation owner’s son, Henry Burgwyn, Jr., graduated from UNC and the Virginia Military Institute, and he held the rank of major when he was put in command of the camp of instruction at Crab Tree Creek near Raleigh at the start of the Civil War. At some point, Burgwyn took Kinchen with him, though the exact details of when have yet to be revealed in any documents. Burgwyn eventually became colonel of the 26th North Carolina Regiment and died on the first day at the Battle Gettysburg, July 1, 1863. It is known, however, that Kinchen was also at the Battle of Gettysburg, but not as a soldier. He was Burgwyn’s man servant.
On July 31, 1863, the regimental quartermaster of the 26th N.C., Capt. Joseph J. Young, wrote a letter to Burgwyn’s father, stating that he and Kinchen “started from Williamsport [Maryland] July 12” along with Sergeant Abraham J. Lane, who was accompanying the wounded to Staunton, Virginia, approximately 200 miles southwest of Gettysburg. Capt. Young “told Lane that if he could not get rail transportation for the horses to send Kinchin [sic] by the safest route to Garysburg or Raleigh.” Young gave Kinchen $95 from the $135 he found in Burgwyn’s “pocket book.”
Kinchen, following instructions from Young, carried the colonel’s sword wrapped safely in Burgwyn’s bed clothes. Young wrote that Sgt. Lane was “somewhere between Staunton and Gordonsville [in Virginia] with the wagons he carried off.” He further stated: “I have not heard from him or Kinchen since they left me. I am a little uneasy that he has not reached home yet but hope he will be safely home before you get this letter.”
Garysburg is a small town in Northampton County, North Carolina, and the Burgwyn Plantation was located nearby in Jackson. It was just across the Roanoke River from the all-important railroad at Weldon.
In the December 20, 1913, issue of the Pinehurst Lookout newspaper, an article was published entitled “Fighting Twenty Sixth,” referring to the 26th North Carolina Regiment, that was written by Fred A. Olds (founder of the N.C. Museum of History). Olds did not mention Kinchen by name but stated that Burgwyn’s “negro body-servant took his horse, sword and gloves and carried them to Capt. William H. S. Burgwyn, Henry’s younger brother.” Kinchen was successful! Olds further reported that William Burgwyn used those items until he surrendered at Appomattox.
One can only wonder about the hardships and challenges that Kinchen might’ve experienced during his trip south: How many times was he stopped by someone who might’ve wanted to capture him with the intent to try to enslave him or who might’ve wanted to rob him of the possessions he carried on behalf of Burgwyn? Did Capt. Young write a letter explaining Kinchen’s mission for him to carry with him? Did Kinchen encounter Union soldiers, and if so, what were those interactions like?
A descendant of the Burgwyn’s, John Fanning Burgwyn, published a novel based on Kinchen’s story of accompanying his owner to war. The title of the book is Kinchen.