John Mullins Burton, A Vintage Vignette

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John Mullins Burton
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
July 21, 2008

The terms of the Last Will and Testament of John Mullins Burton were somewhat unusual and provide a little-known glimpse into the life of some of Madison’s illustrious citizens of the early 1900s. John Mullins was a son of John Winston Burton, Madison’s first pharmacist. From 1871 J. W. Burton owned and operated a drugstore where the Hughes Hardware store was in business until recently, at the junction of Church Street with Main Street. In 1903 J. M. Burton bought out his father’s interest and operated the pharmacy until 1908 when he partnered with George Washington Wise to open a new drugstore at 200 Main Street. That building still has the sign “Humphrey Hughes Rexall Drug Store inlaid in the brick. It is the store that G. Walton Hughes rented as a pharmacy from 1925 until 1972, with the town’s telephone switchboard and some apartments on the second floor. The building remained in the ownership of the Burton-Bradford family until 1975.

John Mullins Burton was born in 1864. His mother was Mary Louisa Mullins, the first of four wives of his father. John Winston Burton married Louisa in 1860 and she died on Christmas Day of 1879 after delivering at least eight children, per the 1880 census. J. W. then married Mary L. Cain in 1881, followed by Mattie L. Lehman in 1888 and Huldah Gambel Kimball in 1892. John Mullins Burton’s wife was named Nina Ward. Her parents were David Crocket Ward and Amanda (“Ida”) Tennessee Horton. After David died, Ida married Edward Hazzard East of Nashville, Tennessee, who became governor of that state in 1865. Thus, Burton’s mother-in-law was wife of a governor of Tennessee. Nina bore three children to John Mullins Burton, according to the 1910 census, but only two were living when the census was taken, and one of those apparently died soon afterward, leaving only daughter Frances (“Fannie”) East Burton.

On Independence Day of 1906 Fannie married Thomas L. Bradford, a druggist in Madison. Thomas had worked for a while in the store of his father-in-law, but he entered into the partnership of Pride and Bradford to operate a second drugstore in the town. In 1918 at age 35 Thomas committed suicide at home by taking an overdose of morphine, leaving Fannie with two young daughters. Fannie’s father made out his will in 1923, and he died on December 31, 1924. The will of John Mullins Burton provided that the Burton & Wise Pharmacy should be sold, with the proceeds going to his partner George Washington Wise, who had suffered great losses in the business. The will left his wife Nina the lot behind the store, and noted that she owned “considerably more property” than he did, so she had no need for other provisions. The will further stipulated that “my daughter Mrs. Fannie Bradford has been very unkind and inconsiderate of me”, so he left her nothing. However, he did specify that the remainder of his estate be passed to his two granddaughters, the children of Fannie.

Another stipulation of the will was that “neither their mother Fannie Bradford, nor their grandmother Nina Burton, nor their great uncle Gus Ward of Nashville, Tennessee have anything to do with the control and management of their property.” Burton’s will established T. G. Riddle and G. W. Wise as trustees for his granddaughters in this respect, and it designated M. H. Anderson and Hermon Humphrey as Executors. The will was witnessed by L. S. Hager and Clifton Balch. Humphrey died in 1925, and his widow, Cora Mae Lewis Humphrey, became Administrator of the will. As a final edict, it was stipulated that if any beneficiary objected to its probate or aided in any way with contest of the provisions of the will, then they were to be “absolutely barred and cut off from any share” of the estate.

Fannie lived in her father’s house and took care of her mother in later years. She also became the Madison reporter for the Huntsville Times, but apparently during her lifetime she alienated her father and had a husband who chose to kill himself rather than face the problems of business and family life. Sometimes the lives of those perceived to be well-established citizens and leading families are not tranquil out of the public eye.

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