David G. Burnet
Young Man of the West
David Gouverneur Burnet was born one of the youngest of 14 children in a large and politically well-connected family. His father, Dr. William Burnet, had served as a member of the Continental Congress during the American Revolution and later became surgeon general of the Continental army. His mother was a member of two prominent families, the Gouverneurs and the Rutgers.
When David was only three years old, he was orphaned. His older half-brothers, Jacob and Isaac, took the boy to raise. Jacob and Isaac soon moved from the east to Cincinnati, a growing settlement on the Ohio River. David was about seven or eight years old when he became a resident of what was then America's far western frontier.
Isaac and Jacob Burnet became leading citizens of the territory. Jacob was a close friend of one of the most important frontier leaders, William Henry Harrison, and served as a legislator, judge, and U.S. Senator. Isaac would become mayor of Cincinnati. The Burnets saw to it that David received the best education available, which in those days meant instruction in subjects such as Greek, Latin, philosophy, history, and literature. Little formal education was available in the settlement, so David was probably taught either by hired tutors or, more likely, by his brothers.
By the time David was 17, Cincinnati's population stood at 1000 civilians plus a large military population. Dozens of businesses served the army and the legions of settlers traveling west. David himself seemed primed to follow in the footsteps of his successful brothers. He was articulate, opinionated about politics, and burning with a fierce determination to live up to his family's name and reputation.