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Susan Mary Ruffin

(1827-1851)

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At a Glance

Decended from two prominent North Carolina families--the Ruffins and Kirklands--Susan Mary Ruffin, a Burwell student, was the tenth of Chief Justice Thomas Carter Ruffin and Annie McNabb Kirkland's fourteen children [1].

Story

Susan Mary Ruffin was born in Hillsborough, NC on January 6, 1827, according to her mother's Bible. However, she lived most of her life in what is now Alamance County, NC, after her parents moved in 1829 to Hermitage Plantation on Great Alamance Creek. In 1849 Alamance County was formed from the western part of Orange County.

Her father, Thomas Carter Ruffin, was the son of Elizabeth Margaret Ruffin and Alice Roane, both from prominent Virginia families. He began his legal career as a politician, then became an Orange County judge, and later a North Carolina Supreme Court justice. He retired from the bench in 1860, but continued to play an important role in local and state politics.

Susan married John Wilson Brodnax on October 17, 1848. Their marriage was announced in the The Hillsborough Recorder [2] on October 25, 1848:

"Married--John Wilson Brodnax of Rockingham County, NC, to Susan Mary Ruffin, dtr. of Thomas Carter Ruffin, in this county Tuesday 17th inst. by Rev. Dr. Dame."

Three years later, Susan died. Her obituary was printed in the September 24, 1851 edition of the The Hillsborough Recorder [2]:

"Died--Mrs. Susan Mary Broadnax, wife of John Wilson Brodnax, dtr. of Chief Justice Thomas Carter Ruffin, of Congestive fever the morning of the 18th inst. at the residence of Robert Broadnax in Rockingham County, NC, North Carolina. Not 3 years a wife. Left 2 infant children."

The two children were daughters, Nannie and Alice. Susan's sister, Alice Roane Ruffin, moved into the household after Susan's death and cared for the children.

Susan Mary Ruffin was called Polly by her father The Ruffins and Kirklands were wealthy families who owned property and slaves in Orange County [including what would become Alamance County] and in Virginia. The Ruffin family came to America from England before 1674, and the Kirkland family came early on from Scotland. Though the family fortunes were to rise and fall with the economy, for the most part they remained comfortably well off

Justice Ruffin clearly adored Polly, and described her as having “amiable manners, cheerful smiles, and social qualities and genteel appearance.” Of her skills at managing a household, Justice Ruffin assured his wife Anne that her “dear Polly is getting on very well towards establishing a high reputation not only as a good wife and mother, but a choice housekeeper in all branches, house, kitchen, yard, garden, poultry, and the rest.”

In an 1847 letter to his son-in-law [by marriage to Catherine Roane Ruffin] Joseph B G Roulhac, a merchant, Thomas Ruffin ordered for Susan items for a dress and trimmings, one dozen fine ladies cotton hose, one dozen bordered handkerchiefs, two dozen linen cambric handkerchiefs, two pairs Robinson [imported leather] shoes size 5 and 1/2, and six pairs Morocco slippers

Susan Mary Ruffin’s husband John Wilson Brodnax was a family friend. John Brodnax’s father and Susan’s father both owned race horses and were interested in horse breeding. Ruffin’s horse Cherokee was sired by Virginian out of Sir Archie, also the sire for the Brodnax horses. Their farms in Virginia were adjacent. Letters show that the Brodnax family helped supervise the Ruffin farm. In 1846 while visiting the Ruffins at the Hermitage, the Brodnax family “arrived ill” and Mrs. Brodnax died. Thomas Ruffin and Thomas Ruffin Jr. accompanied her body to Cascade Plantation for burial. At his death, Susan Mary Ruffin’s husband John Wilson Brodnax was buried with his mother at Cascade Plantation rather than in the Ruffin plot at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Hillsborough.

Susan Mary Ruffin Brodnax lived a brief twenty-four years, but her relationships to the prominent families of Hillsborough allowed her daughter Nannie Brodnax to achieve a distinguished position of leadership among the women of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church during the formative years of the Ladies Sewing Society. Nannie married her cousin, William Sterling Roulhac. Minutes of the Society researched by Ellen Weig are a wonderful source of information on these families. In addition, the family letters in the Thomas Ruffin Papers in the Southern Historical Collection at UNC and the books by Jean Anderson on the Kirkland and Cameron families give a picture of the influence of this family.

Little information has been found to date regarding Alice Brodnax. The newspaper article announcing the death of Susan Mary Ruffin Brodnax stated that she left two infant children. Further research in the Ruffin, Roulhac, and Hamilton papers, may provide additional information on Alice [1] [3].

Biographical Data

Susan was called Polly.

Important Dates

Susan Mary Ruffin was born on January 6, 1827. She died on September 18, 1851, congestive fever. Her obituary was printed in the September 24, 1851 edition of the The Hillsborough Recorder [2]:

"Died--Mrs. Susan Mary Broadnax, wife of John Wilson Brodnax, dtr. of Chief Justice Thomas Carter Ruffin, of Congestive fever the morning of the 18th inst. at the residence of Robert Broadnax in Rockingham County, NC. Not 3 years a wife. Left 2 infant children.""

[1]

Places of Residence

Schools Attended

Relatives

References

  1. Mary Claire Engstrom. The Book of Burwell Students: Lives of Educated Women in the Antebellum South. (Hillsborough: Hillsborough Historic Commission, 2007).
  2. The Hillsborough Recorder was published from 1820 to 1879 by Dennis Heartt. It was a weekly newspaper.
  3. Thomas Ruffin Papers, Southern Historical Collection, UNC.