The following is an excerpt from the "Narrative" by John Bott Burwell (1834 - 1904), Robert and Anna Burwell's oldest son, who wrote an account of his family. This invaluable document gives us many insights into the operation of the Burwell School and the life within the large Burwell family. This is John Bott's description of his mother, Margaret Anna (Robertson) Burwell (1810 - 1871):
“She was nearly, if not fully, six feet in height, of robust build, but not an ounce of superfluous flesh about her. She carried herself, as one who wrote her obituary stated, “A Queen.” As her portraits show, she had a handsome, attractive face. She was a person of the kindest and most sympathetic heart, always ready and willing to heed the cry of the suffering and needy, and among all classes, rich and poor, black and white, she was universally beloved and respected. She was a person of unbounded energy and perseverance; her industry was one of the prominent traits of her character. As evidence of this I may say that at no time during my Father’s pastorate in Hillsborough did he receive more than $400.00 salary. On this and the income from the school, never very large, they raised and pretty well educated a family of twelve children. My Mother’s conversational powers were remarkable; she could converse and hold her own in any company and on any subject.”
[A copy of John Bott Burwell's "Narrative" is kept in the archives of the Burwell School.)
This photograph of Mrs. Burwell was likely taken during the Burwells' time in Charlotte, where they led the Charlotte Female Institute, aided in the latter years by their son John. In this portrait, Margaret Anna is wearing a mourning brooch containing the braided fair hair of her daughter Fanny, who died a month short of her 17th birthday. Fanny contracted an erisypelas infection while visiting her maternal uncle's family in York City to further her musical education, a trip that involved considerable sacrifice on the part of the financially strapped Burwell family.
Five of the twelve Burwell children died in their teens or twenties. Three daughters died of illness; two sons died in the Civil War. As a former student wrote of Robert and Anna Burwell: "They found sorrows where they looked for joys."