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This name has stuck with him since high school

By Henry Timman • Feb 15, 2019 at 12:00 PM

The name Anson Burlingame might not be familiar to you, but it has stuck in my memory since Grant Walls’ history classes at Norwalk High School. Along with it is the fact of a Burlingame Treaty in the 19th century.

A little research tells us that Burlingame was an American diplomat and legislator during his short life (1820-1870). He was a lawyer by profession and served in the U.S. Congress from 1855 to 1861. In the latter year, President Abraham Lincoln appointed him as U.S. minister to China. In 1867, Burlingame resigned and was immediately appointed to head a delegation of Chinese diplomats to Washington, due to his great popularity in China. One biography says he was “reverenced and trusted by the Chinese nation as no other foreign man ever had been.”

A series of items to supplement an 1858 treaty with China were approved in a few months, and soon came to be called the Burlingame Treaty. These articles dealt mainly with recognizing China’s territorial rights in the Far East, and its rights to station diplomatic consuls in U.S. ports. This would enhance trade between the two nations.

Burlingame then accompanied the Chinese delegation to several European capitals, making speeches concerning China. These visits educated world governments and created an interest in also concluding diplomatic agreements with China. The major effect of this “tour” was to show how China felt about the rest of the world and to enhance mutual trade.

While Burlingame was in St. Petersburg, Russia, he died suddenly and brought his short but productive life to an end. He was born in New York state in 1820 and at the age of 3 came with his parents to Eden Township of Seneca County, which is just south of Tiffin in the area of Melmore village. Two different histories of Seneca County say that Anson taught school in Eden Township. The family lived there only 10 years, so if he did teach, he was only 12 or 13 years old — possible, but hard to imagine. 

From Seneca County, the Burlingames moved to Coldwater, Mich. He later attended college in Detroit and was graduated from the Harvard Law School. During his college years Burlingame was part of a commune in LaGrange County, Ind., but was’t a member of it.

The Fourier System of communal living was attempted in what was called the LaGrange Phalanx. A thousand acres of land was purchased and most of the communers lived in a building 200 feet long by 24 feet wide, with a school on the second floor. It is said that Burlingame lived here a short time and afterward visited with his family, but he never was a member of the Phalanx.

It would appear that Anson had an extremely interesting life, managing to move in high circles after a childhood on the American frontier.

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REMEMBER: My “Just Like Old Times” books are on sale at New Directions Design, 20 W. Main St., in downtown Norwalk. These contain my earlier columns fully indexed and in permanent book form.


Henry Timman, an authority on Firelands history, resides in rural Norwalk.


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