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Anna Robertson Burwell


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At a Glance

Anna Robertson Burwell, always called Nannie, was the third child of the Burwells and the first to be born in the Hillsborough house. Like her sister Mary Burwell, Nannie received her entire academic schooling in her mother's school, lived in New York with her aunt and uncle, and then returned to the Burwell School to teach [1].


After graduation from her mother's program at the Burwell School, Nannie went to New York to stay with her Uncle Richard and Aunt Mary Jane Robertson for six to eight months while she took advanced music lessons and studied French. Mary Jane Robertson seems to have been the perfect chaperone and guide in New York, helping the girls with their clothes, taking them to concerts, and giving them the assurance and polish they could not have acquired in Hillsborough. Mrs. Burwell wrote in a letter to Fanny on 29 December 1855:  "Mary Jane will ever have my gratitude and love for all she has done for my children."

When Nannie returned to Hillsborough from New York, she began the arduous routine of teaching that went on until 1866 when the Burwells were living in Charlotte, with only the six-week summer vacations as any considerable breaks. Again she shared the sunny, pretty southeast room upstairs in the Burwell home with her sisters Mary and Fannie Burwell until Mary's marriage in 1854. When Fanny, too, went to New York in 1855, Nannie shared it with her two Bridges cousins and two other younger students. The room today has a trundle bed, muslin curtains, and a little stagecoach trunk very much as it might have had in Nannie's day. Nannie probably returned from New York in 1852, just in time to become accustomed to teaching before Mary's marriage and departure.

Nannie's morning classroom seems to have been in the Brick House where she met her music students and taught French. Mrs. Burwell wrote to Fanny on 27 November 1855:

"Nan likes teaching music better than anything else...she gets up from breakfast and goes into the Brick room with a nice fire and Rose seated at her work to wait on her and I tell her [she] has a nice time especially since all the Alstons have left--she said she felt like crying every time Anna took a lesson."

In March 1856, Nannie was taking music lessons from the new music master, Mr. Hunt,  "in the back part of Berlini,"  according to Mrs. Burwell. A letter to Fanny on 15 March 1856 reveals that Nannie was less enthusiastic about grammar and composition.

"Nan has the lack of the Burwells vis, promptness and decision, she teaches very well, but she don't depend on herself enough, says 'can't' too often--when I say anything about not teaching, Nan says, 'Oh, Mother, I can't teach Grammar...I can't teach writing'--just because she has never done it and has the notion that she can't."

Nevertheless, Nan taught faithfully and well without salary, with almost no new pieces of clothing (she was still young), and with few vacations or trips. When the Burwell educational team removed to Charlotte in 1857, Nan accompanied them as part of it, although she was never mentioned formally.

At the age of thirty, Nannie married William Henry Crow of Raleigh. The couple had five children: Robert Burwell, William Henry Jr., Anna Robertson, Edmund Burwell, and Harriet Holcomb. Three of Nannie's five children died during her lifetime.

Margaret Anna Burwell, Nannie's mother, died in Nannie's Raleigh home in 1870 while visiting her. The Reverend Burwell spent his last years with Nannie and also died in her home in March of 1895. Nannie herself died six months later on 25 August 1895 at the age of 59. She is buried in Raleigh in Oakwood Cemetery, Heck Section, lot 2 [1].

Biographical Data

Anna was called Nannie.

Important Dates

Anna Robertson Burwell was born on August 31, 1836, in Hillsborough, NC. She died on August 25, 1895, and was buried in Oakwood Cemetery, Raleigh, NC.

Places of Residence

Schools Attended




  1. Mary Claire Engstrom. The Book of Burwell Students: Lives of Educated Women in the Antebellum South. (Hillsborough: Hillsborough Historic Commission, 2007).