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The Life of John Woolfolk Burke

John Wolfolk Burke is descended from Richard Burke who came to Massachusetts in the 1700s and may be the second son of Edmund Burke, the famous British Statesman and author. The son of John Muse Burke, of Ivy Mount in Caroline County Virginia, John W. Burke moved to Alexandria in 1848. Burke Married Julia Thompson, daughter of Captain Jonah Thompson who resided in the 200 block of N. Fairfax Street. John and Julia had Julian Thompson Burke, who would succeed his father as president of Burke and Herbert Bank. Julia died soon after the birth of her son. In 1858 John married Martha Jefferson Trist, a granddaughter of Thomas Jefferson and the last of her family to be born at Monticello. John and Martha had Nicholas Philip Trist Burke, Virginia Randolph Burke, Ellen Coolidge Burke, Edmund Jefferson Burke, Francis Maury Burke and Harry Randolph Burke. Nicholas and Harry later joined their half brother Julian and became involved with the bank. William Herbert had been a principal of the Bank of Alexandria which closed its doors in 1848. His Grandson, Arthur Herbert, teamed up with John Wolfolk Burke to start an "exchange and banking business" in August of 1852. Burke was 27; Herbert was 23. When Burke and Herbert set up their partnership at the corner of Prince and Water (Lee) Streets, the modest headquarters was very much overshadowed by the newly completed Greek Revival building diagonally across the intersection in which the Bank of the Old Dominion had opened in May of the same year. Banking was a more expansive term in the 1850s, and with the judgment and integrity of the young partners as the determining factors of how their business should be conducted, the enterprises of Burke and Herbert extended as far as their abilities and capital permitted. They traded in currencies, stocks and bonds and real estate in the heart of a town which was both a seaport and host to two successful railroad operations. Both young men worked hard and established a tradition of Burke and Herbert Bank prospering under the nose of a larger, more pretentious bank across the street. In January of 1858, they advertised stock in the Bank of the Old Dominion, Corporation of Alexandria coupon bonds and first-mortgage bonds of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad and the Manassas Gap Railroad. Lieutenant Arthur Herbert left Alexandria with the 17th Virginia Infantry in May of 1861 on a train bound for Manassas Junction. During the Union occupation of Alexandria, a number of loyal Virginians, including Burke, refused to sign an oath of allegiance to the United States. These citizens were treated rather shabbily by the occupying forces. At various times, they were arrested, tied to the outside of supply trains as human shields, marched to the wharfs to be deported to South Carolina, and their homes and properties were pilfered - chickens eaten, silverware stolen - you get the idea. Burke was a stalwart defender of his fellow Alexandrians, and he negotiated at his own peril for their better treatment. Burke and his family lived on Wilkes Street near the train tunnel and was humorously referred to as "the Duke of Tunnel Town". His home is still known today as "the Burke Mansion". John Wolfolk Burke was community minded, a hardworking business person, and a loving husband and father. He began many traditions that would be followed by his descendants. Born at Ivy Mount, Burke was laid to rest at Ivy Hill. The Burke and Herbert families have been supporters of Ivy Hill Cemetery and can be found there today.

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