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Burnett, Peter Hardeman


Governor, jurist; b. Nashville, Tenn., Nov. 15, 1807;d. San Francisco, Calif., May 17, 1895. Burnett spent his early life in Tennessee and Missouri, where he worked at odd jobs, edited a newspaper, and eventually studied law. In 1842 he crossed from Independence, Mo., to the Oregon Country, where he was elected to the territorial legislature and appointed justice of the Oregon supreme court. In the California gold rush of 1849, Burnett led the first wagon train from Oregon to the California gold fields and became a leader in the movement for California statehood. In November of 1849 he was chosen the state's first governor, serving until Jan. 9, 1851. Following a term on the California supreme court (185758), he became a founder and first president (1863) of the Pacific Bank in San Francisco. Burnett had joined Alexander Campbell's Church of the Disciples in the 1830s, but his beliefs were altered by Campbell's debate with Bp. JohnB. Purcell of Cincinnati, Ohio, and in June of 1846 he became a convert to Catholicism. He told the story of his conversion in The Path Which Led a Protestant Lawyer to the Catholic Church (1860); he wrote also Recollections and Opinions of an Old Pioneer (1880), a source for California and Oregon history.

Bibliography: w. j. ghent, Dictionary of American Biography (New York 1957) 2.1:300301.

[k. mellon, jr.]

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