New Hampshire’s Burnap "Leghorn Bonnets"

A sample bonnet from the 18th century found in Connecticut. Note: this is not a photograph of the bonnets made by the Burnap sisters. Samples of leghorn straw bonnets can be found HERE.

According to the Merrimack NH town history, presented at the Bicentennial celebration in 1946 (written by my grandmother, Mattie Kilborn Webster): “The Burnap sisters, daughters of Merrimack, New Hampshire’s first minister [Jacob Burnap], had other ideas of a woman’s usefulness. It is claimed that in this Town [Merrimack] they invented the making of “Leghorn hats” or bonnets, as they were called.

Some of these bonnets were of black leghorn straw trimmed with peach colored crepe, and crowned with a beautiful bouquet of half-blown roses, lilacs and field flowers. They were often ornamented with a bow of ribbon, long ends or streamers on one side. A bouquet of wild poppies was sometimes placed in front surmounted by a plume of marabout feathers. The ribbon was either straw colored or striped. A little later the style changed. Pieces of brim was cut away at the back and drawn up at the crown with a large bow. Strings and rosettes were over the right ear.

One source stated that “some were sold in Boston for as much as $50. John Stark bought one for his wife Molly, and it can be seen at the Historical Building (at Concord).”  [Please note in March of 2014 that Doug Copeley, Museum Director of the NH Historical Society indicates that: ” I am sorry to report that we have no record of any leghorn bonnet in our collection. Nor do we have any mention of Jacob Burnap or his daughters in our catalog.”]

The Burnap sisters not only made bonnets but other things from grass or plated straw. This certain kind of straw was known as “Dunstable straw.” Surely those early women deserve to be remembered for their spirit of industry.”

“It [Merrimack] claims the credit of making the first Leghorn bonnets, which often sold for forty or fifty dollars,” is also noted in the book: “The Merrimack River; its source and its tributaries. Embracing a history of manufactures, and of the towns along its course; their geography, topography, and products, with a description of the magnificent natural scenery about its upper waters,” by J. W. Meader, published in 1869.

Notice with headline: Domestic imitation Leghorn Bonnet, in the Boston Commercial Gazette of Boston MA, dated 2 August 1821Volume 58; Issue 10; Page 1. Reportedly General John Stark bought one of the Burnap bonnets for his wife Molly. [The Connecticut version of this hat, referred to in the attached article, was copyrighted in 1821 by Sophia Woodhouse of Wethersfield CT].

Notice with headline: Domestic imitation Leghorn Bonnet, in the Boston Commercial Gazette of Boston MA, dated 2 August 1821Volume 58; Issue 10; Page 1.

“In the History of Dedham, MA, there is an extract from the Norfolk County Advertiser of August 1821: ‘On Monday last was sold at auction at Merchant’s Hall the elegant Bonnet which has been for several days exhibited at the store of Messrs. Hall J. Howe & Co., made by Misses Bernaps of Merrimack, N.H. of a wild grass discovered by them in that town. It was knocked off to Josiah Bradlee for Fifty Dollars. The execution of the Bonnet was very superior to the one lately sent to England from Connecticut. We understand that one of the above mentioned young ladies is now visiting at Medford and that the money was presented to her yesterday afternoon. Thus shall the skill and industry of our countrywomen ever be rewarded.’ “[from The Burnap-Burnett genealogy by Henry Wyckoff Belknap; Salem, Mass.: Essex Institute, 1925, page 119]

[UPDATE December 2020]   Formerly I stated that one Sophia Woodhouse of Wethersfield CT   plyed her trade in the bonnet making business, about the same time as the Burnap sisters, and that she patented her design in 1821. NOTE: This information does not seem to be correct at all.  In researching a different inventor, I came across a book detailing the earliest women in the United States who applied for and were granted a patent. LUCY BURNAP *was* among those listed, Sophia Woodhouse does *NOT* appear there. So I must question the earlier information and now say that LUCY BURNAP of Merrimack NH patented her bonnet first. Look for yourself at the link below.

Lucy Burnap patented her “hats, weaving grass” on 16 Feb 1823. From Women inventors :to whom patents have been granted by the United States government, 1790 to July 1, 1888 : also included Appendix 1, July 1, 1888-Oct. 1, 1892; Appendix 2, Oct. 1, 1892-Mar. 1, 1895 /[compiled under the direction of the Commissioner of Patents] PAGE 3


*More Information*

-Bonnet Pattern-

Historically Accurate Bonnets

Hats and Bonnets


Robert Burnap, son of Thomas & Mary (Elliot) Burnap
Robert Burnap, son of Robert & Ann (Miller) Burnap
Joseph Burnap, son of Robert & Sarah (Brown) Burnap; m. Tabitha Eaton

—–Next Generation—–

Isaac Burnap, son of Joseph & Tabitha (Eaton) Burnap, b. 31 Jan 1713 in Reading MA, d. before 7 June 1780 (when his will was ‘proved.’) in Reading MA. He married 19 Feb 1736 in Reading MA to Susanna Emerson, dau of Ebenezer & Bethia (Parker) Emerson. She b. 8 March 1713 in Reading MA and d. 28 Nov 1792 in Reading MA.
My thanks to “Bob” for correcting this genealogy (see comments below). Will of Isaac Burnap includes:”To Susanna, my now married wife; to son Joseph Burnap Lobs Pound Mill, etc.; son Jacob previously provided for; daughters already have their full portion; Susanna, wife of Nathaniel Sherman; Martha, wife of Richard Melendy; Bethiah, wife of John Nichols; Elizabeth, wife of Andrew Beard; Rebekah, wife of David Nichols; Abigail, wife of Thomas Taylor; daughter Tabitha a loom, etc.; daughter Sarah Burnap; son Joseph, executor. 22 May, 1775. Proved 7 June, 1780. Witnesses: Thomas Brown, Edmund Eaton, John Temple.”
Children of Isaac & Susanna (Emerson) Burnap:
1. Susanna Burnap, b. 26 Aug 1736 in Reading MA; married Nathaniel Sherman.
2. Martha Burnap, b. 28 Dec 1737 in Reading MA; m. Richard Melendy, resided Reading and Wilmington MA, had children.
3. Bethia Burnap, b. 6 Oct 1739 in Merrimack NH; m. John Nichols, resided Reading MA, had children. Married John Nichols.
4. Tabitha Burnap, b. 7 Dec 1741 in Merrimack NH.
5. Elizabeth Burnap, b. 6 June 1745 in Reading MA; m. Andrew Beard, resided Reading MA and had children
6. Rebecca Burnap, b. 6 June 1745 in Merrimack NH; m. David Nickols
7. Joseph Burnap, b. 13 June 1747 in Merrimack NH; m. Abigail Bickford, had children
8. +Jacob Burnap, b. 20 Oct 1748 in Reading MA
9. Sarah Burnap, b. 19 Aug 1750 in Merrimack NH, d. 24 Apr 1825 in Reading MA
10. Abigail Burnap, b. 21 June 1752 in Merrimack NH; m. Thomas Taylor of Merrimack NH

—–Next Generation—–

Jacob Burnap, son of Isaac and Susanna (Emerson) Burnap, b. 20 Oct 1748 in Reading MA, d. 26 Dec 1821, buried Turkey Hill Graveyard in Merrimack NH. He married 1st) 7 Oct 1773 to Ruth Hopkinson, daughter of Ebenezer and Ruth Hopkinson.  She was born 13 March 1747 in Reading MA and died 21 Dec 1773 and is buried in Thornton Cemetery in Merrimack NH.  Jacob married 2nd) in 1776 to Elizabeth Brooks, daughter of Caleb and Ruth Brooks. She was b. 26 June 1757 and d. 4 May 1810, and is buried in Turkey Hill Cemetery in Merrimack NH. He was ordained as the first minister of Merrimack NH on 14 October 1772.  He served this church (Congregational) for fifty years. He was a graduate of Harvard University, and a man of unusual ability, scholarship and prudence. He lived on the place later owned by James Wendell and reared thirteen children.
Children of Jacob & Elizabeth (Brooks) Burnap:
1.  Horatio Gates Burnap, b. 9 Jan 1778 in Merrimack NH; in 1850 living in Merrimack NH as “H. Gates Burnap,” living with his brother Jacob and sister Rebecca
2. Elizabeth Burnap, b. 29 Dec 1778 in Merrimack NH, d. 1840 Montpelier VT; m. 6 Sep 1812, Joseph Read of Thetford VT.
3. Ruth Burnap, b. 1780, d. 9 Nov 1806, buried Turkey Hill Cemetery in Merrimack NH.
4. Hannah Burnap, b.  3 May 1782 Merrimack NH, d. 25 Oct 1800 in Medford MA.
5. Rebecca Burnap, b. 14 May 1784 in Merrimack NH, d. 22 Dec 1886, buried Last Rest Cemetery, Merrimack NH
6. Abigail Burnap, b 4 Aug 1785 in Merrimack NH, d. 26 Aug 1808, buried Turkey Hill Cemetery, Merrimack NH
7. John Brooks Burnap, b. 16 June 1788 in Merrimack NH, d. 1827
8. +Jacob Burnap, b. 17 Feb 1790 in Merrimack NH, d. 10 July 1862, buried Last Rest Cemetery, Merrimack NH
9. Susan Burnap, b. 14 Nov 1791
10. +Caleb Brooks Burnap, b. 17 Feb 1794 in Merrimack NH, d. 20 May 1858, buried Turkey Hill Cemetery, Merrimack NH
11. Francis Burnap, b. 24 Jan 1796, moved to Rockville IL. In 1850 census living in Rockford, Winnebago Co. IL, residing in boarding house, lawyer; He died in Rockford IL 2 December 1866. He was the senior practitioner of the Rockford bar.  He never married. He was a fine linguist and was proficient in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French and German.
12. Lucy Burnap, b. 2 Oct 1797, d. 1842.  SHE PATENTED the straw bonnet (see above)
13. George Washington Burnap, b. 30 Nov 1802 in Merrimack NH, d. 8 Sep 1859 in Baltimore MD; In 1850 U.S. Census of Baltimore MD, with wife Nancy W. (age 46 b MD) and child Lizzie W. Burnap (age 8 b MD), assorted non-relatives living in household.

—–Next Generation—–

Jacob Burnap, son of Jacob & Elizabeth (Brooks) Burnap, b. 17 Feb 1790 in Merrimack NH and d. 10 July 1862, buried Last Rest Cemetery in Merrimack NH; m. 11 March 1839 to Fanny Jane Buxton of Nashua NH. She was b. 1816 and d. 10 Sep 1881. Buried Last Rest Cemetery, Merrimack NH. In 1850 U.S. Census in Merrimack NH, brother Horatio and sister Rebecca also living with his family.
Children of Jacob & Fanny J. (Buxton) Burnap:
1. Lucy Reed Burnap, b. 1838, d. before 1862
2. Henry Burnap, b. 1842, d. before 1862

Caleb Burnap, son of Jacob & Elizabeth (Brooks) Burnap, b. 17 Feb 1794 in Merrimack NH, d. 20 May 1858, buried Turkey Hill Cemetery, Merrimack NH. He married 22 Apr 1836 in New York City to Maria “Marion” Owen.  She b. abt 1805 in NH.  In 1850 residing in Hartford CT, his occupation being a cabinet maker.
1850 United States Federal Census > Connecticut > Hartford > Hartford
Caleb B. Burnap 56 M Cabinet Maker NH
Marion Burnap 45 f NH [b abt 1805]
George J. Burnap 13 M NH [b abt 1837]
Mary F. Burnap 11 F CT [b abt 1839]
Lucy M. Burnap 8 F CT [b abt 1842]
Children of Caleb and Maria (Owen) Burnap:
1. George J. Burnap, b. abt 1837 in NH. In 1880 boarding in Annapolis, Anne Arundel Co, MD with family: wife Elenore b abt 1842 in Jamaica, and children all b. NY, Edith (b abt 1861), Arther (b abt 1864) and George (b abt 1866)
2. Mary F. Burnap, b. abt 1839 in CT
3. Lucy M. Burnap, b. abt 1842 in CT

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4 Responses to New Hampshire’s Burnap "Leghorn Bonnets"

  1. Bob says:

    Isaac Burnap’s will, dated 22 May 1775, proved 7 June 1780, named wife Susanna, sons Joseph and Jacob, and daughters Susanna wife of Nathaniel Sherman, Martha wife of Richard Melendy, Bethiah wife of John Nichols, Elizabeth wife of Andrew Beard, Rebekah wife of David Nichols, Abigail wife of Thomas Taylor, Tabitha, and Sarah Burnap. Based on this, his death occurred before 7 June 1780.

  2. Bob says:

    See following info on Isaac Burnap:

    VOL. LVIII— 1922.
    Issued Quarterly
    1922 : SALEM, MASS.
    Nbwcomb & Gauss, Printers
    He died before 7 June, 1780, and his will follows .

    The will of Isaac Burnap of Reading, yeoman : To
    Susanna my now married wife ; to son Joseph Burnap
    Lobs Pound Mill, etc.; son Jacob previously provided for ;
    daughters already have their full portion ; Susanna, wife
    of Nathaniel Sherman ; Martha, wife of Richard Melendy ;
    Bethiah, wife of John Nichols ; Elizabeth, wife of An-
    drew Beard ; Rebekah, wife of David Nichols ; Abigail,
    wife of Thomas Taylor ; daughter Tabitha a loom, etc. ;
    daughter Sarah Burnap ; son Joseph, executor. 22 May,
    1775. Proved 7 June, 1780. Witnesses; Thomas Brown,
    Edmund Eaton, John Temple.
    (Mddx. Probate Records, vol. Ix, p. 13.)

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