Sick of the Job: Nebraska’s First Territorial Governor

The very first governor of Nebraska Territory was in office for all of two days. Then he died.

Francis Burt, a native of Pendleton, South Carolina, served very briefly in 1854 as the first governor of Nebraska Territory. (President Franklin Pierce had first offered the job to William O. Butler of Kentucky, but Butler declined.) Burt was serving as third auditor of the United States Treasury at the time he accepted the governorship.

The journey from Burt’s South Carolina home to Nebraska Territory was arduous. By the time he and his entourage reached St. Louis, Burt was ill. He was so weak when he arrived in Bellevue that he went to bed in William Hamilton’s mission house. He was administered the oath of office on October 16, 1854, and died several days later.

The New York Times, November 9, 1854, noted:

THE DEATH OF GOV. BURT.–The Omaha (Nebraska) Arrow extra, of Oct. 18th, contains the following particulars of Gov. Burt’s death: Francis Burt, governor of Nebraska, died at the old Presbyterian Mission House, at Belleview, at about 3 1/2 o’clock this morning, retaining at the last hour a realization of his situation, and surrounded by the friends who accompanied him from his Carolina home. Immediately upon his arrival in the territory he was confined to his bed by sickness, occasioned by the long and tedious journey hitherward, commencing, we are informed, upon reaching the limestone country of Tennessee in his overland journey to Louisville, Ky. Retaining about an hour previous to his death, a consciousness of his situation, he called his friend, Mr. Doyle, who had accompanied him from South Carolina, to his bedside, and gave such directions concerning his private matters as the urgency of the case seemed to demand, then calling Rev. J. Hamilton to his bedside, after a brief conversation he passed into that sleep which knows no waking. He was a native of Pendleton, S. C., and was about 45 years of age. He leaves an affectionate wife, two sons, and four daughters to mourn their afflicting bereavement.

Burt’s death contributed to the ongoing dispute (principally between Omaha and Bellevue) over the location of the territorial capital. Thomas B. Cuming took over as acting territorial governor and located the territorial capital at Omaha.

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