John Burton (also known as Faithful John) was born in about 1797 in Virginia according to available census records. He was of African American descent and was a slave. The first recorded event relating to John was in approximately 1815 –1820 in Kentucky where he was the property of a very cruel slave owner referred to as a real Simon Legree (because of his cruelty to slaves). He was married and had children according to this early record.
James McCord and Elizabeth Barnett McCord (Parents of Susan McCord Burton Robinson) lived in Kentucky, also owned slaves, and were neighbors of this Legree. James had noticed that John was never idle, even when the overseer was not around. On a visit he made to John’s owner (Legree), James found John laying in the field more dead than alive. He had been beaten unmercifully. James inquired of the overseer the cause of the beating and was told, “Why our Marsa jes’ soe’ the ole man’s woman and chilluns down the river, and this ole fool, jes’ bellered out loud-jes’ scremed, he did. Marsz sez lay de whip on him ‘til he larned his place. Marsa sez ole John don’t own nothin-not eben his ole black hide, ‘cause Marsa bought and paid fer dat, too.” (CORRECTED NARRATIVE -Why our Master just sold the old man’s woman and children down the river, and this old fool, just bellered out loud, just screamed, he did. Master said lay the whip on him until he learns his place. Master said old John don’t own nothing, not even his old black hide, because Master bought and paid for that, too.) James said nothing to the overseer, but went straight to Legree, telling him that he was in the market for another man or two, and that he’d like an older man if he could get one. Greedy Legree thought that he could get the best of James by selling half-dead John to him. James took John home and immediately began nursing him back to health. During the next few days, James also searched up and down the river trying to find the buyers who had purchased John’s family, but was unable to find them. John’s family was gone and was never found. (This account depicts the cruel reality of slavery in the 1800’s.)
In about 1821, James McCord found that he could make an excellent exchange of his Kentucky property for equivalent property in Monroe County, Missouri (near the town of Florida) with an additional tract of land adjoining it that he could purchase at a very reasonable figure. He believed there were excellent opportunities for them, so the McCord family made the move. Through the Missouri Compromise, he would take most of his help with him. It required weeks to transport their cattle, their fine Kentucky bred horses, machinery, and all household belongings into a new home. Much time was spent in improving living quarters for the help (their slaves), better barns, and the new home. Monroe County was organized in 1831 from Rails County and Rails Country was organized in 1820 from Pike County.
John became a trusted slave, especially being good in working with James and Elizabeth’s children. It is evident that the name “Faithful John” was indeed earned because of the great trust that James and Elizabeth (McCord) and later Susan placed in him.
In the early 1830’s, two (2) young Elders introduced James McCord and his family to the Gospel of Jesus Christ from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One of these elders was John Carlos Smith (Brother to the Prophet Joseph Smith) and the other was an Elder Morris. Several members of his family were ultimately baptized. Even though James and Elizabeth were considered to be successful in their affairs, trials and challenges were forthcoming after their baptism. John continued to serve the family faithfully as a trusted slave.
When Susan was married to John Newton Burton in May 1835, James McCord had prepared a wedding dowry, and among the many generous gifts were several colored people, one being Faithful John. James exacted a solemn promise from Susan that if she ever felt it necessary to dispose of any of these trusted people, or to give them their freedom, she would reserve John and never let him go. Faithful John made the same promise that he would remain with Susan until the end of time. Her husband (John Newton Burton) was also asked to make that promise, which he did willingly.