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Vincent Godfrey Burns Papers 1918-1979, MS. 2493
Maryland Historical Society
Library of Maryland History
Vincent Godfrey Burns Papers, 1918-1979
(Text converted and initial EAD tagging
provided by Apex Data Services, March 1999.)
Vincent Godfrey Burns Papers, 1918-1979 Contact Information:
Maryland Historical Society
Maryland Historical Society Library
201 West Monument Street
Baltimore MD 21201-4674
Descriptive SummaryREGISTER FOR VINCENT GODFREY BURNS PAPERS
Maryland Historical Society
Baltimore MD 21201-4674
Janice E. Ruth
Vincent Godfrey Burns, a Congregationalist minister (ordained 1920) and Poet Laureate of Maryland (appointed 1962), was born on October 17, 1893 in Brooklyn, New York. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from Penn State in 1916 and with a Masters from Harvard University the following year. Moreover, he held a divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary (1922) and did postgraduate work at Columbia from 1922-1924.
Following his education at Harvard, Burns served during World War One as a Staff Officer in the Field Artillery in France. Upon returning home, he commenced his theological training and was ordained in 1920 as a Minister in the Congregational Church in New England. He was married to Edna Rodenberger on June 15, 1924 and had a daughter, Barbara “Bobbie” Burns, by this first marriage. Burns was active in congregations throughout New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts from 1920 through the 1930's. At some point in the 1930's, however, he broke with the Church on theological principles. He tried unsuccessfully to be restored to the ministry in 1941, in order that he might join the Army Chaplains Reserve Corps.
While a minister in Pallisades, New Jersey, Burns co-authored his best known literary work, “I Am A Fugitive From A Georgia Chain Gang”, published in 1932. The story is based on his brother's treatment while incarcerated in a Georgia prison. The story was made into a movie starring Paul Muni, and later Burns wrote a sequel entitled, “The Man Who Broke A Thousand Chains” (1968). In addition to novels, Burns wrote several plays and volumes of poetry throughout the 1930's and 1940's. Moreover, he hosted a radio health show which ran under the titles, Voice of Chiropractic, The Chiropractor's Broadcast, and The Keep Smiling Program.
In 1951, Burns moved to Epping Forest in Anne Arundel Co., Maryland. He continued writing and in 1962, Governor Tawes appointed him the second Poet Laureate of Maryland. Burns' appointment proved controversial with time and attempts to fire him were repeatedly launched. His poetry, which is extremely patriotic and religious in tone, was well received by only some members of the community. Many other individuals and several publishing houses rejected Burns' poetry and found his conservative, anti-communist, moralistic, anti-Semitic tendencies displeasing. As poet laureate, Burns visited schools, attended speaking engagements, and published a poetry magazine known as the Rainbow.
Burns died at home in Epping Forest on February 3, 1979. He was survived by a former wife, Katherine H. Barker whom he married in 1945 and who divorced him in 1967. His two sons from that marriage, Vincent Howard Burns (fl.1979) and Vincent David Burns (fl.1979), also survived him.
Scope and Content
Collection consists of the papers of Vincent Godfrey Burns, a Congregationalist minister and Poet Laureate of Maryland. The bulk of the collection is comprised of Burns' plays, novels, short stories, and poetry. In addition, there is incoming correspondence (1918-1979), radio scripts (1937-38), receipts (1941-1978), scrapbooks (1918; 1972-73), certificates (1918), deeds (1967; 1972), and divorce papers (1967). The collection is arranged roughly into five parts: correspondence, writings, scrapbooks, misc. papers, and submissions.
Correspondence consists of two letters written during World War One; several letters written by his daughter, Barbara and his second wife, [Katherine H. Barker]; correspondence concerning speaking engagements; and requests from Burns' readers for either his opinion of their work or copies of his writings.
Writings are divided into plays, short stories, essays, and poetry. The poetry number largest. Most of his writing exhibits patriotic, religious, or moral overtones. Many have a prison setting.
Scrapbooks are comprised of one volume of World War I material, and two volumes of letters from schools visited by Burns in 1972-73. There is also a record book of marriages performed by Rev. Vincent G. Burns from 1931-35.
Miscellaneous Papers include certificates of graduation, appointments, leases, deeds, receipts, divorce papers, savings account books, contracts, and loose notes containing phone numbers, addresses, and some poetry. For the most part, there are only a few of each type of item.
Submissions are items written by individuals other than Burns but submitted to him for either his editing or for use in one of his antholgies.
LIBRARY AND PRINTS&PHOTOS
Several of Burns' books and sheet music were transferred to the Library for processing. Printed material and photographs were sent to the Prints & Photos Division.
Vincent Godfrey Burns incoming correspondence, 1918-1978; n.d.
Vincent Godfrey Burns outgoing correspondence, 1941-1945
Katherine Ann Howard Burns incoming correspondence, 1945
Misc. correspondence, 1941; 1979
Out Of These Chains, bound typewritten volume with notations, 
I Am My Brother's Keeper, 
I Am My Brother's Keeper, student critisms, n.d.
“The Heretic”, n.d.
Abe Lincoln: Sage of Salem Town, n.d.
“Youth Is Marching On”, 1940
“Our Land Is Free”, 1976
[two copies, 32 pages each]
“Twenty-Four Hours In The Chain Gang”, n.d.
“I Hate Wrongmindedness”, n.d.
“Jesus Must Be Understood”, n.d.
re: Anti-Semitism, n.d.
To You, America, 
“This Undying Flame”, n.d.
The Sunny Side Of Life, 
Loose Poems, n.d.
Rainbow Literary Magazine, draft, (Spring 1973)
Rainbow Literary Magazine, (Spring 1978)
The Story Of Old Glory, anthology, 
Poems Of A Patriot, n.d.
Secrets Of Eternal Youth, 1974
[contains one xerox copy (56 pages), one typescript copy (50 pages), and one galley copy (69 pages)]
Radio Scripts, for program entitled Voice of Chiropractic/ The Chiropractor's Broadcast/ The Keep Smiling Program, typewritten copies, 1937-1938
Scrapbook, containing articles, letters, memorabilia of WWI, 1918
Certificate of Graduation, Officers' Training School, 1918
Appointment to U.S. Army, Rank of Sargeant, 1918
Saumur School of Artillery Manual, mimeographed typescript, 1918
Automobile lease, 1940
Army Chaplains Reserve Corps papers, 1941
Cost Bill After Judgement, 1944
Savings Account Books, 1962-1965
Deeds, 1967; 1972
Divorce Papers, 1967
Contract, between Dr. D.G. Werner and V.G. Burns re: publishing rights, 1968
Drivers Registration, 1978
Addresses/Phone Numbers, n.d.
School Listings, n.d.
Papers re: Brotherhood of Youth, n.d.
Notebooks, containing phone numbers, messages, and some poetry, n.d.
Misc. notes, n.d.
Record Book of Marriages and Baptisms Performed by Rev. Vincent Burns, 1931-1935
Scrapbooks, containing letters, autographs, etc. written by students and teachers from the schools at which Burns lectured, 1972-1973
Writings by Individuals Other than Burns
My Life by Ralph Reno, 1937
Torments I Have Known by Jesse Crawford, 1939
Poems, submitted for Burns' War Anthology, 1945
Poems, submitted to poetry contest judged by Burns, 1972
Oh Love How Beautiful You Are by Carolyn Savaria, n.d.
Old New Town and New Pocomoke City by Eben Hearne, n.d.
Loose poetry, n.d.
The following list corresponds to subject headings in the Card Catalogue.
Agnew, Spiro Theodore
Anne Arundel Co., Maryland
Burns, Vincent David
Burns, Vincent Godfrey
Burns, Vincent Howard
Chaplain's Reserve Corps
Epping Forest, Maryland
Ford, Gerald R. (Pres. of U.S.)
Mandel, Marvin Gov.
National Religion Labor Foundation
Peace Action Review
Poet Laureate of Maryland
Tawes, Millard Gov.
World War One