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Vincent Godfrey Burns papers

Identifier: MS 2493


This collection consists of the papers of Vincent Godfrey Burns (1893-1979), a Congregationalist minister and Poet Laureate of Maryland.


  • 1918 - 1979


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

The reproduction of materials in this collection may be subject to copyright restrictions. It is the responsibility of the researcher to determine and satisfy copyright clearances or other case restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in the collections. For more information visit the MCHC’s Rights and Permissions page.

Biographical / Historical

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.


3.75 Linear Feet (9 boxes)

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Mr. Elmer Jackson, Jr.

Related Materials

PP35, Vincent Godfrey Burns photograph collection, 1950s-1970s

Separated Materials

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.

Scope and Contents

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.

Guide to the Vincent Godfrey Burns papers
Under Revision
Janice E. Ruth
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2020-09-18: Manually entered into ArchivesSpace by Mallory Herberger.

Repository Details

Part of the H. Furlong Baldwin Library Repository

H. Furlong Baldwin Library
Maryland Center for History and Culture
610 Park Avenue
Baltimore MD 21201 United States