He is of Hartford and Podunk. Born in England, Thomas Burnham was born in 1617, died June 28, 1688, and aged 71 years. (1617 – June 28, 1688). He was a lawyer and colonist, born in England and migrated to the North American Colonies sometime prior to 1645. The preponderance of the evidence places the Thomas Burnham as the same man mentioned in English records as the Thomas Burnham baptized in Long Crendon, England in 1619, although this is based on a record showing his emigration to Barbados. That Thomas Burnham lived, married, and died in Barbados, so Thomas of Hartford, Connecticut, has a birthplace, birthdate, wedding, port of departure and arrival, that remain a matter of speculation and controversy.
According to Stiles: Burnham was an educated man and lawyer. "A man of determined character and energetic in business and public matters". Burnham successfully defended a school teacher, Abigail Betts who had been accused of blasphemy, claiming "Christ was a bastard" and she could prove it through the scriptures. Burnham successfully defended her by asserting that blasphemy was not a capital crime in England, and thus could not be one in Connecticut under its recently issued charter which denied the colony from making laws contrary to those of England. But by "saving her neck" the Puritan authorities disenfranchised him and prohibited Burnham from further practice of the court. This court case was, perhaps, Burnham’s most significant achievement, helping to set a precedent for the separation of church and state, and the supremacy of law, over the whims of the time, righteous as they may have seemed. The Betts case took place at the same time witch trials were taking place in Connecticut and Massachusetts Bay. Burnham’s actions and pleadings in the case were extremely unpopular and he paid a steep price for his legal defense work.
In 1649 Thomas was bondsman for his servant Rushmore; He was sworn in as Constable for Hartford. Thomas was a large landowner, living in one of five homes on the east side of the Connecticut River. This area was "fortified and garrisoned" during the Indian War of 1675.
In 1659 he purchased from Tantonimo, Chief sachem of the Potunke Indians a tract of land now covered by the towns of South Windsor and East Hartford, on which he afterward lived, and a part of which is still in possession of his descendants. He held this land under a deed from Tantonimo, and later in 1661, by a deed from six of the latter's successors and allies, by which they renounce "all our right and title in those lands aforesayd unto Thomas Burnam and his heirs."
The possession of this land led to endless lawsuits, supported by the government, and it was ordered to be divided. Burnham refused to give it up, however, and the contest continued for many years. It resulted finally in the appointment in 1688, at a town meeting of the inhabitants of Hartford, "of a Committee in behalf of this town, to" treat with Thomas Burnham, Senior, upon his claim to the lands on the East side of the Great River." In 1649-56-59-60, he appears as plaintiff in court, and usually argued his own cases.
Most of what we know about Thomas Burnham and many other early colonists is from court papers, as the early settlers kept excellent records and had many disputes. So it is difficult to get a sense for his humanity and family life. But we know from the medical journals of John Winthrop Jr., who was the Burnham family doctor that he took close care of his wife and children and was known to take in friends and relatives to live with him as they became settled. Before his death he had divided the greater part of his estate among his children by deed, with the condition that it should remain in the family. He left a written will, though his wife Anna claimed one of her sons-in-law acquired it against her will. It was never produced, and his probate is based on the testimony of witnesses to the will who reconstructed it from memory. Although no marked grave is known for Thomas Burnham Sr., it is highly likely that he is buried in the Ancient Burying Ground, also known as: Center Church Graveyard in Hartford. Only a few hundred of the thousands buried there have markers that are still preserved.