Robert's family originally came from Kincardineshire where they were tenant farmers. They moved to Ayrshire in 1750.William Burness (Roberts father) married Agnes Broun the daughter of a tenant farmer in the area, who at 24 was 12 years younger than him. Robert was born on the 25th January 1759 and was their first born son.The family lived in Alloway near the county town of Ayr in a house that was built by William, on a holding of 71/2 acres. This cosy home was where Robert first heard readings of the Bible and the folk songs of Scotland from the pleasing voice of his mother. An elderly widowed relative called Betty Davidson stimulated young Robert's imagination with tales and songs about devils, ghosts, fairies, brownies, witches, warlocks and all sorts of other imaginary creatures Roberts father was a man of strong character who knew the value of a good education. Although the family were not well off Robert and his brother Gilbert were given the opportunity to broaden their knowledge by means of a private tutor. This tutor John Murdoch remarked of Burns, "made rapid progress in reading and was just tolerable in writing". Although his writing potential seems to have gone unnoticed at this early age, his mind was obviously hungry for knowledge and his immense powers of observation were being cultivated.
At 15 years of age Robert had spent a good part of his youth helping his father on the farm and was in a position of responsibility. It was at this young age Robert wrote his first poem, "Handsome Nell," for Helen Kilpatrick of Dalrymple a bewitching creature for whom he first "committe the sin of rhyme".
"For my own part I had never had the least thought or inclination of turning Poet till I got once heartily in Love, and then Rhyme and Song were, in a manner, the spontaneous language of my heart." Entry in Common Place Book, 1783-1785. So it was Roberts eye for the lassies that provided the inspiration for his first poem. What a debt mankind owes to Helen Kilpatrick and all the other lassies that caught his eye. During his short life, of 37 years, Robert Burns penned such beautiful poetry and songs that it was said "even the angels would weep at their beauty".
In 1777 the Burns family moved to a 130 acre farm in Lochlie. Robert spent his 19th summer learning surveying, and he made good progress until he was diverted from his studies by the attractions of a local fillette. He also became chairman of a local debating club, and joined the local Masonic Lodge in 1781. He worked for a time as a flax dresser in Irvine, where he lost all his possessions in a house fire. He returned to Lochlie when his father became ill, and when his father died in 1784, Burns took the lease on Mossgiel farm near Mauchline with his brother, Gilbert.