Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Borden Family Papers - Part One

Borden Family History
In September of 2010, I received an wonderful email from Mary Claire Caron.  Mary Claire asked if I was related to the Borden family, I replied that yes I was.  She told me that her aunt had rented a room to a Borden and when he died, she did not know where to send personal papers. (there are letters and a typewritten genealogy dated 1867)  The aunt kept these papers, when she died, Mary Claire received them and kept them under a bed for a few years.  Recently she decided to do a search to see if she could locate a relative.  YAY  she found me!  I received these papers and after crying and then the ‘happy dance’ I kept them in my computer area, planning to get them read, transcribed, scanned and uploaded to the internet so that other Borden family could review them. This is a treasure I want to share with everyone. But I am such a procrastinator, like I have all the time in the world and can do it anytime.  I really need to get out of this cycle and get to doin’!
The first papers I have grabbed to start transcribing is the genealogy.  Written in ink on the two inch margin:  “Sent me by my Cousin Thos P. Borden, 140 West 88th Street, New York, Real Estate, Loans & Insurance June 24th-1896.”
“Fort Wayne, Indiana,
July 26th 1867.
Dear Brother:-
                   It is said that there is a predisposition in most persons to trace up their ancestry to as remote a period as possible, and that when this natural pride of the human mind cannot be indulged in by a statement of real facts, that tradition is resorted to, the imagination taxed, and even fable is sometimes used to supply the deficiency.  This Propensity, though frequently abused, and occasionally the subject of well merited ridicule, still, if kept within reasonable limits and properly directed, may not be wholly unproductive of good.  But, notwithstanding this admitted trait of the human character, it is not an unusual circumstance to meet with persons of intelligence and education who have not the least information of their progenitors, and apparently seeming neither to know nor care from whence, why or how they came.  It has, however, always seemed to me that it should be a matter of some interest to know from when our family originated, where we were born, and who were our ancestors.

                   There are certain bonds of union and sources of sympathy by which the feelings of a family are naturally united, and as it were, linked together.  The natural tie of consanguinity or a common parentage is generally a strong bond of affiliation, but where the members of a family are liable to be scattered over a widely extended country like the Continent of North America, they may lose . . .

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not only all those feelings that should bind together kindred and friends, but may even forget their own ancestral history and all the incidents connected with their early origin, unless some memorandum is made which has for its object the creation of a common interest in the name and genealogy of the family.  It is with this latter view that I address you this letter, having compiled it chiefly for the information of yourself and children, and hoping it may not be without some interest to the children of our brothers in Alabama.

                   In eighteen hundred and sixty-two, when visiting the Mother Country, I attained much information concerning the original seat of our ancestors at Borden, County of Kent, and recourse has also been had to the traditions retained on the subject of our ancestry in the States of Rhode Island, New Jersey and North Carolina.  I ascertained that the family was of the old English stock, and existed in that country many generations before the removal of some of the members of the Kentish branch, first to the Province of Massachusetts, and finally to the Colony of Rhode Island.  They dwelt originally in the north part of the Country of Kent, England, east of the Medway River, and ten or eleven miles from Rochester and Chatham, and about forty south-east of the City of London.

                   That the family is one of antiquity there can be no doubt as the name frequently occurs in the early annals of Kent, and the genealogy of the Borden family can be. . .

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traced up to the century immediately succeeding the Norman Conquest, - as early as the seventh year of King John (1206).

                   Simon De Borden donated some land to the parish church, (Vol. 6, pp. 215, 218). Haster, in his History of Kent, (Vol. 6, pp. 74), says there was anciently a family here, Borden, which took its surname from their possessions in the Parish of Borden.  Philip De Borden and Osbert De Borden are both mentioned in the annals of the Church, as having contributed to its support from their landed estates in this and adjoining parishes.  Ireland, in his History of Kent, makes a similar statement. (vol. 4, pp.40)

                   The traditions in the family are conflicting both as to the origin of the name and the race from which we spring.

                   While some contend we are of the Norman descent, and that the name is taken from “Bourdon,” a Pilgrim’s staff, others say the name is local, and derived from the word, “Burg,” a Saxon word for house, and “Dena,” a Celtic word meaning originally a vale or valley, - literally, a house in a valley, - and claims to come from the Anglo Saxon race.

                   The following extract from a letter written by me in answer to some inquiries by one of the family may properly be inserted here: -   “You request my opinion whether our family derived the name from the Parish of Borden in Kent, England, or did the village take its name from the . . .

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family; and farther, are we descended from the Norman or Saxon race?  The opinion has been generally entertained in the family that we are of the Saxon race, and took our name from the parish and village in Kent.  The question has been somewhat controverted, and I therefore regret, that after the most diligent search, I have not been able to find anything that may be considered very conclusive on the subject.”

                   The circumstances that could explain it are, of course, hidden in a remote antiquity, and can be ascertained by inferential reasoning alone.

                   The English surname Borden, (Norman French, Bourdon), although originally one word, has not multiplied into nine separate and distinct surnames in that country:  1, Borden; 2, Bordon; 3, Bordone; 4, Bourden; 5, Bourdon; 6, Burdan; 7, Burden; 8, Burdin; 9, Burdon.  The primary meaning of the word is a Pilgrim;s staff, but it also includes among its various other significations, the following:  a baton, a quarter-staff, a rod, a scepter, a mace, a spear, a lance, a halberth, a battle-axe, &c., &c.

                   Dr. Jamieson in his Dictionary says the word “Bourdon” was derived from a Gothic root.  Wedgewood in his work on English Etymology makes the same statement, but I have mislaid the reference.  The following quotations from Chaucer show the real meaning of the word:

‘I found him (Daunger) cruel in his rage, and in his hand a great Bourdon.’ (Rom. Of R., V. 5, pp.406).

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‘Then Baunger on his feet gon stond
And heut a bourdon in his hond.’

Lower, in his History of English surnames says:  The singular name Burden, is derived from a corruption of the word Bourdon, “a Palmer’s Staff.”  (Lower, Vol. 1, pp. 205).  Thus you will see the origin of the name if it is derived from the “Palmer’s Staff,” but that you may form your own conclusion I will briefly state what is said on the other side.
                   “Berg,” – Saxon, a mansion or hamlet.
                   “Borde,” – French, a cottage.
                   “Den,” – a Celtic word for valley or woody vale or dale.  This word “den,” Richardson says, is a frequent termination of English surnames, and always implies a situation in a woody valley or dale.

                   The Edinburg Review for April, 1855, pp. 371, says the word “Den” is not found in any other Teutonic Dialect but the Anglo Saxon, and was adopted into it from the Ancient British or Celtic language.

                   Ferguson in his work on English Surnames, (pp. 364), says, “Den” is a Saxon word and means valley, and that Leo thinks it was adopted into the Saxon from the Celtic dialect of the old Britons.

                   Ireland in his History of Kent, (Vol. pp. 36), says the name of which Borden appears to have been derived from the Saxon words “Burg” and Dena” signify a mansion or villa among the woods.

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                   “The Parish of Borden in Kent took its name from the Saxon word “Burg,” signifying a house, and “Den,” a Celtic word which means a valley or vale.” (Hisotry of Kent, Vol. 2, pp. 565).

          A gentleman of intelligence residing at Borden, informed me when there in 1862, that the first place of public worship was built in the year 636, and that previous to that time tradition rather than history, informs us that the Druids had a place of pagan worship in the Oak Grove where the Parish Church now stands.  Lewis, in his Topographical Dictionary of England, (Vol. 1, pp. 301, Article, Borden), says the present church edifice was erected as early as 1005.  It is constructed of Roman brick taken from an old Roman fort or station formerly standing near by, and flint stone, the cement being made of lime burnt from oyster and clam shells.  I visited the church when in England.  It is a curious old building, and bears characteristic marks of great antiquity.  You will see by what I have already stated that the historians of Kent would incline to the opinion that the parish gave the name to the family.  I will, however, state what has had much weight in inducing me to think we are of Norman and not Saxon origin.  When in England I employed a very competent person to make a careful examination into all the manuscripts in the British Museum, and the records and papers in the other public offices in London calculated to give any information on the subject.  An extract from his report I will give you, but before doing so it may not be ...

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amiss to say that the cost of arms of those of the Bourdon family who remained in Normandy may be seen by reference to the Archives of the Government of France, and to a French work on Heraldry, called “Sciences des Armories,” (pp. 257 and 263-4).

Bourdon Family.”
                   “The origin of this family is enveloped in the obscurity of a remote antiquity, and has been variously traced by uncertain tradition.  The statements generally agree in deducing its pedigree from a Norwegian chieftain, whose primeval home was in the extreme southern part of that country near the Nage, who assisted Rollo in subjugating the principality of Normandy in 912.  Our (French) genealogists and antiquarians all say that the name is Gothic, but the origin of the family antecedent to the conquest of Normandy, and its establishment on the eastern side of that principality near the border of Picardy, in the absence of direct historical records it is impossible to trace, and the generally received account is possibly fabulous; yet is may claim some attention as coinciding with probability, and being the tradition of a very ancient family deserve to be preserved from absolute oblivion.”

                   Its settlement in England is fixed at or near the time of the conquest of that kingdom by William the Norman.

                   So much for mere tradition.

                   The coat of arms in Normandy has the Palmer’s staff and scrip, the cross and escaop shell on it, which clearly indicates that the Norwegian on whom it was first con- . . . .

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ferred had been a Christian Pilgrim either to Rome or to Palestine.  The following is the extract mentioned above.

“Coat of arms of the Borden family extracted from Berry, Edmunson, Guillim, Robson, Burke and others on Heraldry, and Fairbain and various authors on family crests, and also from the pedigrees and arms in the visitations of the Heralds, and genealogical manuscripts in the British Museum and other public offices in London.
“N.B.  It is to be borne in mind that the surnames Borden, Bordon, Bordone, Bourden, Bourdon, Burdan, Burden, Burdin and Burdon, were originally all derived from the same source, were formerly spelled alike, and are in fact, one and the same family name.”

                   (Here follow the descriptions of the various coasts of arms and crests of all these families, but they are too lengthy to copy.)

                   It thus appears that there are twelve coats of arms of the family, and all bear Pilgrim’s staffs variously emblazoned; and the crests are as generally, a lion rampant.  The battle axe, hautboy, pike, staff, &c., &c., are all the same as the Bourdon, or Palmer’s staff, or often take the place of it in Heraldry; thus the coast of arms of one branch of this family is three battle-axes, and in another, three hautboy, and as many cross-cross-crosslets.

                   We think, however, that there can be no doubt but the Bourdon or Pilgrim’s staff is the appropriate device for the shield, and a lion rampant is the proper crest belonging to the coast of arms of this family.

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                   I will merely remark that for several centuries after the Conquest of England by the Normans, the language of the inhabitants of that country, as well as the name of its localities, and especially the surnames of the people, underwent great and radical changes.  The mutations and corruptions introduced both in the spelling and pronouncing of surnames during what may be properly called the transition period of the English language, render it very difficult, if not impossible in many cases, to trace family names to their origin.  The circumstance that all theses families have the Palmer’s staff on their shields, I think, can hardly be looked upon in any other view than as an undersigned coincidence, and if we bear in mind, that notwithstanding the various modes of spelling and pronouncing the name in the Mother Country, all these families (or nearly all) have then retained on their shields the appropriate armorial device of the name; it seems to me that such an amount of mutual resemblance as is here found to exist, both in the names as well as in their several coats of arms, can be consistent with no other reasonable hypothesis than that there must have been originally one name and peculiar symbol from which these various surnames and coats of arms were derived, and that this is the Bourdon:  and hence I infer the family is of Norman and no Saxon descent.

                   It can with much apparent truth be said that most, if not all of this is at best mere conjecture, and the remark is often and truthfully made that the English and . . .

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their descendants in America are prone to claim descent from the followers of the Norman Conqueror, many of whom were merely adventurers, and some of them of even questionable blood; but enough, one would think, is accomplished when any citizen of our country can establish a lineage dating back to the reign of the Stuarts and Tudors, when the Commonalty of England with their well known attachment to liberty and a constitutional form of government began to manifest their power in controlling the destiny of that country.  This is an origin of which any family may well be proud, and this at least, I think, can be safely claimed for the Bordens.

          Coat of Arms of the Borden Family, County of Kent, England:

                   Borden azure; a chevron invected ermine; two Palmer’s staves in chief, ppr; a cross-crosslet in base or.

                   Crest, a lion rampant on his sinister hind foot, or, holding a battle axe, proper.  Motto “Palma Virtuti.”

          Explanation of the Borden Coat of Arms.

  •             First:  Pilgrim’s staff and invected chevron indicates a Christian Palmer
  •             Second:  The cross-crosslet, that Christian zeal prompted him to undertake the journey, he being a champion of the cross as well as a Pilgrum.
  •            Third:  The chevron implies that he had finished or accomplished some great or good work, - a pilgrimage was so understood in that age.  A chevron is likened to the . . .

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  • putting on the roof of a house, or completing a building,.
  • Fourth:  Invected chevron represents the edges of the escalop shell which is considered the peculiar mark of the Christian Palmer, and Heraldists say, always implies that the person who bears it had some connection with a pilgrimage to the Holy land.
  • Fifth:  The crest, a lion, - emblem of strength, courage and generosity; and all positions rampant, that is, standing erect on his hind foot, and with a battle axe in hand ready for combat in a just cause, is the postion most honorable and noble.
  • Sixth:  Motto.  This is suppose to indicate that he was a Palmer and was entitled to the reward of virtue for his pilgrimage.

The next post starts the genealogy starting with Richard Borden. . . 


  1. What a treasure to be given these truly valuable family papers. And now you are sharing them via internet to all. I bet your ancestors are thrilled in that the papers were not discarded or lost forever. Great job.
    Theresa (Tangled Trees)

  2. I feel very blessed to have received these papers, and it would be a shame to keep them stored away in a box and not share them. I know I am not the only ancestor that would love to see them. ~smiles~ Thank you for the post