Burden Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Burden and Borden Surname Meaning

The name Burden and its variants may have more than one origin. Some think Burden was a Norman implant, from the Old French name Burdo or de Bourdon.  Various Norman Debourdons appeared in English records in the 1200’s.But the case that its origin is locational has as much substance:

  • the Old English bar meaning “boar” and den “valley” produced Borden in Kent.
  • a slightly different  configuration of bare meaning “barely” and den “valley” resulted in Bearden in Essex.
  • and barh meaning “fortified hill” and dun “hill” produced Burdon in Durham.

Borden, Bearden, and Burdon became surnames, often ending up as Burden over time – although the Borden name has continued in America.

Burden and Borden Surname Resources on The Internet

Burden, Burdon and Borden Surname Ancestry

  • from Northern England and Scotland
  • to America, Canada and Australia

England.  Bearden as a surname appeared in Essex in 1287.  Later forms were Berdon and Burden.  Borden today is a village in Kent near Sittingbourne.  A Borden family who were yeoman farmers have been traced to the village of Headcorn nearby in the 1400’s.

By the turn of the 17th century, there were also Burdens west in Hampshire and further west in Little Tottington in Devon and Jacobstaw in Cornwall.  A Cornish Burden family began in records with the birth of Arthur Burden at Week St. Mary in 1662.  Hampshire today has the largest number of Burdens in England.

Burdons.  There was a northern Burdon outpost in Durham. In 1486, Thomas Burdon took “two oxgangs of land” in Stockton on Tees.  The Burdons were the local force in the town until the 19th century, from their base in later years at the old manor house in Castle Eden. Rowland Burdon IV (they were all called Rowland) built the Sunderland to Stockton turnpike and also the first cast iron bridge over the Wear at Sunderland.

Although some Burdons remained, most of these Burdons decamped to New Zealand in the 19th century. They became major landowners in the Canterbury area of South Island.  Philip Burdon from this family was a forceful New Zealand politician in the 1990’s.

Scotland.  The Burden name in Scotland may have originated in Durham, although the Burdens of Auchingarrich and Feddall in Perthshire claimed a descent from clan Lamont.  George Burden, the last Burden Laird of Feddal, sold his estate in 1878 and emigrated to Australia.

America.  Burdens outnumber Bordens by approximately three to two in America.

Bordens.  It was the Bordens that captured the attention, however.  These Bordens are primarily the descendants of Richard and Jane Borden who came to Rhode Island from Kent in 1635.  Richard was a surveyor and as a consequence was able to secure large tracts of land in Rhode Island and what is now New Jersey.

The family produced Benjamin Borden, whose land grants in the 1740’s were instrumental in opening up the Shenandoah valley in Virginia.  Benjamin’s descendant Gail Borden, who settled in Texas, was the inventor of condensed milk in 1856.  From this discovery came the Borden Milk Company and later the Borden Corporation.

Another line led to Lizzie Borden in Fall River, Massachusetts.  She became the central figure in the hatchet murders of her father and stepmother in 1892.  Her trial and subsequent acquittal attracted national attention.  Most thought her guilty and her story has passed into American folklore.  As the children’s rhyme went:

  • “Lizzie Borden took an axe
  • And gave her mother forty whacks,
  • And when she saw what she had done
  • She gave her father forty one.”

Burdens.  There were Burdens from Essex and elsewhere in Virginia by the 1650’s.  James Burden crossed into Kentucky in 1785.  He had nineteen children by two wives.  So there were a large number of descendants.

However, the Burden who perhaps left most of a mark was the Charles Burden who arrived in Louisiana in the 1850’s. He acquired the Windrush plantation near Baton Rouge.  Later, under the careful attention of his descendants, particularly the landscape gardener Ollie Steele Burden, the site blossomed as a horticultural center.  The family relinquished control in the 1960’s and the site, now the Burden Center for Horticultural Research, is run by Louisiana State University.

Canada.  Samuel Borden, a descendant of Richard and Jane Borden, had come from Rhode Island in 1760 to survey the land of the new British colony of Nova Scotia.  His son Perry settled there in the Annapolis valley. The line led:

  • to Sir Frederick Borden, a Canadian Cabinet Minister from 1896 to 1911
  • and to Sir Robert Borden, Canadian Prime Minister from 1911 to 1920.

Australia.  Philip and Mary Burden emigrated to South Australia in the early 1850’s from London (these Burdens originated from Wiltshire). Philip worked for the Adelaide Advertiser, his son Fred later became its editor and part-owner.

Burden and Borden Surname Miscellany

Francis and Robergis DeBourdon.  It is said that Francis DeBourdon married his cousin Robergis in the village of Borden in Kent on Christmas Day 1200, were buried in the church of St. Peter and St. Paul, and were pictured there with their two sons kneeling at Mass beside the following inscription of the Borden Moral Code:

  • “Be just: for the Lord only loaned us that which we have whether of goods or of talents, and in their use we must consider the rights of all men.
  • Be merciful: for we shall have no greater claim to the mercy we all shall finally need than that we forgive our brother’s faults.
  • Be true: to friendship and to God, for truth is all of this life worth the having, and perfect truth is what the life to come shall reveal to us.  It is the prince of darkness that is the prince of lies.”

The story goes that a couple, Richard and Lavinia Cook, broke into this church at night in 1869 and removed the stone in the church which bore the Borden coat of arms.  They found that the stone was hollow and contained a cylindrical leaden box, also with the Borden coat of arms.  Inside this box was a cylinder of yellow cloth of well oiled linen waxed on the inside.  This contained a parchment manuscript by Robergis DeBourdon.

She wrote that her son Richard: “will be strong, a man of iron, wise, and peaceful.  From him the Borden line will succeed.  It is now 154 years since Count William of Normandy defeated and killed the Great Harold, King of England, at Hastings.  There fell also Ethelwolf my Saxon mother’s grandfather and lord of all the lands which William the Conqueror gave to his vassal, Francis DeBourdon.  My mother was Elfrida of Kent, my father Simon DeBourdon.”

Richard Cook supplied these details in the limited edition book he wrote in 1901, Robergia: A Story of Old England.  How true all of this information is must be a matter of conjecture.

Scottish Burdens.  George Marshall in The Genealogist reported that the Burdens of Fettal in Perthshire had a tendency to scatter.  A Burden was the Governor of the Bermuda islands in 1622 and a Colonel John Bourden a member of the Assembly of Jamaica in 1675.

Henry Burden, the son of a sheep farmer, left Perthshire in 1820 and emigrated to Canada before settling in upstate New York.  He subsequently became a wealthy steel magnate, being the first to invent a machine to mass-produce horseshoes.  Two of his grandsons married into the Vanderbilt family.

Captain Eugene “Gene” Burden was an Antarctic explorer who surveyed some of the last unexplored coastline in the world in the 1940’s.  The Burden Passage at the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula was named after him.

Benjamin Borden in Virginia.  Benjamin’s first recorded appearance in Virginia was in 1734 when he was appointed one of the justices of the newly formed Orange County.  Subsequently his name appeared frequently in land transactions in various parts of the Shenandoah valley.  His most important enterprise was the settlement of “Borden’s Great Tract,” a grant to him from the King of England of 92,100 acres in what was to become Rockbridge County.

One story has it that Benjamin killed a young buffalo and presented it to the Governor at Williamsburgh.  The Governor was so delighted that he granted him 500,000 acres.  Another version has it that Benjamin captured a buffalo calf and sent it to England as a present for the Queen.  In her appreciation she granted him 100,000 acres in the Virginia valley.

Benjamin’s legal requirement as proprietor of the tract was to put up a bond of £1,800 and settle within a stated period of time a minimum number of families on the tract.  He was to receive 1,000 acres of land for each cabin built on the tract.  Five years later, after 92 cabins had been constructed, he received his grant.  On his death in 1743, it was estimated that he owned 120,000 acres of land.

Most of this land was ordered to be sold by his will and the proceeds divided among his children.  However, it was not until 150 years later that all “known” descendants were satisfied with the division and that the court disputes ended.

The Louisiana Burdens and Their Wonderful Gift.  William Pike, an early settler in Baton Rouge, had owned a considerable amount of property in East Baton Rouge parish.  His niece Emma married John Charles Burden in 1856 and it was John and Emma who built the old Burden House.  Family legend was that the plantation was named Windrush after a river in the Cotswolds in England where John had grown up.

Various Burdens have lived on this beautiful expanse of land over the generations.  Of the 20th century siblings, Ollie Steele Burden and Ione Burden never married.  Pike Burden married the lovely Jeanette Monroe.  All three lived on the property until their death.  Each were extremely concerned for its preservation after they had gone.  Therefore in the 1960’s the Borden family created the Burden Foundation to assist in the management, development, and preservation of the land and its invaluable resources.

It was not until the death of Pike that the Burden Foundation was able to devise a solid plan to maintain this pristine track of land.  They donated the property to Louisiana State University in 1973. Thanks to strict guidelines for land use, the land at Burden Center will never see the effects of urban development.

Philip Burdon: A Man of Our Time.  “It would be easy to make assumptions about someone like Philip Burdon.  The product of a long line of landed gentry going back to the 14th century and of well-heeled pilgrims on Canterbury’s first four ships, brought up and educated as one of South Canterbury’s privileged landowners, a distinguished old boy of Christ’s College, and a self-made multimillionaire to boot – Burdon might appear to be the archetypal New Zealand anglocentric conservative.

The truth is very different.  The man is also a passionate republican, a businessman with an acute social conscience, a liberal politician who fought relentlessly against the right-wing ideologues of his own National Party, and not only slowed their extremist free-market reforms but convinced his caucus that this philosophy must wear a human face.”

This is how Philip Burdon appears in Edmund Bohan’s book, Burdon: A Man of Our Time.

Burden and Borden Names

  • Rowland Burdon was a wealthy 18th century merchant banker in Stockton, Durham.
  • Henry Burden from Scotland arrived in upstate New York in 1820 and pioneered steamboat development and the use of water wheels in iron works.  His Burden iron works in Troy is now a historical site and museum.
  • Gail Borden from Texas was the inventor of condensed milk in 1856.
  • Robert Laird Borden was the 8th Prime Minister of Canada, from 1911 to 1920.
  • Eric Burdon was the lead singer of the 1960’s Newcastle rock group, The Animals, best known for their rendition of The House of the Rising Sun.

Burden and Borden Numbers Today

  • 7,000 in the UK (most numerous in Hampshire)
  • 5,000 in America (most numerous in Kentucky)
  • 5,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

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Written by Colin Shelley

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