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A Simple Question

by Dr. Stefani Koorey

A Simple Question by Dr. Stefani Koorey

Recently, I asked myself what I thought was simple question: “Where exactly was the Andrew Borden family living before their move to Second Street?” I really and truly thought it would be a straightforward act of “looking it up” somewhere. How wrong can a person be?

Using the sources available and known to them at the time, early researchers on the Borden case believed that the Andrew J. Borden family was living in quite crowded conditions at the home of Andrew's father, Abraham Bowen Borden, at #12 Ferry Street, also known as “the Borden Homestead," before escaping in 1872 to their forever home at 66 Second Street (later changed to 92 Second Street when the city renumbered some areas in 1875). Reportedly, living at #12 in 1870 were not only Abraham (71) and his second wife, Bebe Wilmarth (69), but Andrew J. Borden (48), his second wife Abby Durfee Gray (42), his two daughters, Emma (21) and Lizzie (12), and Andrew's sister Lurana (44) and her husband Hiram Harrington (31)—eight people, in three families, under one roof.

If this were true, then Andrew moving away from all that tumult to a home for just the four in his family unit would certainly provide a breather for the entire clan. Everyone would benefit from their departure.

But, as it turns out, this was not the situation that the Andrew Borden family was in. Using land transaction records, federal and state census records, as well as city directories and valuation books for Fall River, we have a new understanding of who lived where and when on Ferry Street.

The earliest records we have that tell us who was living together in dwellings are those contained in the US Federal Census. Unfortunately for genealogists and historians, the 1840 and 1850 census did not list street addresses, nor did the 1855 Massachusetts State Census, so it is unclear where Abraham or his son Andrew lived during this period. However, because this census recorded family units, or households, per dwelling, we know father and son lived in the same house in 1840 and 1855, but not in 1850. So, we have our first mystery within a mystery.

The Fall River Historical Society holds Valuation Books for the city of Fall River from 1827 to 1840 in unbound form and from 1841 to 1860 in bound volumes. These are great to use in determining real estate holdings and personal property. Most valuation books contained the following information: Names, Polls, Poll Tax, Real Estate Description, Value of Real Estate, Tax on Real Estate, Personal Estate Description, Value of Personal Estate, and Whole Tax (a total of taxes paid in all columns).

Fall River's city directories, on the other hand, did not begin publishing until 1853 (a city directory records the information gathered the year before). Both Abraham and his son Andrew are listed. But, in 1852, we see Andrew (at thirty years of age) living at #11 Ferry Street and Abraham at #12 Ferry Street, across the street from one another.

If we examine every page of the 1853 directory, we can search out other individuals living at #12 or #11 Ferry Street in 1852. In doing so, we find that living at #12 Ferry Street was not only Abraham Borden, but a man named Samuel Morton, whose occupation was that of cooper. Of course, we have no details as to the wives and children, so we would not know how many people these two heads of households represent. Living at #11 Ferry Street we find Andrew J. Borden, furniture and feathers, and James Chace, machinist.

By the next city directory in 1855 (they were not published yearly until 1869), which tells us where people lived in 1854, Andrew is now living at #13 with his father Abraham. This information matches the information found in the 1855 Massachusetts State Census.

So, what can this mean? Why move away and then return? We must turn to land transactions for Abraham and Andrew and biographical material for family events for the answer. A handy list of Andrew's land transactions appears in Appendix C of Leonard Rebello's Lizzie Borden Past & Present and online at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, at ccbit.cs.umass.edu/lizzie /intro/home.html. For family matters, we should refer to Parallel Lives: A Social History of Lizzie A. Borden and Her Fall River, by Michael Martins and Dennis A. Binette. This book, published by the Fall River Historical Society, can be taken as thoroughly researched and an authoritative recount of the saga of Lizzie A. Borden, Fall River, and her family's history.

Sometime between 1840 (when Andrew was eighteen) and 1850, Andrew moved from #12 to #11 Ferry Street. He had married Sarah Anthony Morse on December 25, 1845, and marriage is an excellent reason to move to a new abode, if for no other purpose than the privacy is affords. Also, it was in 1851 that their first daughter, Emma Lenora, was born. In October of 1853, Andrew’s mother, Phebe Davenport Borden, died from consumption (tuberculosis). It is unclear just how long she was ill, but her illness would be another reason to stay away with a new baby in the family.

According to the Valuation Books and land transactions, on February 24, 1854, Andrew Borden, cabinet maker, purchased from his father, for “love and good will" and $60.00/year for Abraham’s natural life, 22 and 32/100 rods of land, together with dwelling house and other buildings, on the north side of Ferry Street, bounded on the west side by Abraham Bowen Borden's land. This is the property of #11 Ferry Street. Andrew Borden would own this property until his move to Second Street in 1872.

Andrew’s sister Lurana was twenty-seven when she married blacksmith Hiram C. Harrington (1829-1907) in January of 1854. On November 7, 1854, Lurana Harrington purchased the west side of the Andrew’s lot (22 and 60/100 rods of land, together with the dwelling house and other buildings, and a privilege to the well on land of Andrew J. Borden) for the same $60.00/year for Abraham’s natural life. This is the property of #13 Ferry Street.

However, when Abraham married his second wife, Beebe Wilmarth, on November 23, 1854, Andrew, his wife Sarah, daughter Emma, and Mr. and Mrs. Hiram Harrington all lived again at #12. We know this from the city directory for 1855 and the Massachusetts State Census. But why would the Harringtons and the Andrew Borden family live at #12 when they owned houses across the street? One guess—rental income. Both houses were two-family buildings so the prudent thing might be to live in the family homestead while earning money from property so close you can see it from the front window.

In August of 1855, Andrew’s other sister Phebe Ann Borden died at the age of twenty-six. It was after the 1855 Massachusetts state census was taken that the Harringtons departed #12 and moved to #13 Ferry Street—the 1857 city directory for the year 1856 shows us that he was indeed living at #13. Another family event occurred the following year: Andrew and Sarah Borden's second child, Alice Esther, was born on May 3, 1856, but died a year and ten months later of “hydrocephalus acutus," or drospy of the brain.

Andrew continued to live with his family at #12. Lizzie Andrew was born in 1860 while the family resided there (according to the 1860 census and city directories for 1861 and 1864).

And then a curious thing happened—sometime between 1864 and 1865, Andrew Borden and his family moved to #11 and stayed there, occupying a two-family house by themselves; there were no tenants or renters at this address during these years. What might have precipitated this move? In March of 1863, Sarah Anthony Morse Borden, Andrew’s wife, died from “uterine congestion” and “disease of the spine.” By June of 1865, Andrew had a new bride, Abby Durfee Gray. The loss of a wife and the second marriage necessitate that Andrew obtain the desperately needed privacy to raise his two remaining daughters.

The 1865 Massachusetts census lists not only Andrew, Emma, and Lizzie as residing together, but with them is Elizabeth Morse (age 27) as “house keeper” and an Irish servant named Sarah Welch. Elizabeth Morse is undoubtedly daughter of Charles and Mary Morrison Morse, as she is the right age (born 1838). Charles Morse was Andrew’s deceased wife Sarah’s uncle. It would make sense that Andrew would call on a close relative of Sarah’s to help raise the children in her stead.

In April of 1872, Andrew sold #11 Ferry Street to printer Henry Nuttall for $4,800. On April 30 of the same year, he purchased from Charles Trafton the dwelling numbered 66 Second Street and 30 rods of land on the east side of the house for $10,000. He promptly converted this two-family house into a single-family home.

My simple question finally had an answer, and it was not the one I was expecting.


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