Lizzie Borden
and ancestors

- by Alice Marie Beard

"Lizzie Borden took an ax
And gave her mother 40 whacks.
And when she saw what she had done,
She gave her father 41."

Remember singing that rhyme on the school playground, jumping rope and seeing if you could get to 41 whacks? Research on Lizze's genealogy found an interesting twist: While Lizzie was found not guilty of patricide despite strong evidence, she had a five-greats grandfather who was found guilty of matricide on no more than the testimony of what a man had dreamed. Lizzie descended from Thomas CORNELL, born 1627 in England and executed 1673 in Portsmouth, RI. Cornell was convicted of matricide on the testimony of a man who said that the late Mrs. Cornell had come to him in a dream and accused her son of having killed her. Thomas Cornell almost certainly was not guilty. Thomas had another descendant (a 4th great-grandson) named Ezra Cornell; Ezra Cornell donated the original endowment for Cornell University.

Lizzie descended from Thomas Cornell's daughter Innocent Cornell, who was born posthumously. Whether the widow Cornell [Sarah Earle] named her baby "Innocent" as a way of saying, "No matter what the sins of her father, this baby is innocent," or whether she named the baby "Innocent" as a way of stating her own judgment on her late husband is unknown.

Regarding the strange case of Thomas Cornell's conviction for matricide, The Genealogical Dictionary of Rhode Island has the following, which is from The Friends' records of 8-Feb-1673:

"Rebecca Cornell, widow, was killed strangely, at Portsmouth, in her own dwelling house, was twice viewed by the Coroner's Inquest, digged up and buried again by her husband's grave in their own land.' Her son Thomas was charged with her murder, but although the jury's verdict in regard to this affair was, that 'he did murder his mother Rebecca, or was aiding or abetting thereto;' yet the evidence in the case would seem to have been in no way conclusive. There was much evidence taken. The son said in his own defence that having discoursed with his mother about an hour and a half he went into the next room and staid three-quarters of an hour. His wife then sent his son Edward to his grandmother to know whether she would have some milk boiled for her supper. The child saw some fire on the floor and came back and fetched the candle. Then Henry Straight, myself and the rest followed in a huddle. Henry Straight saw what he supposed was an Indian, drunk and burnt on the floor, but when Thomas Cornell perceived by the light of the candle who it was, he cried, 'Oh Lord it is my mother.' Her clothes and body were much burned, and the jury found a wound on uppermost part of stomach.

"John Briggs [Rebecca's brother] testified as to an apparation of a woman that appeared at his bedside in a dream, and he cried out 'in the name of God what art thou,' and the apparition answered, 'I am your sister Cornell' and thrice said 'see how I was burnt with fire.'

"John Russell, of Dartmouth, testified that George Soule told him (since the decease of Rebecca Cornell), that once coming to the house of Rebecca, in Portsmouth, she told him that the spring she intended to go and dwell with her son Samuel, but she feared she would be made away with before that. Thomas, Stephen, Edward and John Cornell (sons of Thomas), gave testimony as to their grandmother's death, saying their father was last with her.

"Mary Cornell, wife to John, aged twenty-eight years, testified that three or four years past being at her mother-in-law, Rebecca Cornell's, and meeting her on returning from the orchard to the house, she said to deponent that she had been running after pigs and being weak and no help and she being disregarded, she thought to have stabbed a penknife into her heart, that she had in her hand, and then she should be rid of her trouble, but it came to her mind 'resist the Devil and he will flee from you' and then she said she was well satisfied."

Records of the General Court of Trials are at this site:

Back to Lizzie Borden of the 40 whacks: The genealogy game of "Lizzie Borden" is a little different from the rope-jumping game. The object of the genealogy game is to see if you can claim Lizzie as a distant cousin. You know, so when you're having a bad day, you can say, "Leave me alone. I've got PMS, and I'm a cousin of Lizzie Borden." You get to claim Lizzie as a cousin if you find you have any of the same ancestors she had. Lizzie's ancestors are offered here; you'll have to find your own ancestors to see if you have a match. My "Lizzie match" is in red, numbers 262 and 263 on Lizzie's ancestor chart. The couple are also 516 and 517 on Lizzie's chart because, well, Lizzie was a little inbred. (By the way, it was Lizzie's step-mother who was killed by person or persons unknown. Lizzie's mother had died when Lizzie was two years old.)

1. Lizzie Drew BORDEN:
.....b 19 Jul 1860 Fall River, MA,
.....d 1 Jun 1927 Fall River, MA.
2. Andrew Jackson BORDEN:
.....b 13 Sep 1822 Fall River, MA,
.....m 26 Dec 1845,
.....d 4 Aug 1892 Fall River, MA.
3. Sarah J. MORSE:
.....b 1823,
.....d Mar 1863.
4. Abraham Bowen BORDEN:
.....b 8 Jul 1798.
8. Richard BORDEN:
.....m abt 1796,
.....d after 1816.
9. Martha (Patty) BOWEN
16. Richard BORDEN:
.....b 1722,
.....m 12 Mar 1747,
.....d 4 Jul 1795.
17. Hope COOK
32. Thomas BORDEN:
.....b 8 Dec 1697,
.....m 14 Aug 1721,
.....d Apr 1740 Tiverton, RI.
33. Mary GIFFORD
64. Richard BORDEN:
.....b 25 Oct 1671 Portsmouth, RI,
.....m abt 1692,
.....d abt 1732 (or June 1734) RI.
65. Innocent CORNELL:
.....b 1673,
.....d after 15 Nov 1720.
66. Christopher GIFFORD
128. John BORDEN I:
.....b 5 Sep 1640 Portsmouth, RI,
.....m 25 Dec 1670 prob. Portsmouth, RI,
.....d 4 Jun 1716 Portsmouth, RI.
129. Mary EARLE:
.....b abt 1655 Portsmouth, RI,
.....d Jun 1734.
130. Thomas CORNELL:
.....b Oct 1627 Saffron Walden, Essex, England
.....d 23 Mar 1673 Portsmouth, RI.
.....[Convicted and executed for matricide; almost certainly not guilty.]
131. Sarah EARLE:
.....b abt 1645 Portsmouth, Newport Co., RI,
.....d 1690 Tiverton, RI.
.....[2nd married a son of Alice Lake, who was executed as a witch.]
256. Richard BORDEN:
.....chr 22 Feb 1595/6 Headcorn, Co. Kent, England,
.....m 28 Sep 1625 Headcorn, England,
.....came to America mid-1630s,
.....d 25 May 1671 Portsmouth, RI.
257. Joane FOWLE:
.....b 15 Feb 1604 Headcorn, Co. Kent, England,
.....d 15 Jul 1688 Portsmouth, RI.
258. William EARLE:
.....chr 11 May 1634 Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshire, England,
.....m 1654 Portsmouth, Newport Co., RI,
.....d 15 Jan 1715 Springfield, Union Co., NJ.
259. Mary WALKER
260. Thomas CORNELL:
.....b abt 1595 Essex, England,
.....m abt 1620,
.....d abt 1656 Portsmouth, RI.
261. Rebecca BRIGGS
.....b abt 1600,
.....d 8 Feb 1672/3 Portsmouth, RI.
262. Ralph EARLE:
.....chr 9 Feb 1606 Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshire, England,
.....m 29 Aug 1631 Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshire, England,
.....d 1678 Portsmouth, RI.
263. Joan SAVAGE:
.....chr 18 Feb 1609,
.....d aft 15 Sep 1699 Portsmouth, RI.
.....[to Ralph and Joan's descendant Hannah Earle, click here]
512. Matthew BORDEN:
.....chr 30 Sep abt 1563 Frittenden, Co. Kent, England,
.....m abt 1591,
.....bur 4 Oct 1620 Headcorn, Co. Kent, England.
513. Joan GLOVER or REEDER(?):
.....d after 1620.
514. Richard FOWLE:
.....chr 18 Dec 1569 Frittenden, Co. Kent, England,
.....m 3 Sep 1601 St. Margaret's, Canterbury, Co. Kent, England,
.....bur 2 Mar 1631/2 Headcorn, Co. Kent, England.
515. Mary ____ (FILKES):
.....b England,
.....bur 1 Aug 1627 Headcorn, England.
516. Ralph EARLE [same as 262]
517. Joan SAVAGE [same as 263]
518. John WALKER
519. Katharine _____
526. Richard SAVAGE:
.....bur 17 Dec 1637 Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshire, England.
527. Mary WATERMAN:
.....b abt 1563 Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshire, England,
.....bur 5 May 1636 Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshire, England.
.....[Mary was 1st married to Thomas Isacke.]

The riddle remains: Did she get away with murder, or was she an innocent whose life was ruined because of false charges?


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