The Burden family, though originally from Durham, England, has a long and interesting presence in Scotland going back to the middle of the 13th century and it is a known and respected sept (or subgroup) of the highland Clan Lamont. We see documents going back to this time when William de Bourdon witnessed a charter of Scottish King Alexander III, Sir Walter Burdone, no doubt reluctantly, swore fealty to Edward I in 1291 by the banks of the River Tweed, and Rogier de Burghdone of Blackadder (yes, an actual barony) also agreed to pay homage to the English king. John Burdoune is recorded as being the reader at Balquhidder (i.e. Blackadder) in 1567.
Depending on which sources you believe, the family’s connection with the Clan Lamont goes back to a younger son of King Robert III of Scotland in the late 1300’s, though other accounts describe how a Lamont, fleeing the persecution of his clan, sought refuge with and assumed the name of Burden at their castle in Feddal.
According to The Red Book of Perthshire, the Burdens “…of Auchingarrich and Feddall claimed descent from the family of Lamont of Inneryne, in Argyllshire. James Burden, 4th of Auchengarrich submitted an account of his family to the Lord Lyon which was attested and verified by the then Chief of the Lamonts.”
In the 16th century the Burden’s owned estates in Auchingarrich but by 1659 had extensive lands including a mill in Feddal, near Braco, Perthshire. Here the Burdens would remain until the late 1800’s. Contemporary accounts indicate that comprising almost 1000 acres and with almost 1000 pounds annual revenue, Feddal was one of the most productive estates in Perthshire.
When James Burden died in 1710, his son, the younger James took possession of Feddal. A colourful character, he was known to be a crack swordsman and once challenged the famous Scottish outlaw, Rob Roy.
James Burden was no doubt a Jacobite, sympathetic to the Stuart claim to the throne of England and Scotland. We do know that his son-in-law, Archibald Menzies, who was married to his daughter Margaret, went off to join Bonnie Prince Charlie as the Battle of Culloden in 1746. The following obituary in the 1833 edition of The Gentleman’s Magazine explains his fate:
“Scotland-August 18. (die) At Muthill, aged 90, Miss Mary Campbell, sister to the late Mrs. Graham Burden of Feddal. She was led, while a child, to see the retreating forces of Charles Edward (i.e. Bonnie Prince Charlie) pass from Falkirk to Culloden. Her uncle, the Laird of Feddal and Shawn, in whose house she was brought up followed the fortunes of the Prince to battle, was never more heard of, alive or dead.”
Other branches of the Burden family achieved the status of nobility in Sweden for service to King Charles X and in France as well. The word “bourdon” means pilgrim in French and for all branches of the family the coat of arms is the “Bourdon Or” depicted as one of more golden pilgrim staves. For example this same motif is found in the arms of the Bourdon de Plessix family in Brittany, France.
Interestingly, Scottish court records of the 1800’s show that members of the Burden family were involved in an acrimonious legal dispute.
Perhaps as a result of this in 1878 George S. M. Burden, the last recorded Laird of Feddal, sold his estates for the then very handsome sum of 32,500 pounds and emigrated to the colonies. He is reported as having died in 1902 in an Adelaide, Australia newspaper, the last Lord of Feddal.
However, George Marshall in The Genealogist reports that the Burden “…family seems to have had a tendency to scatter, for in the West Indies were a governor of the Bermuda Islands 1622 and Colonel John Bourden, a member of Assembly of Jamaica 1675.” Henry Burden left Perthshire, Scotland in the early 1800’s and emigrated to Canada, then the United States. He subsequently becoming a wealthy steel magnate and was the first to invent a machine to mass produce horseshoes. Two of his grandsons married into the Vanderbilt family.
My great uncle, Captain Eugene “Gene” Burden was an Antarctic explorer who surveyed some of the last unexplored coastline in the world in the 1940. The Burden Passage at the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula was named for him.
My grandfather, Captain George Burden, sailed three masted tern schooners all over the world in the early 1900’s. His adventures and misadventures included being rammed by a steamship in the Mediterranean, sinking in the mid-Atlantic and running aground at Cape St. Mary, Newfoundland. The remnants of the schooner, “Robert J. Dale” can still be seen there to this day. Once while in Spain, Captain Burden treated himself to front row seats at a bull fight. Apparently the bull jumped over the barricade and ended up almost on top of him causing him to scramble up and into the private box of King Alfonso XIII. Captain Burden received only the 9th certificate for a Master of a Coastwise Vessel issued in Newfoundland. It was received in 1929 after he ceased going to sea.
The Burden Museum and Gardens in Baton Rouge, Lousiana was once the Windrush Plantation belonging to the Burden family from the mid-1800’s until donated to Lousiana State University by the family.
Despite Vanderbilt descendant Wendy Burden’s book, Dead End Gene Pool, the Burden family still appears to be alive and kicking.
Who knows where we’ll turn up next?
- The Genealogist: Volume III pp.145-150 – by George W. Marshall, LL.D., Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries London, George Bell and Sons, Covent Garden, 1879
- The Gentleman’s Magazine, Volume 103, Part 2; Volume 154, 1833
- The Red Book of Perthshire, 2014 by Gordon MacGregor
- Dunblane Traditions : Being a Series of Warlike and Legendary Narratives, Biographical Sketches of Eccentric Characters, &c. (1887) by John Monteath E. Johnstone, Bookseller MDCCCXXXV
All photos courtesy of George Burden