Andrew Jackson Borden

Andrew Jackson Borden (1822 – 1892) was a man whose life spanned the better part of a century, witnessing great changes not only in his hometown city and the industries there, but throughout the entire country. He was born into the Jacksonian age, when industrial development had not yet reached the titanic heights of the age of Empire, yet the textile mills had already started to rise along the river and the Bordens, Durfees, Braytons and other socially-prominent families were already amassing their large fortunes. Andrew, notwithstanding his success as a furniture builder, investor, and real estate speculator, was by no means one of the wealthiest men in Fall River. His cousins, Richard and Jefferson, industrial magnates of their day, considerably dwarfed Andrew's financial accomplishments with their mills and shipping lines, and many other tycoons who lived on the Hill would have seen Andrew as a relatively-modest citizen living a very plebian lifestyle.

The Borden family of Fall River had the good fortune to own valuable land along the Quequechan River when the mills were starting to rise, and their wealth subsequently spread to some branches of the family, but not necessarily to others. Andrew's branch was a modest one, his father having been a fish peddler. He married Sarah Anthony Morse, a seamstress, in 1845 and had three children with her: Emma Lenora (1851), Alice Esther (1856; d. 1858), and Lizzie Andrew (1860). Tragically, in 1863, Sarah succumbed to uterine congestion, also called a "disease of the spine" by her death record.

Andrew, despite his success, was besieged by death: his twin sisters Charlotte and Lurana passed in the 1820s at a very young age; his mother Phebe passed in 1853; his daughter Alice in 1858; his wife Sarah in 1863; and his brother George in 1867. Andrew's grim determination to amass as much money as he could; to treat his business with the utmost priority; to provide for his family and maintain a tight control over his daughters; all may have been influenced by his anxiety at having seen so many of his family die so tragically. Further, his wife departed this world during the Civil War, when violent death was a daily occurrence. Being a man whose business was to build coffins and other furniture for funerals, Andrew must have seen death as a constant threat to peaceful existence. His marriage to Abby Durfee Gray, the woman who became Emma and Lizzie's step-mother and who died with him on August 4th, 1892, may have been one of convenience, but also may have been an attempt to re-create a family that had been ravaged by death. Any resentment of their stepmother that the girls must have harbored would have been very painful to Andrew; he had seen to it that Emma and Lizzie had had a relatively leisurely life, something that he had never allowed himself.

Andrew was trained early on as a carpenter, working for Southard Miller, perhaps even participating in the construction of 92 Second Street. This building became the Borden house when Andrew purchased it in 1873. Much has been made of Andrew's frugality, and it has been noted that 92 Second Street was a house lacking in hallways (supposedly a design choice deliberately made by Andrew to keep the construction costs down), yet it must be noted that the house was originally a two-family home that Andrew had converted for single-family use shortly after purchasing it. Two bedrooms downstairs were turned in a single dining room, and a kitchen on the upper story was turned into a master bedroom. The lack of hallways between the rooms may be attributed to its conversion from its original design, and the opening of the two bedrooms downstairs allowed the Borden's a comfortably signed dining room. Andrew had actually opened the house up, rather than kept it tight and congested.

Yet, this arrangement also resulted in the house being divided into two, the front half with the daughters' bedrooms accessible through a front staircase, the rear half with Andrew's bedroom accessible by a staircase behind the kitchen. This unusual layout accentuated the feeling that the house was divided, that the girls were both physically and psychologically squared off against their father and stepmother in a battle of wills. Whether this arrangement was a result of animosity against the parents, or whether it was actually just a chance arrangement due to the layout of the house, the end result turned out to be ideal for the two women: they were both over thirty, still living with their father, and so needed a large degree of privacy.

Andrew formed a partnership with Mr. William M. Almy and eventually was successful in furniture building and undertaking. He had a justified reputation for coveting money, but he must be accurately viewed as an example of the type of businessman from the early days of American industry: frugal and scrupulous, his business integrity often being confused with lack of compassion. He did count his money, tried to streamline and optimize his spending, and was proud that he had never spent a foolish dollar. The rumors that he was cruel to his tenants or chopped off the feet of corpses to fit them into cheaper, shorter coffins are groundless (not being a mortician he never worked directly with a deceased), but it probably occasioned that he had to harden his heart against a tenant's misfortunes or to stand firm on a business deal with a man against whom he had the advantage. Even with his own family, he could come across as a harsh negotiator: when his sister Lurana tried to buy the house on Ferry Street, Andrew hit her with an additional $3 for water tax.

As the century progressed and the mills grew larger, as fortunes grew, as machinery improved, and as Fall River expanded its boundaries and population, Andrew was seen more and more as a remnant of the past. His generation consisted of the men who built the mill system with grim determination and stubborn vision of an enterprising America. He walked about town with his tall lanky body, his Prince Albert jacket and string tie, his humorless face, living in a house that the Providence Daily Journal had estimated would have been suitable for a laborer who made $2 a day. There is no doubt that he deprived his family of amenities enjoyed by many with less money than the Bordens, and he often went without physician care or relied upon leftovers for meals in order to save money. Whether these practices were outrageous enough to drive his daughter to murder is only a matter of speculation. Andrew was a wealthy man in 1892, but his heart and mind were truly back in the 1840s, when men of thrift, hard work, and enterprising business spirits were building a manufacturing society based on new means of production. Andrew's core values were all based on money and its accumulation, even though his personal lifestyle was not.

Relations between father and daughter seemed to be very cordial. Upon her graduation from high school, Lizzie presented her father with her class ring, which he wore on his finger until his dying day. He also paid for her to take a European tour after she turned thirty, an expense that would have been unthinkable if he had been as stingy and Scrooge-like as many made him out to be. However, after an exciting and life transforming trip on the continent, Lizzie may have been deeply depressed upon her return to Fall River and her father's drab and thrifty household.

Lizzie was aware of Andrew's reputation for frugality, and when she was asked after the murders of anyone who may have held a grudge against her father, she told the tale of a man who argued with him about the leasing of one of his properties. She quoted the man as saying that, with Andrew's reputation for money, he was surprised he would balk on the deal; but claimed that her father refused to let the property due to the nature of the man's business. While this story illustrates Andrew's careful business sense, it may also show a strong moral character. The man could easily have been trying to let the property to open a brothel, or some such morally-controversial business, and Andrew would have no association with it. We do not have the luxury of knowing the reason for Andrew's refusal.

After Andrew's purchasing of half of a house on Fourth Street for his wife Abby, both Emma and Lizzie protested; Andrew then deeded them the old family home on Ferry Street for the sum of $1. Eventually, they deeded it back to him for $1, but privately took $2,500 a piece from their father. Essentially, to heal a rift in his family, Andrew paid $5,000 for a house that he had owned and given away for nothing. The girls inherited the house after his death in 1892.

There is no doubt that Andrew was behind the times. In an age where indoor bathrooms, electric lighting and telephones were more and more commonplace, Andrew's household had none of these. Much was made of John Morse's testimony that, on the evening of August 3rd, right before the murders, he chatted with Andrew in the sitting room without so much as a burning lamp. Presumably the light from the hallway was sufficient, and Andrew did not want to spring for the price of the extra lamp oil. Perhaps modern items like a telephone or a porcelain toilet were things that seventy year-old Andrew would have hesitated about enjoying in much the same way of a seventy year-old man today might well turn away from using a computer or a cell phone. Either way, thirty-two year-old Lizzie may have felt very differently about Andrew's Old World preferences, since her contemporaries on the Hill lived not only with toilets, telephones and modern bathrooms, but hallways and electric lighting. Moving to Maplecroft must have been a fantasy come alive for the Borden sisters.



One year before the murders, the house was broken into and some items were stolen from Andrew's bedroom. This provoked a paranoia in Andrew that resulted in his implementing more rigid protocols about consistently locking the doors of the house and the addition of a lock on his own bedroom door. Oddly enough, he placed the key to his bedroom in open view on the mantelpiece in the sitting-room, leading some to speculate that he suspected Lizzie of being the house thief and was sending her a message that he knew what she was up to. However, it is likely that Andrew was more concerned about another break-in and was fearful of personal attack, since he also kept a club as a weapon beneath his bed. Considering that he eventually met his end by violence in his own home while he slept, the locks and the club may have been more than justified.

In the days leading up to the murders, the family suffered a mysterious attack of nausea and vomiting. Abby, who consulted with Doctor Bowen on the morning of August 3rd about her stomach cramps, said she thought it was the baker's bread, and that evening Lizzie speculated to Alice Russell that it may have been the milk that was being deliberately poisoned by an enemy of the family. The spate of illness is also attributed by some as having been caused by the leftover mutton that was being recirculated with every meal. When Doctor Bowen called on the Borden house to see if Abby was doing better, he was turned away by Andrew, who probably felt that he was better off not having to pay a doctor. John Morse testified that Andrew was taking a physic and at the inquest Dr. Bowen was asked if he was aware that Andrew had been taking bismuth powders. Either way, by the morning of the murders, the family was feeling generally better, although some witnesses testified that when Andrew was seen downtown that morning, he didn't look very well.

Andrew spent the evening of August 3rd conversing with John Morse in the sitting-room, then retired for the night at 10:00 p.m. He came down the next morning, emptied his slops in the backyard, and ate breakfast with his wife and brother-in-law sometime after 7 a.m. By the time Andrew had left for a walk downtown at approximately 10:00 a.m., it was quite possible that his wife Abby was lying dead in the upstairs guest room. He went for a shave, stopped at the post office, did some business at three banks on North Main Street, and then went up to inspect a property on South Main that he was having renovated. He conversed briefly with the construction workers there, and while at the site, picked up from the ground a broken lock and slipped it into his pocket. This may have been the white package seen in his hand by some, but it certainly wasn't the batch of papers that Bridget testified he was looking at when he arrived back home.

It is likely he reached his home at 11:45 a.m., and went to read his papers in the sitting room. He was joined by Lizzie who encouraged him to take a nap on the sofa, offering to open some windows to help him get comfortable. Bridget, in the meanwhile, had slipped upstairs to catch some sleep (she wasn't feeling well herself) and Lizzie, according to her inquest testimony and statements to the police, went out to the barn. What happened at that point is not clear, but someone on the premises did deliver ten deadly hatchet blows to Andrew Borden's head and face as he slept.

Shortly after the Town Hall bells had rung the hour, Bridget was wakened abruptly by Lizzie calling up the stairs to come quickly because someone had hurt her father. Andrew was lying on the couch, his head cut open by what seemed to be blows from a hatchet. A few hours later, a police photographer snapped one of the most famous crime scene photographs in American history: Andrew Jackson Borden laying on his sitting-room sofa, his head resting on the couch arm, his feet sloping to the floor, his fists clenched on his lap, and his face utterly unrecognizable.

It is at this point that Andrew's story comes to an end, and Lizzie Borden's ordeal begins, but the legacy of Andrew Borden has persisted over the years. He has been accused of being an abusive parent, a miser and a heartless business man. Some dramatic portrayals would go as far as to accuse him of having indulged in incest and necrophilia. All portrayals of the Lizzie Borden story, be it on film, television, opera, ballet, or rock opera, have characterized her father as a cruel man who hurt his children and deserved the fate that found him on that sitting-room sofa.

It is hard to assess, without knowing definitively who killed him, what motives drove the murderer; but even if that murderer was not Lizzie, that is no direct proof that he was an abusive parent. More likely, he was a man forty years older than his own daughter, someone born into a world very different from hers, who lived in the cultural past and so was unable to understand the needs of young women in the 1890s. His cold-hearted lack of compassion may have been common in his generation, or amongst his business colleagues. These were men who built American industry, and the Fall River industrialists had a harder time of it than the much-wealthier textile merchants of Lowell or Providence. The Bordens, Durfees, Braytons and other families of Fall River who transformed their city from the provincial mill town of 1818 to the important port city of 1892 were necessarily cut from a similar cloth. It was Jefferson Borden who boasted that the workers in his mill were but mere parts of machinery and stated that as they became used up, he would replace them. Compared to such ruthlessness, Andrew Borden comes across as a businessman who understood the value of a dollar earned, even if he had to legally take it from someone who needed it more than he did.

Andrew Borden is buried with his two wives and three daughters in Oak Grove Cemetery, Fall River, Massachusetts.