The last two columns were developed from data sent to me by Michael J.
Wood of London. Another correspondent, mostly on matters of presidential
genealogy, has been Theron L. Smith of Fort Worth, Texas, who several
years ago told me of a Cowan genealogy that delineated the Borden of
Rhode Island descent of a movie star and country-western singer for whom
Yankee ancestry was indeed surprising. On last month’s trip to Salt
Lake City I found this Cowan genealogy — Michael S. Cole, Cowan
Connections: The Genealogy of Samuel and Sarah (Keith) Cowan (1994).
Also essential for many of the facts below was Roy T. Marshall, Descendants
of Nichodemus Keith and Margaret Borden (Revised) — Tennessee,
Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico (1989). In Notable Kin, Volumes One and Two (NK1, NK2)
I trace some ancestry (but not the patrilineal line) of the three great
Bordens — alleged murderess Lizzie Andrew, milkman Gail, and Canadian
Prime Minister Sir Robert Laird Borden, whose descents from Richard and
Joan (Fowle) Borden may be easily obtained from NK2:95, 103,
1:83, plus the quite mediocre but mostly serviceable Historical and
Genealogical Record of the Descendants as Far as Known of Richard and
Joan Borden(1899) by Hattie Weld Borden. Elsewhere in NK2
(pp. 136–37) I outline the six Borden descents (via Mrs. Mary Borden
Gifford, Thomas Howland, Thomas Cook [twice], William Gray, and Mrs.
Elizabeth Dennis Gray) of Charles Stanley Gifford, possible father of
the actress Marilyn Monroe. The Borden descent of British Prime Minister
Sir Winston Churchill is outlined in NEXUS 13 (1996): 166–72, 14
(1997): 65–68 (via #240), and NYGBR 73 (1942): 159–66 (repr. in
V.S. Yerington, History and Genealogy of Vera Stratton Yerington in
American and Europe, 1189–1985 , p. 38).
Benjamin Borden (1647–ca. 1728), youngest son of Richard and Joan
(Fowle) Borden, moved to Middletown, New Jersey (several of his siblings
also moved away from Rhode Island) and married Abigail Grover, daughter
of James Grover, surveyor and secretary of the Gravesend [L.I.] Land
Co. and an early settler at Middletown, and his wife Rebecca ____. Their
son Benjamin Borden, Jr. (1675–1743) was born at Middletown but died
near Winchester, Virginia (in the Shenandoah Valley), having married his
first cousin Zerviah Winter, daughter of William and Hannah (Grover)
Winter of Monmouth County, New Jersey. John Borden (1718/9–1798), a son
of Benjamin Jr. and Zerviah, lived in Bedford County, Virginia and Knox
County, Tennessee. He married Anne (Hawkins?), and left a daughter
Margaret (Peggy) Borden (ca. 1755–60–1830s), wife of Judge Nichodemus
Keith (ca. 1755–ca. 1831) of Knox and McNairy counties (Tenn.).
Sarah Margaret Keith, their daughter (ca. 1778, Bedford Co.,
Virginia–ca. 1849, Titus Co., Texas), married Samuel Cowan, of
Scots-Irish descent. Their eighth child, Stephen Cowan (1825–1907), died
in Checotah, Oklahoma. He married in Franklin Co., Alabama, February 7,
1847, Elizabeth Long. Their son, James Martin Cowan (1857–1911) of
Johnson Co., Arkansas, married there October 2, 1877, Sarah M. Willis
and left a son, W. Arthur Cowan (b. ca. 1882), who married Julia Cullen
in Johnson Co., May 9, 1903. Their daughter, Mildred Frances Cowan, born
February 12, 1905, married John Virgil Turner, a sometime miner,
insurance salesman, and even bootlegger, who moved frequently. Their
daughter, Julia Jean Mildred Frances, was the actress Lana Turner, born
February 8, 1920, Wallace, Idaho; died June 29, 1995, Century City (Los
Angeles), California. Lana Turner’s often melodramatic movie roles
included Ziegfeld Girl, Honky Tonk, Johnny Eager, The
Postman Always Rings Twice, The Bad and the Beautiful, PeytonPlace, Imitation of Life, and By Love Possessed.
Lana Turner’s private life often received more headlines than her
movies. Her first husband was bandleader Artie Shaw, and her fourth was
Lex Barker, well-known for his "Tarzan" movies. By her second husband,
Joseph Stephen Crane (III), Lana Turner had her only child, a daughter
Cheryl Christine, later notorious for the stabbing death of her mother’s
alleged mobster boyfriend, Johnny Stompanato. A third husband was Long
Island society figure Henry J. Topping, Jr., and fifth through seventh
husbands were rancher Ed May, producer Robert Eaton, and hypnotist
John Borden Keith (ca. 1786–post 1850), eldest son of Judge
Nichodemus and Margaret (Borden) Keith, married Polly Ann (Tildy) Crane,
and moved eventually to Hunt Co., Texas. Elizabeth “Betsey” Keith (b.
ca. 1812), daughter of John Borden and Polly Ann, married John Hood
(Jack Marshall) (ca. 1806–post 1870), sometime of Marion, Searcey, and
Boone counties, Arkansas. Their son William Andrew Jackson Marshall (b.
January 8, 1831, also of Boone Co., Arkansas) married Lamartha A.
Hemphill (1835–1905). Their daughter Aprillia “Prilly” Marshall (b. ca.
1859) married June 3, 1875, in Boone Co., Franklin “Frank” Craig Nelson
(b. 1858). William Alfred Nelson (1884–1939), a son of these last,
married Nancy Elizabeth Smothers (1882–1979), and left a son, Ira Doyle
Nelson (July 9, 1913–Dec. 1978, Austin, Texas), whose first wife was
Myrle Greenhow (married ca. 1929 in Pindall, Arkansas). Their son,
Willie Hugh Nelson, born April 30, 1933, in Abbott, Texas, is the
well-known country-western singer and husband of Martha Jewell Matthews.
The singer is said to have been raised by his grandparents, I assume
paternal, who moved with his parents to Abbott, Texas, about 1929.
Thus, in addition to a Canadian and a British prime minister, the
infamous Lizzie Borden, Gail Borden of Borden’s Milk, and the Rhode
Island-born possible father of Marilyn Monroe, we may add two further
major figures in popular culture to the proved progeny of Richard and
Joan (Fowle) Borden of Providence, Rhode Island. A large number of
Southern figures do indeed have strands of Yankee ancestry – note
chapters 38, 42, 43, 45, and 46 of NK2, the Almy and Cornell
ancestry of President Jimmy Carter, and my Internet columns on the
ancestry of Janis
Joplin , Ty
Cobb , and my own family. Successful tracing of such descendants in
the “backcountry,” Shenandoah, Appalachian or border areas of the
South, however, is always a feat, and I much appreciate the research of
Mr. Cole and Mr. Marshall on these Borden descendants. I also thank
Theron L. Smith once more for bringing these connections to my
In my next column I shall return to the notable progeny of
seventeenth-century immigrants of royal descent, and consider the
largest such group for an immigrant to Connecticut.