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Hudson-Mohawk Genealogical and Family Memoirs:
Burden

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[This information is from Vol. II, pp. 777-779 of Hudson-Mohawk Genealogical and Family Memoirs, edited by Cuyler Reynolds (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1911). It is in the Reference collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at R 929.1 R45. Some of the formatting of the original, especially in lists of descendants, may have been altered slightly for ease of reading.]

The Burdens of Troy descend from Scotch ancestors. While little more than a century has elapsed since the first of their line arrived in the United States, the history of Troy would lose some of its most interesting and valuable pages should the achievements of the Burdens be omitted or stricken out. Henry Burden was a wonderful genius, and probably the industry he founded has added more material wealth to the city than any other that is confined to one family. His sons, equally talented and enterprising, carried along the work begun by the father, to whose memory the huge mills by the side of the Hudson stand as enduring monuments. Among the hills stands a beautiful stone church, and on a tablet set in the interior is displayed the following inscription: "Woodside Memorial Church, dedicated to the service of the Triune God, has been erected to the memory of Helen Burden by her husband Henry Burden, in accordance with her long cherished and earnest desire, 1869." After the death of Henry Burden, the generous giver of the church, his surviving children erected to his memory the attractive manse on the west side of the church. They also built the stone chapel on the east side, used by the Sunday school, which bears a tablet inscribed: "Woodside Chapel erected A. D. 1833 by Margaret E. Proudfit, James A. Burden, I. Townsend Burden, in memory of their children." Thus the Burden memory is enshrined amid the beautiful hills and along the great river near Troy by blazing furnace and smoking shaft, and by temple of worship and hymn of praise. Silent today and motionless hangs the great "Burden wheel," but the wheels it caused to revolve set in motion still other wheels, and gave impetus to Troy industries that will forever endure.

(I) Peter Burden was born in Rotharm, Scotland, in 1721, died there in 1778. He married Anne Clow, born 1719, died 1771.

(II) Peter (2), son of Peter (1) and Anne (Clow) Burden, was born at Rotharm, Scotland, and settled at Dunblaine, Scotland, where he died. He married Janet Abercrombie, and had several children, among them being:

  1. Peter, born December 17, 1788;
  2. Henry, see forward;
  3. James, see forward.

(III) Henry, son of Peter (2) and Janet (Abercrombie) Burden, was born near Dunblaine, Scotland, April 22, 1791. He was reared on his father's farm, and educated in a school of engineering. He was of an inventive and mechanical nature, and some of his earlier inventions were for improved agricultural implements, and were used on his father's farm, also a water wheel. He came to the United States in 1810, with letters of introduction to Stephen Van Rensselaer, John C. Calhoun, William C. Preston and Thomas H. Benton. He settled in Albany, where he had a foundry and built a flouring mill. In 1822 he became superintendent of the Troy Iron & Nail Factory Company, and henceforth Troy was his home and the seat of his wonderful activity. He patented, in 1825, a machine for making wrought iron nails and spikes, and in 1836 a machine for making horse shoes. These inventions largely increased the production of his company. In 1834 he modified his first patent, and secured another to make counter sunk spikes to fasten flat rails of iron to wooden ones, then forming the tracks for the first railroads of the United States. In 1835 his wonderful machine for making horse shoes was put in operation. By changing some of the parts of the counter sunk spike machine he secured a machine for making hook-headed spikes to fasten "T" and "H" rails together, then beginning to supersede flat rails for railroad tracks. In 1839 he devised the celebrated "Burden's rotary concentric squeezer" for the compression of balls of puddled iron into blooms, which the United States commissioner of patents declared was the first truly original and most important invention affecting the manufacture of iron up to that time. This machine came into general use in Europe and America. In 1843 he constructed a machine that in two movements shaped into horse shoes bar iron delivered from the rolls without heating. In 1835 he became half owner of the company's stock, and in 1848 became sole owner and proprietor of the Troy Iron & Nail Factory Company. In 1851 he constructed the immense over-shot water wheel, figuratively called the "Niagara of water wheels," sixty feet in diameter and twenty-two feet wide, which furnished the power of twelve hundred horses to that part of his plant called the "upper works." This wheel is yet preserved at Troy, although not in use, and is one of the points of interest daily visited by tourists. In 1857 he so improved the horse shoe machine that it cut, bent and forged each piece into a perfectly shaped shoe in one movement. During the civil war the government took possession of the Burden Works, retaining Mr. Burden in the management. Although it taxed his every resource, he kept the horses of the United States army supplied with shoes, and it may be said that the Confederate cavalry made frequent raids on the Union army wagon trains, and secured vast quantities of the Burden horse shoes. The right to use these valuable machines has been purchased by the governments of England, France, Germany and Russia, who thus supply their cavalry horses with shoes. The firm of H. Burden & Sons was formed in 1864, after the death of Henry Burden, the two brothers, James Abercrombie and I. Townsend, conducting it under that name until June 30, 1881, when the Burden Iron Company was incorporated. These works are still in successful operation, and constitute one of Troy's most important industries. Henry Burden was greatly interested in steam navigation, and at one time contemplated the formation of a company to navigate the Atlantic with vessels of a tonnage and speed then unheard of, but "Burden's Atlantic Steam Fury," as named in the prospectus, did not materialize. He was interested in all worthy enterprises, gave freely to charity, and was one of Troy's most valued citizens. He died in Troy, January 19, 1871.

He married Helen McQuit, a most devoted Christian woman to whose memory he erected Woodside Memorial Presbyterian Church. Children:

  1. Peter A., born February 6, 1822, died in Troy, February 16, 1866; married, September 14, 1846, Abbie Shepard, of New Bedford; children:
    1. Mary, born November 12, 1847; died in infancy;
    2. Mary Shepard;
    3. Henry, born March 1, 1850; graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 1869, degree of M. E.; he at once entered the Burden Iron Works, where after a service of two years he became superintendent of both the plant by the river and the mill on the hill; he was an efficient manager and thoroughly understood his business; he retired in 1870; he was appointed fish and game commissioner by Governor David B. Hill; served three years, then resigned; he is a member of Woodside Presbyterian church, and worships in the beautiful stone church erected by his grandfather, Henry Burden, to which his sons added the handsome chapel manse and grounds; he is a member of Delta Phi, the Troy Club of Troy, and the University Club of New York City;
    4. Abbie, married George Thompson, of Hoosick, New York; children: Joseph, Chester Griswold and Lelia;
    5. Joseph Warren.
  2. Margaret E., born February 2, 1824; married Ebenezer Proudfit, a wholesale dry goods merchant; he was born in Salem county [sic - presumably this would be Salem, New York], New York; children: Margaret and Helen, died in infancy and Williams, who died, aged nineteen.
  3. Helen, born June 27, 1826, died December 17, 1891, in New York City; married General Irving McDowell, a famous major-general of the civil war, and commander of the Army of the Potomac; they had two sons and two daughters.
  4. Henry James, born February 22, 1828, died August 30, 1845.
  5. William F., born 1830, died December 6, 1867; married Julia, daughter of Richard P. Hart, of Troy.
  6. James Abercrombie, born January 6, 1833, died in New York, September 23, 1906; married Mary, daughter of Richard Irvin; she survives him, a resident of New York city; he succeeded his father as the head of the Burden Iron Works; was a thoroughly practical machinist and manufacturer, as well as a capable man of business.
  7. Isaiah Townsend, born April 21, 1838; married Evelyn Moalte, of Baltimore; was vice-president of Burden Iron Works; now retired; children:
    1. Townsend;
    2. William M., deceased, married a daughter of William H. Vanderbilt;
    3. Gwendolyn and
    4. Evelyn.
  8. Jessie, married Charles F. Wadsworth, son of General Charles Wadsworth, who was killed in the battle of the Wilderness, and nephew of Hon. James Wadsworth, congressman from New York City; she survives her husband, a resident of Genessee; their daughter Mary married Porter Chandler, deceased, who left a son Porter Chandler (2).

(III) James, son of Peter (2) and Janet (Abercrombie) Burden, was born at Penbrighan, Scotland, December, 1794, died at Stirling, Scotland, July 28, 1863. He was a brewer. He married Mary McLay, born at Clagburch, died at Stirling, Scotland, July 21, 1861. Children:

  1. Isabella, married Robert McNicol; children:
    1. William, lived and died in Scotland;
    2. Robert, born in Stirling, Scotland; now living at Elmhurst, Long Island, New York; married ————; children: Henriette, Eleanore and Margery Bruce, all residents of Long Island;
    3. Janet, deceased;
    4. Archibald, living in Canada;
    5. Isabella, married and lived in Scotland.
  2. Janet, married ———— Ladd; children: Mary McLay and James.
  3. John, see forward.

(IV) John, only son of James and Mary (McLay) Burden, was born in Stirling, Scotland, June 15, 1834, died May 22, 1910. He married, in Stirling, Scotland, April 30, 1843, Janet Duncanson; of their six children three died in infancy, and the survivors are:

  1. James, see forward.
  2. Mary McLay, now of Troy, New York.
  3. Morton, a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, class of 1895, degree of C. E.; he is now engineer with the American Bridge Company, located at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

(V) James (2), son of John and Janet (Duncanson) Burden, was born in Troy, New York, January 12, 1864. He graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, class of 1892, degree of C. E. He was in the engineering corps of the Chicago & Northwestern railroad for three years; then connected with the Boston Water Works until 1897. In 1907 he joined the state engineering forces on the barg canal, and is now (1910) resident engineer with headquarters at Albany. His particular specialty is hydraulic engineering. He is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Society of Civil Engineers of Eastern New York. He attends the Second Presbyterian Church of Troy.

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