All Things Swift (some not so swift!)
in the Borden Murder Case By Terence Duniho

Note: This essay contains links to ten genealogical charts that supplement this work. Simply click on the link and you will be taken to the corresponding portion of the chart page. To return to the essay, click on your back button in your web browser.

A Turning Point

A man who became Lizzie Borden’s next-door neighbor two and a half months after her acquittal might well have changed history if in November 1892 he had said “no” to Alice Russell, instead of “yes.” At that time Lizzie had been held for a little more than three months, biding her time in the Taunton jail, ten miles north of Fall River. The Grand Jury, which had been listening to witnesses and weighing evidence presented to it by the prosecution, was itself sitting in Taunton. But now it had temporarily adjourned. Upon reconvening a few days later, the influence of that “yes” spoken to Alice only days–or perhaps just hours–before would resultin their bringing an indictment against Lizzie Borden for the murders of her father and stepmother.

Victoria Lincoln related the essentials of this pivotal event quite well:

When she [Alice Russell] returned to Fall River after testifying in Taunton as she had before, she decided to go to her lawyer, Mr. Swift. . . . Up to now, she confessed to Mr. Swift, she had told the truth and nothing but the truth, but not the whole truth. Only she was very fond of Emma. What did Mr. Swift think she should do?

Mr. Swift advised her to get in touch with Mr. Knowlton immediately. When the jury reconvened, Alice told for the first time about the burning of the dress. She was wretched about it, I have been told, but at least she began to get some sleep again. The Grand Jury brought in their vote: twenty to one for a true bill. Lizzie would be tried in New Bedford six months later.

Mr. Swift

What if Mr. Swift had been of a different opinion and had dissuaded Alice from telling the Grand Jury about the burning of the dress? It seems quite possible that the twenty-two men on that jury might then have decided they did not have sufficient evidence to indict Miss Borden. Considering the decisive role of this man whom Victoria Lincoln calls only AMr. Swift,” it is somewhat surprising that his name is not mentioned even once in most accounts of the case.

A few more “swifts”

The word itself – “swift” – as a surname and otherwise – figures in the case at several points. For example, Aswift” is the English meaning of Quequechan, the name given by the Pocasset Indians to the river that flows through Fall River. [see the box labeled “A few more “swifts”]

Within the same year in which Lizzie was tried and acquitted, Edwin Porter wrote and published the first book about the entire affair, The Fall River Tragedy. He spoke of the murderer as having been swift: “He could not have proceeded more swiftly nor surely had he lived in the modest edifice for years.” Porter said the blows that Abby and then Andrew suffered were swift: “It was not the result of spite as first thought, but the blows were fast, swift blows of somebody who had a reason for doing it.”

David Kent, in Forty Whacks, was impressed by how swift the Fall River Herald was in getting news about the murders into print, only two hours after they were first known by anyone outside the immediate household.

Another Swift, mentioned in nearly every book about the case, was Augustus, one of the twelve jurors at Lizzie’s trial. Augustus could have hung the trial jury and forced a re-trial by saying “yes,” but his actual role wasn’t nearly so decisive as that Ayes” spoken to Alice Russell. Augustus Swift, “a Protestant and a deep believer in circumstantial evidence,” according to David Kent, was accepted onto the jury in part because the prosecution attorney Hosea Knowlton thought him a AGood man. With us.” But without the Swift who became Lizzie’s next-door neighbor, also a Protestant and apparently a believer in circumstantial evidence as well, Swift the jury member might never have been called to serve!

The Mr. Swift Alice consulted sometime between the 21st and 30th of November in 1892 (the Grand Jury having adjourned on the first of these dates and reconvened December 1st expressly to hear Miss Russell’s further testimony) was Marcus George Barker Swift. Named after his two grandfathers, Marcus Swift and George Barker, he was born in Raisin, Michigan (40 miles SW of Detroit) three years – lacking 11 days – before the birth of Emma, Lizzie’s older sister. (By the way, he and the juror, Augustus Swift, were 5th cousins once removed.)

Alice Russell

Andrew’s Uncle Ladowick (also a Borden) had been the first to live in the house Alice and her mother occupied for more than a decade (96 Second, immediately to the south of 92, the Bordens’ home). He was probably there from the time of his first marriage in 1833 until his death in 1874. His widow (and 4th wife), Ruhama (Crocker) Borden, continued there until her death in 1879. That same year Alice Russell (whose father had died in 1878) moved in with her mother. Eleven years later, her mother moved out (1890), and the next year Alice also moved – around the corner to Borden street, occupying a small house Police Officer Philip Harrington had just vacated. (Perhaps my reader is aware of how soon Harrington, who had gone to high school with Lizzie, was convinced of her guilt – and how he worked to persuade others). Shortly after Alice’s departure, Dr. Kelly and his family moved to 96 Second street and were neighbors of the Bordens the year of the murders, 1892.

Consider that Alice, three years younger than Emma and six older than Lizzie, resided next door to the Borden sisters for twelve years (her age during that time was 25 to 37). Over those years, Emma went from her 28th to 40th year, and Lizzie from her 19th to 31st. Because Lizzie’s closest companion from birth was her sister Emma, nine years her senior, it is probable she was more comfortable with women older than herself, the exception being those young enough to be like daughters to her. Alice, Emma and Lizzie were quite likely all three good friends of one another (this is, of course, what Alice testified). Len Rebello tells us that, according to Agnes DeMille, Alice was – like Lizzie – a redhead; this too might have reinforced their friendship. I stress these things because Alice’s behavior consistently showed her close ties to both Lizzie and Emma. She had received a visit from Lizzie for about two hours the evening before the murders. She then stayed with the Borden sisters for four nights after they had occurred. And she testified at the inquest and preliminary hearing, before the Grand Jury and at the trial.

Alice put off consulting anyone about the burning of the dress as long as she could, in part because she must have wanted very much to believe Lizzie and Emma about there being nothing to the incident, but also because she did not want to make life more difficult for them (or herself) by telling anyone about it. If Mr. Swift had not been persuasive, or if he had believed there was no need for her to disclose what she knew to those twenty-two men sitting in Taunton, her preference would have been to keep it to herself. Had she done that, there is a definite possibility Lizzie would never have been indicted.

The Grand Jury

Though we don’t know whether any of the men on the Grand Jury knew Lizzie, considering their names and where they lived such acquaintance is not unlikely. Elisha Buffinton resided in Fall River. Lizzie’s next door neighbor, Adelaide Churchill was a Buffinton by birth. Gideon Babbitt of Berkley (a village half-way between Fall River and Taunton) could have been related to the David Babbitt who had married Lizzie’s cousin Hannah Borden. John L. Baker of Seekonk (immediately west of Swansea) may have been a relation of the Baker who married her cousin Mary Howe. Another member of the jury was Joseph P. Chace of Somerset; Lizzie had many cousins of that surname. Likewise she had many cousins named Cook, and one of the jurors was Samuel H. Cook of New Bedford. Arnold D. Gardner was of Swansea, where Lizzie had many relatives and friends of that surname. Andrew J. Hathaway from Dighton could have been related to any number of Hathaways who were cousins of Lizzie and Emma. Then there was Alcott F. Lincoln of Raynham; a cousin of Lizzie’s had married Miner S. Lincoln of Boston (about 25 miles north of Raynham). Henry S. Lovell of New Bedford may have been related to Leander N. Lovell, Lizzie’s 3rd cousin. Leonard K. Macomber of Dartmouth may well have known Lizzie, as she had several cousins of that surname and some of her closest friends were Macombers as well. Joseph G. Morse of Fairhaven could have been her relation, considering that her own mother was a Morse. And, finally, William Randall of Easton might have been related to a Lydia Randall who married one of Lizzie’s cousins.

Thus, based on concrete knowledge, we have twelve of the twenty-two jurors with possible ties to Lizzie. Just as the twelve-man jury acquitted Lizzie on all counts little more than six months later, it seems not the least improbable that the Grand Jury might have done the same, had they not learned about the burning of that dress.

Other ways Mr. Swift touched Lizzie’s life

In August 1893, the month before Emma and Lizzie moved to their new home on French street, Marcus Swift acted as counsel for Mrs. Sarah Whitehead, the half-sister of their now deceased stepmother, Abby Borden, in the business of getting whatever Mrs. Whitehead could from the Borden sisters. One can’t help but wonder if Sarah (with Abby’s full-sister Priscilla) would have received the “45 Fourth Street property, personal belongings and bank deposits of $4,000” if Mr. Swift had not been on the scene.

Not only did Marcus G. B. Swift have a great impact on Lizzie’s life by persuading Alice to tell the Grand Jury about the dress burning; he became the next-door neighbor of Lizzie and Emma a mere two months after the trial ended. Though his wife, Mary Duncan Milne, was Lizzie’s 4th cousin once removed, it seems doubtful these two ladies, eighteen years apart in age, ever knew of their kinship. However, they may have become friends after a fashion. After all, Mary’s father, Alexander Milne, a Baptist minister, was born and grew up in Scotland – one of Lizzie’s favorite places on Earth. When the Borden sisters bought the house next to theirs, three (and possibly four) teenage boys were living there as well (all being sons of Marcus and Mary). James, John and Milne were nineteen, almost sixteen and fourteen. If Orson was still living, he would have been seventeen in 1927. But the Swifts’ kinship to Lizzie doesn’t stop there! Mary Duncan Milne’s youngest brother, James Thomas Milne, married Mattie Gardner, whose father was Samuel Borden Gardner! Like James and Orson, Mattie too was Lizzie’s 5th cousin.

Interestingly, Lizzie and Marcus G. B. Swift were related as well – half-6th cousins once removed! How might it have affected Marcus Swift during those moments when he was advising Alice Russell, if he had known Lizzie was related to both himself and his wife, and also to his wife’s sister-in-law? Would he have felt a duty to protect Lizzie at the expense of encouraging Alice to tell prosecuting attorney Knowlton what she had seen?

One example of how knowledge of kinship can affect attitudes and behavior occurred recently when I was in Newport, Rhode Island at a home on Washington street where Lizzie had visited years ago. Although my own kinship to Lizzie is even more tenuous than that of Mattie Gardner or the Swifts (with Lizzie and myself being 7th cousins 3 times removed), during a discussion with about ten others in the parlor of the Covell “Villa Marina” my mention that Lizzie and I were cousins “though quite distant” totally changed the dynamic of the conversation. Now everyone was “all ears” because perhaps they felt that in some sense Lizzie herself had entered the room!

Marcus G. B. Swift also served on a committee appointed to discuss accusations that Arba Nelson Lincoln had made against Judge Josiah C. Blaisdell. The Judge, of course, had presided at the inquest, this being the only forum where Lizzie Borden ever testified. Arba Lincoln, 5th cousin to Victoria Lincoln’s father, lived at 25 French street. In March 1893, he was forty-three years old, a lawyer and Special Justice of the 2nd District Court. Judge Blaisdell was seventy-two. Lincoln resigned from his position with this court because “he failed to receive fair play” from the Judge and “he could not remain in his position as associate justice without violating his self-respect.” Besides Marcus G. B. Swift, members of the committee also included Andrew Jackson Jennings, attorney for the Borden sisters, among others. On April 10, 1893, Blaisdell sent his letter of resignation to Governor William E. Russell (probably no kin to Alice – she was, however, only three years older than the governor). The committee met two days later. Blaisdell’s resignation was effective nine days after that.

In February 1902, Marcus G. B. Swift died. It may be that his widow needed to sell off some property to meet expenses, but in any case later that year Lizzie bought “11.67 square rods on the east side of Belmont Street” from Mary D. Swift. It was to be “kept and continued open and free from any building or buildings.” At that time Lizzie almost certainly did not yet own a car. She probably had not thought about the exact use she might make of this lot, perhaps only acquiring it because it adjoined her property and was available for purchase. Gertrude Stevenson, in an article she wrote for the Boston Post in 1913, had this to say: “A few years ago she discarded her carriage and handsome pair [of horses] for the finest limousine that money could buy.” Thus it was perhaps about 1910 that she decided to build a driveway and/or garage on the lot behind the Swift property. Ms. Stevenson provides us with details about this matter not found elsewhere:

It was a strange circumstance that led this woman to choose a home adjoining that of the man who later became the chief prosecuting officer for the commonwealth, Atty James M. Swift. [He was attorney general of Massachusetts from 1902 until 1914.] The Swifts owned a lot of land at the rear of their own residence [meaning a normal size lot behind their house, not a whole bunch of land], joining the Borden property at right angles and facing Belmont street, which Miss Borden bought some years later.

The deed of this purchase discloses a clause restricting Miss Borden from ever erecting a structure of any description upon it. With the acquisition of a new automobile, however, Miss Borden made preparations to build a garage on the land she had purchased from the family of the attorney-general in spite of the clause forbidding any such construction. Much to her annoyance the Swifts held her to the letter of her deed; at least, that is the inference generally drawn, as she finally built her garage on the other side of her house on a lot which she had purchased some time before. Originally there was a house on this lot, but Miss Borden had had it removed and the land converted into very attractive grounds.

The original plan for the garage called for an entrance facing Belmont street and a driveway across the land which the Swifts had formerly owned. The restriction in the deed, however, prevented the construction of even as much as a concrete path. Therefore, Miss Borden was obliged to keep that portion of her property devoted to grass lot and have the entrance to her garage from French street and across the lot which she preferred to keep as a smooth lawn.

Her vexation at being held to the conditions of the deed was immediately expressed in a 10-foot lattice fence separating her house from the Swift home. She also had built a low iron fence separating the two lawns and defining her property line. She declared that the high fence had been built between the houses to save herself from the annoyance of the curious scrutiny of tradespeople delivering goods at the adjoining houses.

When she died, the lot was sold by her long-term business agent, Charles C. Cook, to James’ younger brother, John T. Swift, at that time treasurer of the Citizens Savings Bank and president of the Swansea Dye Works.

Marcus G. B. Swift’s Ancestry

Because this family of Swifts had such an impact on Lizzie’s life, and were her neighbors the entire time she lived on French street (34 years), I have found it fascinating to learn a few things about them and their ancestry. One might expect they had simply resided in New England a hundred years or more, with a Swift ancestor having come over from England in the 17th or 18th century (like the famous Jonathan Swift’s ancestors, those of Marcus had been in Yorkshire in 1500). Marcus’ ancestors traveled from Sandwich, on Cape Cod, to Kent, Connecticut (1 1/2 miles from New York State), to Wyoming Valley (around Wilkes-Barre), Pennsylvania (150 miles W of Kent), then Palmyra, New York (150 miles NW of Wyoming Valley), and from there to Michigan, near Detroit (nearly 300 miles W of Palmyra).

For some unknown reason, it was Marcus G. B. who moved back east, to the state the emigrant Swift ancestor had chosen as a young man, about 1640, when he came to America from Bocking, county Essex, England. (Bocking is now a suburb of Braintree, ten miles north of Terling – the village where Thomas Cornell [grandfather of Innocent Cornell], ancestor of both Lizzie and the founder of Cornell University, was born in 1594.)

Orson Ross Swift, his father

Marcus G. B. Swift’s father, Orson Ross Swift, was licensed to preach by the Wesleyan Methodists at the age of 21 and then preached for five years. At that point he decided to study medicine, becoming a medical doctor and practicing medicine until his death at the early age of thirty-four. But I suspect Orson never saw Fall River, Massachusetts. He had been born in Palmyra, New York in 1821. With his first wife, Mary Elizabeth Barker, Orson had two children: Marcus and Camilla (who married a fellow named Dubnar [likely Dunbar misspelled] of Northville, now a suburb of Detroit). Their mother died in December 1854. Marcus was three months from his sixth birthday; his sister was no older than 4 1/2 and may even have been a newborn. Their father was only thirty-three at the time of his wife’s death, and he would be dead sixteen months later. However, needing a woman to take care of his two children, one or two months after his first wife’s death he married a second time. Her name was Jane Elizabeth Brink, and, like her stepdaughter’s future husband, was from Northville. Whether she had a hand in raising Marcus and Camilla, I don’t know. But in the 1890s she was living in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada.

Though Marcus’ father was born in Palmyra, New York, Orson’s father (also named Marcus) had moved on to Michigan by the time Orson was four (c1825). Work took precedence over school, but Orson was still able to receive an education. In 1842, at the age of twenty, he was attending school at Ypsilanti (13 miles SW of Northville, quite near Detroit), when he was called home because of his mother’s death. She was in her forty-ninth year. (Born Anna Osband in Palmyra – also the birthplace of both Marcus’ father and grandfather – her father, Weaver Osband, had been born in Tiverton, Rhode Island, a few miles at the most south of Fall River. Before moving west he had served in the Revolutionary War.)

Orson returned to Ypsilanti Academy for part of the winter of 1843-4 and also occupied himself preaching at various Wesleyan Methodist churches which made up a Acircuit” in the vicinity.

At The Wayne, Michigan Local History Network I found the following:

He became popular from the first. His manner was attractive; he was fluent and enthusiastic. He threw his whole soul into his work. His emotional nature impelled him to efforts beyond his endurance. His physical strength began to fail him, and he determined to turn his attention to the profession of medicine. In 1847 he commenced to study and practice medicine with Dr. Bailey at the Valley, near Adrian [4 miles SW of Raisin]. This profession he followed quite successfully the remainder of his life. He also maintained his official position in the church and preached occasionally, but never on a charge.

He practiced medicine in Nankin [then a township, now Westland, MI, a suburb of Detroit, between Ypsilanti and Northville] from 1848 to 1852, when he removed to Northville [7 miles NW of Nankin], and from thence to Detroit in December 1854 [the month his mother died]. He became a member of the firm of Moore, Swift & Co., druggists, for a few months and then he removed to Bryan, Ohio [35 miles SW of Adrian].

His health soon broke down entirely, and he was removed to his father’s house in Nankin, where he died April 3, 1856, aged 34 and one half years, of consumption, undoubtedly induced by his extreme efforts in public speaking.

Orson was a man of positive convictions, and never lacked the courage to express them. As a student he labored hard, but was more enthusiastic than profound. As a speaker he was impassioned to a marked degree; his thoughts flowed rapidly, and he spoke with much force; and as earnestness is always magnetic, he wielded a large influence in whatever cause he engaged.

As a business man, he was unfortunate, and he died under a cloud of financial embarrassment. He left a wife, and two children by his first wife.

Like so many sons, Marcus G. B. Swift appears to have unconsciously tried to balance his father’s “excesses” (his religious passion, financial mismanagement and expending himself attending to the medical needs of his neighbors). By contrast, Marcus became a lawyer, did quite well financially and appears to have had no more than “average” religious inclinations). However, it is quite probable that the legacy of his father and grandfather as preachers contributed to his decision-making process at the time he advised Alice Russell.

Marcus G. B. Swift himself

Marcus G. B. Swift had four uncles and at least one aunt. When his father died, his stepmother of little more than one year seems to have taken a back seat in the raising of her two step-children, if indeed she continued in the same household with them, as Marcus and Camilla went to live with the youngest of their uncles, John Marcus Swift, who with his wife Emily and 16-month-old daughter Mary was living in Northville. Emily was not only their aunt by marriage; she was also the younger sister of their deceased mother. John had begun studying and practicing medicine with his older brother in 1853, about three years before Orson died. At Orson’s death, John Swift was twenty-four, his wife almost twenty-five. Marcus quite likely lived with them until he enlisted as a private in the Civil War at the age of sixteen (1864, Detroit), telling the U.S. Army that he was eighteen! One year and eight months later (26 May 1866), having actually been eighteen for only two months, he was mustered out . . . in Houston, Texas! Next he attended Adrian College (in Adrian, Michigan) and graduated from the University of Michigan Law School in 1872. Christmas Day of that same year he and Mary Duncan Milne (both 24 years old) married in Fall River.

How did they come to know each other? Well, Mary’s maternal grandfather, Thomas Osborn, was a younger brother of Weaver Osband, whose daughter was Marcus’ grandmother, making Marcus and Mary second cousins once removed! When her parents married in 1837, it was in Tiverton, Rhode Island. But Mary was born in New York State (Schodack, not far south of Albany); then, four years later the Milne family was in Sand Lake, NY, but that too is just east of Albany. Not long after she and Marcus married they were in Ithaca, Michigan (about 80 miles NW of Detroit), as this is where their first son, James Marcus, was born, ten months after they tied the knot. Two and a half years after James’ birth they were back in Fall River, where their second son, Orson Alexander was born in April 1876 (and, like his father, also named for his grandfathers); probably Orson died at a young age, since I’ve found nothing else about him. Their son John Tuttle Swift was born in November 1877. Then, in May 1879, their last child, Milne Barker Swift, was born (unlike James and John, who both became lawyers, Milne became a physician, then a surgeon, and moved to Orlando, Florida!).

His youngest uncle . . . and foster-father

Marcus’ uncle and foster-father, John Marcus Swift, was eleven years younger than Orson, making him only sixteen years Marcus’ senior. Since John Marcus Swift didn’t have a son, it seems likely he and little Marcus developed a mutually satisfactory relationship. Dr. Swift had only received his medical diploma from the Eclectic Medical Institute at Cincinnati, Ohio (200 miles south of Detroit) two years before he took on the responsibility of raising his brother’s children. “[P]revious to his graduation, he located in the village of Northville. He brought his wife and all his effects in a one horse wagon, owning neither horse nor wagon.” He would practice medicine for eleven years before receiving his M.D. degree in 1864 (from Rush Medical College in Chicago), when he was thirty-two. However he did not have to attend classes at Rush. Rather, the degree was conferred upon the recommendations of an M.D., a professor and “other medical men of note, in consideration of his valuable contributions to current medical literature, and original treatment of diseases, particularly diptheria.”

Besides being a successful medical doctor, Dr. John Swift was also “uniformly successful” with his business investments. As one biography has it, “He might have been rich but for the fact that his munificent charities, public and private, have absorbed a full moiety [i.e., a full half] of his accumulations.” He also enjoyed singing, “being himself a fine singer, and mingling much in society.” Considerably more could be said of our Fall River lawyer’s uncle and foster-father. For example, John Swift earned the label of “the little nigger preacher” while still a boy, because he stood up for freeing the slaves. But now we will move on to the illustrious grandfather of Marcus G. B. Swift, father to Orson and John.

Grandfather Marcus Swift

Marcus G. B. knew his grandfather, because the old man did not die until his grandson was nearly seventeen years old. Born in Palmyra, New York in 1793, his own father (another John Swift) had been a brigadier-general during the War of 1812. Hailing from Connecticut, General John Swift was killed during the attempted re-capture of Fort George at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada in 1814. When Marcus was twenty he became a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church and was soon licensed to preach. A few years later, with a wife and four children to support, he experienced “a sudden reverse of fortune” which “caused him to seek a new home in the wilds of Michigan.” He located a tract of land in the present township of Nankin, Wayne County, reaching Detroit on October 9, 1825.

Here follows a very interesting tale, better written than any summary or paraphrase I might have created:

At this time, but two teams of horses were employed in moving emigrants to the interior, and neither team was just then available. A row-boat conveyed the emigrants, by way of the Detroit and Rouge rivers, to a point near the present village of Dearborn [just east of Westland], and the remainder of the journey was made by the aid of three Indian ponies. Mr. Swift, with his wife and four children, and the family of Luther Reeve, who accompanied him, found quarters at the house of Benjamin Williams, some three miles from their location. His cabin, consisting of but one room, accommodated all the party until the following spring. Without money, team, or human aid, except his two boys [Osband & George], aged respectively eight and twelve years, Mr. Swift got out the timber and all the accessories for building a log house. The house was completed and occupied the following March, having been erected with no other help than that of the few settlers, who lent willing hands to roll up the logs for the body of the house. Before the building possessed door or window, it was dedicated to Almighty God by prayer and singing. Mr. Swift’s was emphatically a life of faith; and, as he undertook no enterprise upon which he could not ask the divine blessing, he trusted implicitly to God. His moral standard was high, and he would brook no deviation from it. This is illustrated by his refusing to shoot a fine buck which strayed into his enclosure on Sunday, during a time of great scarcity of food. The fact that the next day the buck returned, bringing with him two of his fellows, and that Mr. Swift shot the three, may be regarded as a reward for his faith, or a happy accident, according as one’s belief inclines him. Mr. Swift believes the animals were mercifully sent. The same attribute of trust led him, during a time of threatening want, in the summer of 1826, to ask credit of an acquaintance and trader in Detroit, for supplies to the amount of twelve dollars, upon a full statement of his circumstances. Pay day came, but no money; trembling and disconsolate, Mr. Swift resolved to see his creditor and tell him his extremity, when he unexpectedly received a letter from his native place with an inclosure of thirteen dollars.

By 1833 he was riding the Oakland circuit, preaching before Methodist congregations separated from each other by as much as 125 miles. He would cover this circuit every four weeks, preaching 31 times each month. For two years’ services he received $125 Aand almost every known article except money.” Though he only continued in this demanding capacity for a few years, he preached for the rest of his life whenever called upon, being especially renowned for his funeral sermons. In 1841 he was among the founders of the Wesleyan Methodist Connection which split off from the Methodist Episcopal Church over slavery (the Wesleyans, with 170 preachers and 8,000 members, were against it). In fact, AHe was substantially the father of Wesleyan Methodism.”

Our Fall River lawyer was unfortunately not at his grandfather’s side (or even nearby) when this grand old man died. Five months earlier young Marcus had enlisted as a Michigan Volunteer with Company E, 4th Infantry Regiment Reorganized to fight in the War Between the States. Here’s the way an online biography describes grandfather Marcus Swift’s last days: “In 1865, while preaching in the Baptist Church at Northville, then his residence, he was taken with a chill; and, being removed to the home of his youngest son, Dr. J. M. Swift, expired, February 19, after an illness of six days.” Before expiring, however, he had quite a lot to say which was recorded for posterity. Perhaps my readers will be thankful for not finding most of it recorded here. He did say one thing that I think should be shared. He was referring to the abolition of slavery and the North winning the Civil War: “I have lived in a glorious age, and my eyes have seen the powers of darkness give way before the reign of liberty and equality.” As we know, the powers of darkness only seem to give way. They continually return in many guises, including that of the mystery murderer of Abby and Andrew Borden.

John Swift, “The General”

Born in 1761 in Kent, Connecticut, John Swift served as a private in Capt. Lathrop Allen’s company, Colonel Elmore’s regiment, Connecticut troops during the Revolutionary War. Only fifteen years old in 1776, he was twenty when Cornwallis surrendered in 1781.

Back in 1662 King Charles II had granted a strip of land about 120 miles wide in northern Pennsylvania to Connecticut. Then, in 1681 the King granted essentially the same land to William Penn and his followers. But neither group saw fit to emigrate to that area until the 1700s. Before the Revolutionary War, people from Connecticut had tried to settle the area only to discover that Penn’s followers, called Pennamites, had gotten there first. One author describes them as “peace-talking but rifle-bearing Quakers.” Since those from Connecticut were AYankees,” the first series of armed battles between these two parties is called the First Yankee-Pennamite War (1769-75). After the Revolutionary War ended, many more settlers from Connecticut decided to migrate, or return, to that same area; John Swift went with them. Of course this resulted in the Second Yankee-Pennamite War (1783-86). (The two wars together are called the Pennamite Wars.)

Finally, Congress settled the question about who had the right to the Wyoming Valley land in favor of the Pennamites, forcing the folks from Connecticut to move on (later those from Connecticut were given the right to remain, but by then John Swift and others had moved on). In the winter of 1788-89, acting as advance agents for their fellow dissatisfied pioneers, John Swift joined with Colonel John Jenkins to go northwest of Wyoming Valley about 150 miles to purchase ATract 12, Range 2, now Palmyra,” not far east of Rochester, New York; in March they began to survey it for farm lots. This fledgling community was first called Swift’s Landing, next Tolland, and then Palmyra. Trouble between the Indians and Jenkins and his associates ended their interest in Palmyra, so John Swift bought Jenkins out. He then went back to New England to encourage migration to his tract in Palmyra. During the summer of 1789 Swift returned, building a log house with a store house at the junction of what is today Main and Canal Streets in Palmyra.

Before the close of the same year Webb Harwood, the second permanent settler, brought in his family from Adams, Massachusetts [NW corner of the state]. Gideon and Edward Durfee of Tiverton, Rhode Island, came on foot from Albany. Fast on them followed – mostly in bateaux – twelve others of the Durfee family. The advent of Gideon Durfee was most opportune. He payed in coin for his 1,600 acres, thus enabling Swift to meet his indebtedness to the Phelps and Gorham company, and to secure a warranty deed of the town.

Palmyra held her first town meeting and elected her first officers at the house of Gideon Durfee, in April 1796. That same year Louis Philippe of France stopped on his return from Niagara at the log tavern that had been opened by Gideon Durfee.

It was Gideon Durfee’s daughter, Hannah, who married Weaver Osband. Hannah and Weaver were the parents of Anna, who married Marcus Swift, son of John Swift and grandfather of Marcus G. B.. So Gideon Durfee was one of Marcus G. B.’s eight great-great-grandfathers, while Weaver Osband was a great-grandfather.

Beside the Durfees, Rhode Island sent Isaac Springer, William, James and Thomas Rogers, Festus and Isaac Goldsmith, Humphrey Sherman, Zebulon Williams, Weaver Osborne [Osband], David Wilcox, and Nathan Harris, father of Martin Harris.

Many a thrilling tale of conflict with the Indians or abounding wild animals is told. The former were so feared that a block house was begun on the brow of Wintergreen hill. It was not finished, for the victories of Mad Anthony Wayne set the pioneers at rest.

Having served as a general during the Revolutionary War, Wayne was commander in chief of the American armies from 1792 to 1796. During that period he defeated the Indians so decisively that a treaty was signed in 1795 with the chiefs of eight tribes of Indians.

The early paths through the forests were soon made into roads, the first being the Canandaigua in 1793. John Swift, with others, cleared Ganargua creek to its junction with the Canandaigua outlet, and in 1799 it was declared navigable water. This stream (flowing more swiftly because of John Swift’s efforts!) was the principal route until the opening of the Erie canal in 1821

The New England settlers of Palmyra could not be long without their school house. In 1793 two were built of logs – one on a site given by John Swift. Palmyra pioneers had their first church building in 1807. The first meeting house in the village – erected in 1811 on land given by General Swift for a Union church – was built almost entirely by the Presbyterians. This same building was used as a town hall. It was of wood, painted white with green blinds, and burned in 1838. Around it, in true New England way, was the church yard – now the old cemetery. Here lie John Swift and Zebulon Williams with many another early comer. This was not the first burying ground in the town, for that was on the farm of Gideon Durfee, east of the village. Here Gideon Durfee is buried [however, both John Swift and Durfee died the same year, 1814].

Palmyra glories in her war record. Her founders were many of them Revolutionary veterans, while there are recorded the names of forty-three who fought in 1812. In this second war with England, General John Swift, a tried Revolutionary soldier, was on the Niagara frontier. At Queenston Heights he led a charge against Fort George [first taken by the Americans on 27 May 1813, it had been retaken by the British in December 1813 and then defended successfully against another American invasion in 1814]. Swift’s men captured a picket post with some sixty men whom he did not disarm. One of the prisoners asked: Who is General Swift? I am General Swift, he answered. The miscreant fired and mortally wounded the gallant commander. General Swift was buried where he died, July 12, 1814, but was removed by his fellow citizens to Palmyra. The legislature presented his son [Marcus] with a sword as an acknowledgment of the father’s patriotic services; and hung a portrait of the General in New York City Hall.

Swifts Rarely Noted

What about Gustavus Franklin Swift (1839-1903), business partner of David Mason Anthony, Sr. – who was father to David M. Anthony, Jr., the man whom 84-year-old Ruby Cameron of Cherryfield, Maine claimed (in 1984) committed the murders of both Andrew and Abby? G. F. Swift was the founder of Swift & Company, the well-known meat packing company. Born in West Sandwich (now Sagamore) on Cape Cod (where the mutual Swift ancestor of Marcus & Gustavus had died in 1705), he moved to Chicago in 1875 as cattle buyer for the Boston meat market firm of which he was a partner. Tiring of sending live cattle back east to be slaughtered, he commissioned the development of the refrigerated railway car. Two years later his company made the first shipment of dressed beef to the eastern market. In another eight years (1885), with David M. Anthony Sr. and Charles W. Anthony (David’s brother) as partners, he started Anthony, Swift & Co.. By the way, Gustavus and Marcus G. B. were 5th cousins once removed.

Charles W. Anthony was the owner of the sloop yacht Mabel F. Swift (another Swift!), which was at Marion, Massachusetts on 27 July 1892 (eight days before the murders), stopping at Blake’s Point, with Lizzie among 13 ladies who were cruising with a party of friends (now there’s an omen!). Perhaps this connection between Lizzie and the uncle of the young man Ruby Cameron said committed the murders is an essential clue to the ultimate solution! (By the way, though Charles Wesley Anthony was a prime-of-life 53 through most of that year, he would live less than seven more.)

The “Murder?” of Alice’s Father

Alice Russell’s father died a mysterious death. In fact, one might not be amiss to think he might have beenmurdered. But being an “old whaler,” and – like his father and grandfather before him – born and bred on Nantucket Island, nobody paid much attention to how he died. Here is the most complete account (from Fall River Daily Evening News, May 31, 1878) I found:

Sudden Death — Frederick Russell, about 60 years of age, of this city [Fall River], was found dead in his bed at the Sailor’s Home [Sailor’s Snug Harbor], on Staten Island, this morning. Deceased was an old whaler, and, for a number of years, in the employ of Clark Manchester in this city. Mr. William Manley [Alice Russell’s uncle, William Moore Manley II] leaves town to-night to bring the remains to this city, for interment.
Another obituary said he was “aged 59 years and 7 months.” As best I can determine, he was actually aged 58 years and 6 months. But how did he die? What killed him?

Alice Russell’s mother had another brother, Seabury T. Manley, who married the youngest of eleven children (when she was 19 and he 25) from a Little Compton, Rhode Island family, surname Manchester. Seabury’s wife was Cordelia (or, as she preferred, Delia). Both she and her husband became Christian Science Practitioners, studying metaphysics directly with Mary Baker Eddy. She testified at the preliminary hearing and trial, mainly about seeing “a strange man” by the north front gate of the Bordens’ home the day of the murders. Perhaps it was David Mason Anthony, Jr.!

Alice’s Day in Court

Some have hypothesized that Alice perhaps regretted having visited Knowlton but had been led to him by her sense of moral certitude to carry out her duty. Others believe Alice was worried about committing perjury and that this was her primary reason for consulting Mr. Swift. But as I read her testimony at both the inquest and the preliminary hearing, I find nothing asked of her or said by her that would, under the law, have placed her in jeopardy of perjuring herself if she did not come forward with her knowledge about the burning of the dress. This reinforces my belief that her primary, and perhaps only, reason for speaking with the attorney had to do with her conscience and her desire to do both what was right and what was legal. Why did she choose him? Did they attend the same church? Had he been her attorney on some previous occasion? Did she know someone who recommended him to her?

The dress burning incident will probably never be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. Some still insist that since they “know” Lizzie was the murderer she must have been up to no good that day and therefore was certainly burning the blood-stained dress she had worn while committing the murders. Others, equally persuaded of Lizzie’s innocence, are quick to side with the statements under oath of Lizzie, her sister Emma, and Mary A. Raymond, the seamstress who made the dress in May 1892, to the effect that it was a totally innocent act, being only an off-the-cuff opportunity to get rid of a dress that had been spoiled by paint shortly after it was made. Still others, like Alice Russell (and myself), see something curious about the incident but don’t feel at all confident it provides anything like proof of Lizzie’s guilt.

Here are a few questions to which I would love answers: If Lizzie knew Charles W. Anthony, did she also have an acquaintance with his brother David, and therefore perhaps with David’s son, the man whom Ruby Cameron says was the true murderer . . . and Lizzie’s lover? Why did Alice Russell choose Marcus G. B. Swift for legal counsel? Who was Mabel F. Swift, after whom Charles W. Anthony named his sloop yacht? Were the Swifts of 9 French street on a calling basis with the Bordens of 7 French? Why is truth so often stranger than fiction? Could there be some priceless kernels of fact in the mishmash Ruby Cameron told reporters? Did Alice Russell and Officer Harrington know each other? Was Lizzie interested in metaphysics, as learned and practiced by Alice’s aunt Delia? Does someone who is conscious of having committed murder less than three days earlier burn a blood-stained dress worn during the murders when she knows others can see what she’s doing?

Perhaps all of us who enjoy studying this most enigmatic of murder mysteries should be thankful to Marcus G. B. Swift for advising Alice to tell Mr. Knowlton what she had seen. Otherwise, we would each be occupying our time with some other, perhaps less fascinating, hobby!

Click here to link to all genealogical charts


American Local History Network / Michigan / City of Inkster, Wayne County, Michigan
American Local History Network / Michigan / City of Westland, Wayne County, Michigan
Ancestral File / FamilySearch / Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
Biography of John Marcus Swift, M.D.
Boston Post, April 13, 1913.
Early Settlers & the Yankee-Pennamite Wars
Fall River Daily Evening News, May 31, 1878.
Fall River Weekly News, March 22, 1893.
Fenner, Henry Milne. History of Fall River (NY: F.T. Smiley Publishing Co., 1906)
George W. Swift / Orson Ross Swift / John Marcus Swift, M.D. – Transcribed by Patricia M. Dettloff
Gustavus Franklin Swift – Britannica article
History of Salem / Washtenaw County, Michigan, 1881, Page 3
Hoffman, Paul Dennis. Yesterday in Old Fall River: A Lizzie Borden Companion (Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2000)
Insulting a King: The Naming of Wilkes-Barre
International Genealogical Index (IGI) / FamilySearch / Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
Kent, David. Forty Whacks: New Evidence in the Life and Legend of Lizzie Borden (Emmaus, PA: Yankee Books, 1992)
Lincoln, Victoria. A Private Disgrace: Lizzie Borden by Daylight (NY: G.P. Putnam Sons, 1967)
New Bedford Daily Evening Standard, June 1, 1878, June 8, 1893.
New Bedford Evening Journal, June 13, 1893.
New Bedford Mercury, June 8, 1893.
Palmyra New York / Compiled by the Woman’s Society of the Western Presbyterian Church / 1907
Phillips, Arthur Sherman. The Phillips History of Fall River, 3 vols. (Fall River, MA: Dover Press,1944-46)
Pictorial Field-Book of the War of 1812. / by Benson J. Lossing / 1869. / Chapter XXXV. / Civil Affairs in 1813 – Events on the Northern Frontier in 1814.
Porter, Edwin H. The Fall River Tragedy: A History of the Borden Murders (Fall River, MA: George R.H. Buffinton Publisher, J.D. Munroe Press, 1893)
Rebello, Leonard. Lizzie Borden Past & Present (Fall River, MA: Al-Zach Press, 1999)
Wayne, Michigan Local History Network
Westland Township Pioneer History
Wyoming Historical & Geological Society (http://www.whgs.org)–Link bad (02-24-02)

All Things Swift © 2001 Terence Duniho