At the far northwestern corner of North Dakota, right up next to Canada and Montana sits a county with a curious name, Divide. It looked somewhat rectangular like many other counties on the sparsely-populated Great Plains where few natural features could take the place of arbitrary straight lines.
Canadian-US Boundary by Jimmy Emerson, DVM, on Flickr (cc)
I’d encountered Divide County vicariously one time before without even realizing it as I researched infrequent border crossings between the United States and Canada a couple of years ago. The Noonan border station in Divide County was so lonely and isolated that it had only a single pedestrian crossing during 2011 (the most current data available at the time), although it also had motor vehicle crossings of course. This photo was actually another nearby crossing in Divide — I couldn’t fine one of Noonan — although notice the obelisk marker placed by the International Boundary Commission. I don’t know where I’m going with that. I simply liked the image and it probably looked a lot like the one at Noonan so feel free to use your imagination.
The international border probably wasn’t the divide that inspired a county’s name however, in spite of modern theories like that described by Dakota Datebook in 2007:
Divide County Courthouse by jeremiah.andrick, on Flickr (cc)
The part about the contest was true enough. Both Divide County and the Town of Crosby (the seat of county government) confirmed the story. It happened in 1910. Homesteaders were just then migrating into the area. There were just enough people to warrant a new county, thus dividing Divide from larger Williams County. The contest commenced, Gilmore won $5 for his efforts, and the name stuck. The preponderance of sources I consulted mentioned two divisions as the basis for the name, the divide from Williams County, and the continental divide. The notion of state and international borders inspiring a name were apparently modern contrivances.
Divide County North Dakota
Created Using USGS’s National Map Viewer
The continental divide fascinated me more in this instance so I went into the National Map Viewer and selected the watershed layer. Notice the dark purple line that marked the continental divide. Many people see "continental divide" and think reflexively of the Great Divide that separated west from east, the Pacific drainage area from the Gulf of Mexico. This wasn’t that divide. Rather this was the Laurentian Divide or the Northern Divide that separated water bound for Hudson Bay from that heading down towards the Gulf of Mexico.
Divide County’s northeastern quadrant and its county seat at Crosby fell within the Souris River watershed, which flowed into the Assiniboine River River then to the Red River of the North into Lake Winnipeg, then to the Nelson River and finally into Hudson Bay. Divide’s southeastern quadrant flowed a long distance too albeit with a more familiar set of names, from local tributaries to the Missouri River to the Mississippi River, and then to the Gulf of Mexico.
What about that curious notation on the map? The Brush Lake Closed Basin? Indeed, the western part of Divide County flowed just a few miles farther west and barely crossed the border into Montana before stopping at Brush Lake where it remained. A good 20% of Divide wasn’t part of either side of the continental divide, it fell within an endorheic basin created at the tail-end of the last Ice Age as glaciers gouged the plains.
Brush Lake, Montana
Maybe we should track down Gilmore’s heirs and ask for the $5 back?
Two towns sharing the exact same name sat not too far from each other in the Carolinas. Colonial settlers arrived on various points along that swath of coastline at around the same time, increasing the odds of a relationship between identical names. That was the case albeit with a twist.
Beaufort to Beaufort
Beaufort, North Carolina came first, founded in 1709. The town of the same name in South Carolina arrived a couple of years later, 1711. Both Carolinas also have counties named Beaufort. The South Carolina town is the seat of government for Beaufort County. North Carolina was a bit more complicated. The town of Beaufort was the seat of government for Carteret County. Beaufort County was a completely separate place and representative of a peculiar naming trend in North Carolina.
They all commemorated the same man, Henry Somerset, 2nd Duke of Beaufort (1684-1714), a minor nobleman. He wasn’t responsible for any noteworthy feats so his only significant New World namesakes happened to be a couple of coastal towns and a couple of counties.
Henry Somerset, 2nd Duke of Beaufort
via Wikimedia Commons, in the Public Domain
Here was the twist: In spite of being named for the exact same person, the location in North Carolina was pronounced BOW-fert and the one in South Carolina was pronounced BYOU-fert. I think the Duke himself would have pronounced it something closer to the North Carolina interpretation although I’ll leave that to 12MC’s UK audience to confirm.
Charles II created the Duke of Beaufort as a Peerage of England in 1682. The name derived originally from a castle in Montmorency-Beaufort (map), France (apparently a beautiful fortress if one translates it from French to English literally), "the only current dukedom to take its name from a place outside the British Isles… Beaufort Castle was a possession of John of Gaunt, and the surname Beaufort was given to Gaunt’s four legitimized children by his mistress and third wife, Katherine Swynford."
The Badminton Connection
Badminton House by Graeme Churchard, on Flickr (cc)
The Dukes of Beaufort resided at the palatial Badminton House and Estate (map) in Gloucestershire. It may be known best today as the site of the Badminton Horse Trials held annually most years since 1949. The event has become immensely popular.
With a peculiar name like Badminton, the estate seemed to beg for a connection to the sport of the same name featuring small racquets, net and shuttlecock.
Badminton by gregouille, on Flickr (cc)
It did connect. At the very least, the sport took its name from the estate. Badminton House claimed the sport originated there in 1863. Other sources claimed the sport originated elsewhere before arriving at Badminton House:
The final mystery entailed the origin of the word Badminton. The Online Etymology Dictionary traced it to "Old English Badimyncgtun (972), ‘estate of (a man called) Baduhelm.’."
Beaufort, North and South Carolina, made the right call. It was much easier to deal with Beaufort than Badimyncgtun. Imagine the mispronunciations with the latter alternative.
I discovered distant relatives during my ongoing family research who lived in Angola, New York about a century ago. That seemed like an odd location for a town to carry such a name. I wondered if it could have been a coincidence, perhaps Angola was a corruption of a Native American word bestowed by the Iroquois who were known to inhabit the area. Certainly it couldn’t pertain to the Angola in Africa, I thought. What possible connection could it have to Africa?
That made me turn to the Geographic Names Information System where I discovered several other places named Angola. Some were located in the southern United States and I suspected those traced back to slavery associations. However that seemed far-fetched for a town on the western extremity of New York just outside of Buffalo (map).
Angola, New York by Doug Kerr, on Flickr (cc)
That seemed plausible. The Religious Society of Friends — Quakers — had indeed settled in western New York, including within the vicinity of Gowanda during the very earliest part of the 19th Century in Collins Township. The Quakers were staunch abolitionists by this time so it would seem likely that they selected Angola as a name in solidarity with Africans rather than as an endorsement of enslavement.
The mound in Angola, Indiana
Another noteworthy Angola existed in northeastern Indiana (map), practically on top of the Indiana-Michigan-Ohio tripoint. Information was scant however one source claimed, "In 1838 when the peoples from New York migrated west to the Vermont Settlement they created the town of Angola, named after Angola, New York." If that were the case it must have been named for the original Quaker settlement because the later village of Angola, New York wasn’t named until 1855.
The Local History Department of the Carnegie Library of Steuben County offered another theory, most simply,
Judge Thomas Gale, the man who selected the name, was a known abolitionist. Indiana had banned slavery in its Constitution when it became a state in 1816. Additionally, the town of Angola was firmly entrenched in Northern sentiments during the Civil War and constructed a large monument known locally as "The Mound" to commemorate its Union soldiers from Steuben County. It honored all four military branches that fought in the war (infantry, artillery, cavalry and navy). While the original inspiration for the Angola name may never be understood completely, it seemed highly unlikely to have derived from any pro-slavery sentiment.
Louisiana State Penitentiary – Angola
Angola in Louisiana presented the exact opposite condition. Isaac Franklin made his fortune selling slaves, establishing one of the largest slave trading firms in the nation, Armfield & Franklin. Money in hand, he pivoted from wealthy slave trader to wealthy plantation owner, controlling several hundred slaves and large plantations in Tennessee and Louisiana. His Louisiana holdings, which weren’t even his regular home, consisted of four contiguous plantations that he’d purchased: Panola, Belle View, Killarney and Angola. Franklin died in 1846 and his wife joined the properties and later sold them. The united property assumed the Angola name, inspired originally by the African people who had been subjugated and forced to toil there in the fields. The state of Louisiana acquired the Angola property in 1901 and built a prison on the site, becoming known as Louisiana State Penitentiary or simply Angola.
Twelve Mile Circle featured this Angola in A Prisoner to Geo-Oddities along with its prisoner rodeo and art show.
Museu da escravatura by syrin, on Flickr (cc)
I was under the impression that slaves taken from Angola all went to Brazil because they were both under the colonial domination of Portugal. Most did, however some went elsewhere.
It is thought that about a quarter of African-American ancestry came from Angola. Many of those leaving Angola passed through Morro da Cruz near Luanda (map), where they were baptized before they were packed onto ships for the notorious journey through the middle passage. The site has been preserved as the Museu Nacional da Escravatura, the National Museum of Slavery.
Of the three Angola locations large enough to have histories readily available, one was an artifact of slavery nostalgia, one was not, and one might have been named simply because it sounded interesting.