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Condits and Cousins

Volume 1 History and Biography

Chapter 1 The Condit Surname

It is quite important to understand and keep in mind that the surname of CONDIT has been spelled in various ways during the last three centuries in America, and that, in fact, the surname was originally spelled CUNDICT for the first of those centuries. Because that name has been spelled and misspelled so many different ways in various records over the years, we have allowed ourselves to become confused by such variety. The compilers of the 1885 edition of the Genealogical Record of the Condit Family unwittingly contributed to our confusion in two ways.

1. On the title page of the 1885 edition (and carried over to the title page of the 1916 revision), they declared that it was the record of the "Descendants of John Cunditt", only because CUNDITT was the spelling of the name written at the end of John's will, which he signed with his mark, so it was not his hand that spelled his name on that document.

John Conditt's Mark

2. On pages 6 and 7 of their introduction to the record, they explained why they used the CONDIT spelling throughout the book in these words: "To preserve uniformity in the work, we have adopted the generally accepted form of spelling the name, believing that it will meet with approval. A respectable number still adhere to the name 'Condict', probably with even better authority than those who spell theirs differently, as we find many early wills and deeds on filed signed 'Cundict'." Thus, the compilers pointed out that early family members used the CUNDICT spelling, but then they chose to ignore the evidence, except for that brief comment.

The Rosetta Stone that reveals the correct spelling of the original surname also was ignored for two centuries. It is to be found in the original manuscript of the diary that was kept by Jemima Cundict between April, 1772, when she was seventeen years old, and about December of 1778. Fortunately, that diary was handed down, and is now kept by the New Jersey Historical Society in their document collection in Newark, New Jersey, where the pages were transcribed, then set in type and printed in a limited edition in 1930, and later reprinted during our country's Bicentennial celebration by the Jemima Cundict Chapter, National Society, Daughters of the American Revolution.1

The introduction that was added to the published version of Jemima's diary includes the following sentence: "The obverse of the first leaf of the record is occupied with arithmetical tables, Addition of Broken Numbers and a table of wine measure."2 However, because the tables on that page did not seem to be a part of the diary, and the reverse side of the page contained a Scriptural quotation followed by nine lines of apparent gibberish, the transcribers ignored those nine lines, and the printer ignored both sides of the page, except for the last of three lines on its obverse, which seemed to read: "Jemima Condict her Book". That was used as the title of the printed version of the diary: "Jemima Condict Her Book".

Recent examination of the manuscript of the diary reveals that Jemima, in her careful and attractive school-girl script of that era, had written the same line three times, one above the other. On the second and third lines, it looks as if she may have spelled her last name "Cundict", but the transcribers read it as "Condict" both times, in the official transcript. Then the transcribers gave up on trying to read the first line, on which the letters were separated, rather than being connected in cursive script. With apologies to Jemima, for trying to convert her beautiful script into printed characters, we now provide this transcription of that first line:

J2M3M1 C59D3CT H2R B44K 19D P29

It is not surprising that a teenager would begin her diary with a message in code, intending to use that code in future passages to make it difficult for others to read her diary if they happened to pick it up. Eight lines of poetry (or actually probably of a hymn from Watts' Psalmody) on the reverse of that first page also were written in the same code, which proves easy to decipher. Jemima had substituted the number 1 through 9 for the letters a,e,i,o,u,y,t,s and n, respectively, so the decipherment of the above line shows that she had written, in her code:

Jemima Cundict Her Book and Pen

Thus, she provided absolute proof that she intended to write her last name as CUNDICT, and not as CONDICT, because she had used the number 5 instead of 4 in encoding her surname.

In her opening pages in 1772, she wrote twice about her cousin, Jotham Cundict, and in entries of March and April, 1773, mentioned three of her cousins by name, writing their surname as CUNDICT.3 For reasons known only to Jemima, she subsequently referred to her cousins only by their initials until the latter half of 1776, when she began to record the occurrence of a considerable number of deaths. Beginning on 4 September 1776 and extending through 18 July 1777, she recorded the deaths of three of her cousins, two uncles and both of her paternal grandparents, in all cases writing their names clearly as CONDICT, with the single exception of her cousin, Caleb CONDIT, although she had written his father's name as Samuel CONDICT only five months earlier.

From the evidence contained in Jemima's diary, as well as actual signatures of Condits before and after the time of the American Revolution, we can safely postulate that the majority of family members spelled their surname as CUNDICT before the 1770s, changing it to CONDICT and CONDIT during and after that decade.

The first two to use the name in America signed a document in 1701 as "John Cundict" and "Peter Cundict" according to a transcription of that document, of which we have not yet located the original. This was an agreement to purchase land from the Indians lying to the west of the bounds of Newark was drawn up on 3 September 1701 and signed by 101 colonists, including "John Cundict" and "Peter Cundict," as their names were transcribed from the written agreement and printed in a book in 1955. The agreement and names of its signers had been copied from pages 51 and 52 of "An Historical Survey of the First Presbyterian Church, Caldwell, New Jersey" compiled by it pastor Rev. Charles T. Berry, and published in Newark in 1871. If the original agreement and signatures still exist and can be located it would be very desirable to verify the signatures of John and Peter Cundict to see whether John signed his name, or made his mark as he did on his will in 1710. In 1710, John signed his will with his mark, but in 1714, Peter signed his own will, very clearly, with "Peter Cundict".

About 1730 or 1733, Peter and Philip Cundict, the second and fifth grandsons of John, the Ancestor, moved from Essex County into a part of Hunterdon County, New Jersey, that in 1740 became part of Morris County. In subsequent records in Morris County, the surname appeared first as Cundit or Cundict, but about 1776, just as in Essex County, the spelling changed. However, a strange dichotomy appears to have developed, which deserves further study: both branches may have adopted the Condict spelling, but most of the descendants of Philip moved within a few generations to other states, where they uniformly spelled their surname as Condit. In the meantime, most descendants of Peter had adopted the Condict spelling, and several became highly prominent in local, county, and colonial affairs, so their local relatives basked in reflected glory by retaining the Condict spelling. Today, no known descendants bearing the surname remain in Morris County, but the Condict name is so deeply imbedded in that county's history, that local historians would reject any other spelling as spurious or incorrect. Also, today all known members of the overall Condit family who perpetuate the Condict spelling, somewhat less than 5%, are descendants of Peter Cundict, second grandson of the Ancestor. Most bearing the surname Condict, when they left Morris or Essex County, New Jersey, had dropped the second "c" from their name within a couple of generations.

Another known change from the Condit surname occurred in the family of Timothy Condict, the first know Condit emigrant from Morris County, New Jersey to Kentucky, about 1789. The children of Uzal, Timothy's brother, began to spell their surname as Conditt and Uzal's youngest son, Jeduthan Lindley Conditt, carried that spelling of his family surname into Arkansas in 1855. Almost all members of the Condit family who have spelled their name as Conditt, are descendants of Jeduthan.

There is another Conditt family in America, descended from Fielding Conditt, who was born in Virginia in 1771, and who most likely is not related to John Cundict of Newark, New Jersey. They have spelled their surname consistently and Conditt. Because this fact initially created confusion with the descendants of Jeduthan Lindley Conditt, volume 9 of the Condits and their Cousins in America was published in 1978 about the descendants of Fielding Conditt, and for reasons of economy as well as to minimize confusion, parts of some volumes of Condits and Cousins will apply to that Conditt family as well as to the Condit/Cundict family.

Confusion about the early spelling of the surname is really very easy to explain. Most records in which the name occurred were written by clerks, ministers, lawyers and others who did not ask how the name should be spelled, but spelled it as they heard it pronounced, or as they thought it should be spelled, according to their prior experience with similar sounding names. When it was actually written by a member of the family, it would appear as CUNDICT, but when written by others, it appeared most often as CUNDIT or CUNDITT, or as CONDIT, and sometimes as CONDUIT.

The matter of pronunciation is crucial in understanding such variations in spelling. From the evidence, it must be assumed that the second "c" in CUNDICT was seldom, if ever, pronounced, and the "u" was pronounced more like a short "aw" sound, rather than as "uh", so that some interpreted it as a "u", but others as an "o". Also, in England then, as today, the word "conduit" and the name of the same spelling, were pronounced "condit" and not "con-doo-it" as often pronounced today in America.

A chronology of the way the name was written will illustrate the misspellings of the family name by those outside the family and by individuals themselves.

  1. On two deeds of land to John Cundict in 1689 and 1691, his name was spelled Condit.
  2. On a deed of land to William Brant from John in 1695, his name was spelled Condict.
  3. Letters of administration were granted in 1696 to "John Condit and wife Deborah."
  4. John's will, written on 15 March 1710, contained the surname written twelve times as Cundit, and three times as Cunditt. John wrote no part of the will and signed it with his mark, three horizontal lines bisected by one vertical line. When the will was presented for probate on 20 May 1713, the last name of John and Deborah was written as Cunditt three times. The undated inventory of the estate of "John Cundit" was signed by Matthew Williams and James Smith, but not written by the hand of either signatory. Matthew would not have misspelled John's name thus.
  5. On 7 February 1714, John's son, Peter, signed his own will, very clearly as "Peter Cundict," although his surname was written in the will as Cundit once and once as Cunduit. The will was not written by Peter's hand, nor by the same had that wrote John's. It was presented for probate on 19 May 1714, at which time Peter's name was spelled Cundict twice by the same clerk of the surrogate court who had written a similar addendum to John's will only twelve months earlier when he wrote it as Cunditt.
  6. In the minutes of the Newark town meeting on 28 April 1714, mention was made of "two Widow Cundits," for the first and last time.
  7. The family name next appeared in the town records in 1744, and therafter was spelled consistently as Cundit by the Town Clerk thorough March 1785, except for being spelled Cundet twice, in 1749 and 1752.
  8. John Burnet became the new Town Clerk in 1786 and usually spelled the name Condict for the next nine years after which it was recorded as Condit almost invariably for the next 38 years.

These and other variations in spelling of the surname have several practical significances. For generations, members of the family have looked for the name CONDIT, almost exclusively, when searching indexes, ships' passenger lists, and names in other counties, in an attempt to learn the origin of the name and of their ancestors, when it might have been more profitable to consider other possible spellings.

The surname has been spelled so variously in many records, such as deeds, church and census records that a search of such records and indexes may not be considered thorough unless many possible variant spellings have been looked for during the search. Those who have examined many census records can attest to the amazing versatility and imagination employed by some census takers in recording names!

Several commercial organizations are happy to provide anyone, for a fee, with a report on the derivation of his surname (as given by that individual) and such report often is accompanied by an artist's rendition of a coat of arms once used by someone bearing that name or a closely similar name. We have copies of four coats of arms that were supplied by such organizations, and each is entirely different from the others, although each was said to represent the name CONDIT, or such alleged variations as CONDUIT, CONDUITT, CONDICT, CUNDITT, CUNDY, CUNDEY, CONDIE, CUNDIFF, CONDITOR, CONDITORS, CONDITE, CONDITT, CONDITTE and CONDITS. Those variations included almost all possible combinations of letters except CUNDICT.

An interesting exercise is to look in not only one, but several available books that describe various surnames, their variations, and their (possible) origins. The comparison provides different viewpoints and combinations of possibilities. At least one says that CONDIT means "a merchant of pickled foods". The origin of that assumption can be traced back to to the Latin verb condio, which has many meanings including: to preserve, to pickle, to spice and to embalm. (An obsolete English word, condict, was derived from the Latin word condictus, meaning talked over, agreed upon. This is mentioned here with regret, and only for the sake of thoroughness and honesty, rather than because it seems pertinent.)

An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, by the Rev. Walter W. Skeat, 1963 edition, reports that the word conduit originally is derived from the Late Latin word conductus, meaning a defence, escort; also, a canal, conduit, though the Old French word conduit, "spelt conduict in Cotgrave." (Cotgrave's A French and English Dictionary was printed in 1660 in London, so it is contemporary with John Cundict.) Concerning the spelling and pronunciation of the same word, volume II of the modern 13-volume Oxford English Dictionary says: "the French form conduit first as "An artificial channel or pipe for the conveyance of water or other liquid: an aqueduct, a canal", and among other spellings includes condit, conduict, and cunditt.

Please note, from the above paragraph, that conduict was an accepted English word in John Cundict's time, and that "pronunciation descends from the Middle English form condit or cundit". Can anyone identify a single other word in the English language, past or present, that ends in "-ict" in which the "c" is not pronounced? (Except for the word indict, which ends in the the sound of "ite", not "it".)

Possibly an ancestor of John Cundict lived near a conduit or conduict, and derived his surname from that object, as did others who were named because they lived near a HILL, or by a LAKE. Inasmuch as the British pronunciation of conduit or conduict was (and still is) condit or cundit, it seems of little consequence whether the name were spelled Conduict or Cunduict. On the other hand, inasmuch as other families in England, Wales and Ireland spelled their names Conduit or Conduitt, (also in France, where a final "e" sometimes was added) one of John Condict's ancestors may have adopted the unique spelling in order to differentiate his from other family names, by changing the first vowel to "u", dropping the second "u" and retaining the unpronounced "c".

Of course that is sheer speculation, but it is based upon finding a single word in the English language that ended in "-ict", in which the "c" was not pronounced; and on the evidence that the surname of this family was spelled CUNDICT during the first century in America.

Because CUNDICT is such an uncommon spelling of a name in America, someday it may be found in records of the land of origin of John Cundict; or, related families even may be found living today in that land or elsewhere, still using the Cundict surname.


1Condict, Jemima (113), Jemima Condict, Her Book, being a transcript of the diary of an Essex County maid during the Revolutionary War, South Orange, New Jersey, Jemima Cundict Chapter, National Society, Daughters of the American Revolution, 1930.
2IBID, page 5.
3The last three names appear as CONDICT in the published version, and one of the opening pages in 1772 was printed on pages 69 and 70 and dated 1779, in error. Spellings on the presnt pages are as they appear in the actual manuscript, and thus may not agree with those in the published version.

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