Snows & Princes

The Neergaard Name Origin


This material and information was provided by Anne Cutler Prince.

Thomas Madsen (born 1652) – First Bearer of the Neergaard Family Name.

In the mid 17th century, the Danish king saw a chance to wrest back from the nobility the power to rule the land which, little by little over the centuries, they had whittled away from the throne.   His opportunity came when new trade routes opened from the Orient, elevating Copenhagen from a town with a fishing business into a portal into Europe from Russia.   This turned the city became into a thriving commercial center, quickly giving rise to a new power center – a wealthy merchant class.

These nouveau riches families hungered for social status.   The king invited them to court and offered them the titles and estates which they craved – boons which he had the authority but not the practical power to grant….. at least not until he had the money to raise an army of sufficient strength to take control of the country back from the nobles.   Would the merchants be interested in giving him the money to make good his offer to them?   Of course – Yes!

With the backing of these new allies, the king was able to work his will.   He declared the old aristocrats’ huge estates forfeit, graciously returning small portions to the original owners, but distributing the remainder among his new bourgeois supporters.

One of the aristocratic properties thus reapportioned was the General Estate of Mattrup on Jutland.   Mattrup was broken up into four parts, two of which were named after their topography:  the Over Gaard, or upper farm,  and the Neder Gaard, the lower farm, which stretched for several miles along the banks of the Mattrup River (“neder” means low, as in “nether”, and “gaard” means farm or estate).   Thomas Madsen, a peasant, but politically active in the area and influential for the cause of the king, was the recipient of this Neder Gaard.  According to the custom of the time, if a family had an estate, the estate’s title was taken as the personal name of the family members;  thus Thomas Madsen became Thomas of Neder Gaard, or finally, Neergaard.

Mattrup and the original Neder Gaard is in the Gredstrup (town), Sogh (township), Trysting Herred (county), State of Skandenborg, in Jutland, the portion of Denmark attached to the European mainland.

Madsen leased out Neder Gaard and moved to the island of Seeland, where he took up a lease on another large estate, Svenistrup, in Kimmerslø Ramsøe, county, state of Kjobvenhauns (Copenhagen).  He ran Svenistrup successfully, and eventually died there at the end of the 17th century (subsequently, one of his grandsons bought the estate, which remains in the family today).   Madsen left five children, among whom were the three sons who became the founders of the three branches of the Neergaard family.

The line of “de Neergaard” stems from Madsen’s grandson Peter, the fifth child of Madsen’s oldest son Johan.  Two of Peter’s sons were ennobled in 1780, one having been Denmark’s Minister of War, the other a jurist and member of the state cabinet.  They and their families are buried alongside Waldemar I, first king of Denmark, in the Neergaard chapel in St Bent’s Church (oldest large church in Denmark, from the 11th century) in Ringstedt, first capital of Denmark.   This branch of the Neergaard family is still prominent in Denmark today, holding a number of large estates and chateaux on Seeland, southwest of Copenhagen.

Madsen/Neergaard himself is presumed to be buried in Kinnerslø Churchyard.   There is a verse about him inscribed on an old stone there that translates as:

A peasant Thomas was and drove the plow
From Jutland to Sjieland made his way
Where he was tenant and at last a wealthy man
His son’s son’s three children are now noblemen.

Pharmacist John William (Johan Vilhelm) Neergaard, born 1810, who emigrated to America ~1840 and founded our branch of the family here, is descended from the line of Madsen’s oldest surviving sons:  first Johan;  then Johan’s oldest son, also Johan;  again the oldest son, another Johan;  then his oldest son Henrick, who was Johan Vilhelm’s father.

John William established a chain of pharmacies in New York City, in Manhattan.  He was one of the founders of Columbia University’s School of Pharmacy, and was the author of The State of New York’s Code of Pharmaceutical Ethics.  His chain of pharmacies no longer exists, but another Neergaard, Julius, from Peter’s line, emigrated to America 50 years later, and quite independently also established a chain of pharmacies in New York City, this one in Brooklyn.  Two of these Brooklyn pharmacies still bear the Neergaard name, though they are no longer owned by the family.


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