Select Maxwell Surname Genealogy

Maxwell is a Scottish surname originating from a place-name in Roxburghshire on the Scottish Borders.  The original Maccuswell came from Max or Maccus, a former owner of Maxwell lands south of the river Tweed, plus well meaning “well.”  The place-name Maccuswell was first recorded in 1144, the surname shortly afterwards.

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Scotland.  It is thought that a Norman called Herbert came into possession of the Maccuswell lands in Roxburghshire in the late 12th century.  Sir John de Maccusweil followed Herbert and was, from 1200, the Great Chamberlain of Scotland.  His services to the kingdom brought him the barony of Cærlaverock in Dumfries.  He died without issue around the year 1240.

Sir John was succeeded by his younger brother, Aymer de Maxwell, the first to adopt the modern spelling of the surname.
  From Aymer's sons sprang many of the branches of the family that were to be found in SW Scotland:
  • from his eldest son Sir Herbert came the main Cærlaverock line in Dumfries.   Cærlaverock castle served as the family stronghold from the 13th century.  They were ennobled as Lord Maxwell in 1440.  These Maxwells were staunch Catholics during the religious turmoil of the 17th century.  Their last hurrah came with the 1715 Jacobite Uprising where the Maxwells narrowly escaped death.
  • from a younger son Sir John came the Pollock line in Renfrewshire.  The Pollock lands there were divided into Upper and Lower Pollock, with the Maxwells settling in Lower Pollock.  Through marriage Robert Maxwell became the laird of Calderwood in Lanarkshire in 1394.
The Maxwells at Kirkconnell in Dumfries date from about 1430.  Their laird James Maxwell was Bonnie Prince Charlie's aide-de-camp at the Battle of Culloden in 1746, after which he hurriedly left for France.  He returned in 1750 with a band of French bricklayers to construct a brick house alongside the ancient 13th century fortified tower.  This house stayed with his descendants, but was recently put up for sale.

.  The Rev. Robert Maxwell, from the Calderwood Maxwells, had come to Ireland around 1600 and been made the Dean of Armagh.  From this Robert came the Maxwells of Farnham in Cavan (who were later created barons) and the Maxwells of Finnebrogue and of Ballyrolly in county Down.

A Rev. James Maxwell was a Presbyterian minister in Omagh, county Tyrone for sixty years, from 1690 to 1750.  Some records have connected him with the Thomas Maxwell of Strabane who grew up in the Presbyterian settlement there and served as the High Sheriff of Tyrone in 1681.  Another Thomas Maxwell in Tyrone, this time from the Kirkconnell Maxwells in Scotland, emigrated with his family to America in 1747.

  Maxwells from the Borders also crossed south into England.  The largest numbers, according to the 1881 census, were to be found in Lancashire.

Prominent here were four sons of an old Maxwell family in Dumfries who came to Liverpool in the early 1800’s and made their fortunes as merchants with some shrewd early investments in railways.  Not so rich was Thomas Maxwell, an Irish immigrant and laborer to Liverpool in the early 1830’s.  John Maxwell from a Scottish family in Liverpool perished on the Titanic in 1912.

.  Maxwells in America have been Scots or Scots Irish.  Genealogical books that have covered these early Maxwell arrivals in America plus some prior Maxwell history have been:
  • Halbert’s 1900 book The World Book of Maxwells.
  • Florence Houston’s 1916 book Maxwell History and Genealogy.
  • and Annie Norman’s 1966 book Thomas Maxwell of Virginia and Georgia.
Early Virginia Arrivals.  The earliest Maxwell arrival might well have been Joel Maxwell who came with his son to Virginia around the year 1707 from, according to family lore, Maxwellton in Scotland.

His grandson the Rev. Thomas Maxwell became a Baptist preacher who was arrested for preaching a non-Anglican faith.  In 1792, seeking religious freedom, he moved to Elbert county, Georgia to preach and to set up Baptist churches.  He died there in 1837 at the grand old age of ninety seven.  He and his wife Mary had raised eleven children, many of whom migrated to Mississippi.

Thomas Maxwell from the Kirkconnell Maxwells in Scotland had fought for King James in Ireland.  In his later years he left Ireland for America in 1747 and settled in Augusta county, Virginia.  His grandson John, a small boy at that time, came to Kentucky in 1774 and was one of the founders of the town of Lexington.  Maxwell Springs and the Maxwell Graveyard were his legacies that did not, however, survive. 

John Maxwell, said to have been from the Calderwood Maxwells, came to Albemarle county, Virginia in 1751.  Later Maxwells of this family moved to North Carolina, Kentucky and onto Overton county, Tennessee.  Meanwhile Captain James Maxwell, coming to Virginia from Ulster, fought in the Revolutionary War.

Arrivals Elsewhere
William Maxwell, who had grown up in Pennsylvania, resided for a time in Lexington, Kentucky before moving west to Ohio in 1793 and publishing the first newspaper for what was then the Northwest Territory. 

Alexander and Jane Maxwell left their home in Scotland in 1770 and, after a brief sojourn in Ireland, came to America and settled in New York state.  Their grandson William, based in Elmira, was active in the early railroad developments in the area in the 1840’s.

Hugh Maxwell, the son of an Englishman in Dublin, had come to New York in 1815 and departed a year or so later for Kaskaskia, Illinois on the western frontier.  His son Lucien, born there in 1818, headed further west in the 1840’s as far as New Mexico.  Here, through a marriage and subsequent land acquisitions, he became the owner of huge landholdings (in excess of 1.7 million acres) which came to be known as the Maxwell Land Grant.

.  Many of the early Maxwell arrivals in Canada were Irish or more probably Scots Irish.  William and Agnes Maxwell came to Owen Sound in Ontario sometime around 1830.  Their sons William and Hamilton later moved west to Saskatchewan.  William Maxwell meanwhile, also from Ireland, settled in Bloomfield, New Brunswick as a young man in 1850.

Henry and Susannah Maxwell were free blacks in Pennsylvania who faced harassment and left for Canada in 1858. They settled in Richmond Hill near Toronto.   Susannah died in 1923 at the remarkable age of 117.

New Zealand.
  Thomas Maxwell, probably from Aberdeen, was a very early settler in New Zealand, arriving at the Bay of Islands on the whaling ship Harriet in 1820 or thereabouts.  Known locally as Tame Kohe, he married the daughter of a local Maori chief and seemed to have adapted himself to Maori ways.  He apparently drowned while on a sea voyage up the east coast of North Island in 1841.

James Maxwell came with his wife Mary to Wellington in 1840.   The family later settled in Auckland.  James died in 1857 at the age of thirty seven when he fell off his horse

Select Maxwell Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

Select Maxwell Names

John Maxwell, killed at the Battle of Flodden Field in 1513, is considered the patriarch of the Maxwell Cærlaverock line.
James Clerk Maxwell
was the Scottish 19th century scientist who made pioneering discoveries in the field of electromagnetism.
Elsa Maxwell
was an American gossip columnist and writer, renowned for her parties for royalty and high society figures of her day.
Robert Maxwell
, a Jewish entrepreneur who was born Jan Hoch and escaped the Nazis, developed a publishing and newspaper empire in Britain after the War.   He fell overboard from his yacht in 1991 as his businesses began to fail

Select Maxwells Today
  • 16,000 in the UK (most numerous in Glasgow)
  • 24,000 in America (most numerous in Texas) 
  • 21,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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