Select McGregor Surname Genealogy

MacGregor is a Scottish clan name, from Mac or “son of” and the personal name Gregory (from the Greek Gregorios), a name which became popular in Europe through Pope Gregory.  The Gaelic version of the name was MacGriogair.

MacGregor as a name was banned by King James VI of Scotland in the early 17th century because of the unruliness of the clan.  But the name has survived.  The main spellings today are MacGregor and McGregor, with McGregor being the more common.

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Scotland.  MacGregor clan origins are lost in the mists of time.  Their first recognizable chief may have been the 14th century Gregor of the Golden Bridles, followed by Ian Cam (meaning “one eyed”) MacGregor who died in 1390 at Glenorchy in Argyllshire, their traditional home.

“Ian Cam was buried on the north side of the high altar in Dysart near Dalmally, the old church at Glenorchy.  This continued to be the burial place of the MacGregor chiefs until 1528. A number of stone coffins together with foliated tomb slabs each showing in a panel the figure of an armed warrior with spear and two-handed sword, short tunic and high, conical, pointed helmet were found.”

Early History
  From their base at Glenorchy, MacGregor lands extended eastward
in the Central Highlands into Glen Strae and Glen Lyon in Perthshire and towards Loch Lomond in the Trossachs. They held doggedly to the old Celtic clan rule of defending possession by the sword. 

However, they had powerful aggressive neighbors in the Campbells who constantly harried them, forcing them to retire deeper into their lands around Glen Strae.  By the late 16th century there was a renegade band of McGregors left known in Gaelic as the Children of the Mist.

In 1588 these MacGregors were involved in the killing of John Drummond, the king's forester, after he had hung some MacGregors for poaching.  Then in 1603, after the Colquhoun clan had been granted a royal commission to suppress the MacGregors, Alasdair MacGregor of Glen Strae led four hundred of his men to Glen Fruin near Loch Lomond where they slew many Colquhouns.

“Some say the MacGregors were rustlers and thieves.  Whether there was any truth in this or whether circumstances forced this upon them or whether it was all a smear campaign to undermine their reputation is open to question.  But they certainly paid the price.”

Banning of the Name
  In retaliation King James VI of Scotland abolished the name of MacGregor.  All who bore the name must renounce it or die.  The next year
Alasdair MacGregor and eleven of his men were captured and hung outside St. Giles kirk in Edinburgh by the tollbooth.  Anyone answering to the name was executed on the spot, with women and children sold into slavery in the American states. 

Amelia MacGregor’s 1898 book The History of the Clan Gregor covered this clan history until 1625.

The ban on the MacGregor name remained in effect until 1774.  During this time the
surviving MacGregors continued in two groups. The first were those who legally changed their name to satisfy the law, although they may not have changed their heart or blood. The other group were those who took to the Highlands and continued to use their Gregor names in defiance.

Rob Roy, who was forced to use his mother's maiden name of Campbell due to the proscription of the MacGregor name, was a younger son of the MacGregor of Glengyle (which lay by Loch Katrine in Stirling). Rob Roy took part in the first Jacobite Uprising in 1715. Afterwards his raids on Lowland farms and his prowess with the sword earned him a reputation which was considerably enhanced by Sir Walter Scott's romantic tales.  He was buried in Balquhidder churchyard.

Restoration of the Name
To restore some pride in the clan, it was felt that a clan chief needed to be re-established.  A petition signed by 826 MacGregors declared that General John Murray of Lanrick in Stirling should be the true chief.  Murray was in fact a MacGregor descended from Duncan MacGregor of Ardchoille who had died in 1552.  His son Sir Evan MacGregor played a ceremonial role in the visit of King George IV to Scotland in 1822.

England.  Some MacGregors made it to England, such as Alexander MacGregor from Thorn Hill in Perthshire:

"It was said that four brothers, the sons of John McGregor of Thorn Hill, came to New York in 1781 or thereabouts.  Three of these brothers – James, William, and John – remained; while Alexander returned across the ocean and settled in Liverpool."

Alexander prospered as a merchant and banker in Liverpool.   In 1826 he was appointed as an agent for the Bank of England to open its Manchester branch, its first outside London.  One son James became an English MP, another son Walter Fergus owned a thriving iron foundry in Liverpool. His son the Rev. William MacGregor was a generous benefactor of the town of Tamworth in Staffordshire and a famous amateur Egyptologist.

McGregors are not numerous in America.  The numbers today are in fact less than those in Canada or Australia.  The proscription of the McGregor name in Scotland during the 17th and 18th centuries may have had something to do with it.  For instance, William MacGregor, caught up in the failed 1715 Jacobite Uprising, came to America and Perth Amboy, New Jersey as William Skinner soon after.

Family tradition has Alexander MacGregor arriving from Scotland with the British army in 1775, but then changing sides and fighting on the American side in the Revolutionary War.  He later owned a farm in Oyster Bay, New York.  Subsequent MacGregors of the family were blacksmiths in New Haven, Connecticut.

John and Anne MacGregor came to New York from England in the late 1700’s.  Their grandson Alexander headed west in 1832, first to Chicago (when its population was less than 100) and then to Wisconsin where he operated a ferry service across the Mississippi.  In 1848, newly-married and with a family in tow, he founded a new community that became known as McGregor, Iowa.

.  McGregor immigration began in the late 1700’s, initially into the Maritime provinces and later into Quebec and Ontario.

Nova Scotia
  James MacGregor from Perthshire answered the call for an English and Gaelic preacher for the Scottish community at Pictou and departed there in 1786.  He was a fervent advocate of the Presbyterian church until his death in 1830.  His son Peter was a Presbyterian minister in Halifax, his grandson James a gifted academic who in 1901 became Professor of Natural Philosophy back in Edinburgh.

The MacGregors of South River Lake in Antigonish county were known as the Red Rock MacGregors, apparently because of their Scottish ancestor Donald “ruadh” MacGregor.  His son Donald, a Baptist deacon, came to this area in 1832 and died there sixty years later.  His descendants spread into Ontario and the western provinces.

Another Donald MacGregor came to Cape Breton Island from the Scottish Highlands around this time.  His son Donald, who changed the spelling of his name to McGregor, moved to New Zealand in 1852 and settled in Whangerei.  Alexander and Roderick McGregor also made the voyage from Cape Breton Island to New Zealand, in this case in 1859.  Alexander founded the Northern Steamship Company in Auckland. 

.  Alexander McGregor and his wife Ellen came to Canada from Fortingall in Perthshire in 1817 and made their home in Huntingdon, Quebec.  Son James was Principal of Huntingdon Academy and later Inspector of Schools.  Curiously, a descendant Norman changed the spelling of his name from McGregor to MacGregor when he emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1900.

Joan and Margaret McGregor came out to Sarnia, Ontario from Paisley in Scotland in 1830.  Their son William was a prominent businessman and politician in Windsor and their grandson Gordon founded the Ford Motor Company of Canada.  A McGregor family has been farming at McNab Braeside in the Ottawa Valley since 1856.  Five generations of McGregor's have farmed here and the current crew now includes three generations

South Africa.  From Golspie in the far north of Scotland came the Rev. Andrew McGregor, a minister of the Church of Scotland, who was recruited to the Cape colony by Scots already there.  He arrived in 1862 and he and his wife Lily raised six children in the colony.

The eldest Alexander became a judge, as did his son Michael who was later Chief Justice of South Africa.  A younger son Murray was the headmaster of the Blythswood Scottish mission in the Transkei.  His son Chris became a well-known jazz pianist and bandleader.  Meanwhile the youngest child, a daughter named Henrietta who was the family historian, lived to be a hundred, dying in 1979.

Another Alexander McGregor was one of the diamond pioneers in South Africa.  He was elected Mayor of Kimberley in 1886.  After his death his wife funded the Alexander McGregor Memorial Museum in Kimberley which was opened in 1907 and still stands.

Australia and New Zealand
.  William McGregor was a shepherd who departed rural Inverness for Australia in 1838.  He made his home in East Maitland, NSW.

Jock McGregor, a whaler from Perthshire, was an early arrival in New Zealand, coming to Wanganui from Australia in 1836.  Although he married in New Zealand, he left no descendants.  Gregor McGregor, from Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, was another inhabitant of Wanganui, having reached New Zealand on the Blenheim in 1840.  Her and his wife Catherine raised eight sons and six daughters.  Their family story was recounted in Bruce McGregor’s 1991 book Gregor and Catherine McGregor

Select McGregor Miscellany

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

Select McGregor Names

Robert Roy MacGregor, usually known simply as Rob Roy, was a famous Scottish folk hero and outlaw of the early 18th century.
Gregor MacGregor
was a Scottish soldier, adventurer and colonizer who fought in the South American struggle for independence in the early 1800’s. 

Sir Evan MacGregor
was the clan chief who played a prominent part in the visit of King George IV to Scotland in 1822 after the MacGregors had been restored to respectability.
MacGregor was the Scottish-American mining industrialist who was in charge of the UK National Coal Board at the time of the 1984 miners’ strike.

Select McGregors Today
  • 22,000 in the UK (most numerous in Glasgow)
  • 7,000 in America (most numerous in Texas) 
  • 25,000 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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