Select Rutherford Surname Genealogy

Rutherford is a Scottish border clan name.  The name comes from a place-name in Roxburghshire on the south bank of the river Tweed, midway between Melrose and Kelso.  A village there, then called Rothersfurth, was burnt and razed by an English army in 1545 and has disappeared from the map.  

The origin of the Rutherford name
is thought to have been the Old English hryther meaning “cattle” and ford, “a river crossing.

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Select Rutherford Ancestry

ScotlandThe Rutherford name in Roxburghshire on the Scottish borders probably dates back to the 12th century (although there is no evidence that Robertus Dominus de Rodyrforde of that time did exist).  Three Rutherfords swore fealty to Edward I of England in the Ragman Roll of 1296, including Sir Nicholas de Rutherford who was considered the ancestor of the Rutherford line. 

During the lawless Border times of the 14th to 16th centuries they were a reiving family, well-known for their raids into Northumberland.  They allied themselves with the larger Douglas and Home clans in the area. 

James Rutherfurd gained possession of Edgerston, south of Jedburgh and close to the English border, in 1448.  Thomas Rutherfurd, the Black Laird of Edgerston, turned the tide in the fighting against the English at the Battle of Reidswire in 1575.  Edgerston remained in Rutherfurd possession until 1915 when the last laird sold Edgerston and emigrated to Kenya. 

The Rutherfords of Jedburgh were well-known as 'lorimers' or saddle makers. 
In the 1630's came Adam Rutherford of Hall, the forebear of Rutherfords in Virginia, who was a maltman and burgess of Jedburgh. There were cadet Rutherford lines at Hunthill and Hundalee nearby (although these had mainly died out by the next century). Indeed, except for Edgerston, much of the other Rutherford lands had been ceded through marriage to the Earl of Traquair back in 1513.

The Hunthill line did contribute the Rev. Samuel Rutherford, a leading Presbyterian in the 1650’s, and the Rev. John Rutherford, a Presbyterian minister at Yarrow in Selkirkshire in the 1680’s.  His son John moved to Edinburgh and became an eminent physician there.  His grandson Daniel was a scientist famous for his isolation of nitrogen in 1772.

Rutherfords were still most numerous in Roxburghshire by the time of the 1881 census in Scotland.  But many had dispersed elsewhere by then.  Some had crossed the border into Northumberland, others had gone to Ireland and to America and elsewhere. 

Much of this ground was covered in Kenneth Rutherford Davis’s 1987 book The Rutherfords in Britain which corrected many of the errors found in earlier Rutherford books. 

 Captain James Rutherford was brother to the Presbyterian leader Samuel Rutherford.  His son John was a captain in King William’s army at the Battle of the Boyne in 1689 and was granted lands in county Down (where he died in 1740).  Two of John’s sons emigrated to America.

The Rev. Samuel Rutherford was a Presbyterian minister who was banished from Scotland in 1689 and settled in county Monaghan.  His three sons all came to America, settling in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and later in Lunenburg county, Virginia.

David Rutherford left Scotland with his brother John shortly after the dissolution of the Scottish Parliament in 1707. David settled in Fermanagh and John in Dublin where he started a wholesaling business and acquired an estate at Bath Mines. 
Adam Rutherford, born in Fermanagh in 1794, worked in the Dublin firm until he enlisted in the British Army in 1814.  He was granted land in Canada but never went.  His son Adam and wife Jane did though.

  The first Rutherford to come to America was John Rutherford who arrived at Elizabeth City, Virginia in 1621 on the Warwick.  However, the line to him and from him is not really known.

Robert Rutherford had come to America in 1730 with his parents from Roxburghshire in Scotland when but an infant. 
He settled in Virginia where he organized Rutherford's Rangers at the time of the French and Indian War.  In his later years he was a staunch friend of George Washington and one of Virginia’s delegates that first rallied to the American cause.  Subsequent Rutherfords of his line moved to Knox county, Tennessee and then further west.

Other Rutherfords in America came via Ireland, having fought with William of Orange or having left Scotland because of their Presbyterian faith.  The most prominent of these was Griffith Rutherford who arrived in America in 1739 (his parents dying on the voyage) and settled in North Carolina.  He was a Brigadier General in the Revolutionary War and an important figure in the early development of Tennessee (where he died in 1805)
Rutherford county was named after him.

Griffith's grandson James Rutherford moved to Texas in 1830 where he established a medical practice in an area now known as Cockville.  Another grandson John arrived in Texas in 1835.  When Lamar county was formed in 1842, he was elected its Chief Justice by the Republic of Texas Congress.  He was a surveyor, a farmer, and the first schoolteacher in Honey Grove.  In his latter life he kept a diary which painted a vivid picture of farm life in NW Texas after the Civil War.

Canada.  Richard Rutherford came around the year 1817 from Northumberland in England to Northumberland county in Ontario.

“Richard Rutherford had been a shepherd who herded his flock on the Cheviot hills.   On landing at Quebec, he sailed up the St. Lawrence river into Lake Ontario and traveled west to Northumberland county, Ontario where he located 100 acres as a homestead and built his log cabin.  For ten years he worked on his land before returning to England for a partner in life (which he found).”

Many Rutherfords came to farm in Brant county, Ontario.  William Rutherford, for instance, came to South Dumfries township around 1830; while James Rutherford arrived there four years later.

Rutherfords headed later for the Canadian West.  Agnes Rutherford kept a journal of her family journey from Selkirk in Scotland to Manitoba in Canada in 1882, where they made their home in the Tarbolton district.  The family story was narrated in Agnes Florence’s 1982 book Andrew and Agnes Rutherford.  Alexander Rutherford, the son of Scottish immigrants to the Ottawa area in 1855, came west in 1886, became involved in politics, and served as the first Premier of Alberta in 1905.

Australia and New Zealand
.  James Rutherford arrived at the Victorian goldfields in the 1850’s from America.  He did not discover gold, but instead developed Cobb & Co. as the leading coaching company in Australia in the second half of the 19th century. 

James and Martha Rutherford had been early colonists to New Zealand, James arriving at four years old from Perth in Scotland in 1843.  Their second son Ernest, born in 1871, excelled in science and
studied at the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University.  There he became known as the father of nuclear physics. 

Select Rutherford Miscellany

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

Select Rutherford Names

Daniel Rutherford, an uncle of the novelist Sir Walter Scott, was the Scottish chemist famous for his isolation of nitrogen in 1772.
Ernest Rutherford
was the New Zealand-born physicist, a director of the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University, who is considered to be the father of nuclear physics.
Margaret Rutherford
was a well-known English character actress.  Her stage and film career spanned from the 1930’s to the 1960’s

Select Rutherfords Today
  • 13,000 in the UK (most numerous in Scottish Borders)
  • 9,000 in America (most numerous in Texas) 
  • 7,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

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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