Select Armstrong Surname Genealogy

Armstrong comes, as its name suggests, from one who is strong in the arm. It was originally a Scottish border name. One story has it that an ancient king of Scotland, aided in battle by his armor-bearer Fairbairn, bestowed on him the name Armstrong.It is also said that the family took their name from Siward Digry (“sword strong arm”), a nephew of the Danish King Canute. The early Armstrongs were Norse in characteristic, blue-eyed and fair-haired and often described as “fair.”

Select Armstrong Resources on The Internet

Select Armstrong Ancestry

Scotland.  The Armstrongs were lairds of Mangerton in Roxburghshire on the Scottish borders from the late 1200’s to the early 1600’s. A cross, known as the Milnholm Cross, was constructed in Liddesdale in 1320 to mark the second laird who was murdered by a neighbor.  Over time the Armstrong presence gradually spread westward along the borders to Annandale and Eskdale in Dumfriesshire (where the clan seat was Gilnockie).

They were fearless border raiders or “reivers,” who, at the height of their powers, could put 3,000 horsemen to the field.  However, they would eventually pay a price for their lawlessness. Clan leader Johnnie Armstrong, later commemmorated in song, was captured and executed as a “border freebooter” in 1529. Hector Armstrong of Harelaw and Sandy Armstrong of Cleughfoot did carry with their brigandage; and Kinmont Willie Armstrong, although briefly captured by the English in the 1590’s, managed to stay at large.

But the clan by this time was incurring the hostility of both the English and Scottish crowns. In 1603, they lost all their land holdings, further evictions and executions occurred, and many Armstrongs were left homeless and often penniless. Of those who remained in the borders, many gravitated later towards Glasgow.

England.  The Armstrong reivers frequently raided south across the border into England. Archie Armstong was captured and died in Haughton castle in the 1530’s. Kinmont Willie Armstrong led a successful raid on Tynedale some fifty years later.

Many Armstrongs ended up staying in England. They date in Cumbria from the 1550’s and were subsequently to be found at Bewcastle and Kirklinton near Carlisle. Thomas Armstrong built up a civil construction business in the 1860’s from humble beginnings as a joiner and cabinet maker in Cockermouth. This business continued through four generations of Armstrongs until it was sold in 1930.

Thomas Armstrong was a Northumberland customs official on the take in the 1770’s. And a number of Armstrongs gravitated later to this region to become miners. Tommy Armstrong, who wrote songs in the Northumbrian style, was known as the bard of the northern coalfields.

However, perhaps the most notable Armstrong of this area was the Victorian engineer and industrialist William (later Lord) Armstrong from Newcastle who developed the Armstrong naval gun. His descendants still live in Bamburgh Castle, an ancient edifice on the coast which he had acquired in the 1890’s. A more modest Armstrong house today is Sylvia Armstrong’s Household and Farming Museum to be found just outside Alnwick.

Ireland.  There was a larger exodus of Armstrong from the Scottish borders to Ireland. The main destination was Fermanagh, in present day Northern Ireland. Chtistopher Armstrong built his Mangerton castle in Fermanagh and Andrew Armstrong, a descendant of the Laird, was one of the first “Scottish undertakers” to be granted land there. Other Armstrongs were to follow him across the Irish Sea as tenant farmers.

Andrew did back the wrong side in the English Civil War and one of his sons, Thomas, was executed for treason in 1684. But his descendants later prospered, distinguishing themselves as lawyers and clergymen and particularly as soldiers – fighting in a number of the British overseas campaigns. Colonel Andrew Armstrong fought with Marlborough and Sir Frederick Armstrong with Wellington a hundred years later. The noted Arctic explorer Alexander Armstrong was from Fermanagh.

During the 18th century many Armstrongs lost their tenancies and there began an exodus out of Ireland, first to America and later to Canada.

America. The principal destination in America was Pennsylvania:

  • The first arrival appears to have been a Joseph Armstrong in 1731.
  • then came James Armstrong, reputed to be a descendant of the Laird.
  • the same was also said of John Armstrong who arrived in 1748. He helped plan the new community of Carlisle and later distinguished himself in the Revolutionary War (his son John was briefly American Secretary of War).

The Armstrong numbers in Pennsylvania were in fact so many that there was even a Fermanagh township created.

Some Armstrongs stayed in Pennsylvania, others (or their descendants) moved on; Robert Armstrong’s family, for instance, to Tennessee and William Armstrong’s across the Cumberland Gap to Kentucky. The Rev. Richard Armstrong, a missionary, went further afield, to Hawaii. He had two notable sons:

  • Samuel, an enlightened educator
  • and William, a friend of the last King of Hawaii whom he accompanied on a grand world tour.

Kansas and Colorado. Then there was the remarkable Armstrong pioneer family of Kansas and Colorado. The story started in 1783 when Robert Armstrong was captured as a young boy by Wyandot Indians on the Alleghany river near Pittsburgh. He grew up among them and later made his mark as an interpreter. His two sons, John Armstrong and his brother Silas, were instrumental in the founding of the Wyandot nation near present-day Kansas City. John provided the legal brains, Silas the business acumen.

The next generation of Armstrongs were scouts and buffalo hunters and pioneer settlers in Colorado. One branch settled near Colorado Springs where Willis Armstrong founded the Colorado Springs National Bank in 1907. Other Armstrongs were to be found in Fort Collins along the route of the old Colorado trail. The historic Armstrong Hotel in Fort Collins, built in 1923, was named after Andrew Armstrong whose house once stood on the property.

Canada. Many early Armstrong arrivals were Scots Irish, such as:

  • William Armstrong from Monaghan in 1820 to Iberville county, Quebec
  • Robert and John Armstrong from Tipperary in 1823 and 1825 as part of a settler movement to Ottawa.
  • Rainey Armstrong from Antrim in 1852 to Huron county, Ontario.
  • William and Hannah Armstrong in the mid 1850”s to Gloucester, New Brunswick.

Philip Armstrong arrived from Cumbria in the north of England in 1830 and settled with his wife Mary in York, Ontario and then in Toronto. We know about them and their lives because Mary kept a diary in Toronto, one that has been recently edited and published by a descendant as Seven Eggs Today.

South America.  Scots Irish Armstrongs also found their way to South America. The Armstrongs from Garrycastle in county Offaly had set up a merchant trading house in Buenos Aires and Thomas Armstrong,along with his brother John, arrived there in 1817 to run it. Thomas, a banker and railway promoter, married into the local Creole community and soon became influential in Argentine political
circles. A town and railway station in Santa Fe is named after him.

. The first Armstrongs in Australia were convicts, some fifty or so between 1800 and 1840. Later came settlers. Adam Armstrong  came to Western Australia in 1829.

John Armstrong arrived in Victoria from the Scottish borders in 1839. He became a sheep farmer at a bush station in Geelong. William Armstrong went to Melbourne and became mayor of the town. But perhaps the best-known Victorian Armstrong was Warwick Armstrong, a huge mountain of a man described as “the big ship” who captained the Australian cricket team in the early 1900’s.

Select Armstrong Miscellany

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

Select Armstrong Names

Andrew Armstrong was a descendant of the Laird who moved the Armstrongs to Ireland.
Sir Alexander Armstrong
from Fermanagh was the Victorian arctic explorer.
Thomas Armstrong was a 19th century banker and railway promoter in Argentina who was instrumental in founding the Argentine Stock Exchange.
William (Lord) Armstrong, the industrialist, was the inventor of the Armstrong gun.
Louis Armstrong from New Orleans was one of the world’s greatest jazz musicians.
Neil Armstrong, from Scottish border roots, was the first man (in
1969) to walk on the moon.
Lance Armstrong of Norwegian stock was the American cyclist who won the Tour de France a record seven times.

Select Armstrongs Today

  • 57,000 in the UK (most numerous in Cumbria)
  • 49,000 in America (most numerous in Texas).
  • 34,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


Click here for reader feedback

Click here for return to front page

Leave a Reply