The Blair surname derived from the Gaelic blar, which signified a field clear of woods or a battlefield. It began to appear as a surname at various places around Scotland in the 13th century. The early spelling was Blare. This became Blair sometime around 1400.
Select Blair Resources on The Internet
- Blair. Blair history.
- Clan Blair Society. Blair clan website.
- Blair Society for Genealogical Research. Blair genealogy.
- Blair Genealogy. Blairs from Scotland to New England.
- The Tales of a Blair Family. Blairs from Scotland to South Carolina.
- Blair DNA Project. Blair DNA.
Select Blair Ancestry
Scotland. There are two very well-documented old Blair families in Scotland, the Blairs of that Ilk (also called the Blairs of Blair) in Ayrshire and the Blairs of Balthayock in Perthshire.
Ayrshire The first of the Ayrshire Blairs was William de Blair, recorded in a contract dated 1205. He took his name from the barony of Blair, land which had been given to his Norman forebears. The Blairs supported Robert the Bruce in the Scottish cause and rose to become one of the most prominent families in Ayrshire.
The direct line ended in 1732 after a reported twenty four generations. Their home, Blair House, was described in 1890 as “the oldest inhabited baronial mansion in Scotland which has not been rebuilt.”
Perthshire Meanwhile the first of the Perthshire Blairs was Stephen de Blair, son of Vallenus, who in the 12th century held lands in the parish of Blair in Gowrie, now called Blairgowrie. The Blairs of Balthayock remained continuous in Perthshire until the mid 18th century (their story was told in Jack Blair’s 2001 book The Blairs of Balthayock and Their Cadets). The family seat was Balthayock castle.
The Blairs of Blair and the Blairs of Balthayock long disputed the honor of the Blair chiefship. In the late 1500’s James VI decided that “the oldest man, for the time being of either family, should have the precedence.”
Other Blairs Some Blairs have been related to these families, such as the Hunter Blairs, and Robert Blair, author of The Grave epic poem, and Dr. Hugh Blair, the celebrated sermon writer. However, due to the diversity of Blair names in Scotland, it is likely that there are multiple origins for the various Blair family lines that are around today. Michael Blair was first traced to Glasgow in 1620. Another Blair family line went back to Renfrewshire in the early 1600’s:
England. Blairs came across the border into England, almost 30 percent of them by the time of the 1891 census.
Among the 18th century arrivals were the Rev. Robert Blair, a rector in Norwich; James Blair, a travelling dentist in Leicester; and Charles Blair of Winterbourne in Dorset, a man who had made money and married well (his descendant was the more down-at-heel Eric Blair, better known by his pen-name George Orwell).
More Blairs, however, were to be found closer to the Scottish border, in particular in Northumberland and Durham. One Blair family farmed at Allendale and Catton during the 19th century. Their son Matthew was a famous northern wrestler in his youth. Others were Durham miners. More recent arrivals were Leo Blair and his wife and a son who went on to become the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair.
Ireland. Blairs in Ireland are primarily descended from Scots who settled in Ulster from the 17th century onwards. Brice Blair from Ayr was an early arrival in 1625. The Blair name appears most common in Derry and county Down. Many of these Scots Irish (including a number of Brice Blair’s descendants) were emigrants to America.
America. The first Blair in America is thought to have been James Blair from Edinburgh who went out to Williamsburgh, Virginia in 1685 as an episcopalian missionary. There, after raising money back in England, he founded a seat of academic learning at Williamsburgh which he named the College of William and Mary after the new English King and Queen. He went on to serve as its president for the next forty years. This Blair family remained prominent in early American life and John Blair, an eminent jurist, was appointed to the new US Supreme Court by President Washington.
The Rev. Samuel Blair, a Presbyterian minister, arrived from Ulster as a young man and came to Chester county, Pennsylvania in the 1730’s. He too established a church and school, Fagg’s Manor; while his brother John was one of the founders of Princeton College in New Jersey.
Another Pennsylvania line started with John Blair and his son Alexander, who made his home in Cumberland county in the 1730’s. Descendants moved onto Kentucky, Indiana, and Iowa.
Other Blairs who came in the 18th century were:
- James Blair from Ireland sometime in the 1750’s. He settled in Abingdon, Virginia and his family later crossed into Kentucky. His grandson Francis P. Blair was a prominent political journalist and newspaper man of the 1830’s and 40’s. His house in Washington, Blair House, still stands. Sons Montgomery and Francis were politicians. A great great grandson was the actor Montgomery Clift.
- John Blair from Perth in Scotland sometime in the 1760’s. He settled in New Jersey. His grandson John, born there in 1802, became a railroad magnate, owning more rail mileage than anyone else in his time. His hometown in New Jersey was renamed Blairstown in his honor and he ran his huge business empire from there.
The Blair Witch Project was the most successful independent film at the time of its release in 1999. The horror revolved around the Blair Witch who was, according to legend, the ghost of a woman executed for witchcraft in 1785 in the Blair township in Maryland.
Caribbean. Blairs were among the early colonists of Jamaica – including Alexander Blair, a surgeon apothecary in the early 1700’s – and the Blair name has continued on the island. Blairs from Glasgow were planters and slave owners in Westmoreland and St. Elizabeth in the early 1800’s. And today Bishop Herro Blair is Jamaica’s political ombudsman.
Australia and New Zealand. Australia attracted Blair immigrants from Ireland as well as from Scotland. John and Ann Blair arrived with their family from county Tyrone in 1850. Ann and her son James ran a hotel The Carter’s Arms in north Melbourne during the 1870’s. David Blair, Scots Irish from county Monaghan, also came to Melbourne in 1850. He forged a career as a writer and politician there, but with mixed reviews:
Meanwhile, William Blair came out from Derry in the 1850’s in search of gold in Bendigo. William and his wife Mary Ann later moved to Naseby in South Island, New Zealand.
Select Blair Miscellany
If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:
Select Blair Names
William de Blair was the first of the Ayrshire Blairs; and Stephen de Blair the first of the Perthshire Blairs. Dr. Hugh Blair was a celebrated 18th century sermon writer.
The Rev. James Blair founded the College of William and Mary at Williamsburgh. It is the second oldest seat of learning in
America. John Insley Blair was one of the biggest American railroad magnates of the 19th century.
Eric Blair, the English author and journalist, was better known by his pen-name George Orwell.
Emma Blair is the pen-name of the Glasgow-born romantic novelist Ian Blair.
Tony Blair was British Prime Minister from 1997 to 2007.
Select Blairs Today
- 21,000 in the UK (most numerous in West Dumbarton)
- 30,000 in America (most numerous in California)
- 12,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)
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