Select Fox Miscellany

Here are some Fox stories and accounts over the years:

Origin of the Sionnach Name

No doubt there are several of us who have read or heard that the origins of the Fox name have something to do with the 11th century Tadhg O'Catharnaigh's cleverness in battle as well as ability to acquire land.  When you travel to Ireland, you can even buy a plaque and scroll which makes this claim.  Since this was the time period when nicknames were not uncommon and surnames began to be used, this seemed and still seems plausible.  However, recent close reading of The Annals of ireland by the Four Masters as well as The Annals of Loch Ce and The Annals of Ulster reveal a quite different story, one that is also quite plausible but not as charming or pleasant.

Collectively, these sources report that in the year 1024 Ireland's chief poet and historian Cuan Ua Lothchain (Cwan O'Logan) was killed in Teathbha by "the men of Teathbha."  Here the story splits: one version is that the murderer thereafter acquired a strong odor, making him "easily known among the rest of the land."  He was therefore nicknamed "Fox," anyone who has ever experienced the scent sprayed by a skunk has a very good idea of what fox smells like too.  The other version of the story is that the men who killed him were killed within an hour of the poet's death and they were not buried but left as carrion for the birds and beasts, and one can imagine the stench in the air from that.

The problem with this line of explanation is that it is hard to believe descendants of someone nicknamed in such a derogatory way would opt to keep that name through the generations, "Fox" being equivalent to "stinking assassin."  The second explanation makes even less sense, since no one would want to name themselves after a relative or relatives who were not even worthy of burial after the murder of a great poet and historian.

This brings us back to the original line of explanation - that old Tadg O'Catharnaigh was skilled in battle as well as in acquiring land.  Since Tadg died in 1086, he most likely could not have taken part in a murder from 1024 unless he died a very old man and was born well before 1024.  Although none of the reading supports or even suggests he was a skilled warrior/landowner, the reasoning behind it nevertheless makes more sense than the "stinking assassin" story.

Hubert Fox in Ireland

The Irish love a rebel and Hubert Fox can stake a claim to this affection.  Chief of the Fox clan in the 1600's, he resisted English rule and fought against Cromwellian forces.  He lost his estates and fled his ancestral home, Lehinch castle, in 1641 with a price of £400 on his head.  The English even promised outlaws a pardon if they delivered Fox into their hands.  A testament to the loyalty of the Irish, no one did and he disappeared from history.

Many lines of the Fox family today claim descent from him.

George Fox - The Founder of Quakerism

George Fox was born in Leicestershire in 1634.  His father was a weaver, called "righteous Christer" by his neighbors; his mother, Mary Lago, was - as he tells us - "of the stock of the martyrs."  Even at a young age, George Fox was fascinated by the Bible which he studied continually.

"When I came to eleven years of age," he said, "I knew pureness and righteousness; for, when I was a child, I was taught how to walk to be kept pure.  The Lord taught me to be faithful in all things and to act faithfully two ways, inwardly to God and outwardly to man."

The following address by Brinley Morris in Falmouth, where there were many Quaker Foxes, invoked the spirit of the man.

"George Fox was a shoemaker.  He toured the country as he plied his trade, giving sermons to anyone who would listen and arguing that consecrated buildings such as churches and ordained ministers were irrelevant to the individual seeking God.  Three years later Fox had a divine revelation that inspired him to preach a gospel of brotherly love.  And so the Society of Friends was born, later to be called the Quakers.  The word itself, I understand, was first used by Justice Bennet of Derby who heard Fox urging his followers to 'tremble I urge thee at the word of God.'  And so the Quakers were born."

A Letter Dated 1662 to Captain John Fox

Captain John Fox the London merchant who came to Virginia in 1664 apparently had a brother named Stephen who was lost at sea one year earlier.  In 1662 he had sent the following letter to his brother:

“Loving brother,

We set sail from New England on August 5th and encountered two storms.  Have thrown overboard fish and mackerel and pipestaves.  Three horses drowned, one of which was between yourself and my brother Thomas, so that you have lost all as well as my brother Thomas and myself and Peter.  I know not whether I have saved anything until I come to some port.  I hope you paid the three guineas I charged to you from Deal.

I have sent 50-70 cwt of tobacco to Captain Thomas Carter at Nancemund on the James river.  I had a servant run away in Virginia and that makes me not know what quantity of tobacco is in Captain Carter’s hands.  Let my brother Peter, my sister Mary and my brother William have it.  Captain Jonathan Whitty who uses Virginia knows the man and will bring it home.  That will be £70 or £80 apiece. 

I am in haste as the ship is under sail. 

Your loving brother 
Stephen Fox"

Isaac Fox of Jamaica

Isaac Fox of Roeburndale was born in an uphill sheep farm some 12 miles east of Lancaster in Lancashire.  He moved to Kingston in Jamaica around 1790.  Our first record of him there is in 1792 where he is listed as a merchant.  Two years later, he married Christiana Stevenson, a widow, at St. Andrews.

Fox appears to be a man of some substance and vigor.  He was a merchant, soldier, and clergyman.   He owned a coffee plantation, Mount Chrissey.  In the Jamaican Almanac of 1818, Mount Chrissey is listed as his property, with 78 slaves.

When Christiana died, Isaac married for the second time to Mary Eliza Young in 1806.  She was an 18 year old bride who required her father's permission to marry.  It seems probable that the new bride never travelled to Jamaica as her two children were born in England.

Isaac Fox was lost at sea in January 1811, leaving or returning from Jamaica.  His estate took some time to finalize as it received £16,000 from the British Government to free the slaves.

The Falmouth Foxes Travelling to London

Travelling by coach or horesback at that time was slow, tedious, and uncomfortable.   The Foxes would have to travel to their religious meetings in London in the very uncomfortable Royal Mail coach via Bodmin, Exeter, and Salisbury - starting from the Falmouth Ship Inn at 3 am, arriving at Exeter at 9 am, and then some passengers joining the different coaches to Portsmouth, Bristol, and Bath.  Russell's cheaper fly wagon would go to London every Monday and Thursday and would start from Killigrew Street and arrive late the next day.

Sometimes the Foxes would go by sea in a sloop to Plymouth and would visit the Crown and Anchor Tavern in Falmouth and negotiate the fare with the captain who would stay to meet the passengers.  A packet boat from Truro would come and return with the tide each day, weather permitting, with goods and passengers. The passengers would visit with the proprietor Mr. Vann, also at the Crown and Anchor Tavern, for a ticket.

The Fox Family in Ohio

Christopher Fox (his name changed from Fuchs to Fox) had left Germany and arrived in America in 1852, finally reaching Greenfield in Highland County, Ohio in 1855.  He married Katherine Ohmberger in 1856 and he and his wife resided there for the remainder of their lives.  Most of their married life was spent at 111 Mirabeau Street in a property which they had purchased and where most of their eleven children were born.

Living near the edge of Greenfield, then a village, and having a large lot, they kept a cow, pigs, and always a large garden and abundance of flowers and shrubbery with trees surrounding on the roadside, which made the home very attractive.

They were people of the pioneer type, upright, industrious, sociable, and neighborly, of Protestant faith, attending church regularly, respecting Sunday as a Holy Day, and living a Christian life every day of the year, always morning, night and before all meals offering prayer.

They were more intersted in living as they loved life more than the accumulation of wealth.  Their home and the rearing of their large family was their main interest.

Reader Feedback - Clan Fox

The listing for Clan Fox is factually incorrect.  Hubert Fox was not the last Clan Chief.  The last and current Clan Chief, "The Fox," is John William Fox of New South Wales, Australia. 

This clan, a sept of the Southern O'Neil originated with Catharnaighe, is pronounced "Caharney" or "Carney." Teige or Tadgh O Catharnaighe was given the nick-name "Sionnach", which means "Fox."  The reasons are unclear, but he was the first of that name.  Other family members adopted Sionnach as their family name, some retained Carney. 

About 1698 when the Irish Penal Laws were introduced by the English, it became unlawful to use ones Gaelic family name, so Sionnach was anglicized, generally, to Fox.  Some clan members reverted to Carney, some to Shinnick, and, possible due to semi-literate recorders, Kearney. 

Eoin MacSeai'n O'Sionnach (

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