Select Fraser Surname Genealogy

Fraser is a Scottish clan name.  There are various possible origins for the name.  The most likely is the heraldic term fraisse which describes a strawberry.  The clan were known as "strawberry bearers" from their coat of arms.

Alternative spellings are Fraser, Frazer and Frazier.  Fraser and, to a lesser extent, Frazer, are found in Britain.  Frazier is American.  Fraser may also be a Jewish name when it represents an Americanized form of one or more like-sounding Jewish surnames.  

Select Fraser Resources on The Internet
Select Fraser Ancestry

Scotland.  The earliest record of the name was Simon Fraser of Oliver who held the lands of Keith in East Lothian in 1160.  These Frasers later occupied Neidpath castle in Tweeddale on the Scottish borders. 

In 1375 a propitious marriage to the daughter of the earl of Ross gave the Frasers the Bisset lands around Beauly near Inverness.  This became the Highland base for the Lovat Fraser clan and their Macshimidh (sons of Simon).  Other Fraser branches, based in Aberdeenshire, were the Frasers of Philorth and the Frasers of Muchalls.  The port of Fraserburgh was created by Sir Alexander Fraser, the 8th Lord of Philorth, in 1592.

The Lovat Frasers were the most numerous of these Frasers.  They would bribe poor parents with "a bow o' meal" for their children to take the clan surname as their own.  The old Gaelic saying around Beauly was: Frisealach am boll a mine, "Frasers of the boll of meal."
Like most Highlanders, the Frasers were involved in countless instances of clan warfare.  In 1544 they fought the "Battle of the Shirts" against the MacDonalds of Moidart on the shores of Loch Lochy.  Only five Frasers and eight MacDonalds survived. 

Later Fraser History.  By the 18th century, however, they were to face a new enemy, the English.  Simon "the Fox" Fraser, the clan chief at that time, supported the British Government in the 1715 Jacobite uprising but turned round and backed Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745.  The Frasers fought on the front line at Culloden.  After the defeat, Simon "the Fox" was captured, tried for treason, and beheaded in London.  His estates were forfeited, lands laid waste, and the Fraser clan way of life effectively came to an end.

A Fraser later wrote:

"Although the Lovats never cleared their people from the glens to make way for sheep, there was small prospect of advancement in life for the younger sons unless they went south to one of the cities or emigrated, which is what many of them did.  They went to Edinburgh, Glasgow or London.  Many went to America, Canada, Australia or New Zealand and prospered there."

Some Frasers - such as Robert Fraser, a warping master in the Gorbals - found work in the cotton industry in Glasgow.  D.D. Fraser was a well-known clothier in the eastern end of this city.  And Hugh Fraser began in 1849 in Glasgow what was to become the House of Fraser chain of department stores.  It remained family-owned until 1985.
Another alternative was the army.  This started in the 1750's when a Lovat Fraser raised a Highland regiment (the 78th) to fight against the French in America.  Captain Simon Fraser distinguished himself in the storming of Quebec.  Many of these Frasers stayed on after the war was over.  Augustin Fraser, for instance, married a French woman in Quebec; while Alexander Fraser set off to the Saskatchewan backwoods. 

Frasers would feature prominently in later British military campaigns, from Waterloo to World War Two. Alexander Fraser of the Gordon Highlanders served in the Crimea and during the Indian Mutiny and lived onto 1927!  Meanwhile, the Reelick Frasers produced a number of 19th century adventurers and wanderers, including the writer James Baillie Fraser.

Ireland.  Frasers from Scotland became Frazers in Ireland.  Some evidently arrived.  Colonel Frazer's Reel is a traditional Irish flute tune.  A branch of the Lovat Frasers settled in county Leitrim and the Frazer name is to be found elsewhere in Ireland.

England.  The Inverness Frasers of Achnagairn set up their stall as merchants in London in the late 18th century.  Unfortunately, they went broke following the defeat of the British army in America. Alexander Fraser was a Scottish painter who gravitated to London in the 1820's.  Later came Fraser army and navy men. 

In general, however, Frasers were mainly to be found in the north of England, nearest to Scotland.  James Fraser, the son of a failed India merchant, became the Anglican bishop of Manchester in 1870.  George MacDonald Fraser, who died recently, was the author of the Flashman series of stories.   

Canada.  There were a number of Fraser Loyalists who had come to America from Scotland in the 1750's and 1760's and then migrated to Canada after the Revolutionary War was over.  Among them were:
  • Thomas Fraser who settled in Edwardsburgh township in Quebec and built a sawmill there.  His son Richard became a fur trader and prominent local businessman.  
  • and Simon Fraser who worked for the Montreal-based NW Company and was responsible for the company's fur trading operations west of the Rockies.  In 1808 he explored what is now known as the Fraser river in British Columbia.  His exploratory effort in what was then uncharted territory was primarily responsible for Canada's border being established on the 49th parallel after the War of 1812.
Frasers also arrived directly from Scotland.   James Fraser reached Halifax in 1780 and set himself up as a merchant and trader along the Miramichi river in New Brunswick.  He later developed a shipbuilding business on Beaubear's island.  A descendant born on the island, John Fraser, rose to be a prominent New Brunswick politician in the late 1800's.

Nova Scotia  The Highlanders on the Hector who reached Pictou in Nova Scotia in 1773 included Alexander Fraser, a Lovat Fraser, one of the few who could speak English (as opposed to Gaelic), and the forebear of the Rocklin Frasers in Pictou county.  Alexander made his home at Sheet Harbour, his brother Duncan at Chance Harbour, and his brother John on Cape Breton Island.   Another contingent of Highlanders and Frasers arrived on Hugh Denoon's smallpox-infested vessels in 1801. 

The Fraser name would soon be found at Pictou communities such as New Glasgow, McLennan's Brook, McLennan's Mountain, Springville, West Branch, and Blanchard Road.  Fraser in fact had become such a common name in these parts that it was sometimes necessary to have nicknames to distinguish families and individuals.  One of the most colorful characters was Thomas Fraser, Buie (he with the yellow hair), who lived to be close on a hundred (as did his son). 

Not all Frasers stayed in Pictou county.   Simon Fraser set off in the 1850's for the goldfields of Australia; James Duncan Fraser left in the 1870's for California and then joined the gold rush to Alaska; and Thomas Fraser became a California state senator.      

Elsewhere  Frasers also came to Ontario; and some headed West.  Daniel Fraser joined the Hudson Bay Company in Manitoba in 1874.  He later set up his own saw and flour mill in Edmonton, Alberta.  George Fraser reached Victoria in British Columbia in 1885 where he designed and built Beacon Hill Park.  Fred and Catherine Fraser were pioneer settlers in Revelstoke, living there from 1885 to 1919 and raising nine children.

America.  In 1650, two Philorth Frasers, James and William, were captured and sent to America in servitude.  To protect themselves from Puritan wrath, they changed their names from Fraser to Frissell. James ended up in New England, William in the Carolinas.  Together, the two of them were said to have been responsible for most of the Frissells in America.

There have been Fraziers and Frazers in America, as well as Frasers.

Frazier  Among the Frazier arrivals were:
  • Colin Frazier who came to Newbury, Massachusetts from Inverness in 1686. 
  • and Alexander and Sarah Frazier who arrived in Chester county, Pennsylvania around 1710 (their descendants moved onto Kentucky). 
John Frazier, who was born near Richmond, Virginia, fought in the Revolutionary War and ended up in Illinois.  The family story is that his father, a tailor from Scotland, made the first frock coat that George Washington ever wore.  Ian Frazier, a staff writer for the New Yorker, recounted his family history (which went back to Revolutionary days) in Family, published in 1994.  Meanwhile another John Frazier, this time from Maryland, was George Washington's Indian scout in the 1750's.

The Frazier name was also to be found across the South, primarily in Georgia and Texas.  William Frazier from South Carolina built the Frazier plantation house in SW Arkansas in 1852.

Frazer  Persifor Frazer, whose father had arrived in America from Ireland in 1735, was a Pennsylvania farmer and a fighter during the Revolutionary War.  After the war he was an iron manufacturer and merchant and was the founder of one of the most prominent families of Philadelphia.  The Frazer papers at the University of Pennsylvania document over 200 years of this family's life.

Fraser  There were fewer early Frasers in America.  The Rev. John Fraser served as rector of the Aquia church in Virginia in the early 1700's.  Family accounts tell of a Daniel Fraser reaching Virginia as a stowaway in the 1740's and a John "Cuffy" Fraser arriving there in the 1750's (before settling in North Carolina).  Another Daniel Fraser, born in Virginia, moved onto Tennessee around 1820.  

Australia.  The most famous early Fraser was a Scottsh woman named Eliza Fraser whose ship was wrecked off the coast of Queensland in 1836 and she was captured by Aborigines.  Fraser Island is named after her.  A greater tragedy occurred in 1857 at the outback station of Hornet Bank in Queensland.  Here eight members of a Fraser family were massacred.  The sole survivor, Billy Fraser, went on a rampage against the Aborigines afterwards.

Simon Fraser, the son of a Scottish timber miller in Nova Scotia, came to the Victorian goldfields in the 1850's in search of a fortune.  He was a contractor there and did become wealthy.  His family later became active in Australian politics, culminating in Malcolm Fraser - Australia's Prime Minister in the 1970's.
Select Fraser Miscellany

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

Select Fraser Names

William Fraser
, Bishop of St. Andrews, was through his diplomacy one of the leading political figures in Scotland in the late 13th century.
Simon Fraser, the 11th Lord Lovat of clan Fraser, was famous for his violent feuding and for his changes of allegiances (he was known as "the Fox").  He had supported the English in 1715 and the Jacobites in 1745.
Simon Fraser was the man who first explored Canada west of the Rockies.  He has been called the father of British Columbia for this pioneering effort.
James Frazer was the Scots author in 1890 of The Golden Bough, a famous book which documented similarities in magical and religious beliefs across the world.
Peter Fraser, born in Scotland, was Prime Minister of New Zealand in the 1940's.
Malcolm Fraser was Prime Minister of Australia in the 1970's.
Lady Antonia Fraser is a writer of English biographies and history.
Dawn Fraser was the Australian swimming legend who triumphed three times in the Olympics in the 100 meters freestyle.
Joe Frazier, known as Smokin' Joe, was a heavyweight boxing champion of the 1970's, famous for his fights with Mohammed Ali.

Select Frasers Today
  • 50,000 in the UK (most numerous in the Scottish borders)
  • 60,000 in America (most numerous in Texas).
  • 61,000 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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