Select Murray Surname Genealogy

Murraqy has both Scottish and Irish origins.

Scottish Origins.  The Murray clan in Scotland descends from a Flemish nobleman Freskin who had crossed the North Sea in the 12th century and been granted lands along the Moray Firth coastline.  His family took the name Moray which became over time Murray.  The name may have come from the Pictish word moritreb, meaning "seaward settlement," which described the ancient province of Mormaer in Moray.

Irish Origins.  The Irish Murray dates from an earlier time.  The Siol Muiredhaigh (pronounced Sheel Murray) was the territorial and dynastic name for clans descended from Muireadhach Muilleathan (Murray the long-headed) who died around the year 700.  The name Muiredhaigh, meaning "lord" or master," was a fairly common personal name in The Annals of the Four Masters.

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Scotland.  The early Murrays became the lords of Bothwell in Clydesdale and Andrew Murray led the Scots in their uprising against the English in 1297.  However, the last of this line died of the plague in 1360 and the Murrays then splintered into various groupings.

The main branch, based in Perth, were the Murrays of Tullibardine.  They assumed clan leadership in the 16th century, taking the title of the Dukes of Atholl.  Also from Scone in Perthshire were the Murrays of Stormont who later became Earls of Mansfield.

Then on the Scottish Borders were:
  • the Murrays of Cockpool in Dumfries
  • the Murrays of Broughton in Wigton
  • the Murrays of Philiphaugh in Selkirk
  • and the Murrays of Stanhope and Cordon in Peeblesshire.
There also remained some Murray pockets in the Highlands, at Abercross on the banks of the river Briona in Sutherland.

The Jacobite rising of 1745 found the Murrays divided, with the clan chief supporting the British Government and his son, Lord George Murray, the Jacobites.  After the defeat at Culloden, many Murrays fled Scotland, with a number departing for America.  The American writer William Faulkner was said to have told a friend: "My great grandfather Murray had his grandfather's claymore which he had carried at the battle of Culloden."

As the 19th century proceeded, the Murray demographics within Scotland changed, with a greater concentration around Edinburgh and Glasgow.  Murrays left as well for Canada, Australia, and New Zealand at this time. 

Ireland The O'Muiredhaighs or Siol Murrays who took their name from the ancient Siol Muiredhaigh were to be found in northern Roscommon, as place names there such as Ballymurray, Cloonmurray, and Kilmurray testify.  The clan seat was at Moate Park in Ballymurray.  But it was confiscated by the English in the late 17th century.   The Irish Murray surname has also appeared in Monaghan and county Down.

Scots Irish.  As the Irish Murrays were losing their lands, the Scots Murrays were stepping in.  The Murrays of Broughton obtained a plantation grant in SW Donegal in 1610 and held onto these lands against competing claims.  They remained mainly absentee landlords.  Later, another Murray gained some notoreity in the area.  In 1860, a Scottish land steward at the Adair estate, James Murray, was brutally murdered by tenants who were upset at being evicted from their lands. 

Meanwhile, the Murray name was becoming established in Ulster through Scots Protestant immigrants. County Wicklow was also a Murray outpost, but of Scots Catholics who had fled Scotland after the defeat at Culloden.

Some Scots-Irish Murrays had left for America in the 18th century.  But the emigration really gathered pace as the 19th century proceeded.  The following were some of the Murrays who left:
  • William Murray and his brother Richard from Wicklow to Baltimore (America) in 1795
  • John Murray and his family from county Offaly to Prince Edward Island, Canada in 1818
  • John and Jane Murray from county Monaghan to Ontario, Canada in 1832
  • Charles and Susan Murray from county Fermanagh to NSW, Australia in 1839
  • Michael Murray from Waterford to NSW, Australia in 1860.
England.  The 18th and 19th century saw an overflow of Scots Murrays into northern England.  Many went to work in the Durham mines, first in the Derwent lead mines near Hunstanworth and then in the coalfields. William Murray, the son of a flour merchant, founded the Murray engine works and iron foundry in Chester-le-Street, the economic mainstay of that town for much of the 19th century.  Meanwhile, some Irish Murrays made their way to industrial Lancashire.

London had been receiving Murrays a century or more earlier:
  • John Murray, known as Sour John of the Spiceries, arrived in the 1590's and made his money as a spice merchant. 
  • William Murray of Stormont came in 1730 from Perth and rose to become Lord Chief Justice.  His nephew David was a British ambassador at the time of the American Revolutionary War. 
  • and John Murray founded the publishing house which bore his name in London in 1768.  It continued under his family for seven generations.
America.  The American Revolutionary War divided Murrays as the '45 rebellion had thirty years earlier. James Murray for instance, who had arrived in America in the 1730's as a planter along the Cape Fear in North Carolina, was and remained a Loyalist.  He departed Boston in 1776 for Nova Scotia where he ended his days in poverty and in exile. 

But his nephew John Boyles Murray, who had arrived in Boston in 1770, cast his lot with the colonists.  After the war he and his son James prospered in New York as merchants.   Meanwhile, other Murrays from the Cape Fear area made the trek in 1769 to Georgia where, according to Alton Murray's Kindred Murrays, they apparently fought on the American side.

The Murray Quaker family of New York, after whom the Murray Hill neighborhood in Manhattan is named, was another family divided.  Some were known for their support for the patriots; whilst others, including the eldest son Lindley, were led by their loyalist sympathies to return to England.  Lindley, however, had the last laugh.  His English textbooks later became bestsellers in America.

Meanwhile, on the sea islands of South Carolina, James Murray was, according to the family tradition, "killed by the explosion of a cannon while defending the island from the British enemy, leaving one child."  That child, Joseph James Murray, was the forbear of the Murrays still living on Edisto island (including the writer Chalmers Murray).  Their family history is recounted in J.G. Murray's 1958 book, The Murray Family of Edisto Island

The Scots-Irish Murrays had been tobacco planters at Cross Roads in North Carolina since the 1740's. Andrew Murray of this family became well-known after the publication of Alex Haley's book Roots.  It transpired that Haley's great grandfather, a slave and blacksmith on his plantation, had taken his Murray name.

African Americans  The Murray name has been more evident as an African American name in Maryland.  Perhaps the presence of William Murray and his family in Cambridge, Dorchester county, a place where there had been a thriving slave market, was a contributing factor.  In any case the state of Maryland produced:
  • Anna Murray, the freed slave who married the abolitionist Frederick Douglass
  • Daniel Murray, the son of a freed slave who became an authority on African American affairs in Washington
  • Donald Gaines Murray, the first African American to gain admittance to the University of Maryland's law school (after a protracted legal battle in the 1930's)
  • and Pauli Murray, an early civil rights campaigner.
It was therefore appropriate that the Baltimore Orioles should be the home of Eddie Murray, the best switch-hitter of his generation, for most of his baseball career.

Canada.  Alexander Murray, a Scots army captain based in Nova Scotia, made a decisive early contribution to the development of the colony.  In 1755 he superintended the evacuation of the Acadian population.

Later came Murray settlers, mainly Highlanders it would appear.  Walter and Christian Murray arrived in Pictou county on the Hector in 1773.  Peter and Elizabeth Murray who came in 1819 settled at Spiddle Hill.  The present-day Canadian songstress Anne Murray hails from a small town in Nova Scotia.

Three Murray brothers set out from Glasgow in 1840 to seek their fortunes in Canada.  History records only one of these brothers, Alex.  He joined the Hudson Bay Company and established a fur trading post at Fort Yukon in what was then Russian territory.  His sketches of the trading post and the people who frequented it provide an interesting souvenir of that time. 

Two other Murray brothers,Thomas and William, were the sons of Irish immigrants in Goulbourn township, Ontario.  They are best remembered today for the nickel deposits in the Sudbury region known as the Murray mine.

South Africa.  Murrays were early settlers in what was then Cape Colony:
  • John Murray had arrived from Scotland in 1807 to assist his brother Samuel in a store he ran on Strand Street.  He and his wife Martha had nine children and there are many descendants of this family in South Africa today.  
  • and another Murray family, Alfred and Mary, arrived from England in the 1830's.  Alfred was not born a Murray but, strangely, had adopted the Murray surname for some reason on his wedding register. 
Australia.  John Murray from Scotland was one of the earliest explorers of the coastline of Australia.  In 1804 he discovered Port Philip, the bay on which the city of Melbourne was to be sited.  Then came Murray convicts, mostly from Ireland the records would suggest. 

Early Murray settlers were from both Scotland and Ireland:
  • Alexander Murray from Dumfriesshire was a pioneer sheep-breeder in South Australia.  Together with his brother John, he founded the famed Murray Merino flocks.  His son George rose to be Chief Judge of the state.  
  • meanwhile Terence Murray came via Ireland and the Army to raise sheep at Yarralumla near Sydney.  He later became active in New South Wales politics and married into the Anglo-colonial establishment.
New Zealand.  Two Murray brothers, George and James, left Scotland in 1863 to start a new life as farmers in New Zealand.  It was said, once in New Zealand, "that one gave up the porridge and the other the Bible."  A third son, John, rose to be head of the Bank of New Zealand.

Select Murray Miscellany

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

Select Murray Names

Andrew Murray
of Petty and Bothwell led the Scots army against the English at the battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297.  He died of his wounds after the victory.
Donogh O'Murry of the Roscommon sept in Ireland was the Archbishop of Tuam in the late 15th century.
Lord George Murray
of Tullibardine was the Scottish Jacobite general who fought against the English in the 1745 campaign.
John Murray from Edinburgh founded the London publishing house which bore his name in 1768.  It continued under his family for seven generations.
Sir John Murray was a pioneering Scots-Canadian oceanographer and marine biologist of the late 19th century.
John Middleton Murry was an early 20th century man of letters, married to the novelist Katherine Mansfield.
Arthur Murray founded his Arthur Murray dance studio chain in America.  He had been born Moses Teichman in Hungary and changed his name during the First World War.
Ruby Murray was a popular singer in Britain during the 1950's.  She hailed from Belfast.
Bill Murray is a well-known American comedian and actor, best known for his performances in Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day.  He was born in Chicago of Irish stock.

Select Murrays Today
  • 77,000 in the UK (most numerous in Glasgow)
  • 67,000 in America (most numerous in Florida).
  • 100,000 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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