Abercrombie Surname, Meaning, History & Origin

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The Scottish surname Abercrombie originated from the place-name Abercromby in Fife, earlier Abarcrumbach, a name of Pictish origin meaning “mouth of the bendy river.” Abercromby as a surname was first recorded there in 1296. The spelling tended to become Abercrombie by the 19th century.

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ScotlandWilliam de Abercromby were recorded as rendering homage to the Scottish King in Fife in 1296. From William descended the Abercrombies of that Ilk.

“Tradition relates a curious burial practice amongst the Abercrombies of that Ilk. On the death of a Laird his predecessor’s skull was removed from the grave and stored in a niche in the church. Nineteen skulls were reportedly in place there in the 18th century.


Their main line remained in Fife, although lands were granted
to Alexander Abercromby in Banff in NE Scotland by the Bishop of Aberdeen in 1362.

The family in Fife were supporters of the Catholic Church, one having been Abbot of Scone, while another, Robert, a militant Jesuit father, escaping capture following the Battle of Glenlivet in 1594 and fleeing abroad. The demise of the Fife line was hastened by the denouncement of Thomas Abercrombie for murder in 1626 and, during his exile in Ireland, his lands left the family.

The lineage of the family then passed to the Abercrombys of Birkenbog in Banff. Alexander Abercromby of this family was grand falconer in Scotland to King Charles I. His eldest son Alexander, however, was a fervent Covenanter and incurred the wrath of the King.

A number of later Abercrombies of this line became British army
generals, including General James Abercromby who fared poorly in North America during the Seven Years War, and Sir Ralph Abercromby, whose reform of the British army after the defeat in America did much to prepare it for the war against
Napoleon.

Ireland. Abercrombies from Scotland in Fermanagh date from about 1700. They mainly settled in the Clones area near the border with Monaghan.

America. There are more Abercrombies today in America than in Scotland. Their main presence has been and continues to be in South Carolina.

James Abercromby was an early arrival in Charleston, having been appointed attorney general of the colony in 1730. Other Abercrombys followed him in the next thirty years. They acquired land in Laurens county, South Carolina. Jonathan Abercrombie, known as Squire Crombie or Grandsir by his grandchildren, lived there through the Revolutionary War and into the Civil War. The main cluster of Abercrombies today in South Carolina is in Greenville.

Robert Abercrombie, said to have been a cousin to the British general Sir Ralph Abercromby, came to North Carolina in the 1740’s. He had some distinguished descendants:

  • his son Major Charles had a distinguished record in the Revolutionary War and later settled in Georgia.
  • Charles’s grandson Milo was a pioneer settler in Macon county, Alabama in the 1820’s and was a large planter and slave owner there.
  • while Milo’s grandson Jim, who grew up in Texas, founded an oil drilling company in Houston in the 1920’s and was an important figure in Texas early oil history.

Isaac Abercrombie was an early settler in Perry county, Alabama from Scotland; while the Abercrombies in Marion county, Alabama may have migrated there from South Carolina.

Karen Robert’s 1997 book Abercrombies of the Southern States covered many of these lines.


Abercrombie & Fitch.  The David Abercrombie of Abercrombie & Fitch fame was born in Baltimore in 1867, the son of Scottish immigrants who had arrived twenty years earlier. Ronald Abercrombie’s 2011 booklet The Abercrombies of Baltimore has covered the family history.

“David Abercrombie was a trapper, prospector, topographer and railroad surveyor. He was also an inventor, an ingenious designer of tents, rucksacks and other camping equipment. It was his love of the great outdoors that inspired him to begin in New York Abercrombie & Co, a shop dedicated to selling only the highest-quality camping, fishing and hunting gear. His clientele consisted mostly of professional hunters, explorers and trappers. And a man named Ezra Fitch.


Abercrombie & Fitch was formed in 1904. Since that time it has passed through many ownerships. The current version of A&F sells clothes mostly for the youth market. David Abercrombie died in the Adirondacks in 1931. He has many descendants, including a number in Fredericton, New Brunswick.

 

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William and Johan de Abercromby.  William de Abercromby paid homage to the Scottish Government for his lands in the parish of Abercromby in 1296 during the period known as ‘the interregnum government.’  He was a prominent citizen and was recorded in a number of wills and land charters, as well as in the court register of Fifeshire where he was a juror on several occasions.Johan de Abercromby rendered homage in the same year and is believed to have been William’s brother. 

Sir Ralph Abercromby.  Sir Ralph Abercromby was a mentor to Wellington during the retreat from Europe in 1795 at the outset of the Napoleonic wars. The eventual success against Napoleon can be attributed in no small amount to Abercromby’s restructuring of the army.

He had first joined the British army during the Seven Years’ War.  He was able at that time to study the methods of Frederick the Great which moulded his military character and formed his
tactical ideas.  His sympathy with the American colonies during the War of Independence hindered his professional advancement for a time.

But he ended his career and life in a blaze of glory.  In 1801 he took his troops to the Middle East, landing with them at Aboukir, and died of wounds received while personally leading them in an attack on the French forces at Alexandria.  In honor of her husband’s bravery, his wife was created Baroness Abercromby of Aboukir and Tullibody.

Lineage of the Abercrombies of Laurens County, South Carolina.  Family lore has it that there were three brothers, possibly cousins of James Abercrombie the colonial attorney general, that came to South Carolina and settled in Laurens county in the 1760’s.

The claim that James Abercrombie of Laurens county was the son of Sir James Abercrombie of Birkenbog, the second Baronet, in Scotland does seem to be mistaken. Although Sir James did have two sons by Mary Gordon named James, the first James died at an early age and the second James never married, dying in Russia while on military service.  At that time James Abercrombie of Laurens county was in colonial America fathering and raising a large family. 

Abercrombies in America in 1880

State Numbers Percent
South Carolina    200    20%
Alabama    180    18%
Georgia    150    15%
Elsewhere    450    47%
Total    980   100%

Abercrombie & Fitch.  In 1892 David Abercrombie founded Abercrombie Co. as a small waterfront shop at No.36 South Street in downtown Manhattan.  Wealthy Ezra Fitch was soon one of his regular customers.

Ezra Fitch was a successful lawyer in Kingston, New York.  Restless and thoroughly bored with his life of law, Fitch spent all of his free time trekking the slopes of the Adirondacks and casting flies into the streams of the Catskill.  In his search for exceptional outdoor gear, he had come to rely upon David Abercrombie’s shop, becoming one of its most devoted customers.

He was so devoted, in fact, that in 1900 he had convinced David Abercrombie to let him buy into the business and become a partner.  By 1904, the shop, which by now had moved to 314 Broadway, was incorporated and the name was officially changed to Abercrombie & Fitch.

Both David Abercrombie and Ezra Fitch were stubborn, hot-tempered men and they had vastly different views about the future of their business.  Abercrombie was more conservative, content to continue the store as it was, selling professional gear to professional outdoorsmen.  Fitch, on the other hand, was more of a visionary.  He was positive that the future of the business lay in expansion, selling the outdoors and its delights to
more of the general public.  Long arguments between the two men ensued.  Inevitably the partnership came to an end and David Abercrombie resigned in 1907.

 


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Sir Ralph Abercromby was an 18th century general from Scotland whose reform of the British army did much to prepare it for the war against Napoleon.  David Abercrombie was the 19th century founder of the American clothing brand known as Abercrombie & Fitch.  Lascelles Abercrombie was one of the Georgian poets in England in the 1920’s.

Select Abercrombie Numbers Today

  • 1,200 in the UK (most numerous in Lanarkshire)
  • 2,000 in America (most numerous in South Carolina)
  • 1,200 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

 

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