Chisholm Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Chisholm Meaning
The Chisholm name is said to have been derived from a Norman French word “chese” meaning “to choose” and the Saxon word “holm” meaning “meadow.”  The family became established initially at Roxburgh near Kelso, once an important wool town in the Scottish borders. 
Select Chisholm Resources on the Internet

Select Chisholm Ancestry

Scotland. Through marriage, a Robert
Chisholm inherited Erchless Castle near Inverness in the early
century. This was to be the Chisholm
clan seat for the next five hundred years.
The lands in their
at this time were Strathglass and Ard and they later came into the
estate of
Comar, making them proprietors of a large part of Ross-shire. There was frequent clan fighting with neighboring
clans such as the

Chisholms were staunch Catholics and it might come as no surprise that
Roderick Chisholm led his clan in support of the Catholic “Old
Pretender” in 1715 and Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745. In this
they were defeated and, a
the Chisholms
continue as a landed family in their heartland until the end of the
century, it was the beginning of the end of the clan as a social force
Waves of emigration followed,
starting with these defeats and continuing with the Strathglass

in which
the clan chiefs actively participated.

Chisholms were not only to be found in the Highlands.
A Lowland name continued from the early family roots in Roxburgh
– often as Chisholme rather than Chisholm – in the Scottish border
life could be hard and, by the
18th century, many of these Chisholms had migrated north to
Edinburgh and
its environs.

Ireland. Some
Lowland Chisholms settled in
Ireland. Their name here became
Chism. Most of these Chisms were to be found in county Antrim.

Canada. The Chisholm migration to Canada in fact
predated the clearances. George Chisholm had left Croy for
America in
1773 and settled in Burlington Bay on the SW corner of Lake Ontario. He died there in 1840, a Chisholm loyalist to
the last, at the ripe old age of ninety. His son was William
founder of the town of Oakville, and his great great grandson, Brock
the first director of the World Health Organization.

Most of the Chisholms evicted from their Highland tenancies ended up in Antigonish county in Nova Scotia. The first vessel with emigrants was the Nova which arrived at Pictou in 1801. Donald Og Chisholm came in 1803 and lived there until 1869.  He compiled a record of all the Chisholms who had emigrated to Nova Scotia during his time. 

America. The first Chisholm in America may well have been Duncan Chisholm who had been involved in the English Civil War and had been shipped to America as a prisoner in 1650.

However, early Chisolm arrivals in America were generally of the merchant/planter class, forming a network with other Scottish-born planters based in Charleston in the South.  Their plantations on the Sea Islands flourished until the time of the Civil War. But other Chisholms in America, such as Jesse Chisholm of the famed Chisholm Trail, were backwoodsmen and early frontiersmen.

Australia. James Chisholm had come to
the colony in 1790
as a member of the NSW Corps to keep the peace. He decided to
stay and
ended up, by
1830’s, with vast sheep-rearing lands in the Goulburn district some 200
kilometers south of Sydney. The home that he and his son James
had built
there, Gledswood,
stayed with the
family over the next hundred years


Select Chisholm Miscellany

Chisholm Origins.  The name is formed from the
Norman “chese” which meant “to choose,” and “holm” which is a Saxon
word that
meant “meadow.”

According to one
account, the
kingdom of Gododdin was taken by the Northumbrian English in the 7th
and was then taken in turn by the Normans three hundred years later.  The early Chisholms came across the North
Sea and the lands they claimed in Roxburghshire became a feudal barony.

The name of Alexander de Cheschelme appears
on a charter from 1249, and the Ragman Roll of 1296, listing the
supporters of
England’s Edward I mentions Richard de Cheschelme and John de Cheshome.  The seal used by the family shows a boar’s
head which represented the traditional story of two Chisholm brothers
who saved
a king from a wild boar.

The Chisholms and the Macraes.  The Macraes had for a
considerable period a stranglehold on the Chisholm lands.
Maurice Macrae was said to have loaned
substantial sums of money to the Chisholm and received in return
grazing land
in Glen Affric.

Maurice was said to
have met his
death through his own generosity.
Having met up with some Chisholms on the way home from a
business trip
to Inverness, Maurice took a drink with them at The Struy Inn.  He never returned to Kintail and was later
found drowned in the River Glass.

Chisholms were strongly suspected of the
disposal of Maurice, but nothing could be proved.  Soon
afterwards, a party of Macraes arrived in Strathglass to
take back Maurice’s body.  While passing
Clachan Comer with his body, they noticed the burial taking place of
one of the
prominent Chisholms.  The Macraes
stepped into the sacred burial ground amidst the Chisholm funeral party
seized the gravestone that was about to be laid.  It
was said that they did this in order to try to provoke a fight
so that they might then have the opportunity to avenge Maurice’s murder.

Legend has it that
was not accepted.  The Macraes carried
the stone block away all the way back to Kintail and placed it on

The Strathglass Clearances.  In 1801, William, the 24th Chisholm, began the clearances in Strathglass.  In the
period of one year, half of the clan were evicted.
Many left for Canada and Nova Scotia.

After William’s death,
his son
was still a minor; but his wife Elizabeth continued with the evictions
for one
sole purpose – to pay for her son’s (the future 25th Chisholm)
education at

Bishop Chisholm had
pleaded with
her to end the evictions:

“Oh! Madam, you would
really feel if you only heard the pangs and saw the
oozing tears by which I am surrounded in this once happy but now
valley of Strathglass, looking out all anxiously for a home without
their dear valley; but it will not do, they must emigrate!”

She promised the
tenants, who
had gone to her for help, to come up with a solution.
But she never did.  Two
sheep farmers, Thomas Gillespie and William MacKenzie, had convinced
her that
she should continue with the “improvements” to her land.

The evictions continued
with the
Cambridge educated son, Alexander.  He
followed in his parents’ footsteps and totally depopulated Strathglass.  It was said that only one Chisholm
remained.  Bard and poet in the old Gael
tradition, Donald Chisholm, wrote these words:

chief is losing his kin! He prefers sheep in the glens, and his young
men away
in the camp of the army!”

A man of the time
described Alexander
as wanting nothing so much as to replace all his people, “his family
the beginning of time,” with sheep. And, unfortunately, it was true.

Chisholms on the Nova.  The first vessel with Chisholm emigrants from the
Highland clearances was the Nova, which arrived at Pictou in
Nova Scotia in
1801.  One of the 500 passengers on board that vessel, Margaret
lived for another seventy years.  She recalled in later life the
of the voyage:

“At starting nothing
could be heard but for the laughing and the frolic of the children. One
by one
their bodies were consigned to the angry deep. The laughter and frolic
crying were hushed and the hearts of the mothers were filled with

Smallpox had broken out on the ship and sixty five children died
during the crossing.

Reader Feedback – Chisholms in Nova Scotia.  My great-grandmother was a Mary (no middle name that I can find) Chisholm who was born in November 1860, reportedly at Black River, NS.  She died in Guysborough, NS in 1944.

The only info I have on her parents is that her mother was also named “Mary.”  Well, that’s no help.  My great-grandmother Mary married James John Atwater and gave issue (among others) to my grandmother Caroline Atwater, who eventually moved to Massachusetts in 1907 and married Henry Fuller from Sharon, MA.  If anyone has any leads on where to go next to figure this out, I’d appreciate it.

Cyndee Fuller, Rhode Island (

Reader Feedback – Duncan Chisholm, the First Chisholm in America.  I believe the first Chisholm in America was Duncan Chisholm, a Scottish Prisoner of War from the Battle of Dunbar in 1650.  The Scottish POW Society ( has some information on him.

I believe I am a descendant of his as my Y dna test says there is a 98% chance my surname around this time (350- 400 years ago) was Chisholm and country of origin was Scotland.  I can trace my paternal line back to exactly this time and then it stops.

I am looking for more information on him to prove this and any information you could provide would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks, Paul Kates (

Reader Feedback – The Chisholm Trail.  On your website there is a statement declaring the “Chisholm Trail” was a cattle trail going from south Texas to Abilene, Kansas. The trail system to which you refer existed from 1867 until 1889.

In looking at maps which were created and published during this time period (i.e. material which can be categorized as primary documentation), I do not find anything saying “Chisholm Cattle Trail.” What I do find are maps saying “Eastern Trail” or “Eastern Cattle Trail” within Texas; and “Abilene Trail” or “Abilene Cattle Trail” within Indian Territory (today’s Oklahoma).

To find maps which say “Chisholm Cattle Trail,” I have needed to look at maps from the 1920’s or 1930’s or even newer. Because of the lapse of time between the publication of these maps compared to the timing for when the cattle trail actually existed, these “modern” maps cannot be considered primary documents or source documents.

Ronald Dietzel from Newton, Kansas (

Robert Chisolm at Home in the Sea Islands.  
Robert Chisolm’s town house was in
Beaufort in South Carolina, looking out on the Beaufort river.
There are
still to be found some ancient camellia plants which Robert had brought
in the years before the Civil War.  Most of the streets are
covered with
fine sand, deadening noise.   Mockingbirds can be seen in the
of the streets, dusting themselves, swishing their tails and flying off
only if
the driver of the car or cart insists on passing.

The most striking
characteristic of the town is the great number of large white houses
with deep
verandas. Many have enormous pillars, fine fanlights, and decorative
detail in the localities where money and labor were available.
They are
made of wood with tabby understructures that were once used as service

cultivated on Chisolm’s Island.  This island, at the head of St.
Sound, is bounded on one side by the Coosawriver and lies near the
outfall of
another river, the Combabee.  In 1830 he set out an olive orchard
on 1.3
acres.  The trees survived the freeze of 1835 (although the orange
were killed to the roots).  Robert Chisolm made a success of the
and shipped out olives up to the time of the Civil War.  The trees
then cut down by Federal soldiers for fuel.

Gledswood.  The Scots can be nostalgic.  The
name Gledswood is said to have come from
a Scottish property on the Tweed river, just below Sir Walter Scott’s
view of the river, to which James Chisholm was also partial.

James Chisholm, an
early settler in Australia, had accumulated vast sheep-rearing lands in
Goulburn district, 200 kilometers south of Sydney.  He acquired
Gledswood property in 1816.  Convict labor was used to build the
House, which was completed in 1829.

Gledswood has historical significance for
its association with the early development of Australia’s wine
industry. James
Chisholm junior had planted a vineyard in 1830 and in 1847 vinedressers
Germany were imported to work it.  The convict-built cellar under
homestead was capable of holding 20,000 bottles of wine.

The house still stands
as a prime example of early colonial architecture.  It is said to
haunted by the ghost of Polly Chisholm who was found dead in a dam on
property in the 1890’s.  She is still “seen” in the dining room of


Chisholm Names

  • Alexander de Cheschelme
    was the
    earliest recorded Chisholm (from 1249).   
  • Roderick Chisholm was the
    Chisholm clan chief who led his men in the doomed rebellions of 1715 and 1745,
    but survived with his life and his estates. 
  • Caroline Chisholm, who
    had married Capt. Archibald Chisholm in 1838 and moved to Australia, sought
    housing and jobs for the young immigrant women who arrived there. 
  • Jesse Chisholm, who was
    born in Tennessee and built trading posts in western Oklahoma in the
    1850’s, gave his name to the Chisholm Trail, a cattle trail which stretched from
    southern Texas to Abilene in Kansas. 
  • Brock Chisholm, from
    Oakville in Ontario, was the first Director of the World Health
    Organization in 1948.   
  • Shirley Chisholm
    from Brooklyn (of Jamaican origin) was the first black woman to sit in the US House of Representatives.

Select Chisholm Numbers Today

  • 6,500 in the UK (most numerous
    in Durham)
  • 3,500 in America (most numerous
    in Florida).
  • 10,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


Select Chisholm and Like Surnames

The Scottish Highlands were Gaelic-speaking and their clan names appeared first in Gaelic and only later in an English version.  Each clan controlled its own local territory and frequently fought with neighbors.  Many, however, took the clan name in order to receive clan protection.

The clan downfall came following the 1715 and 1745 uprisings with the Battle of Culloden when the clan culture was broken up and clan tartans banned (although they came back into fashion with Queen Victoria a hundred years later).  The Highland clearances, supplanting people for sheep, was a further blow and many Highlanders were forced into emigration, still speaking their native Gaelic, to Canada and then to Australia and New Zealand.

Here are some of the clan surnames that you can check out.





Click here for return to front page

Leave a Reply