Craig Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Craig Surname Meaning

Craig originates from the Scottish Gaelic word creag, meaning “rocky hill,” from whence came the English word crag.

As a surname, it might have come from the place-name of Craig, of which there have been several in Scotland, or be descriptive of someone who lived by a steep rocky hill.   

Craig Internet Resources on The Internet

Craig Surname Ancestry

  • from Scotland
  • to England, Ireland (Ulster), America, Canada and New Zealand

Scotland.  There are more crags in the north of Scotland than in the Lowlands and the early history of the Craig surname has a northeast bias.  Ian Craig covered the early history in his 2010 book The Origins of the Clan Craig.

Highland. Early Craigs were from Aberdeenshire. John of the Craig was said to have led a party of 300 men in the raiding at siege of Kildrumie castle at the Battle of Culblean against the English in 1335. It is thought that this John was the Laird of the Craig of Auchindoir in Aberdeenshire.

By the next century the line of the Craigs of Craigfintray and Riccarton had begun. Their numbers included:

  • the Rev. John Craig, the famous churchman and colleague of John Knox in the 1500’s.
  • and Sir James Craig, one of the leading undertakers of the Ulster plantation in the 1600’s.

These Craigs re-established themselves at the Edinburgh estate of Riccarton in 1608. In Tarves in Aberdeenshire there were monuments to Thomas Craig who died in 1584 and William Craig who died in 1617. The Craig name also extended itself north into the Orkney isles. But in recent times the Craig presence in Aberdeenshire has been minimal.

Lowland. Craig also had Lowland origins. John del Crag appeared at an early time in Ayrshire and Craigs from Mid and West Lothian paid homage to the English king in the Ragman’s Roll of 1296.

The Craig name had become particularly common in Edinburgh by the 15th and 16th centuries. Craig House in Edinburgh dates from about 1565.

The Craig line of goldsmiths appears to have begun with Robert Craig in the early 1500’s and extended to his son Adam who became a freeman after making his “piece of work in both gold and silver” in 1562.

Robert Craig and his brother John were successful Edinburgh businessmen of the late 1600’s. Robert’s grandson James was the architect responsible for the layout of Edinburgh New Town in the 1760’s.

Glasgow has a larger Craig population today. Andrew Craig was a merchant in Glasgow in the late 1600’s. His son William was a minister there and his grandson William a judge who was made Lord Craig.

Ireland. Sir James Craig was granted lands in Ulster in 1610 and settled many of his kinsmen in the barony of Tullyhunco in county Cavan. Craigs also moved elsewhere in Ulster, in particular to Antrim, following the religious upheavals in Scotland in the late 1600’s. Many subsequently emigrated to America.

From the Craigs who remained came:

  • the Rev. Andrew Craig, a Presbyterian minister in Lisburn who was a strong opponent of the United Irishmen movement of the late 18th century
  • and James Craig, a whiskey magnate in Belfast of the late 19th century. His son was James Craig, later Lord Craigavon, the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland in 1921.  He held that position until his death in 1940.

England. The Craig name extended into northern England. Here the Craigs tended to have Scottish antecedents. Two examples, both born in Cheshire, are:

  • Ernest Craig, the Conservative politician for Crewe at the time of the First World War who was made a baronet in 1927. His forebear was John Craig of Burntisland in Fife in the 1820’s.
  • and Daniel Craig, the James Bond actor. His forebears on his father’s side were William Craig and Margaret Dunlop who were married in Ayr in 1817.

America. The Craigs who emigrated to America were mainly Scots Irish and they started coming in the 1720’s, with Pennsylvania, Virginia and South Carolina being their primary destinations.

Pennsylvania. Among the Craigs here were:

  • James Craig and his extended family from Ulster who settled in 1728 in Catasauga Creek in what became Northampton county. Their settlement was known as The Craigs and later as TheIrish Settlement. Another branch of this family settled in Bucks county.
  • John Craig, who arrived from county Down with his parents in Philadelphia in 1773 and worked there with his brother Henry as a cabinet maker. John and his wife Betty settled after the Revolutionary War in Fairview township, Butler county where John helped build its first Presbyterian church.
  • various Craigs who made their home in Hopewell township, Washington county in the 1790’s.
  • and later in 1819 came Hugh Craig with his family from Fermanagh. They made their home in Armstrong township, Indiana county.

The colonial accounts reveal some Craig problems with Indians. In Franklin county, John Craig and his wife Isabel of East Hanover township were scalped by Indians in 1756; Samuel Craig was killed by Indians while on his way to Fort Ligonier in 1777; while Daniel Craig of Washington county married the widow of Thomas Urie who had been murdered by Indians in 1790.

Virginia. Craig numbers here included:

  • the best-known probably, was the Rev. John Craig, a Presbyterian minister from Antrim, who arrived in Augusta county in 1740. He led the construction of the Augusta Old Stone Church.
  • William Craig and his family, also from Antrim, who had come to Pennsylvania earlier and settled in Augusta county in 1744. He too was a Covenanter Presbyterian and tradition has him and his family helping in the building of the Stone Church.
  • James Craig, the son of William and Janet Craig, who migrated from Pennsylvania to Augusta county in 1740 where he became one of its largest landowners. Two of his sons George and William fought in the Revolutionary War.
  • John Craig who married Mollie Cox in Augusta county around 1760. One of their sons Robert was found dead, scalped by Indians, in 1794. From another son James came the Virginia politician Robert Craig, after whom Craig county in Virginia was named. Robert died on his Green Hill estate near Salem in 1852.
  • and Hugh Craig from county Down who arrived in Chesterfield county around 1760. His sons acquired land there after the Revolutionary War and John Craig built the first house in the town of Chesterfield, as well as a mill later. His grandson W.D. Craig donated the land to what became Craig Park in the 1930’s.

Toliver Craig, born in Virginia in the early 1700’s, was probably the result of an affair between a Scottish lass named Jane Craig and an Italian sea captain. He and his sons Elijah, Lewis and Joseph were early converts to the Baptist church. They departed with their followers to Kentucky as “the travelling church” in 1781. Another son Toliver Jr. became a significant landowner in Kentucky and was elected to the state legislature.

South Carolina. The landing point here was Charleston. In the 1770’s John and James Craig from Antrim moved to Laurens county where they helped found the Presbyterian church at Duncan’s Creek.

From this family came Robert Craig who moved with his wife Nancy to Georgia in 1821. He developed a large plantation at Lawrenceville in the years prior to the Civil War. Craigs are still living at Lawrenceville.

John had received the following commendation from his church in Antrim before his departure:

“I Joseph Cumming certify that the bearer John Craig and Ellen his wife are Protestants of the Presbyterian persuasion and are free of all public scandal or Church censure and, having a mind to remove to the province of South Carolina with their six children, are hereby recommended to all he may apply to as sober, honest people and worthy of encouragement. Dated at Ahoghill on this 6th day of November 1773.”  

The family’s Craig House, located three miles outside of Lancaster in South Carolina, was built in the early 1830’s and still stands. The Craig farm there remains in family hands.

Canada.  James and Helen Craig arrived from Ayrshire in Scotland to Glengarry, Ontario around the year 1816. Their son James and grandson James both served in the Ontario assembly. Two other sons were said to have left the area, William to Australia and Hugh to California.

Many of the other Craigs in Canada were Scots Irish from Ulster:

  • a Craig family from county Cavan arrived in two waves, in 1834 and 1840, and settled in Carleton county of Ontario, making their home in North Gower township.
  • two brothers Robert and James Craig from Ballymena in Antrim, fleeing the potato famine, came to Walsingham in Norfolk county, Ontario in the late 1840’s.
  • and John Craig who grew up in Antrim came to Ontario in the 1860’s. Craig was the editor and owner of the Fergus News-Record which he had purchased with his brother Robert in 1869.

New Zealand. Joseph and Agnes Craig from Paisley in Scotland came to Auckland with their family on the Jane Gifford in 1842. Joseph started out as a general merchant in the town.

When he died in 1885 his son Joseph James inherited his merchant and cartage contracting business and expanded it greatly. For the next forty five years nearly every piece of cargo that arrived at the port of Auckland was carted by a J.J. Craig horse and cart or vehicle.  

“J.J. Craig built large premises on the city’s wharves on Auckland Harbor and kept several hundred draught horses in stables near the sea. In the 1890s there was an unprecedented demand for timber in Australia and J.J. Craig built up an impressive fleet of sailing ships to carry wood across the Tasman Sea and bring back coal from New South Wales.“  

James Craig came to Auckland from Ahoghill in county Antrim with his two sisters in 1863.

Craig Surname Miscellany

The Craigs of Craigfintray and Riccarton.  The forebear of the Craigs in Aberdeenshire was probably William Craig of Craigfintray who was born sometime in the late 1400’s. His line ran as follows:

  • William Craig who was killed fighting the English at the Battle of Flodden Field in 1513
  • his son, the Rev. John Craig, who was imprisoned during the early stages of the Reformation for adopting Protestantism.  He was sentenced to death but escaped and joined John Knox.
  • and, following Alexander and William Craig, Sir Thomas Craig, the great institutional writer on Scottish institutional law through his Jus Feudale.

Sir Thomas was so admired by James VI of Scotland that he was one of the Scots invited to attend his coronation as King of England at Westminster Abbey in 1603.  Shortly before his death in 1608, he became the possessor of Riccarton, the Edinburgh estate once owned by Robert the Bruce.

Thomas’s brother John, who was the King’s physician, and son James followed him to London in 1603.   James, through these royal connections, became one of the Scottish undertakers of the Ulster plantation.

The Craig line at Riccarton continued until the death of Robert Craig there in 1823.  The estate passed to James Gibson who assumed the name and arms of Craig, changing his name to James Gibson-Craig.   Another line from these Craigs via the Ulster plantation was said to have led to James Craig, the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland in 1921.

Sir James Craig in Ulster.  Sir James Craig had followed King James VI to England in 1603 and, due to his royal connections, was granted lands in county Armagh. These he exchanged for lands in the barony of Tullyhunco in county Cavan and he settled many of his kinsmen there.

The following year he completed the building of a walled house at Croghan near Killeshandra in Cavan.  This castle was 35 feet in height and surrounded by a wall some 240 feet in circumference. He had four horses and mares and a supply of arms for defense and was in the process of raising stones to build a mill.   His neighbor was Sir Alexander Hamilton, a Scottish undertaker from the Hamilton family of East Lothian.

Things went generally well until the 1641 rising and civil war. This was a particularly difficult period for the Scots in Killeshandra as the Craig and Hamilton families were both forced out of their settled lands by the O’Reillys. The 1641 Ulster Muster recorded Sir James Craig with 54 men, 16 swords, 15 pikes, and 6 muskets.  But they were simply outnumbered and many of the Scots settlers at the time were killed.

In April 1642 Sir James himself died.  His castle had been wasted by disease.  One hundred and sixty men and women had died of hunger and disease and the remainder were too weak to defend the castle any longer. Consequently Sir James’s family and his Hamilton neighbors were rousted from their plantations and driven to the seaport of Drogheda.

To counter these attacks, Oliver Cromwell arrived with his English army and the resulting wars ended with the defeat of the Catholic Confederates. Sir James Craig’s brother John returned to lay claim to the lands owned by his brother.

Reader Feedback – Sir Ernest Craig of Cheshire.  He was a cousin of my mother. She could remember going as a child to tea with Sir Ernest and Lady Craig on several occasions.

His father was William Young Craig of Lowick, a surveyor, architect and later MP.  William had first run away from home at age fifteen to see the world. Several of the other siblings were bitten by the travel bug and similarly sought their fortunes overseas.

Harriet Ann Craig, from whom I’m descended, married a Highland Scot who was a schoolteacher attached to the British Army, and went to India, Ceylon, Australia and New Zealand, eventually returning to the UK with several children.

Her brother Walter Craig made his home in Australia and made famous Craig’s Royal Hotel in Ballarat, Victoria, then a fashionable horse racing town which regularly drew Royal visitors. The hotel exists today and my son visited it (and Walter’s grave) whilst living in Victoria a few years ago. The picture of Walter on the foyer wall evidences a distinct family resemblance to my son!

Sam Leigh (

The Rev. John Craig of Augusta County, Virginia.  The following marker appeared at Fort Defiance in 2015 in commemoration of the Rev. John Craig:

“John Craig, born in Antrim, Ireland, and educated in Edinburgh, Scotland, immigrated to America in 1734.  Ordained pastor in 1740 of the two churches known as Augusta Stone and Tinkling Sprint, Craig was Virginia’s first settled Presbyterian minister west of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  He led the construction of Augusta Stone Church and its defensive reinforcement.

Craig, an Old Side minister who resisted the Great Awakening, traveled the backcountry to preach, baptize settlers, and organize congregations. With his wife, Isabella, he established a farm and raised six children.  The Craigs are buried in the cemetery to the east.”

Samuel Craig and the Indians.  Samuel Craig served as a commissary in Pennsylvania during the Revolutionary War.  In 1777 he was called to Fort Ligonier, but never made it.

On the way he was captured by Indians on Chestnut Ridge and all efforts to ascertain his fate were without avail. His horse was found dead, perforated by eight bullets.  Fragments of paper strewn along the path indicated the route taken by the Indians. But that was all that could be found.

His son Samuel was also captured by Indians at the time of this conflict.  They attempted to drown him while he was crossing the Miami river. He struggled valiantly against their repeated efforts until one of the Indians put him back on his canoe and claimed him as his prisoner.

He and five other captives were made to sit on a log and have their faces painted black to indicate their doom.  The five other captives were chopped down with tomahawks.  But Samuel who had started to sing lustily and surprised the Indians was spared.  He was eventually sold to an Englishman for a gallon of whiskey.

The second son Alexander had no such mishaps.  He served his country well in the Revolutionary War and was a Brigadier General in the War of 1812.

Craig House in South Carolina.  The current Craig House outside of Lancaster in South Carolina dates from the early 1830’s, being originally a federal-style farmhouse.  In 1901 it was significantly enlarged with a Victorian front addition by John Edgar and Amanda Drennan Craig who had married in 1883. Craig House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.

The fields and woods surrounding Craig House are all part of the pre-Civil War Craig Farm which included more than a thousand acres of farmland.

Craig Farm today consists of close to 400 acres, owned by the five siblings of the current Craig generation.  It is operated as a cattle farm by Bill Craig, the twin brother of his Kilburnie partner John Craig.  Bill is also a skilled cabinet maker and fine examples of his workmanship are scattered throughout Kilburnie and Craig House.

Judy Sanwald-Craig and her husband Roger Sanwald also contributed to the home by handcrafting a period gilded picture frame for a portrait of Benjamin Franklin which now hangs in the drawing room of Craig House.

Reader Feedback – Craigs in South Carolina and Tennessee.  My father is a Craig, he and his family living in Robertson county, Tennessee – though many are still in middle Tennessee. They supposedly came from South Carolina and before that from Scotland.

My Dad did a DNA test that confirms his Y DNA is from the UK.  But we can find no evidence of the Craigs born in South Carolina who later settled and married in Tennessee, nor his parents’ other than potential names. James, John, Elizabeth and Sarah Craigs are numerous!

Tabatha Elliott (

Craigs from Ireland to Canada in 1834 and 1840.  The Craigs were apparently from Fermanagh, but had migrated to a rented farm near Monesk in the parish of Killinagh in county Cavan.  Thomas Craig and his wife were the parents of nine children.  The eldest son Robert emigrated to Pennsylvania and nothing more was known of him.  Two other sons Hugh and William departed for Canada in 1834, to be joined by a younger son Thomas in 1840.

The first Craig party set sail for Canada on the Richardson.  Hugh left with his wife and seven of his nine children, William with his wife and all seven of his children.  They landed at Brockville and made their way inland through the forest by wagons and oxen, finally arriving at their destination of Goulbourn township in Carleton county, Ontario.  Hugh subsequently bought land in the adjoining North Gower township where he established Echo Farm.

The early years were not without their mishaps.  During the voyage William’s daughter Mary Anne had drowned in the St. Lawrence river while trying to draw water to cook breakfast.  She was pulled over the side and never seen again. William himself died two years later when he was hit by a tree that he was cutting down and the impact killed him.

The second wave came over six years later, leaving Ireland in 1840 on the Industry. This party consisted of Thomas, his wife and their ten children.  No tragedy struck this party. But Thomas’s daughter Charlotte was apparently romanced by the ship’s captain.

The family history was chronicled in James Beverley Craig’s 1929 book The Craigs of Goulbourn and North Gower. One picture in the book, taken in 1907, depicted the Craig family outside Craig House in Craig Street in North Gower.  The Craigs had gathered to celebrate James Craig’s 91st birthday.

Craig Names

  • Sir James Craig was one of the leading Scottish undertakers of the Ulster plantation in 1610. 
  • James Craig was the 18th century Scottish architect primarily responsible for the layout of the Edinburgh New Town. 
  • James Craig, later Lord Craigarvon, became the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland in 1921.
  • Daniel Craig is an English actor who is the present embodiment of James Bond in the Bond film series.

Craig Numbers Today

  • 30,000 in the UK (most numerous in Glasgow)
  • 35,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 28,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Craig and Like Surnames 

These surnames originated from the northern part of Scotland, either the northeast of the country, the Scottish Highlands, or in one case (the surname Linklater) the Orkney isles north of Scotland.



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Written by Colin Shelley

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