Crawford Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Crawford Surname Meaning

The Crawford surname takes its name from the barony of Crawford in Lanarkshire (Crawford also appeared as a place name in Lancashire and Dorset, but with less significance).

One root of the word in Scotland is said to be the Gaelic cru or “bloody” and ford or “ford” and may signify an early site of battle.  Alternatively “craw” could have come from the Lowland Scots craw or “crow.”  The spelling may appear as Crawford, Crawfurd or Craufurd in Scotland, but mostly Crawford elsewhere.

Crawford Surname Resources on The Internet

Crawford Surname Ancestry

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

Scotland.  The surname came from the place name of Crawford in the upper ward of Clydesdale in Lanarkshire.  Tradition has it that a Sir George Crawford saved King David I from a wild stag in the park of Holyrood Abbey in 1127.  A daughter married David Lindsay whose descendants became the Earls of Crawford and Balcarres.

There were various subsequent Crawford lines:

  • the Crawfords of Auchinames in Renfrewshire and the Craufords of Craufurdland in Lanarkshire descend from Sir Reginald Crawford the Sheriff of Ayr in the early 1300’s.
  • a third line, the Crawfords of Kilburnie in Ayrshire, emerged around 1500.
  • while Thomas Crawford of Jordanhill attracted national attention in 1571 with his storming of Dumbarton Castle against the forces of Mary, Queen of Scots.

The Crawford biscuit business started in 1813 with William Crawford opening a little shop in Leith near Edinburgh.  The business remained small until 1897 when William’s sons James and Archibald established a large biscuit-making factory in Liverpool.  Sir Douglas Crawford inherited this business and it remained under family control until the merger with McVities in the 1960’s.

Ireland.  George Crawford was one of the fifty Scottish undertakers of the Ulster plantation.  As a son-in-law of the chief undertaker, Andrew Stewart, he was granted 1,000 acres of land in county Tyrone. Although he sold the property within ten years, many of the Crawfords he brought over from Scotland remained.  They settled in Antrim, Fermanagh, Down, and as far west as Donegal.

Andrew Crawford took possession of land in county Down around 1625.  This land, the Crawfordburn estate, stayed with the family until 1947.  One branch of this family were founders of the brewing firm of Beamish & Crawford in Cork in the 1790’s.

England.  The Crawford name in England, generally of Scottish origin, was mainly to be found in the north – in Lancashire, Durham, and Yorkshire.

The Crawford Arms crops up as a pub name in Wigan.  The Earls of Crawford were landowners and, by the late 1700’s, industrialists there.  Crawford was also a name in Durham mining history.  William Crawford was Secretary of the Durham Miners’ Association and rose to become MP for Durham in 1885.

America.  Early Crawfords, either Scots or Scots-Irish, entered via Virginia mainly.

  • John Crawford had arrived with his son David from Ayrshire in 1643 and they became landowners and tobacco
    farmers.  John was killed during Bacon’s rebellion of 1676.  David survived.  This family later built their home at Tusculum in Amherst county.  It was here that William H. Crawford, the Senator for Georgia and 1824 Presidential candidate, was born.
  • another Crawford family settled in Grayson county, Virginia.  A descendant, Dr. George Crawford, was an early pioneer in Oregon.
  • and a William Crawford from Orange county, Virginia was a combatant in the Revolutionary War.  But he was brutally tortured and burnt at the stake by Indians before the war was over.

Colonel John Crawford settled in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  Robert and Catherine Crawford of this family lived through the oil boom times of NW Pennsylvania in the late 19th century.  Herbert Crawford, the President of the Crawford Coal Company, was a well-known mining man in West Virginia in the early 20th century.  His forebears had originally come to Pennsylvania from Scotland.

A Crawford family in the South traces back to William Crawford who had arrived as a young boy in Charleston, South Carolina in 1779.  Many Crawfords later moved onto Georgia and then to Texas.  Those who made it to Texas included:

  • William Carrol Crawford, who was the last surviving signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence.
  • ET Crawford and his five brothers, cotton farmers who settled in Panolo county.
  • Jesse and Hannah Crawford, who settled in Nacogdoches county.
  • William H. and Charles F. Crawford, sons of Jesse Crawford, who settled in Tyler county.
  • William Nelson Crawford, who moved to Texas in the 1840’s and after whom Crawford in McClennan county is probably named.
  • Thomas and Martha Crawford, who arrived in Texas in the 1860’s.  Their son Lewis later took over their cattle ranch in Day county, Oklahoma.

Photos of the Crawford ranch in Oklahoma, dating back to 1877, are to be found at the Dickinson Research Center of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.

In 1827 John Crawford had migrated west from Kentucky to Missouri where he started a farm along Spring Fork Creek.  His son James, born there, enlisted in the Union army in the Civil War and later moved with his wife Margaret to Colorado.  He built a small cabin there near the Yampa river in 1876.  It was the first permanent structure in what became Steamboat Springs.  His family established the first school, the first library and the first newspaper for the community.

Canada.  Perhaps the first Crawford arrival was the Empire Loyalist William Redford Crawford who had fought on the British side in the Revolutionary War and later operated as a merchant in Kingston, Ontario.  His family had been in America since 1672 when they had settled in Middletown, New Jersey.

Scots and Scots-Irish Crawfords entered via New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in the early decades of the 19th century.  James Crawford, for instance, came in 1820 and was granted land in Goshen settlement.  John and Margaret Crawford settled in Pokenshaw, New Brunswick in the 1840’s.  A Crawford descendant, Samuel Crawford, was a farmer in Queens county at the turn of his century and left his diary, The Country Diary of Samuel Crawford, which was published in 1988.

Australia.  Edward Crawford had set up a brewery in Hindmarsh, Adelaide in the 1840’s. His business failed and he moved onto Victoria where he ended his life in relative poverty.  But his grandson Sidney Crawford later succeeded in the motor trade and ended up as one of Australia’s most progressive businessmen in the post-war era.

New Zealand.  James Coutts Crawford came to New Zealand in 1839 and, based in Wellington, became a noted explorer and geologist there.  A later arrival, from Ireland, was William Crawford who had a varied career as a storekeeper, brewer, photographer, and was, in 1877, the first mayor of Gisborne near Auckland.

Crawford Surname Miscellany

Crawford Name and Origin.  The antiquarian Thomas Crawford gave this account of the origin of his family name:

“The common ancestor of the Crawfords was one Mackornock who, as the story goes, signalized himself at an engagement by the water of Cree in Galloway by discovery of a ford, which gave an advantage to his side.  This story may carry some show of truth.

Arthur in his dictionary of names speaks of the name of Crawford as assumed by the proprietor of the land and barony of Crawford in Lanarkshire.

The extreme ancestor of this family was Reginald, the youngest son of Alan the fourth Earl of Richmond.   He seems to have accompanied David the First to the north and to have received extensive grants of land in Strathclyde.

Here his immediate descendants adopted the name of Crawford, signifying in Gaelic “the pass of blood,” from cru, bloody, and ford, a pass or way (perhaps commemorative of some early bloody conflict).  The name has been derived by others from crodh and port, pronounced “crofort,” and meaning “a sheltering place for cattle.”

George Crawford, in his 1782 historical account of Renfrewshire, had the following comments:

“The first using this name I have found is Galfridus de Crawfurd, a witness for Roger, Bishop of St. Andrews around 1189.  It is clear that the family Crawfurd was seated at a place of that name in the county of Lanark, and from whose hereditary lands they took designation, at a time when fixed surnames came commonly to be used.”

A Crawford Claimant.  The old house of Kilburnie had burnt down in 1757 and the family line had ended without issue in 1808 with the death of George, the last Earl of Crawford.  However, soon after his death a claimant stepped forth from Ireland calling himself John Lindsay Crawford and asserting to be the rightful heir to the title and estates.

The claim elicited a great amount of sensational interest and gave rise to one of the most notorious peerage cases in Scottish history.  As an upshot of the case, the claimant was transported to Botany Bay in Australia for seven years.  However, at the end of this period he returned and renewed his demands, this time supported by noblemen and gentlemen in London.  The case was then investigated thoroughly; but it was deemed to be unfounded and the claim finally fell to the ground.

The Crawfords of Cork.  William Crawford came from Crawfordburn in county Down to Cork in 1792.  Here he founded a brewing firm along with William Beamish and built the house Lakelands near Blackrock.

The Beamish & Crawford brewery was successful from the onset.  The company quickly became the largest brewer in the country, employing nearly five hundred people by 1807. William Crawford must have been something of a Nabob in the 18th century manner, as he had his own quay with a small warehouse near his home.

What he imported is uncertain.  It seems that he had a favorite red magnolia tree on his estate.  He had devised a system of bringing liquid manure from an adjoining yard (as the tree was planted against a wall) to fertilize its roots.  He had also built a shelter round the tree with a seat where he would often sit looking out over the beautiful view.  It was said that he died on this seat.

The end of Lakelands was sad.  Under circumstances no longer known, the property passed into the possession of a solicitor and was demolished.  Today the site of Lakelands is a field surrounded by suburban housing overlooking Cork harbor.  Little remains of the house except for an arched gateway bearing the date 1812.   However, the Crawford Art Gallery, a product of the family’s munificence, still stands in Cork today.

The Crawfords at Tusculum.  Tusculum is the original home of the Crawford family in Amherst county and one of the oldest and most architecturally significant dwellings in the Virginia Piedmont.  Built in the 1750’s, it features a timber-frame construction and two wings connected by an innovative breezeway.

Tusculum was built in two stages: the initial house was built around 1760 for David Crawford II and a large addition completed around 1805.  William Sydney Crawford inherited the house and property from his grandfather sometime after 1762.  He had been educated at Princeton, practiced law, and was the clerk of the Amherst County Courts, working out of the “master’s office” on the Tusculum grounds.

Tusculum was the birthplace of William Harris Crawford in 1772 and the childhood home of Maria Crawford. She was the wife of Elijah Fletcher and mother of Indiana Fletcher Williams, the founder of Sweet Briar College.

William Harris Crawford.  As William Crawford was progressing in Georgia state politics, duelling was still an accepted way for gentlemen to resolve disputes.  In 1807 William ran for the Senate vacancy against a local attorney Peter Van Arlen.   The contest between the two men became so bitter that it ended up as a duel – where William shot and killed Van Arlen.

Soon afterwards, he found himself in a dispute with Governor Clark of Georgia which also escalated into a duel.  This time William’s aim was not true and he was severely wounded.  The duel gave birth to a family feud between the Clarks and the Crawfords and their allies the Troups.  It was the Crawfords and Troups who were to win out in Georgia state politics over the next thirty years.

William Crawford later became President Madison’s Minister to France, Secretary of War, Secretary of the Treasury, and a Presidential candidate in 1824 in the famous four-way contest with John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, and Andrew Jackson.  He was described as follows by the historian John A. Garraty:

“Crawford was direct and friendly, a marvellous storyteller, and a superb manipulator of men.  He was one of the few persons in Washington who could teach the fledgling senator Martin Van Buren anything about politics.  Van Buren supported him enthusiastically in the contest for the 1824 Presidential nomination.”

Crawford, however, came fourth and last in the Presidential contest.

Dr. George Crawford – An Oregon Pioneer.  George Fisher Crawford was born in Grayson County, Virginia in 1818.  His ancestors were of Scotch-Irish extraction and he was one of the of the landed nobility of the “Old Dominion,” having settled there long before the Revolutionary War.  He was the eldest child of a family of seven children.

Owing to no less than three attacks of lung fever to which he had been subjected at various times, his health had become precarious and it was deemed advisable that he should take a western trip in the hope that different scenes and climate might make him more robust.

In 1841 he journeyed to Wayne County, Illinois where John Huston and his family lived and young Crawford stayed for a short time.  The Hustons suggested that Crawford should visit James Gilmour who lived nearby and practiced medicine for the locality. A strong bond subsequently developed between James Gilmour, his family, and Crawford.  Crawford began studying medicine with Gilmour and, in 1845, married the youngest daughter Mary.    .

Dr. Crawford began practicing medicine in Illinois until 1851 when, in the company with others, he started off with his family in a convoy for Oregon (with his two wagons being drawn by six oxen and five cows).  They arrived safely at the Dalles in late September 1852.

Here they decided to send the family down the Columbia river by flat boat, while two yoke of cattle were driven over the mountains to the valley.  Reaching the valley they started southward and reached Linn County by the middle of October.  With the munificent sum of $25, they commenced building their homestead.

Their first years in Oregon were years of hardship and toil.  Cows had to be purchased, as well as wheat kernels to make flour.  But with pluck and industry, Dr. Crawford improved his farm and, with money obtained by teaching and by plowing for his neighbors, he surrounded his family with comfort and plenty.  He himself became a leading citizen of Linn County, serving for two terms as its member in the House of Representatives.  He was also the first President of the Albany Farmers Co.

It was said: “Dr. Crawford was a strictly temperate man and of such regular and methodical habits in life that he was able to extend what suggested at one time to be a short life to one of nearly four score years.  His religion was to be good to all men and to endeavor to make the world better by virtue of an example of perfect citizenship and of honorable dealing among men.”

Crawford, Texas.  Crawford lies 18 miles west of Waco in western McLennan county.  Settlement of the area began in the 1850’s and centered around Crawford Crossing, a ford in the middle Bosque river two miles east of the present town.

The community was probably named after William Nelson Crawford who graded the river crossing.  By 1890 Crawford had flour and corn mills, two general stores, three groceries, a cotton gin, four churches, and 400 residents.  Cotton, wheat, hides, and corn were the principal shipments from the area.

Today Crawford is best known for George W. Bush’s Prairie Chapel Ranch, located just outside the town. Crawford has been the site of many anti-Iraq war demonstrations.  It was also the subject of a 2008 film documentary about the changes brought to the town by Bush’s arrival.

Crawford Names

  • Sir William Crawford fought with William Wallace in the wars for Scottish independence against the English in 1298.
  • George Crawfurd was the Scottish historian who wrote The History of the Family of the Stuarts in 1710.
  • William H. Crawford was US Secretary of the Treasury from 1816 to 1825 and a candidate for US President in 1824.
  • William Sharman Crawford was a radical politician from county Down who founded what was to become the Tenant League of Ireland.
  • Isabella Valancy Crawford,  originally from Ireland, was a 19th century Canadian poet.
  • Joan Crawford the Hollywood actress was born Lucille Fay LeSueur.
  • Wynter Crawford was a Barbadian publisher and politician who was instrumental in his country’s rise to independence in 1966.
  • Michael Crawford is an English actor and singer, best known for his performance in The Phantom of The Opera.
  • Cindy Crawford has adorned more magazine covers than any other model in history.

Crawford Numbers Today

  • 30,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lanarkshire)
  • 56,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 32,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Crawford and Like Surnames 

These are surnames from the Scottish Lowlands.  Some are clan names; some – like Gordon, Graham and Hamilton – have Anglo-Norman antecedents that crossed the border into Scotland; and some – like Douglas and Stewart – were very powerful in early Scottish history.  Stewart in fact became the royal Stuart line.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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