Douglas Surname Meaning, History & Origin
origin of the Douglas name. Linguistically, Douglas
comes from the Gaelic dubh,
meaning “dark” or black,” and glas,
and was probably at first a place-name.
are many such places with this name in Scotland. However,
it is thought that the Douglas in south
Lanarkshire was the origin of the Douglas surname as this was the early
of the Douglas clan in Scotland. Douglass is an alternative spelling.
Douglas Resources on
- The Douglas Archives
- Clan Douglas
North American Douglas site.
- Drumlanrig Castle
Douglases at Drumlanrig on the Scottish Borders.
- Stephen Arnold Douglas
Genealogy of Stephen A. Douglas, debater with Lincoln.
- The Douglas Family
Douglases at Cedar Rapids.
- Douglas DNA Project
forebear of the Douglas clan in Scotland is generally
recognized as William de Douglas. His name
appeared as a witness to charters between 1175 and 1211 around
including a charter by the Bishop of Glasgow to the monks of Kelso. The family rose to prominence during the Wars of
Scottish Independence when James Douglas, known as “the Good” or “the
Robert the Bruce’s closest ally, sharing in both his early misfortunes
and his later triumphs. The Douglases were a power in the land
from that time on.
They steadily grew in influence in Scottish affairs and by the 15th
century were even seen as a threat to the monarchy. The 6th Earl
Douglas and his
brother was invited to an infamous “Black Dinner” at Edinburgh
Castle where they were both
seized and beheaded. The 8th Earl suffered
a same fate in 1452. Three years later the 9th Earl and his
supporters were defeated at the Battle of Arkinholm, bringing an end to
the power of the “black” Douglases. The Earl of Angus was granted
the lordship of Douglas.
branches of the Douglases had emerged by that time:
- the “black” Douglases of Douglasdale in south Lanarkshire
- the “red” Douglases of Angus and Fife
- the Douglas earls of Morton in Dumfriesshire
- and a branch at Drumlanrig in Nithdale nearby.
The Angus and Morton Douglases were prominent in Scottish political
life in the 16th and 17th centuries. In 1703 leadership passed to
of Drumlanrig on the Scottish borders. As supporters of the Royalist
cause in the Civil War they had been ennobled as the Marquesses of
were influential in making possible the union between England and
Scotland in 1707.
family began a slow decline in the 19th century.
It has been called the Queensberry curse.
Unhelpfully, the men of the family were plagued by mental illness and
by a tendency towards
suicide. In addition, they had a nasty
tendency to sue people for perceived slights and to be sued for libel,
very costly. The 19th century culminated with an affair
Alfred Douglas and the playwright Oscar
Wilde. Douglas’s father, the 9th Marquess
of Queensberry, did everything in his power to sever
relations. This led
to an infamous libel trial and Oscar Wilde’s subsequent
Douglas name in Ireland is primarily a Scottish
implant to be found in Ulster. Robert
had arrived in county Down in 1640 and his family established
Grace Hall. There were later Douglases
in Antrim and Derry. Some emigrated to
America in the 18th century.
Sweden. Robert Douglas of the Whittinghame Douglases
enlisted in the Swedish army during the Thirty Years War. Due to
his prowess he was made Field Marshal in 1643 and then created a baron
and a count in Sweden. His
descendant Count Ludwig Douglas was Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs
in the late 1800’s. Douglas lines from there continued in Sweden and
extended into Germany.
America. Family tradition has William Douglas, together
with his wife and two children, arriving in Boston, Massachusetts in
1640. William was later deacon in New London, Connecticut and his
family were to remain there for many generations. Stephen A.
Douglas, famous for his 1858 debates with Abraham Lincoln, was a
Colonel John Douglas was a tobacco farmer in Charles county, Maryland,
who had arrived from Glasgow around 1654. He owned the
Blythswood plantation on the Potomac river, the name of his family
estate back in Scotland. His descendants were there for about a
hundred years before starting a plantation in Fauquier county,
Virginia. The Douglas family was described in H.W. Newman’s 1967
book A Branch of the Douglas Family.
Other Douglases in the area were:
- the Douglass family from Antrim who
settled around 1760 in Augusta county, Virginia and later moved onto
- the Rev. Robert Douglas, a Presbyterian minister from Ireland who
purchased the Ferry Hill plantation in Maryland in 1848. His
eldest son Henry
Kyd Douglas fought on the Confederate side in the Civil War.
- and Frederick
Douglass, the escaped slave from Maryland who became a
powerful advocate for social reform in America before and after the
family was an important part of the development of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. George Douglas had come to America in 1848
and, working in the railroad construction business, migrated west to
Rapids. There in the early 1870’s he
started a family cereal business that combined with others in 1906 to
has been a long history of Douglases in the Caribbean, most noticeably
Jamaica and St. Kitts.
From a Douglas
family of Dornock near Dumfries came Major James Douglas who died in
the mid 1660’s. His descendants were
merchants and sugar planters on the island.
Samuel Douglas started the Windsor Castle plantation. From the Douglas Baads family in Midlothian
came merchants and planters in St. Kitts.
Walter Douglas was Governor General of the Leeward Islands, but
suspended from that office in 1716 for embezzlement; and Robert Douglas died in St.
Kitts in 1780 in most unfortunate circumstances.
were many mixed and black Douglases on these islands.
Denzil Douglas has been Prime Minister of St.
Kitts since 1995.
the son of a Scottish
planter in the Caribbean, has been called the father of British
Columbia. He arrived in Canada in 1819 and
1850’s began the process of making British Columbia a province out of
then a remote Hudson Bay outpost on Vancouver Island.
arrived from Scotland with his parents in 1910.
He rose to become Premier of Saskatchewan and is most remembered
for introducing universal health care into Canada.
Shirley is a well-known Canadian actress.
Origin of the Douglas Name. The traditional account, probably just a family fable,
is that, around the year 770 during the reign of Solvathius, Donald
Bane of the Western Isles, made a raid into Scottish territory and put
rout the forces collected to repel his invasion.
An unknown warrior – with his friends and
followers – came to their aid and in the conflict which ensued Donald
defeated and slain. When the king
inquired as to whom he owed his deliverance, the stranger was pointed
him by one of them, with the Gaelic words, Sholto
Dhu-glas, – “behold the dark man.” The
king was said to have rewarded him with a large tract of land in
which with the river by which it is traversed was called Douglas after
source derives the origin of the name from
Douglas water, tracing it to the Celtic words Dhuglas,
the “darm stream.” The
story here, also unsubstantiated, was that the founder of the family
Fleming named Theobald who came to Scotland about 1150 and received a
some lands on Douglas Water.
James the Black or the Good. James Douglas was called “The Black Douglas” by the English
for his dark deeds in English eyes, becoming the bogeyman of a northern
“Hush ye, hush ye,
Hush ye, hush ye,
do not fret ye.
The Black Douglas shall not get ye.”
are also unsubstantiated theories that this was because of his coloring
and complexion. This is tenuous. Douglas only appeared in English records as “the
Black;” in Scots’ chronicles he was almost always referred to as “the
Guid” or “the
Sir James” died taking Robert the Bruce’s heart on a crusade to the
Holy Land. Later
Douglas lords took the moniker of their revered forebear in the
same way that they attached Bruce’s heart to their coat of arms, to
into the hearts of their enemies and exhibit the prowess of their race.
Douglas at Drumlanrig. A charter
of 1356 showed that the barony of Drumlanrig was originally a property
Earl of Mar. In 1388, when James 2nd Earl of Douglas and Mar died
Battle of Otterburn, the Barony of Drumlanrig passed to his son William
who then became the 1st Laird of Drumlanrig.
Douglases played their part in Scottish affairs.
James Douglas was appointed guardian of the
Western Marches in 1533 but then got involved in the conspiracies
Queen of Scots. She included him in her
list of “hell hounds and bloody tyrants without souls or fear of God.”
great grandson entertained King
James VI at Drumlanrig in 1617 in what was probably the second of the
which have stood on the site. He thereby
fulfilled the old prophecy:
stands on the Hassock hill
Shall rule all Nithsdale at his will.”
the 3rd Earl of Queensberry, was born in 1637 and built the present
Drumlanrig castle. A member of the Privy Council
in 1667, he was made Justice General in 1680 and then in rapid
Lord High Treasurer of Scotland and Governor of Edinburgh Castle.
William died in 1695 and was succeeded by
son, James, remembered as “The Union Duke” for his role in the
drawing up of the Act of Union between England and Scotland in 1707.
Drumlanrig castle is the Dumfriesshire home of the Duke and Duchess of
Buccleuch and Queensberry.
The Queensberry Curse. In 1858 the 8th Marquess of Queensberry, who was an MP and Lord Lieutenant for
Dumfriesshire, shot himself dead with his own gun while out hunting
rabbits. Whether or not it was
accidental is not known. In 1865 his second son Lord Francis was killed
climbing the Matterhorn. In 1891 his third son Lord James Edward
committed suicide by cutting his throat with a razor in a London
hotel. A month
earlier he had been summoned to appear in court on charges of defacing
census return. He had described his wife as a “cross sweep” and
9th Marquess, who had given his name to the Queensberry rules of
instrumental in the disgrace and ruination of the playwright Oscar
Wilde. Lord Alfred Douglas,
Wilde’s lover, was
Queensberry’s son and it was Wilde’s ill-advised decision to sue the
for libel that led to his exposure, trial and conviction for the then
offence of homosexuality.
winning in court, 1895 was a terrible year for Queensberry. As well as
Bosie, who was driven abroad by the disgrace of the trial, he lost his
son Francis in a shooting accident and another son, Sholto, was
California for insanity. Bosie married in 1902 but his only child
Queensberry curse continued into the 20th century.
The most recent generation has included a former
bank robber, the owner of a private investigation firm, and a brother
of the world’s most wanted man Osama Bin Laden.
In 2009 Lord Milo Douglas, a young man who had been troubled by
depression, threw himself to his death from a London tower block.
Henry Kyd Douglas in the Civil War. With the advent of the Civil War in 1861, Henry Kyd Douglas – a recently
graduated lawyer –
enlisted in the Confederate army. Rising
rapidly through the ranks he became in early 1862 the youngest member
staff of Stonewall Jackson. Henry kept a
diary that would be published eighty years later as a book entitled I Rode with Stonewall.
Douglas family bore direct witness to the
challenges of war and life in the border state of Maryland. Following
Battle of Antietam, the house and outbuildings of their plantation home
Ferry Hill were used by both armies in turn as a hospital and as
officers. The Rev. Robert Douglas,
Henry’s father, was taken prisoner and
held at Fortress Monroe. He was suspected of signaling to the
Confederate soldiers across
the Potomac river in Virginia via candlelight from an un-shuttered
Frederick Douglass and Daniel O’Connell. In 1845, as Ireland was descending into the great famine, Frederick
Douglass arrived for a four-month lecture tour of the island. Douglass
escaped slavery in Maryland seven years earlier and had recently
of the Life of
Frederick Douglass, An American Slave.
Douglass was greeted in
Dublin, Belfast, and Cork by enthusiastic crowds and formed many
his trip, most significantly with Daniel O’Connell, a figure revered in
for his role in Catholic emancipation and for his fierce opposition to
O’Connell and Douglass shared the stage just once, in September 1845 at
in Dublin, but retained a mutual respect and affection until
less than two years later. Douglass
acknowledged O’Connell’s influence on his philosophy for the rest of
The Death of Robert Douglas in St. Kitts. Robert Douglas,
who was in charge of the fortifications on the island of St. Kitts,
in the most unfortunate way in early 1780.
He was leaning against the palisades which enclosed his
being rather corpulent and heavy, the wood gave way.
He fell with great violence. This
occasioned a contusion of the spine and
he died within twenty four hours, laboring under the most excruciating
although he remained perfectly placid and resigned during this time.
He left the bulk of his considerable fortune
to his brother, Captain John Douglas of his Majesty’s ship the
James and Amelia Douglas in British Columbia. When Amelia was living with her family at Fort St. James she met an
enterprising young Scottish clerk who was working for her father. In the spring of 1828 sixteen-year-old Amelia
married James Douglas, who was twenty-five.
Douglas was a competent man who rose quickly in the fur trade,
a chief factor by 1839. The couple settled at Fort Vancouver and
became chief factor and Governor of Vancouver Island and later of
James was born of a native woman in the
Caribbean and Amelia was part Cree.
Early in their married life Amelia risked her life trying to
Douglas from an attack by some angry natives.
Douglas had not understood the customs of the Carriers and
saved her husband by throwing bales of trade goods to their chief to
his honor. The warriors then released
The Douglas family became the most prominent in British Columbia, and
also the wealthiest. Amelia lived in
Victoria for forty years, but she often avoided its social life –
because she was sometimes shunned because of her mixed-blood heritage
had problems communicating in English.
When James Douglas was knighted in 1863, the shy and modest
became Lady Douglas.
Sir James died in
1877 and Lady Douglas lived a quiet life until she passed away in 1890
age of 78. The remaining Douglas family
then consisted of her four daughters, 16 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Charlie Douglas, New Zealand Explorer. Charlie Douglas came to New Zealand in 1862 and for forty
years explored and surveyed its West Coast region.
Described as heavily bearded and with a
slight frame, he was accompanied throughout his years of exploration by
first “Topsy,” then “Betsey Jane,” and then others.
exploring, Douglas carried little in the way of equipment beyond some
provisions (including tobacco for his beloved pipe). He supplemented
stocks by hunting native birds and living off the land.
Although Douglas lived simply he supported
himself by occasional work plus some infrequent funds sent by his
He was a quiet, shy man, who was noted for his keen, accurate and
entertaining observations in his journals, sketches, watercolors and
reports (to be found in John Pascoe’s 1957 book on Douglas).
When he was not
exploring he was known to be a heavy drinker.
Later in his life he grew increasingly intolerant of tourists
unwilling or unable to endure the hardships he had experienced.
- Sir James Douglas, known
as Good Sir James and the Black Douglas, was the Scottish soldier and
knight who fought beside Robert the Bruce in the Scottish Wars of Independence.
- James Douglas of Drumlanrig was
instrumental in drawing up the Act of Union between England and
Scotland in 1707.
- Frederick Douglass escaped from
slavery in Maryland and was a powerful advocate for social reform
before and after Emancipation.
- Sir James Douglas has
been called the father
of British Columbia.
- Count Ludwig Douglas was Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs in the late 1800’s.
- Donald Douglas was an airplane pioneer and founder of the Douglas Aircraft Company (of DC-3 fame) in
- William O. Douglas served on
the US Supreme Court from 1939 to 1975, the longest term ever by a Justice.
- Kirk Douglas, born Issur Danielovitch, is a famous American film actor; as is his son Michael Douglas.
Select Douglas Numbers Today
- 34,000 in the UK (most numerous
in East Lothian)
- 33,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
- 28,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)
Select Douglas 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.
Click here for return to front page
Leave a Reply