Edgar Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Edgar Surname Meaning

The Anglo-Saxon word ead meant richness, happiness or prosperity and was the prefix for a number of common Anglo-Saxon names:

  • Edward (ead and ward), meaning “prosperity guard.”
  • Edmund (ead and mund), meaning “prosperity protection.”
  • Edwin (ead and wine), meaning “prosperity friend.”
  • and Edgar (ead and gar), meaning “prosperity spear.”

These names started turning up in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles from about AD 800. Edgar the Peacable was king of England during the 10th century and Edgar the Etheling, who lived at the time of the Norman Conquest, was the last member of the Anglo-Saxon royal house in England.

Edgar lost out as a name after the Conquest when it became politically correct to adopt French names. But Edgar did become established as a surname on the Scottish borders. This Scottish origin and history was first recounted in J.W. Lawrence-Archer’s 1873 book An Account of the Surname Edgar.

Edgar Surname Resources on The Internet

Edgar Surname Ancestry

  • from Scotland (Borders) and Northern England
  • to Ireland (Ulster), America, Canada, and Australia

Scotland.  The Edgars held land at Wedderlie (near Westruther) in Berwickshire and on Nithsdale in Dumfriesshire on the Scottish borders. They owned their ascent for their backing of Robert the Bruce in his rise to power. Richard Edgar, a witness to Robert the Bruce’s second marriage, became the first lord of Wedderlie in 1327. Legend has it that the Twin Cairns of Wedderlie were constructed in honor of two Edgar brothers.

“The Edgar brothers were the sons of an ancient Scottish chief. One was kidnapped at an early age and raised by a Saxon general. Years later the two met in battle and the ‘kidnapped’ son was felled by his unknowing brother at this location.”

By the 18th century the family had fallen on hard times and John Edgar was forced to sell Wedderlie in 1736. Today there are no Edgars at Westruther.

But Edgars remain in substantial numbers in Dumfriesshire. Moffat Edgars from Troloss date from the early 1700’s; while Caerlaverock is an area on the coast where Edgars were to be found from the 16th century. William Edgar and Janet Dickson were married there in 1773. John Edgar died there in 1801 at the advanced age of one hundred. His grandson John, born in the same year, made his living as an engineer and bought the Midlocharwoods estate.

Another Edgar branch, the Edgars of Keithock, were to be found in Angus in NE Scotland in 1620.

A 19th century guidebook described Keithock as follows:  “The mansion house of Keithock is a comfortable edifice, pleasantly situated, with a good garden, fine lawn, and thriving shrubbery. It stands a little to the west of the highway from Brechin and Edzell. In the old days Keithock was a barony and had its gallows hill.”

These Edgars were Jacobite in 1715 and again in 1745. James Edgar had to flee the country in disguise in 1715, as did his nephew John Edgar was also a fugitive thirty years later.

England. The Edgar name extended southward across the border into northern England, in particular into Cumberland. One Edgar family of Riddings dates from the 1650’s.

William Edgar was born in Longtown near Carlisle in 1791. His brother John had become a grocer in Carlisle (he later drowned in the river Petteril). But William headed south to London where he helped found the department store Swan & Edgar which flourished through the Victorian age.

“The new store opened on 49 Piccadilly in 1841. Mr. Edgar was a familiar sight then riding his horse to work from his home at Kingston Hill. He was always asked to be on hand to personally help when Queen Victoria’s family visited the store.”

Other Edgars from Longtown emigrated to Long Island in America in the early 1900’s.

Ireland. Scots Edgars came to Ulster, in particular to county Down. Some 40 percent of the Edgars who signed the Ulster Covenant in 1912 were from that county.

James and William Edgar were recorded as freehold farmers in Kilkeel in the 1690’s. An Edgar family were ropemakers in Newry in the late 1700’s. Another Edgar family were Presbyterian ministers, first in Ballynahinch in county Down and then in Belfast. The Rev. John Edgar was a leader of the temperance movement there in the mid 19th century.

Many Edgars subsequently made the reverse journey in the late 19th century – from Ulster to Scotland (because Glasgow and its environs were where the jobs were).

America. Thomas Edgar of the Keithock Edgars emigrated from Scotland to New Jersey in 1718. He settled in what became Edgartown. The family of his three sons – David, Alexander and William – were known as the Short Hills, Woodbridge, and Rahway Homestead Edgars. From these three Edgars came a large number of descendants.

John Edgar, born in Ireland, defected from the British Navy in 1780 and became an early settler in Illinois. A wealthy merchant, he had many large land claims around the state. Edgar county in Illinois was named in his honor. Although he probably never went there, there is an old story that he once bought and then sold the county.

Canada. Canadian Edgars were also a mixture of Scots and Irish.

Robert Edgar had been a sailor on HMS Victory during the Battle of Trafalgar. In 1822 he and his family left their home in Ireland for Canada. They settled to farm in Sherrington near Montreal. Another Irish emigrant Charles Edgar bought land at Wesley’s Point near Lancaster in Ontario at around the same time.

James Edgar departed Scotland for Canada in 1840. He bought land near Sherbrooke in Quebec which he called Keithock after the family estate in Scotland. His son James was a politician and Speaker of the Canadian House of Commons in 1896.

Sir Edward Edgar the baronet was born in Montreal in 1876, the son of Frank Edgar.  He came to London in the early 1900’s and made a fortune with his finance deals.  But he lost it all after the War.

Australia. David Edgar, a Moffat Edgar, moved to Australia in 1838 and became a prosperous sheep rancher in the Western District of Victoria. The Pine Hills homestead that he built in the 1850’s remained with his family until 1936.

William Edgar from county Down arrived in the 1850’s, drawn by the gold discoveries in Victoria. He later tried his luck in New Zealand as well, but with no success. He returned to Victoria and trained as a civil engineer, settling in St. Arnaud outside Melbourne.

Edgar Surname Miscellany

The Edgars Departing Wedderlie.  An apocryphal story was told of the departure of the Edgars of Wedderlie from their ancient inheritance after falling on hard times.

“The auld laird and leddy drove out in their carriage and four horses at mid-day; but the young laird (their only child) was broken-hearted at the thocht o’ leaving the auld place and he waited till the darkening; for he said the sun should na shine when he left his hame.”

The preserver of this anecdote was a very aged woman named Eppy Forsyth who died about 1840.  She remembered seeing the young laird riding down the avenue alone and she said: “it was a dark nicht when the last Edgar rode out of Wedderlie.”

John Edgar the Fugitive.  After the defeat at Cullodon in 1746, John Edgar arrived, a fugitive, at Keithock; and by a curious coincidence sought the protection and aid of the very same farmer who, thirty years before, had facilitated the escape of his uncle. To his surprise he was told that he should be accommodated with the identical clothes in which his relative had found safety. A kind-hearted Presbyterian minister who was proceeding to Edinburgh generously allowed the fugitive to ride behind him as his servant.

At length he succeeded in reaching London.  After many unsuccessful attempts he gave up the idea of escaping to the Continent as all the ports were being strictly watched.  He therefore determined on joining his uncle Thomas who had emigrated to New Jersey in 1725.  Accordingly, without difficulty, John Edgar embarked on a vessel for America.

They were scarcely halfway across the Atlantic when they were chased by a French privateer.  Everyone else on board hoped to escape.  But John Edgar had other thoughts.  When they were ultimately captured, he declared his predicament to his captors and, after being carried into a French port, he was immediately released.  He proceeded at once to Paris where he found many of his Forfar neighbors and later joined his uncle James in Rome.

Edgars of Riddings in Cumberland.  An Edgar family was long established at Riddings in Cumberland.  Two tombstones in Arthuret churchyard, bearing the lion rampant within heraldic shields, have inscriptions for the following Edgars:

  • David Edgar, died in 1654 aged 53; and his wife Ann Edgar, died in 1676; and, with Ann, David Edgar, died in 1691 aged 53, presumably her son.
  • and William Edgar, born in 1791 and died in 1869

Agnes Armstrong, descendant of the famous “Kinmont Willie” of ballad fame, married a David Edgar of Riddings.  They had a son, David Edgar, whose eldest son, David Edgar, was described in 1865 as a mariner.

Edgars from Ireland to Canada.  The story in the family is that Charles Edgar came to Quebec in about 1818 with his two sons, James and Robert.

They cut down sufficient trees to build a ship, filled it with lumber, and sailed it back to Ireland. There, they sold the lumber, including the ship, and used the proceeds to make their way back to Canada with the rest of the family.  Around 1820, Charles bought acreage from Charles Wesley at Wesley’s Point near Lancaster in Ontario.

Charles died in 1856 and his son James took over the land.  In 1875, when James was in his seventies, he was struck down and killed by a freight train as he walked down the Grand Trunk track near his home.  He was quite deaf and didn’t hear the approaching train.  Robert, the other son, lived on until 1896.

David Edgar’s Early Days in Australia.  David Edgar was the first of the Moffat Edgars to come to Australia. He left Leith in Scotland on the North Briton and arrived in Australia in late 1838.  After working on several properties in the Portland Bay district of Victoria, he took up some squatter licenses there in 1842 and purchased an interest in the Bush Inn – where he was to stay for the next seven years.

John Dunmore Lang wrote of his visit to the Bush Inn in 1846 as follows:

“After a bumpy journey by mail coach, we were therefore ready for light refreshments on reaching our first halting place at a Bush Inn, kept by a respectable Scotsman by the name of Edgar some twenty miles north of Portland.  A Bush Inn in such a situation is a sure fortune to a man of steady habits and I should say that Mr. Edgar is, in a worldly point of view, a thriving man.”

David prospered and was responsible for encouraging and helping a number of other Moffat Edgars to come to Australia.

Sir Edward Mackay Edgar.  A Canadian by birth, Sir Edward Edgar made his first fortune by organizing big hydro-electric combines. Coming to London, he carried through even larger deals in cotton, iron and steel, and shipbuilding.

For him finance was always a game. As he said on one occasion, “the greatest game in the world, this fighting with millions at stake.”  He will long be remembered as a big gambler.  When he was flush with money, he showered costly gifts upon his friends and his hospitality was unbounded.  But he did no real service in return for the immense sums of money which he took from the public.

In the post-war boom he made more than one fortune.  But he suffered huge losses as well.  A day came when his luck turned and in 1925 he was unexpectedly declared bankrupt.  The City of London had not forgotten his ill-advised boasting during the years of plenty and it did not forgive nor forget Edgar.

The shock to his credit proved too great and he was henceforward a spent force.  He was obliged to give up his home in Park Lane, and his country house in Thetford. Sir Edward said of the City of London in a moment of insight:

“If you win you’re marvellous and you will have friends standing in a queue a mile long.  If you lose, it means facing the punishment – or death.”

This prophetic pronouncement was made by Edgar in 1927 when he learned that his one time friend and associate Jimmy White, had poisoned himself after a deal had gone bad.  That was two years after his only son John had been killed in a car accident.

Broken in health and utterly disillusioned, Sir Edward Edgar, the “man with a load of millions,” passed away in a tiny cottage in the Buckinghamshire village of Chalfont St Giles in 1934.  And there was no heir to the baronetcy which he had received in the height of his power.

Reader Feedback – Re Sir Edward Edgar.  Sir Edward Edgar is my first cousin twice removed.  He and my grandfather Edgar were cousins.  Sir Edward’s father was Frank Edgar and his grandfather John Edgar of Canada.

Paul Edgar (jpedgar@yahoo.com).

Edgar Names

  • Richard Edgar became the first lord of Wedderlie in Berwickshire in 1327.
  • William Edgar founded the Swan & Edgar department store in London in the early 1800’s.
  • Sir Edward Edgar was a Canadian banker who made his fortune in London in the early 1900’s. He was known in the 1920’s as “the biggest and bravest gambler in London.”

Edgar Numbers Today

  • 10,000 in the UK (most numerous in Scottish borders)
  • 4,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 8,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


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Written by Colin Shelley

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