Forsyth Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Forsyth Meaning

Forsyth origins are uncertain. Some early forms, such as William
de Fersith, suggest a place-name origin. Forsyth may
have derived from
the Gaelic name Fearsithe,
meaning “man (or place) of peace.” Forsyth in Scotland
has the stress on the second syllable.

There is also a story that
the name started long ago with a Norseman called Forsach who, as the
Viscomte de Fronsac from his lands in France, came to England and
then to Scotland in the 13th century and brought the Forsyth name with
him. The Forsyth/Fronsac connection would recur later.

Forsyth comes in two varieties, Forsyth and Forsythe.
just about predominates.

Forsyth Resources on

Forsyth Ancestry

A William de Fersith signed the Ragman’s roll in Berwick in 1296 with
other Scottish nobles and leaders. Forsyths were recorded
in Stirling in
the 14th and the 15th century
, having been granted lands
there after
Bannockburn. In the 16th century James Forsyth of Nydie married
the daughter and heiress of Douglas, Lord of Dykes and there were later
Forsyths at Failzerton in Stirling.

There were
also Forsyths in Lanarkshire,
Edinburgh, Fife and Aberdeenshire by this time. There was
even for a short time a Forsyth clan chief. However, many
of the clan records were destroyed by Oliver Cromwell during the Civil

Their main presence was in Fife and Aberdeenshire. In Fife they
have been the Lairds of Falkland since the 16th century.
Alexander Forsyth was the 18th century Presbyterian clergyman from
Aberdeen who invented the percussion lock for muskets. Napoleon
Bonaparte offered Forsyth a reward of £20,000 if he took his invention
to France, but he declined.

Many Forsyths were opposed to the growing English presence in Scotland
(one Forsyth even proposed that Scotland adopt the French language
instead). Some Forsyths left for Ulster and others for new
colonies in the Americas.

Ireland. The
Forsyths who settled in Cork – descendants of Robert Forsyth of
Failzerton – called
themselves Forsayths. Thomas Forsayth
was a merchant in Cork in the early 18th century. His
brother Matthew left Ireland for America
in 1742 and settled in Chester, New Hampshire.

William Forsyth, born in Aberdeenshire, came south to London in the
1770’s and trained as a gardener at the Chelsea Garden Physic. He
co-founded the Royal Horticultural Society in 1804 and the flowering
plant forsythia was named after him. His great grandson was the
gardener and landscape architect Joseph Forsyth Johnson and the line
then extended to the popular TV personality Bruce Forsyth.

John Galsworthy’s The Forsyte Saga,
written between 1906 and 1921, depicted the lives of a fictional upper
class English family over time. It was made into a popular TV
series in 1967.

America. Forsyths came to
New Hampshire in 1719 as part of a colony of Scots Irish who had been
refused entry to New England because they were Scots not English.

The colony proved successful and Matthew Forsyth, connected to both the
Forsyths of Dykes and the Fronsac family in France, arrived there from
Ireland in
1742 and settled in Chester, New Hampshire. It
said that he brought with him considerable property and silver plate
engraved with
his family crest. He also brought a curved Moorish sword, a
family heirloom.
He died in Chester in 1790
in his ninety second year.

His family were divided by the
Revolutionary War. Some fought on the American side, others
relocated to Canada. His eldest son Dr. Matthew Forsyth died in

Robert Forsyth came to Virginia from Scotland in the early 1770’s and
served as a captain during the Revolutionary War. After the war
he moved to Georgia where he was appointed US Marshal. But in
1794, at the age of forty, he was shot dead in the line of duty.
His son John became Governor of Georgia in 1827 and his grandson John
was a
prominent newspaper editor. Forsyth county in Georgia was named
after the elder John Forsyth.

Canada. Gilbert
Forsyth from Aberdeen, by trade a shoemaker, had been one of the
earliest settlers of Hartford, Connecticut in America, arriving there
around 1670. His grandson James, a Loyalist, crossed the border
into Canada in 1778 and was the forebear of the Niagara Forsyths.

“In 1802 James Forsyth purchased 400
acres in Barton township that later became part of the Gore of
Ancaster. He later sold them to his son Caleb for two hundred
pounds and ‘love and affection.'”

William Forsyth
was another Forsyth who made the transition from America to Canada at
this time. But he is remembered less affectionately.

Other Forsyths moved onto Nova Scotia. Jennie Forsythe Jeffries’
1920 book A
History of the Forsyth Family
covered these Forsyths in New
England and Canada.

James Forsyth had come to Canada from Scotland in 1784 and his family
established themselves as one of the leading commercial families in
Canada, based in Montreal and operating initially in the fur
trade. His son James moved to Quebec and built up a much larger
commercial enterprise, expanding into steamships and railroads.


Forsyth Miscellany


Forsyth and Forsythe.  The table below shows the approximate numbers of Forsyths and Forsythes today.

Numbers (000’s) Forsyth Forsythe
UK    8     4
America    3     4
Elsewhere    9     3

Forsyth outnumbered Forsythe among those arriving in America.
Some were Scots Irish Forsyths who had added the “e” in Ireland.
many Forsyths, once in America, seem also to have added an “e.” 

Forsyths in Stirling.  Osbert, the son of Robert de Forsyth, fought against the English
at Bannockburn and he received from Robert the Bruce a grant of part of
the lands of Sauchie in the sheriffdom of Stirling.  Osbert’s son
Robert was appointed the King’s macer in 1364 and constable of Stirling
castle in 1368.  He died in 1370.

In 1364 the accounts of the “customers” of Stirling were
rendered by Fersith the Clerk, who was probably Robert’s brother.
He was granted £100 per annum from the lands of the Polmaise Marischal
by Robert II.

In 1418 Robert Forsyth rendered the accounts of the burgh of
Stirling and in 1432 his son Robert became burgess of the city and a
bailie in 1470.

Robert Forsyth’s Curved Moorish Sword.  A curved
Moorish sword belonging to Robert Forsyth of Failzerton, an officer of King
James, who in 1618 obtained land in Ireland where some of his family

It had an inscription on one
side of the blade which read that he who possessed it should be
fortunate in
love and war; on the other side, the inscription read that he who lost
should experience calamities and the power of his posterity should be

Ensign William Forsyth

The sword was worn first in America by Ensign
William Forsyth of the Royal Provincials in the Indian wars in the
vicinity of
Chester, New Hampshire in 1765.  His
father, a native of Ireland, was a descendant of Col. Robert, the

Ensign William was captured
by the Indians about 1765 and carried to Canada.  He
was ransomed by M. de Montmarte, a French
officer, whose secretary he became. He was with de Montmarte for two or
years.  When the latter returned to
France, he gave William his liberty and money with which to reach his
The sword, which had been lost in his struggle with the Indians, was
after his capture and sent to his eldest brother, Dr. Matthew Forsyth,
then a
physician in the Royal Navy.

Major Robert Forsyth

A son of
this Dr. Matthew, named Robert, came to Fredericksburg, Virginia about
1772.  Among his effects was this sword
which he wore as captain and afterwards as major in Lee’s Light Horse
the Revolution.

Governor John Forsyth

The sword passed from
him to his son John, together with his badge of the Society of the
John Forsyth was Governor and Senator of Georgia and Secretary of the
United States
from 1834 to 1841.

And thus the fortune
of the possessors of the sword increased until the burning of Columbus,
by the Federal troops during the Civil War – when the sword was
with other
effects of the late Governor Forsyth.

Matthew Forsyth’s Escape.  Matthew Forsyth’s privateer La Mouette, which he had inherited from his father, sailed under the flag of France.  At the outbreak of the French Revolution his life as a Royalist was in danger.  He put his effects into gold, packed the baggage onboard La Mouette and started to escape from the frenzied peasants who sought his life in France.

His ship was intercepted as he was leaving the harbor.
But he replied to demands to stop by defiantly raising the royal
flag.  With his ship covered with the spray from the cannon shot
of the harbor batteries past which he sailed, he turned to the sea and

Doctor Matthew Forsyth went down against his foe in
1798.  He left his title of Vimcomte de Fronsac and one million
francs in gold and his shipping to his nephew Thomas whom he had

William Forsyth the Innkeeper and Smuggler.  William’s father had been a Loyalist farmer who in 1783 had
moved his wife and five children to the western side of the Niagara
river.  The family made its home in Stamford township, which was
where William was living in 1796 when he first petitioned for land.

He was described as “a small wiry man, weighing barely 150
pounds.”  Rumor and innuendo hung over him like the ever-present
mist over the falls.  The local historian Gordon Donaldson has
suggested that Forsyth used his knowledge of the river to smuggle goods
to and from the United States.

Some time after the War of 1812 Forsyth built an inn on his
property.  The Niagara Falls were Upper Canada’s greatest scenic
attraction and Forsyth’s inn was the place to stay.  The comments
about him therefore became complimentary.  Dalhousie found “the
tavern and accommodation were very good indeed, and the man himself,
though a Yankee and reputed to be uncivil, was quite the reverse to us,
obliging and attentive in every way;” Adam Fergusson pronounced Forsyth
a “personage sufficiently shrewd and well informed;” and Samuel de
Veaux found him “a man of enterprising character.”

But the other side of him later came to the fore.
He was described as a “bane to the authorities, continually outwitting
them and their deputies by his cunning and sheer daring.”  By the
time of his death from exposure in 1849 Forsyth had established himself
as the district’s king of smugglers, a reputation challenged only by
Smugglin’ Sam Johnston.

Rover Forsyth the Saskatchewan Road Runner.  In 1905 distance running was a premier sport in Saskatchewan and none
excelled at this sport as much as a young man from Caron did.

That youth was Rover Forsyth.  He had come to Caron from Ontario
with his parents when he was nine years old.  When he was a
youngster he would roam for miles around the coutnryside, looking for
arrowheads and other Indian relics.  That was how he acquired the
nickname of Rover.  Much of the time he preferred to run instead
of walking and eventually he began to time himself.  Soon he was
making his mark as a track star in Saskatchewan.

Forsyth’s name was synonimous in Saskatchewan with winning road
races.  He won the Regina standard 10 mile race in 1910, 1911, and
1912; the Moose Jaw News race three times; and the Winnipeg Telegram
road race in 1910 and 1911.  As a result of the latter win Rover
was selected to travel to Stockholm in Sweden to represent Canada in
the 1912 Olympics.  He finished 15th in the marathon.

During the war Forsyth competed in numerous allied service meets.
And when the war was over he competed in track and field events in both
the Canadian and Saskatchewan championships.  In addition to his
running he won championships in the discus and pole vault.


Forsyth Names

  • Alexander Forsyth was the inventor of the percussion lock which did much for musketry in the 18th century.
  • William Forsyth was an 18th
    century horticulturist after whom the flowering plant forsythia was named.
  • Frederick Forsyth is the
    British author of thrillers like The
    Day of the Jackal. 
  • Bruce Forsyth, born Bruce
    Forsyth Johnson, has been an English TV personality of great longevity, from Saturday Night at the London
    in the 1950’s to Strictly Come Dancing in 2010.

Select Forsyth Numbers Today

  • 12,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Dumfries)
  • 7,000 in America (most numerous in Tennessee)
  • 12,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


Select Forsyth 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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