Fraser Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Fraser Surname Meaning
Fraser is a Scottish clan name. There are various possible origins for the name. The most likely is the heraldic term fraisse which describes a strawberry. The clan were known as “strawberry bearers” from their coat of arms.
Alternative spellings are Fraser, Frazer and Frazier.  Fraser and, to a lesser extent, Frazer, are found in Britain.  Frazier is American. Fraser may also be a Jewish name when it represents an Americanized form of one or more like-sounding Jewish surnames.
Fraser Surname Resources on The Internet
Fraser, Frazer and Frazier Surname Ancestry

Scotland.  The earliest record of the name was Simon Fraser of Oliver who held the lands of Keith in East Lothian in 1160. These Frasers later occupied Neidpath castle in Tweeddale on the Scottish borders.  In 1375 a propitious marriage to the daughter of the earl of Ross gave the Frasers the Bisset lands around Beauly near Inverness. This became the Highland base for the Lovat Fraser clan and their Macshimidh (sons of Simon).

Other Fraser branches, based in Aberdeenshire, were the Frasers of Muchalls and the Frasers of Philorth. The port of Fraserburgh was created by Sir Alexander Fraser, the 8th Lord of Philorth, in 1592.

There were also the Frasers of Knock in Ayrshire.  However, the 9th Laird there, known as James the Rebel, was an ardent Royalist and was persecuted by the Presbyterian kirk in Ayrshire.  Impoverished and on the run, he fled to Ireland in 1650.

The Lovat Frasers were the most numerous of these Frasers. They would bribe poor parents with “a bow o’ meal” for their children to take the clan surname as their own. The old Gaelic saying around Beauly was: Frisealach am boll a mine, “Frasers of the boll of meal.”

Like most Highlanders, the Frasers were involved in countless instances of clan warfare. In 1544 they fought the “Battle of the Shirts” against the MacDonalds of Moidart on the shores of Loch
Lochy. Only five Frasers and eight MacDonalds survived.

Later Fraser History.  By the 18th century, however, they were to face a new enemy, the English.  Simon “the Fox” Fraser, the clan chief at that time, supported the British Government in the 1715 Jacobite uprising, but turned round and backed Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745. The Frasers fought on the front line at Culloden.

After the defeat, Simon “the Fox” was captured, tried for treason, and beheaded in London. His estates were forfeited, lands laid waste, and the Fraser clan way of life effectively came to an end.

A Fraser later wrote: “Although the Lovats never cleared their people from the glens to make way for sheep, there was small prospect of advancement in life for the younger sons unless they went south to one of the cities or emigrated, which is what many of them did. They went to Edinburgh, Glasgow or London. Many went to America, Canada, Australia or New Zealand and prospered there.”

Some Frasers – such as Robert Fraser, a warping master in the Gorbals – found work in the cotton industry in Glasgow. D.D. Fraser was a well-known clothier in the eastern end of this city. And Hugh Fraser began in 1849 in Glasgow what was to become the House of Fraser chain of department stores. It remained family-owned until 1985.

Frasers in the Army.  Another alternative was the army. This started in the 1750’s when a Lovat Fraser raised a Highland regiment (the 78th) to fight against the French in America.  Captain Simon Fraser distinguished himself in the storming of Quebec. Many of these Frasers stayed on after the war was over.  Augustin Fraser, for instance, married a French woman in Quebec; while Alexander Fraser set off to the Saskatchewan backwoods.

Frasers would feature prominently in later British military campaigns, from Waterloo to World War Two.  Alexander Fraser of the Gordon Highlanders served in the Crimea and during the Indian Mutiny and lived onto 1927!  Meanwhile, the Reelick Frasers produced a number of 19th century adventurers and wanderers, including the writer James Baillie Fraser.

Ireland. Frasers from Scotland would become Frazers in Ireland. A number evidently did come.  Colonel Frazer’s Reel is a traditional Irish flute tune.  Frazers were at Annagh House near Lough Key in Leitrim and at Edgeworthstown in Longford.  Knock Frazers were in Roscommon.

There were also sizeable Frazer numbers in county Down.  Hugh Frazer the landscape and portrait painter was born in Dromore around the year 1800; while John Frazer left Dromore for Australia as a bounty immigrant in 1842 and prospered.  Another John Frazer, from Downpatrick, was a noted Irish architect of the mid-1800’s.

England. The Inverness Frasers of Achnagairn set up their stall as merchants in London in the late 18th century. Unfortunately, they went broke following the defeat of the British army in America. Alexander Fraser was a Scottish painter who gravitated to London in the 1820’s.  Later came Fraser army and navy men.

In general, however, Frasers were mainly to be found in the north of England, nearest to Scotland.  James Fraser, the son of a failed India merchant, became the Anglican bishop of Manchester in 1870. George MacDonald Fraser, who died recently, was the author of the Flashman series of stories.

Canada. There were a number of Fraser Loyalists who had come to America from Scotland in the 1750’s and 1760’s and then migrated to Canada after the Revolutionary War was over.  Among them were:

  • Thomas Fraser who settled in Edwardsburgh township in Quebec and built a sawmill there. His son Richard became a fur trader and prominent local businessman.
  • and Simon Fraser who worked for the Montreal-based NW Company and was responsible for the company’s fur trading operations west of the Rockies. In 1808 he explored what is now known as the Fraser river in British Columbia. His exploratory effort in what was then uncharted territory was primarily responsible for Canada’s border being established on the 49th parallel after the War of 1812.

New Brunswick.  Frasers also arrived directly from Scotland.  James Fraser reached Halifax in 1780 and set himself up as a merchant and trader along the Miramichi river in New Brunswick. He later developed a shipbuilding business on Beaubear’s island.  A descendant born on the island, John Fraser, rose to be a prominent New Brunswick politician in the late 1800’s.

Nova Scotia  The Highlanders on the Hector who reached Pictou in Nova Scotia in 1773 included Alexander Fraser, a Lovat Fraser, one of the few who could speak English (as opposed to Gaelic), and the forebear of the Rocklin Frasers in Pictou county:

  • Alexander made his home at Sheet Harbour
  • his brother Duncan at Chance Harbour
  • and his brother John on Cape Breton Island.

Another contingent of Highlanders and Frasers arrived on Hugh Denoon’s smallpox-infested vessels in 1801.

The Fraser name would soon be found at Pictou communities such as New Glasgow, McLennan’s Brook, McLennan’s Mountain, Springville, West Branch, and Blanchard Road. Fraser in fact had become such a common name in these parts that it was sometimes necessary to have nicknames to distinguish families and individuals.

One of the most colorful characters was Thomas Fraser, Buie (he with the yellow hair) who lived to be close on a hundred, as did his son.

Not all Frasers stayed in Pictou county. Simon Fraser set off in the 1850’s for the goldfields of Australia; James Duncan Fraser left in the 1870’s for California and then joined the gold rush to Alaska; and Thomas Fraser became a California state senator.

Elsewhere.  Frasers also came to Ontario; and some headed West:

  • Daniel Fraser joined the Hudson Bay Company in Manitoba in 1874. He later set up his own saw and flour mill in Edmonton, Alberta.
  • George Fraser reached Victoria in British Columbia in 1885 where he designed and built Beacon Hill Park.
  • and Fred and Catherine Fraser were pioneer settlers in Revelstoke, living there from 1885 to 1919 and raising nine children.

America. In 1650, two Philorth Frasers, James and William, were captured and sent to America in servitude. To protect themselves from Puritan wrath, they changed their names from Fraser to Frissell. James ended up in New England, William in the Carolinas. Together, the two of them were said to have been responsible for most of the Frissells in America.

There have been Fraziers and Frazers in America, as well as Frasers.

Frazier.  Among the Frazier arrivals were:

  • Colin Frazier who came to Newbury, Massachusetts from Inverness in 1686.
  • and Alexander and Sarah Frazier who arrived in Chester county, Pennsylvania around 1710 (their descendants moved onto Kentucky).

John Frazier, who was born near Richmond, Virginia, fought in the Revolutionary War and ended up in Illinois. The family story was that his father, a tailor from Scotland, made the first frock coat that George Washington ever wore. Ian Frazier, a staff writer for the New Yorker, recounted his family history (which went back to Revolutionary days) in Family, published in 1994.

Meanwhile another John Frazier, this time from Maryland, was George Washington’s Indian scout in the 1750’s.

The Frazier name was also to be found across the South, primarily in Georgia and Texas. William Frazier from South Carolina built the Frazier plantation house in SW Arkansas in 1852.

Frazer.  Persifor Frazer, whose father had arrived in America from Ireland in 1735, was a Pennsylvania farmer and a fighter during the Revolutionary War.  After the war he was an iron manufacturer and merchant and was the founder of one of the most prominent families of Philadelphia.  The Frazer papers at the University of Pennsylvania document over 200 years of this family’s life.

Fraser.  There were fewer early Frasers in America. The Rev. John Fraser served as rector of the Aquia church in Virginia in the early 1700’s. Family accounts tell of a Daniel Fraser reaching Virginia as a stowaway in the 1740’s and a John “Cuffy” Fraser arriving there in the 1750’s (before settling in North Carolina). Another Daniel Fraser, born in Virginia, moved onto Tennessee around 1820.

Australia. The most famous early Fraser was a Scottish woman named Eliza Fraser whose ship was wrecked off the coast of Queensland in 1836 and she was captured by Aborigines. Fraser Island is named after her.  A greater tragedy occurred in 1857 at the outback station of Hornet Bank in Queensland. Here eight members of a Fraser family were massacred. The sole survivor, Billy Fraser, went on a rampage against the Aborigines afterwards.

Simon Fraser, the son of a Scottish timber miller in Nova Scotia, came to the Victorian goldfields in the 1850’s in search of a fortune. He was a contractor there and did become wealthy.  His family later became active in Australian politics, culminating in Malcolm Fraser – Australia’s Prime Minister in the 1970’s.

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Fraser Surname Miscellany

Fraser Origins.  Although the Fraser name was first associated with the district of Tweeddale on the Scottish borders, its exact origins remain undetermined.  The early recorded spelling forms included de Fresel, de Friselle, and de Freseliere, which would indicate a French locational origin, possibly in Anjou.  But there was and is no place in France corresponding to any of these names.

Some Fraserologists nevertheless see a French connection.  During the 18th century, Simon Fraser, while in exile in France, declared an alliance with the French Marquis de la Frezeliere and claimed common origin from “les seigneurs de la Frezelieres.”

Fraser may be derived from the French fraise, meaning strawberry, and fraisier, strawberry plant. The story goes that a nobleman from Bourbon named Julius de Berry entertained the King with a dish of fine strawberries.  De Berry was later knighted and took strawberry flowers on his arms and adopted the name of Fraiseux or Frezeliere.  A descendant of his was said
to have been the lord of Neidpath castle in Scotland.  Fraser, however, may in fact not be French at all.  The word fraisse heraldically describes a strawberry and it is known that the early lands of the clan included an area at Neidpath in Tweeddale where strawberries would grow prolifically.  The clan were then known as “strawberry bearers” from their coat of arms.

The Frasers of Philorth.  The Frasers of Philorth have long maintained that they are the senior line of Frasers.  In his book The Frasers of Philorth, published in 1879, Alexander Fraser of Philorth, the 18th Lord Saltoun, stated:

“A Fraser branch, which also held lands in Forfarshire, obtained large possessions in the districts around Inverness, became very numerous, and originated or formed the Highland clan of the name.

But the senior line, which continued to have their principal seat in the Lowlands and those of the surname who remained in that section of Scotland where Teutonic institutions prevailed and whence the patriarchal system of clans and clanship had long been banished, had nothing to do with the origin or formation of the Highland clan and never belonged to it.”

Flora Fraser, a subsequent Lady Saltoun, repeated this view in her 1997 Clan Fraser: A History.

The Wine Tower at Fraserburgh.  The Wine Tower is an old three storey quadrangular building standing on top of a cave, rising from a rock which overhangs the sea some 50 yards east of Fraserburgh castle.  The only entrance is to the second floor, a vaulted chamber, by ladder.

The tower is best known for one of the region’s most sinister tales.  According to folklore, in the late 1500’s Sir Alexander Fraser, the 8th Laird of Philorth, was so enraged by the love affair between his daughter Isobel and a piper that he had the hapless suitor chained in the sea cave beneath the tower.  The piper drowned and the laird’s distraught daughter is said to have killed herself by jumping onto the rocks below.

Some say the piper can still be heard playing at the tower on stormy nights.

Reader Feedback –  John Frazier, George Washington’s Indian Scout.  I am a direct descendant of John Frazier, referred to in George Washington’s biographies as the General’s Indian scout in the 1750’s.  He and his wife Jane ran a tavern at Lick Creek near Cumberland in Maryland. I have traced John Frazier’s direct line back to the first Lord of Lovat in Inverness in the 1300’s.  Due to his common mention in the Pre-Revolution America days, I think he should be included in your history.

Judi Romaine, Indiana (authorlynnromaine@gmail.com)

Persifor Frazer and The Start of His Revolutionary War.  Persifor Frazer and Polly Taylor married in 1766 and lived a decade later with their four young children on a farm in a hilly district a few miles from a lazy creek called the Brandywine.  The land had come through her family.  But it was Persifor who farmed it and it was he who mixed with Anthony Wayne in the local politics that resisted a growing Crown power.

When Pennsylvania formed its troops for the Continental Army in early 1776, Frazer was elected captain of a company in the Fourth Battalion, which had Wayne for its colonel.  He already was in uniform when the Declaration was signed.

The war came home for these people on September 11, 1777, when the British marched up from Delaware bound for Philadelphia, and George Washington tried to stop them at the Brandywine.  The little Frazer girls were at school in Thornbury that day.  They heard the gunshots and cannon firing on the hot fall day.  Sally, the oldest, was eight then.  The teacher went out and listened for a while, then returned and said: “There is a battle not far off, children.  You may go home.”

“As we returned, we met our mother on horseback,” Sally wrote years later, “going over towards the place of action, knowing that … our father must be in the midst of the affray.”

The Americans held the river crossing.  But the British pulled off a daring move and, relying on loyalist guides to take them over the upstream fords, dropped a third of their army on Washington’s right.  Washington had had confused reports all day from this quarter, some saying the British had a force headed in that direction. The most authoritative reports from his officers reported no enemy in front of them.

However, a local farmer maintained that a large redcoat attack was looming on the right.  He added: “If you doubt my word, put me under guard until you can ask Anthony Wayne or Persie Frazer if I am a man to be believed.”  The names of Frazer and Wayne prompted Washington to send reinforcements to his right, just in case.  These reinforcements arrived just in time for most of Washington’s army to escape the British trap.

Alexander Fraser at Sheet Harbour.  Alexander Fraser came to Sheet Harbour in Nova Scotia with sixty other members of the garrison in 1784.  He made his home at the bend of the East river on what has long been known as “the Fraser place.”

After he had made his home in Sheet Harbour, he set out on a journey through the wilderness from Sheet Harbour to Pictou to marry the girl he left behind in Halifax in 1773.  She was Alice MacGregor and he married her in 1785.   After they were wed, Alexander brought his bride to his new home at Sheet Harbour through the pathless woods, a distance of some 50 kilometers, carrying her over streams and swamps and a great part of the distance on his back.  At the time of their marriage, he was 49 years old and she was 32.

The Frasers raised a family of six children at Sheet Harbour. Both Alexander and Alice are buried at Church Point Cemetery there.  Their tombstone reads: Alexander Fraser of Scotland, 1785-1830, and Alice MacGregor, 1782-1827.

Thomas Fraser, Buie of Nova Scotia.  The Eastern Chronicle had the following to say about these Frasers, father and son, in 1911.

“Thomas Fraser, Buie [1816-1911] of McLennan’s Mountain died on April 30 at the age of 96 years.  He lived all his life on the mountain, during the first part with his father Thomas Fraser [c1778-1876] from Kiltarlity in Invernessshire, who was one of the first settlers there.  Later on, he lived on his own farm in the Slough by the road that runs over to MacPherson’s Mills.

For the past fourteen years the late gentleman has been blind, but always cheerful and patient. Those living near him declare that he was a good neighbor, kind and obliging. What more can be said.  A man’s neighbors are they who know him best, and when they are satisfied, nothing remains to be said.  He left a family of two sons and two daughters.”

Fraser Island.  Fraser Island was first called K’gari (or Paradise) by its inhabitants before being discovered by Captain Cook in 1770.   He skirted Fraser Island’s eastern shore and supposed it to be a long headland.

On the night of May 22 1836, the ship Stirling Castle struck a coral reef hundreds of kilometers north of Fraser Island.  On board were eighteen people including Captain James Fraser and his wife Eliza.  The crew launched a longboat, towing behind them the captain and his wife in a separate vessel.  This was eventually cut loose by desperate rowers in an attempt to hasten their boat’s progress.

Landing in the vicinity of Waddy Point the crew abandoned their vessel in search of drinking water and were captured by the aborigines.  Stripped of their clothes, they were kept with the aborigines and forced to live a native existence.  They suffered extreme hardship for several weeks.  An aborigine speared Captain Fraser when he was unable to carry wood and he died eight days later (another account has him dying of starvation).   Eliza Fraser did survive and returned to England in 1837.  Her ability to tell a good yarn became highly profitable for her and the much sensationalized account of her ordeal was sold in bookstores all over London.

The ordeal of Captain and Eliza Fraser became legendary and the island, the world’s largest island sand mass, was renamed Fraser Island.  The story has continued to fascinate. Various writers have chipped in with their fictionalized accounts.  The 1976 Australian film Eliza Fraser starred Susannah York.

Fred and Catherine Fraser, Pioneer Settlers in British
Columbia.  
Fred and Catherine Fraser arrived in British Columbia in 1885.  Fred lived until 1939, Catherine a further fourteen years.  Radio station CFJC Kamloops paid her the following tribute on air soon after her husband had died.

“It is our pleasure to honor several of the real pioneers who played their parts in the history of Revelstoke and the Big Bend Country.

Mrs. Frederick Fraser of Vancouver, we salute you, the first white woman to arrive in Revelstoke.  In you we see the true Canadian pioneer.  In you we see the characteristics and the principles that we cherish most and the spirit that has made Canada the country that it is today.  Much could be written of the part played by you and your late husband from the time you came west with railroad construction and arrived in Revelstoke in 1885.”

That year, 1940, she flew for the first time.  In an interview with the Penticton Herald, she said: “Flying over the Rockies were certainly a far cry from the days when I travelled through the country on horseback, sleighs, handcars, freight trains, and railway locomotives.  I think it was the most wonderful experience I ever had.”

On her 90th birthday she flew to Yellowknife to visit her son Fred.  She lived onto ninety seven.

Frasers, Frazers, and Fraziers.  The table below shows the current incidence of Frasers, Frazers, and Fraziers.

‘000’s Frasers Frazers Fraziers Total
UK    40      4     44
USA    80      2    25   107
Canada    35      1     36
Australia    15      3     18
New Zealand     5      5

Reader Feedback – Micajah or James Frazier?  I’m attempting to document my connection to James Aaron Lowe and to Sarah’s supposed father Micajah Frazier.  Micajah Frazier married Susanna Hamilton and I would like to add him to my DAR list of Patriots. I also found a family tree online that said that this Sarah Frazier was born in Spotsylvania, Virginia in 1788 and was the daughter of James Frazier there.  I have no way of knowing which is correct.  My mother was a Frazier but has passed away.

James A. Lowe, born in 1774, married Sarah Frazier and their daughter Sarah Lowe married Henry Hun who was born in 1822 in Pike county, Kentucky.  I descend through two Frazier lines.

Fire Babe (imafirebabe@hotmail.com)

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Fraser Names
  • William Fraser, Bishop of St. Andrews, was through his diplomacy one of the leading political figures in Scotland in the late 13th century.
  • Simon Fraser, the 11th Lord Lovat of clan Fraser, was famous for his violent feuding and for his changes of allegiances (he was known as “the Fox”). He had supported the English in 1715 and the Jacobites in 1745.
  • Simon Fraser was the man who first explored Canada west of the Rockies. He has been called the father of British Columbia for this pioneering effort.
  • James Frazer was the Scots author in 1890 of The Golden Bough, a famous book which documented similarities in magical and religious beliefs across the world.
  • Peter Fraser, born in Scotland, was Prime Minister of New Zealand in the 1940’s.
  • Malcolm Fraser was Prime Minister of Australia in the 1970’s.
  • Lady Antonia Fraser is a writer of English biographies and history.
  • Dawn Fraser was the Australian swimming legend who triumphed three times in the Olympics in the 100 meters freestyle.
  • Joe Frazier, known as Smokin’ Joe, was a heavyweight boxing champion of the 1970’s, famous for his fights with Mohammed Ali.

Fraser Numbers Today
  • 50,000 in the UK (most numerous in the Scottish borders)
  • 60,000 in America (most numerous in Texas).
  • 61,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada).
Fraser and Like Surnames

The Scottish Highlands were Gaelic-speaking and their clan names appeared first in Gaelic and only later in an English version.  Each clan controlled its own local territory and frequently fought with neighbors.  Many, however, took the clan name in order to receive clan protection.

The clan downfall came following the 1715 and 1745 uprisings with the Battle of Culloden when the clan culture was broken up and clan tartans banned (although they came back into fashion with Queen Victoria a hundred years later).  The Highland clearances, supplanting people for sheep, was a further blow and many Highlanders were forced into emigration, still speaking their native Gaelic, to Canada and then to Australia and New Zealand.

Here are some of the clan surnames that you can check out.

BuchananDuncanMackayMcKenzie
CameronFraserMcDonaldMcMillan
CampbellGrantMcGregorRoss

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