Gregg Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Gregg Surname Meaning
The Gregg and Greig surnames are both diminutives of the personal name Gregory, from the Greek Gregorios (meaning “watchful”), which was popularized in Britain after the Crusades.  Gregg and Greig were names of northern England (Gregg primarily) and of Scotland (Grieg primarily), although Gregg did also start to appear in western Scotland after the MacGregor clan name had been banned. The Scottsh Greig was pronounced “Greeg” and became Grieg when taken to Scandinavia. The Grigg and Griggs surnames, also probably derived from Gregory, were spellings in SW and SE England respectively.

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Gregg and Greig Surname Ancestry

Scotland. Scotland has both Greigs and Greggs, the Greigs on the east coast and the Greggs on the west.

East CoastThe best-known Greigs here found fame abroad:

  • the line from Alexander Greig of Fraserburgh in Aberdeenshire who departed Scotland in 1746 led to a family of Bergen merchants in Norway.  Edvard Grieg, born there in 1843, became a famous composer, known for his adaptation of Norwegian folk tunes.  
  • while Samuel Greig, a naval officer from Fife, was recruited into the Russian Navy in the 1760’s.  He was father to Alexey Greig, an admiral in the Imperial Russian Navy, and grandfather to SamuilGreig, Russian Minister of Finance in the 1870’s.

Aberdeenshire had the largest numbers and the earliest recording. Patrick Grige was admitted as a burgess of Aberdeen in 1488.

William Grieg was born at Banchory Devenick in Kincardineshire in 1775.  James Grieg married Anne Arkle at Damfoord in 1822.  Many of their grandchildren emigrated to Canada in the 1860’s.

Griegs at Auchterderran in Fife date from the 1730’s.  The Rev. David Greig was minister there in the 1770’s.  The Kinghorn church cemetery near Kirkcaldy has the following gravestone:  “On the east side of this stone lies the remains of Robert Greig who died on April 29, 1794 aged 56.”  James and Catherine Greig, born there, emigrated to Boston with their children in the 1820’s.

West of Scotland.   They were mainly Greggs in western Scotland, although fewer in number.

The MacGregor clan name had been banned in 1603 and a number of MacGregors had taken the name of Gregg or Greg, names that were to be  found at Glenorchy in Argyllshire and at various places in Ayrshire.  Many later crossed the Irish Sea to Ulster.  William Gregg, born in Ayrshire, was a dance master and fiddle player to the poet Robert Burns in the late 1700’s.

Ireland.  Most Greggs or Gregs in Ireland were of Scottish and probable MacGregor extraction.  Included in their number were:

  • John Greg who had come to Glenarm in Antrim sometime in the 1640’s and died there.  His son William was forced to leave his father’s home for Waterford.  William’s son William Gregg, a Quaker, departed Waterford for Pennsylvania in 1682.   
  • John Gregg who had moved to Derry fought at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.  His sword and espontoon at the battle were preserved by the descendants of David Gregg who left with his brother Andrew for America in 1722.  
  • and John Greg, the son of James Gregg of Ochiltree in Ayrshire, who moved to Belfast in 1715. He was the forebear of an enterprising Greg family who prospered in West Indian cotton plantations and, through his nephew Samuel, in cotton mills in Lancashire.  

Another Scottish MacGregor line went to the Greggs of Shantonagh in county Monaghan. John Gregg, born there in 1867, was the inventor of the Gregg shorthand system which he brought to America in 1893 and met with great success. 

Some Greggs were of English origin.  This was probably true of Jonathan Gregg, a landowner at Ennis in county Clare in the late 1600’s.  His descendants included the 19th century father and son clergymen John and Robert Gregg, both Trinity College educated.  One was an Anglican bishop, the other an Anglican Archbishop.

England.  Gregg is a name principally of northern England.

The earliest Gregg reference was a Joan Gregg who founded an almshouse in her will of 1416 at Posterngate in Hull. This became the Gregg’s House Hospital in the 1700’s.  John Gregg was a Hull merchant in the 1450’s.   Another Gregg family was a
Puritan one in the 1600’s in Chester and later at Haywood Hall in Lancashire.

A more recent Gregg reference is John Gregg who started delivering eggs and yeast on his pushbike to families in the Newcastle area in the late 1930’s.  Thus Greggs the bakers was born.

America.  The arrivals in America, according to shipping data, were almost equally divided between those from Scotland, Ireland and England, with the spelling in most cases being Gregg. An early sighting was Thomas Gregg in Northumberland county, Virginia
in 1648.

Scots Irish.  The main subsequent Gregg lines were Scots Irish.

William Gregg the Quaker from Waterford came in 1682 and settled in New Castle county, Delaware.  Later Greggs spread to
Pennsylvania, Virginia and the Carolinas.  There were some notable descendants:

  • Jacob Gregg, a silversmith and watchmaker in Virginia
  • and his nephew William Gregg, born in 1800, who has been called “the father of the textile industry in the South.”  His textile mill helped to establish the town of Graniteville, South Carolina.

Hazel Middleton’s 1944 book The Descendants of William Gregg covered the various lines.

Captain James Gregg from Antrim was one of the first sixteen settlers of Londonderry, New Hampshire in 1719.  He built a grist mill and was a leading citizen there:

He was the forebear of the Greggs of Nashua, New Hampshire. David Gregg probably established the family’s fortunes with the businesses he set up in Nashua in the 1870’s.  His grandson Hugh was Governor of New Hampshire in the 1950’s; and his great grandson Judd later held successively the posts of Governor and Senator of New Hampshire.

Meanwhile another line led southward to Sullivan county in east Tennessee where Nathan Gregg was born in 1794.  He settled in Alabama. His son John was a distinguished politician, judge, and Confederate general, but was killed during the fighting in 1864.  John Gregg from Sullivan county settled in Indiana.  His son John fought on the Union side in the Civil War and survived.

David and Andrew Gregg from Derry came to Boston in 1722. David settled in New Hampshire.  Andrew’s descendants made their home in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.  A later Andrew Gregg was the US Senator for Pennsylvania from 1807 to 1813.  Two of his grandsons John and David were Union generals during the Civil War.

And a Gragg family, beginning probably with John Gragg, was to be found in Augusta county, Virginia by the 1750’s. His son Robert later settled in Greene county, Tennessee.  Other Graggs made their home in Kentucky and in Caldwell county, North Carolina where there is a Gragg Creek and a Gragg cemetery.

Australia.  James Grieg and Catherine Cock from Midlothian were able to obtain a free passage on the Dumfries and arrived in South Australia in 1839.  They made their home at Cairn Hill near Riverton. 

New Zealand.  Daniel Grieg and his family from Dundee came to Wellington, New Zealand in 1874.  His son William was a prominent civic leader in nearby Upper Hutt.

William Gregg from county Antrim, drawn by gold, ventured first to Ballarat in Victoria in the 1850’s and then to Dunedin in New Zealand. He was a coffee and spice manufacturer and made his mark in New Zealand with his Gregg’s Club Coffee.

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Gregg and Greig Surname Miscellany

Greggs and Greigs Today

‘000’s Gregg Greig Total
England    4    2    6
Scotland    1    6    7
Ireland    1    1
America   11    1   12
Elsewhere    2    5    7
Total   19   14   33

MacGregor and Gregg.  The MacGregors were an ancient Scottish clan based at Glenorchy, Argyllshire in western Scotland.  Their early history was fairly lawless and in 1588 they were involved in the killing of John Drummond, the King’s forester.  Further atrocities ensued and this resulted in King James VI of Scotland decreeing in 1603 that the name of MacGregor should be abolished.  All who bore the name must renounce it or die.

The next year Alasdair MacGregor and eleven of his men were captured and hung outside St. Giles kirk in Edinburgh by the tollbooth.  Anyone answering to the name was executed on the spot, with women and children sold into slavery in the American states.

After this proscription of the name, some MacGregors sought the protection of neighboring clans, taking on their names; some moved away from the Highlands; and others took on a similar-sounding name such as Gregg. Many of these Greggs were to be found in Ayrshire.

The Enterprising Greg Family.  The Greg family had originated in Ayr in Scotland.  But John Greg relocated to Belfast in 1715.  With his younger son Thomas he was involved in provisioning the West Indies plantations.

During the Seven Years War (1756-1763), they engaged in privateering.  Afterwards they invested in land and plantations on the island of Dominica. John Greg the younger was resident in Dominica from 1765 and was the first Government Commissioner following the island’s secession to the British in 1763. He owned the Hertford and Hillsborough sugar estates.

The Greg family was heavily involved in the slave trade. Enslaved people on Hillsborough plantation rose up during the Second Maroon War in 1814. Their punishments were brutal and included both execution and transportation.  The family owned the Hillsborough estate until 1928.

Thomas Greg’s son Samuel settled at Quarry Bank near Manchester where he started a cotton spinning mill in 1782 based on slave-produced cotton.  He became a prosperous and enlightened merchant of his time and his family one of the great names of Manchester in the 18th and 19th centuries.  It would perhaps have been interesting to learn more of his attitude to his family’s West Indian estates during the last days of slavery.  He did supply the enslaved Africans on the estate with clothing and blankets made at the Quarry Bank mill.

Three of his sons were notable – Samuel Greg, mill owner and philanthropist; Robert Hyde Greg, economist and antiquary; and William Rathbone Greg, political and philosophical writer.  The last was named after William Rathbone, merchant and reformer.  The Greg and Rathbone families were close friends and Samuel Greg’s daughter Elizabeth married William Rathbone junior.  Their grand-daughter was Eleanor Rathbone M.P.

William Gregg the Quaker.  William Gregg was known as the Immigrant Friend.  He had met William Penn in the lead mines of Ireland when Penn was visiting Waterford in Ireland in 1678.  Penn converted many Scottish-Irish settlers to the Society of Friends, including Gregg.

William and Ann and their four children came to America sometime after October 1682 with the Colonial Friends Group.  He made the voyage on the ship Caledonia, arriving at Upland, now Chester, in Pennsylvania.  He had with him the silver-studded, ivory-headed cane inherited from his father William Greg.

William went down the Delaware River to Centerville between the Brandywine and Red Clay Creeks. He was granted 200 acres of land in 1683.  William is known to have built a log cabin on a location called Strand Mills in 1684. He died three years later when he was about forty five.  He was buried on his own plantation near Wilmington, New Castle County, Delaware.

William Gregg and His Two Mentors.  William Gregg has been called “the father of the textile industry in the South.”  His textile mill helped to establish the town of Graniteville, South Carolina. He had two principal mentors in his life, his uncle Jacob Gregg and his early employer Asa Blanchard.

He was born in Virginia in 1800, the son of William and Elizabeth Webb Gregg. However, his mother died when he was four years old and he was reared by a neighbor woman until he was about ten.  He was then sent to live with his uncle, Jacob Gregg, a successful watch and spinning-machine maker in Alexandria, Virginia.  A few years later, his uncle established a cotton mill in Georgia, one of the South’s first.  But the mill did not survive the War of 1812.

Following the war Jacob encountered economically tough times and could no longer support the young William.  He apprenticed William under his friend Asa Blanchard.  Mr. Blanchard was from Lexington, Kentucky and, like Jacob, had skills as a watchmaker and silversmith.

Gregg’s time spent with Mr. Blanchard was exceptional and the two shared an extremely strong relationship and friendship which would stay with William Gregg throughout his entire life.  While revisiting Mr. Blanchard in Kentucky, Gregg constructed a silver pitcher out of the first coins which he had earned individually.  This pitcher began to serve as an heirloom to the Gregg family and was passed down from first son to first son.

William Gregg of Gregg’s Club Coffee.  Irish-born William Gregg arrived in Dunedin, New Zealand in 1861 and set up shop there at Moray Place.  Primarily a merchant who also roasted and ground coffee, he developed a growing line of products.  Gregg’s Eagle Starch and Gregg’s Club Coffee became household names in New Zealand. Eventually his enterprise was shifted to
Forth Street, the current site of the Dunedin factory.

However, his speculation in gold shares and slap-dash accounting bankrupted him in 1894.  He had ‘too many irons in the fire,’ such as buying land up and down the country, running a chicory farm, and manufacturing starch, wax vestas, and sulphates.

Undaunted, he somehow managed to repurchase the slimmed-down firm and even persuaded the Australian firm of Robert Harper to extend him credit.  It became an incorporated company in 1897 with Gregg as managing director.

In his final years he struggled with sickness, eventually dying of apoplexy at the age of 65 in 1901 at his residence in York Street.

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Gregg and Greig Names
  • John Greg, Scots Irish, was the progenitor of an 18th century West India merchant family that were later cotton mill owners in Manchester.
  • William Gregg pioneered the development of cotton mills in the American South in the first half of the 19th century.
  • Aleksey Greig became an Admiral in the Russian navy in the 1820’s.
  • Edvard Grieg, from Scottish roots, was a Norwegian composer of the late 1800’s, one of the leading Romantic composers of his time.
  • Tony Greig, born in South Africa of Scottish parents, was the English cricket captain in the 1970’s and subsequently a cricket commentator in Australia.
Gregg and Greig Numbers Today
  • 13,000 in the UK (most numerous in Aberdeenshire)
  • 12,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 8,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

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