Guthrie Surname Meaning, History & Origin

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The Guthrie surname derives from the Scottish place-name of Guthrie, a barony known as “the lands of Guthrie” in Angus in NE Scotland. The root of the name is a Gaelic word meaning “windy place” or “arrows in the wind.” The Guthrie place-name gave rise to the Guthrie clan. There are other theories about the Guthrie origin, but they do not have much credibility.

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Guthrie Ancestry

ScotlandThe Guthries of Guthrie received their estates by a charter from King David II sometime in the mid-14th century. The clan came to prominence in 1461 when Sir David Guthrie of Guthrie, Armor-Bearer to the King, was appointed Lord Treasurer of Scotland. He obtained a warrant to build Guthrie castle near Forfar in Angus, which remains standing to this day.

It seemed that the clan had four main branches. A rhyme of the 17th century quoted them as follows:

  • “Guthrie o’ Guthrie and Guthrie o’ Gaigie, 
  • Guthrie o’ Taybank an’ Guthrie o’ Craigie.”


Some Guthries supported the existing religious order, others
were converts to Presbyterianism. The Covenanter James Guthrie, referred to by Oliver Cromwell as “the little man who refused to kneel,” was executed for his beliefs in Edinburgh in 1661.

Thomas Guthrie grew up in Angus in the early 19th century. He was one of the most popular preachers in Scotland of his day and was associated with many forms of philanthropy – especially temperance and the Ragged Schools, of which he was a founder. His son Charles, a friend of Robert Louis Stevenson, became a judge and Lord Guthrie; his grandson Tyrone Guthrie (who inherited the Scottish Guthrie genes and the Irish Tyrone genes) an English theatrical director whose ambition spanned the Atlantic.

The Guthrie name did spread into the Scottish Lowlands and Border areas. One Guthrie line in the Scottish borders traces itself back to Robert Guthrie of Eyemouth, Berwickshire in the mid-1600’s.

Ireland. The Scots came to Ireland in the 17th century either to take up plantation land or as a refuge from persecution. Most Guthries seem to have come under the latter category. Many stayed in the Derry area before embarking for America. Those who remained were mainly to be found in Antrim, Down, and Derry.

Guthrie can also be an Irish name. Guthrie here seems to have been an English corruption of the name Lahiff, from the Gaelic O’Laithigh, found in county Clare around Corrofin. A Guthrie family in Clare traces itself back to Denis Guthrie who was born in Kilnaboy in 1840. The 1901 census listed three Guthrie families in Kilnaboy, as well as eighteen other Guthrie families in the county.

America. Enterprising Scots and Scots Irish, including Guthries, discovered America in the 18th century, arriving there from Philadelphia in the north to Charleston in the south. The most complete account of these Guthries is the rather dated but still valuable 1933 book American Guthries and Allied Families by Lawrence Guthrie.

Many of the early Guthries in Pennsylvania in fact came from Ireland and from Londonderry in particular:

  • James Guthrie came to America with his wife in 1730 and settled in Chester county, Pennsylvania. His father was a Covenanter who had escaped persecution by fleeing to Ireland.  
  • Another James Guthrie came and his wife Elizabeth in the 1760’s and they later settled in North Carolina. He too was descended from a Covenanter. Family legend has it that two of their sons were married to two sisters and they travelled on horseback over the mountains to settle in Tennessee.  
  • and Robert and Bridget Guthrie arrived sometime in the 1740’s. After a brief period in Philadelphia, this couple lived in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Robert was a carpenter and cabinetmaker (the organizer of the Carpenters’ Guild of Carlisle), trades that were followed by his descendants.

Adam Guthrie had come from Cork in Ireland to Augusta county, Virginia in 1774. By the late 1700’s, there was a cluster of Guthries in Halifax county, Virginia – three apparently unrelated families of same name. Descendants of Thomas Guthrie, who died there in 1786, were to be found in Rockingham county on the border with North Carolina.

Guthries South and West.  Guthries moved South and West as the 19th century progressed. Adam Guthrie, an early frontiersman, crossed the Cumberland mountains in 1808 and settled in Kentucky. His son James became a Kentucky Senator and later served as the US Secretary of the Treasury.

Guthrie place-names, in Kentucky, Iowa, Texas, and Oklahoma for instance, showed where some of these Guthries had moved to. John Guthrie from Tennessee came via Alabama to Texas in 1835, settling in Washington county; while Shadrach Guthrie from Kentucky came via Mississippi to Lavaca county, Texas in the 1850’s.

There were Guthries from Texas who had moved to Oklahoma in the early 1900’s, which is where Woody Guthrie, the folksinger and author of This Land is Your Land, was born. Texas has the largest numbers of Guthries in America today.

Australia. Thomas Guthrie from Berwickshire came to Tasmania in 1847at the tender age of 14. He worked as a station hand there before following the gold rush to Victoria in the early 1850’s. He made his money as an auctioneer and invested in the Rich Avon sheep grazing lands near Bendigo in 1864. The land remains with Guthrie descendants today. Tom Guthrie’s 2014 book The Longest Drive recounted the early history.

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Guthrie Miscellany

Alternative Origins of Guthrie.  One theory is that Guthrie is a corruption of Guthrum, the name of a Scandinavian prince.

Then there is an old story which tells of one of the early Scottish Kings who had taken shelter, along with two attendants, in a fisherman’s hut. The King, knowing his attendants would be hungry, asked the fisherman to prepare two fish for them. But the fisherman offered to feed the king as well and “gut three;” and so, the legend insists, the Guthrie name stuck.  Neither theory has much credibility, however.

Guthrie Castle.  Guthrie castle, located near Forfar in Angus, was built in 1468 under a warrant granted by King James III of Scotland to his treasurer, Sir David Guthrie.  It originally
consisted of only the square tower and a yett (entrance gate).  The yett was a symbol of trust in an era when
the King wasn’t anxious for his subjects to be heavily fortified.  But the tower had walls 14 feet thick, thick
enough to discourage invaders at the time.

It is believed that the family stopped living in the tower and built a house close by around 1760.  In 1848 John Guthrie, with the help of architect David Bryce, connected the tower and the house and subsequently undertook major renovations. Later, the railroad which ran from Forfar to Guthrie actually had tracks passing along the top of the main gate.

The castle has a reputation of being haunted.  The ghost was last seen there by one of the present members of the Guthrie family when she was a little girl.

Following the death of Colonel Ivan Guthrie in 1983, Guthrie Castle was sold to the American Pena family. They restored the place and added a golf course to the estate.  After 19 years as their private residence, the Penas then opened the castle for public use.

Thomas Guthrie and the Guthries of Pitforthie.  The
patriarch of this family, based at Pitforthie near Brechin in Angus, seems to have been the James Guthrie
who married Janet Lyon around 1620.  They raised five children, four of whom became Presbyterian ministers.

The eldest son, the Rev. William Guthrie, made over the estate later in life to a younger brother in order to concentrate on his ministry.  But the brother died and in 1665 William returned to Pitforthie to sort out his affairs.  He died at that time at his sister’s home.  According to one account, the male line of Guthries at Pitforthie later died out in 1690.

It is not quite clear what Guthrie line continued in and around Pitforthie, but one clearly did and one still connected to the church.  The line perhaps ran from William’s younger brother David to the Rev. Thomas Guthrie, that great preacher and reformer of the 19th century.

However, Thomas painted a different story of his forebears in his autobiography.

“My grandfather, on my father’s side, was a farmer, as his father had been before him.  The latter was a tenant of that Earl of Panmure who lost both title and estates for taking part in the Rebellion of 1715.

My worthy ancestor, accounting his lease too dear, saw in the rebellion a favorable opportunity to get rid of a bad bargain. So, when Panmure mustered his men, be appeared among them on horseback, booted, spurred, and armed for battle.  But he was foiled. “No, no!” said the Earl, dismissing him to more peaceful toils, “go you home, David, and attend to your farm.””

The Thomas Guthrie Memorial.  A fine statue in Portland stone to Thomas Guthrie stands on Princes Street in Edinburgh, facing Castle Street, by the sculptor F. W. Pomeroy.  It was erected in 1910 and bears the following inscription:

“An eloquent preacher of the gospel.  Founder of the Edinburgh Original Ragged Industrial Schools, and by tongue and pen, the apostle of the movement elsewhere.  One of the earliest temperance reformers.  A friend of the poor and of the oppressed.” 

A Covenanter and An Emigrant to America.  According to family lore, their Guthrie ancestor John Guthrie was an ardent Covenanter. So devoted was he to that cause, so active in his opposition to the efforts of the Crown to force Prelacy upon Scotland, that Claverhouse, the Arch-Persecutor, set a price upon his head and hunted him from place to place.

Finally making his way to the west coast of Scotland, he and some of his followers found a hiding place in a cave, whence, seeking escape to Ireland, a sharp outlook was kept for passing vessels.  At length a French ship was sighted, hailed, and as she hove to, the hunted men put out to her in a rowboat.  Just at this juncture Chaverhouse with some of his troopers came galloping up and fired a volley at the escaping party. Fortunately they had gained a distance from the shore out of musket range, and so, uninjured, made their getaway, landing in due time on the coast of Ireland.

His son John, born in Northern Ireland in 1708 married Ann and they emigrated to America, coming in the same boat with the Gilkesons and Stewarts whose descendants variously intermarried with theirs. They settled on the east side of the Octoraro Creek, a stream forming a part of the boundary between Chester and Lancaster counties in Pennsylvania.

Adam Guthrie, Early Frontiersman.  Adam Guthrie, born in Cork, was said to have been descended from the Scottish martyr James Guthrie.  He came as a young man with his parents to America in 1774, but lost both of them during the passage across. He found a home in the Scots Irish outpost in Augusta county, Virginia.

He was one of America’s early frontiersmen.  He left Virginia in 1784 and established himself in what was then the Southwest Territory (now East Tennessee).   Adam remained here until about 1809 when he removed himself with his family to Cumberland county, Kentucky.  The family crossed the Cumberland mountains and settled along Illwill Creek in the region of the Upper Cumberland river.  Adam remained in Cumberland county, developing a large plantation there, until his death in 1827.

A later description of him went as follows:

“He was a farmer and planter by way of occupation and a pioneer in the truest sense.  His journey which began with the dangerous voyage to America in the 18th century and ended across the Appalachian and Cumberland mountains during the frontier period is a feat worth taking note of. Also of note is the fact that Adam Guthrie was in Tennessee with family less than twenty years after  William Bean who is noted as being the first white settler to permanently live and begin farming in extreme East Tennessee along the Watauga river.”

Guthries in America.  There are Guthrie towns in America named after noted and obscure 19th century Guthries:

  • Guthrie county in Iowa was formed on 1851. It was named after Captain Edwin B. Guthrie who had died in the Mexican-American War.
  • Guthrie, Kentucky was named after Kentucky Senator James Guthrie who was also the President of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad when the town was incorporated in 1867.
  • Guthrie, Texas began in 1883 when the Louisville Land and Cattle Company purchased several hundred acres there for development in what later became King County.  The place was named after Louisville Land and Cattle stockholder W.H. Guthrie.
  • and Guthrie, Oklahoma originated in 1887 as a railroad station on the Southern Kansas Railway.   The name was later changed to Guthrie, named for jurist John Guthrie of Topeka, Kansas. Guthrie was the territorial and first state
    capital for Oklahoma.

This Land is Your Land.  This Land Is Your Land is probably
Woody Guthrie’s most famous song.  Its lyrics were written by him in 1940 based on an existing melody, in critical response to Irving Berlin’s God Bless America which Guthrie considered unrealistic and complacent.

Guthrie first recorded the song in 1944.

  • “This land is your land, this land is my land
  • From California to the New York Island
  • From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
  • This land was made for you and me.
  • As I was walking that ribbon of highway
  • I saw above me that endless skyway
  • I saw below me that golden valley
  • This land was made for you and me.
  • I roamed and I rambled and I followed my footsteps
  • To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
  • While all around me a voice was sounding
  • This land was made for you and me.
  • When the sun came shining, and I was strolling
  • And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling
  • A voice was chanting, As the fog was lifting,
  • This land was made for you and me.
  • This land is your land, this land is my land
  • From California to the New York Island
  • From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
  • This land was made for you and me.”

The song was brought back to life by the folk movement
in the 1960’s.


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Guthrie Names

  • Sir David Guthrie of Guthrie was Lord Treasurer of Scotland between 1461 and 1467 and subsequently Comptroller of the Exchequer. 
  • James Guthrie was a Scottish Presbyterian minister hanged for his faith in 1661 in Edinburgh. 
  • Thomas Guthrie was a Scottish 19th century preacher and philanthropist known for his advocacy of temperance and “ragged schools” for children (of which he was a founder). 
  • Woody Guthrie was a famous American singer/songwriter and folk musician. Many of his songs are about his experiences in the Dust Bowl era during the Great Depression when Guthrie traveled with migrant workers from Oklahoma to California. 
  • Tyrone Guthrie was a 20th century English theatrical director instrumental in the founding of theaters in Canada, America, and Ireland.



Select Guthrie Numbers Today

  • 5,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Lanarkshire)
  • 10,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 7,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Select Guthrie and Like Surnames 

These surnames originated from the northern part of Scotland, either the northeast of the country, the Scottish Highlands, or in one case (the surname Linklater) the Orkney isles north of Scotland.

BlackDavidsonLinklaterMunro
CraigGuthrieMcKeanMurray
CruickshankInnesMcPhersonOgilvie

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