Hunter Surname Meaning, History & Origin
Hunter is an occupational name, derived from the Old English hunta meaning “to hunt” or
sometimes a translation of the Latin venator
of the same meaning. Its first recording as a surname was in
Scotland, a William Huntar in 1116. The Scottish early
Hunter has been a Scottish
and English border name, from Ayrshire at one end in the west to Durham
at the other end in the east. The English surname of
similar roots is Hunt.
Hunter Resources on
- The Hunter Clan of Ayrshire. Hunters in Ayrshire.
- Clan Hunter UK. UK Hunter clan website.
- The Hunter Family in Scotland. Hunters in Glasgow and
- Clan Hunter Canada. Hunters in Canada.
There was a
Norman family of Hunters, so called because they were
skilled in hunting, who came north to Ayrshire in the 12th century,
apparently at the invitation of the Scottish king. These Hunters
gave their name to the village of Hunter’s Toune, now Hunterston, near
the Firth of Clyde in north Ayrshire. For many years they served
as royal huntsmen and soldiers for the king. A parchment signed
by the Scottish king in 1374, confirming ownership of the Ardneil lands
in Ayrshire to William Hunter the 10th Laird, still survives.
this day the Laird of Hunterton keeps silver pennies from the reign of
Richard II, just in case the monarch should drop by looking for his
The seat of these Hunters has been Hunterston. The castle there
dates from the 13th century. Hunterston House was built close to
the old castle walls in the early 1800’s. Another Hunter line in
Ayrshire, recorded in A.A. Hunter’s 1905 book The Pedigree of Hunter of Abbotshill and
Barjarg, began at Abbotshill in the 16th century.
Hunters have since spread across the Lowlands of Scotland and are now
more numerous around Glasgow and Edinburgh. A Hunter line in Long
Calderwood in Lanarkshire produced the famous 18th century Scottish
Hunter; while the Hunter family at Thurston in East
Lothian is probably remembered now because of the tune Miss Sally Hunter of Thurston
played by Scottish fiddlers.
Most English Hunters were and are to be found in the north of England,
not that far from the Scottish border. Another Norman huntsman,
Gilbert Hunter, was recorded as holding land in Cheshire in the
Domesday Book. However, his family later became Venables.
have lived at
Medomsly in Durham since the 1580’s when two Hunters, Thomas and John,
purchased houses there. Medomsly Hall was the home of the noted
18th century physician and antiquarian Dr. Christopher Hunter and of
the early 19th century general Martin Hunter.
There were many Hunter coalminers in Durham during the 19th
century. They mainly appear in the records of unforeseen
deaths. Three Hunters were killed in the Felling mine disaster of
1812. George Hunter, a pitman at Cowpen, was murdered in 1849
during a colliery dispute. And other Hunter fatalities were
recorded in later mining accidents.
formed the Swan Hunter shipbuilding group on Tyneside in 1879.
Hunter family made their money trading out of London to the Levant
in the 17th century. In the 1740’s Henry Lannoy Hunter, the first
of four of that name, returned from Aleppo and purchased the Beech Hill
Berkshire. The family was to remain there until 1949.
Ireland. Many Hunters
crossed the Irish Sea to Ulster as
part of the Scottish plantations there in the 17th century; while some
sought sanctuary there because of the religious conflict in
Scotland. The Hunter name is mainly to be found in Derry and
Hunters from Yorkshire were at the Battle of the Boyne on the
Williamite side in 1690 – including Captain Henry Hunter, his younger
relation John and John’s friend Anthony Wayne. John and Anthony
later fought with the British army in Europe and then departed Wicklow
for Pennsylvania in 1722, settling there in Chester county. John
and Anthony remained friends throughout their lives. Anthony was
the grandfather of Revolutionary War hero Anthony Wayne.
America. Hunters in America arrived in
parts from England, Scotland, and Ireland.
New York Hunter
immigrants have been:
- Elijah Hunter who was a spy during the Revolutionary War and
of the founders of Ossining, New York.
- Robert Hunter
who arrived in Manhattan from Ireland after the war was over and set up
auction house. His son
John learnt the business, married well, and built Hunter’s Mansion on
Hunter island in Pelham Bay to house his fine arts collection.
- much later in the 19th century came immigrant Thomas Hunter, also
who founded the
institution now known as Hunter College.
Irish Hunters started with three Hunter siblings –
Alexander, John, and Jane – who arrived and settled in Delaware in the
late 1730’s. Alexander gained a reputation for wrestling among
the native Indian population. Jane married the future North
Carolina Governor Alexander Martin.
David Hunter who lived in
York county mysteriously disappeared in the summer of
century afterward, when, on the destruction of an old house in the
valley of Virginia by Union soldiers, a paper was discovered which
showed an order from the Governor of Virginia to bring the dead body of
the patriot David Hunter to the capitol at Williamsburg.”
Nathaniel Hunter and his family had come to Virginia from Ireland in
1793 and later set out west for Ohio. Their family account at this time
read as follows:
in the year of 1810 we were about ready to start on our journey west. When
the time came the horses with their new
harness were hitched, five to each wagon, and everything was ready. Mother
mounted her pony, boys and girls ready to
drive the six cows. The
entire neighborhood was
there to see us off.
many sad partings, we pulled stakes and
moved out, a very memorable time to us and many of our good
neighbors. We started
for Ohio what seemed then to be the far west.”
General Alexander Hunter, whose family had come originally from
Scotland, was a friend of President Andrew Jackson. He
acquired the Abingdon plantation in Virginia in 1835 and would often
invite the President down for weekends. Meanwhile Henry
born in Virginia, headed south after the Revolutionary War to
Pinckneyville, Mississippi where he took possession of a two thousand
acre site under a Spanish land grant. He named his plantation
Henry Hunter from Derry in Ireland came to North Carolina in the
1770’s, fought in the Revolutionary War, and settled in Mecklenburg
county. He was the progenitor of the Hunter family after
whom Huntersville in North Carolina was named.
In 1821 Dr. Johnson Hunter left his home in North Carolina in a
circuitous route for what was then the Spanish territory of
Tejas. When en route he was reported to have drowned. But
he was very much alive. He rejoined his family on the Mississippi
and together they traveled down the river to New Orleans where they
bought a boat and set sail for Texas. One of the “old 300
settlers of Texas,” he was a cotton planter who made his home at Oyster
Bay in Fort Bend county. Eleven Hunters are buried at the Dr.
Johnson Hunter cemetery there.
Australia and New Zealand.
Scottish naval officer, had come out to Australia with the First Fleet
in 1788. He stayed and served as the second governor of the
colony from 1795 to 1800. When the platypus was first discovered
in Australia, it was John Hunter who sent back to England a drawing of
the animal and a pelt. The Hunter river and valley in New South
named after him.
In 1838 Alexander Hunter of Edinburgh formed a company to take up land
in Australia and five of his sons were soon to move there. Here
they were the tough pioneers of the Port Phillip district of Victoria
who, every once in a while, would descend on Melbourne to let their
George Hunter was one of the early settlers of Wellington New Zealand,
arriving there with his family from Scotland in 1840. He started
a general store there, but died in 1843. His son and grandson,
named George, were later prominent in Wellington affairs.
The First Hunters of Scotland. The first Hunters arrived in Ayrshire in the opening years of the 12th
century. Experts in hunting and field craft with generations of
experience in the forests of their land of origin, these Norman lords
were invited to Scotland by King David I who had himself been brought
up in the Norman court.
In papers relating to the King’s Inquisition in 1116, there is mention
of a Wilhelmo Venator *William the Hunter, the first laird) who was
appointed as Royal Huntsman while his wife had the honor of serving
Queen Matilda as a lady in waiting.
William put his expertise to good use in the wild forests and fens,
then rich with wildlife, which surrounded the site of the timber
fortress that was to become Hunter’s Toun or Hunterston. As
recognition of his family’s skills, the title of Royal Huntsman was
made a hereditary appointment.
John Hunter the Surgeon. John was an excellent anatomist. His knowledge and skill as a
surgeon was based on sound anatomical background. Among his numerous contributions to medical science are:
- the study of human teeth
- an extensive study of inflammation
- fine work on gun-shot wounds
- work carried out on venereal diseases
- an understanding of the nature of digestion and verifying that
fats are absorbed into the lacteals
- the first complete study of the development of a child
- proof that the maternal and foetal blood supplies are separate
- and unravelling one of the major anatomical mysteries of the
time, the role of the lymphatic system.
After years of hard work he set up his own anatomy school in London in
1764 and started in private surgical practice. His recognition
rose in 1767 when he was elected as Fellow of the Royal Society.
In 1768 he was appointed as surgeon to St. George’s Hospital.
Later he became a member of the Company of Surgeons. In 1776 he
was appointed surgeon to King George III and in 1789 he was made
John Hunter was born in East Kilbride in Scotland and there is a museum
there, the Hunter House Museum, dedicated to the work undertaken by him
and his brother William.
Christopher Hunter of Medomsly. The Hunters had been at Medomsly in Durham since 1584 and Christopher
Hunter was born there in 1675. He practiced as a doctor in
Stockton and then, possessed of a good fortune, devoted himself to
literary endeavors. He died at Shotley, just across the border in
Northumberland, in 1757 and his tombstone is to be found there.
“Here lie the remains of
Christopher Hunter MD
a learned and judicious Antiquary and Physician.
He was the only child of Thomas Hunter,
of Medomsly, Gent. by Margaret his second wife.
He married Elizabeth, one of the daughters
and co-heiresses of John Elrington of Aspershields esq.
by whom he had two sons and a daughter.
He died the 13th of July, An. Dom. 1757,
in the 83rd year of his age.”
Henry Lannoy Hunter. From the marriage of John Hunter of St. Olave parish in Southwark with
Elizabeth, the daughter of Sir Timothy Lannoy of Hammersmith, came
eldest son Henry Lannoy Hunter. He was a merchant in the
Levant, spending much time of his time abroad in Aleppo.
There is a painting by Andrea Soldi, dated around
1735, of him in Oriental dress, resting from hunting with a manservant
holding his game.
The following were the notes relating to this painting when it was
auctioned in 2004.
“Hunting was the particular pastime of
the English merchants in which fellow Europeans, Turkish officials and
the Beduin ‘King of the Arabs’ were invited to participate. After
the hunt lavish picnics would be eaten in tents. Here Hunter sits
in full Turkish dress (it is unlikely that all elements of it would
have been worn when hunting), surrounded by his trophies of the day
held aloft by his Christian possibly Armenian servant.”
A little after this time Henry Lannoy Hunter purchased the Beech Hill
estate in Berkshire, presumably from the profits of his business.
Hunters in America. Hunters arrived in America in
part from England, Scotland, and Ireland. The table below shows the computed numbers.
Captain John Hunter of the First Fleet. In 1788 Captain Arthur Phillip of the First Fleet, accompanied by his
second captain John Hunter, followed in the footsteps of Captain Cook
and sailed into Botany Bay. Later they sailed north and entered
Port Jackson. As Hunter wrote in his diary:
“There was nothing at Botany Bay to
recommend it as a place in which to form an infant colony.”
That was on January 22. Just four days later a new country was
born when the British flag was raised in Farm Cove on what Australians
now celebrate as Australia’s Day, January 26. What is not given
much coverage in Australian history is the fact that the ten ships of
the First Fleet entered Port Jackson under the command of Captain
Hunter, Arthur Philip having returned one day earlier on Supply.
Within two days of the setting up of the colony Hunter had begun a
detailed survey of the harbor.
- William Hunter was recorded as the owner of the Ardneil lands in Ayrshire in 1374.
- Robert Hunter of Hunterston was
the colonial governor of Virginia, New York and Jamaica in the early 1700’s.
- John Hunter, born in Lanarkshire, was one of the foremost surgeons of the 18th century. The Hunterian Society of London was named in his honor.
- JA Hunter, born in Scotland,
was a famous hunter of the first half of the 20th century in British East Africa.
Select Hunter Numbers Today
- 65,000 in the UK (most numerous
in Tyne and Wear)
- 54,000 in America (most numerous in California)
- 45,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)
Select Hunter and Like Surnames
The border between Scotland and England was a lawless area for well over three hundred years and the subject of many stories and hearsays. Families on both sides of the border took part in the raids, attacking villages and stealing cattle on the way. Eventually, following the unification of the Scottish and English crowns in 1603, the area was pacified. There were mass executions and banishments, many to the new Protestant colony in Ulster. These were some of the prominent Border family surnames at that time that you can check out.
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