Knox Surname Meaning, History & Origin
Gaelic cnoc, both meaning a
“rounded topped hill” or hillock, gave rise to the surname Knox, either
directly or through the place-name Knock (in particular the Knock in
Renfrewshire). The surname is common in Lowland Scotland and
Society. Knox family
- Knox Family et al Joseph
Knox – from Ireland to Australia.
- Montpelier – The General Knox Museum
Henry Knox in Maine.
- The Knox Family of Buffalo
Seymour Knox history.
- Knox DNA Project Knox DNA.
of the Knox family was said to have been Adamus, of Saxon origin, who
received the barony of Cnoc or Knox in Renfrewshire as part of a
dowry. The first recorded spelling of the name was that of John
de Cnoc, his son, in 1260 in the
charter lists for Renfrewshire. For many generations this family
held the castle of Ranfurly (between present day Glasgow and Greenock).
the great Scottish reformer, is thought to have come from these
Ranfurly Knoxes. He was born into a farming family in Haddington
near Edinburgh around 1510. After a nomadic time in England and
the Continent, Knox’s moment came
in 1560 when the Scottish Parliament voted for the overthrow of the old
Catholic church and its replacement by a Reformed Kirk. It
was he who shaped the new Presbyterian Church. John Knox himself
had no sons but his brother William had three.
During the 17th century, many Knoxes left the Scottish borders for
Glasgow or for Ulster (where there are larger numbers
Knox is a Scottish border name and the main spillover into England has
been into the English border counties of Northumberland and
Durham. Many Knoxes became Durham coal miners. David Knox
was a blacksmith at the Bamburgh castle estate in Northumberland in the
1870’s. His blacksmith shop was passed to his son John and then
to John’s daughter Elizabeth.
The Knox name came to Ireland when Thomas Knox, a Glasgow merchant,
moved to Belfast in the 1660’s and subsequently established himself at Northland House
in county Tyrone as the successor of the Ranfurly
Knoxes. Indeed the grandson Thomas Knox assumed the title
of Earl of Ranfurly; and a descendant even resurrected the ancient name
of Uchter (he, the fifth Earl, became Governor of New Zealand in the
There were many Scots Irish Knox families in Tyrone and Fermanagh as a
result of the Scottish plantations, and also
in Belfast, Derry, and Donegal:
- Andrew Knox, a relative of the
great reformer, was bishop of Raphoe and had secured land in
Rathmullan, Donegal as early as 1612. This family also held land
in Derry and they built Prehen House
on the outskirts of town around 1740.
- and three brothers
from Renfrewshire settled as tenant farmers near
Coleraine in Derry sometime around 1620.
The Knox name appeared at an early time, in 1652, in Dover, New
Hampshire. The progenitor of this family was Thomas Nock of
English origin, probably from Shropshire. Later generations of
the family changed the spelling to Knox. One branch settled in
Saco, Maine. Chaplain George Knox of this branch was killed
during the Revolutionary War
when he fell from his horse during an engagement with the enemy.
Scots Irish. Henry Knox
was a hero of the Revolutionary War. He had come from a poor background
in Boston, the son of a
Scots Irish sea captain from Donegal who had fallen on hard
times. He rose to
prominence as a military commander during the Revolutionary War, a
protege of George Washington, and subsequently served as US Secretary
of War. One line of this family – from Arthur Knox – headed west
and became pioneer settlers in Oregon territory.
John Knox was also Scots Irish, from Derry, and had come to America
around 1740, ultimately landing in Rowan County, North Carolina
where he and his family were among the earliest settlers. His
descendants were prominent in the Revolutionary War (William Knox was
with Washington at Valley Forge) and included the
11th President of the United States, James K (for Knox)
Polk. The lineage is traced in Hattie Goodman’s 1905 book,
The Knox Family.
Another Scots Irish Knox, William, came to Massachusetts in 1737.
His descendants were also active in the Revolutionary War.
However, these Knoxes only came to prominence much later. Seymour
Knox, a co-founder of the F.W. Woolworth chain, made a fortune from
five-and-dime stores and
his family has been a force in Buffalo, New York ever since.
Other early Scots Irish arrivals were:
- Matthew Knox to Mecklenburg county, North Carolina in the early
- Robert Knox to Lincoln county, North Carolina in the 1770’s
- and James
Knox and his family from Donegal to Charleston, South
Carolina n 1767
and New Zealand.
Some of the Knox immigrants were Scots, such as William and Mary Knox
from Renfrewshire who arrived in the 1860’s; and others were Scots
Irish such as:
- Thomas and Jane Knox in 1854
from Tyrone on the Hilton (their
infant son Andrew died en route)
- Joseph Knox in 1863 also from
Tyrone (his family story is recounted in The Knox Chronicles)
- and James and Elizabeth Knox in
the 1860’s from Fermanagh (he became a JP in Victoria).
An earlier arrival to New
Zealand had been Dr. Frederick Knox, the younger brother of the Edinburgh
anatomist Robert Knox. He and his family arrived in
Wellington on the Martha Ridgeway
in 1840 and were old Port Nicholson settlers. The writer
Elizabeth Knox is one of Wellington’s current residents.
Knox Family Origins. The following is an account of the origin of the Knox family from John
Frederick Knox, writing from county Mayo in Ireland in 1825.
“Their forebears had come to England
from Saxony where their ancestors had reigned for centuries. Of
this royal family three brothers were the reigning princes at the time
of their coming to England around 450 A.D, Hengist, Horsa, and
Uchter. Soon after this period Uchter laid the foundations of the
Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumberland.
Later we find the Saxon name of Uchter had softened to Utred. His
son Adamus married the lady Isabella, the daughter of Walter the High
Steward of Scotland and obtained in her dowry four baronies in
Renfrew. The names of these four baronies were Knox, Ranfurly,
Craigends, and Griffcastle.
Adamus then left Dunbar and established his residence in Knox. He
came to be described as Adamus de Knox and his descendants took the
surname of Knox. For many generations they were based at the
castle of Ranfurly between present day Glasgow and Greenock.”
One story has it that Adamus and Cybilla his wife were given their
surname by her father who was the high sheriff of Scotland. He
gave her as a wedding gift a plot of ground which contained a large
rock or stone (in Gaelic cnoc).
John Knox in His Later Years. An interesting description of Knox’s appearance in his later
years was furnished in the diary of James Melville, who at the time he
was writing (1571) was a student in St. Andrews where Knox had taken
“Mr. Knox would sometimes come in,
and repose himself in our college-yard, and call us scholars unto him,
and bless us, and exhort us to know God and his work in our country,
and stand by the good cause; to use our time well, and learn the good
instructions, and follow the good example, of our masters.
He was very weak. I saw him every
day of his doctrine go hulie and fear [slowly and warily], with a
furring of martriks about his neck, a staff in the one hand, and good
godly Richard Ballantyne, his servant, holding up the other arm, from
the abbey to the parish church; and by the said Richard and another
servant lifted up to the pulpit, where be found it necessary to lean at
his as soon as he entered; but before he had finished with his sermon,
he was so active and vigorous that he was like to ding that pulpit inl
blads and flee out of it.”
A Latin epistle sent by Sir Peter Young to Beza in 1579, seven years
after the death of John Knox,
contained a description of the Reformer’s personal appearance in his
His stature was “a little under middle height;” his “limbs
were graceful;” his head “of moderate size;” his face “longish;” his
nose “beyond the average length;” his fore-head “rather narrow;” his
brows “standing out like a ridge;” his cheeks “somewhat full” as well
as “ruddy;” his mouth “large;” his “complexion darkish;” his eyes dark
blue (or bluish grey) and his glance “keen;” his beard “black, with
white hairs intermingled” and a “span and a half long.” In his
countenance, which was “grave and severe,” “a certain graciousness was
united with natural dignity and majesty.”
Robert Knox and the Edinburgh Murders. In 1827, an old army pensioner without friends or relatives died
in a lodging house in the West Port of Edinburgh belonging to an
Irishman William Hare. He died owing Hare rent and Hare decided
to obtain reimbursement and avoid funeral expenses by selling the
corpse. He enlisted the aid of his friend William Burke and,
quite by chance, they fell in with a medical student, a member of
Knox’s extramural anatomy class, who told them that they would obtain
the best price for their cadaver at Dr Knox’s school. Indeed they
were paid £7.10/- for the body.
This gratifyingly easy money encouraged Burke and Hare to
start murdering old vagrants and other homeless people whose deaths
would be likely to pass unnoticed and whose bodies could then be sold
to Dr Knox’s anatomy school. Their crimes were eventually
discovered and this provoked a furious popular outcry.
Dr Knox himself was publicly vilified and only narrowly
escaped mob violence. The general public’s feelings were well
expressed in a rhyme which circulated widely at the time:
“Doon the close and up the stair
Butt and ben wi Burke and Hare
Burke’s the butcher, Hare’s the thief
And Knox the boy that buys the beef!”
Knox took the precaution of carrying with him a loaded pistol
and a Highland dirk wherever he went. Although Knox was not
himself implicated in the crimes, the censure of him was great and it
drove him from the public stage.
Northland House in County Tyrone. Thomas Knox, a Glasgow merchant, had moved to Belfast in
the 1660’s. He prospered there and served as mayor of the town in
1686. Six years later he purchased the manor of Dungannon in
county Tyrone and at the same time served as the MP for Newtownards in
According to John Marshall’s History of Dungannon, the original
house of Thomas Knox was on the western side of Market Square and stood
in the demesne on the outskirts of the town. The third residence,
known variously as Northland House, Northland Park and Dungannon Park,
was built by Thomas Knox, 1st Viscount Northland for his son and heir,
Thomas Knox, 2nd Viscount and 1st Earl of Ranfurly, on his marriage.
In 1707 Thomas Knox had registered his arms in Dublin
Castle as the male representative of the Knox family of Ranfurly in
The Story of Ann Knox and John McNaughton. Thriving with ghosts, Prehen House has strong links with the McNaughton
story – he having lived there, and she, Miss Ann Knox, being the
daughter of its original owner, Andrew Knox.
The scandal mainly involved Ann and McNaughton, who was a member of the
same social class as Knox. John fell in love with Ann and tried
to be near her at all times. Andrew Knox opposed marriage between
his daughter and McNaughton but the pair made strenuous efforts to stay
in contact. McNaughton claimed that he and Ann had secretly
Desperate to protect his daughter, Knox set out in 1760 to transport
Ann to Dublin in a coach, protected by armed outriders. John
McNaughton and several associates concealed themselves in a little road
adjoining Burndennett Bridge, stopped the coach and a short argument
ensued. This was followed by gunfire and as a result McNaughton
is said to have fired at the coach occupied by Andrew Knox and his
daughter and Ann died from the bullet.
McNaughton fled but was eventually convicted and sentenced to be
publicly hanged in an open field at Strabane for Ann’s murder. He
spoke to the crowd, saying he loved his wife and had been kept from
her. The rope broke and the crowd shouted for him to flee, but
McNaughton declared that he was not going to be known as ‘half-hanged
McNaughton’ and ordered the hangman to get on with his work. The
rope did not break again and, while McNaughton lost his life, his name
lives on in the legend.
Henry Knox, Gentleman Farmer. After ten years serving his country as Secretary
of War, Henry Knox began to long for the life of a gentleman
farmer. Fortunately for him, his wife Lucy had inherited a vast
tract of land in the District of Maine through her mother and in 1795,
newly retired, Knox bade farewell to Philadelphia and moved his family
to his newly-built nineteen-room mansion Montpelier in Thomaston,
During his time there, he dabbled in many of the emerging businesses in
midcoast Maine; he shipped timber, quarried lime, made bricks,
experimented with agriculture, built canals on the Georges River and
got involved with land speculation. Most in Thomaston welcomed
him, despite what was perceived as his wife’s haughtiness and fondness
All too soon – in 1806 – though, and before any of his ventures were
truly successful, this military hero finally fell – according to
traditional accounts, the victim of swallowing a chicken bone.
Knoxes from Donegal to America. The Ulster Heritage DNA Project has matched the Knox families of
the Finn Valley in Donegal to a large group of Knox families in the
southern United States (where they have located ten families in this
Knox kinship group).
Current research has focused on a group of Knox families that arrived
on the Earl of Donegal out of
Belfast. The ship left Ireland in October, 1767 and arrived in
Charleston, South Carolina in December. The crew and passengers
presented their papers to the local authorities on December 22 and
entered the colony. There were 294 passengers, all Irish
Protestants – with one Knox family aboard (that of James Knox) and two
Knox men aboard without families.
Select Knox Names
- Adamus de Knox is said to be the forebear of the Knox family of Renfrewshire.
- John Knox was leader of the
Protestant Reformation in Scotland and founder of the Presbyterian church.
- Thomas Knox, a Glasgow merchant, established the Knox lineage in Ireland.
- Henry Knox was the military hero of the Revolutionary War from Boston who later became the nation’s
first Secretary for War. Fort Knox in Kentucky, where the US gold reserves are deposited, is named after him.
- Seymour Knox was a 19th century businessman from Buffalo, New York who made his fortune in
- Frank Knox was a US newspaper
publisher, politician, and Secretary of the Navy during World War Two.
Select Knox Numbers Today
- 12,000 in the UK (most numerous
- 16,000 in America (most numerous
- 13,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada).
Select Knox 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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