Knox Surname Genealogy

The Old English cnocc and the
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
Northern Ireland.

Resources on

Knox Ancestry

The forebear
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).

John Knox,
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
early 1900’s).

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 Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:

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
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
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
five-and-dime stores.
Frank Knox was a US newspaper
publisher, politician, and Secretary of the Navy during World War Two.

Select Knoxes

  • 12,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Belfast)
  • 16,000 in America (most numerous
    in Texas).
  • 13,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada).



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