Maxwell Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Maxwell Meaning
a Scottish surname originating from a place-name in Roxburghshire on
Scottish Borders.  The original Maccuswell
came from Max
or Maccus
, a former owner of Maxwell
lands south of the river Tweed, plus well
meaning “well.”  The place-name Maccuswell
was first recorded in 1144, the
surname shortly afterwards. 
Select Maxwell Resources on The Internet

Maxwell Ancestry

Scotland.  It
is thought that a Norman called Herbert came into possession of the
lands in Roxburghshire in the late 12th century.
John de Maccusweil followed Herbert and was, from 1200, the Great
of Scotland.  His services to the kingdom
brought him the barony of Cærlaverock in Dumfries.
He died without issue around the year

Sir John was succeeded by his younger brother, Aymer de Maxwell, the
to adopt the modern spelling of the surname.
From Aymer’s sons sprang many of the branches of
the family that were to be found in SW Scotland:

  • from
    his eldest son Sir Herbert
    came the main
    line in Dumfries.   Cærlaverock castle
    served as the family
    stronghold from the 13th century.  They were ennobled as Lord Maxwell in 1440.  These Maxwells were staunch
    Catholics during the religious turmoil of the 17th century.  Their last hurrah came with the 1715 Jacobite Uprising where the Maxwells narrowly escaped death.
  • from a younger son Sir John came the Pollock line in Renfrewshire.  The Pollock lands there were divided into Upper and Lower Pollock, with the Maxwells settling in
    Lower Pollock.  Through marriage Robert Maxwell became the laird of Calderwood in Lanarkshire in 1394.

The Maxwells at
Kirkconnell in Dumfries date from about 1430.
Their laird James Maxwell was Bonnie Prince Charlie’s
aide-de-camp at
the Battle of Culloden in 1746, after which he hurriedly left for
France.  He
returned in 1750 with a band of French bricklayers to construct a brick house alongside the ancient 13th century fortified tower.
This house stayed with his descendants, but
was recently put up for sale.

.  The Rev. Robert Maxwell, from
the Calderwood
Maxwells, had come to Ireland around 1600 and been made the Dean of
From this Robert came the Maxwells of Farnham in Cavan (who were later
barons) and the Maxwells of
of Ballyrolly in county Down.

A Rev. James Maxwell was a Presbyterian minister
in Omagh, county Tyrone for sixty years, from 1690 to 1750.  Some records have connected him with the
Maxwell of Strabane who grew up in the Presbyterian settlement there
and served
as the High Sheriff of Tyrone in 1681.  Another Thomas Maxwell in
Tyrone, this
time from the Kirkconnell Maxwells in Scotland, emigrated with his
family to America
in 1747.

England.  Maxwells from the Borders
also crossed south
into England.  The largest numbers,
according to the 1881 census, were to be found in Lancashire.

Prominent here
were four sons of an old Maxwell family in Dumfries who came to
Liverpool in
the early 1800’s and made their fortunes as merchants with some shrewd
investments in railways.  Not so rich was
Thomas Maxwell, an Irish immigrant and laborer to Liverpool in the
1830’s.  John Maxwell from a Scottish
family in Liverpool perished on
the Titanic
in 1912.

Maxwells in America have been Scots or Scots Irish.
Genealogical books
that have covered these early Maxwell arrivals in America plus some
Maxwell history have been:

  • Halbert’s
    1900 book The World Book of Maxwells.
  • Florence
    Houston’s 1916 book Maxwell History and Genealogy.
  • and
    Norman’s 1966 book Thomas Maxwell of
    Virginia and Georgia.

Virginia Arrivals
.  The earliest Maxwell
arrival might well have
been Joel Maxwell who came with his son to Virginia around the year
1707 from,
according to family lore, Maxwellton in Scotland.

His grandson the
Rev. Thomas Maxwell
became a
Baptist preacher who was arrested for preaching a non-Anglican faith.  In 1792, seeking religious freedom, he moved
to Elbert county, Georgia to preach and to set up Baptist churches.  He died there in 1837 at
the grand old age of ninety seven.  He and
his wife Mary had raised eleven children, many of whom migrated to

Thomas Maxwell from the
Kirkconnell Maxwells in Scotland had fought for King James in Ireland.  In his later years he left Ireland for America
in 1747 and settled in Augusta county, Virginia.  His grandson
John, a
small boy
at that time, came to Kentucky in 1774 and was one of the founders of
the town
of Lexington.  Maxwell Springs and the Maxwell Graveyard were
his legacies that
did not, however, survive.

Maxwell, said to
have been from the Calderwood Maxwells, came to Albemarle county,
Virginia in
1751.  Later Maxwells of this family
moved to North Carolina, Kentucky and onto Overton county,
Captain James
, coming to Virginia from Ulster, fought in the
Revolutionary War.


William Maxwell, who had grown up in
resided for a time in Lexington, Kentucky before moving west to Ohio in
1793 and
publishing the
first newspaper for what was then the Northwest Territory. 

Alexander and Jane
Maxwell left their home in Scotland in 1770 and, after a brief sojourn
Ireland, came to America and settled in New York state.
Their grandson William, based in Elmira, was
active in the early railroad developments in the area in the 1840’s.

Hugh Maxwell, the son of an Englishman in
Dublin, had come to New York in 1815 and departed a year or so later
Kaskaskia, Illinois on the western frontier.
His son Lucien, born there in 1818, headed further west in the
1840’s as
far as New Mexico.  Here, through a
marriage and subsequent land acquisitions, he became the owner of huge
(in excess of 1.7 million acres) which came to be known as the Maxwell Land

Canada.  Many of the early Maxwell
arrivals in Canada
were Irish or more probably Scots Irish.
William and Agnes Maxwell came to Owen Sound in Ontario sometime
1830.  Their sons William and Hamilton
later moved west to Saskatchewan.
William Maxwell meanwhile, also from Ireland, settled in
Bloomfield, New
Brunswick as a young man in 1850.

Henry and Susannah Maxwell were free blacks in
Pennsylvania who faced harassment and left for Canada in 1858. They settled in Richmond Hill near
Toronto.   Susannah died in 1923 at
remarkable age of 117.

New Zealand.  Thomas Maxwell, probably
from Aberdeen, was a
very early settler in New Zealand, arriving at the Bay of Islands on
whaling ship Harriet in 1820 or
thereabouts.  Known locally as Tame Kohe,
he married the daughter of a local Maori chief and seemed to have
adapted himself
to Maori ways.  He apparently drowned
while on a sea voyage up the east coast of North Island in 1841.

James Maxwell came
with his wife Mary to Wellington in 1840.
The family later settled in Auckland.
James died in 1857 at the age of thirty seven when he fell off
his horse.


Maxwell Miscellany

The Lands of Max or Maccus in Roxburghshire.  In the early 12th century there lived a man called
Max (or Maccus as the scribe wrote him down in Latin).
A surviving charter of Melrose Abbey shows
that this Max was a son of Unwin or Alwyn.
Whether he was Scottish, Norse, English or Norman is not known.  But he was a significant landowner and,
held land close to the royal residence of Roxburgh castle.

Max died around 1152,
but his name lived on in two places.    One was a small
town on the banks of the
river Tweed called Maxtown and the other was at a fishing pool at the
place where
the rivers Teviot and Tweed met and this was called Max’s well. Both
places survive today, the first as Maxton and the other in the village
Maxwellheugh on the high river bank above the ancient fishing pool.

progenitor of the Maxwell line is believed to have been Herbert,
Norman in origin, who came to hold the lands of Max’s well and adopted
suffix ‘de Maccwel’ or ‘de Maccusweil.’
It would appear that Herbert took his landed designation thereby
as his
identity and surname.

Maxwells and the 1715 Jacobite Uprising.  Edward Maxwell of Stroquhan was a distant cousin of the Maxwell chief the Earl of
who had joined the 1715 Jacobite Rebellion.
Edward was captured with his
chief after the battle of Preston.   While
the Earl was being led away to the Tower of London, a court martial was
arranged in a barn near Preston for the other prisoners.

story goes that as
Edward was being marched to the barn he saw several horses tethered
together a
few yards from the entrance with three soldiers beside them.  He suddenly seized the two soldiers on either
side of him by their necks and knocked their heads together.  At the same time, kicking out behind him, he
struck the following soldier in the stomach.
He so floored all three of the guards.  Whipping out a
small knife he cut
the tether of the best horse, leaped on its back, and was off before
the alarm
was raised.

took to the open country between Preston and Fleetwood, but was
soon pursued by English troopers.  He came to a bend in a deep
ravine that was
broader than usual.  The troopers were
pressing hard behind and on either side of him and there was no other
way of
escape.  Encouraging the horse, he then put it to the jump and
cleared the

of the troopers would attempt the jump and it was a mile to any
other crossing point, so the young rebel got clear away and soon found
places among the Catholic gentry of north Lancashire.
Edward ultimately got back to Scotland and
joined up with the outlawed Rob Roy MacGregor.  Sir Walter Scott
had a dagger and
purse which had been given to Maxwell of Stroquhan by Rob Roy.  They are still in the collection at

his cousin the Earl of Nithsdale also managed to
escape.  He was imprisoned in the Tower
of London and sentenced to death.
However, with the assistance of his wife, he disguised himself
as a serving
woman and the couple fled to Rome where the Earl died in 1744.

The Maxwells of Finnebrogue.  Finnebrogue
is by repute the oldest inhabited house in Northern Ireland.  The estate, bordered by the Quoile river and
Strangford Lough, also includes the ruins of a 12th century abbey.  It was let in perpetuity to Henry Maxwell by
Thomas Cromwell, 1stt Earl of Ardglass, in 1628.  Henry was the second son of the Rev. Robert
Maxwell who had been appointed the Dean of Armagh.
However, the Maxwells do not seem to have
taken up residence there until sometime in the 1680’s.

Edward Maxwell of this
line died without children in 1792 and ownership passed to a sister
Dorothea.  She had married her cousin
John Waring who adopted the name of Maxwell.
But he died at a young age in 1802.
Dorothea it was who undertook the refurbishing of the
Finnebrogue in the
years that followed.  Her son John Waring
Maxwell who inherited the estate married an heiress and spent lavishly
on the
estate during his lifetime.

The estate eventually passed through marriage to
Robert Perceval who adopted the name of Perceval-Maxwell.
He proved to be an astute estate manager and
when he died in 1905 he was described as one of the wealthiest
commoners in
Ireland.  His eldest son John was a
cattle breeder and an active figure in the cultural and political life
Northern Ireland.  Finnebrogue was sold
after his death in 1963.

The Rev. Thomas Maxwell and Patrick Henry.  The Rev. Thomas Maxwell was arrested by Culpepper authorities in
colonial Virginia while in the very act of preaching in his
church.  It was said that he was preaching without a
license.  In fact he was a Baptist minister and no one at that
time could preach there unless they were of the official Anglican

While in prison he would preach through the grates of his jail
cell.  In his anxiety to see his congregation, he bruised his nose
again and again on the iron bars until his nose bled.

Patrick Henry defended Maxwell against the authorities’ charges and
finally won his release using the principle of the separation of Church
and state.  Patrick Henry later became famous in the celebrated
“Parson’s Cause” of 1763 when he defended colonial rights against the
edicts of the British Government in London.

Reader Feedback – Captain James Maxwell.  The Maxwell
I am referring to is: Captain James Maxwell.  He
was born about 1750 in Ulster and died in
1821 in Virginia.   These are the
“Virginia Maxwell” families who eventually moved throughout the new
nation.   His wife was Jane Roberts
seems to be known of her), but the surname did exist in Virginia at the
Captain Maxwell arrived there.  They had several children who
survived and
had issue.

Captain James Maxwell fought
in the American Revolution and pledged allegiance to the American
revolt by
organizing militia troops to fight the British crown.  He
is the registered Daughters of the American
Revolution patriot #A075932.  Thomas
Jefferson mentions Captain Maxwell in some early papers, asking that he
be sent
to defend and lead.  James Maxwell was also at the Battle of Kings
Mountain in 1780.

Dr. K.S. Rolph (

Maxwell Springs and the Maxwell Graveyard in Lexington, Kentucky.  John Maxwell
was one of Lexington’s pioneers, arriving there in 1774 and marrying
his wife
Sarah there four years later.
a 1,000 acre tract acquired from his fellow pioneer Robert Patterson,
he owned
much of what became southeast Lexington.

home was near a spring and was called Maxwell Springs.
They lived there for almost forty years.  Over
time the springs became so well-known
that Henry Clay said of it:

man can call himself a true Kentuckian who has
not watered his horse at Maxwell Springs.”

were used for political gatherings, for celebrations, and for

home was burned down during the Civil War.  In
1861 a Union encampment surrounded the
springs and burned the house for fuel.
The troops also burned the nearby trees, stripping the area of
old-growth trees.

John Maxwell himself died he deeded the land for the
Maxwell Graveyard to the city of Lexington.
the mother of John
Maxwell had been buried in 1804, his wife in 1811, and the old pioneer
in 1819.

Maxwell Graveyard did not remain as a
cemetery, however, as the land was subsequently sold for redevelopment.  The irate lawyers for the Maxwell heirs
claimed that “the
bones of these patriots who were the founders of the city of Lexington
been carted away to fill up ponds and the tombstones cracked up and
built into
foundations for buildings.”

The Maxwell Land Grant.  It was
a Mexican citizen Carlos Beaubien who in 1841 first acquired from the
government the land
along the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo
Mountains neighboring the Santa Fe Trail.

his death and that of his partners, ownership passed to the former
trapper and explorer Lucien Bonaparte Maxwell who had married
daughter.  The Maxwell Land Grant, as it
became known, turned out to be the single largest tract of land in the
ownership of one person ever in the history of the United States.

1866 gold
was discovered in the area and prospectors rushed in.
Maxwell became rich by leasing out land to
the miners.  The scramble for land was
such that Maxwell eventually sold the Land Grant to an English
syndicate for
the sum of $1.35 million.

Maxwell Land Grant is mostly remembered for the
problems that arose after it was sold rather than for the six years
that it was
Lucien Maxwell’s private kingdom.

the Territorial Secretary had
approved the transaction, the new owners had years of legal battles
ownership ahead of them.  Backed by the
politicians and financiers known as the Santa Fe Ring they tried to
evict the
squatters, settlers, miners and small ranchers.
There was much bloodshed around the rights of ownership and the
to pieces of property on the Grant.  The
unrest became known as, the Colfax County War, with litigations,
shootings and
riots plaguing the area until the 20th century. 

Maxwell House – Good to the Last Drop.  Introduced in 1892, Joel Cheek named his new coffee blend Maxwell
in honor of the Maxwell
House Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee.  For
many years until the late 1980’s this coffee was the largest-selling
coffee in
the United States.

Maxwell House Hotel was a major hotel in downtown
Nashville.  Construction of the hotel had
begun in 1859 and it was finally completed ten years later in 1869.  The hotel was at its height from the 1890’s
to the early 20th century.  Its Christmas
dinner featuring calf’s head, black bear, opossum, and other unusual
became famous.  President Teddy Roosevelt
was one of the many US Presidents who stayed there.
His comment that a cup of coffee he drank was
“good to the last drop” became an advertising slogan for the Maxwell
House coffee which was served at the hotel.

hotel had been built by Colonel
John Overton who named it after his wife Harriet Overton nee Maxwell. The Maxwells had been in Nashville since the
1790’s.  Captain Jesse Maxwell had in
fact opened a new hostelry himself there in 1797, having migrated there

John Maxwell Who Perished on the Titanic.  Andrew Maxwell, a Scotsman by birth, had married in Liverpool and John, born in 1882, was his eldest son.

a carpenter by trade, was on board the Titanic on
her delivery trip from Belfast to Southampton and signed on again in
Southampton, on 6 April 1912, for her maiden voyage to America.  On the night of the collision, he was one of a
party of the crew who went out to inspect the damage caused by the
iceberg.  He died in the sinking.  His body, if recovered, was never

was remembered on the headstone of his father, mother and sister
Agnes in the Kirkdale cemetery in Liverpool.

John, eldest
son of the above who was drowned through the foundering of the SS Titanic on April 14th, 1912, aged 29

his widow Ada died in November 1912, only eight months after the Titanic sank, from typhoid and
tuberculosis – leaving their daughter Dorothy an orphan at 18 months.


Maxwell Names

  • John Maxwell, killed at the Battle of Flodden Field in 1513, is considered the patriarch
    of the Maxwell
    Cærlaverock line. 
  • James Clerk Maxwell was the Scottish 19th century scientist who made pioneering discoveries in the
    field of electromagnetism. 
  • Elsa Maxwell was an American
    gossip columnist and writer, renowned for her parties for royalty and high society figures of her day. 
  • Robert Maxwell, a Jewish entrepreneur who was born Jan Hoch and escaped the Nazis, developed a publishing and newspaper empire in Britain after the War.   He fell overboard from his yacht in 1991 as his businesses began to fail.

Select Maxwell Numbers Today

  • 16,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Glasgow)
  • 24,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 21,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


Select Maxwell 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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