McCoy Surname Meaning, History & Origin
root of the McCoy surname is the old Gaelic Mac Aodha,
meaning “son of fire,” which was originally the name of a
Celtic pagan god. This
name cropped up in the
Western Isles of Scotland, where Gilchrist M’ay of Ugadale was recorded
1326, and this produced the Mackays of Kintyre and Islay; and on the
where the name Cucail Mac Aedha
appeared as early as 1098, and here it came out as MacQuay or Quay.
Gallowglasses, to Irish chiefs in the 14th century and stayed. Their surnames in Ireland were various but
the most common one became McCoy.
McCoy – meaning “the genuine article” – is an idiom that has
since the mid-19th century. There are
many explanations but no agreement as to where the term came from.
- McCoy Family History
McCoys in Maryland and Indiana.
- McCoy Family Genealogy
McCoys of the Hatfield/McCoy feud.
- McKay/McCoy DNA Project
McCoys had originally come to Ireland as
Gallowglasses at the behest of the McDonnells.
They settled first in Ulster, but a number then made the move to
banks of the Shannon river in Limerick in the early 1500’s. There
were some McCoys in Fermanagh and Donegal that were originally
MacHugh, a branch of the O’Flaherty clan in Connemara.
And there were also Scottish MacKays
that arrived later in the 17th and 18th centuries and became McCoys.
anglicized spelling of the name was initially very variable – from
MacCoy to MacCay, MacKay, McKie, MacCooey and others as well. Often the MacKay
and McCoy spellings were
general it is true to say that whenever
McCoys were found, there were MacKays close by. Many McCoys
in the 18th century.
Notable McCoys in
Ireland have been the two Gaelic poets – Art MacCoy from Ulster in the
century and Father Edward MacCoy from Galway in the 19th. Today
principally to be found in the Armagh-Monaghan area in Ulster on both
the border, with some also in Antrim, including at one time on Rathlin Island,
and others in Limerick and Cork. The best
known is Tony McCoy, the champion
horse racing jockey from Antrim.
McCoys of Norfolk county, Virginia – starting with
Dennis McCoy in 1648 – appear to have been the first McCoys in America. But there is no indication of where they came
from and why.
James McCoy from county Tyrone meanwhile was in Augusta county,
by the 1730’s. A descendant John
captain of the Augusta county militia during the Revolutionary War. Another McCoy line from Augusta county made
its home in McCoy, Montgomery county.
An early arrival from
Scotland was Alexander McCoy who came to Windham, New Hampshire in 1721. He was a soldier during the French and Indian
wars. The only thing remarkable about
his son John was the manner of his death.
day John McCoy laid down under a tree. While
here, an earwig entered his ear.
Efforts to dislodge it were made, but they were unavailing and it
John McCoy from county Down came to Rye township in
Cumberland county, Pennsylvania sometime in the 1750’s.
He operated a sawmill and gristmill there. His
descendants migrated first to Kentucky
and then to Louisiana. Mary McCoy,
on the death of her husband in 1858, became the mistress of the Bayou
plantation in Louisiana.
and Kentucky. John McCoy came to
America from Belfast in 1732 and received a land grant in what is now
Washington county, Maryland. He operated
the Neglect plantation there.
of his family, through “Old” William McCoy, migrated to Pike county,
the West Virginia border around the year 1810.
His descendants were the McCoys of the famous Hatfield-McCoy feud
in the 1880’s, a story told in Otis Rice’s 1982 book The
Hatfields and the McCoys.
The McCoy numbers here included “Squirrel Huntin’” Sam McCoy who
until 1941 and whose memoirs and family tree were published in 1979.
Maryland-to-Kentucky line began with Daniel McCoy who first owned land
Frederick county, Maryland in 1749. His
son Daniel was in Bourbon county, Kentucky around 1810.
But these McCoys later moved onto Indiana in
It is uncertain who
David McCoy’s parents were, although they were believed to have been
Sarah McKay, natives of Virginia. They
died soon after David’s birth in 1790 and he moved to Ohio and then in
Sangamon county, Illinois where he built a sawmill and gristmill. David passed on his entrepreneurial spirits
to his son Joseph who is credited with opening up the markets for
extending cattle drives to the rail lines at Abilene, Kansas.
went further west. Arthur McCoy, known
as “the wild Irishman,” left Ireland for the California goldfields in
then ended up in eastern Missouri during and after the Civil War. There were reports of him joining the
James-Younger gang of bank and train robbers. He
is said to have died sometime in the
1870’s. Meanwhile James McCoy came to
California from Ireland in 1850 and stayed there. He
was one of the early settlers of San Diego
and held the post of sheriff there from 1862 to 1872.
His home in Old Town San Diego has been
McCoy left Tyrone for Hinchenbrooke in
Huntingdon county, Quebec in 1836. One
of his sons John
curiously, after fighting in the American Civil War.
The family history was recounted in Robert
McCoy’s 1992 book The Archibald McCoy
Family of Herdman Corners.
South Sea Islands. The McCoy name came to the South Sea Pitcairn
Islands because William
mutineer on the Bounty in 1789,
ended up there. McCoys continued on the
island with his grandson Matthew who was its Chief Magistrate. In 1935 Annie McCoy, aged about seventy, was
the sole McCoy left. Others were living
on Norfolk Island.
The Real McCoy. Some have the term the real McCoy originating in Canada. In
1881 the expression was used in James Bond’s book Boy Life
in Canada in which a character
says, “By jingo! yes; so it will be.
It’s the ‘real McCoy,’ as Jim Hicks says. Nobody but a devil can
there.” The expression had been
associated with Elijah McCoy’s oil-drip cup invention that was patented
1872. It was said that railroad
engineers looking to avoid inferior copies would request it by name,
if a locomotive was fitted with ‘the real McCoy system.”
Another story relates to Charles “Kid”
McCoy who was a clever and popular fighter in
the turn of the century. To gain a psychological
advantage over his opponents, he
feign illness before several bouts or he would
spread the word to the media that he had
training. On fight night, much to the
surprise of the press and his opponents, McCoy would
and ready to fight. Thus reporters often asked:
“Is this the real McCoy?”
the expression was used in 1920s flapper slang
to describe something that was good or the best,
most likely related to its origins in the prohibition era and Bill
McKay and McCoy in Ireland. From the families of MacKay
that migrated from Scotland to Ulster arose the variant form of MacKay or McCoy.
late as 1900 the name MacCoy was still being used interchangeably with
MacCay near Castlederg in county Tyrone, with MacKay around Monaghan
in Newry in county Down, and with MacKie in the Ballyshannon district
McCoys on Rathlin Island. Rathlin, an island on the northernmost tip of county Antrim, had been for many
years under the control of the McDonnells of Antrim.
It was home to a number of McCoys going
back to the late 1700’s.
McCoy was the island innkeeper and a farmer in
the early 1800’s. His parents were named
McCouaig. It is believed that they were
ousted crofters from the Scottish Highlands who had made their way to
Western Isles and Islay before leaving for Rathlin. The dialect
Rathlin Island was considered in fact to be a Scottish Gaelic one.
its most, the total island population had
been about 2,000.
to have been a mass exodus from Rathlin Island in the 1830’s and
including most of the McCoys. After the
death of her husband John, Nancy McCoy left Rathlin with her two sons
Brunswick in Canada before crossing the border to Lubec in Maine where
from Rathin had made their home. There
was only one McCoy recorded on Rathlin in the 1901 census.
The McCoys in Maryland. Daniel
McCoy first owned land in Frederick county, Maryland
by 1749. The following account came
from a descendant in Katherine Taney
Silverson’s book Remembrances
of a John McCoy, Descendant.
father remembered hearing of five
brothers who came to America. One or two
went to Virginia, also to New York and Maryland. Physically
they were unusually tall men. Our
father, was six feet tall and slender, said he was considered the small
were Revolutionary flint-lock muskets in the attic of the old
stone house in Antietam Creek as the family was on the side of the
though there was one Tory of whom the family was ashamed of and said
not name anyone after him.” And now
we have lost his name!
research might prove definitely that members of the
family were soldiers in the Revolution.
Now this is about all that has come down to us from early days,
for the knowledge that the McCoy farm was a land grant from Lord
Baltimore. When our mother was visiting
in Maryland she saw this imposing document.
Unhappily it was afterwards lost when an old man was said to
accidentally burned it in a barrel of trash.”
John McCoy and the American Civil War. John McCloy was a Canadian farmer who happened to be
in Massachusetts in 1864 while the American Civil War was raging. He got offered a $627 bounty, more than
double the normal enlistment bounty for a substitute soldier at the
time. He took the money and enlisted,
apparently letting his wife Martha and six children back in
Hinchinbrooke, Quebec know.
in North Carolina, he was stricken with illness and confined to
hospitals, first in North Carolina and then in Rhode Island. His letters home at that time described his
convalescence. However, he never
regained his health and died in 1867 at the age of 44.
Mary McCoy, the Mistress of Bayou Boeuf. She was
born on June 16, 1834, but didn’t know her parents.
Before she was three months old they had both
died within days of each other of yellow fever, first her mother Mary
her father James Dixon NcCoy. She was
brought up instead by maternal relatives at their Bayou Boeuf
1853, when she was nineteen, she married Dr. DeWitt Rhodes who then
bought into the Bayou Boeuf estate. Five years later DeWitt Rhodes died
unexpectedly and she became the mistress of Bayou Boeuf. She
owned 142 slaves at the time of the 1860 census.
his 1853 slave narrative Twelve Years A
Slave described her as “the beauty and glory of Bayou Boeuf.” He went on: “No
one is so well beloved, no one fills so large a space in the hearts of
thousand slaves as young Madam McCoy.” She was known for
Christmas feasts for her slaves, and on one such occasion, she hired
play his violin.
Mary McCoy married two more times,
to Austin Burgess in 1860 and to Silas Cooper in 1876, and outlived
Her granddaughter had the following
memory of her when she was an old
“My happiest recollections are being
driven in my grandmother’s buggy by
her along Bayou Boeuf’s edge which meandered in and out according to
contours of the bayou, seeing the long grey Spanish moss, which is fast
disappearing, dangling from the trees, the hyacinths on the edge of the
the hooves of the horse sinking into the soft alluvial soil of the
McCoy remained mistress of the house until her death in 1913. She is buried in the cemetery of the Trinity
Episcopal church in Cheneyville nearby.
The Hatfield-McCoy Feud. The origins
of the feud are obscure. Although
animosities had built up and occasional fights had broken out, the
bloodletting did not occur until 1882 when Ellison Hatfield was
in a brawl with McCoys. In revenge, the
Hatfields kidnapped and executed three McCoy brothers – Tolbert,
murders sharpened the backwoods warfare and thereafter the
Hatfields and McCoys repeatedly ambushed and killed one another. The fighting reached a climax in New Year’s
Day in 1888 when a group of Hatfields attacked the home of patriarch
McCoy, missing him but shooting dead a son and a daughter and burning
houses. In retaliation, a posse of
McCoys and their neighbors made successive raids across the border into
Virginia, killing Vance and at least three others.
They battled with a West Virginia posse and
eventually rounded up nine of the Hatfield clan for indictment and
Virginia filed suit in federal court, charging kidnapping and
lawlessness; Kentucky defended the abduction; and newspapers all over
country began carrying front-page stories of the feud and sending in
in May 1888, a divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Kentucky
had the legal right to detain the accused for trial. The trials, later
year, resulted in one sentence of death by hanging and eight sentences
Hatfield-McCoy legend was embellished by a brief love affair that
occurred about 1880 between Johnson (“Johnse”) Hatfield and Rose Anna
an affair that was opposed and eventually broken up by the McCoys. Newspapers turned it into a Romeo-and-Juliet
did the protagonists get so angry?
On the McCoy side, one explanation offered is a
rare, inherited disease that can
lead to hair-trigger rage and violent outbursts. Dozens
of McCoy descendants apparently have
this disease. It causes high blood pressure, racing hearts,
and too much adrenaline and other “fight or flight” stress hormones.
a symbolic peace treaty was signed by 60 descendants from the McCoys
and Hatfields, 138 years after the feud began. But the feud
really ended in
1979 when descendants appeared on the TV game show Family Feud and vied for cash prizes.
William McCoy, Bounty Mutineer. William McCoy
was a sailor and a mutineer on board HMS
Bounty. We know almost nothing about
his early life, although he does appear to have been an employee of a
distillery at one point. He was five
foot six inches tall, fair complexion, light brown hair with a heavy
strong-made, a scar where he had been stabbed in the belly, and a small
under his chin. He was heavily tattooed
all over his body.
the mutiny led by Fletcher Christian, the Bounty was
taken to Tahiti for
a few days before being
compelled to set sail.McCoy joined Christian and seven other mutineers
there. They took with them eleven Tahitian
six men. After months at sea, the mutineers discovered the uninhabited
settled there in early 1790. McCoy had
just one consort Teio and fathered two children, Daniel and Catherine.
three years a conflict broke out between the Tahitian men and the
resulting in the deaths of all the Tahitian men and five of the
including Fletcher Christian. McCoy was
one of the survivors.
life came to a tragic end after liquor was introduced
to Pitcairn Island. By some accounts
McCoy himself was the one who discovered how to distill alcohol from
one of the
island fruits. He became an alcoholic
and finally ended his life in 1798 by jumping off a cliff in a drunken
tragedy also ended the life of his grandson Matthew McCoy.
In 1853 on the occasion of the arrival of the
Virago, the first steamship to visit
there, it was planned to raise a salute from the ancient gun of the Bounty.
But a spark there ignited the charge prematurely and Matthew,
nearby, had his right arm shattered. The
arm was amputated but Matthew died two days later.
- Joseph “Cowboy” McCoy was
the 19th century American entrepreneur famous for promoting the transport of Longhorn cattle from Texas to the eastern United States.
- Randolph “Ole Ran’l” McCoy was the
leader of the McCoy clan in the notorious Hatfield-McCoy feud in Appalachia in the 1880’s.
- Tony McCoy is a former horse racing jockey from Northern
Ireland who was the British Champion Jockey for a record 20
consecutive times, from 1995 to 2015.
Select McCoy Numbers Today
- 7,000 in the UK (most numerous
in Northern Ireland)
- 35,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
- 7,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)
Select McCoy and Like Surnames
The Irish clan or sept names come through the mists of time until they were found in Irish records such as The Annals of the Four Masters. The names were Gaelic and this Gaelic order was preserved until it was battered down by the English in the 1600’s.
Some made peace with the English. “Wild geese” fled to fight abroad. But most stayed and suffered, losing land and even the use of their language. Irish names became anglicized, although sometimes in a mishmash of spellings. Mass emigration happened after the potato famine of the 1840’s.
Some surnames – such as Kelly, Murphy and O’Connor – span all parts of Ireland. But most will have a territorial focus in one of the four Irish provinces – Leinster, Munster, Ulster, and Connacht.
Ulster in NE Ireland covers the counties of Derry, Antrim, Down, Tyrone, Armagh, Fermanagh, Cavan, Monaghan, and Donegal. Here are some of the Ulster surnames (excluding the Scots Irish surnames) that you can check out.
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