McPherson Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select McPherson Meaning
Macpherson has been a Scottish
Highland clan, its name having derived from the Gaelic Mac
a’ Phearsain
meaning “son of the parson.”  The
parson in question was Muriach, a 12th
century parson or lay preacher of Kingussie at Badenoch in
history of clan Macpherson has been called “the posterity of the three
brethren” as the three grandsons of Muriach were the antecedents of the
three main Macpherson clan lines – Cluny, Pitmain and Invereshie.  McPherson
and MacPherson
are the main surname
spellings today.

McPherson Resources on

McPherson Ancestry

Scotland.   The
Macpherson clan base was at Badenoch in Inverness-shire in the
northeast of

According to clan tradition, the Macphersons were granted the
lands of
Badenoch by Robert the Bruce in return for their support against the
Comyn clan.

Sometimes known as clan Muredach after an early chief and later as
Makferson, they were part of a Chattan clan confederation which also
the Mackintosh and Davidson clans.   Their
strongholds in the Strathspey area were Cluny Castle near Newtonmore
Invershie and Pitmain Houses near Kingussie.

Sir Aeneas Macpherson of Invershie
was in the late 17th century the first seanchaidh or genealogist of the

Macpherson events during the four hundred years of clan rule and clan
feuds were:

  • the
    Macpherson defeat of the Camerons in
    skirmish in the late 14th century
    at Invernahoven.
  • the rise of the outlaw
    Jamie Macpherson, an illegitimate son of the Macpherson Laird of
    Invereshie.  He was hanged in Banff in
    1700.  But he is remembered by Macpherson’s
    , a song which was later embellished by the poet
    Robert Burns.
  • and
    the ending of the clan as an effective unit after the failure of the
    rebellion in 1745.

Ewan Macpherson of Cluny had played an active role at the
start of the rebellion, although he and his men took no part in the
defeat at
Culloden.  However, Ewan was a marked man
and he went into hiding before later fleeing to France.

his time in hiding, his wife Janet gave birth to their son.  The child was born in a corn kiln, thus
earning him the nickname of ‘Duncan of the Kiln.’”

James Macpherson who grew up in Badenoch after
Culloden was a poet,
the first Scottish
poet to gain an international reputation.
He was best known as the “translator” of the ancient
Ossian cycle of epic poems.

The McPhersons of the fishing village of Hopeman on the Moray Firth
back to William and Janet McPherson, first recorded there in 1755.

Macphersons also appeared on the west coast
of Scotland. 
A small sept of Campbells in the neighborhood of
Glassery in Argyllshire bore the name of Macphersonin the 14thand 15th

Some Macphersons came to the Hebrides and to
Skye.  John Macpherson arrived on the
island of Eigg in the Hebrides from Badenoch in the 1750’s; while his
Alexander emigrated from there to Nova Scotia in 1810.
Dr. Hugh Macpherson from Aberdeen acquired
Eigg in 1828 and he and his descendants were its absentee landlords for
next seventy years.

The Skye
Macphersons have included:

  • clergymen at Duirinish and Sleat in the early/mid
  • Sir John Macpherson, a Scottish administrator in India
    who served as the
    Governor General of Bengal in 1785.
  • and Donald and Mary McPherson who emigrated
    from Sleat to Australia in 1854.

These Skye
were probably descended from the Macdonald clan
rather than coming
from Badenoch.

  Born near Inverness, Daniel McPherson was kidnapped
and brought to Philadelphia against
his will around the year 1697.  After the
period of his servitude he married and settled down in Chester county,

“It was said that in later years Daniel was discovered
by a friend of his family and was at the time of discovery ‘well to do
and of
easy circumstances.’”

Two of his sons John
and William migrated to North Carolina and later McPhersons headed west
Ohio, Indiana, and Iowa.

Also forcibly
removed to America was another Daniel McPherson, one of fourteen
clansmen from Inverness-shire who were captured after the 1715 Jacobite
rebellion and transported to Maryland.
His descendant Reuben McPherson was one of the early pioneers of
Tennessee and took part in the War of 1812 under General Jackson.  After the war he moved with his family to
Jackson county, Alabama.  When he died in
1842 the family settled in Arkansas.

another McPherson from Inverness-shire, William McPherson, came to
sometime in the 1720’s and settled in Drumore township, Lancaster
county.  He was the father of twenty
children.  His line was covered in Lowell
Thomas’s 2002
book McPherson of Pennsylvania.

blacksmith line through his son James led to upstate New York and to
Ohio where
James Birdseye McPherson
born.  He was a Union general during the
Civil War who died in battle in 1864. 

Irish.  Robert McPherson from Derry
to Pennsylvania with other Scots Irish families in 1729.
He eventually settled near Gettysburg in
Adams county.  Edward McPherson, born there in 1830, was a Pennsylvania newspaper editor and US
Congressman.  As director of the Gettysburg
Memorial Association, he was responsible for protecting the Gettysburg
battlefield site.

There were three McPherson brothers from
Coleraine in America – James, Thomas and Adam.
James had arrived in Virginia around 1812, his brothers somewhat
later.  By the 1840’s they were settled
along the banks of the Mississippi river in Arkansas, Tennessee, and

Canada.  Many Scottish Highlanders came
to Nova Scotia
in the early 1800’s, including a number of McPhersons such as:

  • Angus MacPherson from Arisaig in Inverness-shire who
    arrived in the
    early 1800’s.  He was one of the first
    postmasters of Antigonish.
  • Alexander and Catherine MacPherson from Eigg in the
    Hebrides who came on the Hector in
    1810.  His grandson Alexander, born in
    Nova Scotia, went to sea as a young man and ended up in California in
    1874.  He started a business there as a
    provisioner for the American shipping calling at San Francisco.
  • John MacPherson
    from South Uist who was probably in Nova Scotia by the early 1820’s.  In 1835 he had received a land grant at Black
    River on Cape Breton where he settled and built his homestead.  
  • and Norman
    from Skye who came to Pleasant Bay on Cape Breton
    also probably
    in the early 1820’s.  He later moved to
    Cape North where many of his descendants are to be found today.

MacPherson departed Caithness in NE Scotland with his family in 1876
British Columbia.  His son Hector moved
south in 1911 to Oregon where he was elected to the House of
Representatives.  Hector’s son Hector Jr.
who was an Oregon State Senator wrote in 2010 MacPherson
Family History
, an account of his family over four

  Peter MacPherson from Skye had brought his
family on the Triton to Sydney in
1825 and settled near Bathurst.  His son
John was a squatter and later landowner in the Limestone Plains of NSW.  John’s sons John and James both became
lawyers, with John rising to become Premier of Victoria in 1869.

The McPherson
emigration from Skye accelerated in the 1850’s, with many heading for

  • Angus
    and Margaret McPherson on the Clifton in January 1852
  • John
    and Catherine McPherson on the Araminta in October 1852
  • John
    and Janet
    McPherson on the Georgiana in October
  • Thomas
    and Mary McPherson on the Wanata
    in October 1852  
  • Alexander
    and Mary
    McPherson on The Banker’s Daughter in
    September 1853.
  • Alexander
    and Janet McPherson on The Arabian in September 1854.

Similar numbers of McPhersons came to Victoria
Inverness-shire at this time.

Duncan and Mary MacPherson from Badenoch in
Inverness-shire were early settlers in Western Australia, arriving at
the Swan
River Colony in 1846.  However, twenty
years later, they lost their land and trekked inland to the Yarra Yarra
where they started a remote grazing station at a place that came to be
known as
Carnamah.  Duncan and his daughter Maggie ran the telegraph
office there
for almost forty years.  After the
railway went through in 1894 Maggie also ran Carnamah’s first post


McPherson Miscellany

Macphersons in a 14th Century Clan Skirmish.  Sometime in the late 1300’s, some 400 men of the Cameron clan were returning home with the treasures they had acquired after a raid at Badenoch.  They were overtaken at
Invernahavon by a body of the Chattan confederation led by
Lachlan, the laird of clan MacKintosh. The Chattan confederation usually consisted of forces from the Mackintoshes, Davidsons and Macphersons.

However, as a result of a
disagreement as to whether the Davidsons or Macphersons would occupy
the right
wing which was the post of honor, the MacPhersons withdrew in disgust
from the

The combined Chattan numbers would have outnumbered the Camerons.  But with the loss of the Macphersons the
Camerons now had a greater number and the battle resulted in a defeat for the Chattans.  It was said that an ally of
the Camerons known as Charles MacGilony had led their clan into battle and was believed to have changed the outcome of the day with his uncanny ability as an archer.

The Macphersons then changed their minds and decided to rejoin the Chatton forces.  They attacked the
Camerons with such vigor that they changed the defeat into a victory and put the Camerons to flight.  The Mackintoshes
later claimed that the MacPhersons had been coaxed into the battle by a man
from clan Mackintosh who turned up at the Macpherson camp pretending to be from
clan Cameron and calling the Macphersons cowards.

The Macphersons attacked the Camerons’ camp, making a dreadful slaughter of them. They even killed the Camerons’ uncanny archer Charles MacGilony, at a place now called Charles’s Valley. 

Jamie Macpherson’s Lament.  Jamie MacPherson was the illegitimate son of a Highland
laird, the Macpherson of Invershie, and a gypsy girl he had met at a
After his father was killed by cattle thieves, the boy was
reclaimed by
his mother’s people.   As he grew up
became the leader of a gypsy band.  His
career of robbery culminated in a reign of terror in the markets of
Elgin and Forres.  Apparently under protection
of the Laird of
Grant, he and his band of followers would come marching into the
markets with a piper at
their head.

In 1700, at the Saint Rufus fair in Keith, Jamie was
captured after
a fierce fight in which one of his crew was killed.
According to the traditional account penned
by Jamie himself, a woman dropped a blanket over him from a window and
he was
disarmed before he could get free of it.

While under sentence of death in the
jail, during the week between his trial and his execution, Macpherson
was said
to have composed the tune and the song now known as Macpherson’s
or Macpherson’s

Sir Walter Scott said that he played it under the gallows
and, after
playing the tune, he then offered his fiddle to anyone in his clan who
play it at his wake.  When no one came
forward to take the fiddle, he broke it – either across his knee or
over the
executioner’s head – and then threw it into the crowd with the remark:
one else shall play Jamie Macpherson’s fiddle.”

It was universally believed
in that part of Scotland that a reprieve was on its way to Banff at the
time of
his execution. The legend has it that Duff of Braco saw a lone rider
from Turiff and correctly assumed that he carried a pardon for
Jamie from
the Lord of Grant. As the story goes, he then set about turning the
clock fifteen minutes ahead and so hanging MacPherson before the pardon
The magistrates allegedly were punished for this and the town clock was
kept fifteen
minutes before the correct time for many years.

Skye MacPhersons.  Between 1469 and 1493 the island of Skye was invaded by dissident and land-hungry MacDonald cadets, among them probably
Hugh Macdonald who was accompanied by the Red Parson (Pearsainn Ruadh)
and his thirty warriors.  They established
themselves at Dunile.

Sir John Macpherson, a civil servant in India, was a native of Sleat in
Skye and a descendant of Iain Ban.  He
wrote as follows of his ancestry in 1798:

“The history of my
predecessors is shortly this.  They
followed the Macdonalds of Sleat and their fortunes when that line of
the Princes
of the Isles came to Skye.  Our caste were the hereditary standard
of the family and we had free lands in Sleat for that service.
The last
who exercised this office was Ian Bane MacVorstin who commanded the
at Blari Chullin, the last fight fought between the Macleods and the

The predecessor of Ian Bane MacVortsin who made most noise in
the story
of our family was Pearson Ruadh (the Red Parson).
Tradition stated that the predecessor who
followed Hugh of Sleat to Skye had 30 warriors.
Our little clan could muster in Sleat, when I was a boy, the
same number.”

The Kidnapping of Daniel MacPherson.  Daniel MacPherson was born at or near Inverness about 1680
and was brought to the America either in 1696 or in 1698. There have
been two
traditions about Daniel’s upbringing.

By one, he would appear to have been
reared in good circumstances for it was said that he lived at home with
parents and entered college in 1696.
While at home during a vacation and while leisurely strolling on
wharf, he was kidnapped together with many others, gagged and put into
the hold
of a vessel bound for Philadelphia.  On
arriving at Philadelphia, he was sold until he should become of age for
payment of his passage.

Another tradition was to the effect that he was captured
while tending sheep.  He was in fact down
in a well when taken by men to the ship.
The ship sailed immediately for the Delaware river.
Daniel was sold until he became of age which
was for seven years.

Living with his
parents in the capital of the Highlands and attending college would
lead to the
supposition that he was connected with a more pretentious class than
herders of sheep.

Yet the second tradition is believed at least in part by
of the descendants acquainted with both traditions.
In an obituary notice of a member of the
family, the following language was used:

“His ancestors were from the
Highlands of Scotland; were shepherds by trade; and mostly large men,
of which
the deceased was a fair specimen, being six feet high and having a

The Death of James Birdseye McPherson.  In July
1864 at the Battle of Atlanta Major General McPherson while riding was
shot by the enemy.  A musket ball passed
through his right lung
and shattered his spine.  He clung to his
saddle until his horse had carried him further into the woods and then
fell to
the ground.  He was 36 at the time of his

McPherson was greatly beloved by the army and when the
news reached them
that he had fallen, a wild cry rose from the whole army: “McPherson or
revenge.”  When General Grant heard
of his death, he was said to have gone into his tent and wept like a

McPherson’s eighty-seven year old grandmother
Lydia Slocum wrote to General Grant and received the following letter

“My dear Madam,

Your very welcome letter of the 3rd instant has reached
me.  I am glad to know that the relatives
of the lamented Major-General McPherson are aware of the more than
that existed between him and myself.

A nation grieves at the loss of one so
dear to our nation’s cause.  It is a
selfish grief because the nation had more to expect from him than from
anyone living.  I join in this selfish
grief and add the grief of personal love for the departed.

He formed for some time one of my
family.  I knew him well.
To know him was to love him.  It may
be some consolation to you, his aged
grandmother, to know that every officer and every soldier who served
under your
grandson felt the highest reverence for his patriotism, his zeal, his
almost unequalled ability,his amiability and all the manly virtues that
can adorn
a commander.

Your bereavement is great,
but cannot exceed mine.

Yours Truly, U.S. Grant.”

Norman McPherson at Pleasant Bay on Cape Breton.  What is believed to have been the first visit by a white man to Pleasant Bay on Cape Breton in Nova Scotia occurred in 1819.

The story was told by an old woman in
her ninety-third year, but having remarkably clear mind and bright eyes
had never worn glasses.  Before she was
two years old, with a little company of Scotch emigrants in a small
this old woman’s father and family made a weary voyage of months across
Atlantic.  In a storm they were stranded here late in the season.  A few Indians gave them friendly shelter and
helped them during the winter.

Shortly after this, Neil McQuilcan and a
companion landed on the southern side of the Pond river, cut down some
built a log hut, and planted some potatoes.  The destruction of
their potato
plot by bears so discouraged them that they left the locality and made
a home
for themselves in Margaree.

The hut
deserted by McQuilcan and his companion was soon after occupied by
McPherson.  He with his family remained
for about a year and then removed to the Jersey Farm at Cheticamp.  In the succeeding summers McPherson would
make visits to Grand Anse, as the French called the place, for lumber.

five years’ absence, McPherson then returned accompanied by his
Robert McLeod and his family. Bears were still in evidence.  Norman and Robert remained there but a short
time before removing to Cape North where many of their descendants are

McPhersons and MacPhersons Today

Numbers (000’s) McPherson MacPherson Total
UK    9   10   19
America   12    2   14
Canada    7    9   16
Australia    7    5   14
Total 35   26 61



McPherson Names

  • Jamie Macpherson was a Scottish
    outlaw hanged in 1700.  His Macpherson’s
    was later embellished and commemorated by Robert Burns. 
  • James Macpherson was a Scottish poet, best known as
    the “translator” of the ancient Ossian cycle of epic poems in
    the 1760’s. 
  • James Birdseye McPherson
    was a Union General during the Civil War killed at the Battle of Atlanta in 1864.   
  • Aimee McPherson was an American Pentecostal evangelist and media celebrity in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

Select McPherson Numbers Today

  • 19,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in NE Scotland)
  • 14,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 29,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


Select McPherson and Like Surnames 

These surnames originated from the northern part of Scotland, either the northeast of the country, the Scottish Highlands, or in one case (the surname Linklater) the Orkney isles north of Scotland.




Click here for return to front page

Leave a Reply