Moffat Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Moffat Meaning
Moffat is a name of the Scottish borders where there is a
small town called
Moffat in Annandale in the Scottish borders.  The origin of the Moffat name is thought
to have been an Anglo
Norman family, originally Montealt and then Movat, that was first
sighted in
Scotland in the late 11th century.  They
became de Moffets.
Moffat comes in
various spellings.
  Moffat and Moffatt are the usual
spellings in the UK. Moffat has been the form most
widely found in Scotland.  But Moffatt has outnumbered Moffat in
England.  Moffett and Moffitt are the more common forms in

Moffat Resources on

Moffat Ancestry

ScotlandThe early Moffats in Annandale seemed to have
had a close relationship with the church
as they included
de Moffat, the
Bishop of
Glasgow in
1268, and Walter de Moffat
, the
Archdeacon of Lothian in 1348.
   Robert de Moffethe was
treasurer of the church of Glasgow in 1467.

These Moffats may have been in a Christian
minority of three because the Moffat clan
was more normally
associated with the
lawless Border reivers that operated along
the English/Scottish border. 
In 1587
recorded that the “Moffettis of the West Marche” were included among
“the unruly border clans” whose activities “were to be curbed

However, they were a spent force by that
time.  Their
most notable enemy
was the powerful
Johnstone clan.
In 1557 t
Johnstones murdered
clan chief Robert
building in which a
number of Moffats had gathered, slaughtering those who tried to escape.
that date the
Moffats were a leaderless

One Moffat family dates from Adam
Moffat of Knock who fought at the Battle of
Bannockburn in 1314
.  His
the Lairds of Knock until 1609
when their land had to be sold to
the Johnstones
because of rising indebtedness.  They were
until 1905.  In 1759 the Moffats from
Gardenholm in Annandale moved to Craigbeck in what is today Moffatdale.  The Moffats at Craigbeck had by
the 20th century become
one of
the biggest
sheep farmers in southern Scotland. 

England.  The border
pacifications in the 17th century led to many led to some
Moffat migrations south of the border into England to Cumberland,
and Northumberland. 
Moffat name cropped up frequently in
village of Kirklinton
in Cumberland.

Some Moffatts became miners.  John
Moffatt, for instance, was a lead miner in Stanhope, Durham in the
early 19th
century.  Later Moffatts of this family
emigrated to New Zealand.  James Moffatt
after a pit explosion in the Workington mines in 1888.
Frederick Moffatt wrote up an account of the
Northumberland mining industry in the 19th century.

Ireland.  The Moffats in Ireland are of Scottish origin.  Often the name changed in their new home.  Moffat predominated in Antrim.
But Moffatt, Moffett, and Moffitt were to be
found elsewhere in Ulster Ireland.

Donegal Moffitts were descendants of three brothers – Robert, Adam, and
– who came sometime in the 1730’s.
Robert and Adam Moffitt were recorded as leasing land at
Ballymore in Clondahorky
parish some thirty years later.  Moffitt
descendants are still to be found there.

America.  Many of the Moffats (or
names) who came to America were Scots Irish.

Moffat had fled Scotland to county Antrim in Ireland after the Battle
Bothwell Bridge in 1679.  His sons
William and Samuel embarked for America in 1710 and settled first in
New Jersey
and then in Ulster county, New York.
This genealogy was traced in Burnham Moffatt’s 1909 book Moffat Genealogies.  A later Samuel Moffat started a
trading post at Blooming Grove in 1811.  His son David headed west
and made a fortune in railroads in Colorado.  Moffat county in
Colorado was named after him.

Moffett family in Virginia dates from the 1780’s and were
of John and Elizabeth Moffett of Virginia
(who were probably
Scots Irish in origin).  They were later to be found
Shelby and Anderson
, Kentucky.

William Moffitt came from county Donegal in the 1760’s, fought in the
Revolutionary War and settled in Randolph county, North Carolina.
His descendants headed west, first to Indiana, then to Minnesota and
Montana, and finally to Los Angeles – which was where the baseball
pitcher Randy Moffitt and his elder sister the tennis great Billie Jean
King (nee Moffitt) were born.

Moffett meanwhile came to America from county Armagh in 1785 and was a
merchant there.  Later Moffetts from the
line of Samuel Moffett, who arrived in 1803, were to be found in
Tennessee.  The family was traced in
Linden Moffett’s 1919 book Descendants of
Henry and Jane Moffett

Moffett arrived in Philadelphia from Ireland sometime in the 1820’s.  His son Corporal
Theodore Moffett
was grievously wounded at the Battle of
Gettysburg in 1863
but survived another thirty six years. 

Alexander Moffat from East Lothian came out to Ontario in the
1830’s and
was an early settler at Pembroke in Renfrew county.
His stone house is still standing there.  He
built a grist mill on the Muskrat river
and laid out the town.  His descendants migrated west to British Columbia.

Africa.  Robert Moffat

came out to South Africa
as a Christian missionary a few years before the 1820 settlers arrived
there.  In 1824 he and his wife Mary moved
onto Kuruman in the northernmost outpost where he was to remain for
years.  His son John followed him in his
missionary work, his daughter Mary married the explorer David


Moffat Miscellany

The Origin of the Moffat Name.  Early writers thought that Moffat had Gaelic origins.  George Chalmers in his 1824
book Caledonia wrote: “The
parish of Moffat derived
its Gaelic
name from Irish mai-fad,
signifying ‘long
plain,’ and
this name is descriptive of the site of the
Kirktown on a narrow plain that extends along the east side of the
Annan for
several miles.”  Meanwhile Harry A.
Long held that it
came from the word oua vat in the
Gaelic language signifying “a long deep mountain hollow.”

But Alistair Moffat, the TV producer and writer on Scottish Border subjects, maintains that Moffat is not Gaelic at all but Anglo-Saxon English instead and derived from the word “moor foot.”

“A cadet
of the English
family of Montealt, who derived his name from a place in Flintshire, came
into Scotland in the twelfth century.  Robert
de Montealt was a
witness to some of the charters of David I.  This
family obtained from
William the Lion a grant of the manor of Fern in Forfarshire.  William
de Montealt was one
of the Scottish barons who, in their famous epistle to the Pope, said
would never submit to England while one of them remained.  Montealt
vulgarized into Mowat.”

Scottish texts of the 18th century identified William
de Monte, the progenitor
of the
Movats alias
Moffats, as marrying Colobella Grant of
Freuchy and Balachastle around the year 1094.

It is thought that William
de Movat
Alto, progenitor of the Movats, married the youngest daughter of
Andlaw, who
came from Norway to Scotland in the
tenth century. Over the years the name
became Montealt, then Movat, then Movest then eventually Moffat in its
form.  By the
twelfth century the
family were recorded as “de Moffet” which showed that they were
considered to be principal lairds or land owners.

Nicholas de Moffat was Bishop of Glasgow in 1286.

The Moffats of Craigbeck.  In 1759 the last Moffat in Gardenholm in Upper Annandale died and the family
moved to Craigbeck in what is today Moffatdale.

William Moffat was the
progenitor of the Craigbeck branch of the family. These Moffats
were tenants at
Crofthead and Craigbeck until 1920 when Francis
Moffat purchased
Craigbeck and Garrowgill, thus restoring the family, as the descendants of the Moffats of Granton,
to land
ownership after a period of three hundred years.  His son William
added to these estates and when he
died in 1948 he was one of the biggest sheep farmers in southern
Scotland, owning some ten thousand acres. His son Francis remained at
Craigbeck until 1977 when it was sold on his retirement from

Moffats at Kirklinton in Cumberland, 1750-1760

1749 James Moffat at Prior Rigg birth of daughter Jane
1749 Thomas Moffat of Walkmill death of wife Elizabeth
1752 Robert Moffat of Broomhills birth of son George
1752 William Moffat of Stomeflats birth of son Thomas
1759 Thomas Moffat of Vitley Hall birth of son James

Robert and Mary Moffat.  Robert Moffat had moved from Scotland to Cheshire in
England around 1810 where he
obtained employment as a gardener working for John Smith in
Dukinfield.  There he met Mary Smith and soon
they wanted
to marry and become missionaries.  Her
parents objected
to this and consequently Robert joined the London Missionary Society
and left
for South Africa in 1816.
Mary overcame her parents objections and she
left for South Africa in 1819. The couple married in South Africa in
December that year.

Robert opened a mission
station at Kuruman in
Bechuanaland in 1824.  The
Moffats and their colleagues built its
church from hand-quarried stones and timber.
During his time there Robert Moffat would travel fearlessly
among the nearby tribes, defending their
interests from predatory colonists and brokering agreements between

At Kuruman, under an almond tree, their eldest daughter Mary met the
man who was to become the famous explorer Dr. David Livingstone.
She married him there at the “Cathedral
of the
Kalahari” in Kuruman despite the initial obections of her mother.

Robert and Mary were to live at Kuruman for fifty years and raise ten
children there.  Only in old age did they decide to return to
Britain.  After Robert’s death a memorial was built at
Ormiston in East
Lothian near Edinburgh where he was born.

Moffats, Moffatts, Moffetts, and Moffitts.  Moffat
comes in various spellings.  The following is the approximate
distributions (in thousands) of the main spellings.

Moffat Moffatt Moffett Moffitt
UK 9    4    1    1
America    1    2    3    3
Elsewhere    5    5    1    2
Total   17   11    5    6

Corporal Theodore Moffett Remembered.  Corporal
Moffett, a Philadelphia native, was a painter, coach-maker, and
who enlisted, at the age of 35, in 1861, and was severely wounded at
the battle
of Gettysburg in July 1863.

was shot in the left shoulder and his left arm was
shattered at the junction of the arm and the shoulder leaving a
fracture. The arm was reset with many pieces of bone being removed
an arm three inches shorter than the other. One year after the battle a
certificate states the wound is still open and unhealed with a puss

home after
the War, his crippled left arm was virtually useless due to his
wounds.  In
spite of these injuries, he raised a family and lived onto the age of
73.  He died in 1899
and was buried
in the Hillside
cemetery in Roslyn,
Pennsylvania in an
unmarked grave, where he lay forgotten for over a hundred years.

the efforts of his
great, great grand-daughter, Anita Corcoran, a Civil
War Veteran’s
gravestone was obtained and a ceremony
to dedicate the stone took place.  The ceremony included a
benediction, a laying
of a wreath on the grave, the playing of
taps, and a live-fire by uniformed Civil War re-enactors. 

Moffats in British Columbia.  Harry Moffat was born in Pembroke, Ontario sometime in the
mid-1850’s.  He was the son of Alexander
Moffat Jr. and his wife Rose Crapper whose father had been knighted for
inventing the water closet.   Rose
while Harry and his younger brother Roy were quite young and the boys
subsequently raised by a German couple, William and Amelia Yokas.

When Harry
reached the age of 21, he left Ontario and travelled through the United
arriving in Victoria, British Columbia in 1875.
He then moved north with his lifetime buddy James Craigto
Kamloops where
they both got jobs with the Grand Trunk Pacific Rail Company as

Although he loved the nomadic life of the freighting
business, it was the
wilderness at Alexandria just 45 kilometers south of Quesnel that
caught his
attention. In 1883 he requested and received homesteading rights. When
were slow with the freighting business, he prepared his land for
farming and he
started building a two-storey house. When completed, he called the
estate Lansdowne
Farm after Lord Lansdowne who became Governor General of Canada the
same year
that Harry obtained his land.

After his children started arriving, Harry, being
a Protestant, wanted his children raised as Protestants but his wife
was a Catholic and objected.  Harry was
in Barkerville when Alex, the first-born came along.
Jeannie took the baby to the Catholic priest
for baptism.  Harry heard of this
blasphemy and returned home, whisked the baby off to the Protestant
church and
had it re-baptized. They negotiated for days before the two parents
came to a
compromise, which was that all boy children would be baptized
Protestant and
the girls Catholic.  They had five boys
and four girls and the baptizing agreement seemed to work except that,
once Harry
died and the children started looking into their records, they
discovered that
Jeannie had had them all baptized Catholics.

Son Alex was the one who started the Northern hardware store
in Prince
George in 1919.  The store continues to
run under the third generation of Moffats there.


Moffat Names

  • Nicholas de Moffat was Bishop of
    Glasgow in 1268.
  • Rev. Robert Moffat was
    patriarch of
    the Christian missions in South
    during the 19th century.  His
    daughter married
    the explorer David
  • John Moffat was a Scottish-born entrepreneur who in the late 19th century developed a mining and
    industrial empire
    in northern Queensland which
    drove the development of northeas
    t Australia. 
  • Alistair Moffat has been the organizer of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival held every year in August.

Select Moffat Numbers Today

  • 15,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Dumfries and Galloway)
  • 9,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 13,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


Select Moffat 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.




Click here for return to front page

Leave a Reply