Montgomery Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Montgomery Surname Meaning

Montgomery origins are French.  The surname came from the ancient castle of Saint Foi de Montgomery in the diocese of Lisieux in Normandy.  It was born by Roger de Montgomerie, a Norman lord who came to England with William the Conqueror and was one of his principal advisors.

His Montgomery line spread to Scotland in the 12th century and then to Ireland with the Ulster plantations of the 17th century.  There were some interesting early accounts of this Montgomery family history.

Today there are more Montgomerys in America than in the UK and Ireland. The Montgomerie spelling variation persists, although it is not that common now.

Montgomery Surname Resources on The Internet

Montgomery Surname Ancestry

  • from Western England and Scotland (Lowland)
  • to Ireland (Ulster), America, Canada and New Zealand

England.  Sir Roger de Montgomery was one of the chief advisors to William the Conqueror in his invasion of England.  As a result he was rewarded with large land grants there.  According to the Doomsday Book of 1086 he owned 150 castles and lordships in ten counties of England.  Notably he was granted lands on the Welsh border in the county which later took his name, Montgomeryshire.  He built Shrewsbury Abbey in 1083 where he is entombed.

What happened to that vast inheritance is unclear. His son Hugh, known as Hugh the Red, died unmarried without heir.  Another son Robert de Belleme inherited but forfeited after leading a rebellion against Henry I in 1101.

“Robert was typical of his generation, the sons of William’s companions who had earned their great honors and titles at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. This newer generation did not share the values and attitudes of their fathers but rather had different experiences altogether. 

They had inherited their wealth and status, not earned it.  Yet they expected royal favor and patronage without attending court or serving the king in any capacity.  They often rebelled when they felt they were not being treated with the dignity and respect they deserved.”  

Later Montgomerys in England seem to have come through the back door, via Ireland.  Montgomerys from Blessingbourne in Tyrone were London-based British civil servants, diplomats, and army officers in the early 1900’s. Bernard Montgomery, the British Field Marshall during World War Two, was born in London. His roots, however, were in Moville in SE Donegal which he had visited with his mother as a boy.

Scotland.  Robert de Mundegumri was the first recorded name-bearer in Scotland, a charter witness around the year 1165.  This Robert, said to have been a grandson of Robert de Montgomery, came to Scotland as a follower of the FitzAlans who were also from Shropshire.  Robert was granted lands by King David I in Renfrewshire. The manor of Eaglesham became the clan seat of the Montgomerys for several centuries.

Sir John Montgomery, the 7th chief of the clan, distinguished himself at the Battle of Otterburn in 1388 when he captured Harry Hotspur, the chief of the Percys.  He acquired the Eglinton barony in north Ayrshire and his line became the Earls of Eglinton in 1507.

The Montgomerys played both sides of the religious divide in that century.  First they were loyal Catholics of Mary, Queen of Scots.  But a later chief had become a staunch Presbyterian covenanter by the time of the English Civil War.  Their home for a while was Androssan on the Ayrshire coast where the 10th Earl Alexander Montgomerie was murdered in 1769.  Their home from 1797 to 1925 was Eglinton Castle.

There were subsidiary Montgomery branches in north Ayrshire, at Hessilhead and Braidstane.  Alexander Montgomerie, a younger son of the Laird of Hessilhead, was a poet in the court of James VI in the 1580’s.  Hugh Montgomery of Braidstane became close to James I on his accession to the English throne in 1603. He was thereby able to obtain half of the O’Neill lands in Ireland as the basis for a Scottish Ulster plantation.

Ireland.  Sir Hugh Montgomery, Viscount of the Great Ards as he became, is known as one of the founding fathers of the Ulster Scots in Ireland.   The Laird of Braidstane’s Scots colony was established there around 1607.  

“Of the first 51 families that emigrated from Ayrshire and settled on the Montgomery land, only six appear among them by the name of Montgomery.”  

Sir Hugh made his home on the Ards Peninsula at Grey Abbey, where now stands Rosemount House (built in 1762).  The Rev. Hugh Montgomery fled the house during the Irish Rebellion of 1798.  But Montgomerys have lived there ever since.  A descendant is the actress Flora Montgomery.

Ayrshire is close to Ulster and other Montgomerys crossed the Irish Sea as well:

  • Hugh Montgomery, a kinsman of the Viscount, was settled at Derrygonnelly in county Fermanagh in 1618. A later Hugh came into possession of the Blessingbourne estate in Tyrone in 1730 through marriage.
  • a Montgomery family was at Killaghtee in SE Donegal around 1628.  Samuel Montgomery was a prosperous wine merchant in Derry and built his family home, New Park, at Moville in 1750.  Later Montgomerys were colonial administrators in India.
  • while Alexander Montgomery of Hessilhead came at the time of Cromwell in the 1640’s and made his home at Croghan in Donegal.  His son John was captured by rebels and narrowly escaped death.  His grandson Alexander was appointed High Sheriff of Monaghan in 1718. The family home there was at Ballyleck.

Archibald Montgomery was born at Killead in county Antrim in 1743. His line included the Rev. Henry Montgomery, a Presbyterian minister who founded the liberal Remonstrant Synod of Ulster, and two 19th century emigrants who made themselves fortunes  Archibald Montgomery in New York and Josiah Montgomery in New Zealand.  Archibald’s line in America extended to the actor Robert Montgomery and his daughter Elizabeth Montgomery.

America.  The first Montgomery to come to America was probably William Montgomery from the Maypole parish in Ayrshire.  His father Hugh had fallen on hard times there.  One son James sought to support the family as a merchant in Glasgow. But William decided to emigrate and came to Monmouth county in New Jersey in 1702.  He named his tract Eglinton and it remained with the family until the early 1800’s.

Most other early arrivals were Scots Irish from Ulster.

Hugh Montgomery came from Antrim to Boston in 1718, part of a Scots Irish exodus to New England at that time.  Reportedly they had to spend the winter on the Maine coast before finding a home in what became Londonderry, New Hampshire.  Later Montgomerys were farmers in Strafford county.

Another Hugh and his son John Montgomery had fought at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Hugh died while John survived.  He emigrated from Donegal to Delaware with his family in 1720.  They made their home in the Mill Creek Hundred.  William Montgomery, born there in 1736, was a colonel in the Revolutionary War and later a Pennsylvania Congressman.  A later William built the William Montgomery House in Mill Creek Hundred around the year 1810.  It still stands.

James and John Montgomery, also from Donegal, came to that Scottish haven of Virginia, Augusta county, in 1747.  James made his home at Catawba Creek.

Richard Montgomery from a well-to-do Donegal family had come to New York in 1772 and, at the outbreak of war, taken the American rather than the British side.  He led the American attack into Canada in 1775 but died in the assault on Quebec City.  He was remembered as an American hero of the War.   His home in Rhinebeck, New York is now the General Montgomery house and museum.

Tennessee.  Whereas Montgomerys had arrived in America in many different places, Tennessee appeared to have had a lot of them by the early 1800’s.

John Montgomery had migrated west from Augusta county, Virginia to Tennessee in the 1770’s.  He explored the area that today bears his name (Montgomery county) and later founded the town of Clarksville.  He was killed in 1794 in an Indian ambush.

William Montgomery, a surveyor, had arrived in Sumner county from Pennsylvania in 1782, settling in Shackle Island.  He also had Indian problems.

“In April 1788 William’s three sons – John, Robert and Thomas – were killed by Indians outside of their father’s house. John had hobbled out into the orchard where his brothers were trimming apple trees.  The Indians rushed out from a neighboring thicket and scalped all three, leaving their bodies in a heap on a brush pile.”

William lived until 1835.  His farm become the center of the Shackle Island community and was the location for a grinding mill, sawmill, and fulling mill.

Thomas Montgomery meanwhile came to Blount county from Pennsylvania with his family in 1791.  Later Montgomerys lived on a farm near Snow Hill.

Lemuel Montgomery was an attorney in Nashville when the War of 1812 broke out.  He enlisted. He was killed at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, but was afterwards remembered.  Montgomery counties in Alabama and Texas were both said to be named after him.  Lemuel was descended from Hugh Montgomery, an Irish immigrant and merchant in the 1760’s in Salisbury, North Carolina.

Canada.  Hugh Montgomery from Kintyre in Scotland came with his wife and family to Malpeque Bay on Prince Edward Island in 1775.  His house, still preserved there, was home to five generations of Montgomerys and remained in Montgomery hands until the late 1950’s.

One line of descent led to Senator Donald Montgomery of Park Corner and his son Hugh, father to the world famous author of Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery.

Montgomery’s Inn in Toronto dates back to 1830 when it had been first opened by Thomas Montgomery. He had immigrated from Fermanagh some fifteen years earlier and previously worked in the salt trade and as a surveyor.

The hey-day of the inn was the 1840’s when many thousands of Irish immigrants, fleeing the potato famine, crowded into Toronto.  Montgomery’s Inn continued until the mid-1850’s, although Thomas himself did not die until 1877.  The inn can be seen today in its preserved state as a museum.

Another tavern owner in Toronto was John Montgomery, the son of an Empire Loyalist from Connecticut. His tavern also started in 1830.  It served as a base for the rebels during the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837.

New Zealand.   William Montgomery, brought up in Belfast after his father died, went to sea in 1834 at the age of 13.  By the age of 30 he had bought his own ship and sailed to Australia.  He joined the Victorian Gold Rush but was unsuccessful. He departed for Christchurch, New Zealand where he was successful as a timber merchant and later entered politics.  He died there in 1914 in his early 90’s.

Montgomery Surname Miscellany

Montgomery Origins.  Although there are many stories of the origin of the Montgomery name, one old theory explains that the name is a corruption of Gomer’s Mount or Gomer’s Hill (from the Latin Mons Gomeris), any of a number of hills in Europe named in attribution to the biblical patriarch Gomer.  But this does not explain the final -y or -ie (the phonetic evolution would have been Montgomers) and this does not correspond to the old mentions of the place-name Montgomery in Normandy.

The Memorables of the Montgomeries meanwhile contained a narrative in rhyme published in Glasgow in 1770 which referred to the origin of the Montgomery name as follows:

  • “A noble Roman was the root
  • From which Montgomeries came,
  • Who brought his legions from the war,
  • And settled the same
  • Upon an hill ‘twixt Rome and Spain,
  • Gomericus by name;
  • From which he and his offspring do their surname still retain.”

But more relevant probably is the explanation that the name came from the Germanic first name Gumarik, a compound of guma meaning “man” and rik meaning “powerful.”  The latter regularly gives the final –ri or -ry as in French first names such as Henri or Thierry. Moreover a name still used as a surname in France is Gommery, from the older first name Gomeri.

The earliest known person to be styled with the name is Roger de Montgomerie, found in a contemporary document as father of the 11th century Norman nobleman, Roger de Montgomerie the First Earl of Salisbury who owned the village of Montgommery that is today in Calvados department.  Alternatively a Hugh de Montgomery is given as the Earl’s father by a Norman chronicler writing in the next generation.

Early Accounts of Montgomery Family History.  There were three early accounts of Montgomery family history:

  • first was James Fraser’s 1859 book Memorials of the Montgomeries.
  • second was T.H. Montgomery’s 1863 book A Genealogical History of the Family of Montgomery  
  • and then there was D.B. Montgomery’s 1903 work The Montgomerys and Their Descendants.

But there was an even earlier account of the Montgomerys in Ulster. Known today as The Montgomery Manuscripts, these were written down by William Montgomery of Rosemount in county Down between the years 1697 and 1704,  His reports were eventually published in book form together with a preface by William McKnight in 1830.

Mention should also be made of the manuscript compiled by Hugh Montgomery in the 1750’s.  It came to be known as the Broomlands Manuscripts and dealt with early Montgomery history. 

The Murder of Alexander Montgomerie.  Alexander Montgomerie the 10th Earl of Eglinton was mortally wounded on the beach near his stables at Parkhouse on his own estate of Ardrossan by an excise officer named Mungo Campbell, following a dispute about poaching and the latter’s right to bear arms on the earl’s grounds.

There were two important issues that presaged the shooting.

Firstly, it transpired that Alexander Bartleymore, a favorite servant of Lord Eglinton, had had dealings with contraband goods. Mungo had come across Bartleymore on the seashore with a cart containing eighty gallons of rum, which he duly seized as contraband.  Bartleymore was held in the Irvine Tolbooth and only escaped deportation to the colonies through the influence of his master. He held a grudge from that day forward and was determined to get his revenge when the opportunity presented itself.

Second, Mungo happened to be crossing part of Lord Eglinton’s estate on a road when a hare started up and ran through the dyke.  He automatically shot it with the gun he was carrying.  The Earl happened to hear the gunshot. At his meeting with the Earl, Mungo apologized for his behavior, which he explained as having been due to the suddenness of the hare’s appearance.

On October 24, 1769 Alexander Bartleymore was told that two men, one with a gun, had been seen crossing the Earl’s land. Bartleymore said that Mungo Campbell was one of the two suspected poachers and the Earl decided to investigate, leaving his carriage and proceeding down the beach on horseback.

Upon catching up with Mungo the Earl demanded that he hand over the gun he was carrying.  Mungo refused, saying that he would rather die. The Earl then ordered his fowling-piece to be brought from the carriage, saying that he was as good a shot as Mungo. The Earl continued to walk towards Mungo who retreated, walking backwards. However he stumbled on a stone, fell on his back, and the Earl moved quickly to grab his gun.

At this point Mungo fired at Lord Eglinton who was mortally wounded in the bowels.  Mungo threw his gun away and tried to wrest the earl’s gun from his servant. He failed and was attacked by the Earl’s servants.

Mungo was then taken to Irvine by cart, then to Ayr, later to Glasgow, and finally to Edinburgh.  The mortally wounded Lord Eglinton reportedly said to Mungo that he would not have shot him.  Mungo was sentenced to be taken to the tolbooth in Edinburgh and fed on bread and water only. On 11 April 1770 he was taken to the Grassmarket to be hanged.

The Montgomerys of Moville in Donegal.  An insight into the social life in Moville was to be found in the diary of Jane Harvey, who spent August 1876 in that area.

One of the big events of the summer season was the Moville Flower Show which was promoted mainly by the gentry. The Regatta took place on 8th August and enjoyed a wider appeal.  After listening to the band of the 91st regiment of Highlanders, in the evening Jane went in the evening to a ball at Kilderry which ended at 5.20 a.m.

She knew Ferguson Montgomery, a keen sportsman who organized games of tennis and croquet for the ladies on the front lawns of New Park, watched by his parents, Sir Robert and Lady Montgomery.

Jane’s son James preferred cricket, however, and he played a weekly match at Pennyburn. Bathing took place at Drumaweir and afterwards everyone boarded the Harts’s boat for Moville.

In the evenings Lady Montgomery was busy organizing concerts and games of whist in the schoolhouse or parlor for her guests. On Sundays Jane attended both morning and evening church services and listened to the sermon of the young Henry Montgomery, later Bishop of Tasmania. She described him as impressive but felt he did a better job in the morning.

When her holiday ended, she took the evening steamer from Moville back to Derry.

Reader Feedback – A Relative of General Montgomery in the American Revolutionary War?  I am descended from James Divver (born in 1800) who came over to America from Donegal about 1814. I did find a teaching certificate for New Brunswick with his name about that time.

The family story was that he claimed to be a nephew of General Montgomery but was raised in “Aughatty” (possibly misspelled), Donegal. His mother was reputedly the sister of General Richard Montgomery of the US Revolutionary Army under George Washington.

James traveled down to Newberry, South Carolina in 1819 where he made a declaration for citizenship and taught at South Carolina College in Columbia in 1823. I could not find a sister but it is possible there may have been an illegitimate relative about.

Harriett Jones (

Montgomery County in Texas.  Some have Montgomery county in Texas named after Montgomery county in Alabama which was in turn named after the patriot Lemuel Montgomery who died in the War of 1812.

However, one local story has it that Montgomery took its name from William Montgomery, a surveyor and widower, who came to Texas in 1822 with his sons.  In 1830 he settled some seven miles southwest of the town of Montgomery in what is present day Grimes county.  It is claimed by descendants that the county was named after this surveyor.

In 1975 Robin Montgomery wrote in The History of Montgomery County as follows:

“The reason the town and county came to be named for Andrew Montgomery lies in the events surrounding his trading post.  Andrew immediately set about encouraging settlers to venture down these roads to become his neighbors and clientele. In this manner Andrew’s Trading Post became the major pivot point around which the settlement of the later Montgomery county region revolved.  Andrew’s last name became a unifying element among the gradually expanding circle of settlement.”

Was it William or Andrew who gave his name to Montgomery county? Family tradition rather than fact seems to have been the basis for both of these assertions.

Lucy Maud Montgomery.  Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote her first novel in 1905.  It was rejected by every single publishing house that received it. A few years later, Montgomery tried shopping it again and succeeded.

Her story about the adventures of a red-headed girl in Prince Edward Island became a smash hit. That novel ultimately became one of Canada’s most all-time popular books, being translated into around twenty languages and selling more than 50 million copies to date.

Anne of Green Gables and its many sequels made Montgomery a wildly successful author and turned PEI into a destination for the book’s thousands of fans.

Elizabeth Montgomery’s Ancestry.  Elizabeth Montgomery, the star of Bewitched, died in 1995.  Her father Robert Montgomery was also a well-known actor.  Their roots went back to a colorful Irishman named Archibald Montgomery.

Archibald was born in Belfast in 1821 and sailed to America aboard the Henry Clay in 1849.  He settled in Brooklyn and became a charter member of the New York Produce Exchange. The Irishman enjoyed much success in his adopted homeland, owning grain warehouses which were described as “the most extensive on the Atlantic docks,” as well as ships that were “well known in all European ports.”

He developed in later life what was seen as an eccentric devotion to pigeons, dogs and other animals which he brought into his home.  According to Robert Montgomery, his grandfather brought horses into the dining room and fed them at Thanksgiving and Christmas.  In 1884 Archibald was arrested for habitual drunkenness after one of his sons, James, secured a warrant.

Robert Montgomery called his grandfather “a grand guy,” while others thought Archibald was a madman. The immigrant was regarded as both “the most respected and hated gentleman in Brooklyn.”

His son Henry, President of the New York Rubber Company, committed suicide by jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge in 1922.  Henry’s son Robert, who grew up in New York City, made his breakthrough into films in the 1930’s.  His daughter Elizabeth, actress and star of Bewitched, was born in 1933.

Montgomery Names

  • Roger de Montgomery was one of William the Conqueror’s principal advisors.  He was granted lands on the Welsh border in the county which later took his name.
  • Sir Hugh Montgomery is considered one of the founding fathers of the Scots Ulster plantation of the 17th century. 
  • John Montgomery was an 18th century American soldier, settler and explorer.  He is credited with the founding of Clarksville, Tennessee.  Montgomery county in Tennessee was named after him. 
  • Sir Bernard Montgomery was a British Field Marshall of the Second World War, famous for his desert victory at Alamein in 1942. 
  • Wes Montgomery was an American jazz guitarist, widely considered one of the greatest who ever played. 
  • Colin Montgomerie is a Scottish professional golfer who won a record eight European Tour Order of Merit titles.

Montgomery Numbers Today

  • 15,000 in the UK (most numerous in Northern Ireland)
  • 39,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 15,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Montgomery and Like Surnames

The Norman Conquest brought new rulers to England and they brought their names and language, a form of French, with them.  Over time their names became less French and more English in character.  Thus Hamo became Hammond, Reinold Reynolds and Thierry Terry and so forth.  The names Allen, Brett, Everett, and Harvey were probably Breton in origin as Bretons also arrived, sometimes as mercenaries.

The new Norman lords often adopted new last names, sometimes from the lands they had acquired and sometimes from places back in Normandy.  Over time the name here also became more English.  Thus Saint Maur into Seymour, Saint Clair into Sinclair, Mohun into Moon, and Warenne into Warren.

Here are some of these Norman and Breton originating names that you can check out.




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Written by Colin Shelley

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