Napier Surname Genealogy

Scottish Napier name and
the less-common Napper name, found in England, both probably had their
derivation from the old French word nappe
meaning “table cloth.” A napperer or
naper would describe an official in a royal or noble court who was in
charge of
the linen in the great house.
The Scots had an
alternative version for their Napier name
, that it was bestowed
by the
Scottish king on the field of battle.
But this seems a less likely explanation.

Napier Resources on

Napier Ancestry

Scotland. The Earls of Lennox ruled during the 13th
century in the ancient sheriffdom of Dumbarton on the north shores of
the Clyde
river. It was Malcolm the fifth Earl who
granted land to John Naper at Kilmahew in Dumbarton around the year

Kilmahew. Kilmahew castle became this
family’s fortress
in the 16th century and the Napiers were to remain at Kilmahew for
generations, until 1820. The surname
spelling was various in medieval times – sometimes Naper and sometimes
Napare and
sometimes something else – and it was really not until the 17th century
that the
Napier spelling took precedence.

The Napiers of Kilmahew were notable for being
the progenitors of Napiers who made notable contributions in the field
engineering in the 19th century – namely Robert Napier “the father of
Clyde shipbuilding” and David, James, and Montague Napier who owned the
engineering company of Napier & Son.

Merchiston. Some
think that the Alexander Napier found in Edinburgh in the 1400’s had
been descended
from these Kilmahew Napiers, although there is no documentary evidence
to prove
the case.

Alexander prospered as a merchant, amassed a fortune, became
the provost
of Edinburgh in 1403, and obtained a charter for the lands of
Merchiston. His son and grandson, both
named Alexander,
were also provosts and were in high royal favor, both serving as Master
of the
Royal Household.

Starting with these two Alexanders, the Napiers were to
as Lairds of Merchiston until 1920:

  • John Napier,
    born in 1550 and
    the eighth Laird of Merchiston, devoted much of his time to scientific
    and is remembered today for his invention of logarithms.
  • Archibald
    Napier, his
    eldest son, was ennobled as Lord Napier in 1627 and fought on the
    King’s side
    in the Civil War when he was over seventy years of age.
    He died in 1645 and his son Archibald, also a
    Royalist, died abroad before the Restoration.
  • while – much later – Francis Napier, the 13th Laird of
    , distinguished
    himself in the diplomatic service and was made Baron Napier of Ettrick
    in 1872.

Thirlestane. There
was another Napier
line at Thirlstane
in Selkirk on the Scottish borders.
Francis Napier had taken the name of his maternal grandmother
after the
death of his father Sir William Scott in 1725.

His younger son George,
married Lady Sarah Lennox, was a British army officer and the father of
sons – Charles, William, and George – who were collectively known as
Wellington’s colonels at the time of the Napoleonic Wars.

The city of Napier in New Zealand was named
after Sir Charles Napier, the town of Napier in the Western Cape of
Africa after Sir George Napier.

England. Two Napier lines in
England appear to have
had descent from the Scottish Napiers of Merchiston – the Napiers of
Luton Hoo
in Bedfordshire and the Napiers of Middlemarsh Hall in Dorset.

“Alexander Napier, killed fighting the English
at the Battle of Pinkie in 1547, had a younger son named Alexander. This Alexander came to England a year later
and married an English woman named Ann Birchley in Exeter.
Of this marriage there were two sons –
Robert the Turkey merchant and the Rev. Richard Napier the astrologer.”

amassed a fortune and was knighted by King James I in 1611. The King subsequently made him a baronet of
Luton Hoo in Bedfordshire.

“Once after King James had bestowed a baronetcy
on a Napier, jealous English courtiers complained: ‘Who after all are
Napiers?’ The King replied impatiently: ‘By my soul they are all
these many hundred years.'”

Scottish connection is a little less clear-cut with the Napiers from
in Dorset. The spelling here seems to
have varied between Napier and the more English Napper.

The family had Catholic leanings during Elizabethan
times. Edward Napier who had married the
heiress of Holywell manor in Oxfordshire had a son named George Napper
who was
executed in 1610 for being a Catholic priest.
However, Sir Gerrard Napier or Napper of the main line in Dorset
through these turbulent times as a baronet in 1641.
His son Nathaniel was a traveller and
dilettante in Restoration England.

Nappers outnumbered Napiers in England in the 1881 census.
The English Napper name had its origin and
presence in Sussex and in Somerset along the south coast:

  • the Napper presence in
    dated from the
    14th century. One
    Napper line from Horsham in the mid-1600’s extended to Dr. Albert
    Napper who founded in Kent in 1859 the Cranleigh Village Hospital,
    England’s first
  • while Edward Napper was assigned the tenancy of the
    at Tintinhull near Yeovil in Somerset in 1546.
    Within two generations his
    family had acquired the lordship of the manor and the three largest
    houses in
    the village. They were to remain here
    until 1800.

Ireland. Sir Robert Napier or Naper,
a younger son of the Napiers in Dorset, managed to secure a judgeship
Ireland during the latter years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. Although he himself was considered a failure,
he turned out to be the forefather of a long-lasting Anglo-Irish

grandson William surveyed Ireland on behalf of Oliver Cromwell in the
and made a fortune in doing so. His
reward was the Loughcrew estate
Meath. William’s descendants, all known
as Naper, have held the estate until today.

was the starting
point for many Napiers in America, thanks to Dr. Patrick

Dr. Patrick Napier, a descendant of the Dumbarton
Napiers, arrived in Virginia with other defeated Scottish Royalists in
1651. He
settled in Hampton parish in York county as a planter and surgeon. The line of descent – from his son Robert and
Robert’s four sons Booth, Robert, Patrick and Rene – accounts for the
share of Napiers in America.

One line through Richard Napier led to
Tennessee. Richard was a colonel in the
Revolutionary War, having himself raised and equipped a regiment. After the war he departed for Tennessee,
bringing with him “his wife and children, one hundred negroes, carriage
wagons.” His house at Barton’s Creek,
built around 1800, is still standing.
His son Richard C. Napier operated the Carroll furnace and
there until the Civil War.

Another line via
Patrick and Fanny Napier came to Kentucky in the early 1800’s and
settled in
Perry county. This line produced a
plethora of McCager Napiers,
five by
one researcher’s count, in the mid-1800’s.
All five of them fought in the Civil War, the last of them dying

Elsewhere. Robert Napier from
Stirling in Scotland came
to Vermont around 1789 and moved with his family in the 1820’s to Ohio
several of his sons were engaged in Great Lakes ship building and

  • one son Benjamin
    Napier was a ship builder in Sandusky, Ohio and later
    became a Great Lakes sea captain. Benjamin’s
    sons Nelson and Jack followed in his footsteps;
    was made the Chicago Harbor Master in 1852.
  • while
    another son Joseph Naper, more adventurous, founded in
    1831 the
    oldest settlement in Illinois west of Chicago, now known as Naperville.

Napier, a mariner from England, had come via upstate New York to Huron
Ohio in the early 1820’s. But he drowned
in Lake Erie around 1827. His son
William, forsaking that life, settled down to farm at Vermillion
township in Huron

Australia. Thomas Napier, a
builder from
Montrose in Scotland, was an earlier settler in Melbourne, arriving
there from
Tasmania in 1837. Eight years later he
moved to an area now known as Strathmore and built his home Rosebank
there. This was to be the family home
until the
1920’s. His son Theodore donated land in
Strathmore in 1920 for what came to be known as Napier Park.

from Seavington in Somerset came out to Sydney
in the 1850’s. The first to arrive was
Charles Napper and his wife Sarah who came of the Bombay
in 1852. They were
followed five years later by his brother Edmund who arrived with his
wife Eliza
on the Herefordshire. Edmund
moved to the Clarence river, settling
in Ulmarra. When he died there in 1915
at the age of eighty, he left thirty grand-children and ten great

William Napper, also from Somerset, arrived in South
with his wife Ann in 1855, settling in Lake Bonney.
They ran there the Lake Bonney Hotel and
later the Overland Corner Hotel. William
died in 1908.

Napier Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:

Napier Names

John Napier is remembered today for
his invention of logarithms which he first had published in Scotland in
Charles Napier
was the cavalry general under Wellington during the
Napoleonic Wars.
Robert Napier
, a Scottish shipbuilder
in the mid-1800’s, is considered to be the father of Clyde shipbuilding.

Select Napiers Today

  • 8,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Midlothian)
  • 8,000 in America (most numerous in Kentucky)
  • 6,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)




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