Pettigrew Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Pettigrew Surname Meaning

Pettigrew comes from the French petit cru, meaning “small growth,” and was probably in this case a nickname for a small or short man. However, there is an alternative derivation for the name, that it is derived from pie de grue, meaning “crane’s foot” (i.e. one with long legs). 

The name was brought first by the Normans to England and Scotland and later by French Huguenots to Ireland.

Pettigrew Surname Resources on The Internet

Pettigrew Surname Ancestry

  • from France (Huguenot), Scotland and England (Cornwall)
  • to Ireland, America and Australia

England.  Early sightings of the name in England were in Cornwall. There were records of a Pettigrew manor at Gerrans in Cornwall in the 1200’s. Alice Pettigrew was born in Helston, Cornwall around 1257 and married William Godolphin there in 1276.

The Pettigrew name appeared frequently in Cornish parish records in the 16th and 17th centuries, but was less common later. Most Pettigrews in the 1891 census in England in fact probably originated from Scotland.

Scotland. Exactly who brought the Pettigrew name to Scotland and when is not known. Some think that a Pettigrew family may have arrived with or at the same time as the Hamiltons.

A Thomas Petykreu of Lanarkshire appeared in the Ragman’s Roll of 1296. From that time onwards the Pettigrew name was to be found in the Old Monklands area of Lanarkshire where Coatbridge and Airdrie now stand. The name later extended into Glasgow and parts of Ayrshire.

Blantyre parish near Hamilton in NW Lanarkshire listed many Pettigrews. One Pettigrew family traces their history back to Alexander Pettigrew, a shoemaker of the parish in the late 1600’s. Pettigrews were also living nearby at Dyesholm and Malcolmwood in the 19th century.

From the Glasgow cleric Pettigrew – who appeared in Walter Scott’s Rob Roy – is said to have descended the naval surgeon William Pettigrew. He settled in London and his son Thomas was an early expert on Egyptian mummies.

James Bell Pettigrew, born near Airdrie, was a distinguished 19th century academic who was a pioneer in the theory of flight well before the time of Wilbur Wright. One line of these Pettigrews were mining engineers who moved to Ireland and then to Chile in the early 1900’s. Stanley Pettigrew returned to Ireland in 1930 and became a well-known painter there.

Ireland. The Pettigrews in Ireland may be either of Scottish or of French Huguenot origin. Both settled n the northern counties of Ulster.

Scottish.  One of the main planters who brought Scottish settlers to county Down in Ireland in the early 1600’s was James Hamilton of Ayrshire. He acquired land at Killyleagh where several families of Pettigrews later settled. Gavin Pettigrew and Rachel McCormick were married there in 1706 and had thirteen children between 1707 and 1732.

There were also Pettigrews in Cumber parish, a few miles south of Belfast, from Daniel Pettigrew in the early 1600’s. The spelling in county Down was sometimes Petticrew or Pettycrew.

Huguenot. The Huguenot Pettigrews in Ireland were originally Petigrus. Fleeing religious persecution in France, it is thought that they had first come to Scotland.

James Pettigrew – as he then styled himself – was an officer who fought for William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. In recompense he was granted land in county Tyrone where he built his family home, the Crilly House. This large stone and slate house was to stay with successive generations of Pettigrews until 1945.

America. This Huguenot trail moved to America when James Pettigrew and his wife Mary left their home in Tyrone for America in 1745, staying first in Pennsylvania and then moving south to the Abbeville district of South Carolina. One of his sons William penned a family history around the year 1800.

Another son James adopted the old Huguenot spelling of Petigru and was a leading lawyer of his time. It was said that by changing the spelling of his name James Petigru enjoyed much greater upward mobility in Charleston society.

Another son Charles settled in Tyrrell county, North Carolina.  “Of all the zealous clergymen in the Church of England in North Carolina at the time of the Revolution, none ranked higher than the Rev. Charles Pettigrew. He built Pettigrew’s Chapel at his own expense and for many years ministered there, as well as at Edenton and elsewhere throughout the province.”

Charles’s family became prominent Tidewater planters and politicians. Son William expanded the family holdings. His homestead and lands are now the Pettigrew State Park in North Carolina. Another son James Johnston was a well-known local figure and a Confederate general during the Civil War (his life was described in Clyde Wilson’s 2002 book Carolina Cavalier).

However, the family fortunes declined after the defeat in the Civil War. One branch of this family moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas where James Pettigrew was a prominent lawyer and newspaperman before and after the Civil War.

The Pettigrew Family Papers that came out in four volumes in 1971 cover this family history.

Australia.  William Pettigrew from Ayr in Scotland came out to Australia on the Fortitude in 1849, settling in Queensland. He built Brisbane’s first steam-power sawmill in 1853 and was active in the timber industry there throughout his life. He was mayor of Brisbane in 1870. His diaries and papers provide some interesting material on colonial Queensland at that time.

Pettigrew Surname Miscellany

Reader Feedback – Pettigrew, An Alternative Derivation.  There is an alternative derivation for the name Pettigrew, that it is derived from pie de grue, meaning “crane’s foot” (i.e. one with long legs).  It may not look like Pettigrew at first – until you hear it pronounced.  Then it’s a dead ringer.

This alternative theory doesn’t require one to explain why the “it” was inverted to “ti”, and it explains why many early versions of the name were spelled with a “d.”

It would be great if you guys at least put the alternative theory on your page.  If Pettigrew truly means small growth, then so be it.   But if it doesn’t, it’s a little bit of humiliating etymology.

David B. Pettigrew (

The Pettigrews and the Hamiltons.  Pettigrews have often been linked to or named in conjunction with the Hamiltons, an Anglo-Norman family who became major landowners in Lanarkshire.  Perhaps a Pettigrew ancestor arrived in Lanarkshire from England as a follower of the Hamiltons. There certainly was a connection in subsequent centuries.

  • Thomas Pettigrew, the senior Scottish herald, married Katherine Hamilton, who was the sister of Patrick Hamilton, the first Scottish Protestant martyr (burnt at the stake in St. Andrews in 1528). Katherine and Patrick were niece and nephew of the Earl of Arran and great grandchildren of King James II.
  • One of the main ‘planters’ who brought Scottish settlers across to county. Down in the early 1600’s was a James Hamilton from Ayrshire.  He acquired land at Killyleagh where Pettigrew families were to settle.
  • In 1655 Thomas Pettigrew was recorded in the Register of the Great Seal in 1655 as a portioner (i.e. small landowner) in Shettleston on land owned by James Hamilton of Torrens.

The Pettigrews of Dyesholm and Malcolmwood.  William Pettigrew, aged 33, left his cottage at Dyesholm one morning in January 1800 to marry Jane Pollock, aged just 17.

It was a later William Pettigrew, his grandson, who moved his family up the hill from Dyesholm in 1860 to the family farm at Malcolmwood above the Calder river.  He had married Betsie Imrie on Christmas Eve 1858 at Auchterarder in Perthshire where she had been born out of wedlock.  Their marriage was to produce seven sons and five daughters.

In 1865 Jane Pettigrew wrote a poem about the beauty of this area which began as follows:

  • “Sweet Dyesholm, sweet Dyesholm,
  • Thy lowery haunts I love to roam,
  • Thy woods, thy glens, thy mossy dell
  • Sweet Dyesholm I love thee well.”

Nevertheless only one of William’s sons, John, stayed at home.  William departed for America, Robert and Andrew for Australia, and Alex, Jimmy and Dick for New Zealand.

Petticrews and Pettycrews in Ireland.  The following Pettycrews were recorded in Ireland in the mid-18th century:

Hugh Pettycrew Belfast 1742 Belfast merchant who died that
John Pettycrew Co. Down 1760’s innkeeper in Ballynahinch
John Pettycrew Belfast 1765 Belfast linen draper who died
that year
Richard Pettycrew Co. Down 1770 horse breeder in Ballyallely
Robert Pettycrew Co. Down 1773 flax mill owner in Gransha
James Pettycrew Co. Down 1779 breeched maker in Drumalig,
accused of murder

Joseph Petticrew was a tenant on land near Lisburn in county Down in the late 18th century.  He died in 1806. His eldest son Joseph emigrated to America in 1812.

Another Petticrew family were long-term farmers in Boardmills, county Down. Their first may have been Robert Petticrew, born in 1777, married Elizabeth Wilson in 1803, and died in 1849. Joan Petticrew of this family has been its historian.

Petticrews have been optometrists in Belfast since 1887, one of the longest-established family practices in the UK.

James Pettigrew and the Indians.  In 1773 James Pettigrew bought a farm in what was known as the flat section of Abbeville district on the Little river in South Carolina. But an outbreak among the Cherokee Indians three years later forced all those who had settled there to abandon their plantations and seek safety in the Huguenot fort of James Noble.

At that time James Pettigrew had become very religious and this may have saved him and his family from Indian attack.  He was so strict in his observance of the Sabbath that he allowed no cooking to be done on that day. One Sunday his family averted being massacred along with all the other inhabitants of the village. The story goes that the Indians, upon seeing no smoke coming from his chimney, presumed the home to be unoccupied.

William Pettigrew’s Family History.  William Pettigrew, the son of James Pettigrew in South Carolina, gave the following account of his family history around the year 1800.

“As you wish to know something of the origin of your family I will give you as good an account as I can.

My great grandfather left France for the sake of his religion in the time of King Louis XIV and was an officer in Cromwell’s Army. He had two sons, John and James.

As to John, we have very little account given of him.  James married Martha Moore, a Scottish lady.  He settled in Ireland and was an officer in King William’s army at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.  After the peace he was given a tract of land of 300 acres in county Tyrone on what was called the Blackwater where he lived and died. He had seven sons and two daughters.

James, my father, had a classical education, but never went to college.  In his 18th or 19th year he married Mary Cochran, the daughter of Captain George Cochran who lived at a place called the Grange.  After having four children, he left all of his friends and came to America in November 1741.  He landed at New Castle.

My father became acquainted with Dr. Franklin who wished him to study physic which he declined. He got a tract of 300 acres on March Creek in Pennsylvania where he lived until it was broken up by the war in 1755.  Shortly after Braddock’s defeat he sold his land for 80 pounds and removed into Virginia and Lunenburg Old Court House, renting some land.  There I was born in 1758.

After staying there three or four years we removed to Granville county in North Carolina where he bought 300 acres of land.  Then, hearing a good account of Long Cane, my father sold out and set out in October 1768 for South Carolina where we landed after some three weeks traveling.”

James Pettigru’s Epitaph.   The tombstone of James Louis Petigru bore an epitaph so impressive that it was said that President Woodrow Wilson, attending the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, requested that the epitaph be sent to him.  The simple marble headstone had the following words:

“Born at Abbeville, May 10, 1789, died at Charleston, March 9th, 1863. Jurist, orator, statesman, patriot.

Future times will hardly know how great a life this simple stone commemorates.  The tradition of his eloquence, his wisdom and his wit may fade; but he lived for ends more durable than fame.  His eloquence was the protection of the poor and wronged. His learning illuminated the principles of law.

In the admiration of his peers, in the respect of his people, in the affection of his family, his was the highest place.  The just mead of his kindness and forbearance, his dignity and simplicity, his brilliant genius and his unwearied industry.

Unawed by opinion, unseduced by flattery, undismayed by disaster, he confronted life with antique courage and death with Christian hope.

In the great Civil War he withstood his people for his country. But his people did homage to the man who held his conscience higher than their praise. And his country heaped her honors on the living, his own righteous self respect sufficed alike for motive and reward.

Nothing is here for tears, nothing to wail or knock the breast, nothing but well and fair, and what may quiet us in a life so noble.”

The Pettigrews of Fayetteville, Arkansas.  George Pettigrew came from North Carolina, by way of Georgia, Kentucky, and Missouri, to Arkansas in 1825 where he settled with his wife Sarah just outside Fayetteville.  He got active in politics and was elected to the Arkansas Legislature in 1840.  He found there a friend and ally in the lawyer William Reagan who was to be a mentor for his son James.

James Pettigrew studied law under Reagan and became his law partner.  He also married Reagan’s eldest daughter Allie and began to dabble in politics.  In 1859 he was the sheriff for Washington county and he started a pro-Confederate newspaper The Arkansian with the politician Elias Boudinot.

With the outbreak of hostilities in 1861 Pettigrew enlisted in Company K of the Confederate army and ended the war as Colonel.  Arkansas saw much of the fighting during the war, including the Battle of Prairie Grove in 1862.  Allie wrote regularly to her husband during the war years.  Her letters, which have been preserved, talked about the lack of food and clothing on the home front, the burning of homes, and Federal foraging.

When the war was over Pettigrew and Reagan returned to their Fayetteville law practice.  His wife Allie died of smallpox in 1871.  He survived, married another of Reagan’s daughters, and was elected mayor of Fayetteville.  In 1875 he started another newspaper in Fayetteville, The Arkansas Sentinel. 

James Pettigrew died in a hotel in Waco, Texas in 1886.  A coroner’s inquest listed the cause of death as alcohol poisoning, although obituaries in the local papers reported that he died of a fever.  His body was shipped back to Fayetteville to be buried in Evergreen cemetery.

Petigrew Names

  • Thomas Pettigrew was a London-based antiquarian who became an expert in Egyptian mummies in the early 19th century.
  • J. Johnston Pettigrew was a Confederate general killed soon after the Battle of Gettysberg.

Pettigrew Numbers Today

  • 2,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lanarkshire)
  • 2,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 2,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Pettigrew and Like Surnames

These are Huguenot names, names sometimes anglicized brought by Protestant refugees from France in the 17th century to England and America. Here are some of the Huguenot originating surnames that you can check out here.



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Written by Colin Shelley

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