Ritchie Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Ritchie Surname Meaning

The surname Ritchie, coming principally from Scotland, is a diminutive of Richard, a Germanic name brought across by the Normans (derived from ric meaning “power” and hard meaning “strong” or “hardy”).  

Ritchie and Richey are the main surname spellings today. The Richey variant came from Ireland.

Ritchie Surname Resources on The Internet

Ritchie and Richey Surname Ancestry

  • from Scotland (East Coast)
  • to Ireland (Ulster), America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

Scotland.  Ritchies were to be found, according to a late 19th century distribution of the surname, mainly along Scotland’s East Coast – from Inverness in the north to the Border counties in the south. 

History divides these Ritchies into two parts – Highland and Lowland Ritchies.  Iain Gray’s 2010 booklet The Origins of the Ritchies covered this history.

Highland.  Early examples of the name here were:

  • Michael Rechy recorded in Inverness in 1350
  • Duncan Richie, a King’s messenger in Perth in 1505
  • and Duncan Riche, the King’s sheriff at Inverness in 1512.

Ritchies (and MacRitchies) were thought to have been have been a sept of the Inverness-based MacIntosh clan.  Many of them settled along the coast north of Aberdeen and were fishermen there.  This was true of one Ritchie family that has been traced back to the 1720’s in Pitsligo parish in Aberdeenshire.

Lowland.  Lowland Ritchies came later.  One early Ritchie line in Fife began with William Ritchie who was born in Weymss in 1721. His descendants generally remained in Fife during the 18th and 19th centuries.  John and William Ritchie were born in 1778 and 1781 respectively in Lundin Mill, Fife where their father had a flax dressing business. They went on to found The Scotsman newspaper in Edinburgh in 1816.

A Ritchie family has been established at Dundee since the 1700’s and possibly earlier.  William Ritchie was a notable landowner there in the early 1800’s and the head of the firm of William Ritchie & Son of London and Dundee, jute spinners and East India merchants.  Two of his sons did well in politics:

  • Charles Ritchie as the British Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1902-3
  • and James Ritchie as the Lord Mayor of London in 1903-4. 

Ireland.  Ritchies from Scotland came to Ireland, principally to Ulster.  Often their name transformed to Richey.

Many were to be found in county Down.  An early family was listed as Richy at Drumbo.  One Ritchie family was said to have arrived in the 1640’s.  Francis Ritchie, a descendant, came to Belfast in 1830 and, as an industrialist, engineer, and speculator was influential in the development of east Belfast.  James Ritchie, also from county Down (he had been a land steward at Finnebrogue), migrated to Belfast as well and was involved, like Francis, in the building of the Queen’s Bridge.

But the most famous Ritchie in Belfast was William Ritchie, a shipbuilder from Ayrshire who had come in 1791 and started his shipyard at Belfast Lough. His two brothers Hugh and John followed him there.  William has been called “the father of Belfast shipbuilding.”

Ritchies and Richeys began emigrating in the 18th century to America and in the 19th in addition to Canada and elsewhere.

America.  America had both Ritchies and Richeys from an early time. 

Virginia.   Alexander Richey had left Ireland in 1727 with his brother-in-law John Caldwell.  He landed first in Delaware and then moved to Pennsylvania for a while.  After John Caldwell had successfully petitioned the Governor of Virginia for land for Scots-Irish families, he made his home in Amelia county, Virginia.  Later Richeys migrated to Abbeville, South Carolina in 1784. 

Ritchie House, built in Virginia around 1760 and preserved today, was the home of Archibald Ritchie, a prominent Scottish tobacco merchant of the Tidewater area.  He died in 1784 when his son Thomas was just six years old.

Thomas Ritchie, editor of the Richmond Enquirer from 1804 to 1845, would become a leading southern journalist of his day.

“Tall and aristocratic and always dressed in the silk stockings and low shoes of the old style, he was the manager of most Richmond’s public balls and the leader of Richmond’s most prestigious social functions.”  

Other Ritchies had come to Virginia by the time of the American Revolution.  Sizeable Ritchie numbers from Virginia fought on the patriot side in the Revolutionary War.

Maryland.   William Ritchie, Scots born, came to Maryland and married Mary Middaghin 1751.  Their home in Frederick, Maryland was built around this time.  The first Albert Ritchie of the line, their grandson, was born in 1803. He was a notable physician of the town.  The family line extended to a much later Albert Ritchie who was Governor of Maryland for no less than fifteen years – from 1920 to 1935.

Elsewhere.   John Richey and his family came to South Carolina in 1772 as part of the Rev. Martin’s five shiploads of 1,200 immigrants from Ireland. The Richeys had been impoverished tenant farmers in Antrim and they received land grants on Reyburns Creek in Laurens county. Later Richeys of this family migrated to Alabama and Arizona. 

Some Scottish Ritchies came to Kentucky:

  • John Ritchie was an early arrival in the 1770’s in eastern Kentucky when it was still part of Virginia.  He died in 1814 in what was then Nelson county.  
  • a later arrival was James Ritchie, also from Virginia, who brought his family to Knox county in 1813. Five years later he drowned while crossing Carrs Creek when it was swollen and his family, bar one son, returned to Virginia. This son Alexander lived to be a hundred (dying in 1878) and was the forebear of the folk singing Ritchies of Perry county, Kentucky. Their most famous singer was Jean Ritchie who was born in 1922 and died in 2015.

By the 20th century, the largest numbers of Ritchies/Richeys were in Texas.  Montgomery Ritchie from Boston had died of his injuries during the Civil War.  His son Jack, an international sportsman, worked for a time at the JA Ranch in the Texas Panhandle.  His grandson Monte took over the management of this ranch in the 1930’s.  The Richeys of tennis fame meanwhile came from Dallas, Texas.

CanadaJohn Ritchie had come from Edinburgh via Boston to Annapolis in Nova Scotia in 1774. There he worked with his uncle Andrew in supplying goods to Loyalist forces during the Revolutionary War. After the war John’s shipping business suffered and he died in 1790 almost destitute at the young age of 45.

However, his young family thrived and went on to produce many men of eminence in the legal profession.  One grandson – William Johnstone Ritchie – became Chief Justice of Canada in 1879.

Australia.  Thomas Ritchie from Perthshire in Scotland was a ship-owner and merchant who began trading to Australia around 1820.  But he ran into difficulties with the colonial authorities for the book he held.

“Ritchie had in his possession a book found to contain in manuscript all of what were considered the best satirical pieces of the day written for the amusement of the better educated colonists.”   

Despite this trouble, he did manage to leave to his descendants sizeable land holdings in northern Tasmania and a flour mill there at Scone near Perth.  His son David expanded Scone Mill into one of the leading mills in Tasmania. The mill continued under the Ritchies until 1973.

New Zealand.  Another Thomas Ritchie, this time from county Down in Ireland, had been lured to New Zealand by his older cousin’s stories.  He sold his horse for £25, pocketed the gift of a further £50 from his father, and left for New Zealand in 1863.

Locating himself on Chatham Island, some 400 miles off the coast of South Island, he leased land from local Maoris and began the first sheep run there.  He and his brother Robert eventually ran some 16,000 sheep on 55,000 acres of land there. All told, he lived on the Chathams for close on sixty years.

Ritchie Surname Miscellany

Ritchies and Richeys Today.  The table below shows the approximate numbers today.

‘000’s Ritchies Richeys Total
UK    20    20
America    12     7    19
Elsewhere    15    15
Total    47     7    54

Ritchies came mostly from Scotland.  The Richey origin, according to old passenger ship records, was mainly from Ireland.

To America Ritchies Richeys Total
Scotland    332    332
Ireland    130     46    176
England    172     13    185
Elsewhere     11     11     22
Total    645    70    715

William Rirchie of Pitsligo Parish in Aberdeenshire.  William Ritchie was born at Rosehearty in Pitsligo parish near Peterhead in Aberdeenshire around the year 1806. He was the son of George and Mary Ritchie. He was a fisherman by trade.  He married Janet Galt in Pitsligo in 1834.

He was listed as head of household at Rosehearty in the 1851 census.  Those recorded in the household were:

  • William Ritchie, head;
  • Janet Ritchie, wife;
  • William Ritchie, son;
  • George Ritchie, son;
  • James Ritchie, son;
  • Mary Ritchie, daughter;
  • Margaret Ritchie, daughter;
  • Christian Ritchie, daughter.

Janet died soon after.  William remarried Catherine McLeman in Pitsligo in 1854.  But William himself died two years later.

Reader Feedback – Ritchie Whisky Distillers in Scotland.  My father’s family had a house on the shores of Loch Long.  Family legend says that the family were whisky distillers who became wine importers in Glasgow in the 19th century. I would be interested in anyone to whom this story is familiar.

Kenneth Ritchie (kendyboston@yahoo.com).

Ritchie House in Tappahannock, Virginia.  Ritchie House, built around 1760 and preserved today, was the home of Archibald Ritchie, a leading merchant of the Virginia Tidewater area at that time. The economy then ran on tobacco, most of which was grown by slaves.

Ritchie was a British Loyalist and supporter of the Stamp Act, labelled by patriots as “the greatest enemy of his country.”  In early 1766 men from nine Virginia counties gathered at Leedstown to draft the resolutions that led Virginians to disobey Parliament. They also made plans to publicly humiliate Archibald Ritchie.

Ritchie saw which way the wind was blowing and changed tack.  He would soon become a staunch patriot himself and a member of the Association of Essex County that advocated the boycotting of all trade with England after 1774. His son Thomas Ritchie, editor of the Richmond Enquirer, would become a leading journalist of his day.

John Ritchie a Kentucky Pioneer.  John Ritchie had with some other Kentucky pioneers put together a flotilla of five boats and started down the Ohio and Salt rivers, past where Louisville now stands and into a wilderness area which they traversed for about three miles and then built a fort, known as Linn’s Fort, on the brow of a hill.

John built an early whiskey distillery there.  His home, a two room log house built around 1778, is still standing with the marking “JR 1789” on a rock in the chimney.

Sometime later John Ritchie and his companion John Gilkey were out travelling in Kentucky when they espied a buffalo coming toward them.  Ritchie fired and killed the buffalo.

At this juncture three Indians jumped out of the thicket and shot at the white men with arrows, at the same time running towards them with uplifted tomahawks.  Gilkey who was armed with a good gun, kept them at bay while Ritchie ran for his life. Then Gilkey who was very fleet of foot would run until he overtook Ritchie. This mode of procedure was continued until the fort was reached when the Indians disappeared and were seen no more.

The creek where Gilkey and Ritchie started on the race for their lives was called Ritchie’s Run and is still known by that name to this day.  The stream where they killed the buffalo was called Bull Run and it flows from the direction of New Haven, emptying into the Beech Fork at Buckman’s fishtrap.

James Ritchie and His Two Sons in Belfast.  James Ritchie had been a land steward at the Maxwell estate at Finnebrogue in county Down when he resigned the position in the 1850’s to go to Belfast.  There he was involved in the building of the Queens Bridge at Belfast and the Glendun Viaduct at Chushendall.   He had two sons by his first wife, by that time dead.

The eldest son James was engaged to be married to his second cousin Agnes Ritchie.  A week before the wedding, when dancing at the ball, James burst a blood vessel which caused his death. Agnes, though much sought after, never married.

The second son Thomas was threatened with consumption after serving his time with Henry Black, a great grocer in Warren Street. The doctors ordered him to travel.  So he went to Mauritius where he started a business, Greer Ritchie and Co.  His health failed again and then he went to New Zealand.  After a time his health improved and he went home.

On returning to England, Thomas joined the recruits going to fight Garibaldi in Italy. He was at the battle taking Salerno and was made an ensign. As soon as his father could get into communication with the War Office, orders were given for him to come home. He came home through France wearing his uniform and received great praise in England. But when he reached home in Belfast, his father was so angry that he would not speak to him.  So having no money, Thomas went to live with his uncle.

The Richeys and Tennis.  Richard Williams coached his two daughters Venus and Serena in Compton, California in the 1990’s until they both became world-beaters.

Before the Williams sisters there were the Richeys of Dallas – George, his wife Betty, and their children Cliff and Nancy.

George and Betty would travel almost everywhere in this country to see their children play. Although George Richey was a tough little man, he was afraid of airplanes and had never been in one.  So the Richeys toured the country in their 1959 Cadillac, carting the kids from tournament to tournament.  In the summer they would take their vacation from the swank Brook Hollow Golf Club where Richey was the tennis pro.  “I guess we never had a real vacation,” Betty Richey said. “I mean, everywhere we go there is tennis, a tournament or something.”

Always for Cliff and Nancy there was practice, practice, practice.  It paid off. They were the first brother and sister combination to both be concurrently ranked in the USA Top Ten.  They were ranked in the Top Three concurrently in 1965, 1967, 1969 and 1970.  Cliff was a member of the US team that won the 1970 Davis Cup, winning both his singles matches in the final and being voted its most valuable player.  Nancy won two Grand Slam singles titles and four Grand Slam doubles titles.

Ritchie Names

  • William Ritchie was a founder of The Scotsman newspaper in 1816. 
  • Thomas Ritchie was a prominent American newspaper journalist in the first half of the 19th century.  His Richmond Enquirer set the standard for southern journalism at that time. 
  • David Ritchie was a distinguished Scottish philosopher of the late 19th century. 
  • Albert Ritchie was the long-serving Governor of Maryland – from 1920 to 1935.  
  • Jean Ritchie was a well-known Appalachian folk singer from Kentucky. 
  • Cliff and Nancy Richey, brother and sister, were top US tennis players in the late 1960’s. 
  • Guy Ritchie is an English filmmaker noted for his crime films.  He was married for eight years to the American singer Madonna.

Ritchie Numbers Today

  • 20,000 in the UK (most numerous in Glasgow)
  • 19,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 15,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)



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Written by Colin Shelley

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