Rutherford Surname Meaning, History & Origin
a Scottish border clan name. The name
from a place-name in Roxburghshire on the south bank of the river
between Melrose and Kelso. A village there, then called
Rothersfurth, was burnt
and razed by an English army in 1545 and has disappeared from the map. The origin
of the Rutherford name is thought to have been the Old English hryther meaning “cattle” and ford, “a river crossing.”
Rutherford Resources on
- History of the Rutherford Surname
- Rutherford Rutherford
History and genealogy.
- Clan Rutherfurd/Rutherford
Rutherford clan website.
- Rutherford Genealogy Organization
- Rutherford DNA Project
Rutherford name in Roxburghshire on the Scottish borders probably dates
the 12th century (although there is no evidence that Robertus Dominus
Rodyrforde of that time did exist).
Three Rutherfords swore fealty to Edward I of England in the
of 1296, including Sir Nicholas de Rutherford who was considered the
the Rutherford line.
the lawless Border times of the 14th to 16th centuries they were a
well-known for their raids into Northumberland.
They allied themselves with the larger Douglas and Home clans in
James Rutherfurd gained possession
of Edgerston, south of Jedburgh and close to the English border, in
1448. Thomas Rutherfurd, the Black Laird
Edgerston, turned the tide in the fighting against the English at the Battle of Reidswire in
remained in Rutherfurd possession until 1915 when the last laird sold
and emigrated to Kenya.
of Jedburgh were well-known as ‘lorimers’ or saddle makers. In
the 1630’s came Adam Rutherford of Hall, the forebear of Rutherfords
in Virginia, who was a maltman and burgess of Jedburgh. There
were cadet Rutherford lines at
Hunthill and Hundalee nearby (although these had mainly died out by the
century). Indeed, except for Edgerston,
much of the
other Rutherford lands had been ceded through marriage to the Earl of
The Hunthill line did contribute the Rev. Samuel
Rutherford, a leading Presbyterian in the 1650’s, and the Rev. John
a Presbyterian minister at Yarrow in Selkirkshire in the 1680’s. His son John moved to Edinburgh and became an
eminent physician there. His grandson
Daniel was a scientist famous for his isolation of nitrogen in 1772.
Rutherfords were still most
numerous in Roxburghshire by the time of the 1881 census in Scotland. But many had dispersed elsewhere by then. Some had crossed the
border into Northumberland, others had gone to Ireland and to
America and elsewhere.
Much of this ground was covered
in Kenneth Rutherford Davis’s 1987 book The
Rutherfords in Britain which corrected many of the errors found in
earlier Rutherford books.
Ireland. Captain James
Rutherford was brother to the Presbyterian leader Samuel Rutherford.
His son John was a captain in King William’s army at the Battle
Boyne in 1689 and was granted lands in county Down (where he died in
1740). Two of John’s sons emigrated to
The Rev. Samuel Rutherford was a Presbyterian minister who was banished
from Scotland in 1689 and settled in county Monaghan.
His three sons all came to America, settling
in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and later in Lunenburg county, Virginia.
David Rutherford left
Scotland with his brother John shortly after the dissolution of the
Scottish Parliament in 1707. David settled in Fermanagh and
Dublin where he started a wholesaling business and acquired an
born in Fermanagh in 1794, worked
in the Dublin firm until he enlisted in the British Army in 1814. He was granted land
in Canada but never went. His son Adam
and wife Jane did though.
America. The first Rutherford to come
to America was John Rutherford who arrived at Elizabeth City, Virginia
on the Warwick. However,
the line to him and from him is not
Robert Rutherford had come to America in 1730 with his parents
from Roxburghshire in Scotland when but an infant.
in Virginia where he organized Rutherford’s
Rangers at the time of the French and
Indian War. In his later years he was a
staunch friend of George Washington and one of Virginia’s delegates
rallied to the American cause.
Subsequent Rutherfords of his line moved to Knox county,
then further west.
Other Rutherfords in America came via Ireland, having fought
with William of Orange or having left Scotland because of their
faith. The most prominent of these was
Griffith Rutherford who arrived in America in 1739 (his parents dying
voyage) and settled in North Carolina.
He was a Brigadier General in the Revolutionary War and an
figure in the early development of Tennessee (where he died in 1805).
county was named after him.
grandson James Rutherford moved to Texas in 1830
where he established a medical practice in an area now known as
Cockville. Another grandson John arrived
in Texas in
Lamar county was formed in 1842, he was
elected its Chief Justice by the Republic of Texas Congress. He was a surveyor, a farmer, and the first
schoolteacher in Honey Grove. In his
latter life he kept a diary which painted a vivid picture of farm life
Texas after the Civil War.
Rutherford came around the year 1817 from Northumberland in
England to Northumberland county in Ontario.
Rutherford had been a shepherd who herded his flock on the
Cheviot hills. On landing at Quebec,
sailed up the St. Lawrence river into Lake Ontario and traveled west to
Northumberland county, Ontario where he located 100 acres as a
built his log cabin. For ten years he
worked on his land before returning to England for a partner in life
Many Rutherfords came to farm in Brant county, Ontario.
William Rutherford, for instance, came to
South Dumfries township around 1830; while James Rutherford arrived
Rutherfords headed later for the Canadian West. Agnes
Rutherford kept a journal of her family
journey from Selkirk in Scotland to Manitoba in Canada in 1882, where
their home in the Tarbolton district. The
family story was narrated in Agnes Florence’s 1982 book Andrew
and Agnes Rutherford. Alexander
Rutherford, the son of Scottish
immigrants to the Ottawa area in 1855, came west in 1886, became
politics, and served as the first Premier of Alberta in 1905.
Australia and New Zealand. James
Rutherford arrived at the Victorian goldfields in the 1850’s
America. He did not discover gold, but
instead developed Cobb & Co. as the leading coaching company in
in the second half of the 19th century.
James and Martha Rutherford
had been early colonists to New Zealand, James arriving at four years
Perth in Scotland in 1843. Their second
son Ernest, born in 1871, excelled in science and studied at the Cavendish
Laboratory at Cambridge University.
There he became known as the father of nuclear physics.
The Origin of the Rutherford Name. There
is an old story, probably apocryphal, that an
ancient king of Scotland, King Ruther, was fleeing for his life and was
by a young man of Teviotsdale who aided him in crossing the ford on the
Tweed. That spot was henceforth known as
Another story was said to have dated back to the time of Wallace
or before. The tradition was that an
English invading force was allowed to cross the river at the ford and,
they had done so, the Scots fought and defeated them and drove them
the ford making the English “rue the ford.”
Some have suggested that
Rutherford might even have been derived from the West Flemish name of
Ruddsvoorde as the early Rutherfords may have come to Scotland from
Flanders. A more plausible story is that
Rutherford name originally meant “red ford,” as ruther,
meaning “red,” was a Celtic word.
The Rutherfurds at Reidswire. The
Rutherfurds were present at the battle of Reidswire
in 1575, considered the last actual battle fought between the English
Scots. Richard Rutherford of Littleheuch, son of the “Cock of
Hunthill,” was at that time provost of Jedburgh and led
on the burghers. They came upon the
scene while the skirmish was going on and, raising their slogan “a Jedworth! a Jedworth,” turned the tide of battle in favor of their countrymen.
Rutherfurd, the Black
Laird of Edgerston, was also a principal player in this
battle. An old ballad
in reference to this said:
“Bauld Rutherfurd he was fu’ stout,
Wi’ his nine sons him round about,
He led the town of Jedward out;
All bravely fought that day.”
Another surviving tradition from that time is called “The Hand Ba’ Game.” It is celebrated on Candlemas (February 2nd) and comes from the troubles of 1549
when a few Scots played a post-battle football game with the severed
some Englishmen. Nowadays a leather ball replaces the
Rutherford Books. The
Rutherfords have spawned a number of Rutherford
genealogy books. The earlier books had a
great many errors which Kenneth Rutherford Davis’s 1987 book sought to
that Ilk and their Cadets
- Family Records and
Events from the Rutherfurd Collection by Livingston Rutherfurd,
- The Rutherfords of Roxburghshire by
Ora Z. Rutherford
Story and Gary Rutherford, 1918
History of the Rutherford Family by
William Kenneth Rutherford and Anna Clay Rutherford, 1986
- The Rutherfords in Britain: a History and
by Kenneth Rutherford
to one reviewer, William and Anna Rutherford’s work was excellent when
data and got much better with its Scottish materials after they and
discovered each other’s work and began to communicate.
William and Anna Rutherford’s major
contribution was in ferreting out many of the colonial Rutherford
documenting well established Rutherford emigrations from Scotland and
William and Anna Rutherford were then able to verify the presence of
Edgerston, Chatto/Nisbet and Castlewood Rutherford groups in early
Virginia and Pennsylvania. They also documented, as well as they
could, the survivors
of the Rev. Samuel Rutherford’s family here in America following his
Rutherford County. After General Griffith Rutherford’s death in 1805, both North Carolina (where he lived most of his life) and Tennessee (where he
spent the last ten years of his life) renamed counties Rutherford
him. Apparently Kentucky planned to do
the same for the area which surrounded Louisville.
But they then changed their mind and called
the county Jefferson county instead. Rutherford
was also a township across the Ohio river in Indiana.
Adam Rutherford and Canada. Adam Rutherford was employed in the wholesale house founded by Sir John Rutherford in Dublin at the time he enlisted as an officer
in the British Army in 1814. He enrolled
with the Eniskillen Dragoons
and, according to his account,
injured himself while fighting at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. However, he may instead have been guarding Edinburgh
castle at the time. It is believed that Adam could have
fabricated the Waterloo story to explain his leg injury to his
his retirement from the British Army he was awarded a free
grant of 400 acres of land, with the privilege of making his own
anywhere in Canada. But, at the time there was so much land, and Canada
such a big country, he deferred making his selection from time to time
wound up by never filing at all.
that time his son Adam, then a dashing young
officer stationed in Edinburgh as a recruiting officer, met and fell in
with the beautiful and aristocratic Jane Borthwick of Borthwick Castle. But the affair met with the stern disapproval
of the Borthwicks. In 1816, an elopement
therefore staged and the couple succeeded in eluding their pursuers and
making their way to Ireland. Jane was never again accepted into
the House of
Borthwick. Adam and Jane emigrated to Canada where they raised
James Rutherford of Cobb & Co. His family had been originally from Roxburghshire in Scotland. They went to Ulster about 1660 where they were prosperous farmers until the troubles of 1798. James Rutherford of this family was then
ambushed and murdered by Irish rebels, his house burned down, and its
butchered – with the exception of his wife, her infant son (also a
widow went to relatives in
upstate New York with this James and later had a farm outside Buffalo. James Rutherford was born on this farm in
1827. He had tried his hand
as a schoolmaster and then set off for Australia to try his luck in the
did not find
gold. But he did become an investor in
the stagecoach company Cobb & Co. He
later became its general
manager, a post which he held for over fifty years, and under his
1870 the firm
was harnessing 6,000 horses a day, their coaches were travelling 28,000
week, mail subsidies amounted to £95,000 a year and the annual pay
totaled £100,000. It was said that one
sheep a year were being shorn on the Cobb & Co. and Rutherford
Western Queensland and outback New South Wales under the famous
brand so named from the Diamentina river where the largest Rutherford
Co. became a household word in the Australian out-country in the second
the 19th century.
- Daniel Rutherford, an uncle of the novelist
Sir Walter Scott, was the Scottish chemist famous for his isolation of nitrogen in 1772.
- Ernest Rutherford was the
New Zealand-born physicist, a director of the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University, who is considered to be the father of nuclear physics.
- Margaret Rutherford was a well-known English
character actress. Her stage and film
career spanned from the 1930’s to the 1960’s.
Select Rutherford Numbers Today
- 13,000 in the UK (most numerous
in Scottish Borders)
- 9,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
- 7,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)
Select Rutherford 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