Scott Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Scott Surname Meaning

Scoti was the generic name given by the Romans to Gaelic raiders from Ireland.  The Gaelic word was Sgaothaich, from which came the word Scotland.  The name Uchtredius filius Scoti (Uchtred, the son of a Scot) was recorded in a document in 1128.

The name Scott in Scotland subsequently came to describe Gaelic speakers in the English-speaking Lowlands.  The surname is prevalent in Scotland and was also to be found in England.

Scott Surname Resources on The Internet

Scott Surname Ancestry

  • from Scotland (Borders and Fifeshire) and England (both North and South)
  • to Ireland (Ulster), America, Caribs (Jamaica), Canada and Australia

Scotland.  The Scotts have been numerous in Scotland from early times.  An early possibly mythical person in the 1200’s was Michael Scott the WizardSix Scott lairds signed the Ragman Roll in 1296 and Scotts subsequently emerged in the Scottish Border counties.

Scottish Borders.  The Scotts of Buccleuch traced their descent from Sir Richard le Scot in Peeblesshire in the 14th century.  These Scotts became a powerful Border family, with Walter Scott of Harden, known as Auld Wat, being the most well-known of the Scott Border freebooters:

  • “A hardy race who never shrank from war
  • The Scott, to rival realms a bar,
  • Here fixed his mountain home.”

The writer Sir Walter Scott of Abbotsford, the son of a lowly tenant farmer, was related to these Harden Scotts six generations later.  He wrote much about their exploits.

The pacification of the Borders in the early 17th century meant the end of their reiving way of life.  The Scotts of Buccleuch then were ennobled as Dukes, were respectable, and prospered.  They became one of the largest landowners in Scotland.  John Scott acquired Thirlestane in Selkirkshire in 1535 and later Scotts were baronets there. 

But many poorer Scotts left the Borders, either for plantations in Ireland or for work in Glasgow and elsewhere.

Elsewhere.  Scotts had also been long established in Fifeshire, dating back to Michael Scott (a younger brother of the Buccleuch Scotts) and his descendants who established themselves at Balwearie near Kirkcaldy in the 13th century.  The male line there ended when Colonel Walter Scott died unmarried in Holland in 1670.

Another line of Scotts in Fifeshire included Sir John Scott, a lawyer who received the title of Lord Scotstarvet in 1629. A descendant John Scott was by repute the richest commoner in Scotland when he died without issue in 1776.  Other Scotts from this line moved north to the Shetland isles.  In 1814 Sir Walter Scott the writer dined with a John Scott from Scalloway.

Ireland.  The Scottish mercenaries or gallowglasses who came to Ulster between the 14th and 16th centuries were sometimes called Albanach, from Alba in Scotland.  Later, Albanach became Scott.  Displaced Scotts from the Borders also went to Ulster in the early 1600’s.

Jeremiah Scott from Lancashire had fought in 1690 at the Battle of the Boyne for William of Orange who presented him with a gold medal.  He then made his home in Tipperary.  William Scott may also have fought in that battle.  He resided afterwards at Tullyquilly in the Drumgath parish of county Down where he died in 1719.  By that time, it should be noted, Abraham Scott had already left county Down for Pennsylvania.  

Scotts today in Ulster are concentrated in Antrim and Down.

England.  Scott in England would describe someone from Scotland.  It was to be found in the English border counties, in Yorkshire, and along eastern England.

Scott Hall in the vicinity of Leeds dated back to the 16th century when Gilbert Scott, of Scottish origin, was lord of the manor of Potternewton.  Records of the Scotts in the village of Simonburn in Northumberland started in the early 1700’s.

Two notable Scotts families here came from:

  • William Scott, born in humble circumstances in Durham, who became a prominent Newcastle coal merchant in the mid-1700’s.  His grandson John Scott rose to be Lord Chancellor of England in 1801 and was ennobled as the Earl of Eldon.
  • and the Rev. Thomas Scott, the son of a cattle farmer in Lincolnshire, who became an influential Christian preacher and writer.  From his family came a line of architects starting with his grandson Sir Gilbert Scott in Victorian times.

English Scotts.  A Scott family held a manor house near Smeeth in Kent in the 14th century.  Their family lineage has been traced with more certainty from the early 1400’s when they lived at Scot’s HallThese Scotts were a prominent family in Kent and remained at Scot’s Hall until 1808 when the old mansion was pulled down.

There were also Scott pockets in Dorset and Devon.   Robert Falcon Scott, who led the doomed expedition to the North 1912, came from the Scott family of Stoke Demarel near Devonport.

America.  Some early Scotts in America left little trace.

Early Scotts.  Captain John Scott, said to have been from the Kent Scotts, arrived in New England in bondage in the 1640’s at the time of the English Civil War.  He soon secured his freedom, leaving Boston for Long Island where he was instrumental in establishing an English settlement from the Dutch.  He became a real estate speculator there before abandoning his family and returning to England.

A story about the first Scottish Scotts in America ran as follows:  “The American Buckelews are descended from a Scottish Border clan the Scotts, barons of Buccleuch.  Two brothers, Francis and Gilbert Scott of the clan of Buccleuch, came to America on the ship Caledonia about 1664.  They dropped the surname Scott in America and kept the clan name, changing the spelling to Bucklew.”

Meanwhile Hugh Scott, Scots Irish. was said to have come to Chester county, Pennsylvania in 1670.  But it is not clear if he really was there at that time as Pennsylvania did not even exist then. 

Later Scotts.  The more likely forebear of the Scotts in Chester county, Pennsylvania was Abraham Scott from county Down a generation later in 1697.  His son Hugh, a blacksmith, was a major in the Revolutionary War

David Scott also Scots Irish, this time from Derry, arrived in Fairfield, Connecticut around 1710.  Winfield Scott who fought in the Civil War and was a US army chaplain is thought to have been a descendant.  Winfield moved with his brother George to a new settlement in Arizona which came to be known as Scottsdale.

The Rev. Alexander Scott was a Presbyterian minister from Morayshire who came to Stafford county, Virginia in 1711 and was the minister at Overwharton church until his death in 1738.  His brother James, also a minister, lived until 1782.  Their history is told in Horace Hayden’s book The Scott Family of Moray, Scotland and Stafford County, Virginia. 

James Scott from the Buccleuch clan fought on the Jacobite side in the defeat at Culloden in 1746 and narrowly escaped with his life, fleeing to Virginia.  He kept his Scott name (unlike earlier Buccleuch Scotts), married and settled there.  His family prospered at their Laurel Branch plantation near Petersburg. 

James’s grandson General Winifred Scott served in the US Army in a long career.  He was also an unsuccessful Presidential candidate for the Whig Party in 1852. At a height of six foot five inches, he remains the tallest man ever nominated by a major party.  Lilburn Scott, not related, was born in 1854 in Virginia in a county (Scott county) which had been named after the General.  A descendant was the actor George C. Scott. 

The three Scottsville place-names in America seem to have had two Scott antecedents:

  • Scottsville in Kentucky and Virginia were named after Charles Scott who fought in the Revolutionary War and became the fourth Governor of Kentucky in 1808.  His line seems to have gone back to Edward Scott of New Kent county, Virginia in the early 1700’s.
  • while Scottsville, Indiana was named after Robert Scott, an early settler there in the 1820’s.  He had arrived in Virginia from Scotland with his brother Archelaus sometime in the 1770’s.

Caribbean.  John Scott from Tipperary in Ireland, son of Jeremiah, came out to Jamaica around 1750 and soon became a well-to-do landowner there, owning plantations in St. Thomas and in Clarendon.  John’s brother George was appointed Governor of Dominica, but was killed in a duel in 1767.  Another brother Joseph settled in Nova Scotia.

Canada.  Joseph Scott from Tipperary, younger brother of John in Jamaica, came to Nova Scotia in 1759, soon after the French had departed.  He prospered as a merchant there.  His home Scott House in Bedford, one of the oldest in Nova Scotia, is now a museum.

William Scott from county Clare served with the British army in Quebec in 1814 and later settled in Prescott, Ontario.  His son Richard, raised a Catholic, had a long political career in Canada that lasted over sixty years.

By contrast, Thomas Scott from county Down arrived in Canada as an adventurer in 1863 and headed out west to the Red River settlement.  His death there before a firing squad in 1870 became a cause célèbre in Canada.

Australia and New Zealand.  Alexander Walker Scott, the son of Scottish physician Helenus Scott, arrived in NSW in 1827.  His business enterprises there were generally unsuccessful.  But he made a name for himself as an entomologist.  His insect collection is conserved at the Australian Museum in Sydney.

Andrew and Celia Scott arrived in Australia from Glasgow in 1838. A year later they established a cattle and sheep station at Mount Boninyong in Victoria that became known as Scotsburn.  Their descendants still operate the station.

Thomas Scott was an Anglican clergyman from county Down in Ireland who came to New Zealand on the Black Eagle in 1861.  His son Andrew, a bushranger in Australia who gave his name as Captain Moonlite, was executed for his crimes in 1880.

Scott Surname Miscellany

Uchtred, Son of a Scot.  Uchtredus Filius Scoti – that is Uchtred, son of a Scot – was witness to an inquisition respecting possessions of the church of Glasgow in the reign of Alexander I, around 1120, and as well to the foundation charter of the abbey of Holyrood by David I in 1128, as also was Herbert Scot, and to that of the abbacy of Selkirk in 1130.

He was called Uchtredus filius Scoti to distinguish from others of the same Christian name, probably Saxons or Normans.

His son Richard le Scot witnessed a charter granted by the bishop of St. Andrews to the abbey of Holyrood house about 1158.  From his line was said to have come the Scotts of Murdockstone in Peeblesshire (from whom came the Scotts of Buccleauch) and the Scotts of Balwearie in Fifeshire.

Michael Scott the Wizard.  Michael Scott or Scot may have been born in Scotland (possibly Fifeshire), but there is no proof that he was.  He arrived at the Court of the Holy Roman Emperor around 1220, being already a qualified scholar,

Over time Michael developed there a reputation for astrology, alchemy and medicine. He was able to cure some of the Emperor’s illnesses and his theories of astrology proved to be of great interest.

Michael Scott’s reputation as a “wizard” entered into the myths and legends of the Scottish Borders.  Never one to pass over a good local legend when he saw one, Sir Walter Scott also picked up on the stories and wrote extensively about him in the Lay of the Last Minstrel.

It was Sir Walter who wrote that Michael “cleft the Eildon hills in three and bridled the river Tweed with a curb of stone.” He also wrote that Michael Scott and his book of wizardry were buried “on a night of woe and dread” in Melrose Abbey.

Scott of Buccleuch.  Scott of Satchells who published in 1688 A True History of the Right Honorable Name of Scott gave the following romantic and imaginary account of the origin of the Scotts of Buccleuch.

“Two brothers, natives of Galloway, had been banished from that country for a riot or insurrection and had come to Rankleburn in Ettrick Forest.  The keeper there received them joyfully on account of their skill in winding the horn and in the other mysteries of the chase.

Kenneth MacAlpin, then King of Scotland, came soon after to hunt in the royal forest and pursued a buck from Ettrickheugh to the glen now called Buccleuch, which is about two miles above the junction of Rankleburn with the river Ettrick.  Here the stag stood at bay.

The King and his attendants who followed on horseback were thrown out by the steepness of the hill and the morass.  John, one of the brothers from Galloway, had followed the chase on foot and now, coming in, seized the buck by the horns.  Being a man of great strength and activity, he threw him on his back and ran with his burden about a mile up a steep hill to a place called Cracra Cross where Kenneth had halted. He laid the buck at the sovereign’s feet.”

This account, though widely believed, had no basis in fact.  The lands of Buccleuch did not become the property of the family of Scott until at least two centuries after the time of Kenneth III.  It was not until 1426 that the designation Lord of Buccleuch began to be used by the head of the Scott family.  The cradle of the Scotts was not in Ettrick Forest at all, but at Scotstown and Kirkurd in the county of Peeblesshire.

Old Wat O’Harden.  One of the most famous border reivers was Walter Scott of Harden, commonly known as “Auld Wat.” He was a renowned marauder and many of his exploits were commemorated in Border traditions and ballads.  His stronghold was the old castle of Harden just to the west of the town of Hawick. He died in 1629.

In the dark recesses of the glen on the edge of which the castle stood, Auld Wat would keep his ill-gotten gains.   Legend has it that when the food supply was running low, Auld Wat would be served a clean pair of spurs under a covered dish by his wife, a beautiful woman known as “the flower of Yarrow.”  This was a hint that it was time to replenish the food supply with some fresh beef from Northumbria.

Another story relates to the booty brought back on one marauding trip into Cumberland.  Upon their return laden with spoil which lay scattered in heaps around the hall, the lady of the house heard a wailing sound from one of the bundles.

Upon unwrapping it she found an infant who flung his arms around her neck and clung to her breast.  She subsequently took charge of the little captive and brought him up as her foster-child. Although he spent his life at Harden, he had no taste for the wild and adventurous life and spent his life in the quiet scenes of pastoral pursuits.  He was said to have been the author of some of the most beautiful songs and ballads on the Borders.

Sir Walter Scott at Abbotsford.  In a letter of 1811 to his friend John Morrit, Scott wrote that he had ‘bought a small farm, value about £150 yearly, with the intention of ‘bigging myself a bower’ after my own fashion.”  This farm was Clarty Hole Farm, situated in the Borders between Kelso and Melrose, which Scott would rename Abbotsford.

Abbotsford originally comprised 110 acres but grew exponentially as Scott bought up neighboring property so that by 1825 the acreage was ten times its original size.  The building too had been radically transformed. In fact he had demolished the existing cottage and erected a two-story manor house in its place.

Many commentators have seen Abbotsford as an echo of the blending of ancient and modern that Scott attempts in his written works.  Externally, it resembles a Scottish fortified house of the 16th century, with turreted towers, high chimneys, and a castellated fringe.  The interior is filled with relics of both national and family history: heraldic devices, suits of armor, old weaponry, and paintings of Scott’s forebears.  Abbotsford proved immeasurably influential on 19th century building styles, sparking the Victorian revival of Scots-Baronial architecture.

Scott’s ‘plaything in stone’ came at a great expense to himself. After its completion in 1824, Scott had barely a year to enjoy his realized vision before financial disaster struck.  To finance Abbotsford, he had taken advances from his publisher and also raised a number of loans.  When the financial crash of 1826 happened, he found himself in debt to the tune of £120,000.

However, he had had the foresight to settle Abbotsford upon his newly-married son in 1825.  According to Scots law as it then stood, it was thus beyond the reach of Scott’s creditors.

The Scott Family of Scot’s Hall.  William Scott, the founder of the Kentish family of Scots Hall, was the son of John Scott, seneschal of the manor of Brabourne in Kent. He was appointed Justice of the Common Pleas in 1336 and died in 1350.

Family tradition has it that Sir William was descended from a younger brother of John de Baliol, King of Scotland and of Alexander de Baliol, the Lord of Chilham in Kent.  But there is no documentation in support of that claim.

A later William Scott, who died in 1434, is credited with the building of Scots Hall.  His eldest son John was Sheriff of Kent in 1460 and later Warden of the Cinque Ports and Marshal of Calais.  He died in 1489. 

The Scotts of Scottsville, Indiana.  Wesley Scott, a second generation “Hoosier,” was the village blacksmith and postmaster of Scottsville and in his later years began to organize his ancestral recollections.  He died in 1907.  But his daughters typed, edited and eventually published his memoirs.  They appeared as The Scott Family: A Pioneer Family of Kentucky and Indiana. 

According to Wesley Scott’s memoirs, Robert Green came to America in the 1770’s with his brother Archelaus and they settled in what was then Virginia territory and is now Kentucky.   They were in Woodford county in 1792 when George Washington signed the Act which made Kentucky the 15th state in the Union, separate from Virginia.

By 1814 Robert and Archelaus had begun to explore what new lands might be available in the Northwest Territory, later Indiana.  They and their families were recorded in Washington county, Indiana by the time of the 1820 census.  Wesley’s father John Scott was part of this migration from Kentucky to Indiana.  He described the ordeals.

“Coming to Indiana while it was still a territory, coming as far as the Ohio river, no navigation or boats, having to cross the river in his own canoe.   Bringing his wife and children the first load then returning to obtain the household goods or belongings.

In marching up the bank he found nothing but laurel growing.  The first residents he saw was a cabin owned by a man named Whittaker.  There he left his family for a few days.  Taking his gun he traveled through the forest ten or twelve miles north.  There he built himself a cabin.  His little cabin was surrounded by deer, wolf, bears, and panthers.“

These Scotts were to settle in what became the Scottsville settlement of Lafayette township in Floyd county.

Thomas Scott in Canada.  According to Lord Dufferin, when he was Governor General of Canada:

“Thomas Scott came of very decent people.  His parents are at this moment tenant farmers on my estate in the neighborhood of Clandeboye in county Down.  But he himself seems to have been a violent and boisterous man, such as are often found in the North of Ireland.”

Scott turned up in Canada West around the year 1863.   He was a Presbyterian and an active and zealous Orangeman.  In the summer of 1869 he arrived at the Red River settlement and found employment as a laborer on the Dawson Road project.  That August he led a strike against John Snow, the contractor, who wisely capitulated after Scott had threatened to throw him into the Seine river.

Scott later got embroiled in the political dispute over the future of the Red River settlement, joining up with the opposition party to Riel and his Metis supporters.  In the fighting that followed Scott was captured and put in prison.  On March 3, 1870 a court martial convicted him on the charge of insubordination and the death penalty was invoked.  The following day he was shot by a Métis firing squad.  

Thomas Scott, an obscure if volatile figure during his life, became a cause célèbre after his death.  He was seen as a martyr to his cause, a sentiment implicit in the letter of his brother, Hugh Scott, to the Canadian Prime Minister: “My brother was a very quiet and inoffensive young man, but yet when principle and loyalty to his Queen and Country was at stake he was throughout a brave and loyal man.”

Reader Feedback – Scotts in Liberia.  I am researching the Scotts in Liberia. Do you have information on the African American Scotts?  Huroye Scott (

Scott Names

  • Sir Walter Scott was a famed border reiver of the 16th century, known as “the bold Buccleuch.”
  • Sir Walter Scott was the celebrated historical novelist and poet who did much to revive Scottish culture and heritage in the early 19th century.
  • Sir Gilbert Scott was a leading English architect of the Victorian age, best known for his design of the Albert Memorial.
  • Robert Scott led the doomed expedition in 1912 to reach the North Pole.
  • George C. Scott was an American actor, best known for his portrayal of General Patton.

Scott Numbers Today

  • 134,000 in the UK (most numerous in Hertfordshire)
  • 156,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 117,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Scott and Like Surnames

These were names originally given to outsiders in the British Isles that became surnames.  Thus Walter the Scot became Walter Scott.  Outsiders could also have been Welsh, Irish, French or Flemish.  These are some of the “outsider” surnames which are covered here.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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