Stewart Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Stewart Surname Meaning

Stewart is generally thought of as one of the leading families of Scotland.  Indeed they were the royal family of Scotland between 1371 and 1688 (with Pretenders to the throne until 1745).

The root of the name was the Old English word stigweard, meaning a household guardian.  The title was used of an officer controlling the domestic affairs of a household, particularly of a royal household.

Stewart Surname Resources on The Internet

Stewart Surname Ancestry

  • from Scotland
  • to Ireland (Ulster), America, Canada, Caribs (Jamaica) and New Zealand

Scotland.  The ancestral origins of the Stewart family in Scotland are a bit obscure.  What is known for certain is the family line can be traced back to Alan FitzFlaad, a Breton who had come over to England sometime after the Norman Conquest. 

As FitzAlans, they established themselves as a prominent Anglo-Norman family.  It was Alan’s great grandson Walter FitzAlan who became the first hereditary High Steward of Scotland.

Royal Stewarts.  Walter’s descendants founded the royal Stuart line in Scotland (the French spelling as French has no “w”) after Walter Stewart of this line married Marjorie, the daughter of King Robert the Bruce.

They turned out to be an unlucky dynasty.  Of the fourteen crowned monarchs between 1371 and 1714, four were murdered or executed, two died in battle and one in exile, while seven in succession came to the throne as minors.

The Stuarts of Darnley were united with the royal Stuarts in 1565 when Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, married his half-first cousin, Mary Queen of Scots.  Darnley was killed by Scottish nobles in 1567 and Mary Stuart executed by Queen Elizabeth of England in 1587.  But the son of their union became James VI of Scotland and James I of England in 1603.

James II of England, who was deposed in 1688, was their last ruling monarch, although the Stuarts, based in France, did attempt a return.  James the Old Pretender failed in 1715 and Bonnie Prince Charlie failed in 1745.  After the defeat at Culloden in 1746, the Stuart hopes were finished.

Other Stewarts.  There were a number of other related but non-royal Stewart branches.

The Stewarts of Appin in Argyllshire in the Scottish Highlands, were descendants of Dugald Stewart in the 15th century.  The main sub-branches were those of Lorn and Ardsheal.  These Stewarts, known as “the loyal clan,” fought and fell at Culloden.  James Stewart of Appin was hanged in 1752 and their last chief, Dougal Stewart, died in 1764.  

The Stewarts of Atholl in Perthshire, were descendants of Alexander Stewart, the 14th century “Wolf of  Badenoch.”  These Stewarts came to be known for their prowess in battle.  

The Stewarts of Balquhidder in Perthshire were descended from a 15th century Stewart laird of Baldorran.  Sir William Stewart was appointed the Royal Baillie at Balquhidder around the year 1485.  This line also later included the Stewarts of Ardvorlich.

The Stuarts of Bute in Argyllshire, were descended from the 14th century Sheriff of Bute and “black” Stewart.  They supported the British during the Jacobite uprisings and were ennobled as the Earls of Bute.  The third Earl was briefly British Prime Minister in 1762.  

And there were the Stewarts of Ochiltree and Dunduff in Ayrshire.  The former were descended from Andrew Stuart, the Chancellor of Scotland in 1460 and the latter from William Stewart, the Scottish ambassador to France in the early 1500’s.  Both branches established themselves in Ireland.  

The distribution of Stewarts in the 1891 census showed that most of them were living in Lowland Scotland. But there were also sizeable numbers in Perthshire, Angus, and Aberdeenshire.  It has been estimated that 50 percent of all Stewarts and Stuarts in Scotland today are direct descendants of Scotland’s former royal family.    

Ireland.  Many Stewarts from the Scottish Lowlands settled in Ulster in the 17th century.

Andrew Stewart, Lord Ochiltree of Ayrshire, was one of the nine Scottish chief undertakers of the Plantation and was granted lands in Tyrone.  His grandson, after whom Stewartstown in Tyrone was named, was made Lord Mountjoy in 1683.

The Stewarts of Dunduff in Ayrshire were granted lands in Donegal and established their home at Ballylawn castle.  Alexander Stewart of this family made money from the linen trade and acquired the Mount Stewart estate in county Down in 1744.  His son became the Marguess of Londonderry.

A descendant was Robert Stewart, Lord Castlereagh, who was British Foreign Secretary from 1812 until the conclusion of the war with Napoleon.  This family remained a political force in Northern Ireland into the 20th century.

America.  Duncan Stuart, later Stewart, was an early Stewart in America.  He is believed to have been captured at the Battle of Dunbar in 1650 and shipped to New England as a prisoner of war.  His name appeared in Ipswich, Massachusetts records as a shipwright and ship builder.  Alexander Stewart, possibly related, was a tailor in Charlestown in 1662 when he married Hannah Templar.

Maryland and Virginia.  A Steuart (sic) family appeared in Maryland.  They had their origins in Perthshire, George Steuart arriving in Maryland around 1721 and becoming a wealthy tobacco planter.  A Loyalist at the time of the Revolutionary War, he returned to Scotland.  But his family remained.  Much of their property was confiscated after the Civil War.  Dr. Richard Sprigg Steuart was a pioneer in the treatment of mental illness.  The Spring Grove hospital in Maryland became his life’s work.

James Stuart from Perthshire was in 1740 one of the early settlers along the Cowpasture river in Augusta county, Virginia.  He was captured by Pawnee Indians in 1757 and burned at the stake.  His son, James Stewart, was present at his death but managed to escape.  There were also other Stewart families in Augusta county by this time.

Scots Irish.  Their arrivals included:

  • Robert Stewart, a member of a Scots Irish party who had come to Boston in 1718 and, a year later, founded the township of Londonderry, New Hampshire.  The most remarkable Stewart of Londonderry, however, was not a descendant but a freed African American slave named Flora Stewart who died there in 1868 at the reported age of 118.
  • Lazarus Stewart who arrived in 1729 and settled in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania.  His son Captain Lazarus Stewart was a fighter on the Pennsylvania frontier who was killed during an early skirmish of the Revolutionary War.  
  • Samuel Stewart who came with his family from county Down six years later and also made for Lancaster county, Pennsylvania, which had by that time become a center for Scots Irish settlement.   
  • James Stewart of Tyrone, one of the many Jacobites vanquished at Culloden, who fled to America in 1760 and bought land in New Castle county, Delaware.  His descendants later moved to Tennessee.  Alexander Stewart was a general in the Confederate army during the Civil War. 
  • while William Stewart from Antrim came to Indiana county, Pennsylvania in 1792 where he ran a store.  Four generations later in 1908, still from a store-owner in Indiana county, came the much-loved actor Jimmy Stewart.

Canada.  Robert Stewart from Campbeltown in Argyllshire came to Prince Edward Island in 1770.  His brother Peter followed him five years later.  Peter became Chief Justice of the new colony.  When he died in 1805 his sons John, known as Hellfire Jack, and Charles, the quieter one, came to dominate Island politics.

John Stewart, Scots Irish, had been impressed into the British Navy, but jumped ship in 1810 in Nova Scotia. There he married Elizabeth Laird and their home, now styled the Stewart House, still functions today. Alexander Stewart, also Scots Irish, was an early settler in Peterborough, Ontario in 1822.  He died there in 1847, survived by his wife whose letters back to Ireland, published in 1889, told much of their early Canadian experiences.

In 1827 William Stewart from Skye was an early landowner in what became Ottawa, so much so that many of the central street names there were named after his family – Catherine Street after his wife; James and McLeod Streets after his sons; and Flora, Isabella, Florence, and Ann Streets after his daughters.  McLeod Stewart was later mayor of Ottawa.

John and Helen Stewart from Perthshire came to Canada in 1818, settling in Lanark county, Ontario.  Three later Stewart families from Perthshire reached Puslinch township in Wellington county in 1835:

  • one family, descended from the Ardvorlich Stewarts, came from the village of Comrie.  Hugh Stewart of this family moved from Puslinch to Hamilton with his wife and children in 1871.
  • another family lived in the nearby Flamborough township.  Their farm stayed with the family until 1966.
  • and a third family settled in the Crieff area of Puslinch.  Hugh Stewart ran the Crieff post office and general store.

Caribbean.  Dr. John Stewart came to Jamaica in 1707 as physician to the Governor.  James Stewart developed  sugar plantations in Trelawney parish in the mid-to-late 1700’s, of which the sole remnant now is the Stewart castle ruin.

Scots Irish Stewarts, thought to have descended from the Stewarts of Appin, arrived in the 1820’s.  The first of this line was the Rev. William Stewart, a Wesleyan minister, followed by his two sons William and Ernest, also clergymen.  Some Stewarts of this family left for America in the early 1900’s.

New Zealand.   William Stewart was a Scottish sealer and whaler after whom New Zealand’s third largest island, Stewart Island, was named.  He first visited the island in 1809 and returned, much later in 1840, to settle.

George Stewart from county Tyrone in Ireland arrived in New Zealand in 1874, seeking to find suitable land for his “Ulster Plantation.”  He found that land at Katikati on the Bay of Plenty.  It is thought that he enticed over 4,000 people to settle in New Zealand.  These numbers included his two elderly parents – Mervyn (aged 88) and Fanny (aged 79) – who arrived in 1878.-  George became the first mayor of Tauranga, chairman of the Tauranga County Council, and part-owner of the Bay of Plenty Times.

Rory Stewart’s Family Ancestry

Rory Stewart from Scotland has at different times been an adventurer, a writer, a diplomat, a politician, and in recent times the co-founder of The Rest is Politics podcasts.  Just click below if you want to read more about his story:

Stewart Surname Miscellany

Stewart Origins in Scotland.  In the early 12th century, King David I of Scotland rewarded one of his Norman knights, Sir Walter Fitz-Alan, by granting him the office of High Steward of Scotland.  Sir Walter thereby became the second most powerful man in Scotland.  This office of High Steward became hereditary, being passed on eventually for six generations through the line of eldest sons.

By the 13th century, with the fourth generation of High Stewards, the title had evolved into a family surname.  In Gaelic the hard “d” sound was pronounced more like the English “t” and thus the name became Stiubhaird in Gaelic (pronounced “stchyoo-wayrst”) or Stewart in English.

In the late 13th century Walter Stewart, the 6th High Steward of Scotland, fought alongside Robert the Bruce in the Scottish Wars of Independence and was rewarded for his loyalty by the hand of Robert’s daughter Marjorie.

Walter and Marjorie had a son named Robert.  Robert Stewart nearly didn’t make it into this world.  His mother Princess Marjorie was thrown from her horse while she was pregnant.  She died from her injuries and Robert was born by an emergency Caesarean section.  When Robert the Bruce’s son David II died without any male heir, then this Robert Stewart was the next in line for the throne.

DNA’s of the Stewarts of Bonkyll.  Sir John Stewart of Bonkyll was killed in 1298 while fighting alongside William Wallace at the Battle of Falkirk.  ScotlandsDNA’s chief scientist sampled the DNA of descendants of Sir John’s two sons, Richard and Angus, and of the descendants of his brother James in the male line.  He found that the modern descendants of both sons carried the Y chromosome marker S781+.  But the descendants of Sir John’s brother James had a different marker.

A second part of his study revealed that fifty percent of all men with the surname of Stewart or Stuart were direct descendants of Scotland’s royal dynasty.  About twenty percent of all men who carried the surname shared Sir John’s lineage; while thirty percent were descended from Sir John’s brother James.

James was the 5th High Steward of Scotland. His son Walter married Marjorie Bruce, the daughter of Robert I, having helped him win the victory at Bannockburn in 1314.  Their son became Robert II, the first Stewart king.

Baldorran and Balquhidder Stewarts.  Murdoch Stewart and two of his sons were executed for treason by King James I in 1425.  The youngest of the sons, James Mhor or James the Fat, then led a short-lived rebellion, taking the town of Dumbarton before fleeing to Ireland.  A second attempt at rebellion in 1429 saw a fleet sail to Ireland to collect James “to convey him home that he might be king,” but he died before the attempt could be made.

However, his illegitimate son James Beag Stewart somehow managed to restore himself to royal favor and he was granted the lands of Baldorran in Stirlingshire.

It was Sir William Stewart of the next generation who was the one most responsible for restoring this family to prosperity.  He was appointed Royal Baillie of the Crown lands of Balquhidder in Perthshire sometime around 1485 and based himself there (the family sold their Baldorran estates in 1524).  The tradition of illegitimacy seems to have continued in the family in the 16th century.

James Stewart of Appin Hanged.  Some seven years after the ‘45 rebellion, Colin Campbell of Glenure, was murdered in Lettermore Wood in the Appin in May 1752 by an unknown assassin.

In the events that followed, Allan Breck Stewart was accused of committing the crime and his kinsman and guardian, James Stewart of Appin was arrested, charged and held for trial.  He was tried at Inverary and although he pleaded not guilty, reiterating his innocence throughout, he was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. His execution took place in November 1752 at Cnap a’Caolis in Appin.

According to the Stewart family story, the ill-fated James had a brother John who it appears was at sea around the time of these occurrences in Appin.  When he arrived home, it was to find that his brother had been hanged as a criminal, his estate confiscated and his family in disgrace.

As there was little future for the Stewart family in Appin, he decided to take his family away from Scotland and to start a new life elsewhere.

They travelled to Ireland via Arran island and are said to have landed at Murlough.  Somehow the then Earl of Antrim heard of their plight and offered them sanctuary at Benvan which at that time was part of the McDonnell estate.  The family liked the site of their new home as they could look out across the sea towards their beloved Scotland.

Stewarts in the 1891 Scottish Census

Stewarts (000’s) Numbers Percent
Lanarkshire    8.7    29
Midlothian    3.5    12
Perthshire    3.5    12
Angus    3.4    11
Aberdeenshire    2.2     7
Elsewhere    8.7    29
Total   30.0   100

In terms of city concentration of the Stewart name, Glasgow led and was followed by Dundee (in Angus), Edinburgh, and Aberdeen.  The Stewart name in Perthshire was fairly widely spread.

Charles Stewart, 3rd Marquess of Londonderry.  Charles Stewart succeeded his half-brother, Lord Castlereagh, as the 3rd Marquess of Londonderry in 1822. He married twice.   His second wife, whom he married in 1819, was Lady Francis Vane.  She brought with her a vast fortune and he took by royal license the name of Vane.

The family used their new-found wealth to redecorate their main country seat in Ireland, Mount Stewart.  They also bought Holderness House on London’s Park Lane, which they renamed Londonderry House.

Controversially the Londonderrys, while spending £150,000 on the Mont Stewart refurbishment only gave £30 to family relief in Ireland in the 1840’s, despite the fact that the Londonderry estates were directly affected by starvation.  This disparity probably illustrates the inhumanity that existed within Ireland at that time.

James Stewart in Delaware.  After the Jacobite defeat at Culloden, James Stewart fled to America.

In 1760 he bought a tract of 94 acres in the Brandywine hundred of New Castle county, Delaware.  This land was located adjacent to his brother Samuel’s property along the Brandywine river and about a mile south of the Pennsylvania border.  He lived there for the remainder of his life as a farmer until his death in 1788.  He is buried in an unmarked grave next to his brother Samuel who had died there fifteen years earlier.

His son James fought at the battle of Brandywine.  A descendant wrote:

“My grandfather, James Stewart, although just a lad of 16 years of age, joined the American forces at the Battle of Brandywine, commanded by LaFayette, in 1777 and carried a musket in the engagement.”

In 1791 James sold his large brick house in the hamlet of Glasgow.  This house still survives and is known as the James Stewart House.  The oldest section dates to the last half of the 18th century, with additions made in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Hellfire Jack Stewart.  The “Hellfire Jack” of Prince Edward Island politics, John Stewart gave clear evidence of his turbulent disposition early on.  During his voyage to the Island as a teen-age immigrant in 1775, he had been involved in a fight on board ship.

Then in 1784 he had accosted Judge Thomas Wright on his way to the court-house, castigating him on a case in which he, Stewart, was a party.   He renewed the abuse on the judge’s way home and physically attacked those who tried to intervene.   He avoided prison only on the intervention of his younger brother Charles who successfully appealed to the injured parties’ sense of chivalry by saying that the assailant’s wife was “unwell and much alarmed.”

In 1789 Stewart had become the neighbor of another turbulent Islander, John MacDonald of Glenaladale.  Their feud was to go on for years.   On one occasion in 1797 Stewart insulted Glenaladale in the streets of Charlottetown and Glenaladale attacked his tormentor with a small dirk.  Stewart was about to bring out his “prodigious long cut-and-thrust sword.”   As it was, the combatants were parted before any injury was done.

The surprising thing was that John Stewart was generally successful in the rough-and-tumble of Prince Edward Island politics over a relatively long period of time, from 1784 to 1830.  He died in 1834, reportedly due to a surfeit of fat meat.

Stewarts from Perthshire to Canada in 1818.  John and Helen Stewart had been married in 1817 and within a year they had decided to emigrate to Canada.

They were one of the two families from Blair Atholl parish who embarked on the 260-ton brig Curlew bound for Montreal. Their arrival was recounted in The Canada Presbyterian of 1879.

“We arrived in Quebec in seven weeks and three days from Greenock. There were but two steamers then running between Quebec and Montreal.  We got to Montreal on The Car of Commerce early in the month of October. The steamers then had to be drawn by oxen and horses past the current at St. Mary to the place of landing. There was no wharf at Montreal then. Long planks were used for a gangway.

Our passage up the Ottawa was by batteaux rowed by French Canadians. In three days we got to Point Fortune and our luggage was transported mostly in ox-carts past the Long Sault while the Rev. Mr. McKelligan preached to us.

When the boats arrived we reloaded and started. We had to camp in the woods at night. One night we were surprised to see a large canoe putting in to our camp with a numerous crew all speaking Gaelic. These men were engaged in the trouble between Lord Selkirk and the Hudson’s Bay Company.

After three days rowing we arrived at the Chaudiere Falls. As our location was in the township of Beckwith in Lanark county with no road to it and as it was now late in the season, the people built huts of poles covered with pine branches. When the men were absent choosing their land some of these huts caught fire and some valuable articles were burnt.”

Stewart Names

  • Walter Stewart, the 3rd High Steward of Scotland, was the first to use Stewart as a surname.
  • James Stuart of Scotland became King James I of England in 1603.
  • Robert Stewart, Lord Castlereagh, was British Foreign Secretary from 1822 to the conclusion of the war with Napoleon.
  • Jimmy Stewart was a popular American film actor of the 1940’s and 1950’s.
  • Jackie Stewart was the F1 motor racing champion in the 1970’s.
  • Rod Stewart from Scotland has been, over many decades, a very popular British singer.
  • Martha Stewart, an American homemaking advocate, is an author and somewhat controversial business magnate.

Stewart Numbers Today

  • 79,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lanarkshire)
  • 115,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 66,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Stewart is the #5 ranked surname in Scotland.

Stewart and Like Surnames 

These are surnames from the Scottish Lowlands.  Some are clan names; some – like Gordon, Graham and Hamilton – have Anglo-Norman antecedents that crossed the border into Scotland; and some – like Douglas and Stewart – were very powerful in early Scottish history.  Stewart in fact became the royal Stuart line.




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Written by Colin Shelley

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