The Three Brethren

Migration and the Borders

In the last few months I’ve received a lot of enquiries from descendants of people who left the Borders and emigrated overseas. They left for their own reasons and frustratingly we don’t always know why that was.

But while the largely forced departure from the Highlands is widely known about and understood as ‘The Clearances’, much less is known about emigration from the South of Scotland which has been going on since about 1600. In the Highlands , we know that many of the landowners (often clan chiefs) chose to evict their tenants so that sheep could make more money for them. In the Borders and Dumfries and Galloway, there were many different reasons for departure and it happened over more than 300 years.

After 1603, the Border crackdown by King James VI & I meant that many former reivers were forced to leave hurriedly for the Ulster plantation to avoid possible execution. Many of their descendants chose to emigrate to the United States or Canada in the 18th century. Military service often gave Borderers a taste of life and opportunities in other parts of the world and I believe this to be fairly significant when viewed over a 250 year window from 1700 through to 1950.

Many whose families had been pretty much static over hundreds of years moved from rural parts into the bustling mill towns like Hawick, Galashiels and Selkirk in the 19th century. Having made that initial move, there was then less reluctance to consider a move further afield, particularly with any downturn in the wool industry over the years. Of course it wasn’t just one way as the later 19th century saw immigration into important woollen centres like Hawick and Galashiels from other mill towns in Scotland like the Hillfoot villages of Clackmannanshire and Stirling and places like Lanark. Quite a number also came north from Cumbria and Yorkshire. Just take a look at the different places of birth of the residents of Hawick in the 1871 or 1881 census and you will see what I mean.

But if you have a story or even a mystery about your own ancestors leaving the Borders then please share it with us by replying to this post.

22 thoughts to “Migration and the Borders”

  1. Hello,I have been trying to trace my Johnstons back to Scotland,from Co.Antrim,N.I.My grand father always jokingly said that we we’re run out of Scotland for stealing cattle. That would relate to King James VI &I clearing the borders in mid 1600s. But have not made the connection as yet. Cheers

    1. There was a lot of raiding back and forth in the borders region etween Scotland and England. One would come over and burn the other’s crop and then they cod not pay their taxes, so they would retaliate and go over and steal cattle. This went on for centuries and was one reason why so many farmers migrated to USA Canada, etc. The promise of land was quite alluring.

    2. My father came to Australia aged 5 in the 50’s with his parents and 2 siblings. The Clark family settled in South Australia but I know little history of their time prior to boarding a ship, leaving their home town Hoek ? . My grandmother spoke of coming from the Glendinni g clan and she wrote and hoped to one day visit relatives returning to her beautiful home land. Sadly she passed away several years ago after a hard but humbling lifetime.

  2. It wasn’t really a joke ! Lots of Johnston(e)s did flee Dumfriesshire for Ulster because they had done a lot of stealing cattle etc ! But it wasn’t just stealing cattle – sheep and horses too; wounding, maiming, murder and extortion were all reiver activities too. And the Johnstons were renowned for their feuds with the Maxwells

    1. But also it had a lot to do with the raiding back and forth between the English and Scots along the border. English would come over and burn a barn or crops and that farmer could not pay his taxes. So, a group would retaliate and go across the border and steal cattle. This went on for centuries and was a prime reason so many farmers migrated. Plus the fact they were promised their own farm, not tenant farming, which was their only option in Scotland.

    2. I am part of the McCormack clan and we have no real answered as to why we emigrated to the U.S. but I’m very curious if anyone has any answers for me. I believe we were originally from the southern of Scotland if that helps.

      1. The McCormacks (or McCormicks) have long been found in many parts of Scotland although most of the early records that I can find suggest that it’s Ayrshire and Galloway in south-west Scotland where they were most prevalent. They most likely moved for economic reasons – the prospects of a better life / more opportunities – if you knew roughly when they emigrated then that might help to understand the reasons.

  3. My maternal grandmother (Elizabeth Ann Gibson), maternal great grandfather (James Gibson), maternal great great grandfather (John Gibson), maternal great great grandmother (Elizabeth Gibson), and maternal great great uncle William Gibson) all came from the Lockerbie and Kirkmichael areas of Dumfriesshire. Most of the family are present in the 1891 and 1901 censuses. I have copies of those census reports if they’d be helpful. I have two questions. Are there any living relatives of those folks in the area today, and are those Gibsons (my Gibsons) part of a larger family or even a clan? Perhaps a riding family? My great grandmother and grandmother emigrated to the US for greater economic opportunity after the untimely death of James Gibson, husband and father respectively. The American side of the family has been out of touch with our Scottish kin for more than a generation. I’d like to remedy that if I could.

    1. I grew up near Lockerbie – there were certainly a number of Gibson families in the area. I’m sure there will almost certainly still be living relatives in the area today.

      Gibson is a patronymic name i.e. meaning ‘son of Gibb’ of Scottish origin. As such, it’s not particularly associated with just one area although it certainly is common in the Dumfriesshire area. You’ll find that Clan Buchanan claim that Gibson is a sept of their clan but that doesn’t mean that all Gibsons are somehow linked to the Buchanan name.

      If you’re interested in trying to trace living relatives in the area today then contact me via my email address or the contact form on the ‘Contact Us’ tab.

  4. My Little ancestors turned up in the NW corner of Cumberland. Looking at parish records, there were few Scottish names pre-1750 but a generation on, there were a very large proportion.

    1. As roads improved and the two countries became more aligned after the union of 1707, there would be greater movement of people. And then there would be job opportunities in the mills of Carlisle as well.

  5. My ancestors farmed at Nisbet . tenant farmers for the Marquis of Lothian.
    Richard BLackett then after his death James. James and his brother George arrived in Nsw Australia in 1823. I think there was financial trouble .Can you tell me anything about the family ?

    1. I see that two of Richard’s children feature in the parish registers in 1799 and 1800 although not James or George. I wonder if the Blacketts were somewhere else before 1799 when presumably James and George were born? The name Blackett itself was not common in the Borders and I’d say that the family is likely to have come north across the border from Northumberland where the name was fairly common.

  6. Many great Andrew (alias Dan) became in Tullykelter, Fermanagh, Ulster, Daniel. Feel to be influence by the McDaniel of the area, was vanquish from both kingdoms in 1607. Second son of a Clementis Hobs; ie Clement Crozier’s sister’s son Robert Elliott. First son of course a Robert Ellott-Elliott. Not Scottish but of the Middle March family; Armstrong, Elliott, Nixon and Crozier. Since family left in 1607, and was a part of the borders which was a self-governing, region, was a part of the Middle March Clans, and followed those notorious freebooters of Clan Armstrong. Kind of got us hung when we followed one of their famous freebooters the Armstrong called Gilnockie.

  7. Hello,
    I’m very curious about the names of families who moved into the lands formerly occupied by the reiver families who were forced to leave the Dumfries, Holmains and Rammerscale areas by King James Vl. I’ve been told that they took the names of the evicted families

  8. Looking for connections and information on the Maxwell family engaged in woolen manufacturing in Hawick. They were closely connected to the Scott family – in woolen industry – and marriage connections – went to
    America and established woolen mills in Cohoes, Albany, New York. Many Maxwell sons studied law and became lawyers. They were also allied with/to the Turnbulls.

    1. If you look at the earliest available census (1841), there are quite a number of Maxwells working in Hawick in the Woollen industry. The Maxwell name originates in nearby Dumfriesshire and the industry in Hawick would have attracted many before then. That census shows a 38 year old John Maxwell together with lots of Scotts working at the Weensland Mill in Hawick. I wonder if that might be your Maxwell ?

    2. This is my family line but my lot stayed in the UK. I pulled some good pictures and info from ‘Hawick & the Great War’ on Facebook in 2018 but I can’t find the page now. I found this site as am just starting on our family tree.

      My great grandfather – Robert Thomas Greenwood Maxwell – Captain, 1st Battalion Seaforth Highlanders, Commemorated Basra Memorial Iraq. Killed in action 07 Jan 1916

      William Nisbet Maxwell – Second Lieutenant 3rd Battalion attached to 7th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders. Killed in action 12 October 1916

      Apparently all the mill records are held at Herriot-Watt University in Edinburgh

      1. There are mill records at Heriot-Watt University but note that it is at their School of Textiles & Design which is in Galashiels in the Borders. There are also some limited mill records at the Heritage Hub archive in Hawick run by Scottish Borders Council.

  9. My name is Fulton and I suspect it is connected to Fulton Tower in some way. I have traced my ancestors back to a John Fulton born 1640 but I do not know where. He is buried in the Church of Ireland in Downpatrick .
    Co Down. The family were Presbyterian but it is well known that Presbyterians took over the local Cof I church for a time until the Bishop of Down demanded it back.
    It is not far from Downpatrick to Scotland, about 25 sea miles. I suspect John was foced/persuaded to leave Scotland by King James as part of the Ulster Plantation. James was trying to kill two birds at the same time. First sort out the reivers and quiten the borders and secondly plant north ireland with protestants. The borders may be quieter these days but Ireland is still living with that decision. Are there any suggestions as to how I can trace John Fultons birthplace.??

  10. Wondering about the brutal reiver culture and its export to Ulster then USA The most brutal story of Indigenous Americans tortured in Carlisle Industrial school Pennsylvania

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