Select Ross Surname Genealogy

Ross is a Scottish Highland clan name and also describes the territory in NW Scotland that was once called Ross-shire and is now Ross and Cromarty.  The name is thought to have come either from the Gaelic word ros, meaning "headland" or "promontory," or (less likely) from the Norse word hross or "horse."

The Ross name could have different roots outside of the Highlands: 
  • from an Anglo-Norman de Ros family which settled in Ayrshire
  • from the Welsh rhos, meaning "moor" or "bog"
  • or from the Middle English rous or "red-haired."
Ross in Ireland may denote the O'Donoghue Mor sept who built Ross castle in county Kerry in the late 1400's.  And there were some Rosses from Ross-in-Wye in England.  However, in all of these cases the Ross numbers were not that large.

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Scotland.  Easter Ross in Ross-shire emerged as the stronghold for the Earls of Ross and clan Ross in the 12th century.  The first Earl of Ross may have been Malcolm MacAedth around 1155.  The first recognizable clan chief was Fearchar who supported the Scottish king in 1214 in dealing with rebellions in Ross-shire. 

The title of the Earl of Ross and Ross clan leadership went together until clan leadership passed to the Ross lairds of Balnagowan in 1372.  They adopted the Ross surname but they were no longer the Earls of Ross. From their base at Balnagowan castle (now the home of former Harrod's boss Mohammed Al-Fayed), they did hold onto the Ross clan leadership for more than three hundred years.  Feuds with the neighboring MacKay and Sutherland clans were to characterize much of that time. 

David Ross, the 12th Laird of Balnagowan, incurred a heavy debt when he raised a regiment of clansmen in support of Charles II.  It all ended in disaster.  He took a thousand clansmen to fight with him at the Battle of Worcester in 1651.  After the defeat he was taken prisoner and died in the Tower of London, while many of the surviving clansmen were transported to the colonies. 

The next Laird died childless and even further in debt and the estate had to be sold:

  • first to the Ross family of Hawkhead, an unrelated Norman de Ros family from Renfrewshire in the Scottish Lowlands
  • and then in 1745 to the Lockhart family of Carstairs in Lanarkshire who adopted the name of Lockhart-Ross.  These Lockhart-Rosses became noted for their eccentricities.  The line lasted until 1942.
The Highland defeat at Culloden in 1746, followed by the clearances, really marked the end of the Highland way of life for the Rosses of Ross-shire.  Malcolm Ross led the protests in 1792 when sheep were first introduced into the Ross lands.  Atrocities began with the clearances at Glencalvie in 1845.

“In 1845 Ann Ross was forty.  She was beaten up while she laid on the ground at Strathcarron.  She was later charged with ’mobbing and rioting, breach of the peace, and assault on officers.’  She was sentenced to twelve months.”

The atrocities culminated in the slaughter of Ross women, the massacre of Rosses, at Strathcarron in 1854.  Then there were the Ross-shire sheep riots in 1872.

The Highlands still accounted for over half of the Rosses in Scotland in the 1891 census.  But the 18th and 19th centuries had witnessed a Ross and Highland dispersal - south to lowland Scotland and to England, and more overseas.

America.  The Rosses of Philadelphia were unlikely Revolutionary heroes, but became so.  The Rev. George Ross, the Anglican missionary who had come to New Castle in Delaware in 1705, was the son of David Blair, the Laird of Balbair in Ross-shire:
  • his son George Ross was Tory for much of his life.  However, disgusted with British intransigence, he changed his views and was one of the last signers of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
  • while his granddaughter-in-law Betsy Ross is widely credited with having made the first American flag, supposedly at the request of George Washington.  
Another patriot at this time was John Ross of Tain in Ross-shire who had come to Philadelphia as a merchant in 1763 and later espoused and helped finance the American cause.  George Washington and other leading personalities of the time came to dine at his home at Grange Farm outside Philadelphia.

A notable John Ross of the next generation was Chief of the Cherokee Nation from 1828 to 1860.  He was in fact only one-eighth Cherokee, being the son of a part-Cherokee mother and a Scottish father, Daniel Ross, who had come to Cherokee country in the 1780’s from Baltimore to trade.

More recently, Ross in America can be a Jewish adopted name:
  • Barney Ross, from New York Jewish roots, was world boxing champion at various weights in the 1930’s
  • while Steve Ross, the CEO of Time Warner, also came from a New York Jewish family; and Stephen Ross, the real estate developer and owner of the Miami Dolphins, was born into a Jewish family in Detroit.
Canada.  Alexander Ross, born in Morayshire, came to Canada in 1805, became a fur trader and headed west with the North West Company.  By the 1840’s he had settled in the 1840’s in the Red River colony in present-day Manitoba where he authored a number of books about the Canadian frontier.

Indian Ocean
. The Ross name was attached to the Cocos islands in the Indian Ocean.  John Clunies Ross arrived there in 1825 and he and his descendants were running the islands and trading their copra for the next one hundred and fifty years.

Select Ross Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

Select Ross Names

Hugh Ross, the first laird of Balnagowan, was in 1372 the first chief of the Ross clan to adopt the name Ross as his surname.
Betsy Ross is credited with having sewn the first American flag in 1776.
John Ross, also known as Guwisguwi, was chief of the Cherokee Indian nation from 1828 to 1860.
Sir John Ross and his nephew Sir James Ross were 19th century Arctic explorers, the latter leaving his name to Ross Sea in Antarctica.
Harold Ross founded the New Yorker magazine in New York in 1925.
Diana Ross emerged as the lead singer with the Supremes and then as a best-selling solo artist.

Select Rosses Today

  • 60,000 in the UK (most numerous in Aberdeen)
  • 96,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 55,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Select Surname List

Adams Ellis Johnson O'Connor
Allen Evans Jones O'Sullivan Shaw
Anderson Fisher
Kelly Parker Simpson
Bailey Foster Kennedy Perry Smith
Baker Fox King Peterson Stevens
Barnes Fraser 
Lee Phillips Stewart
Bell Graham Lewis Powell Taylor
Bennett Gray Marshall Price Thomas
Brown Green Martin Reed
Griffiths Mason      
Reynolds Turner
Campbell Hall McDonald Richards
Carter Hamilton Miller  Richardson Walsh
Chapman Harris Mitchell Roberts Ward
Clark Harrison
Moore Robertson Watson
Collins Henderson Morgan Robinson White
Cook Hill Morris Rogers Williams
Cooper Howard Murphy Ross Wilson
Cox Hughes Murray Russell Wood
Davis Jackson Nelson Ryan Wright
Edwards James O'Brien 

For other surnames check the surnames2 page where there are to be found the history and genealogy for more than 800 surnames.

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