The MacGill Society USA

Alternate histories of the name and clan

Established in Galloway during the twelfth century, the name appears to derive from 'Mac an Ghoill', meaning 'son of the lowlander' or 'son of the stranger'.

Sir James Makgill, a direct descendant of the old Galloway family, became Provost of Edinburgh during the reign of James V and was father to two sons. His eldest, also James, purchased the estate of Nether Rankeillour in Fife and went on to study law at Edinburgh. He was quickly recognised to be a very able scholar and in 1554 was created a member of the College of Justice and later a Lord of Session. Sir James would later assume the title of 'Lord Rankeillor', and on Queen Mary's return to Scotland in 1561 to reclaim her throne, Rankeillor was to become one of her Privy Councillors. He was one of the nobles who, jealous of his influence over the Queen, would be implicated in the murder of David Rizzo, the queen's secretary. Mary took revenge, and Rankeillor was stripped of his rank and forced to flee Edinburgh. He would later receive a full pardon and ruturn to his position in December 1567

James Pringle Weavers, describes:

MACGILL: This name is derived from the Gaelic "Mac an Ghoill" (son of the Lowlander or Stranger). MacGills were found in the district of Galloway and the Isle of Man at an early date, and during the 18th century others of the same name were recorded in Jura.

Perhaps the best known historical character was James Makgill of Rankeillor- Clerk Register and Provost of Edinburgh in the mid 1500's. James,a friend of John Knox, was implicated in the murder of Rizzio, Queen Mary's secretary, in 1566, and subsequently forced to seek refuge in the Highlands. However, in 1568, James took part in a secret mission which brought the famous "Casket Letters" from Scotland to Queen Elizabeth I of England. He also signed the Act of Parliament containing Queen Mary's resignation of the Crown in her son's favour.

In 1627 a Baronetcy was given to Sir James Makgill of Cranston-Makgill, and in 1651 he also received the peerage and Viscountcy which were restored recently to his direct descendant;

the Viscount of Oxfuird in 1978 was recognised by Lyon Court as Chief of the MacGill Family.

Upon the failure of the 1745 Rebellion, some MacGills escaped to Ireland but later returned to settle in Ayrshire, while others made their way to Holland.

The family tartan, which originated with the MacGills of Jura, was in use before 1745 but when tartan was proscribed the sett seemed to have been lost until a piece was discovered in Kintyre. It is now in the Museum of Antiquities, Edinburgh. The current version, which first appeared in 1930, is known as the MacGill Society tartan.

From: ... Laura McGill.

The following information was extracted from History of the Family of James C. McGill, by Rev. Ted N. McGill, Limited Edition, No.1.

I made several attempts to contact him by phone and by mail to his last known address in Elizabethtown, KY, but had no success. I do not know what became of him. Ted N. McGill states in his McGill notebook that this history of the James McGill family was given to him by John Michael McGill of Edinburgh, Scotland in 1971, and as far as he knows is the only known copy of any history of this McGill family in either Scotland or America. Ted N. McGill made copies of this McGill manuscript, which included information of his own as well and gave it to family members/descendants. John Michael McGill died in Edinburg in 1975.

The Gaelic surname McGill, one of the most ancient in that language, is composed of two prefixes, namely, "Mac" meaning "the son of" and "Gille" shortened to "Gill" -- "the servant of." Both were in use long before the Christian era. During the early stages of Christianity and in medieval times, the majority of the inhabitants of Scotland and in Ireland used as their personal name the prefix "Gille" in conjunction with the name of a saint in order to show their fervour to the church. When the various tribes in Scotland formed the clan system in approximately the 11th-12th century the majority dropped the "Gille," but retained the "Mac," for instance - MacGillecalum - "the son of the servant of St. Columba" became MacCalum. This applies to many Scottish names used today. Only the chiefs of the clans retained the full ancient name as their patronymic and continued to do so.

The spelling of the first prefix has always varied greatly. There are instances of it being spelled M’, Mc, Mac and Mak in one ancient deed or charter.

There are nearly thirty variations of spelling of the surname McGill, MacGill, Makgill, Magill, MacGille, MacGyle, MacGyll, Macan’Gaill, MacGeil, MacGhill, MacGall, MacIghail, etc.

The earliest record of the name as it sounds today is mentioned by P. McKerlie in his book on Galloway. He noted that in the parish of Balcreggan there is a supposed site of a church called Kirkmagill adjoining Kirkmagill Farm. The church is presumed to have been called after a Celtic saint named Maguill who lived in the year about 685 A.D.

["Kirkmagill" and "Kirkmagill & Moorpark" are place names in the parish of Stonykirk.
Stoneykirk lies in the middle of the Rhinns of Galloway, that double headed peninsula that forms the westernmost part of the Shire, and since the 1600s this large parish has included Toskerton and Clayshant.

Stonykirk Parish
The Wigtownshire Pages - whm]

There are several theories as to the origin of the McGill surname. One source states that the name is derived from the Gaelic Mac an’ Ghoill - "son of the stranger or lowlander."

Sir Thomas Innes of Learney, Lord Lyon King of Arms stated that The MacGill is an Independant family or clan whose pedigree IS RECORDED IN THE PUBLIC REGISTER OF GENEALOGIES, and claim descent at a very remote period (which is reasonably probable and consistant with their antecedants) from the Celtic Lords of Galloway. They have nothing to do with other clans.

According to Sir Donald Makgill [12th Viscount Oxfuird - whm] There is sound documentary proof that the McGills are descended from Gilbert or Gille fil bueth (Gille MacBueth), Lord of Gillesland who was the fourth son of Bueth McGill, Lord of Galloway in the middle of the eleventh century.

Various distortions of the name have in time lead to the various spellings of today.

One of the most famous of the name who emigrated to the American Colonies when in his "teens" and eventually made his way to Canada, was another James McGill who founded McGill University in Montreal. He was born in a cottage Oct. 1744, and was the first son of a family of eight children.

This manuscript ends on page fifteen, after naming several sources and miscellaneous information.

Extracted from: Elmsella Scotland,

Emsella genealogy pages.

The surname McGill is an anglicisation of the original Gaelic spelling of the name, Mac a’ Ghoill.

The prefix "Mac" son of, while "a’ Ghoill" is the genitive case of "gall" , meaning a stranger, but it was more particular to the Highland areas of Scotland used to denote "lowlanders". The McGill is a Sept of the larger MacDonald Clan, which latter is descended from Donald, eldest son of Reginald, the second son of Somerled, The Lord of The Isles.

McGill was established in Galloway in South West Scotland from earliest time and is still quite a common surname in that area. Early records show that a Maurice Macgeil witnessed a charter by Waldowen, Earl of Leuenach, to the Church of Saint Thomas the Martyr of Arbroath in 1231 (Registrorum Abbaciae Aberbrothac) while another James McGil was burgess of Edinburgh in 1550 (the source for this is found in the Muniments of the Old Burgh of Irvine).

It is of noteworthy interest that a Janet Mack Gil was charged with being a "disorderly person" in the Parish of Cross Michael in 1684 according to the "Register of the Privy Council of Scotland". This was not, as might be expected, because she was particularly rowdy but because she was a "non-conformist".

The border region of Scotland produced some of the most illustrious Western family surnames the world has ever known such as: Armstrong, Nixon, Graham, Bell, Carson, Hume, Irving, Rutherford, and so on. Among this group is the surname McGill. Professional analysts who researched the history of the Scottish borders came up with some very interesting information. The researchers had access to many private collections of genealogical records. They also had access to records from the Inquisition, Exchequer Rolls of Scotland, the Ragman Rolls, the Doomsday Book, parish chartularies, baptismal records, and Tax Rolls etc. The first recording of the name McGill was found in Galloway in South West Scotland where they were seated from earlier times appearing in the census rolls of the early kings to determine the rate of taxation for their subjects.

There are many variations of the spelling of the name, including McGael. The name is thought to have been handed down from what are called today "Strathclyde Britons" or as we should refer to them, The Picts. This ancient founding race of the north, were a mixture of Gaelic speaking Celts and peoples from Lancashire to the north and up towards the south bank of the river Clyde. From around 400 AD to around 900 AD these peoples territories were overrun by Irish Gaels, Angles from the East, then by Picts and Dalriadans from further north. By 1000 AD these peoples had formed themselves into almost discernible Clans or Family structure, the first family structure to be evidenced in Scotland. One of those Clans were the Mac a' Ghoill (Strangers).

By the 16th and 17th centuries many of our modern family names owed their descent from this ancient race including McGill (Mac a’ Ghoill). And of course we return to Galloway where records show this family was from great antiquity seated with manor estates in that county (shire). The early history of the McGill name is described in a book called "The Gallowegian Clans" by MacKerlie. They were thought to be descended from an Irish Chieftain called Gillie Phinan who was named after Saint Finnan.

As far back as 1231 the "Clan" had branched outwards and upwards towards Arbroath, rising in prominence in Fifeshire holding estates at Rumgally, Kemback and Rankeillour. The senior branch and Chief line of the family were elevated to the Peerage becoming the Vicounts Oxenford.

After AD 1000 Scottish border life was in turmoil. In 1246 six Clan Chiefs from the Scottish side and six Clan Chiefs from the English side met at Carlisle in order to set laws governing all of the Clans living in the border areas of both Scotland and England. The Laws this gathering produced were unlike any of the Laws pertaining in either Scotland or England at that time or for that matter anywhere else in the world!

For example it was a far greater offence to refuse to help a neighbour recover his property, wife, sheep, cattle or horses than it was to steal them in the first place!

Hence the expression "Hot Trod " or a "hot pursuit" from which we get the modern "Hot to Trot". For refusal of assistance during a "Hot Trod" an individual could be hanged on the spot without trial. Cattle and horse stealing was an accepted code of conduct on both sides of the border.

When in 1603 James V1 of Scotland personally inherited the English crown on the death of Elizabeth he became James 1 of England as well as remaining James V1 of Scotland. For the first time the Crowns of these two independent nation-states were held simultaneously by one and the same monarch. For the first time under James V1 / 1 of Scotland and England the Crown was able to disperse what it referred to as "unruly border clans". The King deemed it imperative to have the old border code broken up. What happened then was the border clans were banished to England, Northern Scotland and Ireland. Some were outlawed and banished directly to the north of Ireland, the colonies, and the New World. There were some border clans transferred to Northern Ireland between 1650 and 1700. They were settled with grants of land stolen from the Irish inhabitants provided they undertook to remain Protestant. They became known as the "undertakers". Many became proudly Irish. The senior branch of the Mac a’ Ghoill settled in Ireland acquiring the estate of Ballynester.

Many became disillusioned with life in Ireland and sought a more rewarding life, looking to the New World and sailed aboard the "White Sails", an armada of sailing ships dedicated to transferring people to the Colonies and the new world. Names of these ships are still told in family histories of the often torrid conditions passengers had to bear during their journeys to a fresh start in life. Many did not make landfall being buried at sea. Passenger ships lost as many as thirty-to-forty percent of their passenger lists to death at sea. Some of the ships that made these passages across often stormy oceans were such ships as, The Hector, The Rambler and The Dove.

Among the McGill’s who sailed to America between 1750 and 1774 were Paddy Ban McGill, (to Charleston in South Carolina, we think), there too went Richard, Samuel and William McGill. In 1774 one Andrew McGill sailed away to a destination in Virginia. Between 1840 and 1860 it is thought that Philadelphia was the destination of Daniel, Hugh, James, John, Patrick Samuel, and William McGill. The migrants may have settled in their destinations or joined wagon trains westwards or even northwards towards Canada. During the American wars of Independence some migrants remained loyal to the Crown and were known as the United Empire Loyalists.

Over the years there were many notable contemporaries of the name McGill, eg.,

The most ancient grant of a Coat of Arms was Red with three Gold bands.

The motto was "Sine Fine" (without end and/or by ourselves).

There is another Crest and motto ascribed to the McGill name/ clan/ family, these are,

The Martlet Argent with the motto In domino confido.

[Translated as "In God we trust" or "I trust in the Lord" - ascribed to the Irish McGills -- "Mac Giolla" in Gaelic -- well as to: Erskine, Elmhurst, Key, Knyfton -whm]

© Copyright 1995-2018 William H. Magill
Privacy Policy
Site Agreement
Revision: 21 May 2003