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Leonard Allison Morrison.

The history of the Morison or Morrison family : with most of the Traditions of the Morrisons (clan MacGillemhuire), hereditary judges of Lewis, by Capt. F. W. L. Thomas, of Scotland, and a record of online

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Online LibraryLeonard Allison MorrisonThe history of the Morison or Morrison family : with most of the Traditions of the Morrisons (clan MacGillemhuire), hereditary judges of Lewis, by Capt. F. W. L. Thomas, of Scotland, and a record of → online text (page 2 of 53)
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make it generally interesting. For hundreds of years we have
to be- content with a meagre notice, from which the narrative
must be deduced by inference, for want of direct record or
information." *

From the pen of Mac Fhearghuis (Charles Fergurson), I take
this account of the Morrisons. It was printed early in the year
1879, in "The Highlander," a paper published at Inverness, Scot-
land, by John Murdoch.

"MoRRisox. — I am afraid that 'Steorn-a-bhaigh' overrates my
abilities if he expects me to give the origin and history of this
ancient clan, — the clan Mac Ghille-Mliuire, whose origin, and
most part of whose history as a clan, may be said to end about
1600, a date at which many of our most noted clans are only too
proud to begin their history. The name, dei-ived from Gille-
Mhuire, 'gille or servant of Mary,' most likely from their being
at some early period connected with some church or church
lands dedicated to the Virgin Mary. From time immemorial the
Morrisons Avere possessed of the extreme northei-n point of the
island of Lewis; and their chief, Morrison of Habost, for many
generations, held the honorable position of hereditary breitheamh,
or judge, of the whole island of Lewis, down to the year 1613.
They have two tartans, — a beautiful red clan tartan, and a green
hunting tartan. Their crest is: Two arms, dexter and sinister
in fesse, couped, holding a two-handed sword, in pale. Motto,
'Marte et mari faventibus,' — War and the sea favoring. Like
most clans nowadays, the Morrisons have had many a fancy origin
ascribed to them by that class of writers who would like to give
every clan and family in the Highlands a foreign origin, and who
would like to deprive the Highlander of even the privilege of
being a native of his OM-n country, following, as is too common
in many other things, the example of the Sassenach, who take a
pride in a N'orman, or, in fact, any foreign descent. However,
such are the simple historical facts about the iMorrisons."

The following article was printed March 2, 1878, in "The High-
lander," and is from a correspondent, "Mac-a-Bhreitheamh."

* The island of Lewis contains at present 21,000 inhabitants. Storn-
oway is its chief city, having a population of 3,000. In the months of
May and June of each year, some seven hundred boats visit the city from
the west coast of Scotland, engaged in the herring fisheries The inhab-
itants of Lewis are Protestants. Macaulay, the historian, was descended
from the Macaulays of this island An interesting description of Lewis
and the other Western Islands will be found in the story of "Sheila. A
Princess of Thule," by William Black.


"The Morrisons. — In answer to Lomach's inquiry as to the
origin and clanship of the Morrisons, I may state, by the help
of some notes on the subject which I found among a parcel of
papers belonging to an old friend of mine, one of the name, that
they came across from Norway or Denmark, as the Lewis was at
that period occupied by that race. The Morrisons resided in the
district of Ness, near the Butt of Lewis. They chose or elected
a judge, or breitheamh, to settle any disputes among them, and
to enact laws as to their respective rights of possession in the
different parts of the district. This chief, or hreitheamK s name
was Muire, or Mori, hence his progeny of Morison, who to this
day occupy Ness. His descendants are distinguished from the
other branches, by the old men of the island, as 'Clann a' Brei-
theamh.' This breitheamh had a domestic servant, or scallag, of
another name; but who, on being taken into the service of
breitheamh^ changed his name to that of his master, and his
descendants are distinguished from the others, as, 'Clann Mhic-
Ille Mhuire.' Doubtless there were others who came across the
North Sea at the same time, as the breitheamh, but are known by
no such distinction such as the other branches; but those and
* Clann a' Bhreitheamh ' are one of the same stem, whereas 'Clann
Mhic-Ille Mhuire' are only, as it were, engrafted into the clan.
I cannot say whether they are a clan or not, but at that time
they were very clannish in their ways, as they used very often to
make raids into the Uig district and carry away booty in the
shape of cattle from the Macaulays of Uig. There are still in
Ness old men who in their dress and stature greatly resemble
the Norwegians, so I have heard. Their coat of arms is tliree
Saracens' heads and a serpent."


The family of Morison is very numerous in Scotland, and the
name has been a fixed surname there and in the adjacent Island
of Lewis for many centuries, pi'obably for a thousand years. It
is an old name in the counties of Lincoln, Hertfordshire, and
Lancashire, England, where persons of the name, several cen-
turies ago, were knighted and received coats of arms. The
family has spread over England, Ireland, and America. It ap-
pears to be evident that all of the name spring from the same
stock, and have a common origin.

The Island of Lewis, on the west coast of Scotland,* is undoubt-
edly the place where the family originated, though its founder
was jDrobably of Norwegian origin.

In regard to the origin of the family, the following evidence is
presented. In Captain Thomas's " Traditions of the Morrisons,"
an extract is made from a "Description of the Lewis by John
Morisone, Indweller there," written presumably between 1678 and
1688, wherein he says, " The first and most ancient inhabitants of

* See Map of Scotland.


this countrie were tliree men of three several races, viz. Mores,
the son of Kennanus, whom the Irish historians call Makurich,
whom they make to be son to one of the kings of Norway, some
of whose posteritie remains in this land to this day. All the
Morrisons in Scotland may challenge their descent from this

Another tradition, preserved in the branch of Morisons which
settled in Nottingham, N. H'., is to the same effect, and points in
the same direction. This branch of the family emigrated from
Scotland to Ireland, at the time of the siege of Derry, 1688, and
to Nottingham, N. H., in 1727. This statement is from Hon.
Robert Morrison, of Northwood, N. H., a former mayor of
Portsmouth, N. H., who received it in the early part of the pres-
ent century, from an aged relative whose birth dates back to
1750. While giving him words of admonition, this aged person
said, " Maintain the honor and integrity of your family, for the
Morrisons come from the best blood of Scotland ; they are de-
scended from the royal family." Royalty amounts to nothing,
and only that man is truly royal who makes himself so by a noble
life and heroic deeds.

This evidence is adduced to show the ground there is for belief
in the consanguinity of the different branches. The reader will
not fail to notice the striking similarity of these traditions, com-
ing down for two centuries through different channels. We
know of no intercourse between the Morrisons of New Hamp-
shire and the Morisons of Scotland since the emigration of the
former in 1688. The traditions here and the traditions there were
separate and independent. The streams, one on this side of the
Atlantic and one on that side, ran unmingled for two hundred
years, and yet they retain in their essential parts the same cur-
rent of tradition.

These traditions all point in the same direction, and establish
beyond reasonable doubt the common oi-igin of the family, and
Lewis as its early home.


There is no authoritative manner of spelling Morison. It has
been found spelled in many different ways, such as Maryson,
Moreson, Moryson, Morreson, Moorison, Morrisson, Morson,
Morisown, Morisone, Morison, Morrison, Murison, and Mor-

In early days, the family in Scotland, England, Ireland, and
America almost invariably spelled their name with one r; thus,
Morison. This was the customary orthography till about the
year 1800, when the change to Morrison became general in Scot-
land, England, Ireland, and America, and has continued to the
present time. The family in Londonderry, N. H., followed the
general custom.

Norman Morison, Esq., of Stornoway, Island of Lewis, Scot-
land (a descendant of the Hereditary Judges), writes, " Our


family, and indeed the Lewis families, wrote their name with
one r; thus, Morison." George Cruikshanks, Esq., of Scotland,
writes, Aug. 30, 1879, "The Morisons of Bogney, from whom I
suppose you are descended, always spelled their name with one
r, and I may say they are almost the only family in Scotland who
do so.';

Morison is the original mode of spelling. It comes nearer the
supposed derivation of the name, and appears to be the correct


Capt. F. W. L, Thomas writes, under date of Aug. 1, 1879,
"The original name is Gaelic, of which the translation is 'Son of
the Servant (Disciple) of Mary,' now reduced to Maryson," etc.

The History of Raymond, N.H., says, "Morrison, son of Morris:
Morris is from the Welsh 3Ia\or (Great), and rys (a warrior) ; so
the name means son of a great warrior."

Hon. Charles Morrison, m. p., of London, Eng., writes, " Have
always supposed that it [ Morrison ] means ' Son of Maurice,'
Maurice being the French form of the Latin Mauritius?''

The name was spelled iHfoorison by one family in Scotland,
which one of its members thought " indicative of connection with
the three Moors' heads forming the Morrison crest."

Nathaniel Holmes Morison, ll. d., Provost of the Peabody
Institute of Baltimore, Md., writes as follows, under date of Feb.
24, 1880: "I examined this point, the origin of the name, some-
what, years ago, and came to the conclusion that the name is
simply son of J/oor, Jibre, Mhoi\ Muir^ 3Ioir^ Mor, and that this
variously spelled name comes from the Gaelic word mhor, or mor,
signifying ' renowned, famous, a mighty one.' The mere fact that
the Moors and Morrisons have a common crest, three Moors' heads,
is strong presumptive evidence in its favor, and shows that there
Avas a connection between the two families."

Under date of March 11, 1880, he writes, "If the name is
derived from the Gaelic mhoi\ or mor^ as I think it is, it must
have been formed from that word after the persons bearing the
name of Moor, etc., had ceased to be Gaels, and become either
Norsemen or Saxons, and used one of these languages. The
Gaelic for son is mac^ while so7i is both Norse and Saxon. It
is clear to my mind that, like Johnson, Allison, and many other
names, this name means the son of somebody, — whether of Mary,
Moore, or Maurice can hardly be asserted with confidence; but
the fact that the Moors, and not the Morrises, have the same
crest as the Morrisons, plainly points in that direction for the
ancestry of the name. The name as originally written in Saxon,
or in Saxon-English, w^ould be Moores-son, or Mores-son; or if
the h of the Gaelic were retained, Mhores-son, the Saxon genitive,

* "In the old Norse, or Icelandic, language, mor means a swarm, a
shoal." — N. H. M.



our possessive, being es. This is by far the most regular, the
most simple, the most natural, and, taking tlie crest into account,
the most probable origin of tlie name. 'The Saxon language was
well established in England and the Lowlands of Scotland in the
ninth century. In Norse, the name would be Moors-son, Mors-
son, Mhors-son, the genitive being formed in s witliout the e.' "


The arms as borne by different brandies of the Morison family,
as given in Burke's Heraldic Dictionary: —

Morison (Dersay, Co. of Fife, Scotland). — Azure (blue);
three Saracen heads conjoined in one neck, proper, the faces
looking to the chief (front); dexter and sinister sides (both
sides) of the shield. Motto, Pretio prudentia jiraestat.

v{0 p RU£ £NTlA PP^


Morison (Lyon Register). — The same, with two falcons' heads
couped; azure; in the flanks a serpent issuing, proper. Motto,
Pretio prudentia praestat.

Morison (Bogney, Scotland). — The same as of Dersay, with
the uppermost head affixed by a Avreath to the other two.

Moriso7i (Preston Grange, Scotland). — New Register. Argent
(silver or white) ; three Moors' heads couped, sable two, and one
banded of the first. Crests : tliree Saracen heads, as in the arms
of Morison of Dersay. Motto, Pretio prudentia praestat.

Morison. — Argent (silver); a fesse gules (red) between three
Moors' heads, sable, banded of the second. Crest: three Moors*
heads conjoined in one neck, proper, one looking iipward, the
other two to the dexter and sinister. Motto, Pmdentia praestat.

Morison., or Morrison (Cashiobury, Co. Hertfordshire, as borne
by Sir Charles Morrison, Knight of the Bath, created a Baronet
in 1611. His daughter and heir Elizabeth married Arthur, Lord
Capel, and was mother of Arthur, first earl of Essex). — Arms,


Or (golden), on a cliief, gules (red), three chaplets of the field.
Crest: a Pegasus, or (golden).

"Old John Guillim says, writing two hundred years hefore
Burke, who seems to have copied him almost word for word:
'Azure; three Saracen heads conjoined in one neck, proper, the
faces looking towards the chief, dexter and sinister sides, hy the
name of Morison.' (Guillim's Heraldry, p. 251.) He seems to
imply that what is called the Dorsey Morison's arms belonged to
'•the name of 3Iorison.'' "*

Nisbet Heraldry, Vol. I, p. 262, says: "Those of the name of
Moir and Morison carry three Moores' heads, relative to their

Papworth, Armorials, p. 935, says, "Moor or ]Moir of Scotstown
and Murison, have three Moores' heads argent. These heads are
placed one on top of the other two, looking upward." By impli-
cation it would show a connection between the families of Moor
and Morison.

The motto, " Pi-etio prudentia praestat," Fairbain translates :
"Prudence excels reward." See Fairbain's Crests. Elwin, in his
Handbook of Mottoes, translates it, "Prudence is better than
profit." In Washbourne's Family Crests, the translation is,
"Prudence is better than riches." ^'- Prudentia comes from pro
and video, to see before, to look ahead. This quality of mind is
what we call long-headed, and is thoroughly Scotch. By coining
an expressive Avord I would translate it, Long-headedness is above
price." This translation by Dr. N. H. Morison will, I think, be
acceptable to most Mori'isons.

It is clain\ed that these arms and crest were bestowed upon a
Morison in the war of the Crusades for some deed of daring, by
the English king, Richard I (Coeur de Lion). In this connection,
and relative to both crest and name, I Avill give an extract of a
letter from Dr. N. H. Morison, of Baltimore, under date of March
11, 1880. "The form of the crest— three Moors' heads — is
pretty strong presum23tive evidence that it came from some
incident or incidents connected with the Crusades. Where else
could the Gaels of Scotland have come in contact with the
Moors? Men did not travel in those days, and ordinary wars
were petty affairs, usually between neighboring chiefs. Fynes
Moryson was the greatest traveller of the sixteenth century, —
his 'Itinerary Through Ten Kingdoms' being the most reliable
and thorough account of the countries he visited during ten years
of laborious travel. I should hardly look for the name, then,
before the Crusades; both on account of its composition haA'ing
the Saxon son in it, and on account of this crest, probably
derived from some ancestor of the Moore family."

At different times, other arms have been granted, different
from those given, and which it is useless to mention.

* From letter of N. H. Morisou, ll. d., of Bnltuiiore, Md., dated April,


The Morrison family is (1880) well represented in the various
professions and in politics in England, Scotland, and Ireland.

In the county of Aberdeen, Scotland, a number are wealtliy

D. Morrison, ll. d., Rector of Glasgow Academy.

A. Morrison, ll. d.. Principal of Scotch College, Melbourne,

Hon. C. Morrison, m. p., London, England.

Many of the name are clergymen.


There have been many emigrations of Morisons to America.
From the most authentic sources I find nine persons of the name
who emigrated to this country previous to A. D. 1700.

1635. Elizabeth Morrison, as:ecl 12 years; came lu the ship "Planter,"
in the family of George Gicldings, from Hertfordshire, Eng.

1635. William Morrison, aged 23; embarked in the "Peter Bonaventurc,"
of London, bound for the Barbadoes.

1635, Aug. 21. Robert Morrison embarked for Virginia at S. Severne,Eiig.

1665. Previous to this year, a Mr. Morrison was Governor of Virginia
for one year.

1670. Prior to this year, Richard Morrison, Esq., was appointed to the
office of Captain or Keeper of the Castle of Point Comfort, Va.

1670, March 10. Hans Morrison received a patent, given at Fort James,
N. y., of lands at White Clay Creek, Del., where his descend-
ants still live.

1677. Robert Morrison, who departed this life the 10th of May, 1677.
Probate Records of Rockingham Co., N. H.

168 ). The name of Richard Mori.sou appear.^ on tlie court records of
Rockingham Co., N. H.

1690. Andrew Morrison was in New Haven, Conn.

1690. Daniel Morrison was a settler of Newbury, Mass. (See Coffin's
History of Newbury.)

1710, Feb. 19. Silence Hall, of Guilford, Conn., married Abraham Mor-

1718. James, John, and Halbert Morisou emigrated from the North of

Ireland, and landed in Boston. The settlement of Londonderry,
N. H., commenced in 1719. The tirst two located in London-
derry in 1719.

1719. Halbert Morison located at " Sheepscot," Me., in the vicinity of

Casco Bay, and removed to Londonderry, N. H., in 1735. He
was the sou of John Morison, who died in 1736.

1721. Samuel, David, and Robert Morisou were in Londonderry, N. H.,
and signed the petition for a charter.

1720-23. John Morison and his four children by his last wife emigrated
to Londonderry. He died 1736, aged 108 (?) years.

1726. William Morrison landed in Boston, Mass., and settled in Notting-
ham, N. H., 1727.

1730. Samuel Morison, Jr., settled in Londonderry.

Since that time emigrations have been numerous, and the
descendants of these emigrants are scattered over the United
States and Canada.


Tjjaditioxs of the Morrisoxs (Clan Mac Ghillemhuire), Herei>i-
TARY Judges of Lewis, by Capt. F. W. L. Thomas, R. N., Vice-
President OF THE Society of Antiquaries of Scotland;* and
a History of the Descendants of the Last " Hereditary
Judge," to 1880, rewritten, from Authentic Sources, by the
Author of this Book.


A LETTER cominuuicated to the "Athenoeum," in March, 1866,
contained some account of the Lewis Clans founded on oral tra-
dition. Since then I have collected much additional information
concerning them, either from printed books and MSS., or from
notices supplied to me by residents on the island.

In the letter to the " Athenreum" it was stated, on the author-
ity of those around me, that time out of mind Lewis had been
inhabited by three confederated clans, the Macleods, the Mor-
risons,! and the Macaulays. This statement is confirmed in a
"Description of the Lewis, by John Morisone,^ indweller there,"
which is inferred to have been Avritten between 1678 and 1688.
The "Indweller" states: "The first and most ancient inhabitants
of this countrie were three men of three several races, viz. Mores,
the sone of Kennanus, whom the Irish § histoi'ians call Makurich,
whom they make to be son to one of the kings of Norovay, some
of whose posteritie remains in the land to this day. All the Mor-

* In this chapter I have copied nearly tlie wliole of Captain Thomas's
pamphlet, omitting such portions as were not essential to the narrative.

fH. Chambers has, under the heading of "Family Characteristics," in
his "Popular Rhymes of Scotland," — "The Manly Morrisons. This is,
or was, especially applicable to a family which had been settled for a long
period at Woodend, in the pai'ish of Kirkmichael, in Dumfriesshire, and
become remarkable for the handsomeness of its cadets " (Collected
Works, vol. vii, p. 97). It is still applicable to the Morrisons of the
Outer Hebrides.

X From internal evidence it can be proved that the "Description" was
written after 1678, and probably before 1688. He speaks of the destruc-
tion of Stornoway Castle, which took place in 1654, as having "lately"
occurred. The writer was intimately acquainted with Lewis ; when young,
there were only three people in Lewis who knew the alphabet, but when
he wrote, the head of the family at least was usually able to read and
write. The author was probably the Rev. John Morrison, sometime min-
ister of Urray, son of John Mox'rison of Bragar, and father of the Rev.
John Morrison, minister of Petty.

§ This means the Gaelic, or Highland Scotch, historians. — Ed.


risons in Scotland may challenge their descent from this man.
The second was Iskair Mac Aulay, an Irishman,* whose posteritie
remain likewise to this day in the Lews. The third was Mae-
naicle, whose only daughter, Torquile, the first of that name (and
sone to Claudius the son of Olipheus, Avho likewise is said to
be the King of Norvay his sone), did violently espouse, and cut
off immediately the whole race of Maknaicle, and possessed liim-
self of the whole Lews, and coutinueth in his posteritie (Macleod
Lews), during thirteen or fourteen generations, and so extinct
before, or at least about 160U." t

Such was the tradition of the origin of the ruling families in
the seventeenth century, and it is first to be noted that the writer
uses "Irish" and "Irishman," where we should now write "Gaelic"
and "Gael."

With regard to the Macleods, the tradition is general that tliat
family got dominion in Lewis by marriage with the heiress of Mac
Nicol; but while willing to believe that Torquil increased his
superiority by such marriage, I have shown in the Memoii- on
Lewis Place-names that Thormod Thorkelson was in Lewis, with
wife, men, and goods, in 1231 ; and that the clan-name, Leod, is in
all probability derived from L%otulfi\ who was a chief in Lewis
in the middle of the twelfth century. X

Of the Morrisons, it is strange that the "Indweller," himself a
Morrison, should have ignored what he would have called the
" Irish " § name of his clan, which is from GUle-Mlmire^ i. e.
servant of Mary; from Gille^ i. e. a servant, etc., and 3fore,
i. e, Mary. A Morrison in Gaelic is Mac Ghillemhuire, some-
times shortened to Gillmore, Gilmour; or translated Morrison,
Maryson ; or reduced to Milmore, Miles, Myles. The Morrisons
are a numerous clan in Lewis, where, in 1861, they numbered
1402, or one fifteenth of the Avhole population; in Harris there
were 530, equal to one seventh of the inhabitants. These num-
bers indicate a domination in the island of many centuries.

There is no real tradition of their original settlement in Lewis,
except that the founder was the inevitable son of the King of
Lochlann ; but one remarkable genealogy of Macleod makes Gille-
muire to have been the father of Leod ; and before Raice (Rooke)
and Olbair (Ulf ?) the Hewer, we have another Gillemuire. It is
added that Ealga fholt-alainn^ i.e. Ealga of the Beautiful Hair,
daughter of Arailt Mac Semmair, King of Lochlainn, was the
mother of Gillemuire." ||

I learn from Mr. Skene that the serfs or tenants on lands belong-
ing to a church or monastery dedicated to the Virgin would be
called the Gillies of Mary ; hence the origin of the name ; but in
process of time it is evident that such names as Gillemuire were
used as proper names, and without any reference to office or
employment. Although Petrie says that no Irish churches were

* A Gael. f Spot. Mis., vol. ii, p. 341.

X Pro. Soc. Ant. Scot., vol. xi, p. 507. § Gaelic.

II Ulst. Jour. Arch., vol. ix, p. 320.


dedicated to the Virgin before tlie twelfth century,* there are
notices of Maelmaire, son of Ainbith, at A. D. 919, f and of Mael-
muire, son of Eochaidh, abbot-bishop of Armagh, at A. D. 1020. J
Nor, although the name is Gaelic, is it to be inferred that the
possessor was of pure Gaelic descent, but rather that he was one
of the Gall-Gael, or mixed race of Northmen and Gael who peo-
pled the towns and shores of Ireland and the western islands and
coasts of Scotland. For Maelmaire, sister of Sitric, King of

Online LibraryLeonard Allison MorrisonThe history of the Morison or Morrison family : with most of the Traditions of the Morrisons (clan MacGillemhuire), hereditary judges of Lewis, by Capt. F. W. L. Thomas, of Scotland, and a record of → online text (page 2 of 53)
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