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SOME NEILSONS OF SCOTLAND.
By WILLIAM NELSON.
Paterson, N. J.:
Thk Paterson History Club.
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Copyrighted, 1904. by William Nelson.
ONE HUNDRED COPIES PRINTED.
Elxtracts from "History of the Lands and their Owners in Gallo-
way" (Scotland), relating to the Neilsons 1
Conunissariat of Glasgow Testaments, being extracts from Neilson
wills. 1564-1737 16
Genealogical Table of the Foregoing Wills 37
Extracts from the Rental Book of the Diocese of Glasgow, relating
to Neilsons 42
Abstract of Protocol of the Diocese of Glasgow, relating to James
Neilson, Proctor, 1503-1513; James Neilson, Vicar of Clon-
mell, 1607-1512; and other Nelsons. 1506-1510 45
Extracts from Wodrow's "History of the Sufferings of the Church
of Scotland," etc., relating to the persecution and martyrdom
of John Neilson of Corsock, who died for the faith
In the course of some investigations concerning the Nelson Fam-
ily, pursued personally and with the aid of expert genealogists in
England, Ireland and Scotland, the writer has inclined to the belief
that in all probability there are two distinct origins of the family, one
Celtic, and the other English, and more remotely Scandinavian. '
The former claims descent from that Neil, Earl of Carrick, who
died in 1256, and whose three sons, at a critical period, brought their
warrior septs from the North of Ireland to the assistance of Robert
the Bruce, and so aided materially in seating him on the Scottish
throne. In token of the royal gratitude the King granted great es-
tates to the three brothers— to William and John lands in CraigcaiBe,
m the parish of Loch Ryan, Wigtonshire ; and to Gilbert a third of
Cameleden (now Cumloden), parish of Minnigaff, Kirkcudbright-
shire—all being in that southeastern district of Scotland known as
Galloway. In the original charters these brothers are described as
IVilliam Alius Nigilli; Gilbcrti fil Nigelli, and John fit Nigelli et Car-
rick: that is, William son of Neil; Gilbert son of Neil; and John
son of Neil and Carrick; which by a transition easy to the Lowland
Scotch in the course of time became William, Neil's son; Gilbert,
Neil's son, and John, Neil's son, whence Neilson. The Highland
form, Mac Neil, was sometimes used, but the Celtic, O'Neil, is sel-
dom if ever found in the Scottish annals.
At Craigcaffie the Neilsons built a strong house or fortalice, which
was still standing in 1870, though so far descended from its original
knightly character as to be used as a farm-house— a change significant
of the transformation which six or seven centuries have wrought in
the social conditions of Galloway.'
The arms of the Neilsons of Craigcaffie are described as : argent,
three left hands (gules ?), bend sinisterways, two in chief and one
in base, holding a dagger azure. Gilbert Neilson bore them in this
form : Chevron, argent, and or, in chief two sinister hands couped,
and erect, gules, and in base a similar hand holding a dagger, azure,
point downwards. Crest, a dexter hand holding a lance erect, proper.
Motto — Hie Regi servitium.'
Tragic is the story of the Neilsons of Corsock, which place was
granted to John Neilson and his wife, Isabel Gordon, in 1439. John
Neilson of Corsock was cruelly persecuted for his adherence to the
Presbyterian Church, and finally, after most barbarous torture, was
executed at Edinburgh in December, 1666. In 1749 another John
Neilson of Corsock died in South Carolina, whither he had removed
in the vain hope of restoring the fortunes of his family. The arms
of the Corsock Neilsons differed slightly from those of Craigcaffie,
being : Argent, three left hands, bend sinister, two in chief, and one
in base, holding a dagger azure, with a crescent in the centre for the
difference. Crest, a dexter hand, holding a lance erect, proper.
Motto — Hie Regi scrvitiutn}
These arms are obviously derived from those of the founder of
the Neil family, known as Red O'Neil, or O'Neil of the Red Hand,
whose arms were : Argent, a sinister hand, couped at the wrist, gules,
proper. This was said to commemorate a fierce contest between some
of those wild chieftains of the olden time to reach first the shore of
an enemy, and so to lead in the attack. Neil was outstripped by some
of his companions in arms, but not to be outdone drew his sword, cut
off his left hand, and with the shout, "O Neil !" hurled the ghastly,
bloody member to land, before any of the other chieftains had gained
the shore. Hence, according to the fanciful Irish legend, the name,
"O'Neill," and the arms of the family. The three bloody hands on
the shield of the Scottish Neilsons signify the three sons of him whose
shield bore the Red Hand.
The proximity of Scotland to the North of Ireland, and the reli-
gious and political influences invoked in the early years of the sev-
enteenth century, brought about a large emigration from Galloway,
and among those thus interested in the "Plantation of Ulster" were
many Neilsons. There was a certain poetic fitness in this settlement
of the Irish province by the Neilsons of Scotland, who all unwit-
tingly were made the instruments for the dispossession of the great
Earl Neil of Ulster, and thus, after four centuries spent in Scotland,
were brought to their own again, after a fashion, they being, with
the dispossessed Earl, descended from a common ancestor. Earl Neil
Another stream of emigration from the Lowlands of Scotland
poured over the English border into Yorkshire, and from the Neil-
sons who thus came into England the Virginia Nelsons trace their
It is but natural to suppose that the Nelsons of Lancashire, Eng-
land, are similarly of Scottish origin ; but some of this family claim
that their lands have been in their possession for eight centuries.
The records of the Hundred of Leyland seem to bear out this state-
ment. If this is true it would preclude the theory of a descent from
the Neilsons of Scotland, and would point more directly to the Scan-
iSee Nos. 7, 8, 9, 10, 13. 14, IB, 16, pages 2-10. 52-56, post.
dinavian freebooters of the seventh to the ninth centuries as being
more probably the ancestors of the Nelsons of this region. The arms
of the Nelsons of Maudesley and Fairhurst, Lancashire, dating at
least from 1664, are : Argent, a cross flory sa. over all a bend gules.
Other Lancashire Nelsons bear arms : Or, a cross patonce sa. be-
tween four mullets gu. a bendlet of the last. Crest: a lion's gamb
erect ppr. holding an escutcheon sa. thereon a cross patonce or.
There are differences, distinguishing various families.'
The Nelsons of Bedale, Yorkshire, England, have arms : Per pale
ar. and sa. a chev. between three fleurs-de-lis, all countercharged.
The Nelsons of Grimston, Yorkshire, bear the same arms, and the
crest : A cubit arm quarterly, ar. and sa. holding in the hand ppr. a
fleur-de-lis per pale ar. and sa.
The marked differences in these arms indicate separate origins
for the Scottish, the Lancashire and the Yorkshire families, notwith-
standing the general proximity of the seats of all three.
The name Nelson is found in nearly every county in England, but
perhaps more numerously in the seaboard counties, which were espe-
cially exposed to the ravages of the Norse vikings.
Among the Scandinavians family names were unknown, the son
being designated by his father's name, with the suffix sen. Thus,
Jan the son of Hans would be known as Jan Hanssen ; William son
of Nils (the popular abbreviation of Nicholas) would be called
William Nilssen, easily varied into William Nelson. The process has
been going on for nearly three hundred years in the southern part of
New Jersey, settled about 1635 by the Swedes, among whose descend-
ants are many Nelsons, who have acquired their family name in the
In the North of Ireland the names Neilson and Nelson are found
in the same parish, and members of the same family spell the name
differently. The probabilities are, as intimated above, that most if
not all these families are descended from the Scottish Neilsons. But
there remains the possibility that the Nelsons of Lancashire and of
London and vicinity were located in Ulster by the London and other
companies engaged in the Plantation of the province in the seven-
In view of the manifest descent of so large a portion of the Nel-
sons from the Scottish family, the writer has collected the following
notes from various sources not readily accessible, in order to make
a preliminary contribution towards a Nelson Genealogy.
The facts gleaned from the "History of the Lands and their Own-
ers in Galloway" are of much interest and value in relation to the
Neilsons. The conjectures of the author of that work are of less
importance, but are given for what they are worth.
The extracts from "Commissariat of Glasgow Testaments," from
1564 to 1737, there being sixty-three Neilson wills abstracted, were
made by a thoroughly competent expert from the records in the Pub-
lic Record Office in Edinburgh, at the writer's request, and as they
have never been published they constitute a distinct contribution to
the subject. The Genealogical Table of these extracts of wills has
been prepared by the writer, to embody in condensed form the data
The extracts from the Rental Book of Glasgow show the location
of many Neilsons in that Diocese, from 1510 to 1565, with sundry
particulars as to their means, occupations, relationships, etc.
The extracts relating to James Neilson, Proctor in the Diocese of
Glasgow, 1503-1512, indicate that he was a man of much prominence;
James Neilson, Vicar of Clonmell, 1507-1512, appears to have exer-
cised considerable influence in his office; and the other Neilsons men-
tioned on page 51, post, were also potent factors in their several local-
The story of John Neilson of Corsock, and of his martyrdom for
his faith, taken from Wodrow's "History of the Sufferings of the
Church of Scotland," is of thrilling interest. It is but a single illus-
tration, which might be multiplied indefinitely, of the heroic stuff of
which the Neilsons of Scotland were made.
If time and opportunity permit, the writer hopes to publish further
contributions towards a Nelson Genealogy.
Paterson, N. J., July 25, 1904
GENEALOGICAL AND BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES.
Extracts from "History of the Lands and their Owners In
Galloway . . . With a historical siietch of the district."
By Peter Handyside MacKerlie. 5 Vols.