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Copyrighted, 1904, by William Nelson.








Forewords v.

Extracts from "Historj' of the Lands and their Owners In Gallo-
way" (Scotland), i-elating to the Nellsons 1

Commissariat of Glasgow Testaments, being extracts from Nellson

wills, 1564-1737 16

Genealogical Table of the Foregoing Wills 37

Extracts from the Rental Book of the Diocese of Glasgow, relating

to Nellsons ^^

Abstract of Protocol of the Diocese of Glasgow, relating to James
Neilson, Proctor, 1503-1513; James Nellson, Vicar of Clon-
mell, 1507-1512; and other Nelsons, 1506-1510 45

Bxti-acts 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 52



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 Craigcaffie,
in 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
William filius Nigilli; Gilbcrti fil Nigclli, and John HI Nigclli 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 Rcgi servititim.'

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

1 See pages 3. 4. 5. 10, post.
' See page 2, post.


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 scrvitium}

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
of Carrick.

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, 15, 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
manner described.

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-
teenth century.

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

1 1 found these arms in a manuscript Herald's visitation in the Free
Public Library of Manchester, England.


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

thus presented. , , ..•

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-IS12, 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-



Extracts from "History of the Lands and their Owners in

Galioway . . . Vlith a historical sitetch of the district."

By Peter Handyside MacHerlie. 3 Vols.

Edinburgh, 1870-79.


1. Kirklands-Parish of Leswalt. Vol. I, p. 119.

In November, 1644, Gilbert Neilsone had sasine of the
lands; but this was, no doubt, in security, for Thomas
Boyd had sasine of the same lands, 24th November, 1671.
The infeftment of Gilbert Neilsone no doubt arose from
the fact that Thomas Boyd was fined, about the year 1662,
in the sum of £360, for his adherence to Presbyterianism.

2. Donloch, or Duniocli— Parisin of Kirl<colm p.
129. We afterwards trace that, in October, 1623, Gil-
bert Neilsone had sasine of an annual rent of "fourtie-five
merkis furth of the landis of Dunloch."

3. Lochnaw-Parish of Leswalt. p. 99. In a

precept for the infeftment of Andrew Agnew, as heir to
his father, in the lands of Lochnaw, &c., i6th May, 1455,
the name "rollandson (Roland) son of Andrew Neilson"
appears as a witness.


4. Balneil-Parishof NewLuce. Vol. 2, p. 244.

In "Balneil" we have the town or residence of Neil, prob-
ably some descendant of him of Carrick, the ancestor of
the Neilsons, which name in the suffix has, however, a
Scandinavian termination. Indeed, the whole name may
be considered as such.

5. Craigcaffie- Parish of LochRyan. p. 208.
Nesbit gives the armorial bearings of the Neilsons as : Ar-
gent three left hands, bend sinisterways, two in chief, and
one in base, holding a dagger azure. Or, as Gilbert Ned-
sone of Craigcaffie bore them : Cheveron, argent, and or,
in chief two sinister hands couped, and erect gules, and m
base a dagger, point downwards. Crest, a dexter hand
holding a lance erect, proper. Moiio-Hic Rcgi serzntmm.


6 Duchra, now Hensol-Parish of Balmaghie
Vol.3, PP 150-151. Also at the same time [November
1665] Thomas Neilson. son to James Neilson of Arne,
and Marion Gordon, his spouse, had sasine of the ten shd-
ling land of the Maynes of Duchra * * *
* * * * On 6th July 171 1 James Neilsone in Drum-
glass, had sasine of the forty shilling land of Mains of Du-
chrae, &c.

7. Barscobe-Parish of Balmaclellan. pp. 67-68.
It is stated that a daughter of William M'Clellan of Bars-
cobe married Robert Neilson of Corsock, parish of Par-
toun ************ In August
1666 John Neilsone of Corsock, parish of Partoun, had
sasine of Barscobe. As he was his [Robert M'Clellan's]
cousin, and also a Covenanter, no doubt it was friendly


Succeeding the Revolution, on the 2d January, 169 1,
John, son of John Neilson of Corsock, had retour.


8. Drumanister-Parish of Balmaclellan. p. 103.
The first notice of this farm found by us is in August,
1666, when John Neilson of Corsock had sasine. Then,
on the 15th January, 1674, James Cannan of Barnsalloch
had principal sasine. Both the Neilsons and Cannans hav-
ing been Covenanters, and their lands forfeited, in May,
1682, the usual representative of Prelacy, George, Lord
Livingstone, had sasine of the mylne lands of Dennister,
&c. However, as with their other lands, Drumanister was
restored to the Neilsons, John, son of John of Corsock,
having had retour on the 2d January, 1691.

9. Fairgarth or Forgarth— Parish of Colvend. p.
338. Next there is the statement made by Nesbit that he
saw a precept granted by James Lindsay, dated in 1489,
in favor of John Neilson of Corsock.

10. Earlstown- Parish of Dairy, p. 422. It is

stated that a daughter of Sir Alexander Gordon of Earls-
town, viz., Ann, born 1679, married in 1697 John Neilson
of Corsock, parish of Parton, and had issue.

11. Breconside— Parish of Kirkgunzeon. Vol. 4,
p. 226. It is stated that a daughter of John Maxwell of
Breconside, viz., Catherine, married Robert Neilson of
Barncailzie, parish of Kirkpatrick-Durham. Died in 1758.

12. Cumloden— Parish of Minnigaff. p. 411. To
whom the land belonged prior to the time of Robert the
Bruce we are not in possession of. He granted to Gil-
berti fil Nigelli a charter of tertiam partem terrae de Cam-
eleden. He was brother to John, who obtained Craigcaffie,
parish of Lochryan, as the next entry is "Johannis fil Ni-
gelli et Carricke, terre de Kellechaffe in Gallovidia." The
surname became Neilson. The name is to be found ir


13. Corsock-Parish of Parton. Vol. 5, pp. 41-46.
This property can be traced to the fourteenth century.
There is a charter from King David II. in confirmation of
a grant to Walter Stewart of Dalswinton, from John
Randolph, Earl of Moray, who fell at Durham in 1346,
of the lands of Corsock. This, however, could only have
been one of those "sheepskin" transactions which those in
favor at court were indulged in so much. The lands at
this time appear to have been owned by the Lindsays.
Subsequently there was a precept granted by James Lind-
say of Forgirth (parish of Colvend), infefting John Neil-
son and his wife Isabel Gordon in the lands of Corsock,
which is dated in 1439; also a charter of confirmation,
dated 20th July 1444, to Fergus Neilson, son and heir to
John Neilson of Corsock, by Sir John Forrester of Cor-
storphine (Edinburgh), and his wife Marion Stewart,
which no doubt referred to the superiority obtained in the
manner above described. The lands or farms comprising
the estate are not mentioned.

Before proceeding further, we will refer to the state-
ment given by Nesbit in his Heraldry, that the surname
Neilson was originally O'Neal, three brothers bearing it
having arrived from Ireland who served with bravery
under King Robert the Bruce. The hammers borne in
the armorial bearings of the Neilsons of Corsock have
been made use of to show by what weapon the service
was rendered. We have no wish to go against well-sus-
tained traditions, but we do not think this one. We think
it is generally admitted that Gaelic was the language then
in use in the district, and we therefore scarcely think it
probable that Erse settlers would have the prefix "O"
changed to the suffix "son." By Robertson's "Index of
Charters" the name appears in Gaelic as MacNeil, which
would have been retained if correct. The extract given
is, "Joannis filii Gilbert! M'Neil, quinque denariatas terre,


in lie Rinns de Gallovidia." The charter in which it ap-
pears was granted by King Robert Bruce. We can under-
stand that as descendants of Neil, Earl of Carrick, they
subsequently added "son," as the family was not of Celtic
origin. Nesbit, indeed, tells what we gave under Craig-
caffie, parish of Lochryan, Vol. I., that the first known
was "William," described in a charter which Nesbit saw,
as "filius Nigilli." This charter was also granted by King
Robert I., the lands being those of Craigo.

14. We will now follow Nesbit in his statement, ad-
ding other information, that in 1497 a charter was granted
by James Lindsay of Fairgirth, parish of Colvend, to
John Neilson of Corsock, who married a daughter of John
( ?) Cairns of Orchardtown, parish of Rerwick; that by
her he had a son (name not given), who got the land of
Arvie, which family ended in three daughters Avho died
without issue, and the land was purchased by Corsock.
Secondly: That he married Janeta, daughter of (James)
Lindsay of Fairgirth, and had a son, John, who succeeded
to the lands of Corsock, by charters granted in 1539 and
1546. Also that John Neilson married a daughter of

Kirkwall or Kirko of Bogrie (parish of

Lochrutton), and was succeeded by his son John, who
was in possession on the 15th March, 161 1, and built the
present house of Corsock, on which a stone was placed
above the head of the door of the tower, with the date, and
the shield with their arms, but without crest or motto. He
married Margaret, daughter of James Gordon of Macart-
ney, now Walton Park, parish of Kirkpatrick-Durham,
and had issue:



We find that he was succeeded by his son Robert, who,
on the 29th July, 1630, was infeft in the lands of Little


Corsock, Marnhowle, Blackmark, and Arvie. We have
been inclined to think that the property was divided
under the designation of Meikle and Little Corsock; that
the first was owned by the Lindsays and the latter by the
Neilsons. This opinion we think is confirmed by the fact
that on the 15th of March, 1664, James Lindsay, heir (pro
avi) of James Lindsay of Forgirth, was infeft in the land
Meikle Corsock, Auchinvey, and Ryis.

In the valuation roll of 1642, Robert Neilson possessed
also Auchenvey, Mairnhowl, and Cruchie. At the same
period James Neilson owned Arvie and Loch, with Low
Arvie, and Robert Glendonwyne of Parton, and his son
James, Lower Armannoch.

Robert Neilson married , daughter of William

Maclellan of Barscobe, parish of Balmaclellan. He had
issue :


He succeeded his father, and was infeft on the 19th
September, 1654. He married Annie, eldest daughter of
Sir Alexander Gordon of Earlstoun, parish of Dairy, and
had issue :


Margaret, who died unmarried in 1780.

John Neilson of Little Corsock was cruelly persecuted
for his attachment to the Presbyterian Church. About
1662 he was fined £600. Fined and persecuted, he was at
length forced to leave his home; troops were quartered at
his house; his wife and children turned out; his tenants
also ruined from being compelled to furnish the troops
with provisions. That he took up arms was the natural
result. He was taken prisoner, and after excruciating
sufferings from the application of "The Boot" (a diaboli-
cal instrument of torture, of the same character as "The
Scavenger's Daughter" in England) he was tried and sen-
tenced to be hanged at Edinburgh on the 14th of Decern-


ber, 1666, with the usual forfeiture of lands. Immedi-
ately after his execution, Maxwell of Milton, parish of
Urr, with thirty men, proceeded to his house, to which his
family had returned, and under cover of legal authority
they were again turned out and everything seized that was
fancied. At this black period it was usual to try and save
lands by transfer, and in this case, in February, 1666, we
find that Gilbert, the uncle of John Neilson, had sasine.

We will now refer to the Lindsays. Whom James Lind-
say, already named, married we do not learn, but he had
issue :






On the 6th January, 1680, James, his son, was infeft.

We find nothing more of the Lindsays.

15. In regard to the Neilsons, on the 2d January, 1 69 1 ,
John, son of John Neilson, had retour of Corsock-Lindsay,
comprehended in Little Corsock, viz., Warnhoill (Mairn-
howl), Blackmart, Ervie, Creich, Auchinvae, Nether Ar-
mannoch, in the parish of Partoun; also Lairdlach, in the
parish of Kirkpatrick-Durham; and Barscobe, Mark or
Earmark, Drumanister and Corodow, in the parish of Bal-
maclellan. In what way John Neilson became possessed
of all these lands does not appear. They were not en-
joyed very long, if at all, for we have found in other cases
that claims were made, and retour obtained, when others
were in possession. On the 2d July, in the same year,
John Maxwell of Middlebie had principal sasine of the
five-merk land of Nether Corsock, &c., followed on the
5th April, 1692, by John Neilson of Corsock. Also on
the 2d January, 1705, Alexander M'Ghie, son to Alexan-


der M'Ghie of Over Armanoch, had sasine of Over Arma-

John Neilson was married, but his wife's name is not
known to us. So far as learned, they had issue, one son :


John Neilson died in 1708, and was succeeded by his
son, then a minor, whose mother it is stated managed the
estate satisfactorily during his minority. He married, in
1722, Janet, daughter and heiress of Robert Rae of Car-
gen, parish of Troqueer. It was a runaway marriage.
On the 5th January, 1723, John Neilson of Corsock had
sasine of the twenty shilling land of Corsock. Again, on
the 1st December, 1738, John Neilson of Corsock, heir to
his father the deceased John Neilson of Corsock, had
sasine of the five merk, twelve shilling and eightpenny
land of Corsock-Lindsay, &c. On the 4th November pre-
viously, Dorothea Clerk-Maxwell, daughter of the de-
ceased William Clerk, advocate, and the deceased Agnes
Maxwell, his spouse, and then spouse to George Clerk-
Maxwell of Middlebie, second son to Sir John Clerk, bar-
onet, and Baron of the Exchequer, had sasine of Nether
Corsock, &c.

John Neilson's marriage involved him in much after
trouble, and added to his family difficulties. At last the
land, being so much encumbered, got into the hands of
creditors. He was obliged to leave his family, and ac-
cepted a situation in South Carolina. He sailed on the
20th October, 1748, and died there about a year afterwards
— a sad end. At that time these parts, and the West-
Indies, finished the earthly career of many a wanderer
from Scotland, in search of wealth. He left issue :


Thomas, a surgeon, went abroad, and died in 1758.

Archibald went to North Carolina, but returned in 1776
and succeeded his brother as a manufacturer in Dundee.


Ann, and two other daughters, whose names are not
given. They all died unmarried.

On the 5th December, 1 748, Mrs. Janet Rae, only law-
ful daughter of the deceased Richard Rae of Cargen, and
spouse to John Neilson of Corsock, had sasine. On the
nth May, 1751, Andrew Crosbie of Merkland had sasine
thereof. Then, on the ist June, 1754, Richard Neilson,
manufacturer in Dundee, eldest son of the deceased John

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