Saturday, May 4, 2013

Blair: Origin & Early History


The Blair family was first recorded in the 13th century in Ayrshire, as a sept of the Grahams of Menteith, and as such answered the call to arms when sounded.  It is unauthenicated but accepted that Criach de Blair was aide-de-camp to chief of the Grahams at the historic signing declaration of independence from the crown in 1320, which precipitated many battles.  It is recorded that the "Gallant Grahams" were the first to breech the Hadrian Wall, a wall erected by the Roman emperor across Scotland and England to keep the wild Scots isolated.  The Blair family is married into the Hunter family, from them came the Earls of Dundonald, whose coast of arms are quartered with the Blair.

The word "Blair" is derived from the Gaelic "Blar" and properly signifies a plain clear of woods, but since the Celts often chose such open plains for warfare, the word came to signify a field of battle.  There are many Blair place names in Scotland, such as Blair Atholl, Blairgowrie, and Blairmore.

Blair is a surname of great antiquity in Scotland.  The first Blair was probably of Norman descent and took his name from the place in which he settled.  The first mention of the surname was an entry in the "Registrorum Abbacie de Aberbrothoc", which recorded Stephen de Blare as a witness to a charter by Donvenald, Abbe de Brechin to the monastery of Arboath, between 1204 - 1211. 

There were two principal Blair families in Scotland; the Blairs of Balthyock, Perthshire (The chief seat of the Perthshire Blairs was at Balthaycock, three miles east of Perth), in Fife, Angus, and Forfarshire (Forfar) and the Blairs of Blair in Ayrshire (The main families in Ayrshire are: Blair of Blair; Dunskey; Milgerholme; Blairquhan), Renfrew, and Wigtown (or Wigton).  We do not know the connection between these two groups in early times.  These two groups are quite old in Scotland and they competed for the chiefship for many years until James VI is said to have decreed that, "The oldest man for the time being of either family should have precedence".  The ancestor of the Blairs of Balthyock was Alexander de Blair, who received a charter of lands about 1214.  The ancestor of the Blairs of Blair in Ayrshire was William de Blair, who was mentioned in a contract dated 1205.  Sir Bryce Blair of Blair was executed by the English at Ayr in 1296.  His nephew, Roger de Blair, was a comrade-in-arms of Robert the Bruce and received royal favor after the victory of Bannockburn in 1314.  The Blair family continued to grow in prominence and made alliances by marriage with many powerful families, including Cochrane, Hunter, Kennedy, Montgomery, Oliphant, and Scott.  Blair House at Dairy, Ayrshire has been occupied almost continually by the family since 1205.  In the past, "Blair" has been spelled sixteen different ways (Ex: Blar, Blare, Blayer, Blayar, Blaire...), but the only three that survive today are: "Blair", "McBlair", and "Bleher".  The Blair family has some twenty coats of arms and three tartans (ancient, modern, and dress).
     Chief: Blair of that Ilk (dormant)
     Plant Badge: Scotch Pine, Yew
     Motto: Amo Phobos ("I love the righteous")
     Pipe Music: The Clan Blair March

Prominent Blairs in Scottish history include:
1.  John Blair: Chaplain to Sir William Wallace.
2.  Robert Blair: A poet best known for the epic poem "The Grave".
3.  Hugh Blair: Minister and author.
4.  Patrick Blair: Botanist and surgeon.
5.  Robert Blair: Inventor of the aplanatic telescope.
6.  Eric Blair: A writer best known by his pen name, George Otwell.
7.  Frederick Blair: Decorated for bravery in World War I and was an aide-de-camp to King George V.

Blair is also a common surname in Ireland.  These Blairs are descended from Scots who settled in Ulster in the 17th century.  Among them was Robert Blair, an influential pastor in Bangor, County Down. (English Blairs were also of Scottish origin)..

The first Blair in America is thought to be Commissary James Blair, who arrived in Virginia in 1685, and founded William and Mary College, the first university in America.  Prominent Blairs in American history include:
1.  John Blair: Signer of the U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court Justice.
2.  Francis Preston Blair: Newspaper editor and advisor to five Presidents.
3.  Francis P. Blair Jr.: Civil War General, U.S. Senator, and candidate for Vice President.
4.  Montgomery Blair: Postmaster General under President Lincoln.
5.  Austin Blair: Governor of Michigan during the Civil War and U.S. Congressman.
6.  John Insley Blair: A railroad magnate and philanthropist.
7.  Andrew Blair: Canadian statesman.
Blairs have settled all over the world.  Today, Blair descendants can be found in Australia, Canada, England, Ireland, New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa, the United States, and in several other countries.

Summary of the Scot-Irish:
(Source: Lancaster County Heritage. Vol. 3, # 2 (April 1986-87) Copy pages 54-57).
Initially came to America 1717 - 1718, arriving in Boston.  They thought the Calvinists of New England would make good neighbors, so they settled here initially.  Soon the Scot-Irish Presbyterians discovered the Puritans of New England didn't tolerate or accept their brand of Calvinism.  Good land tracts still available for the 200, 000 Scot-Irish immigrants in Pennsylvania, a haven of religious tolerance.  The immigrants arrived to America  through the ports of Philadelphia and New Castle, Delaware.  Geography determined their path (valleys in Pennsylvania and then spilled over into the backlands of Virginia).  Many German immigrants also to Pennsylvania.  The Germans liked to stay put, but Scot-Irish were restless and pushed the edge of the frontier.  Scot-Irish saw Indians as an irritant to be eliminated; they didn't recognize the Indian claim to the land.  By the 1740's, the Scot-Irish had reached the Roanoke and for all practical purposes, the valley in Virginia.  Next, they headed south into the wide open land of the Carolinas.  They went to Carolinas because:
     1.  The Pennsylvania-Virginia land was already settled and the land cost too much.
     2.  1756 - The French and Indian war breaks out.  Pennsylvania and Virginia valley communities were under violent Indian attacks.  Some of the attacked settlers went back east; other went west to the Carolinas.
     3.  Carolina governors welcomed the Scot-Irish.  In 1763 South Carolina offered a headright of 100 acres to each man, with 50 acres for each woman and child.  Many Scot-Irish sailed directly from Ulster to Charleston and then
proceded to claim land in the colony's interior.  Others just made the long journey south by way of Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina.

At the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, Scot-Irish were firmly planted in America and were a major force in the fight for independence (from their famous Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence in 1775 to the final victory in 1783).  After the war, their ancestors crossed the mountains and pushed into Tennessee, Kentucky, and the Ohio Valley.


According to Rev. Hall: The progenitor of the Blair families was William de Blair who appeared in Scotland about1260 A.D. (Some have suggested a date as early as 839 A.D.).  All Blairs are remotely out of either Ayrshire or Perthshire, Scotland.

Two Blair brothers:
     1.  George Washington's minister.
     2.  Founder of William and Mary College.

Brief Summary of the different Blair beginnings:
1.  Ayrshire Blairs:

2.  Balthyock Blairs:

3.  Scottish Blairs who went from Scotland to Ireland in the 17th century:

4.  Blairs in America:

1.  Blair Society for Genealogical Research.
2.  Norman D. Blair.  Mendham, New Jersey. 07945. (Article on "Brief History of the Blair Family").
3.  Historiological Report on the Family Surname "Blair".
4.  "The Name and Family of Blair" - Roots Research Bureau, Ltd.  New York, New York. 10007.  Manuscript # 238.  1984.
5.  Lancaster County Heritage.  Vol. 3 # 2 (April  1986 - 87) pgs. 54-57.

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