Select McPherson Surname Genealogy

Macpherson has been a Scottish Highland clan, its name having derived from the Gaelic Mac a' Phearsain meaning “son of the parson.”  The parson in question was Muriach, a 12th century parson or lay preacher of Kingussie at Badenoch in Inverness-shire.

The history of clan Macpherson has been called "the posterity of the three brethren" as the three grandsons of Muriach were the antecedents of the three main Macpherson clan lines - Cluny, Pitmain and Invereshie. 

McPherson and MacPherson are the main surname spellings today

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Scotland.   The Macpherson clan base was at Badenoch in Inverness-shire in the northeast of Scotland.

.  According to clan tradition, the Macphersons were granted the lands of Badenoch by Robert the Bruce in return for their support against the rival Comyn clan.

Sometimes known as clan Muredach after an early chief and later as Makferson, they were part of a Chattan clan confederation which also included the Mackintosh and Davidson clans.  
Their strongholds in the Strathspey area were Cluny Castle near Newtonmore and Invershie and Pitmain Houses near Kingussie.

Sir Aeneas Macpherson of Invershie was in the late 17th century the first seanchaidh or genealogist of the clan.   

Notable Macpherson events during the four hundred years of clan rule and clan feuds were:
  • the Macpherson defeat of the Camerons in a skirmish in the late 14th century at Invernahoven.
  • the rise of the outlaw Jamie Macpherson, an illegitimate son of the Macpherson Laird of Invereshie.  He was hanged in Banff in 1700.  But he is remembered by Macpherson’s Lament, a song which was later embellished by the poet Robert Burns.
  • and the ending of the clan as an effective unit after the failure of the Jacobite rebellion in 1745.
Ewan Macpherson of Cluny had played an active role at the start of the rebellion, although he and his men took no part in the defeat at Culloden.  However, Ewan was a marked man and he went into hiding before later fleeing to France.

“During his time in hiding, his wife Janet gave birth to their son.  The child was born in a corn kiln, thus earning him the nickname of ‘Duncan of the Kiln.’”

James Macpherson who grew up in Badenoch after Culloden was a poet,
the first Scottish poet to gain an international reputation.  He was best known as the "translator" of the ancient Ossian cycle of epic poems.

The McPhersons of the fishing village of Hopeman on the Moray Firth date back to William and Janet McPherson, first recorded there in 1755.

Elsewhere.  Macphersons also appeared on the west coast of Scotland.  A small sept of Campbells in the neighborhood of Glassery in Argyllshire bore the name of Macphersonin the 14thand 15th centuries. 

Some Macphersons came to the Hebrides and to Skye.  John Macpherson arrived on the island of Eigg in the Hebrides from Badenoch in the 1750’s; while his son Alexander emigrated from there to Nova Scotia in 1810.  Dr. Hugh Macpherson from Aberdeen acquired Eigg in 1828 and he and his descendants were its absentee landlords for the next seventy years.  

The Skye Macphersons have included:
  • clergymen at Duirinish and Sleat in the early/mid 1700’s
  • Sir John Macpherson, a Scottish administrator in India who served as the Governor General of Bengal in 1785.
  • and Donald and Mary McPherson who emigrated from Sleat to Australia in 1854.
These Skye MacPhersons were probably descended from the Macdonald clan rather than coming from Badenoch.

  Born near Inverness, Daniel McPherson was kidnapped and brought to Philadelphia against his will around the year 1697.  After the period of his servitude he married and settled down in Chester county, Pennsylvania.

“It was said that in later years Daniel was discovered by a friend of his family and was at the time of discovery ‘well to do and of easy circumstances.’”

Two of his sons John and William migrated to North Carolina and later McPhersons headed west to Ohio, Indiana, and Iowa. 

Also forcibly removed to America was another Daniel McPherson, one of fourteen McPherson clansmen from Inverness-shire who were captured after the 1715 Jacobite rebellion and transported to Maryland.  His descendant Reuben McPherson was one of the early pioneers of Tennessee and took part in the War of 1812 under General Jackson.  After the war he moved with his family to Jackson county, Alabama.  When he died in 1842 the family settled in Arkansas. 

Yet another McPherson from Inverness-shire, William McPherson, came to Pennsylvania sometime in the 1720’s and settled in Drumore township, Lancaster county.  He was the father of twenty children.  His line was covered in Lowell Thomas’s 2002 book McPherson of Pennsylvania.

One blacksmith line through his son James led to upstate New York and to Ohio where James Birdseye McPherson was born.  He was a Union general during the Civil War who died in battle in 1864. 

Scots Irish
.  Robert McPherson from Derry came to Pennsylvania with other Scots Irish families in 1729.  He eventually settled near Gettysburg in Adams county. 
Edward McPherson, born there in 1830, was a Pennsylvania newspaper editor and US Congressman.  As director of the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association, he was responsible for protecting the Gettysburg battlefield site.

There were three McPherson brothers from Coleraine in America - James, Thomas and Adam.  James had arrived in Virginia around 1812, his brothers somewhat later.  By the 1840’s they were settled along the banks of the Mississippi river in Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi.

.  Many Scottish Highlanders came to Nova Scotia in the early 1800’s, including a number of McPhersons such as:

  • Angus MacPherson from Arisaig in Inverness-shire who arrived in the early 1800’s.  He was one of the first postmasters of Antigonish.
  • Alexander and Catherine MacPherson from Eigg in the Hebrides who came on the Hector in 1810.  His grandson Alexander, born in Nova Scotia, went to sea as a young man and ended up in California in 1874.  He started a business there as a supply provisioner for the American shipping calling at San Francisco.
  • John MacPherson from South Uist who was probably in Nova Scotia by the early 1820’s.  In 1835 he had received a land grant at Black River on Cape Breton where he settled and built his homestead.  
  • and Norman McPherson from Skye who came to Pleasant Bay on Cape Breton also probably in the early 1820’s.  He later moved to Cape North where many of his descendants are to be found today.
Alexander MacPherson departed Caithness in NE Scotland with his family in 1876 for British Columbia.  His son Hector moved south in 1911 to Oregon where he was elected to the House of Representatives.  Hector’s son Hector Jr. who was an Oregon State Senator wrote in 2010 MacPherson Family History, an account of his family over four generations.

  Peter MacPherson from Skye had brought his family on the Triton to Sydney in 1825 and settled near Bathurst.  His son John was a squatter and later landowner in the Limestone Plains of NSW.  John’s sons John and James both became lawyers, with John rising to become Premier of Victoria in 1869.

The McPherson emigration from Skye accelerated in the 1850’s, with many heading for Victoria:
  • Angus and Margaret McPherson on the Clifton in January 1852
  • John and Catherine McPherson on the Araminta in October 1852
  • John and Janet McPherson on the Georgiana in October 1852
  • Thomas and Mary McPherson on the Wanata in October 1852  
  • Alexander and Mary McPherson on The Banker’s Daughter in September 1853.
  • Alexander and Janet McPherson on The Arabian in September 1854. 
Similar numbers of McPhersons came to Victoria from Inverness-shire at this time.

Duncan and Mary MacPherson from Badenoch in Inverness-shire were early settlers in Western Australia, arriving at the Swan River Colony in 1846.  However, twenty years later, they lost their land and trekked inland to the Yarra Yarra Lakes where they started a remote grazing station at a place that came to be known as Carnamah.  Duncan and his daughter Maggie ran the telegraph office there for almost forty years.  After the railway went through in 1894 Maggie also ran Carnamah's first post office.

Select McPherson Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

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Jamie Macpherson was a Scottish outlaw hanged in 1700.  His Macpherson’s Lament was later embellished and commemorated by Robert Burns.
James Macpherson
was a Scottish poet, best known as the "translator" of the ancient Ossian cycle of epic poems in the 1760’s.
James Birdseye McPherson was a Union General during the Civil War killed at the Battle of Atlanta in 1864.

Aimee McPherson
 was an American Pentecostal evangelist and media celebrity in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

Select McPhersons Today
  • 19,000 in the UK (most numerous in NE Scotland)
  • 14,000 in America (most numerous in California) 
  • 29,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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