Alexander


Select Alexander Surname Genealogy

The name Alexander derives from the Greek Alexandros, a compound of alexin, to defend, plus andros, the genitive form of aner, a man; hence, "defender of men."  The name became hereditary among the Macedonian kings, including of course Alexander the Great.  The name was also borne by various early Christian saints.

Alexander under various different spellings became a common name in Europe.   It was first introduced into Scotland in the 11th century and King Alexander I ruled the country from 1107 to 1124.  Its first appearance as a surname was William Alexander in the Edinburgh records of 1435.       

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Scotland. Early Alexanders were in Stirling by 1330 although they did not adopt Alexander as their surname until around 1500. 

The best known of these Alexanders was Sir William Alexander who prospered with James VI of Scotland (and James I of England).  He was first tutor to his son, then granted the Lordship of Nova Scotia in a scheme to promote its colonization (which almost bankrupted him), and later as Earl of Stirling was
Secretary of State for Scotland from 1626 until his death in 1640.

Many Alexanders were staunch Presbyterians and faced persecution in the late 1600's.  Some left for Ulster in the hope of finding toleration there.  A number later departed for America.  One Presbyterian minister John Alexander, educated at Glasgow, managed to divide his time between Ulster and England.

Ireland.  John Alexander was an early settler in Donegal, renting lands in 1613 near Raphoe from a Scottish landlord on condition that  "he did not alienate the premises to no mere Irishman or any other person unless he or they first take the Oath of Supremacy." 

His eldest son John bought the lands of Enagh and Caw on the east bank of the river Foyle, just north of Londonderry, in 1686 and they remained in his family until the 20th century.  A younger son the Rev. Andrew Alexander was the ancestor of the Alexanders of Ahilly and Milford.  Another younger son William was the forebear of Alexanders in Maryland
.

Captain Andrew Alexander from the Menstrie line of Alexanders went out to Ulster in 1663 and was granted lands near Limavady in county Derry.  James Alexander of this family left for India in 1752 and made a huge fortune there as a merchant.  On return, he was ennobled as the Earl of Caledon in 1800.  Later Earls had distinguished military careers; while other Alexander descendants included:
  • Sir William Alexander, the Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1809
  • Nicholas Alexander, the early 19th century Anglican Bishop of Meath 
  • William Alexander, the Anglican Primate for All Ireland in 1896 
  • and  Earl Alexander of Tunis, Commander in Chief in the Mediterranean during World War Two.
England.  Alexander is not just a Scottish surname.  The name was also to be found in Hampshire and Wiltshire in southern England.

Richard Alexander who departed for St. Helena in the south Atlantic in 1673 had been a farm laborer in Yateley in Hampshire.  William Alexander, a yeoman farmer, held land near Malmesbury in Wiltshire in 1693, as did his grand-daughter Elizabeth a century later.   Alexanders in Ramsbury, Wiltshire seem to have begun with the marriage of John Alexander and Elizabeth Braxton in 1708.  Alexanders from there were transported to Tasmania during the rural unrest of the 1830's and later departed for America and New Zealand.

America
.  Alexanders made a name for themselves in Virginia.  John Alexander was an early arrival from Scotland in 1636, a tobacco merchant who later acquired land in the Northern Neck of Virginia.  He established his own home Caledon (now a national park) and also surveyed nearby Mount Vernon, the land of the Washingtons. 

Two descendants of John, Captain Philip and his cousin Captain John, gave land to what in the 1750's became known after them as the town of Alexandria.  Philip's son William was the forebear of the Effingham Alexanders.

Other early arrivals were Scots or Scots Irish.  Many were Presbyterians who sought America as a place of refuge from persecution at home.  Included in this number were:
  • the Alexanders from Donegal who came to Somerset county, Maryland around 1672.  Their descendants subsequently migrated to North Carolina, and later to Kentucky and Illinois.  
  • David Alexander and his family, possibly related to the Donegal Alexanders above, who came with Scots Irish immigrants to Topsham, Maine around 1719.  Other family relatives settled in New Hampshire.
  • Archibald Alexander, from county Down, who came to Pennsylvania around 1736 and settled ten years later in a Scots Irish community in Rockbridge county, Virginia in the Shenandoah valley.  His grandson Dr. Archibald Alexander was the eminent Presbyterian theologian at Princeton.
  • and John and Margaret Alexander from Lanarkshire who departed Armagh for Chester county, Pennsylvania also in 1736.   This line was covered in the Rev. John Alexander's 1878 book Descendants of John Alexander.   
A review of early Alexanders in America was provided by William M. Clemens' 1914 book Alexander Family Records.

Adam Alexander was a Scottish physician from Inverness who had come out as an early settler to Georgia in 1776.  His son Adam Leopold Alexander became a successful planter and banker in Wilkes county in antebellum Georgia; while his grandson Edward Porter Alexander was a Confederate General during the Civil War.  After the war, the old plantation life was no longer possible and Edward became a respected author about the Civil War.

Canada.  The year 1826 was known as "the year of the short crop" in Aberdeen.  In this year of water famine, Adam Alexander took his wife and four of their nine children and left Scotland for Canada.  By 1836 Adam had been able to save enough money to buy land at the foot of the Niagara escarpment in Ontario. Four generations, all named Adam Alexander, farmed the land from 1836 to 1961.  The farm now forms part of the Halton county heritage collection.  

New Zealand.  William Alexander was an Englishman who had emigrated to New Zealand on the sailing ship Robert Small in 1858 and was a storekeeper and running a small cordial business at Kaiapoa on the west coast of South Island three years later.  Later Alexanders of this family became house-builders in the 1950's.   

Select Alexander Miscellany

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


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Sir William Alexander
was Secretary of State for Scotland from 1626 until his death in 1640.
James Alexander prospered as a merchant in India and returned to Ireland to become the Earl of Caledon in 1800.
Matthias Alexander, Australian-born, developed in the early 1900's the physical educational process that became known as the Alexander technique.
Harold Alexander, Earl Alexander of Tunis, was Commander in Chief of the Allied Forces in the Mediterranean during World War Two.
C.H.O'D. (Hugh) Alexander was an Anglo-Irish cryptanalyst who worked at Bletchley during World War Two and was subsequently a British chess champion.

Select Alexanders Today
  • 33,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 68,000 in America (most numerous in Texas) 
  • 31,000 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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