Ross is a Scottish Highland clan name and also describes the territory in NW Scotland that was once called Ross-shire and is now Ross and Cromarty. The name is thought to have come either from the Gaelic word ros, meaning "headland" or "promontory," or (less likely) from the Norse word hross or "horse."
The Ross name could have different roots outside of the Highlands:
- from an Anglo-Norman de Ros family which settled in Ayrshire
- from the Welsh rhos, meaning "moor" or
- or from the Middle English rous or
Ross Resources on
- Clan Ross. International clan Ross associations.
- Clan Ross Association of Canada. Canadian Ross clan website.
- Balnagowan Castle. Balnagowan castle and family history.
- Ross Family History. The Ross family of the Cherokees.
Scotland. Easter Ross in Ross-shire emerged as the stronghold
for the Earls of
Ross and clan Ross in the 12th century. The first Earl
of Ross may have been Malcolm MacAedth around 1155. The first
recognizable clan chief was Fearchar who supported the
Scottish king in 1214 in dealing with rebellions in Ross-shire.
The title of the Earl of Ross and Ross clan leadership went
together until clan leadership passed to the Ross lairds of
Balnagowan in 1372. They adopted the Ross surname but they were
no longer the Earls of Ross. From their base at Balnagowan castle
home of former Harrod's boss Mohammed Al-Fayed), they did hold onto the Ross clan leadership for more than three
with the neighboring MacKay and
Sutherland clans were to characterize much of that time.
Ross, the 12th Laird of Balnagowan,
incurred a heavy debt when he raised a regiment of clansmen in support
Charles II. It all ended in
disaster. He took a thousand clansmen to fight with him at the Battle of
Worcester in 1651. After the defeat he was
taken prisoner and
died in the Tower of London, while many of the surviving clansmen were
transported to the colonies.
Laird died childless and even further in debt and the
estate had to be sold:
- first to the Ross family of Hawkhead, an unrelated Norman de
Ros family from Renfrewshire in the Scottish Lowlands
- and then in 1745 to the Lockhart family of Carstairs in Lanarkshire who adopted the name of Lockhart-Ross. These Lockhart-Rosses became noted for their eccentricities. The line lasted until 1942.
The atrocities culminated in the slaughter of Ross women, the massacre of Rosses, at Strathcarron in 1854. Then there were the Ross-shire sheep riots in 1872.
The Highlands still accounted for over half of the Rosses in Scotland in the 1891 census. But the 18th and 19th centuries had witnessed a Ross and Highland dispersal - south to lowland Scotland and to England, and more overseas.
America. The Rosses of Philadelphia were unlikely Revolutionary heroes, but became so. The Rev. George Ross, the Anglican missionary who had come to New Castle in Delaware in 1705, was the son of David Blair, the Laird of Balbair in Ross-shire:
- his son George Ross was Tory for much of
his life. However, disgusted with British intransigence, he changed
his views and was one of the last
signers of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
- while his granddaughter-in-law Betsy Ross is widely credited with having made the first American flag, supposedly at the request of George Washington.
A notable John Ross of the next generation was Chief of the Cherokee Nation from 1828 to 1860. He was in fact only one-eighth Cherokee, being the son of a part-Cherokee mother and a Scottish father, Daniel Ross, who had come to Cherokee country in the 1780’s from Baltimore to trade.
More recently, Ross in America can be a Jewish adopted name:
- Barney Ross, from New York Jewish roots, was world boxing champion at various weights in the 1930’s
- while Steve Ross, the CEO of Time Warner, also came from a New York Jewish family; and Stephen Ross, the real estate developer and owner of the Miami Dolphins, was born into a Jewish family in Detroit.
Indian Ocean. The Ross name was attached to the Cocos islands in the Indian Ocean. John Clunies Ross arrived there in 1825 and he and his descendants were running the islands and trading their copra for the next one hundred and fifty years.
If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:
Select Ross Names
Hugh Ross, the first laird of Balnagowan, was in 1372 the first chief of the Ross clan to adopt the name Ross as his surname.
Betsy Ross is credited with having sewn the first American flag in 1776.
John Ross, also known as Guwisguwi, was chief of the Cherokee Indian nation from 1828 to 1860.
Sir John Ross and his nephew Sir James Ross were 19th century Arctic explorers, the latter leaving his name to Ross Sea in Antarctica.
Harold Ross founded the New Yorker magazine in New York in 1925.
Diana Ross emerged as the lead singer with the Supremes and then as a best-selling solo artist.
Select Rosses Today
- 60,000 in the UK (most numerous in Aberdeen)
- 96,000 in America (most numerous in California)
- 55,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)
Select Surname List
For other surnames check the surnames2 page where there are to be found the history and genealogy for more than 800 surnames.
Return to Main Page