Select Knox Surname Genealogy

The Old English cnocc and the Gaelic cnoc, both meaning a "rounded topped hill" or hillock, gave rise to the surname Knox, either directly or through the place-name Knock (in particular the Knock in Renfrewshire).  The surname is common in Lowland Scotland and Northern Ireland.

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Scotland.  The forebear of the Knox family was said to have been Adamus, of Saxon origin, who received the barony of Cnoc or Knox in Renfrewshire as part of a dowry.  The first recorded spelling of the name was that of John de Cnoc, his son, in 1260 in the charter lists for Renfrewshire.  For many generations this family held the castle of Ranfurly (between present day Glasgow and Greenock).

John Knox, the great Scottish reformer, is thought to have come from these Ranfurly Knoxes.  He was born into a farming family in Haddington near Edinburgh around 1510.  After a nomadic time in England and the Continent, Knox's moment came in 1560 when the Scottish Parliament voted for the overthrow of the old Catholic church and its replacement by a Reformed Kirk.  It was he who shaped the new Presbyterian Church.  John Knox himself had no sons but his brother William had three.

During the 17th century, many Knoxes left the Scottish borders for Glasgow or for Ulster (where there are larger numbers today).   

  Knox is a Scottish border name and the main spillover into England has been into the English border counties of Northumberland and Durham.  Many Knoxes became Durham coal miners.  David Knox was a blacksmith at the Bamburgh castle estate in Northumberland in the 1870's.  His blacksmith shop was passed to his son John and then to John's daughter Elizabeth. 

  The Knox name came to Ireland when Thomas Knox, a Glasgow merchant, moved to Belfast in the 1660's and subsequently established himself at Northland House in county Tyrone as the successor of the Ranfurly Knoxes.  Indeed the grandson Thomas Knox assumed the title of Earl of Ranfurly; and a descendant even resurrected the ancient name of Uchter (he, the fifth Earl, became Governor of New Zealand in the early 1900's).

There were many Scots Irish Knox families in Tyrone and Fermanagh as a result of the Scottish plantations, and also in Belfast, Derry, and Donegal:
  • Andrew Knox, a relative of the great reformer, was bishop of Raphoe and had secured land in Rathmullan, Donegal as early as 1612.  This family also held land in Derry and they built Prehen House on the outskirts of town around 1740. 
  • and three brothers from Renfrewshire settled as tenant farmers near Coleraine in Derry sometime around 1620.
America.   The Knox name appeared at an early time, in 1652, in Dover, New Hampshire.  The progenitor of this family was Thomas Nock of English origin, probably from Shropshire.  Later generations of the family changed the spelling to Knox.  One branch settled in Saco, Maine.  Chaplain George Knox of this branch was killed during the Revolutionary War when he fell from his horse during an engagement with the enemy.

Scots IrishHenry Knox was a hero of the Revolutionary War.  He had come from a poor background in Boston, the son of a Scots Irish sea captain from Donegal who had fallen on hard times.  He rose to prominence as a military commander during the Revolutionary War, a protege of George Washington, and subsequently served as US Secretary of War.  One line of this family - from Arthur Knox - headed west and became pioneer settlers in Oregon territory.

John Knox was also Scots Irish, from Derry, and had come to America around 1740, ultimately landing in Rowan County, North Carolina where he and his family were among the earliest settlers.  His descendants were prominent in the Revolutionary War (William Knox was with Washington at Valley Forge) and included the 11th President of the United States, James K (for Knox) Polk.  The lineage is traced in Hattie Goodman's 1905 book, The Knox Family.

Another Scots Irish Knox, William, came to Massachusetts in 1737.  His descendants were also active in the Revolutionary War.  However, these Knoxes only came to prominence much later.  Seymour Knox, a co-founder of the F.W. Woolworth chain, made a fortune from five-and-dime stores and his family has been a force in Buffalo, New York ever since.

Other early Scots Irish arrivals were:
  • Matthew Knox to Mecklenburg county, North Carolina in the early 1760's   
  • Robert Knox to Lincoln county, North Carolina in the 1770's
  • and James Knox and his family from Donegal to Charleston, South Carolina n 1767 
Australia and New Zealand.  Some of the Knox immigrants were Scots, such as William and Mary Knox from Renfrewshire who arrived in the 1860's; and others were Scots Irish such as:
  • Thomas and Jane Knox in 1854 from Tyrone on the Hilton (their infant son Andrew died en route)
  • Joseph Knox in 1863 also from Tyrone (his family story is recounted in The Knox Chronicles
  • and James and Elizabeth Knox in the 1860's from Fermanagh (he became a JP in Victoria).
An earlier arrival to New Zealand had been Dr. Frederick Knox, the younger brother of the Edinburgh anatomist Robert Knox.  He and his family arrived in Wellington on the Martha Ridgeway in 1840 and were old Port Nicholson settlers.  The writer Elizabeth Knox is one of Wellington's current residents.

Select Knox Miscellany

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

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Adamus de Knox
is said to be the forebear of the Knox family of Renfrewshire.
John Knox was leader of the Protestant Reformation in Scotland and founder of the Presbyterian church.
Thomas Knox, a Glasgow merchant, established the Knox lineage in Ireland.
Henry Knox was the military hero of the Revolutionary War from Boston who later became the nation's first Secretary for War.  Fort Knox in Kentucky, where the US gold reserves are deposited, is named after him.
Seymour Knox was a 19th century businessman from Buffalo, New York who made his fortune in five-and-dime stores.
Frank Knox was a US newspaper publisher, politician, and Secretary of the Navy during World War Two.

Select Knoxes Today
  • 12,000 in the UK (most numerous in Belfast)
  • 16,000 in America (most numerous in Texas).
  • 13,000 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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