Thursday, May 31, 2018

Armstrong Family Line

According to a legend, the original surname of the family was Fairbairn. It was changed into Armstrong after a Fairbairn helped a king of Scotland who had problems with getting his horse. Fairbairn lifted the king who was wearing his heavy armor and placed the king on the saddle of his steed. Armstrong = Strong Arms was the name chosen for the strong Fairbairn who was also granted by the king with the coat of arms and some land.

Clan Armstrong, originally of English heritage, lived around the border between England and Scotland. The border line was 110 miles long. That area, due to frequent Anglo-Scot wars, was a territory of turmoil and lawlessness. The locals could not count on any kind of government aid as the state institutions were simply too far from there. In such circumstances, the families who lived in that territory, including the Armstrongs, became border reivers to make their people survive. Among all the eighty-nine reiver families, they were the largest, the most bellicose and feared ones.

 Clan Armstrong crest - an arm for the soldier/armed

The seat of the clan chief was Mangerton Castle situated on a bank of the Liddle River.

The line of Alexander Armstrong (born 21 Dec. 1264), the 2nd Clan Chief and the first Laird of Mangerton is our direct family line (20 generations back)*. Very likely, Alexander took part in the battle of Bannockburn (1314 - the first war of Scottish Independence) and was of service to King Robert the Bruce.

Alexander was killed by William de Soulis of Hermitage Castle. The latter one, according to legends, practiced black magic and made a covenant with the Devil. William also violated local ladies, including an Armstrong girl. He also killed the girl's father who tried to defend her. As a result of that, the people of the area wanted to execute the killer. However, Alexander who investigated the incident calmed the locals down and saved William.

Considering Alexander's position and social influences, William de Soulis regarded Alexander as a rival. Therefore, he decided to get rid of our Armstrong man. Pretending to be thankful for saving his life, William invited Alexander to his castle for a feast. Alexander accepted the invitation not suspecting anything malicious. Sadly, during the feast he was stabbed to death by de Soulis.

The Armstrong Tartan

The companions of Alexander brought his body back to Mangerton castle. However, when they arrived there, it was too late in the night to bury the clan chief. His body was left till the morning at the Armstrong family cemetery place. On the next day, Alexander was buried. It happened in 1320. 

To honor Alexander, the memorial called Milnholm Cross was placed at the spot where his corpse was laid for the night.

A year later, William was trialed for treason - he plotted against King Robert the Bruce and was put in prison (Dumbarton Castle) where he died in April 1321.

Studying the input regarding Alexander, I found out his wife was Marguerite de Dampress whose ancestry line goes through Germany and Belgium to France, and to King of Burgundy and Italy. I will write about that in another post, though.

From Alexander, 1st Laird of Mangerton, the family line goes to his son 
Alexander Armstrong (b. ≈1318 / d. ≈1376), Clan Chief, 2nd Laird of Mangerton
his son Clan Chief Alexander Armstrong IV (b. ≈1340 /d. ≈1398) , 3rd Laird of Mangerton
his son Lord Archibald Armstrong (b. ≈1370 Mangerton Castle, Dumfrieshire, Scotland/d. ≈ 1445)
his son Thomas Armstrong, 5th Laird of Mangerton (b. ≈1425/d. 1498)
his son Sir Alexander Armstrong, 6th Laird of Mangerton (b. ≈1445/d.≈1510)
his son John (Johnnie) Armstrong of Gilnockie (b. ≈1480)

The Gilnockie Castle, where Johnnie lived, was a couple of kilometers north of Canobie, on the Esk River, in County Eskedale.

Gilnockie Tower, Scotland - built in 1518

John and forty-six other men were executed at Carligrig by King James IV (≈ 1530). Johhnie became a legendary character and a hero of folk ballads (I guess, due to the circumstances of his death).
Johnnie's son Christopher Armstrong of Mangerton (b. ≈1526/ d. 22 Sept. 1606)
his son Colonel William Armstrong (b. 1565/d. 6 June 1646 - killed during the battle of Benburb)

During his life, in 1604, William moved to Ireland to escape being executed by King James Justice court.
his son Edward Armstrong of Terwinnay (b. 1604, Brookboro, Fermanagh, Ireland/d. 1650, Ederney, Terwinney, Ireland)

Edward served as a captain during the Civil War in Ireland. He married an Irish lady Mary Maguire ≈ 1625 in Brookboro. Her father was Cpt Thomas Maguire. The Maguires were kings of the County Fermanagh (13th-17th century).

Maguire Coat of Arms
Location of Fermanagh (Maguire) - Ulster, late 15th century

Edward and Margaret's son James Armstrong (b. ≈1645/d. ≈1758). Possibly, he came to North Carolina in 1744.
his son James Armstrong (b. 24 Jan. 1684, Brookeborough, Fermanagh, Ireland/d. 1 May 1745, Paxtang, Dauphin Co., Pennsylvania)
 his son James Armstrong III (b. ≈1707, Paxtang, Dauphine, PA/d. Dec. 1758,
Paxtang, Dauphine, PA)
his son William Armstrong (b. ≈ 1739, Paxtang, Pennsylvania/ d. 21 June 1780, Lincolton, Lincoln, North Carolina)

Some sources say that William was a son of John (b. circa 1715) - a son of Edward Armstrong of Terwinnay. That John's wife was Mary Jean Graham. However, in a book on Graham's ancestry which I have come across, I have not found any information they had a son named William. That source says that John was the John "Jack" Armstrong who was killed by Indians in 1744.
William's daughter Elizabeth Armstrong (b. 4 Feb. 1762, Mecklenburg, NC/d. 4 Jan. 1834, Pendleton District, Anderson, SC)

On 17 Jan. 1783, in Lincoln Co., NC, Elizabeth married Giles Gant (b. 2 August 1756, Granville County, North Carolina), our direct ancestor 7 generations back.

*My MyHeritage research 
  • Clan Armstrong Crest By Celtus (Celtus @ english wikipedia) - Own work by uploader. The crest element is adapted from an image in an out-of-copyright book: Matthews' American armoury and blue book (1907)., CC BY-SA 3.0,
  • Tartan
    Public Domain,
    Gilnockie tower By Farmer erik at English Wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Raven1977 using CommonsHelper., Public Domain,
  • Maguire Crest: By self-created - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
  • Location of Fermanagh - map: By Mabuska (talk) - I (Mabuska (talk)) created this work entirely by myself., CC BY-SA 3.0,


  1. I live in the Scottish Borders, so it was interesting to read the history of your Armstrong family and the fact you got back to such an early date. It is one of the most popular surnames here.

  2. Thank you. I enjoy learning about history of the land and our ancestors while working on discovering the family roots. I have found more on the family Scottish lines, some discoveries are quite amazing. I am going to write about it soon.

  3. You have some wonderful family stories here. Very interesting.