Surname History
Lilla McKnight Licht
From book:
McKnight genealogy, 1754-1981 : the documented story of the descendants of James McKnight (1754-1835) of Adams and Crawford Counties, Pennsylvania, and his wives, Mary Sterrett McKnight and Lovina (Leonard) Weller McKnight
by Lilla Giles McKnight Licht
476 pages
Publisher: L.G.M. Licht; ASIN: 0960718400; 1st ed. edition

Ancient History
of the Distinguished Surname
The northern border of England, interfacing with lowland Scotland, produced a thirty-mile wide corridor from Carlisle to Berwick from which many of the prominent names of the world emerged. Amongst these distinguished surnames was McKnight.

Research of ancient documents including the Inquisition, the Exchequer Rolls of Scotland, the Ragman Rolls The Hearth Rolls, the Domesday Book, parish cartularies, baptismals, and tax rolls revealed that the first record of the name McKnight was found in Kirkcudbright where they were seated from early times and their first records appeared on the early census rolls taken by the early Kings of Britain to determine the rate of taxation of their subjects.

Although your name, McKnight, occurred in many references, from time to time the surname was spelt MacKnight, MacKnyght, MacNaught, MacNaight, MacKnaught, MacKnaight, MacNight, MacNyght, and these changes in spelling frequently occurred, even between father and son. Sometimes a different spelling on each occasion through a lifetime at the same person’s birth, death or marriage.

The family name McKnight is believed to be descended originally from the Strathclyde Britons. This ancient, founding race of the north were a mixture Gaelic/Celts whose original territories ranged from Lancashire in the south, northward to the south bank of the River Clyde in Scotland. They were divided into three sub-kingdoms, the Selgovians south of the Clyde, the Novantii in Galloway in south west Scotland, and the Rhiged to the south in Cumberland, Westmorland, and Lancashire.

From 400 A.D. to 900 A.D. their territory was overrun firstly by the Irish Gaels, then the Angles from the east, and, finally the Picts and Dalriadans from the north. However, their basic culture remained relatively undisturbed. By 1000 A.D., however, the race had formed into discernible Clans and families, perhaps some of the first evidence of the family structure in Britain.

By the 16th and 17th centuries many of our modern family names descended directly from, this ancient race, including McKnight. Many of these families were later found scattered, not only throughout England, Scotland and Ireland, but all over the world, surnames which can now be traced back to this locality and time period. Tracing its ancient development, the name McKnight was found in Kirkcudbriqht where they were recorded as a family of great antiquity seated at Barskeaugh with manor and estates in that shire. By the 15th century they had branched to Kitquhyndiy in the same county, and also in the parish of Kirkmadreck. Within the same century they acquired lands of Cross- Michael and Borg. They also held branches in Ayrshire and Galloway. Notable amongst the family at this time was MacKnight of Barskeaugh. The natural division of Scotland and England, an arbitrary line from Carlisle to Berwick, posed an artificial division to the unity of the ancient Strathclyde Britons and their family groupings. To the north they became Scottish, to the south English. However many of the family structures would continue to be unified clans, powers unto themselves, owing little allegiance to either Scotland or England, having territories and political interests on both sides of the border.

Soon after the Norman Conquest border life was in turmoil. In 1246, 6 Chiefs from the Scottish side and 6 from the English side met at Carlisle and produced a set of laws governing all the border Clans. These were unlike any laws prevailing in England or Scotland or, for that matter, anywhere else in the world. Fox example, it was a far greater offence to refuse to help a neighbour recover his property, wife, sheep, cattle or horses than it was to steal them in the first place. Hence the expression ‘Hot Trod, or, a hot pursuit, from which we get the modern ‘Hot to trot’. For refusal of assistance during a ‘Hot Trod’, a person could be hanged on the instant, without trial. Frequently, the descendants of these clans or families apologetically refer to themselves as being descended from ‘Cattle of horse thieves’ when; in fact, it was an accepted code of life on the border.

In 1603, the Union of the Scottish and English crowns became reality under King James VI of Scotland, who was also crowned King James 1st of England. The Crown dispersed these ‘unruly border clans’. In 1587, an Act of Scottish Parliament had condemned certain border families for their lawlessness. Scotland was moving toward breaking up the old ‘border code’. Hence, the Border Clans were banished to England, northern Scotland and to Ireland. Some were outlawed directly to Ireland, the Colonies and the New World.

Many of the Border Clans settled in Northern Ireland, transferred between 1650 and 1700 with grants of land provided they ‘undertook’ to remain protestant. Hence they became known as the ‘Undertakers’. Many became proudly Irish. In Ireland their name frequently became Ruddery.

But there were many who were dissatisfied with life in Ireland, and sought a more rewarding life. They looked to the New World and sailed aboard the ‘White Sails’ an armada of sailing ships such as the Hector, the Rambler, and the Dove, which struggled across the stormy Atlantic. Some ships lost 30 or 40% of their passenger list, migrants who died of disease and the elements.

In North America, some of the first migrants which could be considered kinsmen of the family name McKnight and their spelling variants were Alexander, Andrew, David, Douglas, George, Hugh, James, John, Robert, Samuel and William McKnight all arrived in Philadelphia between 1840 and 1860; Robert McNaight settled in Charleston in 1763. (McNaught/McKnight in PA by 1740 - McNutt in NH, 1717 - MacKnights in upstate NY by 1738)

From the port of arrival many joined the wagon trains westward, moving to the prairies on the west coast. During the American War of Independence those that remained loyal to the Crown moved north into Canada and became known as the United Empire Loyalists.

There were many prominent notable contemporaries of this name McKnight, Alan MacKnight, Australian Educator; Dame Ella MacKnight, Obstetrician.

The most ancient grant of a Coat of Arms found was: Black with three gold lion’s heads.
The Crest is: A gold half lion
The ancient family motto for this distinguished name is; “Nil Durum Volenti”

The above article was submitted by
Lilla McKnight Licht

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