How the Maxwells spread across the World

That the name Maxwell originates in the border country of Scotland is not in dispute. But how the Maxwells spread world-wide is a harder story to tell.

Early in the thirteenth century there were two families of the name both descended from the progenitor Herbert de Maccusweil. The Chiefly line had homes on the Maxwell barony in the borders near Kelso and at the castle of Caerlaverock on the Solway coast. The principal cadet lived at Nether Pollok on the banks of the Clyde. Both families proliferated and expanded their influence and power by service to the crown and by advantageous marriages.

At the time of Robert the Bruce the family was one of great power and was courted by both the English and the Scots for their controlling interests in the border. Undoubtedly the first Maxwells ventured abroad around this time. Sir Aymer Maxwell seems a likely candidate for one of the first crusaders and his marital ties with the daughter of Sir Roland de Mearns strengthens this theory as the later was a known crusader. Both Maxwell of Pollok and Sir James Maxwell of Calderwood are believed to have gone on the second crusade the latter in the service of the French king. It appears that Sir Herbert Maxwell of Caerlaverock accompanied Sir James Douglas on his pilgrimage to the holy lands with the heart of Robert the Bruce. Sir Herbert was one of knights who brought the Bruce’s heart back to Scotland when their mission foundered in Spain.

Living on the border, the Maxwells had a hard life during the wars of independence and were at times subjected to over lordship in both the English and Scottish causes. Sir Eustace Maxwell finally came down in favour of the Scottish camp and was a witness to the treaty of Arbroath in 1392, a document widely regarded as Scotland’s declaration of independence.

Around this time, some Maxwell families are believed to have settled in England possibly due to the unsettled state of the border country. A large family seems to have settled in Surrey in the middle of the 15th century. Also at this time there was a widespread settlement of English and Scots in Ireland and Maxwells start to appear in Irish records from the 1450’s onward.

As the reformation swept throughout Europe over the next one hundred years more Maxwells left their homelands for England and Ireland looking for peaceful existence. Those that went to Ireland found themselves caught up in the great troubles of that state inflicted by Henry VIII and later by Queen Elizabeth.

During the sixteenth century, Scots sailing vessels began to cross the Atlantic to both South and North America and one can suppose that amongst these early transatlantic seafarers were Maxwells. There is evidence of several of the Clydesdale Maxwell families being involved in mercantile trade from the fifteenth century onward. The Maxwells of Newark were a leading merchant family with their deep water dock on the Clyde by modern day Port Glasgow. At what date the first Maxwell settled in North America, I can not say, but it would be a fair assumption to suppose that it was around the 1580’s.

With the union of the crowns in 1605 there came a mass migration of lowland Scots to England where the climate and living was easier. Maxwells were amongst these émigrés. Maxwells from Ireland also moved back across the water either to Scotland but more usually to England. The Maxwells particularly in the border country had been a landed family and those that migrated from Scotland were usually younger sons who were unlikely to inherit their fathers estates and so set out into the world to seek their fortunes. The Clydesdale Maxwells were undoubtedly more numerous but had less property so younger sons had been entering trades or established businesses for a couple of centuries before emigration started in earnest. As a result of having little or no attachment to the land these Maxwell found it easier to migrate in search of greener pastures.

Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth century, Maxwells in their hundreds shipped out of the ports of Scotland, England and Ireland destined for the North American continent, there to settle and become the greatest population of Maxwells in the world today. There they fought on both sides during the war of independence and were amongst the first pioneers to head out to the west. When the First Fleet set sail for Australia in 1788, two of the officers were Maxwells although both died without descendants they were the first Maxwells to set foot in the Antipodes. More Maxwells followed some in convicts chains. Maxwells helped open up the dark continent of Africa, one of the authors own relatives died at Lakoja on the west coast in the 1860's. They also went to South America with the great wave of European settler's that went there in the nineteenth century.

Back in Europe, Maxwells had travelled as professional soldiers through out the continent for hundreds of years. Some had risen so high in foreign service that they commanded armies. Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria had a General John Maxwell in command of part of his army and another General Maxwell had command of a Russian Army in the eighteenth century. It is to be noted that a great many Maxwells have risen to high command in the various Armies of the world, it may be something in the blood!.

In my research I have often tried to work out how many Maxwell there are in the world today. In 1881 the official census of Great Britain records that there are 7200 Maxwells. Today I estimate there to be about 16,500 Maxwell in Scotland England Wales and Northern Ireland. However in the United States there are estimated to be over 65,000, bring a world population to in excess of 85,000 which I am sure would make old Herbert de Maccusweil turn in his grave!

Copyright © 2001 Maxwell World Web & George Anthony Maxwell