Select Little Surname Genealogy

The common explanation of the Little surname was that it originally was a nickname describing a little man. Alternatively, it might signify the younger of two men bearing the same name.  Little has its surname counterparts as Klein in Germany and Petit in France.

However, many with the name of Little originated from the Scottish border clan of Little.  The early spelling seems to have been Lidil or Litil.  The meaning here is unclear.  

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Select Little Ancestry

ScotlandLittle surname origins in Scotland may have been English.  The name then appeared at the time of William Wallace in the late 1200's.  Soon afterwards the Littles were to be found in Dumfriesshire on the Scottish borders.  In 1426 Simon Little became the first Laird of Meikledale. 

Border Reivers.  For three centuries the Littles shared with the Armstrongs and Beatties the steep-sided dales immediately to the north and west of the present town of Langholm at the extreme east end of Dumfriesshire.  These clans thrived during the lawless times of the 1500’s on the Scottish borders.  One source of income was sheep.   Another source was stealing horses, from the English or wherever they could find them.

“In 1568 over a hundred Littles rode with the Armstrongs and other Border families in John Maxwell’s raid on Stirling.  Family tradition has it that the Littles returned with many more horses than they set out with.”

In 1603 King James of Scotland and England was determined to put down this lawlessness. His wish was carried through with sword, noose and torch.  Chiefs were hanged and those who survived were forced to quit their lands.

David Little was to be the last Laird of Meikledale.  He was given work as a groom at Windsor castle and his line died out a century later.

.  The Littles of Liberton in Edinburgh, burgess merchants, were a branch of the border clan that dated from around 1500. Clement Little was a founder of the University of Edinburgh Library in 1580. His son William Little was twice Provost of Edinburgh.  These Littles later became Little Gilmour. 

The Border Littles had begun to scatter in the early 17th century, fleeing from persecution, poverty and overcrowding.  They crossed the English border into Cumberland and to the Ulster plantations.  Littles in both Cumberland and Ulster now outnumber those in Dumfriesshire.

.  The English county of Cumberland was a natural settling point for Border Littles, the town of Carlisle being only twenty miles south of the Scottish western Marches.  Littles found work there as cloth dryers. 

William Little, born in 1676 and a tenant farmer in Stapleton parish, seems to have been the ancestor of many Littles, both in England and in America (a descendant Thomas Little departed for South Carolina in 1806). 

There were Littles, probably unrelated, in SW England. 
William Little and his son George were merchants in Dorchester, Dorset in the 1630’s.  Thomas Little departed Devon for Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1631.  John Little of Corsham in Wiltshire was transported to Barbados in 1657.  Other Littles in Wiltshire included John Little who married Margaret Wait in Corsham in 1761 and Joseph Little who married Mary Jones in Trowbridge in 1790.

  Little is a name found in Ulster.  Interestingly the largest numbers in Griffith’s Valuation of the mid-19th century were in the inland counties of Fermanagh and Tyrone.  Fermanagh was where many Armstrongs had migrated and Littles had followed them there. 

Robert and Jane Little had four children born in Enniskillen between 1676 and 1682.  They had descendants at Aghalurcher and elsewhere in Fermanagh. 
Meanwhile a Little family had been leasing land at Pubble township near Enniskillen from 1744.  Archibald Little of this family married Isabella Potters around 1788 and they later emigrated to America.  Francis Little was born near Clones in Fermanagh in the late 1700’s.

The Gaelic surname O’Beagain was derived from beag meaning “small” or “little.”  This sometime got anglicized as Little in Munster.

  The first Littles in America were English. 

English.  Thomas Little who sailed from Devon was first recorded in Massachusetts in 1633.  He later made his home in Littletown, Marshfield.  George and Nathaniel Little, both born in Marshfield, fought in the Revolutionary War:

  • George was a Navy officer who was captured by the British, imprisoned, but later escaped.  His capture of a French vessel in 1800 caused controversy.
  • while Nathaniel served on land as a captain during the Revolutionary War.  He later made his home in Ohio.
Another English arrival, from London, was George Little who came to Newbury, Massachusetts in 1640.  His descendants included Colonel Moses Little and Colonel Joshua Little, remarkable men of vigor at the time of the Revolutionary War, and Charles Coffin Little, born in Maine, who co-founded the publishing company of Little Brown & Co in 1837.  George Little’s 1877 book Descendants of George Little covered this line.

  According to family legend (although unproven), John Little was born about 1675 in Scotland and came to what was then East Jersey sometime in the early 1700's.  He was the forebear of a notable New Jersey family based in Monmouth county. 
He and his son John were both sitting Judges on the Court of Common Pleas in the county.  Interestingly, these Littles of Scottish extraction all married Dutch women between the years 1735 and 1820.

The Littles were Patriots during the Revolutionary War and suffered brutality from the British as a result.  After the war one son
Thomas became a member of the New Jersey legislature.  Another son Theophilus purchased several thousand acres of land in Pennsylvania in an area that was to become Sullivan county.  His family moved there in stages between 1803 and 1813.  His son Thomas, known as Squire Little, moved to Ohio in 1815 and there were later Little descendants in Illinois. 

Captain George Little from Dumfries arrived in South Carolina and fought in the Revolutionary War.  He was severely wounded during the fighting, leaving him a cripple.  He died in Kentucky.  His son John migrated to Tennessee and then to Texas.  William Little, also from Dumfries and also in South Carolina, was killed in 1781 during the Revolutionary War.  His son William Joseph Little settled in Georgia, fought in the Creek Indian War, and was a Justice of the Peace in Carroll county.

GermanThere were also Kleins who became Littles in America.   Johann Peter Klein, also known as Peter Little, was the founder of Littlestown in Adams county, Pennsylvania in 1760. Colonel Peter Little was a US Congressman for Maryland in the early 1800’s; while Henry Little settled in Frederick county, Maryland. 

Another Klein/Little line began with Johann Daniel Klein who became Daniel Little in Rowan county, North Carolina.  Pauline Shook’s 1994 book was entitled Captain Daniel Little and His Contemporaries.  Daniel’s descendants started a family organization at their reunion in Hickory, North Carolina in 1978

Caribbean.  George and Matthew Little left Dumfriesshire for Jamaica in the early 1800's.  Both died young there in their twenties within a year of each other.  But they left descendants.  

Australia and New Zealand.  Francis Little from Dumfriesshire came out to Australia on a convict ship in 1823.  His brother Archibald followed him two years later.  They were early settlers in Hunter Valley, NSW.  Archibald later returned to Britain.  Francis stayed.  On his death in 1860 his Invermian estate reverted to his eldest son William who held it for another seventeen years. 

James Little was a shepherd in Midlothian who came to New Zealand in the 1860’s.  He worked initially as a shepherd at the Corriedale station in Otago, SI before leasing land in North Canterbury.  There he became a successful sheep breeder

Select Little Miscellany

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

Select Little Names

Simon Little, the Laird of of Meikledale in 1426, is considered the first chief of the Scottish border Little clan. 
Frank Little was an American labor union leader of the early 1900’s who was murdered by his opponents in 1917.
Arthur D. Little founded the chemical engineering consulting company of Arthur D. Little in Boston in 1909.  
His nephew Royal Little, the founder of Textron, is generally considered as the father of conglomerates.  

Malcolm Little
, better known as Malcolm X, was an African American Muslim minister and human rights activist who was assassinated in 1965.  
Tasmin Little
is a highly acclaimed English classical violinist

Select Littles Today
  • 24,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 37,000 in America (most numerous in North Carolina) 
  • 23,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

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