Select McMillan Surname Genealogy

Macmillan is the anglicized form of the old Gaelic word Macghillemhaoil, later shortened to Machmaolain.  The Gaelic mac means "son of," gille "a servant" and maol "the tonsured one." 

The progenitor of the Macmillan clan was said to be Airbertach, a Hebridean prince of the old royal house of Moray.  Airbertach had a son named Cormac and his son Gilchrist, or in Gaelic Gille Chrisosd, was the forebear of the clan an Mhaoil.  He was a religious man like his father and wore the tonsure (done by cutting his hair from the scalp) which gave him the nickname Maolan or Gillemaol.

Gillemor Macmolen was recorded as a juror in Lanarkshire in 1263.  The 15th century saw Macmolane and Macmilane spellings and Macmillan gradually emerged.  Macmillan may be the older spelling today.  But the McMillan spelling is more common in the UK and elsewhere.

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Scotland.  The Macmillan clan had established themselves at Lochaber in the western Highlands in the 14th century.  They became the MacMillans of Murlagan and remained there for several centuries until dispersed by the Camerons.  Some MacMillans under Alexander MacMillan had moved further south to Knapdale where they built Castle Sween and entrenched themselves.  They proudly boasted:

"MacMillan's right to Knap shall be
As long as this rock withstands the sea."
But that position too was lost and MacMillans moved further south again, to the Isle of Arran and Galloway.   Many of the Macmillans in Galloway became Covenanters, to such an extent that Covenanters there were often called "Macmillans."  And there were still later migrations to Ayrshire and to the new industrial centers like Glasgow.

IrelandMcMillan links with Ireland began with the Scottish plantations of the 17th century.  One of the leading planters in Ulster at that time was Robert McLellan of Galloway.  Many McMillans from his estates were among the tenants of the new lands he was granted in Ireland. 

Later in the century, during the "killing times" in Galloway when the restored monarchy attempted to impose an Episcopalian church on an unwilling populace, many Presbyterians fled across the water to join their cousins in Ulster.  Prominent among them were the "McMillanites" - followers of the Rev. John McMillan of Balmaghie, the founder of the Reformed Presbyterian Church. 

Daniel and Alexander Macmillan - two brothers from Ayrshire with family roots as crofters in the Isle of Arran - came to England in the 1840's and started a bookshop in Cambridge.  The brothers soon started publishing books as well as selling them.  Daniel was the business brain, while Alexander laid the literary foundation.  After Daniel's death in 1857, Alexander moved to London to run Macmillan & Co, soon expanding it into a worldwide publishing organization.  Daniel was the grandfather of British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan.

America.  Scots and Scots Irish McMillans came to America in the 18th century.  The McMillans were particularly notable in North Carolina and North Carolina still has the largest number of McMillans in the country.  Among the early arrivals were:
  • Malcolm McMillan, who came from Scotland in 1774.  His descendants moved to south Georgia.  Robert McMillan's 1973 book Record of McMillan and Allied Families described this line.  
  • Neill McMillan, who was born in Bladen county in 1788.  He fought in the War of 1812 and then moved onto Alabama and Missouri.
  • and John McMillan who was the first clerk of the court for Ashe county, North Carolina.  These McMillans were farmers and merchants there for more than a hundred years.     
John and Mary McMillan left Scotland for Ireland and then departed for America in 1758.  They settled in Washington county, New York.  Their story was narrated in W.F. and C.E. McMillan’s 1908 book McMillan Genealogy and History.

Donald L. Jones's 1966 book McMillan/MacMillan Family covered Scots Irish McMillans that came to America in the 18th century.

  MacMillans began to emigrate to Canada by the late 1700's after the Revolutionary War.  Nova Scotia came to be favored by the Glen Urquhart and Hebridean branches of the Macmillans; while Ontario, or what was then Upper Canada, became the destination for many Lochaber MacMillans.  In 1802 Glengarry county, on Ontario's border with Quebec, received a particularly large influx of MacMillans in their mass exodus from Loch Arkaigside.

Some of these new McMillan immigrants were to make names for themselves:
  • Angus McMillan, who had arrived in Prince Edward Island with his parents in 1834, was a merchant, built ships, and participated in local politics. 
  • while two McMillans headed West to make it in Winnipeg: Daniel McMillan who became rich from his milling and grain business; and Hugh MacMillan a successful property developer who later took his family to Florida during the land boom there in the 1920's. 
Australia and New Zealand.  Angus MacMillan from Lochaber emigrated to Australia in 1837 and explored the region of Victoria now known as Gippsland.  Archibald and Flora McMillan came out to Victoria with their family on the New Zealander in 1853.  Archibald lived to be ninety five.  He died in 1871 after having been hit by a bolting horse at the races.

McMillans also came to New Zealand.  There was a Highland contingent who had settled initially in Nova Scotia under Norman McLeod and then migrated again in 1851 with other Highlanders to Waipu in New Zealand.  They had remained Gaelic in Nova Scotia.  But once in New Zealand they became New Zealanders.

William McMillan had arrived with his brothers from Ayrshire in 1865.  He farmed at Lyttleton near Christchurch.  John and Catherine McMillan were in Christchurch at around the same time.  They ended up in Hokitika. 

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

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The Rev. John McMillan of Balmaghie was the founder of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Scotland.
Kirkpatrick Macmillan was the Scottish blacksmith credited with the invention of the pedal bicycle in 1839.
Daniel and Alexander Macmillan, two brothers from the Isle of Arran, founded Macmillan Publishers in 1843.
Harold Macmillan was British Prime Minister from 1957 to 1963.
Whitney MacMillan was the American businessman from Minnesota who by 1995 had developed Cargill into being the largest grain company in the world and the largest privately held company.

Select McMillans Today
  • 22,000 in the UK (most numerous in Glasgow)
  • 16,000 in America (most numerous in North Carolina) 
  • 29,000 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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