Like many American Magruders, I was raised in the belief that Alexander Magruder was a member of Clan Gregor. I love MacGregor history and have studied it in detail all my life. Sadly, modern research makes clear that we Magruders are not related to Clan Gregor.
In Scotland, Don McGruther has ransacked the historical records for evidence of association between that clan and McGruders, and has found none. Nor is there any tradition in Scotland associating the two lineages. This lack of connection is confirmed by a small Magruder-McGruther DNA Project, which shows no close relation between well-established MacGregor markers and a small number of McGruder / Magruder men who volunteered to be tested.
The American Clan Gregor Society was founded in 1909 by descendants of Alexander Magruder, including my great-grandfather, and the ACGS is still family to me; but I can’t pretend that I still believe in our Clan Gregor descent.
I am, however, very interested in how, why, and when American Magruders came to believe it. We know that in 1820 one John Smith Magruder, of Upper Marlboro, Maryland, changed all his children’s surnames to McGregor. (It took a special act of the Legislature.) There are claims that the belief dates back to Revolutionary times, but as yet I have found no evidence for that.
(If you are a Magruder, and somewhere in your family is a record showing an early belief in the MacGregor connection, please share!)
It could not have been handed down from Alexander himself, nor from anyone who knew him, because it is clear that 19th c. American Magruders believed they were descended from MacGregors who had survived the rigors of the Proscription–the details of which they probably drew from the writings of Sir Walter Scott. (John S. Magruder read Scott’s books aloud to his children, for example.) It is also possible they got some of their details from early tartan books published by Scottish woolen mills from the early 19th c. on. The mills had an interest in spooning every Scottish surname into a Highland clan, to sell more tartan, and their information was often spurious.
As for the “traditional” belief that the Magruders/McGruders/McGrouthers were descended from Gillespie the Cruiter, or Harper, a younger son of a 14th c. Clan Gregor chief, I can trace it no further than the speculations of Henry Latham Magruder, of Chicago, who undertook in the last years of the 19th c. to find evidence for the MacGregor-Magruder connection. It is clear from his correspondence that he found no such evidence, but instead formed a theory that the name evolved from a patronymic, MacCruiter or MacCruither, meaning “Son of the Harper.” He never says anything more certain than “It is my belief..” and he does not say from what source he derived his conviction. Gaelic linguists deny that this is the meaning or origin of our name, in any of its spellings.
In fact, in his correspondence with ACGS founder Dr. Edward May Magruder, Henry Latham Magruder argued passionately for the founding of a Magruder society, not a MacGregor society. When he could not prevail, and the ACGS went forward as Clan Gregor organization, he asked that his correspondence be preserved in the society’s archives. Thus, you can read it yourself, right here–
It is clear in the correspondence that Edward May Magruder, the principal organizer of the ACGS, sought information from Henry because his research, conducted in Scotland with help from a researcher there, was more extensive than that of any other American Magruder. Before this time, Magruders had believed their name was a variation or corruption of MacGregor, or that it had been adopted when the name MacGregor was proscribed in 1603. Once researchers like Henry Latham Magruder had traced the McGruther / MacCrouther name to at least the middle of the 15th c (150 years before the Proscription) and uncovered Alexander’s true origins–in a family and community far removed from Clan Gregor’s troubles–they had to find another way to connect him to the MacGregors. We have to remember that they worked under the assumption that the connection was true, an assumption that influenced their interpretation of facts.
Thus was the “Son of the Harper” born, and Gilane or Gilawnene McCrouder–our first documentable ancestor, who signed a document in 1447–was claimed to be his son. Henry Latham also filled in a genealogy between Gilawnene and the next documented man of the name: James McGruder, who in 1547 was pardoned for having taken part in a Protestant attack on Queen Mary’s governor the previous year. James was a page to to David, the second Lord Drummond. And if we are correct in our identification of Alexander Magruder’s parents, this James was his great-grandfather.
We can’t blame the founders of the ACGS for believing what their families had taught them. Even Henry Latham Magruder, as he argued for a Magruder society, was vehement in his continued belief in the Clan Gregor story, claiming it went back in his family to Revolutionary times. But we have resources they did not have and we cannot ignore what both the historical record and the DNA record tell us. We should take Henry’s advice and embrace our Magruder heritage for its own sake.
Maybe someone should design a Magruder family tartan, to ease the way.
Don McGruther: MacGrouthers in Scotland before 1855. Self-published, 2007. Issued jointly with Sue Emerson’s CD, Magruders in America, under the title Wha’s Like Us?
Henry Latham Maguder: Correspondence 1894-1909. American Clan Gregor Society Collection, Series IX, Box 10. University of Baltimore, Langsdale Library Special Collections. Used with permission.