Edgar


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The Anglo-Saxon word ead meant richness, happiness or prosperity and was the prefix for a number of common Anglo-Saxon names:
  • Edward (ead and ward), meaning "prosperity guard."
  • Edmund (ead and mund), meaning "prosperity protection."
  • Edwin (ead and wine), meaning "prosperity friend."
  • and Edgar (ead and gar), meaning "prosperity spear."
These names started turning up in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles from about AD 800.  Edgar the Peacable was king of England during the 10th century and Edgar the Etheling, who lived at the time of the Norman Conquest, was the last member of the Anglo-Saxon royal house in England.

Edgar lost out as a name after the Conquest when it became politically correct to adopt French names.  But Edgar did become established as a surname on the Scottish borders.  This Scottish origin and history was first recounted in J.W. Lawrence-Archer's 1873 book An Account of the Surname Edgar.

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Scotland.  The Edgars held land at Wedderlie (near Westruther) in Berwickshire and on Nithsdale in Dumfriesshire on the Scottish borders.  They owned their ascent for their backing of Robert the Bruce in his rise to power.  Richard Edgar, a witness to Robert the Bruce's second marriage, became the first lord of Wedderlie in 1327.  Legend has it that the Twin Cairns of Wedderlie were constructed in honor of two Edgar brothers.

"The Edgar brothers were the sons of an ancient Scottish chief.  One was kidnapped at an early age and raised by a Saxon general.  Years later the two met in battle and the 'kidnapped' son was felled by his unknowing brother at this location."

By the 18th century the family had fallen on hard times and John Edgar was forced to sell Wedderlie in 1736.  Today there are no Edgars at Westruther. 

But Edgars remain in substantial numbers in Dumfriesshire.  Moffat Edgars from Troloss date from the early 1700's; while Caerlaverock is an area on the coast where Edgars were to be found from the 16th century.  William Edgar and Janet Dickson were married there in 1773.  John Edgar died there in 1801 at the advanced age of one hundred.  His grandson John, born in the same year, made his living as an engineer and bought the Midlocharwoods estate.

Another Edgar branch, the Edgars of Keithock, were to be found in Angus in NE Scotland in 1620.  A 19th century guidebook described Keithock as follows:

"The mansion house of Keithock is a comfortable edifice, pleasantly situated, with a good garden, fine lawn, and thriving shrubbery.  It stands a little to the west of the highway from Brechin and Edzell.  In the old days Keithock was a barony and had its gallows hill."

These Edgars were Jacobite in 1715 and again in 1745.  James Edgar had to flee the country in disguise in 1715, as did his nephew John Edgar was also a fugitive thirty years later.

England
.  The Edgar name extended southward across the border into northern England, in particular into Cumberland.   One Edgar family of Riddings dates from the 1650's.

William Edgar was born in Longtown near Carlisle in 1791.  His brother John had become a grocer in Carlisle (he later drowned in the river Petteril).  But William headed south to London where he helped found the department store Swan & Edgar which flourished through the Victorian age.

"The new store opened on 49 Piccadilly in 1841.  Mr. Edgar was a familiar sight then riding his horse to work from his home at Kingston Hill.  He was always asked to be on hand to personally help when Queen Victoria's family visited the store."
 
Other Edgars from Longtown emigrated to Long Island in America in the early 1900's.

Ireland.  Scots Edgars came to Ulster, in particular to county Down.  Some 40 percent of the Edgars who signed the Ulster Covenant in 1912 were from that county.

James and William Edgar were recorded as freehold farmers in Kilkeel in the 1690's.  An Edgar family were ropemakers in Newry in the late 1700's.  Another Edgar family were Presbyterian ministers, first in Ballynahinch in county Down and then in Belfast.  The Rev. John Edgar was a leader of the temperance movement there in the mid 19th century.

Many Edgars subsequently made the reverse journey in the late 19th century - from Ulster to Scotland (because Glasgow and its environs were where the jobs were).

America.  Thomas Edgar of the Keithock Edgars emigrated from Scotland to New Jersey in 1718.  He settled in what became Edgartown.  The family of his three sons - David, Alexander and William - were known as the Short Hills, Woodbridge, and Rahway Homestead Edgars.  From these three Edgars came a large number of descendants.

John Edgar, born in Ireland, defected from the British Navy in 1780 and became an early settler in Illinois.  A wealthy merchant, he had many large land claims around the state.  Edgar county in Illinois was named in his honor. Although he probably never went there, there is an old story that he once bought and then sold the county.

Canada.  Canadian Edgars were also a mixture of Scots and Irish. 

Robert Edgar had been a sailor on HMS Victory during the Battle of Trafalgar.  In 1822 he and his family left their home in Ireland for Canada.  They settled to farm in Sherrington near Montreal.  Another Irish emigrant Charles Edgar bought land at Wesley's Point near Lancaster in Ontario at around the same time.

James Edgar departed Scotland for Canada in 1840.  He bought land near Sherbrooke in Quebec which he called Keithock after the family estate in Scotland.  His son James was a politician and Speaker of the Canadian House of Commons in 1896. 

Australia.  David Edgar, a Moffat Edgar, moved to Australia in 1838 and became a prosperous sheep rancher in the Western District of Victoria.  The Pine Hills homestead that he built in the 1850's remained with his family until 1936.

William Edgar from county Down arrived in the 1850's, drawn by the gold discoveries in Victoria.  He later tried his luck in New Zealand as well, but with no success.  He returned to Victoria and trained as a civil engineer, settling in St. Arnaud outside Melbourne.

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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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Richard Edgar
became the first lord of Wedderlie in Berwickshire in 1327.
William Edgar founded the Swan & Edgar department store in London in the early 1800's.
Sir Edward Edgar was a Canadian banker who made his fortune in London in the early 1900's.  He was known in the 1920's as "the biggest and bravest gambler in London.".

Select Edgars Today
  • 10,000 in the UK (most numerous in Scottish borders)
  • 4,000 in America (most numerous in California) 
  • 8,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

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Ainsworth 
Chambers Hammond 
Middleton  
Stevenson 
Andrews Chandler Hayes Morrison Stone
Arnold Cole Hodgson Norman Sutton
Atkinson Cummings Howe North Tate
Barclay Cunningham Hunt O'Leary Thorpe
Barry Dickinson Innes O'Reilly Townsend
Beattie Dillon Irvine Oliver Underwood
Beck Dodd Jeffries Payne Unsworth
Bentley Doherty Jennings Penn Vance
Bernstein Duncan Kemp Pennington Venables
Bird East Kerr Pettigrew Walton
Boone Edgar Knight Phelan Watkins
Brady Emerson Lawrence Quigley Waugh
Branson Everett Leary Quirk West
Brooks Faulkner Levine Regan Whelan
Buck Fettiplace Levy Reilly Whitney
Burke Ford Lloyd Rhodes Wolfe
Bush Goldberg McIntosh Sharp Woodward
Carr Goodman McLaren Sheehan Yates
Carson Gordon McMillan Sinclair York

For other surnames check the select surname list where there are to be found the history and genealogy for more than 800 common and notable surnames in the English-speaking world.