Sinclair


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The root of Sinclair is the French Saint Clair, from one of a number of place-names in Normandy (Saint-Clair-sur-Elle in La Manche or Saint-Clair-l'Évêque in Calvados).  There were St. Clair families in France, including the St. Clairs with links to the Knights Templar in popular mythology

A Saint Clair came to England with William the Conqueror in 1066; the name of Hubertus de Sancto Claro was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086; and by that time the St. Clairs had arrived in Scotland. 

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Scotland.  William de Saint Clair accompanied Margaret to Scotland in 1068 where she eventually married King Malcolm.  In return for his efforts, the king was said to have granted Saint Clair the barony of Roslin or Rosslyn near Edinburgh in Midlothian.

These Saint Clairs led the Scottish fighting against the Vikings in the northeast of the country during the 13th century.  Did they in fact have Viking blood themselves?  They had become an important family in Scotland by the mid 14th century.  Henry Sinclair, the first to adopt the Sinclair name (pronounced then Sinkler), was made the Earl of Orkney by the King of Norway in 1375.

"Henry Sinclair was a notable seaman.  He is best known today because of a modern legend (probably untrue) that he took part in explorations of Greenland and North America almost a hundred years before Christopher Columbus."

His grandson William expanded the family's lands. became the first Earl of Caithness, and was Lord Chancellor of Scotland from 1454 to 1456.  It was William who built Castle Sinclair Girrigoe, the clan stronghold on a seacliff outside Wick.  He split the family lands, giving the lands of Caithness to his elder son and the lands at Roslin in Midlothian to his younger son.  These Sinclairs played their role in subsequent Scottish history, royalist during the Civil War, Jacobite supporters in 1715, but British government supporters in 1745.

One branch of the Sinclairs in Caithness, the Sinclairs of Ulbster, produced Sir John Sinclair, author of the monumental Statistical Account of Scotland, and his great great grandson Archie Sinclair, leader of the British Liberal party in the 1930's.  The Sinclairs of Longformacus in Berwickshire were a branch of the Roslin Sinclairs.  This line stopped about 1800, shortly after the main Roslin line had ended.

Because of its history the Sinclair name is both Highland and Lowland.  The 1891 census showed:
  • 35 percent of Sinclairs in Caithness, Orkney and Shetland
  • 15 percent in Midlothian
  • 25 percent in Lanarkshire
  • and another 25 percent elsewhere.
Ireland.  Sinclairs came to Ireland as part of the Scottish plantations of the 17th century.  William Sinclair of Roslin arrived in 1620.  He built his residence, Newton Manor Court, in county Offaly.  The Rev. John Sinclair arrived from Caithness in 1663 and settled at Holyhill in county Tyrone. 

"After the siege of Derry in 1689, James II's fleeing troops arrived at Holyhill.  They were about to burn it down when the commander of the troops issued an order that it should be left untouched.  He was a Hamilton and it is thought it was because the Rev. John Sinclair's first wife was a Hamilton that he saved it from destruction. The commander was on the Donegal bank of the Foyle at the time.  So his messenger had to swim across the river to deliver it."

These Sinclairs had established themselves in both Tyrone and Donegal during the 17th century and by the 1770's had set up a thriving linen business at Holyhill.  However, the Sinclair name is not common in Ireland today.

America
.  The son of Daniel and Elizabeth Sinclair in Caithness styled himself Arthur St. Clair and came to America in the 1760's with the British army.  He later fought on the American side in the Revolutionary War and rose to become one of its generals.  He was then made governor of the Northwest territory.  But his career ended with an ignominious defeat against Native American forces.

Arthur Sinclair arrived in Virginia from Scotland also sometime in the 1760's.  His son Arthur was an early American war hero, commanding a US naval squadron on Lake Ontario in the War of 1812.  His grandson Arthur was with Commodore Perry in Japan in 1854 and later served in the Confederate navy.  His great grandson was the novelist Upton Sinclair. 

Another Sinclair family, this time from Inverrness, came to Hampshire county, Virginia in the 1790's.  These Sinclairs later moved onto what became known as Sinclair Ridge in West Virginia.

Some Sinclairs are Jewish.  Anne Sinclair, for instance, was born Anne Elise Schwartz to Jewish parents in New York in 1948.  She is today a French TV and radio interviewer married to the controversial French politician Dominique Staruss-Kahn.

Caribbean.  Sinclair could become Sinkler or Sinckler in Barbados.  One line of Sinckler planter families began with James Sincker of St. George parish in the mid-1700’s.  A descendant the Rev. E.G. Sinckler was the Curate of St. Leonard’s from 1855 until his death in 1881.  It was said during his time that St. Leonard’s had the best organists and one of the finest choirs in the West Indies

Canada.  William Sinclair from Orkney had joined the Hudson Bay Company in 1792 and moved out west.  He married a local Indian girl and they raised a large family.  Their most famous son was the fur trader James Sinclair.  In 1841 and again in 1854 he successfully led parties of emigrants from the Winnipeg area across the Rockies to settle in Oregon territory.

Alexander Sinclair
from Caithness was the forebear of the Sinclairs of Goshen in Nova Scotia, arriving there in 1816.  His lineage was covered in the Rev. Alexander Sinclair's 1901 book The Sinclairs of Roslin, Caithness and Goshen.

Jimmy Sinclair arrived in Vancouver from Scotland with his family as a young boy in 1911.   He entered the Canadian Parliament and became a Cabinet minister in the 1950's.  His daughter Margaret, considered a wild child by the press, was married to the Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.

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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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William de Saint Clair
came to Scotland in 1068 and was the forebear of the Sinclair clan in Scotland.
Sir John Sinclair was a late 18th century Scottish writer on finance. the first - in his pioneering work Statistical Account of Scotland - to use the word statistics in English.  
Upton Sinclair was an American writer who became well-known through his 1906 muckraking novel The Jungle.
Sir Clive Sinclair was an early producer and marketer of home computers in the UK in the 1980's.

Select Sinclairs Today
  • 24,000 in the UK (most numerous in West Lothian)
  • 9,000 in America (most numerous in California) 
  • 26,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

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Ainsworth 
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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.