first recorded in the 12th century, and originates from the Barony of Nesbit,
Berwickshire. In 1633 Sir Robert Ker of Ancrum (1578-1654) was created Earl of Ancrame and
Lord Kerr of Nisbet, Langnewtoune, and Dolphinstoun. Sir John Nisbet of Dirleton
(1609-87), Lord Advocate was created Lord Dirleton in 1664.
James Nisbett, Dean of the Guild of Wrights
1726-38, was the ancestor of the Nisbetts of Cairnhill died in 1849.
account of the name
lowland family of Nesbitt or Nisbet has its roots in the county of
Berwickshire, in the Scottish Borders. Like the families of Home and Swinton,
its descent can be traced from Gospatric, Earl of Northumbria (d. 1073). In
1139 King David I confirmed a charter (now in the archives of Durham
Cathedral) granting the lands of Nisbet to Aldan de Nisbet, the founder of
the line of Nisbet of Nisbet (i.e. Nisbet of that Ilk). Interestingly, until
the 16th century, the lands are most often spelt Nesbit, which has a claim
to be the original spelling. No fewer that 42 variant spellings of Nisbet
have been identified, including Nisbett, Nesbitt, Nesbitt, Naisbitt and
In the 12th century, castles were built by the Nisbet family at West Nisbet,
two miles south of the town of Duns, and at East Nisbet, now known as
Allanbank, southeast of Duns on the Blackadder Water. The castle at East
Nisbet has long gone, but at West Nisbet the original pele tower was
incorporated into the east end of a magnificent new fortified mansion house,
built by Sir Alexander Nisbet of that Ilk (c. 1580-1660) in the 1630s.
Nisbet House still stands, with an eighteenth century tower (with fine
interior plasterwork) added to its west end. The house is in private
of Nisbet of that Ilk lost its estates in the Civil War. Sir Alexander
Nisbet of that Ilk was a fervent supporter of Charles I, but was to lose
three sons, as well as his newly built tower house. The family motto, "I byd
it" (I endure it) was all too appropriate. The eldest son, Sir Philip Nisbet,
was executed in Glasgow after the Battle of Philiphaugh; Col. Robert Nisbet
was captured with Montrose and executed at Edinburgh in 1650, and Major
Alexander Nisbet was killed at the siege of York in 1644. His youngest son,
Adam Nisbet, had one son, Alexander Nisbet (1657-1725), the well-known
author of A System of Heraldry. Nisbet "The Herald" died unmarried, and is
commemorated by a memorial in Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh.
The family's male line continued through Sir
Alexander's brother, the Reverend Philip Nisbet, who had moved south to York
and become Rector of St. Martin's Micklegate. The Reverend Philip was a
fervent Covenanter and supporter of the Parliamentarian cause. The future
history of the family was to centre on York, then London, with the spelling
changing to Nesbitt in the 1830s.
The current Chief, Mark
Nesbitt of that Ilk succeeded his father in 2000 as 29th in succession to
Aldan. He is married with two children, lives in London, and takes an active
role in clan affairs.
Related branches of the Nisbet family became established at Dean in
Edinburgh; Dirleton East Lothian; Greenholm in Ayrshire, and Carfin and
Cairnhill in Renfrewshire. In the 17th century, many Nisbets went to Ireland
and (often via Ireland) to North America. An active DNA project is doing
much to clarify relationships between different Nesbitt/Nisbet families in
North America and the British Isles.
Distinguished members of the
clan include Edith Nesbit, the childrens writer (The Railway Children),
Alexander Nisbet, heraldic writer, Murdoch Nisbet of Hardhill, who
translated the New Testament into Scots, Mary Nisbet (Lady Elgin), and
Frances Nisbet of Carfin, who married Admiral Nelson.
There are active clan
associations on three continents:
Our thanks to Mark Nesbitt for the above
Books and articles on
Nesbitt/Nisbet family history
In her book, Mrs. Blanche Hartman claims
that the name Nesbit, originally spelled, was derived from The unique
conformation appearing in relief on a portion of the land where the
Nesbits dwelt, and that naes or nis means a prominence, and a
bit a piece, signifying a nosepiece. That the family was originally
called Naesbit because they lived on a hill that looked like a nose,
but she adds - the family deriving its name from the land of the
Nesbits is said of a truth to have been of Norman origin.
The de attached to the earlier
bearers of the name probably points to its French origin. According to the
early records - the first ancestor of whom we have any record was
granted a large tract of land in Berwickshire, Scotland by William the
Conqueror who invaded Scotland in 1072 to punish the Scottish who invaded
the north of England. It was the custom of William to place a baron,
friendly to him, over a conquered territory, who built a castle and manned
it with soldiers to hold it in subjection to the Crown. After his defeat
by William, Malcolm agreed to submit to the authority of William I, and
gave his son as a hostage. After the death of William I, Malcolm again
invaded the north of England and was defeated and slain in battle by
William II in 1093. It was probable at this time that the castle of the
Nisbets was built. For Alexander, the antiquarian Nisbet, writes - The
castle of the Nisbets stood memorable for the fatal overthrow of the youth
of Lothian by the English and the rebel Earl of March until the time of
Sir Alexander, Sheriff, in the reign of Charles I who demolished it and
built in its stead the Manse of Nisbet.
That the early members of the family were
barons appears from the deeds executed by them and the signing of their
allegiance to the Kings. In 1097 a baron by the name of Philip De Nesbyth
deeded a tract of land to an order of monks in Berwickshire. In 1124 to
1153 during the reign of David I of Scotland, a Philip De Nesbyth was a
witness to the Kings Charter given to the monks of Coldingham,
Berwickshire. In 1296 when the barons of Scotland signed submission to
King Edward I of England the name of Philip De Nesbyth appears as one of
the signatories. In 1296 James and John Nisbet swore fealty to Edward I,
using what became the Scottish way of spelling Nisbet.
According to Andersons Scotch
Nation - The land of the Nesbits was in the Parish of Edrom and East
Nisbet was known as Bighouse, and several families branched at various
periods from the chief stick. These were scattered over Scotland and
were driven by persecution to Northern Ireland and some to America. Some
became noted merchants and magistrates in Glasgow.
King Robert Bruce gave a charter to Adam
Nisbet of Nisbet to the land of Knocklies. This Adam, or an Adam who
succeeded him, flourished in the reign of David II and became prominent in
Southern Scotland. Adam was the successor of Philip Nisbet and he of Adam
Nisbet. Sir Alexander Nisbet who demolished the castle of Nisbet and built
the House of Nisbet was a man of great ability and loyal to Charles I. He
was principal Sheriff of Berwickshire during the reign of Charles I and
opposed the Covenanters who forced him to leave the country where he
joined the Kings Army in England and lost his life fighting loyally for
His elder son Philip, was travelling
abroad and hearing of his sovereigns troubles returned to England and
offered his services to his majesty who knighted him and gave him command
of a regiment. He was Lieutenant Governor of Newark-upon-Trent when the
Scottish Covenanters besieged it effectively. He was apprehended in
Scotland when he returned there and taken to Glasgow where he was tried
and executed on October 28, 1646. His brothers, Alexander and Robert, both
Captains were killed in the field following Montrose. John, the fourth
son, was married and died in England, leaving a daughter. Adam, the
youngest son of Sir Alexander Nisbet, married Janet Aikenhead.
It was their son that wrote the book A
System of Heraldry from which the above quotations have been taken.
At the time he was the only male
representative of the Ancient and Honorable Family of Nisbet.
Mrs Blanche Hartman said that George Knight
Nesbit of North Carolina, now deceased, claimed that our Nesbit line is
descended from Gospatrick, Earl of Northumbria (English) who purchased the
Earldom from William the Conqueror who later forced him to flee to Malcolm
III, Canmore who was the King of Scotland and his cousin Gospatrick, whose
line was long and powerful in the history of Scotland, from whom descended
the Earl of ........... and March, Gospatrick II and the Earl of Dunbar,
Gospatrick III who died in 1...6. (Parts missing from original).
Northumbria was an Anglo-Saxon Kingdom and
had two divisions, Bernicea and Deira, each with a dynasty of its own.
York was the capital of Deira. As Northumberland was invaded and conquered
by the Danes and their blood mingled with Anglo-Saxon, Mrs Hartman thinks
the Nisbets have Danish as well as Anglo-Saxon blood. ........... Earl of
Northumbria was a son of Soward, the Dane who came with Canute to
Northumbria. She claimed that if Gospatrick came from Normandy, his name
would have been spelled Fitzpatrick instead of Gospatrick. But I do not
know how to tie up Earl Gospatrick with Philip De Nesbyth of Northumbria,
The Nisbets of Greenholme, a family of good
old standing in the shire of Ayr, descended from Nisbet of Nisbet.
Of the last Nisbet, was Nisbet of Hardhill
in the Parish of Loudoun, Ayrshire. About 1490 he joined the Lollards who
were at the time especially strong in south-eastern Scotland, the
stronghold of the Covenanters. Owing to persecution, Murdoch Nisbet fled
to Belfast, Ireland with his testament, but about 1500 A.D. returned to
Scotland. James Nisbet of Hardhill, a grandson of Murdoch was the father
of at least two sons, James born in 1625 and John in 1627, both of whom
were martyrs. Capt. John Nisbet helped win the Battle of Drumclog when
Graham of Claverhouse was defeated and a number of his men put to death:
but later the Covenanters, for whom Capt. John Nisbet fought, were
defeated by the English in Lanarkshire and Capt. John Nisbet was compelled
to hide. He was betrayed, and captured by Lieut. Nisbet and executed in
Edinburgh in 1685. His son Hugh Nisbet fled to Ireland and settled in
Killeylaugh, County Down about 1680. According to an ancient record,
...... he was kin to the Nisbets of Scone and Berwick and to Allen,
John, Alexander and Thomas who crossed the seas about 1728 and settled in
Penn-land. The Nesbits who came to America from the north of Ireland
are probably descendants of Hugh Nisbet or the relatives who fled to
James Nisbet, the elder brother of John,
was captured at the funeral of John, Lt Nisbet and was executed when he
refused to give up the Covenanter faith. A descendant of James came to
Newark, N. J. and latter settled in Wilkes Barre and Plymouth, Pa. and
founded a colony on the Susquehanna River and was the ancestor of the
Nesbitts who reside in that region and at Mansfield, Ohio. The settlement
was first made on the north side of the Susquehanna where now stands the
City of Wilkes Burre. The history and genealogy of this family was written
by Mr Harvey, titled, The Harvey Nesbit Families.
Mr Lawrence Nesbit of Edenburg, [sic] Pa.
descendant of Dr. Allen Nesbit of Mt. Jackson, Pa. to whom I am indebted
for much of the information I am giving concerning the Francis Nesbit
branch of the family does not think that John Nesbit, our ancestor, whom
Dr. Allen Nesbit claimed to have come from Scotland in 1725 was a brother
of Allen, John, Alexander and Thomas Nesbit who crossed the seas at about
1728 and settled in Penn-land. But I am of the opinion that he was a
brother, because he and Allen settled in Hopewell Twp., Cumberland, Co.
Pa., and John settled the estate of Allen and the names Allen, John, and
Alexander are names common to the family.
Photos found in an 1863 Bible my wife was
given many years ago. They are of Dr. Joseph Allen Nesbit and his wife
Margaret Sterret who lived in Indiana (U.S.A.). LBowen@gmu.edu
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