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Clan Little - Scotland

In the Anglo-Scottish Border Wars of 1296-1603, the Little's were one of the fighting clans of the West March, living close up to the border on the Scottish side. Constantly raiding and reiving, the borderers on both sides held in contempt all who went on foot. By the close of the 16th Century they had earned a reputation as the finest light cavalry in Europe.

The Littles for over three centuries shared, with Armstrongs and Beatties, the steep-sided dales immediately to the north and west of the present town of Langholm at the extreme east end of Dumfriesshire. Their successive chiefs, Little of that Ilk, Lairds of Meikledale, resided at the foot of the side of Meikledale Valley halfway up Ewesdale (beside the present A7 road from Langholm to Hawick).

  • The ancestry of Edward Little "of Meikle-dale", founder of the clan, can be traced back through Normandy and Norway to Ingiald Ill (ruler in 7th Century Gamla Upsulla). Edward was active in 1296-1297 as a guerrilla fighter with William Wallace, the great Scottish patriot hero.

  • Wallace led the first phase of the Wars of Independence against the oppressive occupation of Scotland by Edward I of England. Many of those who supported Wallace most closely were kinsmen, not the least of whom was "Eduuard Litill, his sister sone so der" (his sister's son so dear)

  • In 1426, two years after his return from excile, James I, King of Scots, granted to "our beloved Simon Littill", chief of the clan, tenure of the lands of Meikledale, Kirkton, and Sorbie in Ewesdale. Simon thus became the first Laird of Meikledale.

  • The Clan Little of the Scottish West March supported the Stuart Kings of Scots through five reigns. On 26 July 1530, James V, fearful of the mounted strength of the Armstrongs and their supporters, came into Eskdale with a massive "hunting party". Tricking the leader of the Armstrongs and thirty-two "personis of the greitest of thaim namit Armstrangis, Ellotis, Littillis, Irvinis, with utheris" into a parley, he hanged them out of hand. The Eskdale clans, thrown into a conflict of loyalties, from then on until the end of the wars foresook patriotism for their imperative of survival and sided with the likely winner.

  • At the union of the crowns in 1603, King James VI of Scots left Scotland for London as King James I and VI of a United Kingdom. He was determined to put down the continuing lawlessness on both sides of the border. His wishes were carried through with sword, noose and torch until hardly a building stood in the whole of Eskdale and Liddesdale. Chiefs were hanged those who survived were later ordered to sell out.

  • Simon Little of that Ilk was chief of Clan Little at the end of the Border Wars. His son Thomas' succesor, David Little, was the last Laird of Meikledale. In 1672, David was the last chief to be officially recognized. Since David's time, the Littles have been one Scotland's many heidless (headless) clans.

The clan began to scatter in the 17th Century. Littles, and Lytles, with neighboring Beatties, Thomsons, Elliots, Armstrongs and Irvings fled from persecution, poverty and overcrowding to the Ulster plantations. Many moved later into neighboring English Cumberland, where today, as in Ulster, There are twice as many Littles as in their home county of Dumfreeshire. Many moved deeper into the heartland of the "auld enemy" now open to them for the first time. They crossed the oceans to North America, Australia and New Zealand, proud of their origins, but over the generations, losing contact with the descendants of those who stayed behind.

Many of the Littles, Lytles and Lyttles in Ulster re-immigrated as Scots-Irish back to Great Britain, or like hundreds of Littles from the borders, headed over seas.

At their most numerous of all in the United States, there are some 45,000 little families in the English speaking world. Some of these are English and some are Huguenot origin, but most (and especially those in and from Scotland, Ulster and England's northernmost counties) have deep roots in the old West march of the Scottish Border.

Also see for some in-depth information on the Border Little's and Reiving. That site is maintained by the Tully Museum in Carlisle, England. 

Pj Little provides this information...

My Clan Little emigrated about 1700 to NA. Our first two Littles to America, John Little and his son John Little, were sitting Judges on the Court of Common Pleas in Monmouth County, New Jersey. John[1] was the Senior Judge of the court the last four years of his life and died in 1751. His estate is a matter of record. To his grandson John Leeds Little he left his farm and watch.

John Little[2] married Moica Langstraet and had eight children. Three sons served in the Revolutionary  War. John[3] was killed by Hessions. Theophilus and Thomas were captured. After the war, they too were appointed Judges. Thomas went on to become a member of the NJ Legislature. Theophilus purchased several thousand acres of land in Pennsylvania in an area that was to become Sullivan County. His family moved enmass from New Jersey to Pennsylvania between 1803 and 1813.

Theophilus Little married Maria Polhemus and they had 6 sons. Their eldest son, John Little[4], is the progentor of my line, and by his first wife, Ann Jackson, he had five children. By his second wife Mercy Dennis he had nine children.

Benjamin, son of Ann Jackson, married Sarah Wisner in 1815 and followed "Squire" Thomas Little to Ohio in 1825. Benjamin's sons Tobias P., and John W. Little migrated to Central Illinois about 1850 from Ohio. Their half-brother Thomas Dennis Little moved to Illinois about 1845.

John Wisner Little b:1824 married Catherine Coon and settled in Champaign County, Illinois where he raised his family. His father Benjamin died in this county in 1876. John died in 1910.

Tobias Polhemus Little b:1820 settled in Fulton County, Illinois and married four times. By his first wife, Elizabeth Horn he had 17 children. His youngest grandson, Joseph b:1891 d:1947 is my grandfather. After Elizabeth died he returned to Ohio and married her sister Catherine. They had one son, Albion Little. Catherine died and in 1889 he married Mrs. Martha Clark who died unexpectedly. Tobias married Mrs. Nancy Coons in 1893 and they lived at her ancestral home until his death in 1909.

By the end of the 1800's there were nearly 300 living descendants of the first John Little. My website (Electric Scotland note: The web site is no longer available) contains information on many of the descendants and the collateral lines as well as photos and historical notes.

Over the years several books have been published about Clan Little, but as far as I know I have the only website that is dedicated to the Illinois descendants of John Little b:1675 Dumfriesshire, Scotland.

Col. John Little, the immigarnt, came to the Colonies with a wife and son Thomas. They arrived in New Jersey before 1712 when their second child, John, was born. Thomas married Mary Brown and had one child before he died. Col. Little married second, Hannah, the widow of George Allen of Shrewsbury.  

John Little (1712-1785) married a Dutch woman, Moica Langstraet, who was the daughter of Stoffel Langstraet and Maijke Laen. She was a direct descendant of Johannes and Petronella Laen who were mentioned in 1604 court records in Over Pelt - a community in the Principlality of Liege in the Low Countries of Western Europe. John and Moica had seven children. Thomas, Theophilus, John and four daughters. 

Col. John and his son John sat on the Court of Common Pleas of Monmouth County, New Jersey. John''s grandson, Thomas, served in the State legislature for thirteen terns. Thomas' brother Theophilus married a Dutch woman, Maria Polhemus. She was a direct descendant of Dominie Johannnes Theodorus Polhemius, who can be traced to the 16th century. Maria and Theophilus had five sons: John, Thomas, Daniel, Tobias and Theophilus Little Jr.. The majority of Little males living today of our Clan Little descend from the sons of Theophilus and Maria Polhemus Little who are buried in Eaglesmere, Pennsylvania. 



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