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Nesbit(t), Nisbet(t)

Nisbet is 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.

Another account of the name

The 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 Nisbeth.

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 ownership.

The family 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 children’s 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:

Nesbitt/Nisbet Society (United Kingdom)

Nesbitt/Nisbet Society (North America)

Nesbitt/Nisbet Society (Australia and New Zealand)

Our thanks to Mark Nesbitt for the above information

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 King’s 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 “Anderson’s 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 King’s Army in England and lost his life fighting loyally for the King.

“His elder son Philip, was travelling abroad and hearing of his sovereign’s 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, Scotland.

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 escape persecution.

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.

Dr. Joseph Allen Nesbit and his wife Margaret Sterret
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.).



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