Origin and History of the Name Rutherford (page 3)

What is a Clan?
Before we talk about the Rutherford Clan, we need to know what a clan is. A clan is defined as a social unit in the Scottish Highlands, consisting of a number of families claiming a common ancestor and following the same hereditary leader. The word clan itself means children.
Additional resources on clans: - good summary with a brief blurb on Humes and Rutherfords - pulls info about clans from multiple sources - extensive definition

The History of the Clan system
The next question is, where does the clan system come from?
Taken from comes the following about the clan system:
"The Clan system owes its origin to the Celtic tribal tradition, and remains at its strongest north of the `Highland Line' where Gaelic was the primary language until comparatively recently. The introduction of the Norman Feudal System from the south altered the relationship between the clan chiefs and the king, in that lands which had previously been held by the clans were now deemed to belong to the monarch, to be granted as he willed. The internal organization of the clans was little changed, however, and the chief, who succeeded according to the law of tanistry, dispensed justice in peacetime and led his clan in war. Each clan consisted of `native men', related by blood, and `broken men' - individuals or groups from other clans, who sought and obtained protection of the clan. The Normans, who came north from England, adopted many of these customs; the great Sinclair clan in Caithness, for example, owes its size to the number of retainers who took to themselves the chief's name. The custom of fosterage, the mutual exchange of children (often including the chief's children) between families, did much to bind the clan together. The Gaelic proverb "Kindred to forty degrees, fosterage to a hundred", describes a feeling of clan loyalty and egalitarianism, which today stretches from Scotland to every country in the world."
You may also visit which gives a good view of the strengths of the clan system.

What is a Sept?
A sept is a division or subgroup of a clan, and a natural extension of the clan system. Often clans combined for mutual benefit and the weaker clan became a sept of the larger clan. Some septs become powerful enough to seperate and become a clan.
To learn more, read:
the Wikipedia entry

The History of the Rutherford Clan and Sept
In the list of Scottish surnames found on, it says the following about my clan:
"Rutherford — a once rich and powerful Border family who took their name from the lands of Rutherford in Roxburghshire. The name appears in documents of William the Lion and Alexander II. Daniel Rutherford (b. 1749, Edinburgh) discovered nitrogen." Although a short entry, it is nice to know the Rutherfords once had influence in the borders.

(I wrote the following, but borrowed heavily from the sources listed at the bottom)
The Rutherfords are both a clan, in and of themselves, and a sept of the Hume (or Home) clan. My father swears he has a book that reports the Rutherfords are a sept of the MacDonalds, but I have thus far seen nothing to confirm that.

The Rutherfords were a border clan, neither highlanders nor lowlanders, and have had a strong military tradition, being fierce defenders of their lands, especially against the English, because of the close proximity. The English spent a great deal of time putting down the Scottish and border culture has been nearly destroyed. As a result of British laws, many borderers did not have clan tartans, the way the highlanders or lowlanders had. The British instead instituted a district tartan, in an effort to break down old family alliances. The Rutherfords were on the hit list for the English and had their tartan taken away. The Rutherfords were supposed to wear the Roxburghshire tartan, named after the Roxburghshire county in which Rutherford lands were found. The Rutherfords have always been enemies with the Kerr clan, and along with many other clans, betrayed when the Kerrs sided with the English to help put down other clans. The district tartan is considered a symbol of that betrayal. The Rutherfords were known for their raids into Northumberland. See

Lord Thomas Rutherford was one of the first lords to make an alliance with the Humes. The connection was formalized when Lord Thomas served as bailey for Sir Patrick Home of Polwarth after 9/16/15 03, so we have been a part of that clan for just over 500 years. As a result, the Rutherford clan wears the Hume tartan. Ironically, the Humes are from Northumberland. Obviously, they had to make peace. The Rutherford clan joined the Humes for protection.

The town of Rutherford had a famous hospital called Saint Mary Magdalene's hospital. Rutherford is located at a key fording area on the Tweed river and a last live of defense before Edinburgh . The town itself was destroyed on September 9 th , 1544 when the English came calling, because the English felt the Rutherfords had betrayed them. The truth was that the Rutherfords had made an agreement to fight with the English up to a point, against the Kerrs. The town was razed to the ground and the Rutherford lords were forced to flee. Eventually, all Rutherfords fled Scotland to other lands. No Rutherford resides in the ancestral land located by the Tweed River in Roxburghshire.

The following are great resources for history of this great clan. I have borrowed from each of these to write up my own little blurb.


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