Guild of One-Name Studies
One-name studies, Genealogy
Category: 3 - A study where research using core genealogical datasets and transcriptions is well under way on a global basis.
DNA website: www.familytreedna.com/group-join.aspx?group=hunter
Contact: Ms Carol Hunter-Sullivan
Variants: Huntar, Huinter, Hunnter, Huntere, Hunterr
Category: A study where research using core genealogical datasets and transcriptions is
well underway on a global basis.
DNA website: www.familytreedna.com/public/hunter
Contact: Ms. Carol Hunter-Sullivan
About the study
I have been researching my family history for over 30 years starting with my own family and learning my ancestral grandfathers were the Lairds of Hunterston Castle which has been the Clan Hunter seat for over 907 years.
My study has been mainly Scotland where the first Hunters arrived from Normandy and were appointed the Royal Huntsmen to the Kings of Scotland.
Venator is Latin for Hunter so this will be seen often in the beginning following with Huntar and then Hunter. The variants will also be included in this study.
Countries will include England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Australia, Canada and the United States.
Recorded as Huntar, Hunter, and the female Huntress and Huntriss, this ancient surname is of Anglo-Scottish origins. The derivation is from the Olde English pre 7th Century word "hunta", from "huntian", meaning to hunt, with the agent suffix "-er", meaning one who does or works with. The term was used not only of hunters on horseback of game such as stags and wild boars, a pursuit in Middle Ages restricted to the ranks of the nobility, but also as a nickname for both bird catchers and poachers. The surname is first recorded in Scotland in the early 12th century, whilst the first English recording may be that of Simon Huntere in the Curia Regis Rolls for the county of Bedfordshire in the year 1220, whilst half a century later we have the recording of Agnes Huntris also recorded in the Latin form of Venatrix, in the Hundred Rolls of (appropriately) the former county of Huntingdon in 1273. A Scottish family called Hunter gave their name to the port of Hunterston in the former county of Ayrshire, now part of Strathclyde region, an estate being granted to Norman Huntar in 1271. Later example of surname recordings taken from surviving church registers in the diocese of Greater London include the christening of Awdrey, the daughter of John Hunter, on October 1st 1540, at St. Leonard's Eastcheap; and the marriage of Allen Hunter and Helen Bolton on June 26th 1558 at St. Lawrence Jewry, Milk Street. One of the earliest settlers in the New World was Francis Hunter, aged nineteen, who sailed from the port of London aboard the ship "Thomas and John" bound for Virginia, in June 1635. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of William Huntar. This was dated 1116, in the registers of Scotland known as the Inquisition of Earl David. This was during the reign of King Alexander 1st of Scotland, 1107 - 1124.
The Hunters of Hunterston
The first Hunters arrived in Ayrshire in the opening years of the 12th century, having come over from Normandy about four years after the Norman Conquest. Experts in hunting and fieldcraft with generations of experience in the forests of their land of origin, these Norman lords were invited to Scotland by King David I who was himself brought up in the Norman court in London.
In papers relating to the Kings Inquisition, a Court of Law held in the King's presence in 1116 we find mention of Willielmo Venator, William the Hunter, the first Laird, Royal Huntsman to the Kings and Queens of Scotland. There is a family legend that says the Lady of the first Laird had the honour of serving Queen Matilda s lady-in-waiting.
William the Hunter soon put his expertise to good use in the wild forests and fens of Hunterston, then rich in wildlife, which surrounded the site of the timber fortress. This became Hunter's Toun, a village and port on the peninsula where Hunterston has always been. As recognition of hi family's skills, the title of Praefectus Venatorus Regis - Royal Huntsman, became a hereditary appointment.
In the mid-thirteenth century King Alexander III of Scotland urged his liegemen to built in stone against possible incursion by Norsemen (the Vikings). It was probably about this time that the stone pele-tower of Hunterston Castle was constructed to replace the wooden fortress.
Ardneil Hunter, the 5th Laird of Hunterston, is mentioned in a Charter of King Alexander III of Scotland in 1271. The reference was to land that had been granted to the Laird of Hunterston by the King's predecessor, Malcolm IV.
From their stronghold the family, allied with other powerful neighbours, stood fast against the aggression of King Hakon of Norway and drove him to defeat at the battle of Largs in 1263. It sheltered them throughout the turbulent Wars of Independence from which they emerged with their lands intact, having probably supported William Wallace and certainly Robert the Bruce. In 1374 the Great King's grandson Robert II granted William Hunter (10th Laird) a Charter of lands for: "faithful services rendered...to us".
While farming the lands, the Hunters continued to serve the Scottish Crown as Royal Huntsmen and as soldiers, sometimes at great personal cost to the family. John Huntar (14th Laird)(one of my ancestral grandfathers) died with King James at Flodden in 1513 and Kentigern Mungo Huntar (16th Laird)(another ancestral grandfather)died for Mary at the Battle of Pinkie in 1547.
Several tales have been passed down the generations as to how the first Hunter, Norman Venator, was given his title as hereditary Gamekeeper and Falconer to the Kings and Queens of Scotland.
There is a fine story; that whilst the first Hunter at Hunterston was out hunting and chanced upon a meeting with a stranger, who was by himself and appeared lost, The Hunter took him in and so impressed this stranger with his talents in finding game that before parting, the stranger vowed to return one day. In due course some time later, a large party of warriors all in battle dress arrived in the area. The Hunter was apprehensively studying the arrivals from the cover of some trees, when he noticed the stranger he had befriended. On advancing towards him he was immediately surrounded by a ferocious group of warriors menacing him with weapons.
The stranger then came forward and announced that The Hunter was an acquaintance, the warriors withdrew and the two men greeted each other and exchanged news. When the group started to leave, The Hunter turned to one of the party and asked the name of the stranger: 'The King of Scotlnd' came the reply. This Royal connection has remained throughout the entire history of the Hunters of Hunterston.
A royal Charter dated 31st May 1527 from King James V to Robert Huntar of Huntarstoune (15th Laird) grants him the deer forest on Little Cumbrae, an Island in the Forth of Clyde opposite Hunterston. States:
...quiquisdem insulam et terras cum pertinencils, dictus Robertus et predecessors sui, de nobis et predecessoribu nostris, in custodia hereditary prius habuerunt...
This translates as:
...which islands and lands with pertinents, the said Robert and his predecissors have formerly held of us and our predecessors in hereditary custody...
This clearly establishes the continued official appointment as Hereditary Royal Huntsman. The "blenche ferme" rent paid on demand to the crown was fulfilled by the presentation of two hounds of the case and two falcons when the King visited this part of his kingdom. In addition, an annual sum of one silver penny Scots was paid at Pentecost.
On 5th June 1979, Neil Hunter of Hunterston (29th Laird) was privileged to continue this long tradition by presenting one of these silver pennies to the late Queen Mother, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, on a visit to Hunterston Castle.
Amongst these Historical surroundings nestles the Clan Seat and centre for all the Clansfolk. Hunterston Castle the Seat of Hunter Clan Since 1107.
Hunter is a very common surname in the United States. When the United States Census was taken in 2010, there were about 162,440 individuals with the last name "Hunter," ranking it number 160 for all surnames. Historically, the name has been most prevalent in the Southeast. However, it is especially popular in the District of Columbia. Hunter is least common in the northeastern states.
Distribution of the name
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