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 The McCracken Diaspora

A goal of the McCracken Project is to identify through Y-DNA genetic testing a scientific pathway that links our McCracken ancestors living in the southwest of Scotland and the northeast of  Ireland beginning in the 17th Century with their McCracken descendants scattered around the world today.  


By the late part of the 15th Century the McCracken surname first begins appearing in the Lowlands of Scotland

A goal of the McCracken Project has been to prove or disprove through genetic testing and historical records whether McCrackens were ever associated with or related to Clan MacNaughton.  By all indications, this goal appears to have been achieved.  There are no McCracken Y-DNA matches at any level (12, 25, 37, 67 or 111 STR's) with any McNaughton and since there are no historical records associating McCrackens with McNaughtons, the current belief is the McCracken surname was never associated with Clan McNaughton. 

It is estimated that fewer than 30% of all Scottish surnames carry a history of clan association. The origin of this purported relationship between the McCrackens and MacNaughtons first appears in 1922 when Rev. Patrick Woulfe from Dublin, published a book translating well over a thousand Irish Gaelic (not Galwegian Gaelic) surnames into English. He lists the Irish language name Mac Neachtain as translating phonetically into the English surnames of MacNaugten, MacNaughton, MacCracken, MacNaught, MacNeight, MacKneight, MacKnight, MacNight, Mannight, Mcnaght, Menautt, Minett and Minnitt. As a linguist, Woulfe makes no mention of a clan connection between these surnames.

Curiously, the McCracken surname was not claimed as a sept of Clan McNaughton until fifty-five years after Woulfe's book, in 1977, when Duncan McNaughton published, "The Clan McNaughton, The most complete History ever written of this famous Clan." In this book McNaughton states, “Finally, a newcomer to the list is the name McCracken, and its Irish cousin McGratten. Both are McNaughton in origin, the name being derived from the Gaelic for McNaughton, Macreachtan." It does not appear to be coincidental that shortly after the surname McCracken became a sept of Clan MacNaughton Association, USA a James Wilson McCracken of Sacramento, California became the President of the Clan MacNaughton Association, USA. He served in this capacity until his death in 1994. Clan McNaughten Association, UK which was disolved in 2004, is reported to have never officially recognized the McCracken surname as one of their septs. It was only Clan MacNaughton Association, USA that claimed the McCracken surname as recently as 1977 as one of their septs and they continue to do so to the present day in spite of being presented compelling evidence suggesting otherwise.

The McNaughton claim that the McCracken surname is a sept of their clan is based entirely upon a linguistic supposition. It would appear Clan MacNaughton Association, USA's belief is since the McNaughton's were a clan, the other surnames such as McCracken were therefore one of their septs. Even if the MacNaughtons and McCrackens shared the same name in the Irish language by no means does this prove the two groups ever crossed paths or lived in the same geographical area in Scotland. Nothing has been discovered to suggest an affiliation ever existed between the McCrackens and McNaughtons. There is no evidence or proof that any McCracken ever lived in Argyle or near their Castle Dunderave or was ever associated with this noble family. There are no historical records linking the McCrackens and McNaughtons. The McNaughtons homeland in 1473 was Dunderave, near Inverary, Argyle in the Highlands. Their Dunderave Castle was built there in about 1500. McCrackens on the other hand during this period were living 130 miles to the south at Wigtownshire, in the Lowlands. The McCracken surname first appears at Wigtownshire in 1495 with John McCracken, a chaplain and notary at Whithorn.

After fourteen years of Y-DNA testing, there are no (zero) genetic matches on any level between McNaughton and McCracken males in the FTDNA database. In addition, there are no known autosomal dna "cousin" matches between McCrackens and McNaughtons. On the other hand, historical records and Y-DNA results proves McCrackens were associated with several of the powerful families and clans in southwest Scotland. There are many McCracken Y-DNA matches with the surnames McDowell, Kennedy, Dalrymple, McClure, McCulloch and Agnew who were all either power families or clans from Wigtownshire. The earliest discovered historical document of a McCracken being associated with a Wigtownshire clan was an Anthony McCracken, who in 1525 was cited as a follower of the Earl of Cassillis (Clan Kennedy). In the Wigtown Parish Churchyard is a memorial gravestone dedicated to a John McCracken (1605-1680). This is believed to be the oldest stone within this cemetery. The memorial inscription states there are twelve generations of McCrackens (and Frazers) buried here. If we are to believe this inscription then McCrackens were living in the area by at least the 13th. or 14th. century.

As to the origin of the McCracken name, Dr. Henry MacCracken, Chancellor of New York University was of the belief the origins of the McCracken surname was associated with a geographical location. Here's what he had to say in 1917, five years before Woulfe's book: “I am interested in learning any facts respecting the McCrackens of long ago. The name occupies few pages of history and not many seem to know just where that ‘crag’ was which led people to call the man who lived nearby Mac-Crag, the son of the ‘crag or rock’ which has been turned into MacCracken. But in Scotland many well-informed people say the name belongs to the region of Dumfries and southwest Scotland. I have myself found many old stones in Dumfries cemetery bearing the name of McCracken.”

In the Parish of Kirkcowan, Wigtownshire, Galloway is a geographical placename known as Crachan (a hill). Perhaps this is the geographical site where Mc Crachans lived at the time in history when hereditary surnames were being adopted in southwest Scotland. 


Wigtown County, Scotland - A McCracken homeland

A goal of the McCracken Project is to locate if possible, down to the Civil Parish level, the McCracken "genetic homelands" in Scotland and Ireland. McCracken families during the 17th Century are shown to have lived in Wigtownshire and Ayrshire, Scotland as well as Ulster Province, Ireland. By the 18th Century the largest concentration of McCrackens in Ulster appear to have called counties Down & Antrim home.  

Only the North Channel and 17.5 nautical miles of sea separates

Wigtown County, Scotland from Ulster Province, Ireland which are 

two of the known ancestral homes of those named McCracken.  

It's reported that in 1606 the sea crossing took only three hours.


McCracken among the oldest names of Wigtownshire

The New Edinburgh Encyclopedia published 1821 lists in the section about Wigtownshire thirty surnames as being among the oldest from Wigtownshire. The McCracken surname is one of the thirty surnames mentioned.  The encyclopedia go on to state that most of these names “are evidently Celtic, and must have come down from the remotest antiquity.”  

A map of the civil parishes

The McCracken surname first appears in the records of Scotland at Wigtownshire in 1495

The name Makcracken [McCracken] appears in the town of Wigtown beginning in 1495 with a D. John McCrakan  His occupation is chaplain and a notary. 

In 1526 Michael McCracken was respited for murder. Michael was a follower of Gilbert Kennedy, the Earl of Cassilis, the captain & keeper of the manor & loch of Inch Parish.  Patrick McCracken in 1550 was residing at Sheuchan (near Stranraer) also located in the parish of Inch.  In 1536 Gilbert M'Crekane [McCracken} was the burgess of Wigtown and Michael McCracken the notary public.  John M'Crekane [McCracken] in the same year was the vicar of Sorbie.  Sorbie is a small village located 6 miles south of Wigtown and located mid-way between Wigtown & Whithorn. John McCracken's position as church vicar occurred before the Protestant Reformation (John Knox) movement in Scotland.  The cradle of Christianity in Scotland as well as the oldest Christian church in Scotland is located at Whithorn.  Learn more about Whithorn here.   


McCrackens were one of the principal families of County Londonderry/Derry prior to 1600

depicts the surname "MacCracken" in southeast County Londonderry in the barony of Loughinsholin. The source of this map is Philip MacDermott, M.D.who in 1846 compiled a map of Ireland by county listing the names of the principal families in Ireland of Irish, Anglo-Norman & Anglo-Irish origin from the 11th to the end of the 16 Century.  MacDermott map was based on the 1846 Gaelic to English translation by Owen Conellan of The Annals of Ireland by the Four Masters which had been created at the Franciscan monastery in Donegal from 1632 to 1636. You can view this map by clicking here.  You'll find the surname MacCracken below the letter "e" in the word Londonderry.  

Thomas, William & Hugh McCracken in 1660

A 1630 muster rolls lists a Thomas McCracane [McCracken] in the barony of Keenaght, Estate of Sir Robert McClelland.  In 1641 the town of Maghera in the barony of Loughinsholin was burned by an Irish regiment under the command of Alexander MacDonnell, the 3rd Earl of Antrim.  A Thomas McCrohan [McCracken] appears on a 1660 Hearth Money Rolls in the barony of Loughinsholin, civil parish of Maghera, townland of Largantogher.  In 1688 the army of James II attacked the town of Maghera and the residents fled to the walled town of Londonderry.

Largantogher comprises 285 acres & within this townland is the site of the
 ruins of St. Lurach's Church dating back to the 10th Century. Previously this site was a 6th Century monastery founded by St. Lurach, the patron saint of Maghera which according to the Annals of Ulster was plundered by Vikings in 832.   

The 1660 Money Rolls lists Wm. M'Crachan [McCracken] in the barony of Loughinsholin, civil parish of Lissan, townland of Rossmore.  Rossmore is approximately 14 miles south of Largantogher and four miles north of Cookstown, County Tyrone. Lissan is located in counties Londonderry and Tyrone.  During the 17th Century the landlord for parishes Maghera & Lisson was the Church of Ireland. Adjoining Lissan to the south, but located in County Tyrone is the parish of Kildress where Hugh McCachen [McCracken] is listed on the 1660 Money Rolls at Drumshanbo-Glebe townland.


The ruins of the old St. Lurach's church adjoin the town of Maghera in Largantogher townland

The parish of Maghera in County Londonderry/Derry is an ancient McCracken homeland.  The McCracken surname first appeared in 1660 at Maghera in the townland of Largantogher & McCrackens are to this day still living in Largantogher. 

County Derry/Londonderry civil parishes

Map courtesy of www.billmacafee.com

There is a MacCracken townland in the civil parish of Leckpatrick, County Tyrone

The MacCracken surname appears not only on a map in southeast County Londonderry but also in northwest 
County Tyrone near the River Foyle in the Civil Parish of Leckpatrick.  The distance between these two locations is 34 miles.  Were there perhaps two separate distinct groups or  clans of McCrackens in Ulster prior to the Plantation of Ulster?  There are after all three distinct McCracken haplogroups (I, R & E) represented in the McCracken Y-DNA Project. 


Map courtesy of UlsterHeritage.com

Located within Leckpatrick is the McCracken townland.  A townland is one of the most ancient divisions of land in Ireland. The origins of the townland remains obscure but they are undoubtedly of great antiquity. Townlands existed long before parishes and counties.  The social customs or history of the people who had lived in a specific place can be reflected in the name of the townland. Unfortunately these surnames are the only surviving records of the families who held the land in pre-plantation Ireland.  The McCracken town is a 40 acres tract of land located approximately 8 miles northwest of Strabane and 12 miles southwest of Londonderry.  The geographical center point of the McCracken Townland is located today at 61-63 Station Rd, Strabane BT82 0HB, UK.  You can view the McCracken Townland by clicking on a Google map here.   


Map of the Townlands of Leckpatrick Parish (MacCracken & Ballymagorry depicted on this map)  

Map courtesy of Owen Roe, Leckpatrick.

Is there a scintilla of evidence to suggest the McCrackens of McCracken town were Gallowglass Scots?

In 2012 there was a archaeological dig on the east bank of the River Foyle in northwest County Tyrone near the present day village of Magheramason. The purpose of the excavation was to explore the remains of a fortress known as Dunnalong (translates as "fort of ships").  According to the book "The Lost Settlement of Dunnalong" published June 2013, this fort first appears in extant records in March 1568.  The local chieftain & landowner was Turlough Luineach O'Neil who used the fort to bring in shipments from Scotland and other locations. Dunnalong "became one of the main entry points for Scottish Galloglass, the fearsome Scottish mercenary soldiers with their seven foot long two handled swords, who came across in droves to fight for the various Gaelic chieftains of the North West."  By 1610 the fortress had been abandoned and at the onset of the Plantation Period became part of the Earl of Abercorn Estate. The Earl of Abercorn used Dunnalong as a landing site for arriving planters. Dunnalong was located six miles north of McCracken town.  Many Gallowglass Scots are known to have remained in Ireland. Gallowglass Scots were active in Ireland from the early medieval period up to the early 1600's.  Perhaps McCrackens after the demise of Dunnalong settled McCracken town. Nonetheless, what can be stated with confidence is there were McCrackens living in both County Tyrone and County Londonderry  in the early 1600's.  

Fort Dunnalong (Donalong)  1601 

(For more information click here)

When & where did the first McCracken planters from Scotland settle in Ulster?

Most of the Scot planters of Ireland came from the southwest lowlands of Scotland. James Hamilton, the 1st.  Earl of Abercorn, was one of the promoters of the Plantation of Ulster. The Abercorn family were the senior surviving branch of the Scottish House of Hamilton from Paisley, Scotland in the central lowlands. MacCracken town was located in what later became the Manor of Cloghogal which was part of the vast Abercorn Estate. James Hamilton, Earl of Abercorn was granted Irish denization on 15 August 1610.  He died in 1618 and was succeeded by his son James. Whether MacCracken town precedes the Abercorn Estate remains unknown.

Gilbert, Patrick & Archibald McCracken by 1617 were planters in Leckpatrick, County Tyrone  

The earliest identified McCracken men taking part in the Plantation of Ulster lived either at or in the general vicinity of McCracken town.  The earliest record of a McCracken living in the area was Gilbert McCracken who in 1614 was a miller residing on the Killeny Estate.  The Killeny Estate was located about 5 miles northeast of McCracken town in the parish of Donagheady, near the townland of Dunnamanagh.  The village of Donemana was established at Dunnamanagh at the beginning of the Plantation of Ulster.  As a miller, Gilbert McCracken's source of water would have come from the River Burndenet.  Six years after the Earl of Abercorn received his denization, Gilbert, Patrick &, Archibald McCraghan [McCracken] on 17 August 1616 received their Irish denization from the crown. & appear on a list of planters at Ballymagorry in 1617.  Ballymagorry (M'Gorry's town) is a 289 acre townland also located within Leckpatrick Parish and nearby to McCracken town. Fourteen years later, in 1630 an Archibald McCracane [McCracken] (armed with a sword) & a Donnell McCarkan [McCracken] appeared on a Londonderry (town) muster roll.  The 1630 muster rolls also lists a Thomas McCracane [McCracken] in the barony of Keenaght, Estate of Sir Robert McClelland. The next year, in 1631, a Gilbert McCrackaran (armed with a sword) appears on a muster roll for the parishes of Donagheady & Leckpatrick. Whether Archibald & Gilbert McCracken of 1630 & 1631 are the same Archibald & Gilbert McCracken who received Irish denization in 1616 is unknown, but based on the close geographical proximity & with only a fourteen year time span between the two events suggests perhaps there were the same men.  Learn more about denization by clicking here.

County Down c. 1630

There were four McCracken males on the c. 1630 militia muster roll at County Down, town of Bangor,Clannaboyes Estate under the leadership of the Lord Viscount (James Hamilton). 

No.   Name                         Type of weapon

148.  Anthony McCracken      pikes, completely armed

312.  Thomas McCracken      swords,muskets & bandoliers

359.  John McCrackan           swords & calivers

580.  Thomas McCrackan      swords & snaphances

McCracken’s Plantation & McCrackentown

The website placenamesni.org is a current active project that collects information on the origins and meanings of over 30,000 place-names from throughout Northern Ireland.  In late 2014 or early 2015 "McCracken's Plantation" and "McCrackentown" were added to their database.

McCracken's Plantation is a minor place name located in Dunalis Upper Townland, Dunboe Parish, Coeraine Barony, County Derry/Londonderry. The name McCracken Plantation appears in the Ordnanance Survey Memoirs of Ireland (Vol XI, 75, 79) with a reference date of 1835.  Alexander McCracken's family is cited. 

McCrackentown is a minor place name located in Carnfinton Townland, Rasharkin Parish, Kinconway Barony, County Antrim.

1790 Map of Ireland

When & where did the first McCrackens from Ulster Province, Ireland settle in North America?


Map Courtesy of Richard Torrens website

The earliest identified McCracken to settle in the American Colonies was a John McCracken who departed from Coleraine or Londonderry, arriving at Boston in August-September 1718 along with five to seven hundred other Ulster Scots loaded aboard five ships.  These Ulster Scot families are reported to have come mostly from the Bann Valley, many from the same estate, and were organized by the Rev. William Boyd from the village of Macosquin (near Coleraine).  The Bann River divides County Antrim and County Londonderry.   In 1732 he sold his home near present day Bristol, Maine and in 1735 resettled with twenty-six other Ulster Scot families on the banks of the St. George River in present day Warren, Maine. Each family had received 100 acres of land free from Samuel Waldo, a Boston land speculator as an inducement to settle at Warren.  McCracken's buried at the Old Settler Cemetery in Warren. 

The majority of the second wave of Ulster Scots immigrants settled in Pennsylvania having left their homelands in counties Donegal, Tyrone & Londonderry. Their port of departure would have been from Londonderry town, down the River Foyle, Lough Foyle and out into the North Atlantic. 

McCrackens began arriving at the Delaware River ports of Philadelphia & New Castle by 1724 or perhaps even sooner. The earliest known McCracken to arrive in Pennsylvania was John McCracken who in 1724/1725 was listed on a tax list in New London Township, Chester County.  Those McCracken families arriving by 1745  lived in close proximity to one another settling on land located near the border that separated Pennsylvania-Delaware-Maryland.  While several McCrackens lived in south Chester County, Pennsylvania, others in west New Castle County, Delaware, & some in northeast Cecil County, Maryland these McCrackens although residing in different colonies lived only a short distance from one another.  

Delaware at the time was part of and administered by the Pennsylvania proprietors and known as the Lower Counties of Delaware.  During this period a heated dispute, sometimes violent, raged between Pennsylvania and Maryland over the location of the boundary line separating these two colonies.   This issue was not resolved until the completion of a survey in 1767 by Mason & Dixon.   


McCracken families by 1745 or perhaps sooner, had also settled in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania; St. Mary's County, Maryland; Kent County, Delaware; Frederick County, Virginia; Washington County, Maine & Worcester County,Massachusetts.

Earliest McCracken arrivals

Caribbean: John McCracken was born in Scotland about 1628. He was a conscripted soldier in the Scottish Covenanter army and was among 10,000 Scots captured in the summer of 1650 by Oliver Cromwell’s army at the Battle of Dunbar during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms.  McCracken was one of about 500 Scottish POW's from this battle who were marched south into England, sold as an indentured servant and sent in chains to the English colony of Barbados in the fall of 1650.  Some Scot POW's were simultaneously shipped off to the Massachusetts colony as indentured servants.  McCracken would have served a minimum of four years as an indentured servant (slave) before gaining his freedom. He remained at Barbados where he died in 1670 at the Parish of Christchurch.

Canada:  A McCracken was recorded in a Protestant household census in Montreal during 1765.

India:     A McCracken female was christened at Ryacotta, Madras in 1807. 

Australia:   Edward McCracken arrived from Ireland in August 1819.

New Zealand:  A McCracken male immigrated and arrived at Auckland in 1856.

South Africa: A McCracken male was baptized in 1807 at St. Georges Cathedral Military.

Scottish colonies & settlements in North America

Year     Location                                           

1629    Nova Scotia (New Scotland), Canada. The first Scottish colony in North America.

1683    Town of Perth Amboy, East Jersey Colony. 1st Governor was a Scottish Quaker but never resided in the colony.

1684    Stuarts Town, now Beaufort Co, South Carolina. Originally named Port Royal.

1695    Darien,  now Panama. 2,500 Scots perish attempting to establish a trading colony at Ismus of Panama. More info here.

1736    Darien, now McIntosh Co, Georgia.  Settled by Scots from Inverness. Originally called New Inverness.

1739    Fayetteville, NC  (Upper Cape Fear River area). A party of 350 Scot Highlanders from Argyllshire settled in the Cross Creek area.


The McCracken DNA Project membership is comprised of individuals from Australia, Canada, England, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, United States and Wales.  

Any person with a McCracken surname spelling variant are also encouraged to join. If you're surname is not McCracken, but your YDNA results match our members, you too are encouraged to join our project. If you've already had Y-DNA testing done by Ancestry DNA  or The Genographic Project your results can be transferred to FTDNA for a nominal fee. 

© Ken McCracken