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Origins of the Bellingham surname

The History of the Distinguished surname Bellingham

The English surname Bellingham is local in origin, being one of that large category of surnames derived from the name of the place where the original bearer dwelt or where he once held land. The surname thus signifies simply "(descendant of) one who hails from Bellingham". It comes from a combination of the Old English personal name "Beora" with the suffix "haem" (forerunner of our modern "home"), and literally signifies "the homestead of Beora's people".

The family name, Bellingham is believed to be descended originally from the Strathclyde Britons. This ancient, founding race of the north were a mixture of Gaelic/Celts whose original territories ranged from Lancashire in the south, northward to the south bank of the River Clyde in Scotland. From 400 A.D. to 900 A.D. their territory was overrun firstly by the Irish Gaels, then the Angles from the east, and, finally the Picts and Dalriadan from the north. However, their basic culture remained relatively undisturbed. By 1000 A.D., the race had formed into discernible Clans and families, perhaps some of the first evidence of the family structure in Britain. By the 15th,16th and 17th centuries many of our modern family names descended directly from this ancient race, including Bellingham. The Border region of England and Scotland produced some of the most illustrious family names the world has ever known, names such as Armstrong, Nixon, Graham, Bell, Carson, Hume, Irving, Rutherford, and so on. Also included in this group is the surname Bellingham.

The border of England and Scotland was created on a line from Carlisle to Berwick in the East. Many Strathclyde families straddled the border but continued to be unified clans, powers unto themselves.

After 1000 A.D., border life was in turmoil. In 1246, six Chiefs from the Scottish side and six from the English side met at Carlisle and produced a set of laws governing all the border Clans. These were unlike any laws prevailing in England or Scotland or, for that matter, anywhere else in the world. For example, it was a far greater offence to refuse to help a neighbor recover his property, wife, sheep, cattle or horses than it was to steal them in the first place. Hence the expression "Hot Trod", or a hot pursuit, from which we get the modern, "Hot to trot". For refusal of assistance during a "Hot Trod", a person could be hanged on the instant, without trial. Frequently, the descendants of these clans or families apologetically refer to themselves as being descended from cattle or horse thieves when, in fact, it was an accepted code of life on the border.

Professional analysts have researched the history of lowland Scotland and northern England, including many private collections of genealogical records, the Inquuisitio, the Exchequer Rolls of Scotland, and Ragman Rolls, The Hearth Rolls, the Domesday Book, parish cartularies, baptismals, and tax rolls, and revealed that the first record of the name Bellingham was founded in Northumberland, where Alan of Bellingham was Lord of the manor at the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066. The placement also appears as a surname in the Domesday Book of 1086, and records of its use as a surname date from at least the thirteenth century when one William de Bellingham was registered in the Rotuil Hundredorum (Hundred Rolls) of Norfolk.

Different spellings of the surname Bellingham were found in the archives, each alternate linked to the root source of the surname. The name, Bellingham, occurred in many references, from time to time the surname was spelled, Bellingham, Bellinghame, Belingham, Belinghame, Billingham, Bilinghame, and these changes in spelling frequently occurred, even between father and son. Scribes and church officials recorded the name from its sound, sometimes changing the spelling on each occasion of the same person's birth, death or marriage.

Tracing its ancient development, the name Bellingham was founded in Northumberland. In the 13th century they branched to Westmoreland in Helsington, and later to Levens near Kendall in Westmoreland. This notorious border clan became involved in the defense of the border. However, they also held territories north of the border. It is stated that they were Foresters to the King of Scotland, and had held the forest of Tynedale "for tyme beyond memory". William of Bellingham who held lands in Rayington rendered homage to King Edward I of England on his brief conquest of Scotland in 1296. In that same year, Alexander Bellingham was taken prisoner at Dunbar Castle. In later years the Bellinghams branched south to Bromby in Lincolnshire and also to Suffolk.

Meanwhile on the border they were one of the prominent clans, and it is recorded that the Chief of the Scotts raided the Bellinghams in 1597 with 300 horseman and killed three men and carried off 400 head of cattle. Notable amongst the family at this time was Alexander Bellingham.

In 1603, the Union of the Scottish and English crowns became reality under King James VI of Scotland, who was also crowned King James 1st of England. The crown dispersed these "unruly border clans", clans which had served loyally in the defense of each side. The unification of the governments was threatened and it was imperative that the old "border code" should be broken up. Hence, the Border Clans were banished to England, northern Scotland and to Ireland. Some were outlawed and banished directly to Ireland, the Colonies and the New World.

Some of the Border Clans settled in Northern Ireland, transferred between 1650 and 1700 with grants of land provided they "undertook" to remain Protestant. They became know as the "undertakes". Many became proudly Irish. In Ireland a Henry Bellingham acquired lands in county Louth where they built Castlebellingham,it became the primary residence of his descendants, including several Baronets until the early part of this century.

Many were dissatisfied with life in Ireland, that coupled with the disastrous effects of the Irish Potato Famine in the mid 1840's, helped encourage emigration. Other Bellinghams came directly from England. They looked to the New World and sailed abroad the "White Sails" an armada of sailing ships such as the Hector, the Rambler, and the Dove which struggled across the stormy Atlantic. Some ships lost 30 or 40% of their passenger list, migrants who were buried at sea having died from diseases and the elements.

In North America, some of the first migrants which could be considered kinsmen of the family name Bellingham and their spelling variants included Richard (who later became the Governor) and his brother William Bellingham who settled in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1630; Robert Bellingham arrived in San Francisco, California in 1850; Mary Bellingham settled in Maryland in 1741; William Bellingham arrived in New York in 1820; Charles Thomas Saker Bellingham arrived in the U.S. in 1845. The migrants formed wagon trains westward, moving to the prairies or the west coast. At least three seperate states (Massachusetts, Minnesota, Washington) have cities named Bellingham. The diaspora continued as Bellinghams spread out among the British Commonwealth to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India and South Africa.

Today Bellinghams can be found all around the world. We are all proud of this surname and hope that it's history in the future is as rich as it has been in the past.


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