Gaelic Name: Clann Mhoraidh
The Murray Clan takes its name from the ancient province of Moray which was located on the shores of the Moray firth. In the 12th century several rebellions took place in Moray against the Scottish Monarchs whose ancestor had unseated the popular MacBeth. To force allegiance from his subjects, King David I imported a Flemish knight by the name of Ollec Freskin to police the inhabitants of Duffas in Moray. The Freskins gained stature in the North through a marriage into the ancient royal family of Moray. A grandson of Ollec, William de Moray, was ancestor of the Murrays in the south of Scotland, particularly the great families of Bothwell, Abercairny, and Athole. These families are chronicled in the popular clan histories.
More obscure are the forefathers of the Murrays of Nova Scotia who belonged to an older branch of the clan, those that settled along the coast of Sutherlandshire in the north. By the 13th century Sutherlandshire had become a settlement of "broken men" and rebels from the south who had fled beyond the mountains and the reach of the King. It was the desire of the King to bring that wild region under the control of the crown therefore he appointed Hugo Freskin, grandson of Ollec, to be the first Lord of Sutherland. In Hugo's entourage were his two brothers, (or cousins as some argue), Richard and Gilbert Freskin de Moray. Richard was a soldier and gained fame for his successful defense of the eastern seaboard of Sutherland from the Vikings. He had a castle at the mouth of Strath Fleet overlooking the North Sea.
Gilbert was a cleric who became a Bishop of Caithness and Sutherland after the murder of a preceding bishop. For safety he moved the centre of the See to Dornoch where he built Dornoch Cathedral which is still used to this day. Hugo's descendants took the name Sutherland and evolved into the Sutherland clan whereas the remainder of the Freskin family adopted the surname Murray.
The Murray's of Sutherland quickly populated the hills and glens of Eastern Sutherlandshire, particularly in the Parishes of Dornoch and Rogart. They were the principal vassals of the Earl of Sutherland, charged with the defense of the shire. The Murray name appears predominately in the front lines of the many feuds between the Earl and his enemies, the MacKays and Sinclairs. Vengeance and retaliation towards the Sutherlands were primarily suffered by the Murrays and their lands in Rogart and Dornoch were often laid waste by the enemy. The chieftains of the Murrays are believed to have been the Murrays of Aberscross, a township in Golspie overlooking the entrance to Strath Fleet. They erected a small castle at Aberscross which fell into ruin in the 17th century and is now lost.
During the Jacobite Uprisings of the 18th century, the Murrays of the south were firmly in the camp of Prince Charlie. However the Murrays of Sutherland were Royalists and instrumental in routing the Jacobite MacKenzies out of Sutherland.
The late 1700's brought about an era of emigration. After a famine in 1772, a number of families chose to emigrate to Pictou, Nova Scotia in 1773. Among them were two brothers, Walter and James Murray. Walter, a soldier who served in India, settled at Merigomish. James was an early settler of Portaupique in Colchester County. They are believed to be the first permanent Murray settlers in Nova Scotia.
In 1803 a number of the Murray clan left their native Rogart for a new life in Pictou. Counted among them was an Alexander Murray, progenitor of thousands, and an early settler of Scotsburn. Subsequent to 1813, many Murray families found their way to Nova Scotia as a result of the Highland Clearances. This was a bleak time in the history of Sutherland when agents for the Marquis of Sutherland forcibly removed the crofters from their land to make room for sheep farms. Many of these crofters settled in Western Pictou County and Earltown.
From these impoverished refugees came a class of industrious settlers bonded to the Presbyterian faith. Within a generation one could find Murrays in medicine, business, politics, teaching, and a host of useful occupations including the ministry where the Murray name appears frequently. Today their offspring rank in the thousands throughout North America.