The Borders family of Bell may well descend from a Norman follower of David I who reigned until 1153 and was, by the end of the thirteenth century, well established in Dumfriesshire, Berwickshire and Perthshire. The name may derive from the French “bel” meaning “fair” or “handsome”. Since the derivation is descriptive, common ancestry cannot be assumed for all those bearing the surname. The arms attributed to the principal family are in the nature of canting, or punning, heraldry, alluding to the pronunciation of the name rather than its origin. The suggestion that it relates to living beside a bell tower seems far fetched. The Bells participated in the Borders disturbances as one of the riding clans of border reivers. In the thirteenth century Gilbert Le Fitzbel held lands in Dumfries. Sir David Bell was Clerk of the Wardrobe to Robert II. In 1426 William Bell’ s lands of Kirkconnel were confirmed by James I under a charter recorded in the register of the great seal. The Bells, along with other Borders families, became increasingly turbulent throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The Crown’ s determination to pacify the Borders led in 1517 to the Clan Bell receiving royal letters of warning to keep the peace. The tower of Blacket House was destroyed in a raid by the English in 1547. After the union of the Crowns in 1603 the family suffered much the same fate as the other border reivers; many emigrated to the new plantation lands in Ulster, where the name is among the twenty most numerous in that province. Others settled further a field throughout Australia and New Zealand. The descendents of the Lairds of Blacket House stayed in the realm but moved to the cities where they contributed substantially to learning and in particular medical science. Andrew Bell, founder of the Madras system of education, was born at St. Andrews in 1753. General Sir John Bell was a distinguished soldier during the Napoleonic Wars. George Joseph Bell wrote “Principals of the Law of Scotland”. More recently, Alexander Graham Bell was a pioneer in the development of the telephone. Although the Bells were a Borders, family, there are others of this name who are of Highland origin, and in that case, Bell is held to be a sept of Mac Millan. (1)
The Clan MacMillan has its roots in an ancient royal house and from the orders of the Celtic church. The progenitor of the clan was Gillie Chriosd, one of the sons of the Cormac, the Bishop of Dunkeld. As a Columban priest, his head would have been shaved over the front of his head, rather than in the more usual fashion.
This distinctive tonsure is described in Gaelic as ‘Mhaoillan’. The name MacMillan is therefore “son of one who bore this tonsure”.
An early branch of the MacMillan clan was to be found at Loch Arkaig in Lochaber. However, tradition states that the family was moved from this area by Malcolm IV and placed on the crown lands of Loch Tay in Perthshire. It was at these lands in Perthshire that Robert the Bruce, fleeing after the stabbing of the Red Comyn, was sheltered by the MacMillan chief. The family proved its loyalty to the Bruce by fighting at his side at the Battle of Bannockburn. (2)
Tracing the Bell/Beall lines in Scotland is a particular challenge, especially since there were so many Bells, and they traveled in all directions. While scrounging through my Beall research folder, I found an article titled Bell/Beall/M’Bell that may shed some light on the matter. Unfortunately, I do not know where I got this source since I’ve had it in my folder for so many years. It appears to have been saved from the internet, and it may have been part of a larger work:
The “Border Bells”
The recognition of the likelihood that many of the southern Bells may also have been in origin M’millans (as suggested by the record of the 14th century Gilbert fitz Bel) would not in any way harm the Border Bells’ claim to have become a separate clan – as they do indeed appear in the royal records of the sixteenth century – any more than the universal acceptance of the MacAlisters’ descent from the MacDonalds derogates from their recognition as a clan in their own right. All modern clans evolved from earlier clans – the Clann an Mhaoil (the MacMillans) from the Clans Cormaic and Aibertaich (from whom come the surnames MacCormack and MacAverty) and Clan Donald (the MacDonalds) from Clann Somerhairle (surname, MacSorley) – and the same process of surname evolution/choice would have happened in the middle ages in the then Gaelic speaking Southern Uplands of Scotland as in the Highlands. This is not to deny that some “Border Bells” may have come from England – and would therefore have had nothing to do with the MacMillans – but a French origin for any Scottish Bells looks extremely dubious. It is clear, for instance, that the patronymic appellation “fitz”, which appears in English records relating to Dumfries and Galloway in the fourteenth century, is simply the Norman-French version of the Gaelic patronymic “mac”; and no more indicates a French origin for the fitz Bells than it does for their contemporaries the fitz Canes, who are simultaneously to be found recorded as McKans.
Bells who can prove that their ancestors came from the Borders, and particularly from the Middlebie and Kirkconnel areas of Dumfries-shire, may indeed look to the successors of the Bells of Blackethouse as their chiefs; but in doing so might care to distance themselves from the insulting claims put forward by some that Bells who accept a connection between their own name and that of MacMillan have been fooled and are perpetuating a myth. The truth has long been clear in the Highlands of Scotland, as it is to genealogists and Gaelic scholars throughout the home country today, whatever may be thought elsewhere in the world. (3)
In an article titled “Colonel Ninian Beall”, Ruth Beall Gelders discusses Ninian Beall’s Scottish ancestry as follows:
Ninian Beall had the distinguished name of a Christian Saint and a Druid Priest, prophetic of his future prodigious leadership and experience.
He was probably descended from the Celts who came to Scotland about the 4th century BC. The Celts were known in Europe from the second millennium BD. Armed with iron weapons, they spread rapidly over Europe, introducing the newly developed iron industries. Greek influences stimulated the use of the chariot and later of writing, and art flourished in richly ornamented styles.
By the 4th century BC, the Celts could no longer withstand encroaching tribes, so they came across the sea to England, Ireland, and Scotland. A division of the northern Celts called Picts or Cruithne settled in Fife in Scotland. They had a hierarchical tribal organization in which priests, nobles, craftsmen, and peasants were clearly defined. They were agriculturists who reared cattle and owned domestic animals, and were tall with long heads, light eyes, and dark or red hair.
The Celts relied on the ministry of the Druids. For a long time, the powers of the priests were kinglike but later the priests became less political and were leaders in the Druid religion, the advancement of art and writing, and teachers of children. The Druids were worshipers of nature and considered the oak tree and the mistletoe which grew upon it to be sacred. They believed in the immortal soul, and its departure at death into another, not earthly, body.
The Druid priests became known by the name Beall, with its various spellings, Beal, Bell, Bel, or Beall. (Genealogical column in “The Warcry,” Salvation Army paper 1936).
Christianity was accepted by the Celts about the 5th century AD. It was brought to Scotland by St. Ninian and his disciples. St. Ninian was the son of a British chief in Galloway who was already Christian. Many churches were dedicated in St. Ninian’s name. He is buried at the cemetery on Molindenar Burn. Ninian Beall was possibly one of many who were named for St. Ninian. (4)
Ninian Beall’s Scottish ancestors settled in Fifeshire in the areas of St. Andrews and Largo. Records pertaining to his direct ancestors are a bit murky. His father has been established as Dr. James Bell/Beall (1603-1641)–a Reverend and not a Medical Doctor, who was educated at the University of Glasgow–and his mother was Anne Marie Calvert (1603-1646). My husband Howard actually attains his Beall ancestry through two connecting Scottish Beall lines. His connection to Ninian Beall is through the Magruder line. And his connection to Alexander Beall (1625-1655) is through his main Beall line. I believe it is fair to say that people have many differing opinions about this ancestry. What I present here is the sum and substance of my own findings. If my conclusions differ from others, so be it. My conclusions are subject to change. Any new discoveries will result in future articles. What I present here is what I have discovered to date.
The earliest Beall ancestors I have been able to find in Fifeshire are William Bell (1535-1600) and his wife, Margaret Patterson (1534-1600). Two of their children were Sibil/Sybel Bell/Beall (b. 1555), who married a Graham, and Howard’s ancestor, Alexander Bell/Beall (1565-1612). William was a weaver by occupation. In those days, the trades were more important than wealth and royalty because the trades kept the wealthy royals supplied! Alexander Bell followed his father’s occupation as a weaver, per the following account:
Alexander BEALL was born in 1565 in Largo, Fifeshire, Scotland. He died in 1612 at the age of 47 in Largo, Fifeshire, Scotland. Alexander was a braboner (Scottish for weaver).
In 1967, a search was made for an ancestor of James Beall by the Scots Ancestry Research Society. The report said there are no existing parochial registers for St. Andrews prior to 1627, and the birth of Alexander Bell was not listed in the record of 1627-29. There is little hope of learning the parents of Alexander through these records. The Index of Testament for the Commissariat of St. Andrews, which included Fife, was consulted. A will was recorded 8 Nov 1653 for Christian Traill, wife of William Bell the Younger, who died July 1653. No children were mentioned but William Bell the Younger, and William Bell the Elder, braboner of St. Andrews, were named. It may be possible that William Bell the Elder is the father of both William Bell the Younger and Alexander Beall, who married Margaret Ramsay. The William Bell who witnessed the baptism of William, eldest son of Alexander and Margaret on August 22, 1647, makes [it] seem probable.
Source: “Maryland Heritage” A Family History, Katherine Beall Adams, 1983,p.32. Particular Register of Sasines (property) for Fife was also consulted. Here recorded, June 1646, that Alexander Bell, braboner of St. Andrews, had inherited from Christian Paterson, daughter of his grandmother’s brother (his first cousin once removed), the property of “Northmure”. That same year Alexander married Margaret Ramsay. He is described in the record as a young man. William the Elder is not mentioned in the index for 1603=1609 or 1617-1660.Perhaps it is possible to trace the ancestry of Margaret Ramsay or Christian Paterson for some clues. (Source: Adams,p. 32)
Source:Ancestors of Homer Martin Taylor(worldconnect)
Parents: William BEALL.
Spouse: Margaret RAMSEY. Margaret RAMSEY and Alexander BEALL were married in 1593 in Largo, Fifeshire, Scotland. Children were: Dr. James B. BEALL, William BEALL, Andrew BEALL.(5)
William Beall/Bell, a child of Alexander Bell and Margaret Ramsey, was a brother of Dr. James Bell and an uncle of Ninian. He was born in 1599 in St. Andrews, Fifeshire Scotland, and he after 1653 in Largo. William had two marriages, and both wives were named Christen. His marriage to Christen Gourlay (1605-1639) took place about 1620 in St. Andrews. Their children were:
- Alexander Bell (1625-1655).(6) [Howard’s direct Beall line. A number of people believe that Alexander was a brother of Ninian Beall, but that has never been proven.] I will discuss Alexander in Part 3.
- Jeane Bell (b. 1633). Jeane was born September 5, 1633 in St. Andrews.(7). No additional information.
- Bessie Bell (b. 1637). Bessie was born in January 1637 in St. Andrews. (8) No additional information. It is possible that William’s first wife died in 1637 during the birth of Bessie. Bessie may have died at birth or shortly thereafter.
On December 5, 1639, William married Christen Trail in St. Andrews, Fifeshire.(9). Their children follow:
- William Bell (1642-1725). William was born before February 5, 1642 in St. Andrews, (10) and he died in 1725 (location unknown)
- James Bell (b. 1644). James was born before February 17, 1644 in St. Andrews. (11) No additional information.
- Andrew Bell (b. 1650). Andrew was born before January 20, 1650 in St. Andrews. (12) No additional information.
This article continues in Part Three with Alexander Bell (1625-1655). [Ninian Beall will return in a later piece relating to the Magruders].
(1) Clan Bell, Celtic Studio.com at http://www.celticstudio.com. Copyright 1995-2015. Date Accessed: 30 Dec 2015. Available online at http://www.celticstudio.com/celticstudio/database/clans/007b.htm
(2) Clan MacMillan History. From The Scot Clans Website (2013). Date Accessed: 30 Dec 2015. Available online at http://www.scotclans.com/scottish-clans/clan-macmillan/macmillan-history/
(3) Bell/Beall/M’Bell. Internet source–full citation unknown. Copy of page located in Beall Research Folder (Barbara Inman Beall) 30 Dec 2015.
(4) Ruth Beall Gelders, Daughters of the American Revolution, Joseph Habersham Chapter, Atlanta, GA. Colonel Ninian Beall (1976). Located on Kim Beall’s Beall Ancestry Pages. Kim Beall, 1996 at krystalrose.com. Date Accessed: 30 Dec 2015. Available online at http://krystalrose.com/kim/BEALL/ninian1.html
(5) FrancesCHall196248, “No Clear Father.” Ancestry.com, Provo, Utah. Originally submitted 28 Dec 2014. Date Accessed: 02 Jan 2016. Available online at http://www.ancestry.com
(6) Family Data Collections about Alexander Bell/Beall. Individual Records. Ancestry.com, Provo, Utah. Date Accessed: 02 Jan 2016. Available online at http://www.ancestry.com
(7) Scotland, Select Births and Baptisms about Jeane Bell. Ancestry.com, Provo, Utah. Date Accessed: 02 Jan 2016. Available online at http://www.ancestry.com
(8) Scotland, Select Births and Baptisms about Bessie Bell. Ancestry.com, Provo, Utah. Date Accessed: 02 Jan 2016. Available online at http://www.ancestry.com
(9) Scotland, Select Marriages, 1561-1910) about William Bell and Christen Trail. Ancestry.com, Provo, Utah. Date Accessed: 02 Jan 2016. Available online at http://www.ancestry.com
(10) Scotland, Select Births and Baptisms about William Bell. Ancestry.com, Provo, Utah. Date Accessed: 02 Jan 2016. Available online at http://www.ancestry.com
(11) Scotland, Select Births and Baptisms about James Bell. Ancestry.com, Provo, Utah. Date Accessed: 02 Jan 2016. Available online at http://www.ancestry.com
(12) Scotland, Select Births and Baptisms about Andrew Bell. Ancestry.com, Provo, Utah. Date Accessed: 02 Jan 2016. Available online at http://www.ancestry.com