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McCrays: From Scotland Through the American Revolution

Clan McCray: American Name, Medieval Origins

McCray is unmistakably a phonetic variant spelling of McCrae, a surname that is well-known in America. And McCrae is a variant of the old Scottish name originating in Clan MacCrae.[1]

Apparently the “McCray” spelling originated in America as a phonetic variation, even as “McCrae” continued to be used by other families. Also, McCrays and McCraes came to America at different times and through different routes. A percentage of them ended up in the Great Plantation in Ulster, Ireland, and were among the many Scots-Irish who later immigrated from Ireland to America. [2] Our McCray immigrant, Daniel, is recorded as coming directly from Scotland some time shortly before the Revolution.

The name is recorded as far back as almost 800 years ago, and has a rich, recorded history in Scotland, North America, and other places. One website with basic historical information about Clan MacRae (and other Scottish Clans, actually), is Scotland In Oils. Its chapter on the MacCrae surname points out “There are mentions of a Clan MacRae taking part in the Battle of Largs in 1263 against King Haakon of Norway.”[3]  Turns out this was the last major battle between Vikings and the Scots in Scotland– apparently no one “won” the battle, but it did lead to Norway ultimately giving up a long-time occupation of parts of the West Scottish coast.[4] Apparently something near 2,000 Norse soldiers (by one estimate) arrived in the bay at Largs on ships; a smaller number of Scots, combined infantrymen and cavalry, showed up. You’ll have to read upon on the history for the rest of the story!


Battle of Larges (1263), detail of viking ships from William Hole mural, Scottish National Portrait Gallery, photographed by CC BY-SA 3.0,

Detail from famous mural Battle of Largs by William Hole and copied from Wikimedia Commons (and generously made available to all of us by Creative Commons (“CC BY-SA”),  https windex.phpcurid=32596990.jpg.)


Lots of helpful information about the clan and history is on the website “Clan Macrae: The Scattered Children Of Kintail”, which declares itself the official site of Clan MacCrae and seems a very useful source of information.[5]  Even the Scottish Tourist Board seems to have joined in on the fun and created a profile for “Clan Macrea”, albeit a terse one.[6]  Oh, and let’s not forget the Clan MacRae Society of North America, which I guess is for people who really, really love everything MacRae.[7]

As you would guess, a great adventure in Scotland can await the eager and ready family history researcher working on the history of the McCrays. For starters, it would be fun to try to confirm the home village for Daniel McCray, and then go visit that place. Next, I would travel to see the Battle of Largs site, and there is much to read up about that.[8] Then, of course there is Castle Eileen Donan, in the Scottish Highlands, seen in the photo above by Cousin Katy.

Daniel McCray: The Scottish Immigrant

Although much as been written about Daniel McCray, there is not much to be found in the way of his history prior to immigrating to America.  American family history researcher Philip McCray, in his History of McCrays of America (1993) refers to a one late Ida Lucille McCray who purportedly did substantial research into Daniel’s background in Scotland and concluded he was from Ayreshire, not far from Glasgow. I have not seen any further proof of that, but I think it’s not unreasonble to imagine Daniel’s family ending up there in order to find gainful employment or make a living.

A date of 1745 is recorded for his birth. I can find no information as to what motivated Daniel to move to America. Often there was a specific reason to compel someone to emigrate to America, and other times it was just better opportunities. Scotland was surely in those years an awful place to live in – wet, muddy, and cold, with a violent and rigid society, and with housing in the form of tiny shacks, sometimes even shared with farm animals.

But we actually cannot say for sure if Daniel was impoverished, or was a young man of some means. Or, some combination of the two. That is certainly a question ready for serious research.

For point of reference, in our McCray family line, the chain of descent was: Daniel McCray —> Thomas McCray —> Charles T. McCray —> Grandma Sallie —> Grandma Lulu —> Grandpa Warren W.

Other descendants of Daniel McCray have written of his life online, with write-ups appearing online in histories, tree notes, or blogs. I encourage all interested to check some of them out. Naturally, not all of the information you will find in the on him is correct or verifiable. But, there is a wealth of information and articles worth checking out.[9]

I note: some of the narratives I have read are about how tough Daniel was, his patriotism and military service and service as a frontiersman. I warn readers that I will not just be talking up Daniel as a hero. Instead, my contribution is that I am here sharing some historical viewpoints that don’t seem to be discussed a lot.

Daniel: The Virginia Days

So far as I know, the earliest discovered surviving written record of Daniel in America is of his 1768 marriage to one Sarah Nodding. Sarah’s parents were William and Mary Nodding. They lived in Montgomery County, MD, which is directly across the river from Loudon County, VA, where Daniel lived. Daniel appears in Loudon County tax records throughout the 1770s, including the “tithables”, which were taxes imposed by the colonial Virginia government. It’s been a while for me but: in case any of you reading this are not familiar with the area, this is basically what is today the suburban areas around modern-day Washington D.C.

A remarkable chapter of Daniel McCray’s life was his experience serving the fledgling United States of America during the Revolution. This needs to be further researched, but he appears to have served twice, and in two different settings. Now, I say “appears”, because it is subject to further confirmation.[10]

But, I have been able to confirm at least Daniel’s first recorded stint in the Revolutionary War: specifically, his time with the 13th Virginia Regiment. This regiment was created by an act of the Continental Congress in September, 1776. The regiment was organized the following February, 1777, and participated in several battles until at least 1778. At some point in 1778 the regiment was morphed and then merged into another regiment. We can find at least two entries for Daniel in the war rolls for the 13th Regiment during the 1777-1778 timeframe;  he was about 31 to 33 years old at that time.

Between 1777 and 1778, the 13th Regiment valiantly fought for the Revolution in at least three commonly known and studied battles: the Battles of Brandywine, Germantown, and Monmouth. I do encourage all who have any interest in this to brush up on the histories surrounding the battles!

The Battle of Brandywine happened on September 11, 1777, near a Brandywine Creek in far southeast Pennsylvania that is close to the borders of all three of Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey. General sources say the battle involved over 30,000 soldiers between the two sides, , and lasted for some 11 hours. This made it the largest (in terms of numbers of participants) as well as the longest single-day battle in the American Revolution. The Redcoats ultimately beat back the Americans, forcing the Americans to retreat.[11] That loss, combined with another beating the Americans took on September 20, 1777, allowed the British to sweep in and seize Philadelphia. If you can remember your high school history, you will recall that at this time, Philadelphia was the seat of the Continental Congress, which was busy drawing up a constitution and managing the war. It was thus the capitol of the USA. The British had planned this occupation as their Philadelphia Campaign.[12]

The Battle of Germantown took place on October 4, 1777, in Germantown, PA, which is 6 miles or so northwest of the old part of Downtown Philly (and I have the liberty to call it Philly because one of my sisters was born there). Germantown was at the time a settled but small, leafy community of stone houses that was separate from Philadelphia. The British set up a defensive garrison there as part of their occupation. General Washington chose to attack this garrison from north, to penetrate the British hold. Fighting was fierce for a day. Much bloody violence took place outside Cliveden, a mansion built by one Benjamin Chew. At the end of the day, the British held on, and the Americans lost and were again forced into retreat.[13] The British would not withdraw from Philadelphia until June, 1778.

Battle_of_Monmouth_(Wikimedia Commons) (NYPL_b13075520-422191)

Engraving of a famous 19th century painting by one Alonzo Chappel, “Battle of Monmouth”; Wikimedia Commons.

The Battle of Monmouth took place on the afternoon of June 28, 1778, in the town of Monmouth, Freehold Township, New Jersey.

If my reading of the sources is correct, Brandywine and Germantown were just two of a series of consistent losses for Washington. After Germantown, the British continued with the Philadelphia Campaign, and Washington pushed on in more battles over the coming 9 months. With each battle came more experience, training and lessons for the Americans. Plus, the French had started to aid the Americans.

So, with the British withdrawal from Philadelphia and their march towards New York, with determined spirit, the Americans marched into New Jersey to meet the British at Monmouth. The battle involved some 20,000 combined soldiers between the two sides. Military historians apparently contend that the battle that ensued resulted in no significant strategic advantage for either side (and you can read all about that to your heart’s content). But following that fateful day, Washington claimed the victory and even the Continental Congress expressed gratitude to Washington and the troops.[14]

The American Battlefield Trust has an excellent coverage of many Revolutionary battle sites, including a fab animated Revolutionary War map. Their coverage of the Battle of Monmouth includes a layout map with details:

Romantic legend coming from the Battle of Monmouth included the tale that one “Molly Pitcher” was present and participated in cleaning and loading cannons. There are variants of this legend, but I also note that Molly Pitcher also appeared in tales about other battles. It’s true there were several hundred American women present who played non-combatant roles. But, at least according to some historians, Molly was a legend but represented an profile of a heroic woman in battle against the British.[15] We can only wonder if Daniel got a glimpse of her.


The_women_of_'76-__Molly_Pitcher__the_heroine_of_Monmouth_LCCN2002698846 Wikimedia Commons Currier and Ives

An old painting that I believe was a Victorian-era Currier & Ives lithograph, romanticizing about Molly Pitcher at the Battle of Monmouth.

Nicely, thanks to efforts of dedicated lovers of historic preservation, these battlefield sites survive as great monuments of American history. And they are all accessible to the public. I have not been to these places yet, but all look like beautiful settings to spend a day or more appreciating and pondering the historical events. So: we too can go visit the Revolutionary War battlefields where our own ancestor fought (or, I should more carefully state, where our ancestor’s regiment fought at the same time he was with them). In fact, we can even visit all three in one weekend. Here are some current and relevant urls for the eager tourist:


In anticipation of my own Daniel McCray battlefield site vacation, I have sketched out a first itinerary map:


McCray Revolutionary Battlefield Sites Map


I am not sure what Daniel did for a living, but he believe he was primarily a farmer, and also had work through his father-in-law’s businesses.

Daniel was apparently a devout and active early American Baptist. One source identifies him as a signatory to the “Ten-Thousand Petition” to the Virginia Legislature, dated October 16, 1776 that urged religious freedom. People from all over the Virginia Commonwealth signed that petition.[16] People of all faiths that were not those of the British Crown were unhappy with what was essentially Anglican Religious Imperialism. This was significant at the time because, between 1774 and 1865 (the end of the Civil War), there was an established practice for petitioning the Virginia Legislature on issues.[17] Petitions filed at the time of the American Revolution reflected issues of the day. One was religious freedom – or, some would stress, freedom from religious oppression — was also an element of the momentum behind those who fought in the Revolution. A movement of religious freedom was born, which ultimately led to the incorporation of the Establishment Clause in the Bill of Rights. The Ten Thousand Petition was part of the overall movement. [18]





[1]      See McCray, Philip, History of McCrays of America (1993) (Heritage Books).  See also other MacRae-derived variants listed at:;  accessed September 1, 2019.

[2]    Philip McCray, History of McCrays of America (1993)

[3]; accessed September 1, 2019.

[4]    Check out the battle write-up on the awesome Battlefields of Britain site:; see also the Wikipedia entry.

[5]; accessed September 1, 2019.

[6]; accessed September 1, 2019.

[7]; accessed September 1, 2019.

[8]      See entry for Largs in the Battlefields of Britain website,

[9]    See, e.g..:  Norman Schofield’s Ancestors: Information on Daniel McCray on has a good coverage,;   see also the WikiTree profile by a Robert Haack,; and the short write-up by Diana, Goddess of the Hunt – for Ancestors,

[10]    If there is one thing I have learned about researching ancestor military records — especially from the Civil War or the Revolutionary War —  is that whatever information still survives is usually spread in numerous different places. There is no one single source, database, or index that lists all names of those who served, or their service records. Some of the sources are unknown and much of the material still not online or readily available. It will take more time. It will take more work for proof, and more cross-verification, to confirm Daniel’s full military record.

[11]    So many places to look! But here are some good places for the casual researcher:

[12]       Check out the article on the wonderful Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia website:; an excellent source is also the website;  and then of course there is the Wikipedia article on the British Philadelphia Campaign, for good general information:

[13]    Some easy to read general sources:


[14]    Among the many sources available on this battle, the casual researcher can check out:;; and


[16]   See, e.g.,

[17]     See the discussion at the Virginia Library at:

[18]      For more information on the process of Virginia petitions and on religious freedom movement, see the folowing:

great reading on American Revolution history articles site:

Additional, more academic assessment of how this kind of sentiment in Virginia ultimately led to the Establishment Clause:








Me (on the phone): "That's "C-r-e-s-a-p".

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