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About the Little surname


Recorded in several spellings as shown below, this is one of the oldest of English surnames. Originally in ancient times it was a personal name of endearment as in "Little man," and even as a medieval nickname surname, probably did not describe a man of small stature, but the very opposite. This is proven to a large extent by the famous outlaw of Robin Hood fables "Little John," so called because he was a giant of a man. His long bow supposedly seven feet in length, was for many years was to be found at the famous Bolton Arms, at Bolton Abbey, in Wharfedale, Yorkshire. It is also claimed that word was used for the younger of two bearers of the same name, as in the modern and mainly American practice of using "junior" for a son with the same name as the father. Early examples of the surname taken from surviving registers include Lefstan Litle in Feudal Documents of the Danelaw at the abbey of Bury St. Edmunds in the county of Suffolk, whilst Thomas Lytle was recorded in Sussex in the Subsidy Tax rolls of 1296. John and Jane Little were early emigrants to the English colonies of the New World being recorded in the parish of Christchurch, Barbadoes, in 1678. Modern spellings of the surname include Little, Littell, Lytle and Lyttle. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Eadric Little. This was dated 972, in the register of Old English Bynames, for the county of Northamptonshire, during the reign of King Edgar, 959 - 975 a.d. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was sometimes known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.

Another origin of name comes from Scottish borders and the "Clan Little"


Clan Little lived in the Valley of Ewes, so beautiful that it earned this line of praise by visiting poet Killarney upon looking into the valley, "Angels often pausing there, doubt if Eden were more fair." To the clan, the valley of Ewes outside of Langholm was their Eden. Langholm was a market town to receive wool from the surrounding endless moors where sheep were raised. The Clan Little family, like the other clans in the area, were in the wool business in the 1600s. Wool was their source of wealth, considered the golden fleece, as their annual cash enterprise, tended over the whole of the year, as a vital part of their economy. Not just the local economy, but England itself. Wool for centuries was Britain's principle product. In 1426, when Simon Litil was Laird (Lord) of Meikeldale to modern times; Meikeldale, in the valley of Ewes, was a glen within a great expanse of endless moors that could graze thousands of sheep across its hills. The moors were windswept, which encouraged thick and valuable woolly coats of fleece. The wind was such that it prevented trees from growing on the moors where there was no shelter from the wind. Instead, thick heather, herbs, mosses and grasses grew for the flocks to graze for endless miles. The clan insisted that the wind promoted warm sturdy wool in the sheep and also loyalty and strong character in the men of the moors. The men's character was also shaped by the moor since prehistory, hence their motto to never concede. The moors and flocks were of such size that shepherding was achieved on horseback. The men were cavaliers, meaning that they both shepherded and fought on horseback. The men of Clan Little became expert horsemen, herding the sheep with the cooperative help of all of the other horsemen and their intelligent sheepdogs who would run crisscrossing the hills with the flocks, abiding the calls of their master riding on the other side of the flock on horseback, and together they protected the animals as a finely-tuned team. This daily shepherding teamwork on horseback carried over to agile teamwork in mounted defense, battle and retrieving stolen animals from raiders. The clan had a tower and "keep" to store their bundles of wool just before market and into which they could retreat in time of attack by raiders. About the time of shearing in early fall was when they were most subject to attack. Their great flocks of sheep, like living gold, was constantly at risk for theft by raiders who would steal what sheep that they could. The clan protect their flocks from horseback. At night the flocks were at risk too. There were reiver guards who were on watch at all times on the perimeter of the land. The clan motto was "Concedo Nulli" which means, "never give up'. Even under protection, raids were a predictable occurrence near shearing time. The men did not seek to kill thieves. They sought to prevent their sheep being lost to raiders. However, when animals were stolen, a retrieval party was launched on horseback. One rider held aloft a spear-pierced cut of heather sod, lit on fire, so that the fiery torch could be seen across the moor. This was the visual signal to call for the help of the other men. All of the men were expected to join the the reiver ride of retrieval once they saw the torch. This process of retrieval was called "reiving" and the men "reivers" meaning retrievers, not raiders, an important legal distinction. At one time, the valley of Ewes was under the quick riding rule of the wool Clans. Poem of the times: "They ran their steeds on the Langholm holm, They ran their steeds with might and main: The ladies looked from their high windows, God bring our men well back again!" The era of highland clans began before memory, while riding and reiving for the golden fleece lasted the period when wool was the principle product of Britain. The Little clan also grew corn and had a corn mill at Meikledale. Langholm was the nearest market town. Clan Little would shepherd huge flocks of sheep from the hills of the moor to be shorn, and the wool taken into the Langholm market where the wool was sold and woven, or shipped down the waterways to weavers and mills across the land and to the continent of Europe. Langholm was so-named as it was once a settlement of Swedish Viking families. Clan Little was the descendant of a Swede. It was observed in older times that most of the children of the town had white gold hair. In time the clans grew so great that the law was changed so that a father's property was divided between all sons. This legal change began to fracture the clans into many smaller less tightly knit groups which made the brothers more competitive: and they fought brother against brother, as incidents of reiving increased. Clan cooperation eroded and vigilante law, was the law. Alliances of clans who had skills acquired as reivers began to act collectively against the intrusion of the English across the English border. The English vilified the reivers as outlaws exaggerating their exploits even though the border clans were being assailed by the English. However, the era came to an end as the men of the moors were pushed out of Scotland to the New World. Although their motto was to never concede, Clan Little finally gave up on their homeland in Scotland when the English felt it necessary to destroy their ability to rise and work collectively as one -- as they did on the moors. The clans were dismantled increasingly after every collective clan alliance, including the local Border Wars, and other events brought an end to clan independence such as the Battle of Culloden, the end of the Jacobite Rebellions and other conflicts with the English, finally resulting in the Highland and Border Clearances. The Valley of the Ewes was the Paradise from which Clan Little were banished. There is only a single carved memorial stone today marking the place where the Clan Little tower once stood. Abandoned by its own men who once guarded it with their lives, the Clan Little tower was dismantled over time for its wood and stone. The stories of the men were lost to the wind on the moors. There are two instances of a John Little of Langholm recorded as a merchant in the 18th century. ________________________________________ The oldest relic in the area takes us back to before the period of written history, and is the stone known as the “Grey Wether,” standing in front of Meikledale House. Such stones are across Scotland and England. In Scotland, they are all known as “Wethers”. They sometimes mark the burial place of a famous clan chief, but not all have associated graves, so some say that Wethers were also objects for prayer where it marks a special spot of reverence of a memory, now lost, of events long ago that merited monumental importance to our ancestors. We do not know what memory the Meikledale Wether marker denotes. ________________________________________ The people of Scotland were once loyal to the clan chief, not the crown. It was the chief who decided which crown the clan would support. Often, there were kings the clan chiefs tolerated, but did not support. For many reasons, in the 17th century, severe ongoing social upheaval at that time in Scotland brought an end to the paramountcy of the clan chiefs. During this time over a million Scotsmen gave up on Scotland, most never to return. There were many who were killed in this period during the constant warfare, raids, and "cleansing" of entire towns by lighting all of the houses on fire at once. During the Scottish clearances after the defeat of Scotsmen who supported Bonnie Prince Charlie, soldiers actively went looking for clan survivors to kill them where they found them. The era of clan power ended and the English largely took over the south of Scotland. In 1426, the first Laird (Lord) of Meikledale was Simon Lytle. After the last chief of clan Little David Little, Laird of Meikledale,was killed, some sons of the chief-less Little clan took what wealth they had and sailed to America or other destinations. ________________________________________ Common Riding is an annual event celebrated in Langholm every July (and other Scottish Border towns) to commemorate the times of the past when local men risked their lives retrieving sheep in order to protect their town and people. The tradition of a week of "common riding" to demonstrate riding skill at a full gallop dates back to the 13th and 14th centuries, during the era of the continual land border wars both with England and against other clans. It was a tribal custom to plunder and thieve sheep and cattle, known as reiving, and commonplace amongst the major Borders families. In these lawless and battle-strewn times, it became the practice of the day for the local lord to appoint a leading townsperson, a fine and aggressive rider, who would then ride the clan's boundaries, or "marches", to protect 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and even holidays, their common lands and prevent encroachment by livestock thieves, neighboring landlords and their peoples. The "common riding" festival gave the town a chance to see the magnificent skill of their men, while also honoring these brave men who often died protecting the flocks of the town upon which their economy depended. Long after they ceased to be essential, the "common riding" festival continues today, in commemoration of local legend, history and tradition. It is also a lot of good fun. In current times, Common Ridings celebrate each Border town's history and tradition in mid-summer, during a period spanning May through to June. Rideouts now involve many hundreds of horses, who furiously gallop the narrow medieval streets of the towns, often riding in period costume to evoke a passion worthy of the reivers old. Unlike in previous centuries, women and children are now allowed to ride in the festival with the men as the event is not as dangerous as when practiced by lads who really were reivers who spent their days on the moors. Each community starts its celebration with the election of that year's Principle Man in the spring, chosen from amongst the communities of the best, most dashing and brave young male riders, who becomes an honored figure. Each community often has a different name for their nominated Principle Man. The Little clan would have participated in the Common Riding of Langholm. The town of Langholm calls their Principle Man, "Cornet". The townspeople would wave sprigs of heather in honor of the riders. The Common Riding festival lasts a week. The day starts off at 5am with a flute procession around the town of Langholm. There is constant music, singing in the streets with everyone holding hands, with Scottish dance and bagpipes filling the streets of the town, variously surrounding the horse events, including a horse race through the old streets, and other tests of skill. There are awards given to best dogs with the most skill too. The whole town and their visitors finish by holding hands and singing Auld Lang Syne. Langholm is very musical and has the oldest brass band in Scotland. VIDEO OF THE BAGPIPES OF LANGHOLM: VIDEO EXCERPTS OF LANGHOLM COMMON RIDING FESTIVAL: ________________________________________ In the vicious Anglo-Scottish Border Wars of 1296-1603, the Little clan was one of the fighting clans of the West March, living close to the border on the Scottish side. By the close of the 16th Century they had earned a reputation as the finest light cavalry in Europe. For over three centuries the Little clan were allied with the Armstrong and Beattie, where they lived on the steep-sided dales to the northwest of the present town of Langholm, at the extreme east end of Dumfriesshire. The ancestral family of astronaut and first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, is from Langholm. Their successive chiefs, Little of that Ilk, Laird of Meikledale, resided at the foot of the side of Meikledale Valley halfway up Ewesdale (beside the present A7 road from Langholm to Hawick). The ancestry of Edward Little of Meikledale, founder of the clan, has an ancestry that traces through Normandy back to Norway to Ingiald Ill who was a ruler in 7th Century Gamla Upsulla. Edward fought in 1296-1297 as a guerrilla fighter alongside William Wallace, the great Scottish patriot hero. Wallace led the first phase of the Wars of Independence against the oppressive occupation of Scotland by Edward I of England. Many of those who supported Wallace most closely were kinsmen, not the least of whom was "Eduuard Litill, his sister sone so der" (His sister's son so dear). Wallace was the uncle of Edward. In 1426, two years after his return from exile, James I, King of Scots, granted to "our beloved Simon Littill", chief of the clan, tenure of the lands of Meikledale, Kirkton, and Sorbie in Ewesdale. Simon thus became the first Laird of Meikledale styled as, Simon Littill, 1st Laird of Meikledale. The Little clan of the Scottish West March supported the Stuart Kings of Scotland through five reigns. On 26 July 1530, King James V, fearful of the mounted strength of the Armstrongs and their supporters, came into Eskdale with a massive "hunting party". Tricking the leader of the Armstrongs and thirty-two "personis of the greitest of thaim namit Armstrangis, Ellotis, Littillis, Irvinis, with utheris" into a parley, he hanged them out of hand. The Eskdale clans, thrown into a conflict of loyalties, from then on until the end of the wars forsook patriotism for their imperative of survival and sided with the likely winner. At the union of the crowns in 1603, King James VI of Scots left Scotland for London as King James I and VI of a United Kingdom. He was determined to put down the continuing lawlessness on both sides of the border. His wishes were carried through with sword, noose and torch until hardly a building stood in the whole of Eskdale and Liddesdale. Chiefs were hanged, and those who survived, were later ordered to sell out. Simon Little of that Ilk was chief of Clan Little at the end of the Border Wars. His son Thomas' succesor, David Little, was the last Laird of Meikledale. In 1672, David was the last chief to be officially recognized. Clans were outlawed as the independent legal and military entities that they had been for millennia, even resisting the Roman occupation that had subjugated the south. Since David's time, the Littles have been one Scotland's many heidless (headless) clans. Due to the upheaval of the wars between the Catholics and the Protestants and the ensuing seesaw as to which king was in power. The clan began to leave Scotland along with other Scotsmen in the 17th Century. Littles, and Lytles, with neighboring Beatties, Thomsons, Elliots, Armstrongs and Irvings fled from persecution to various destinations depending on which side they were perceived. Because of the social instability economic instability became more common and drove more Scotsmen to leave their home villages. Initially, some who were Protestant went to Ulster where the English sought to establish a colony composed of Protestant Scotsmen. However, Ulster had it own wars and troubles, and many moved from there as well, some to America, some back to Scotland or into England. Many simply moved south into neighboring English Cumberland, where today, as in Ulster, there are twice as many Littles as in their home county of Dumfreeshire. Many moved deeper into the heartland of the "auld enemy" now open to them for the first time. They crossed the oceans to North America, Australia and New Zealand, proud of their origins, but over the generations, losing contact with the descendants of those who stayed behind. ________________________________________ LANGHOLM PARISH RECORDS: The earliest register of Langholm marriages were only commenced in 1706 and of deaths 1704. Since then, they have been kept regularly, but the register of deaths is wholly awanting for one year. SESSION RECORDS of church (kirk) court proceedings reveals a record for a John Little, an elder and heir of lands who requested town permission in 1722 to build a footbridge for one of his tenants, a weaver of Langholm. Permission was required as the bridge would be place before John Dixon's seat (meaning land or estate). "Dec. 17, 1722.—John Little, elder and Heritor, desired liberty of the Session to put up a footgang before John Dixon's seat for the use of Archibald Graham, weaver in Langholm, his tenant, which the Session allowed to be done ; to be continued at their pleasure." The Session Records were kept since 1695 and continue to be kept now as then. They make extremely interesting reading and show that the Session took a deep interest in the morals of the community. The Kirk Session helped the poor and it had a powerful say in the establishment of schools for the poor. --------------------------- THE NAME LITTLE MAY BE COGNATE WITH LIDDLESDALE, outside of Langholm. History of Liddlesdale: Liddesdale lies some fifteen miles to the north of the English Scottish Border and about twenty-five miles north of Carlisle, Cumbria, the great Border city. Thus it lies in southern Scotland. It is about seventeen miles long and twelve miles wide. The main place of habitation is the village of Newcastleton, formerly known as Copshawholme. Liddesdale from Castleton Prior to the beginning of the seventeenth century many of its acres were under tillage but the Union of the two Crowns of England and Scotland in 1603 brought vast changes to its structure. In short where once the plough had ruled, sheep, and their wool, began to take precedence. It became a lonely place. Where once there were many small communities living at subsistence level throughout its length and breadth, toiling but happy in scratching a living from the land, it became the haunt of more affluent owners bent on profit from the sale of wool. One by one, the families who had followed their forefathers for centuries in the smallholdings and steadings which dotted the hills and vales of Liddesdale, were forced from their inheritance as a result of the clearances perpetrated by the Scottish king, James V1. In 1603 on the death of Elizabeth 1 of England, he brought together the two kingdoms under one rule: his rule. He had a score to settle with his unruly Scottish Borderers. Liddesdale was to take a battering under his policy of clearance of the people. They had been a thorn in the side of the Scottish monarchy for centuries. It mattered not a jot if they had endeavoured to plough a peaceful furrow in their lives. If they bore the name of Reiving stock they were damned. The people, the clans of Liddesdale, were summarily executed, conscripted or transported and left the land to the mercy of the Scottish and English toadies who followed and fawned in James’ wake. They had an avarice and eye for the lucrative lands of the Scottish Borders . Another Photo of Liddesdale Much is known and recorded of the Highland Clearances of a century and a half later. There is a genuine concern and sympathy for the clans of the Highlands who were forced from their lands. The Border clearances remain, to this day, little known, of little concern but equally as contemptible. In 1793 the fortunes of those families who had survived the almost wholesale destruction of a way of life after 1603, and the people who had moved to the valley in the more peaceful times following the demise of the Border Reivers,would yet again find themselves making way for sheep when they were ‘encouraged’ to move to the new village of Castleton, now known as Newcastleton or until a generation or two ago, Copshawholme. Build a house there on the holme of the former Copshaw Tower and employment would be provided. Other Border towns were seeing an influx of people from the agricultural valleys, tempted by the rise of the textile industries. Copshawholme would attract the people and the emerging industry. Sadly it never materialised. People left their isolated steadings in the uplands of the valley of Liddesdale for no gain. And so Liddesdale remains quiet, beautiful but relatively isolated today. Even in the valley bottom it is a lonely place. The road that wends its way from Newcastleton in the south to Hawick and Bonchester Bridge in the north does have farms and houses nestling close to its verges or scattered throughout the flatlands of the rivers of Liddel and Hermitage Water. But they are few in comparison to the size of the place. In 1952 John Byers, known as ‘Bluebell’, wrote the story of Liddesdale which he entitled ‘Liddesdale- Historical and Descriptive’. He had a wonderful gift for words and used it to tell a simple tale of his beloved valley with a sensitivity and homely imagery which makes the written word bring the valley alive. Quite simply he had an avid interest in the valley that was once the haunt of the Armstrongs, Elliots and Crosiers- for many a long year, even centuries, the fiercest of the Border Reivers of southern Scotland. His little book is not just about the Border Reivers though. It tells us of settlements from the dawn of history, the power surges of the Angles of Northumbria and Strathclyde Cumbrians, the coming of the Normans, the fierce struggles of the Border Lords and, just as importantly, the lives of the ordinary folk who waged their own kind of war with soil and beast and climate. In an age when the common man did not have access to the Internet, did not have ready access to historical archives, he managed to paint a wonderful account of the ‘Vale of Liddel’. It is abundantly clear that he strode every yard of the valley committing to memory the sights of the many abandoned homesteads and smallholdings of the modern era, the massive earthworks of the ancient tribes who once looked out over the land and the forlorn remains of the fortified towers that provided refuge to a people who lived there in the war-torn times of the Scottish Wars of Independence and the harsh, cruel days of the Reivers. It is a compelling read but sadly out of print. Copies can still be found with a little diligence and for lovers of the history of the Scottish English Borders the search, when successful, will be well rewarded. John Byers was born in Copshawholme in 1879. He published various poems for local newspapers and magazines from the age of seventeen, married in 1911, emigrated to Canada where he did a variety of jobs before returning to Liddesdale in 1920. Following his return he spent his free time wandering the Border valleys and hills. The fruition of his love of Liddesdale came in retirement when he had the time to read in detail his small collection of Border books and commit to paper reminiscences of his wanderings. He wrote a book called: ‘Liddesdale- Historical and Descriptive’. The story of the fate of the people of Liddlesdale gives insight into the story of the fate of the Little family who lived in the same socio-sconomic region outside of Langholm. Another history of the area: "The history of Liddesdale, Eskdale, Ewesdale, Wauchopedale and the debateable land", by Robert Bruce Armstrong (1883)