By Carole R Bishop

Starret(t), Sterrit(t), Stirret(t), Stair(s), Stirie, Stirey, etc., were common surnames in the Parish of Dalry, in the heart of the District of Cunninghame in Ayrshire, Scotland. Either the name came from an existing village called Stairaird (now Stirie), near Stair, or the village took its name from a family of Stairairds who settled there.

It is possible that the Starretts were descendants of the Strathclyde Britons, an ancient Celtic group who ranged from Lancashire in the South to the Clyde River. Between 400 and 900 AD their territory was overrun by Irish Gaels, Picts and Anglo-Saxons, but the Strathclyde Celts survived as a people in Ayrshire.

One of the earliest Starretts on record was Andreas Starheved (or �Andrew Starrat�) who held a sergeantship in Lanark during the reign of the Scottish King David II (who died in 1371). Other Starrets were: John Sterhede (1493); Robert Sterhed (1499); James Storrat (1650); William Starratt, a deacon in Stirling (1656); Andrew Stirie, a minister in Dalry (1686); and Dorathie Stirrat (1686). A well-known poet of the area was James Stirrat (1781-1843), born in Dalry.

Starretts were among the Lowland Scots who left their homeland and moved to Ireland in various waves of emigration. During the years 1605 to 1620 about 20,000 Lowland Scots migrated to Ulster as part of a plan by English King James I (formerly James VI of Scotland) to colonize northern Ireland and break up the rule of the Celtic chiefs of Ulster. The name was common in Donegal, Ulster and Belfast. Many of the Starrets who later came to Canada and America were these Scots-Irish Presbyterians who prospered and established military and economic power bases in Ireland from which they filed grievances against the English�s taxation, import controls and religious persecution. When the Woolens Act of 1699 dealt a sever blow to the cloth industry, the new breed of Scots-Irish looked to the New World for a chance to start over.

The first Scots-Irish went straight to Boston, but were not really welcomed by the Puritans; so the majority of Scots-Irish tried Pennsylvania, known for religious toleration and economic opportunities. Many Starretts can be found on passenger lists entering the ports of Boston and Philadelphia between 1840 and 1860. One of the most famous Starretts in early America was Andrew Sterett (1778-1807), a naval lieutenant who successfully commanded the 12-gun clipper, Enterprise, from 1800 to 1802 in the Mediterranean Sea during the war between the United States and the Barbary potentates of Tripoli. Andrew was the fourth of 10 children of John and Deborah Ridgley Sterett of Baltimore, Maryland. His grandfather, also named Andrew, had immigrated to America from Ireland, settling first in Bradford, Mass., but moving later to Lancaster, PA, then finally to Baltimore.

The Starretts are an associated family of the Scottish Clan Cunningham. Clans that were not large and powerful enough to defend their own members had to ally themselves with a great clan chief in order to share his land and receive protection. In turn, these families were obliged to aid the chief in whatever battle needed to be waged. When a daughter married outside the clan, she could bring her new family in as a so-called �sept�. This term was borrowed from the Irish culture in the 19th century to help explain the variety of surnames by members of a single clan, and is more often associated with Highland clans that Lowland families, like the Cunninghams. All persons named Starrett or descended from a Starrett, however spelled, are invited to join the Clan Cunningham Society of America.

Black, George F., The Surnames of Scotland. New York; The New York Public Library, 1962.
Daniels, Roger, Coming to America. New York; Harper Perennial, 1900.
Dictionary of American Biography, Vol IX. New York: Charles Scribner�s Sons, 1935.
Histories and Bibliography, Canada: The Hall of Names, 1984-89
Illick, Joseph E., Colonial Pennsylvania: A History, New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1976

Our Starrett Family lineage

This page updated: 8/7/2007


© 2006 by:
Belinda Melton Hughes