Early History & Origins of Mestons

In this chapter, I am endeavouring to show the first appearances of Mestons in Aberdeenshire, then tracing their first appearance in Scotland and finally back to their origins in France, as well as some early references in England. This chapter is broken down into four sections.

  • In Aberdeenshire
  • In Scotland
  • In France
  • In England

From this chapter we will see that all English speaking Mestons appear to be either from the “Lowland Mestons” (Dunbar Branch) or the “Highland Mestons” from Aberdeenshire, with the vast majority coming from Aberdeenshire, but both groups coming from a common ancestry from France in the latter 1500’s.

In Aberdeenshire:

The first record of a Meston (Merstowne, Merstoune, Mestoune) was in the parish of Monymusk in 1608 (Aberdeenshire Sherriff Court Records). Between 1678 and 1723, there were seven families living there. Mestons appear to have spread out into the neighbouring parishes as the 1696 poll tax records show them living in the following parishes – Midmar, Cluny, Alford, Kincardine-O’Neill as well as Monymusk. It should be noted that many of our large branches are from Midmar, Cluny and Kincardine-O’Neill.

Another early record in Aberdeenshire shows a Jeanne Meston marrying on March 16, 1628 in Belhelvie Parish, which is north of Aberdeen on the east coast and in those days a considerable distance away from the inland parish of Monymusk.

Not far from Belhelvie, there were births in Dyce in 1651 and 1653. In the 1696 poll tax records, there were Mestons in Fintray and Ellon parishes. Mestons were also in Udny in the mid 1700’s as we have a large branch decending from this parish. Also a marriage was found in Belhelvie in 1732.

The following are extracts from various Aberdeenshire records in which Mestons are noted.

  • Scots Ancestry Research Belhelvie Parish Marriage Records

(sic) “At Belhelvie the 16 March, 1628 compearit the said day Thomas Clark, Jeanne Meston and Contractit themselves in Mariadge beffor the persone and accomplish ye mariadge with 40 dayes after their procamation and to abstain from carnal dealling under the pain of censure and to said effect George Symsone cautioner for the man and for the woman.”

  • Spalding Club Aberdeenshire Sheriff Court Records

Oct. 13, 1608 Auquhorsk, Monymusk Parish, Aberdeenshore.

Sept. 21, 1610 Auquhorsk

“John Leslie of Warder vs James Merstowne (Merstoune, Mestoune) and Janet Forbes, widow of William Farquhar, both tenents of Auquhorsk under John Leslie of Petcapill; also John Leslie of Flinderis vs the same parties. The parish of Oyne on which crop was arrested was called “Neddemyir” or “Middermyir” and “Fauldheids”. Cautioner Alexander Farquhar in Auquhorsk.

“Loosing of arrestments: John Leslie of Flinderis versus James Merstoune and George Farquhar in Auquhorsk. Corn sown upon that part of Auquhorsk ‘Callit the mother myr and St. Maluce’. Cautioner Alexander Farquhar in Auquhorsk.”

  • Poll Tax Records of 1696 Midmar Parish, Aberdeenshire

William Meston, Tennent in Luirge is £ 0/1/6

William Mestone, his servant, his fee is £ 14/year

general poll is £ 0/13/0 in Bethlem

William Meston, tennent there (Lurg) his proportione of his masters valued rent is 1s 4d., he having a trade his poll is 6s. plus 6s general poll. – His wife and Jean and Elizabeth Mestons, his daughters – his servant Alexander Robertson

  • Cluny Parish, Aberdeenshire

Upper Sachan –

James Mestone, shoemaker and his wife, poll £ 0/18/0

Agnes Gillespie and her son William Meston, poll £ 0/21/6

Mayns of Muchell –

Janet Meston, grasswoman, poll is £ 0/6/0

  • Monymusk Parish, Aberdeenshire

In Manor House of Monymusk –

Wm. Meastone, poll £ 0/12/0

Balvack –

Elizabeth Meastone, daughter of Janet Thompson £ 0/6/0

Netherforsk –

Jean Meastone, general poll £ 0/10/0

Robert Meastone (no trade) *Cottar and his wife Maria Weight, tax £ 0/12/0

  • Alford Parish, Aberdeenshire

Elrich – Traids and Cottars

James Meston and his wife pay tax of £ 0/12/0

  • Ellon Parish, Aberdeenshire

Waterton – subtenants

William Meston and Beutrix tax £ 0/12/0

  • Fintray Parish, Aberdeenshire

Halltown of Fintray

David Mestone, his servant tax £ 0/11/4

George Mostone, grassman and wife in Woodheid tax £ 0/12/0

*Cottar – a peasant who occupies a cottage belonging to a farm as a sort of out-servant.

  • Kincardine-O’Neill Parish, Aberdeenshire

James Meston, taylor in Craigtown

  • Monymusk Papers – 1713 – 1755

James Meston – 1741 in Balvack – Rentroll for Monymusk

Value of Land – Scots £ – Meal

Balvack – 101/6/8 – 66 bushels

Dykehead – 60/0/0

Rent for meadow – 1741 = £ 60/0/0

Take from James Meston for sowing 190 bushels – £ 56/10/0

James charged with poaching (along with 10 others) – fined

Rent in 1748 – £ 33/6/8

1749 – James, Robert and William (Meston) charged with cutting wood

William – 1732 rent £ 0/12/3 , 1749 fined for cutting wood

Alexander – 1732 rent £ 1/8/6 1/2

Robert – 1749 – cutting wood, fined, 1751 arrears of rent

Francis, son of James Meston in Balvack was made Clerk in 1746 to the Laird of Monymusk Court dealings.

  • Register of Burgesses and Merchants – Aberdeenshire

Oct. 13, 1739 – James Meston, Merchant, son of a burgess.

  • Aberdeen City Records

James Meston married Agnes Anderson and had the following children

Alexander – Born 1698

James – Born 1704, Married Isobell Clerk. They had the following children

Elizabeth – Born 1736

Helen – Born 1739

Anne – Born 1741

Isobell – Born 1743

Margaret – Born 1749

Agnes – Born 1706

Elspet – Born 1708

Jean – Born 1713

John – Born 1715. Married Jean Slicer (Selescer?). They had two children:

James – Born 1743

Thomas – Born 1744

  • Midmar Parish – From the biography of Wm. Meston – Poet

William Meston – Born 1645. Died Oct 10, 1723. Married Katherien Leonard. He was a blacksmith by trade. They had at least three sons.

William (the poet) Born 1688 Died 1745



As indicated in various Scottish records, we have shown the appearance of Mestons in Aberdeenshire as early as 1608. It appears that some Mestons moved northward from the Edinburg-Dunbar regaion some time before 1609, while some remained in Dunbar. From 1608, Mestons expanded rapidly throughout several parishes in Aberdeenshire and today the vast majoirty of Mestons throughout the world are from Aberdeenshire.

In Scotland:

From the “Fragmentary Sketch of the Meston Genealogy” published in 1895 by A. J. Meston of Pittsfield, Massachusettes, U.S.A. came our first references to our origin. To quote from the book, “Miss E. F. Meston, now teaching in Australia, born in Aberdeenshire, writes that she found in an old history of the Ealrs Marischal of Scotland, the name of a Rev. W. Meston, who cam across from France in the suite of one of them, and was afterwards Professor in the University of Aberdeen. That was, as far as I can remember, in the reign of Charles I. (1625 – 1649). I have heard that he was the first of the name to come to Scotland”.

Over the years of research, various members of the family have stated the legend of our coming from France but claim that THREE brothers fled France due to religious persecution – one a tanner, one a joiner and one a minister. One source said that he thought his ancestor was a Charles who came from France and was a valet. Another source said that he thought his ancestor was a Frenchman, who was a valet to the proprietor of the Udny estates. (Udny is a parish north of Aberdeen). In an obituary notice of a John Meston (1849 – 1912), who dies in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, it stated, “It is believed the the grandfather of William Meston (the poet), who was a priest, moved from France to Scotland in 1625, thus transferring the family name and seat to the land of the heather.”

Another source, Sandy Meston of Kirkaldy, Fifeshire, Scotland, stated that the family crest as shown on an old snuff box, represented the three brothers who came to Scotland from France. One was a tanner, one a minister and one a carpenter.

As you can see, quite a few sources claimed we came from France. So, from this start, we decided to research Scottish history, to discover, if possible, any movement of Frenchmen to Scotland, and in what period of history.

1448 – There is mention of a French expeditionary army that was in trouble with the people of Edinburgh.

1548 – June 16. A French fleet landed at Leith with 6000 foreign auxiliaries (3000 mercenaries). They fought with the Scots against the English

1547 – 1550. There was considerable emigration of French laborers to Scotland and various restrictions on their commercial activities were removed in 1550.

1554 – Frenchmen were treated with favor and given some fairly good positions by the people.

At Eyemouth, south of Dunbar, a fort was built in the French style and garrisoned by French troops.

1559 – More French troops arrive for a second expedition against the English. They were brought to Scotland by Marie of Lorraine, who died shortly after, and it was at this point that measures to repel the troops were discussed. They were brought in as reinforcements against the Protestants of Edinburgh and were placed in Leith. Know promptly obtained a treaty with Cecil for n English army, which besieged Leith in 1560. Both Catholic and Protestant lords were opposed to keeping the troops in Scotland.

When the French troops were evacuated in 1560, it was agreed that the French nobles who possessed lands in Scotland would retain them. Dunbar and Leith were evacuated. It appears that a general pardon was issued in 1560 to the French exiles who had changed their religion in Scotland. In 1559, there was a total of 4000 French soldiers in Scotland and many had brought their wives and families with them.

1574 – 1575 A number of French Protestants , who fled religious persecution, arrived in Scotland. These immigrants had a different form of religion than the established kirk, and James VI had to allow them their own places of worship. This was about 1622 and he also authorized a full scale collection for their benefit.

References to the French in Scotland came from the following source:

  • History of Scotland – Burton
  • History of James V – James VII – Donaldson
  • Le Ecossais en France, Les Fanais en Ecosee – par Francesque-Michel, London.

We have, I believe established a reason for French Weston’s being in Scotland at this period in history and probably the 1574 – 1575 emigration of French Protestants would fit our ancestral emigration the best, as legend has it that they were fleeing religious persecution.

The various Scottish records researched show Weston’s first appearing in the Edinburgh area around 1600, the names appear with many spellings, and it is difficult to determine if all the spellings are corruptions of Meston. Listed here are the variations we have found. MESTIN, MESTONE, MESTOUN, MESTOUNE, MASTIN, MAISTIN, MERSTON, MERSTONE, MERSTOUN, MERSTOWNE, MERSTOUNE, MEASTON, MEASTONE.

It should be realized that illiteracy was high in those days and recording clerks or ministers would record the name as it sounded or as they thought it should be spelled, keeping in mind the name was alien to Scotland. Eve today, in the age of literacy, we all know the problem of having our name incorrectly spelled.

The following are extracts from various early Scottish records.

  • Register of Privy Council, 1st Series

June, 1600 – Alexander Merston, Thomas Merston gave 500 marks surety for good behavior.

January 15, 1600 – John Merston of Leith to help in purchasing arms.

March 3, 1603 – William Merston paid £ 50.

  • Register of Sasines* for Edinburgh, Haddington and Linlithgow

(Sasines* – Records of transfers of feudal property.)

1618 – 1680 period lists many people under the following spellings: MERSTON, MERCHESTON and MESTIN.

  • Greyfriars burying grounds

(Corrected from the book as “Greyrriars”, to be Greyfriars. Probably the Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh Scotland.)

1665 – 1700 period shows a number of MESTIN, MERSTOUN, MERSTON buried there.

  • Register of the great seal of Scotland

1593 – 1608 Vol. 6

“Apud striviling 16 Aug. 1596. Rex debt literas legitimationis Joanni Merstoun, filio naturali quandum Richardi M. in Grantoun”

Jack. Merstoun appears as a notary July 1, 1601 in Dalkeith.

  • Privy Council Papers

Dec. 27, 1667 – Bond of caution for a group of men including Alexander Merstoun in Wolmet, a collier.

May 15, 1688 – “Richard Merstoune, seaman in Dunbar, estates 60 years or thereby, sworn, purged and interrogate, deposes that eleven years sinc he being in the shore of Dunbar, did sie John Ferguson tak a peic coall from the panell which he had taken out of his cart …… etc.”

August 16, 1679 – Robert Merstoune, tailor in Prestonpans was charged with assaulting a minister.

April 27, 1682 – John Merston in Prestonpans charged with others to assaulting a minister by trying to stop him from getting into the church and then by making a number of noises during the service and throwing dirt and stones at him.

Jan 27, 1685 – Takes oath not to take up arms against the king or church – John Merstoun, Edinburgh.

Jan 1686 – John Merstoun in Edinburgh taking the test.

Research of the Inveresk Parish Records (Edinburgh Area) which go back to 1604, show a large number of Merstouns and Mestons registered up to 1623, after which they disappear except for a few Merstouns as shown in Privy Council papers. The names Merston and Meston are interchangeable in the records, as shown here in this extract:

  • April 11, 1608 – David Mestone, as son David
  • Nov 21, 1608 – John Merstoun, a son Thomas
  • Jan 16, 1609 – James Meston, a son David
  • Jan 22, 1610 – William Merstoun, a son James
  • Dec 24, 1610 – James Merston, a daughter Janet
  • Dec 24, 1610 – Edward Merston, a daughter, Christian
  • Oct 13, 1613 – William Merston, a posthumous daughter Agnes
  • Oct 24, 1614 – George Meston, a daughter
  • June 20, 1619 – George Merston, a son William
  • July 15, 1621 – Edward Merston, a son James
  • () 1622 – Alexander Maistin, a daughter
  • July 20, 1623 – Losine Meston, a daughter, Marie

In Dunbar, which is east of Edinburgh, on the coast (East Lothian) an early register showed quite a few Mestons, the earliest being a marriage in 1653. We have a branch from this area (Dunbar Branch) which we consider as the lowland Mestons as they go directly back to around 1750, and with earlier records, as already noted, back to 1653 but not proven as connected to the Dunbar Branch. We believe this branch stems from the original Mestons in the area and not a part of the Aberdeenshire Mestons. This is one area where the French landed between 1548 and 1575. So it appears that one family remained while the others moved northward to Aberdeenshire.

In France

In the early history of Scotland, we told of the family legends which said that we were originally Frenchmen. This chapter will show that we definitely did come from France.

The problem was – where in France? One of our clues came from Dr. Michael Meston’s wife. (Dr. Meston 0 Dean of the law schoo, University of Aberdeen). Mrs. Meston said that she had met a Denise Meston whilst attending the University of Rennes in Brittany, France. Denise was French.

Sandy Meston of Kirkcaldy, Fifeshire, Scotland also provided a clue. The area where he was dropped as a member of British Intelligence during W.W.II was near Brittany and during one of his operations with the French Underground, he met a priest named Meston.

With these clues, my assistant and collaborator, John Meston of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada on one of his trips overseas (July 1970) went to France and in Paris met a Jean-Paul Meston, who came from Brittany and confirmed that Mestons are from Brittany and specifically Finistère. John made a short visit to Brittany and in the Morlaix Public Library, he found record of Mestons and also met a Mr. Gourvil, who confirmed that Meston was an old Breton name. At this point we were convinced that we had indeed found the origin of our ancestors as will be outlined “In Brittany”.

In Brittany (Bretagne)

In spite of all the derivations or corruptions of our name in Scotland, it is MESTON in Brittany and goes back for centuries. But, it is not the original name as will be outlined below.

In Brittany, there are three spellings according to Mr. A.J. Gourvil of North Finistère, Brittany and are found in a book titles “Bretons d’Origin Toponymique” * (Origins of Breton Family and Place Names). The three names go back to the middle ages in the Finistère area of Brittany. (* In 1972 this book was available from the Treasurer of the Archeological Society of Finistère, Quimper, Brittany, France for 45 francs.)

Mesdon – The original name which apparently goes back to when our ancestors took on a surname. In the Celtic or Gaelic tongue, it means “yes” or men” – open field and “don” down low or deep. (i.e. from down in the valley). This name will be found in the following localities: Plougneau, Menez, Guelesquin, Toules all situated in the area of Morlaix. Also in the village of Cast, situated in the center of Finistère and Meilars near Pont-Croix.

Meston – It is the spoken form of Mesdon as the “d” in French is difficult to pronounce when followed by “on” and therefore the “t” sound is used instead. Mestons are to be found in the Tregor-Morlaix area.

Mesdoun – This name is a corruption of the original Mesdon spelling and is found in Lambezellic, Lanarvily and Plouguerneau.

A brief research undertaken in Brittany showed Mestons living there today. A researcher found records as far back as 1691. It was a marriage of a Mesdon at Plouigneau near Morlaix. There are Mesdons and Mestons that were born in or still living today in the following areas. Henvic, Taule, Botsorhel, Plouegat-Gerrand and Morlaix. It is apparent that the origin of our ancestors is in the province of Brittany in France and specifically around the city of Morlaix.

It would appear that whenever the Bretons began adopting surnames, then name Mesdon came into being, and as previously mentioned, translates from the Celtic or Breton tongue as Men – open field and don – low down or deep or perhaps more literally as someone who comes from down in the valley. Later it was spelled Meston as the spoken version (at least as early as 1300).

What is Brittany?

It is a Province of France situated in the northwest corner of the country and divided into five departments namely:

  • Finistère
  • Côtes-du-Nord
  • Ille et Vilaine
  • Morbihan
  • Loire Atlantique

The province juts out into the Atlantic Ocean with the English Channel on the north and the bay of Biscay on the south. Finistère, our ancestral seat, is the furthest west.

Who are the Bretons?

They are a Celtic race who emigrated from the southwest part of what is now England, across the English Channel to the northwest corner of what is now France in the fifth to seventh centuries. They named their new home Brittany (little Britain). The Breton tongue still carries the influence of its Celtic origins. A Breton and a Welshman can understand each other because their ancestors spoke the same language. The Bretons were able to remain independent for almost one thousand years due to dense forests on their eastern borders, which discouraged aggression from that direction. In 1532, Brittany became a part of France. But, even today, some proud provincials refuse to consider themselves anything but Breton – a race apart from the French. A similar parallel would be a Welshman retaining his Celtic identity from the rest of England.

A line ran from north to south through the centre of Brittany divides it into Upper Brittany on the east and Lower Brittany on the west. The easterners speak French and seem more French than the westerners, many of whom still cling to the Celtic tongue and Breton traditions. It is interesting to note that the Bretons share with England many of the same legends such as King Arthur and his knights of the round table, Merlin the Magician and Tristan.

Breton Origins in Great Britain

In order to complete the history of this race, we now go back to the British Isles where one of the earliest known races were Celts. Two groups crossed the English Channel from the continent in ancient times. The first group were Gaelic or Goidelic Celts and were the ancestors of the present inhabitants of the Scottish Highlands, the Isle of Man and the western part of Ireland. Centuries later came the Brythonic or Gallic Celts who descendants are to be found in Cornwall, Wales and Brittany. The name Britain comes from the tribe who called themselves Brythons or Britons.

When the Romans invaded Britain, starting with Julius Cesar in 55 B.C., they conquered the Gallic of Brython Celts. The conquered race remained under Roman rule until the decline of Roman influence. n the fifth and sixth centuries however, the Celts were displaced throughout the greater part of southern Britain and the eastern lowlands of North Britain by the Anglo-Saxons, a Teutonicrace from what is now Germany. The Celts as a distinct race were now confined mainly to the mountain districts of Wales and Cornwall, Ireland the Isle of Man and the Highlands of Scotland where the Celtic tongue survived.

It is now apparent why so many of the Celts left Britain to settle in France during the fifth to seventh centuries and also why the Bretons share the legends of King Arthur, who lived in the sixth century and whose castle ruins are perched on a pinnacle of rock at Tintagel in Cornwall.

To summarize, our ancestors came originally from Europe to Britain in ancient times, then fled to Brittany during the fifth to seventh centuries and then to Scotland in the late 1500’s. It would appear that our family legends are true. We did come from France, but of Breton origin rather than French.

In England

Our research found two mentions of the Meston name in England and the references pre-date any other research.

From the Biographical Register of Oxford to 1500, Vol. ii, pages 1230 – 1231 comes the earliest mention of the name. Roger de Merscheton, Merston, Mirston, Mirstune, Meston, Meston but usually called Marston. He was a friar, born about 1250, studied at Paris 1270-1274 (note: he would have to be a Frenchman as it was a legal requirement for Englishmen to study at Oxford or Cambridge before going to Paris and he never did, in fact study at Oxford or Cambridge until later), lectured at Cambridge 1275 – 1279 and Oxford 1280 – 1292, was a high official of the English Franciscans 1292 – 1298 and dies in 1303. He was buried at Norwich. e wrote a book called Questions Dispute, which was published in 1432 (?) but which is in Latin. It appears he came underfloor of John Pecham, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1279 who saw him as a bright young lad and had him start his training in Paris. To quote from the Biography “he combined extreme conservatism — with a narrow and second rate intelligence and was provocative without being effective — under cover of mock humility, he attacks St. Thomas with a self confidence bordering on arrogance —-. His devotion to Archbishop Pecham caused him to carry plagiarism to lengths unused even in the middle ages.”

From the book “The Palace of Westminster” produced for the Literature Stall, Westminster Hall, by Walter Scott, Bradford, Eng., we found an article on Westminster Hall in which a John Godmeston was mentioned. This is our earliest positive mention of the Meston name. The prefix “God” was used in early times to be “good old Meston” or a similar expression of respect and admiration.

Westminster Hall has a history extending over more than eight centuries. It was built by William II (Rufus) in 1099. King William on returning from Normandy into England in 1099 held for the first time his court in the new hall at Westminster. In 1394, Richard II appointed John Godmeston to make preparations for the rebuilding of the Hall and its roof, and Hugh Harland was appointed Godmeston’s Controller.

In the first reference (Roger deMarston) there is doubt he was a Meston but in the second reference it appears positive but we have no idea where John Godmeston or his ancestors came from unless from Normandy as the Norman influence would be strong after William the Conqueror. We are at least able to indicate that the Meston surname has been around for about 600 years.

The Meston Family Genealogy Project