The name Boswell is Scottish but thought to be Norman-French in origin. The name is believed to have come over with the Norman invasion and is considered topographical, as having been derived from the town Beuzeville in the province Seine Martime in Normandy. The translation means “community of Beuze”, Beuze is a medieval French proper or given name, which was given the suffix of “ville” which translated to village. Many of the ancient surnames, actually acted as an indicator or representation of the birthplace of the individual by identifying easily recognizable landmarks or regions. This worked well for the small settlements which existed at this time because people rarely traveled far from their homes and were familiar with the surrounding landscape and local regions.
When the name immigrated to Britain after the Norman invasion it was converted to the more Anglicized Boswell. Other variations of the name include; Boswall, Boseville, Boswald, Bosswald, Bosville, Boeseille, Bosvile, Bovill, and Bowelle among others. The variation in spelling of names during this time period can be attributed to a lack of continuity regarding guidelines for spelling which was compounded by the diversity of languages in use in European countries at this time.
After the Norman invasion, the Boswell surname or variations in its spelling appears throughout the history of Britain and Scotland, where Clan Boswell, a Scottish Lowland Clan, still exists. While the Clan currently is without a chief, they are recognized by the Lord Lyon King of Arms.
The first record of the bearer of any variation of the surname Boswell in British records is that of Lord de Bosville who came over with William the Conqueror and was believed to have fought at the Battle of Hastings. Another variation of the name, Robert de Boseuille, appears as a witness to a number of charters signed during William I, King of Scotland’s reign. Robert de Boseuille is also thought to have been one of the knight which escorted David I to Scotland after the end of his exile and helped him reclaim the throne of Scotland.
Records show in the 13th century, Walter de Bosville, the Clan Chief, fought against the English in the Scottish War for Independence and was taken prisoner. In 1296, William de Bosville is recorded as having pledged fealty to King Edward I, King of England and his son, Richard de Bosville, was granted land in south-western Scotland by Robert the Bruce, King of the Scots.
It is recorded that during the Anglo-Scottish wars of the 16th century, Chief Sir Alexander Boswell was killed in 1513 while leading his clan at the Battle of Flodden Field. In 1651, after losing many clan members at the Battle of Worcester, the Boswell family married into the Auchinleck clan; therefore, coming into possession of their lands and property. Robert Boswell became a prominent lawyer during this time. He was made a High Court Judge and given the title of Lord Balmuto.
In the 18th century, the Boswell legacy of eminent lawyers continued. In 1756, Alexander Boswell, the 8th Laird of Auchinleck was elevated to the bench. James Boswell, 9th Laird of Auchinleck and son of Alexander, was a noted author and biographer. In 1821, Alexander Boswell, 10th Laird of Auchinleck, was created a baronet.
The first recorded immigrant to America bearing the surname Boswell or any variation of the spelling was John Boswell who landed and settled in Massachusetts in 1630. Jonathan Boswell landed and settled in Massachusetts in 1632. Samuel Boswell landed and settled Virginia in 1635.
Worldwide, the highest concentration of people with the surname Boswell are found in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, the United States, Australia, and Canada. By state, the largest percentile of those with the surname Boswell live in Mississippi.
There are many persons of note who bear the surname Boswell. John Boswell was a noted American historian. He attended the College of William and Mary and Harvard University where he earned his PhD. He taught history at Yale University. Dr. Boswell was a medieval philologist and could read and/or speak seventeen languages. He was also the author of several award winning books.
Lewis Archer Boswell was an American and a pioneer in aviation. It has often been contested that Boswell, not the Wright brothers made the first heavy than air flight. While he began his experiments with flight and aviation in 1868, no verifiable documentation has been presented to prove the claim. James Griffin Boswell is an American businessman and owner and founder of J. G. Boswell Company which operates the world’s largest privately owned farm comprising over 135,000 acres. The farm produces wheat, cotton, onions, tomatoes, hay and alfalfa for world wide distribution.