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An excerpt from archives copyright © 2000 - 2016

Origins Available: German, Scottish

The Dalriadan kingdom of ancient Scotland was the home of the ancestors of the Colter family. Their name indicates that they lived in or near Coulter in Lanarkshire or Aberdeenshire, in Scotland. The surname Colter is derived from the Gaelic phrase, cúl tir, which means, black land. Colter is therefore a local surname, of which there are many types. For instance, topographic surnames could be given to a person who lived beside any physical feature, such as a hill, stream, church or type of tree. Habitation names form the other broad category of surnames that were derived from place-names. They were derived from pre-existing names for towns, villages, parishes, or farmsteads. Other local names are derived from the names of houses, manors, estates, regions, and entire counties. In this case, the surname is both topographical, in that it comes from the phrase, black land, and local in the general sense, since it comes from the place-name, Coulter.


Translation in medieval times was an undeveloped science and was often carried out without due care. For this reason, many early Scottish names appeared radically altered when written in English. The spelling variations of Colter include Coulter, Colter, Coalter, Coultere, Coultar, Coultur, Coltar, Coltur, Coltir, Coltire and many more.

First found in Lanarkshire (Gaelic: Siorrachd Lannraig) a former county in the central Strathclyde region of Scotland, now divided into the Council Areas of North Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire, and the City of Glasgow, where they held a family seat from very early times.


This web page shows only a small excerpt of our Colter research. Another 180 words (13 lines of text) covering the years 1226 and 1281 are included under the topic Early Colter History in all our PDF Extended History products.


More information is included under the topic Early Colter Notables in all our PDF Extended History products.


Some of the Colter family moved to Ireland, but this topic is not covered in this excerpt. Another 280 words (20 lines of text) about their life in Ireland is included in all our PDF Extended History products.


The descendants of the Dalriadan families who made the great crossing of the Atlantic still dot communities along the east coast of the United States and Canada. In the American War of Independence, many of the settlers traveled north to Canada as United Empire Loyalists. Clan societies and highland games have allowed Canadian and American families of Scottish descent to recover much of their lost heritage. Investigation of the origins of family names on the North American continent has revealed that early immigrants bearing the name Colter or a variant listed above include:

Colter Settlers in United States in the 18th Century

  • James Colter, who arrived in New England in 1722

Colter Settlers in United States in the 19th Century

  • Oliver Colter, who landed in New York in 1831
  • Francis Colter, who landed in Mississippi in 1840
  • Timothy Colter, who landed in Tippecanoe County, Ind in 1844
  • John Colter, who landed in Tippecanoe County, Ind in 1844
  • S Colter, who arrived in San Francisco, California in 1850

Colter Settlers in Canada in the 19th Century

  • John Colter, aged 26, a farmer, arrived in Saint John, NB in 1833 aboard the barque "Independence" from Kinsale

Colter Settlers in New Zealand in the 19th Century

  • J. Colter arrived in Auckland, New Zealand aboard the ship "Ulcoats" in 1864


  • Steve Colter (b. 1962), retired American professional basketball player
  • Mike Randal Colter (b. 1976), American actor
  • Jessi Colter (b. 1943), American country music artist
  • Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter (1869-1958), American architect and designer
  • John Colter (1774-1812), member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition
  • Thomas Henry Colter (b. 1850), Canadian farmer and politician in New Brunswick
  • Charles Wesley Colter (1846-1929), Canadian lawyer, publisher and politician in Ontario
  • Newton Ramsay Colter (1844-1917), Canadian physician and politician in New Brunswick
  • George Johnson Colter (1840-1915), Canadian farmer and politician in New Brunswick


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  1. Browne, James. The History of Scotland it's Highlands, Regiments and Clans 8 Volumes. Edinburgh: Francis A Niccolls & Co, 1909. Print.
  2. Leeson, Francis L. Dictionary of British Peerages. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1986. Print. (ISBN 0-8063-1121-5).
  3. Barrow, G.W.S Ed. Acts of Malcom IV 1153-65 Volume I Regesta Regum Scottorum 1153-1424. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1960. Print.
  4. Shaw, William A. Knights of England A Complete Record from the Earliest Time to the Present Day of the Knights of all the Orders of Chivalry in England, Scotland, Ireland and Knights Bachelors 2 Volumes. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing. Print. (ISBN 080630443X).
  5. Catholic Directory For Scotland. Glasgow: Burns Publications. Print.
  6. Matthews, John. Matthews' American Armoury and Blue Book. London: John Matthews, 1911. Print.
  7. Moncrieffe, Sir Ian of That Ilk and Don Pottinger. Clan Map Scotland of Old. Edinburgh: Bartholomew and Son, 1983. Print.
  8. Scarlett, James D. Tartan The Highland Textile. London: Shepheard-Walwyn, 1990. Print. (ISBN 0-85683-120-4).
  9. Black, George F. The Surnames of Scotland Their Origin, Meaning and History. New York: New York Public Library, 1946. Print. (ISBN 0-87104-172-3).
  10. Moody David. Scottish Family History. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1994. Print. (ISBN 0806312688).
  11. ...

The Colter Family Crest was acquired from the archives. The Colter Family Crest was drawn according to heraldic standards based on published blazons. We generally include the oldest published family crest once associated with each surname.

This page was last modified on 20 October 2014 at 14:38.

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