What We Know So Far
This is a wonderful write-up of the McGriff family in the US and is taken from an old 2002 forum post on Geneaology.com by Jack McGriff. My own research parallels the same sentiment so far. The original post is found here.
I will rewrite this history including sources as I finish with my research.
The McGriff Family in America
What we know of the history of the McGriff family begins with John McGriff in York County, Heidelberg District, Pennsylvania. We have yet to discover anything about his wife or parents or where they originated but we do know he owned land in York County in 1766 and lived there with his five sons, Patrick, John Jr., James, Richard, and Thomas. About 1769 he left York County and traveled to Montgomery County, Virginia, or what is now Giles County, Virginia but John Jr. and Richard remained in Pennsylvania eventually settling in Westmoreland County prior to the Revolution. Early records indicate John McGriff purchased land on Sinking Creek, just above the New River, and is listed on the 1771 Botetourt County tax list. He and his neighbors the Lybrooks and Snidows operated a Mill over a spring on Sinking Creek. On Sunday morning August 7, 1774, a group of their children were playing in and around the river when a raiding party of Shawnee Indians attacked the settlement. Five children were immediately killed and Lybrook was shot in the arm as they tried to defend their families and homes. John McGriff shot one Indian whose body was found months later under an outcropping of rocks at the base of a nearby mountain. During the fight, the Indians grabbed three young boys, two Snidow brothers, and Thomas McGriff, and carried them off as prisoners. On Wednesday night, as the Indians camped at Pipestem Knob on Blue Lake, Thomas McGriff and one Snidow brother managed to sneak out of camp as the Indians slept. They hid in a hollow log as the Indians searched for them the next morning. Eventually, the Indians gave up the search and took the remaining little boy back to their home in Ohio. As Thomas and the Snidow boy worked their way back home they were met by a band of militiamen sent to try to rescue them. They were returned home unharmed to their families but the captured Snidow brother wasn’t returned until years later in a prisoner exchange with the Indians. He died shortly after his release apparently from the harsh treatment as a slave of the Indians.
On October 10, 1774, John McGriff and his son Patrick participated in the Battle of Point Pleasant along with 1,100 other Virginia Militiamen against 1,200 Miami and Shawnee Indians led by Chief Cornstalk, Blue Jacket, and Little Turtle. It was a day-long battle on the Ohio River at the mouth of the Kanawa River that was fought hand to hand, tree to tree, and rock to rock. The battle ended that afternoon when the Indians decided they had enough, withdrew, re-crossed the Ohio River, and returned to their homes in upper Ohio. More than 50 militiamen lay dead and many were wounded. Among those killed was Colonel Charles Lewis, brother of the commanding General, Andrew Lewis, who was killed in the first shots of the battle. Later in 1775, as the Revolutionary War began John McGriff and his sons left Virginia and went to South Carolina where they joined the South Carolina Militia. Patrick would rise to the rank of Colonel and James to the rank of Captain and the 16-year-old Thomas also joined the militia. Colonel Patrick McGriff would fight under General Andrew Morgan and General Nathaniel Greene and it is said, was at the English surrender at Yorktown. Sons John Jr. and Richard, who had remained in Pennsylvania, joined the Pennsylvania Line. As the revolution ended all the brothers survived and came home to marry and raise large families. John Jr. remained in Pennsylvania and his descendants today are in the Western Pennsylvania area. Richard and his family left Pennsylvania and went to Nicholas County, Kentucky where they can be found in 1800. They eventually migrated to Warren County, Ohio by 1805 and finally settled in Darke County, Ohio where Richard died Aft. 1820. Thomas migrated north to Tennessee and then Kentucky also and he eventually settled next to his brother Richard, in neighboring Preble County, Ohio where he died in 1821. There are many descendants in Southwestern Ohio and Southeastern Indiana of Richard and Thomas McGriff.Sons Patrick and James remained in the South and became successful and wealthy with many descendants living today in Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. During the Civil War, many of the descendants of these brothers fought against each other as cousins against cousins. Some were killed and wounded and several were in prison camps. After that painful period in our history, many in our family chose to move on elsewhere, especially as our country expanded westward so that today we find many McGriff descendants all across the United States.
As for the origin of the McGriff family and its name, there is no satisfactory answer. There have been many unsuccessful searches by professional genealogists in England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland for the name McGriff.There is no doubt that the early McGriffs were of Scots/Irish lineage as early records indicate. Several descendants of John McGriff have stated “my great-grandfather was Irish”, or, “my grandfather came from Ulster.”This is probably true but I can only imagine that like so many other American names, ours was a new variant of some conventional Scots/Irish name such as McGrath or McGuff, changed through mispronunciation or possibly illiteracy over several generations. What is so unique about our family name is that we appear to be the only family in the country with that name and any Caucasian McGriff can be traced to John McGriff and one of his five sons.