The earliest records for members of the Porteous family in Peeblesshire date back to the early part of the fifteenth century. Prior to this, of course, there were few written records and, of those that originally existed, most have not survived.
It is possible that this attests to a fourteenth or fifteenth century date for the earliest settlement in Tweeddale of the progenitors of the Porteous families, although this is pure speculation. Could it be possible that the family, like others, arrived in Scotland at this time? From thence, they had spread to both Midlothian and Annandale by around the end of the seventeenth century.
The earliest possible reference, according to Lyon King of Arms in Edinburgh, is to a Guillaume Porteuse (later William Porteous), who arrived from Normandy c 1400 under the patronship of the wealthy Fraise family (later to become the Frasers). They had already settled in parts of lowland Scotland, having been granted lands by the King.
The fact that we do possess records of other families in the area from the early thirteenth century, notably the Gilliecrist (1200), Fraser (1272) and Lindsay (1300) families, indicates that the Porteous name – if indeed it did exist in the area at that time – was not worthy of mention.
The early meaning of the name Porteuse (from the French) was indeed possibly of 'courier' or 'messenger'. But in Scotland, they turned their hand to other trades. In the days when the glens and hamlets of Tweeddale and, later, Annandale were much more densely populated than today, they seem to have pursued various occupations – from millers to ministers of religion.
Barry Porteous notes in his work The Porteous Story,
"Throughout the length and breadth of Annandale, Porteouses are to be found, and churchyard memorials and records in many places attest to their presence long before 1700. However, the further from the river, the fewer they become, and this might be connected with their principal trade as millers and blacksmiths needing a source of water-power. It is also true that, the more rugged the terrain, the fewer the families and in the circumstances this is easily understood."
The history of the Porteous families in the Scotland Borders is necessarily intertwined with that of the many other neighbouring lowland families, notably the Jardines, Maxwells, Frasers, Veitches, Geddes, Douglases, Muirs and Murrays and especially the Tweedies. It can be noted that there are many recorded instances of Porteous and Tweedie marriages – as well as disputes between these two neighbouring families – even after they emigrated to the townships of Lower Canada.
For information on the history of the Porteous family, as for much else, I am indebted to The Porteous Story by Barry Porteous, published in a limited edition 1980, Kingston, Ontario, Canada; Porteous Australia by Roger Porteous, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia; and also to The Tweedie Archive, originally published 1902 by Michael Forbes Tweedie, now republished 1998 by Andrew and Pauline Tweedie, parts of which draws on A History of Peeblesshire (published 1925–27), edited by James William Buchan and Rev Henry Paton.