Select Allison Surname Genealogy


Allison is both a Scottish and an English surname.  In Scotland Allison would seem to have come from Alister or Alexander and the MacAlister (i.e. descendants of Alexander) Highland clan. The MacAlister name in the Lowlands became Alison, Allison or Ellison (initially the spelling could have been interchangeable) until Allison apparently won out.  In England the name could also have been patronymic.

But son of whom – Allen, Alice, or Elias perhaps?  The names Johannes Alysson, Robertus Alaynson, and Adam Elisson all appeared in the 1379 Yorkshire poll tax records. There are no clear indications here as to the origin of the name.  Allenson and Ellison are other English surnames that could have gotten mixed up with Allison at some time.  Could the Allison name have had Norman origins? There was a Norman family in Lincolnshire, originally D’Alenson (from the town of Alenson), that had assumed the arms and name of Blanchard in 1280.  But the name of D’Allison, later Dallison, persisted there

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Scotland. Early Allisons of various spellings came from different places – Berwickshire, Lanarkshire and the east coast of Scotland for instance.

The largest numbers were in Lanarkshire. Here these Allisons were apparently an offshoot of the MacAlister Highland clan atLoup in Argyllshire. Their branch had opposed Robert the Bruce at the time of the fight for Scottish independence and had to flee their homes. Around 1310 they sought sanctuary with the Hamiltons at Cairnduff in Avondale parish in Lanarkshire. It was said that they then assumed the Lowland name of Allison.

There was little account of Allisons in Avondale for nigh on three hundred years. Then they began to appear as emigrants, either to the American colonies or to the Ulster plantations in the 1600’s. In 1664 James Alison or Allison, a Covenanter who was being persecuted, fled Avondale for Renfrewshire.

“James Alison, along with forty others, was compelled to walk through wind and snow to Stirling where they were imprisoned. The same parties were then sent to the Canongate prison in Edinburgh and then to a distant prison in Dunottar castle. After remaining there for a time, James was able to return to his Renfrewshire home and farm in Kerrs of Lochwinnoch.”

However, many Allisons did remain in Avondale parish, at Windyedge and Browncastle farm.

An alternative spelling of the surname in Scotland has been Alison, although this version has now somewhat faded from view.

One formidable Alison family began with Patrick Alison of Newhall in Angus who was born in 1714. His line by generation ran as follows:

  • Patrick who was a merchant in Edinburgh and served as its lord provost (mayor).
  • the Rev. Archibald who was an Anglican clergyman, well-known for his writings on aesthetics.
  • Archibald who served as Sheriff of Lanarkshire and was also a historian of note. He was made a baronet in 1852.
  • and Archibald the second baronet who was a general in the British army in the 1880’s.

England. The first sightings of the Allison name in England would appear to have been in Norfolk.  Thomas Alysson was recorded as the rector of Melton Constable in 1447. The name appeared in Aylsham and Peterborough further south a century or so later. There was also a D’Allison family prominent at Laughton in NW Lincolnshire at this time. Their name later became Dallison.

However, the larger numbers have been further north, primarily in the counties of Yorkshire and Durham in the 1881 census. Here it has been difficult to untangle the Allisons from the Ellisons or Allensons over many centuries. William Allenson, for instance, was a draper in York who became its mayor in 1633 and again in 1655.  Allenson or Allinson could so easily have become Allison. It was Lawrence either Ellison or Allison from Howden in Yorkshire who emigrated to America in the 1640’s.

One Allison line in Durham started with the marriage of John Allison and Anne Westmorland in Sherburn in 1677. A later John established the family on Wearside in the mid-1700’s. It was his son James Allison of Monkwearmouth who made the family rich through his ventures into shipbuilding and brewing in the first half of the 19th century.

Another line in Durham began with the marriage of Robert Allison and Jane Usher in Houghton-le-Spring in 1728. Later Robert Allisons of this family moved to London in the early 1800’s and to Canada in the 1860’s.  Other Allisons remained at Bishopwearmouth in Durham.

The Allison name, possibly originally from Durham, first appeared in the lead mining district of Alston in Cumberland in 1724. The census showed John Allison and his son William (aged just thirteen at the time) as lead miners there in 1841. William emigrated to Australia in 1862.

Ireland.  To avoid religious persecution as Presbyterians or Covenanters, many Allisons left Scotland for Ulster in northern
Ireland. Their numbers included John Allison who had inherited Windyedge in Avondale parish, Lanarkshire in 1651. His son Michael, however, did return in 1690 after the defeat of James II.

These Scottish arrivals tended to settle in Derry or in nearby Donegal or later on in Antrim. Among those who were there in the mid/late 1600’s were:

  • Robert Allison who had come to Ramelton in Donegal, close by the city of Derry.
  • John Allison who had come to Limavady in Derry and was the forebear of the Allisons of Magilligan.
  • and John Allison who was born in Derry around 1675.

Many Allisons subsequently departed for America.

America. Allison arrivals in America were from England, Scotland, and, probably the most numerous, Scots Irish.

The earliest to come was probably John Allison from Windyedge in Scotland who sailed on the Prosperous and settled at Archer’s Hope in James City, Virginia around 1625. However, Virginia’s spelling of his name was Ellison and his descendants generally bore that name. It was also Ellison for Robert Ellison who had arrived in Maryland in 1642 and taken up land in New Kent county, Virginia in 1656.

Then Thomas Allanson from London arrived in Charles county, Maryland in 1658. His children were Allison. Many later settled in North Carolina. The Allison-Deakin house which Benjamin Allison built there in 1815 near the Blue Ridge mountains is still standing. There was a family reunion of Thomas Allanson descendants in 2007.

Pennsylvania. The arrivals here, somewhat later, were more clearly Allison and were more from Ireland.

John Allison came around 1720 from Derry to Donegal township in Lancaster county where he was a Justice of the Peace. Also found there was Robert Allison who later settled in Augusta county, Virginia.  And John and Martha Allison moved from there to Orange county, North Carolina in the 1750’s.

Other arrivals from Ireland were:

  • William Allison was operating a tavern in the Scots Irish community at Greencastle in Franklin county by the 1750’s. John Allison founded the township there in 1782 and his son Robert, settling in Huntingdon, became a US Congressman.
  • Robert Allison who came in the 1770’s to Mifflin county and was one of the founders of Menno township.
  • James and Jane Allison who arrived from Maryland in Washington county in 1773 when it was still frontier territory. Their son James and grandson John, who both made their homes in Beaver county, served as US Congressmen.
  • while Matthew Allison came with his parents to Northumberland county also sometime in the 1770’s. After the war he was one of the prominent citizens of Centre county. The line through his son John led to William B. Allison, the US Senator for Iowa for a staggering 35 years (from 1872 to 1908).

Elsewhere. Two Presbyterian families from Scotland came to America in the early/mid 1700’s, one settling in South Carolina and the other eventually in Tennessee.

Hugh Allison arrived in 1736, making his home in what came to be called York county in South Carolina. His son Robert fought in the Revolutionary War.

“He was one of hundreds of local volunteers under no organized military unit, hot-headed Presbyterians smouldering with revenge for the persecution and murders inflicted upon them and their families by the British dragoons and by local Tories.”

A later Allison of this line, William Barry Allison, was a planter and landowner at Little Allison Creek in York county until his death in 1895. William Floyd Allison’s 1968 book The Family and Colonel William Barry Allison covered his forebears and descendants.

John Alison or Allison came to Augusta county, Virginia in 1742 and died there in 1759. His sons John and Robert both fought in the Revolutionary War and later settled in Sullivan county, Tennessee:

  • John, popularly known as Captain Jack, had received a knee wound in the fighting which caused him to walk lame for the rest of his life.
  • Robert meanwhile was taken prisoner early on and held on a British ship during the course of the war. His son Francis Alison met an untimely end at Reedy Creek in Sullivan county in 1845.

Canada. Joseph and Alice Allison set off with their family in 1769 from Derry in Ireland for what they thought was Philadelphia. But they were ship-wrecked off Sable Island and ended up instead in Nova Scotia where they began their new life:

  • their sons Joseph and John prospered as farmers and served in the Nova Scotia House of Assembly in the early 1800’s.
  • while their grandson Charles moved to Sackville, New Brunswick as a young man and became a wealthy merchant there. He was to found the first university in Canada, Mount Allison University, in 1843. A subsequent Allison, David Allison, was President of the university from 1891 to 1911. The university still flourishes today.

A later arrival from Ireland was Andrew Allison who came to Ontario in the 1830’s from Antrim.  His son Jesse farmed at Chesterville, which was where Hudson Allison was born in 1881. Hudson became a very wealthy stockbroker in Montreal. However,
he and his family perished on the Titanic in 1912.

John Allison from Yorkshire had joined the California Gold Rush in 1849 but later moved north to British Columbia in search of gold along the Fraser river.  He was the first European settler in an area now known as Princeton. Here he staked mineral claims and established a cattle ranch.  He and his wife Susan raised fourteen children.  Susan is better known than John today because of her writings. She was designated a National Historic Person in 2010.

Australia and New Zealand
. Francis Allison, a master mariner from Yorkshire who had served in the British navy in various wars, emigrated to Tasmania in 1822. He was granted land near Hobart which he named Streanshalh.  However, he had a running battle with his neighbors the Gatenbys which continued after his death in 1857 (the Gatenbys eventually took over Streanshalh).

One of Francis’s sons Henry was declared bankrupt, abandoned his family, and fled to America. Another son Nathaniel committed suicide. The eldest son William did endure as a politician in Tasmania for twenty years, although he died early, at the age of fifty-two, in 1865.

James Allison was a newly graduated doctor from Glasgow who emigrated to New Zealand in 1842, settling in Wanganui. He married in the first ever European wedding there and settled down to a life of sheep-farming. In 1867 he was returning to Scotland for a visit but died on the voyage across. However, his son Alexander kept his Wanganui farm going and, two generations later, Alex and Alan Allison are to be found there today.

Select Allison Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:

Select Allison Names

Archibald Alison was a Scottish lawyer and historian, best known for his work History of Europe completed in 1843.
Charles Allison
was the Canadian merchant who founded Mount Allison University in New Brunswick in 1843.
William B. Allison
was one of the most powerful US Senators of the late 19th century. He was chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee for more than twenty-five years.

George Allison
was the very successful manager of Arsenal football club in London from 1934 to 1947.
Bobby Allison is considered one of NASCAR’s greatest drivers, winning the Daytona 500 three times – in 1978, 1982, and 1988

Select Allisons Today

  • 18,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 20,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 13,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


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