Gordon Surname Genealogy
Berwickshire on the Scottish borders, this name deriving from the Old
Gaelic gor meaning “large” or
“spacious” and dun meaning
“fort.” It became adopted by an Anglo-Norman family there in the
12th century.Gordon is also a Jewish name, possibly dating back to the 17th
Its most likely source is a place-name of Grodno in Belarus near the
Polish/Lithuanian border. The Gordon name featured among the late
19th century Jews of Bialystok.
Gordon Resources on
- House of Gordon. Gordon clan website.
- The Gordons of Kenmure. The Gordons of Kenmure
and the story of young Lochinvar.
- Doug Gordon Family History. Gordons of New Jersey.
- Gordon Family History. Ann Gordon of the
Parammata Female Facory in Australia.
- Gordon DNA Project. Gordon DNA.
The Gordons are believed to have been originally of Norman
descent. The name started to appear in the Borders in the 12th
century. It was Sir Adam de Gordon, a friend of William Wallace,
who was appointed to the lordship of Strathbogie and Badenoch by Robert
the Bruce in 1319. He brought the name and the family to
northeast of the country.
Within these Gordons three early branches emerged:
- the Jock
and Tam Gordons, from Jock Gordon of Scurdargue and Tam
Gordon of Ruthven dating back to the 1360’s. They were said to
have had twenty two sons between them.
- the Sir William Gordon branch, from Sir William, the son of Sir
Adam, who remained in the Borders.
- and the Seton-Gordon branch, stemming from Elizabeth de Gordon –
cousin to Jock and Tam – who married Alexander Seton, with Seton taking
the Gordon name. The main Gordon line continued here.
These Gordons were at first major landowners there, rather than the
tribal clan. Huntly castle, originally Strathbogie castle, was
Gordon seat from the 14th to the late 17th century. In
the 15th century, Alexander Seton was created Lord Gordon and his
son became the first Earl of Huntly. By that time the Gordons
were becoming known as the “bowl o’ meal Gordons.” The Earl was
anyone who adopted the name of Gordon with a gift of oatmeal.
the most powerful clans in Scotland, so strong in the Highlands that
their chief was known as ‘Cock o’ the North.’”
Clan feuds and battles were frequent in the 16th and 17th
centuries. The Gordons came up against Mary Queen of
Scots in the 1550’s and were also caught up in the English
Civil War. George Gordon, the seventh earl, lost his head in 1647
for supporting the Royalist cause. However, the Gordons were
returned to their
titles and estates with the Restoration.
They had split
allegiances over the Jacobite uprisings in the 18th century, with clan
members fighting on both sides. In 1794 the Duke of Gordon raised
and recruited the 92nd Highlanders which became
renowned for their famous charge at Waterloo. They became
known as the Gordon Highlanders and, colloquially, as the Gay Gordons.
Gordon history was told in Edward Gordon’s 1949 books History of the House of Gordon.
Other Gordons from Aberdeen were:
- Alexander Gordon, the 16th century
bishop of Galloway
- John Gordon, an Aberdeen merchant and MP of the
- and Robert Gordon, another Aberdeen merchant at that time
who prospered in the Baltic trade and funded the building now known as
the Robert Gordon University.
Ireland. The Scots
brought the Gordon name to Ireland
during the plantation era of the 17th century. Thus the surname
has been most common in Ulster. One Gordon family dates from
about 1680 in Ballynahinch in county Down; while Robert Gordon had
acquired the Florida manor estate in the same county through marriage
in 1755. Gordons in Mayo date from around 1800. They were
Many of these Scots Irish Gordons later
emigrated, first to America. Nathaniel Gordon, for instance,
left his home in county Tyrone for Massachusetts in 1749. Others
left in the
19th century for Australia.
There were Irish Gordons as well. The Gaelic names Mag
Mhuirneacháin and Mórbhoirneach became Gordon in some instances,
in particular in Connacht.
Wales. Charles Gordon, a
son of the Duke of Gordon, had fought at Culloden in 1746 and then fled
the scene of
battle after the defeat. He ended up in Carnarvon in north Wales
where he was captured and executed. However, he left a family
there, the Gordon Hopes, who in 1836 made claim to the vacant dukedom
There was also a Gordon family from the Gower in south Wales which had
changed their name from Gorton to Gordon in the 18th century.
Gordon, a Scot, had opened a gin distillery in the Southwark area of
London in 1769, later moving it to Clerkenwell. The Special
London Dry Gin he developed proved successful and its recipe has
remained unchanged to this day. The business boomed in 1850 under
grandson Charles after Parliament removed the export tax on gin and
Gordon’s could profitably be shipped around the empire.
There were army Gordons in London as well, notably the family of the
artillery officer Henry Gordon. His son Charles Gordon is
remembered for his campaigns in China and north Africa and in
particular for his vainglorious death at the fall of Khartoum in
1884. Gordon was supposedly Queen Victoria’s favorite general and
his memory has been preserved.
America. The first Gordon
in America was probably Alexander Gordon, born in Aberdeen, who was
captured by Cromwell’s soldiers in 1651 and deported to Boston as an
indentured servant. Ten years later he was able to secure his
release and find employment at a sawmill in Exeter, New
Hampshire. His descendants moved onto Salem, New Hampshire.
George Gordon, born there, developed the design of the most common
the Gordon Letterpress. Marian Otis’s 1999 book Alexander Gordon and His Descendants
followed these Gordons.
Charles Gordon from Aberdeen arrived at the East Jersey
colony of Perth Amboy in the early 1680’s. Later Gordons moved to
Gordons in the South.
William Gordon was mayor of Savannah and the founder of
Georgia’s first railroad. Gordon county in Georgia was named
after him. A later Gordon of this line was Daisy Gordon, founder
of the Girl Scouts of America in 1912.
Another southern line began with John Gordon who had come to North
from Scotland sometime in the 1720’s. Grandson Zachariah
established himself in Upson county Georgia, a preacher and a planter
and in his later life an owner of a mineral spring resort; while his
son, John Brown, was one of Robert E. Lee’s
most trusted Confederate generals during the Civil War. After the
war, John Brown Gordon became a strong opponent of Reconstruction and
was thought by some to have been the titular leader of the Klu Klux
Klan in Georgia during the late 1860’s. His long political
career, as a Senator and Governor of Georgia, extended from 1873 to
Gordon in America could be a Jewish name. Harold Gordon was a
Nazi concentration camp survivor from Grodno who settled in Salinas,
California after the war. Michael Gordon, the film director
blacklisted during the McCarthy era,
was brought up in a Jewish household in Baltimore.
Gordon had came to Jamaica from Scotland as an attorney for a number of
absentee landlords. He purchased a number of their estates,
including Cherry Garden where the second of his seven children of a
union with a mulatto slave woman was born.
This son George William, who was later to acquire the estate, was
arrested and then hanged for his alleged role in the Morant Bay
rebellion of 1865. His name has lived on as a martyr and
“National Hero of Jamaica.” The Parliament of Jamaica meets in the
Gordon House, built in 1960 and named in his memory.
Australia. Robert and Ann Gordon arrived in Sydney in 1817
from Limerick in Ireland on board the military transport Matilda.
was to become the matron of the second Parramatta Female
Factory, an asylum for female convicts, from 1827 to 1836. Other
Gordons from Ireland were:
- John Gordon and his family from county Down who came to Sydney on
the Mandarin in 1837.
His father David had earlier been transported to Australia as a convict.
- William and Jane Gordon from Belfast who arrived on the Wilson five years later. They
later settled to farm in Jamberoo, NSW.
- and Thomas Gordon from county Tyrone who married Margaret
McKenzie in Wollongong, NSW in 1871 and who later moved to Waitekauri,
If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:
Sir Adam de Gordon first brought the Gordon name and Gordon
family to Aberdeenshire in the early 14th century.
Alexander Gordon started up Gordon’s Gin in London in 1769.
Lord George Gordon, born into
the Scottish nobility, was a colorful politician in England, best known
for lending his name to the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots of 1780 and for
converting to Judaism.
Gordon was the British 19th century army officer known
posthumously as Gordon of Khartoum. He famously died after his
forces had been beseiged by Mahdi forces in Khartoum in 1884.
Dexter Gordon was a jazz tenor
saxophonist of the post-bebop era.
Select Gordons Today
- 55,000 in the UK (most numerous
- 60,000 in America (most numerous in California)
- 31,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)
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