Davidson Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Davidson Meaning
Davidson is Anglo-Scottish, a patronym of the Hebrew name David meaning
“beloved of Jehovah.” The name became
popular among Christians throughout Europe in the Middle Ages. The two spellings of Davidson and Davison were
both to be found in northern England, mainly
in the counties bordering onto Scotland.  
Davidson in America may also have
Scandinavian (from Davidsson or Davidsen) or Jewish origins.

Davidson Resources on

Davidson Ancestry

Scotland. The Davidson name is
to be found in the Scottish
Highlands, but also in the Lowlands and Border areas.

Highlands. There have been different
accounts as to the Davidson
. As clan Dhai they were
associated with the
Chattan confederation and the proscribed Comyns around Badenoch. David Dubh of Invernhaven was the first known
bearer of the name. However, in the
Battle of North Inch against the Cameronsat Perth in 1396, these
Davidsons were
defeated badly.

the thirty warriors from each side selected to fight in single combat
only one
Davidson survived – by climbing the enclosure and swimming the river

The Davidsons dispersed and were never
again to reassemble as a proper clan.

One early Davidson sighting elsewhere was
Sir Robert Davidson, a collector and distributor of royal dues in
Aberdeen. He led a contingent to fight
at the Battle of Harlow in 1411 where he was killed.
The Davidsons were also associated from the
early 16th century with the estate of Davidston on the Black Isle in
Cromarty. Popular tradition has had the
Davidsons of Davidston linked with the later Davidsons of Tulloch

Davidsons were in place at Tulloch in Ross-shire from 1762 until 1917. It was Duncan Davidson who established the
family fortunes as a West India merchant in London.
His son Henry was in possession of eight
sugar plantations in the Caribbean by the time of his death in 1826.

his will of 1826, Henry Davidson left to his sons
four Jamaican plantations, the plantation of Mount Gay in Grenada, that
Highbury in Berbice, and that of L’Esperance in Surinam.
To his grandson he left in trust the
plantation of Mount Craven in Grenada.”

The largest
number of Davidsons today are in Aberdeenshire. The Davidson
family at Tarland
on Deeside was long-standing and extended in the 18th and 19th
centuries to
homes at Tillychetly, Dess and Inchmarlo. The Davidson connection with
went back to the early 1600’s when Alexander Davidson began
there. The Davidson name appeared
frequently there later as merchants, seamen, and fishermen.

Elsewhere. There was evidence of a
Davidson clan
grouping on the Scottish borders in the 16th century.
They were to be found at Oxnam in
Roxburghshire, just across the border from Northumberland.
And the Davidson name was also at that time
in Midlothian and Ayrshire. These
Davidsons were probably not related to the Highland Davidsons.

England. The Davidson name extended
across the border
into northern England where the name was either Davidson or, in
and Durham, more likely to be Davison. An
early Davison was William Davison, secretary to Queen Elizabeth, who
was blamed
for the 1587 execution of Mary, Queen of Scots.
It was said that “his grandfather was out of the North.”

Among the later Davisons/Davidsons
of the north were:

  • Monkhouse
    Davison from Carlisle in Cumberland
    who came to London in the 1730’s and became one of the city’s leading
    grocers. It was his tea that was dumped in
    the sea
    during the Boston Tea Party.
  • Alexander Davison from Lanton in
    Northumberland who was a contemporary and close friend of Admiral
    Nelson. His business rise and fall was
  • John
    Davidson who was High Sheriff of Northumberland in 1839 and
    resided at Ridley Hall on Bardon Hill.
  • while
    Thomas Davidson was a Victorian
    poet of the Scottish borders, born to parents from Northumberland.

Ireland. The Davison spelling has predominated in
Ireland. Most were of Scottish origin
and had settled in Ulster. A number of
them emigrated to America in the 18th century.

One line of Davisons dates from the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 after
which they were granted lands at Tandragee in county Antrim. Four generations of this family were
prominent in the linen industry
during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Irish from the Donegal sept of Mac
adopted the name of Davison in Donegal and in neighboring

America. The Davidsons in
America are mainly Scots or Scots Irish.
Most emigrated there, a few were forcibly taken there.

in the
latter category was David Davisson, a Scottish soldier captured in 1651
sent to the Massachusetts Bay Colony as a prisoner of war in 1651. He made his home in Wenham, Essex county. His descendants later moved to New Jersey and
Virginia and then to various points west and south.

Robert Davidson came to Pennsylvania from Scotland
on the Deliverance of Glasgow in
1729. He died eight years later. His widow and children uprooted themselves
and resettled in Rowan county, North Carolina.
These Davidsons established their Rural Hill Farm in nearby
county in 1788 and became a prominent family of the plantation
community there.

Scots Irish in America
included two brothers, John and George Davidson, who arrived around
1740 and
later settled in Iredell county, North Carolina:

  • John
    was the father of Major
    William Davidson, Revolutionary soldier who subsequently made his home
    in Buncombe
  • while
    George was the father of General William Lee Davidson who died in
    the war in 1781. The General is
    commemorated in North Carolina by Davidson College, the town of
    Davidson, and
    Davidson county.

Davidson came
to Virginia from Ulster in the 1730’s.
His son George fought in the Revolutionary War and later moved
with his
family from Virginia to Kentucky
settled in Lincoln county.

A much later emigration involved Alexander Davidson
who departed with his family from Angus in Scotland in 1857, settling
Milwaukee. His grandsons Arthur, Walter
and William were three of the four founders of the Harley-Davidson motorcycle company
in 1903.

Other Davidsons
. Some Davidsons in
America came from Scandinavia,
others were Jewish:

  • James
    Ole Davidson, for instance, arrived in America from
    Norway in 1872. He succeeded Robert La
    Follette as Wisconsin’s Governor in 1906.
  • while
    Gustav Davidson fled with his
    parents from the Jewish pogrom in Poland and arrived in New York in
    1907. He made his mark there as a poet,
    writer, and

Canada. Many of
the early Davidson settlers in Ontario were Scots Irish.

Samuel Davidson came with
his family from county Down in 1825 and was one of the first settlers
Mariposa township in the Kawartha Lakes region.
He subsequently served on the town council.
George and Rachel Davison arrived from
county Antrim in 1826. They settled in
Augusta township where George built himself a log cabin on the family
lot and
farmed. Their descendants have been

The 1840’s arrivals included Samuel Davidson who made his home at
Listowel in Perth county. James and
Sarah Davidson from county Antrim came to Westmeath township in 1845. This family suffered from a number of

  • their
    son Robert, born on
    the crossing to Canada, was born blind and was known as “Blind Bob.”
  • James
    himself died in 1861 at the age of 36 after a team of horses ran out of
    control. He subsequently died of blood
  • while
    his other son James lost his left arm in a horse-powered
    threshing machine and had to be fitted with a hook. James Davidson,
    would continue to take his threshing machine around at harvest time and
    was a
    popular member of the community.

Australia. The
early Davidsons in Australia were more Scottish than Scots Irish or

Walter Davidson from Inchmarlo
in Aberdeenshire arrived in Sydney in 1805.
Well-connected, he was granted large land holdings in the NSW
colony. Although he departed Australia
four years later, he retained his interest in his property which
developed into
a large sheep farm.

Alexander Davidson
was a carpenter from Aberdeen who came to Sydney with his employer Ben
Boyd, a
Scottish entrepreneur, in 1842. Boyd
launched numerous enterprises, all of which failed, and left the region. Davidson stayed on and built Kish House on
Kish Inlet, using salvaged timber from the shipwrecked Lawrence
. In the
1860’s he started a whaling operation on Twofold Bay.
This continued with his grandson “Fearless”
George Davidson until 1930.

Davidson, a blacksmith from St. Andrews in Fife, came with his family
to Sydney
in 1854. They were among the early
settlers of the New England or North Tablelands area of NSW.

Two descendants of the Davidsons of Tulloch
in Ross-shire also made their way south:

  • John
    Ewen Davidson came to Australia in 1865 and was a sugar planter in
  • while
    Hector Davidson, son of the fourth Davidson of Tulloch,
    departed for New Zealand in 1885 to breed sheep


Davidson Miscellany

Davidson and Davison in the UK.  The  following were the number of Davidsons and Davisons in
England and Scotland in the 1881 UK census.

‘000’s Davidson Davison
Aberdeen    3.4
Angus    1.6
Midlothian    1.5
Lanarkshire    2.6    0.1
Borders    1.6
Elsewhere    2.0    0.1
Total   12.7 0.2
Northumberland    1.7    2.0
Cumberland    1.0
Durham    1.2    3.5
Yorkshire    0.6    1.6
Lancashire    1.1    0.5
Elsewhere    3.0    3.0
Total    8.7   10.6

Davidson is more a Scottish name, Davison a name of northeast

Davidson Origins in Scotland.  There are three different accounts of the Davidson origins
in Scotland.

to William Skene
in his Celtic Scotland, Clan Davidson
co-founded the Chattan Confederation with
Clan MacPherson and
were together
referred to as the Old Clan Chattan.  Skene
used sources that showed the Davidsons to be descended from one of the
sons of
Gilliecattan Mhor, the chief of
Clan Chattan in
the 11th to 12th century.

to Sir Aeneas
MacPherson, John Burk and William Anderson, the Davidsons were
descended from
the younger son of Muriac.  Muriach (or
Murdoch) was parson of Kingussie
became Captain of Clan Chatten on his brother’s
death.  He obtained a dispensation from the Pope in 1173 and married a
daughter of the
Thane of Cawdor.  From this union five
sons were born, one of
youngest being David Dow (the black).
said he was the fifth son, Anderson
the fourth.  From here
Davidsons of Invernahavon were said to be descended.

to the Kinrara
manuscript, the Davidsons were descended from David Dubh of Clan
Cumming.  The first chief of Clan Davidson
was David,
son in law of Slane Mackintosh who was wed to a daughter of the sixth
chief of
Clan Mackintosh who was also chief of the Chattan Confederation.  David’s father was Donald, the third son of
Robert Comyn who in turn was a grandson of John Comyn, Lord of Badenoch
Chief of Clan Comyn.   David and his followers
became known
as the Clan Dhai because the Comyn name had
prescribed in 1320, although Thomas Comyn or Cumming, son of Donald’s
brother was exempted from the prescription and gave rise to the
Cummings of

The Davisons at Tandragee in County Antrim.  The area around Tandragee in the parish of Ballymore
in county Antrim was known for production of fine linens.  Four
generations of
Davisons, starting with John Davison in the early 1700’s, were involved
linen production.  A Davison introduced
the manufacture of Damask, a fine woven blend of silk and linen, in
1805.  And a James Davison represented the
area at local
trade fairs and Linen Associations in the early-to-mid 1800’s.

It is likely that
linen spinning and processing was carried out from the family home
building at
49-53 Market Street, which was also a base for George Davison’s cab
There were extensive flax mills, as well as flour, oat
and corn
meal mills on the Cusher river.  A weekly market was the largest
in the
county, “with such busy crowds as to be astonishing to
strangers”.  The linens and flax were considered the best in the

A search of the original church records at Tandragee (which began in
1783) unearthed over 200 Davison names there.

The Rise and Fall of Alexander Davison.  Alexander Davison from Lanton in Northumberland began his
business career as a merchant in the British colony of Quebec.  There, during the American War of
Independence, he engaged as a Government contractor in the trade to
Canada and
amassed a large fortune.  At the peak of
his career he owned interests from textile factories to ships.  He also worked as a supply agent for the
Government procuring coal and other supplies for the military.

was in Quebec
in 1782 that he first made the acquaintance of Horatio Nelson and
became his
staunch friend as he rose through the naval ranks.
That friendship brought him business as a
prize agent after the victorious Battle of the Nile in 1798.  In gratitude he spent more than 2,000 pounds
of his own money on medals for every naval officer and rating who had
part in the battle.

had bought the Swarland estate in Northumberland in 1795 and later laid
out the
grounds with trees to show the formation of Nelson’s fleet in the

in 1804 Davison was accused and
convicted of fraud as a result of his attempt to bribe the voters of
the rotten
borough of Ilchester.  He spent a year in
Marshalsea prison.  Then in 1809 he was
again tried and found guilty on charges of fraud.  This
time the accusations related to his
activity as a Government supply agent.
He was convicted again and ordered to repay the sum of 18,000
pounds and
was sentenced in addition to a further 21 months in prison.

scandals ruined his reputation and he
was forced to sell his London home and many of his possessions.

The Davidson Journey from Virginia to Kentucky.  Around 1783, after the Revolutionary War was over, George and Mary Davidson moved their family from Virginia to newer
lands in
Lincoln county, Kentucky.  At that time
there were no roads across the mountains.
They had to travel with packhorses.
As the country was invested with unfriendly Indians, every white
man led
a packhorse with one hand and carried a gun in the other to defend the
against the Indians.

their eldest son, was then seventeen years old and
led a horse and carried a gun the same as any of the men.
Virginia was still a slave state and George
Davidson owned several negroes.  Of
course they thought they could get along without their slaves, but must
them to Kentucky with them.

twin sons James and Michael were about six years
of age and George owned at the time twin negro children of the same age.  He placed his two sons in a basket on one
side of a horse and the negro children on the other in a similar manner.  He have the horse into the hands of one of
his most trusted men – as it carried the most valued pack – the twin
sons on
the one side and $500-1,000 worth of human freight on the other.

some time the Davidsons arrived in
Lincoln county.  There the family grew up
and married, all remaining nearby except Samuel who married and went to
Illinois to live.

farm on which the
Davidsons settled in Lincoln county is still known as Old Davidson Farm
and is
located about two and a half miles southwest of Stanford.
George and Mary lived there until the end of
their lives, both being buried in the family burying ground on the old

The First Harley-Davidson Motor Cycle Factory.  Arthur
Davidson had joined up with William Harley to form the Harley-Davidson Motor
Company in
Milwaukee in 1903.  They were later joined
by Arthur’s brothers Walter and William A Davidson.

the Harley-Davidson entrepreneurs
needed a ‘factory,’ Arthur’s father William C. Davidson, an
cabinetmaker, built them the now famous ten-by-fifteen foot shed in the
backyard of the Davidson’s Milwaukee family home.  Their
aunt Marjory painted the iconic ‘Harley
Davidson Motor Co.’ on the shed door.

testament to William C. Davidson’s woodworking
skills, the shed still stood well into the 1970s.  It
had been transported from the family home
to the factory at Juneau Avenue where it was later bulldozed, having
been mistaken
for scrap wood!

James Davidson of Westmeath Township, Ontario.  James and
Nellie Davidson lived on the Zion Line of Westmeath township in Ontario
were, with their large family of twelve, very well-liked in the
community.  James knew everyone and took
his threshing machine around to the other farms at harvest time and
Nellie was
known for her kind and affectionate nature.

James died in 1927, the
following obituary appeared in the local paper:

of our most respected
citizens in the person of Mr. James Davidson passed away at his home at
home on Thursday after an illness extending over two years.  The deceased who had reached his 76th year
was born in Westmeath township, a son of the late James Davidson and
his wife
Sarah Grindle, both natives of Northern Ireland.  He married
Elenor Hill of
Cobden and for the greater part of their life they lived in their
farmhouse on
the Zion Line.

funeral took place on Saturday afternoon in Beachburg
Cemetery.  Though the roads were almost
at their worst, there was a very large attendance from Zion Lane where
practically every house was represented.”

Davidson Names

  • Monkhouse Davison was
    the senior partner of Davison, Newman and Co, one of the leading grocers in 18th century London. 
  • Arthur Davidson co-founded with William
    Harley the Harley-Davidson Motor Cycle Company in Milwaukee in 1903. 
  • Randall Davidson was an Anglican bishop of Scottish origin
    who served as Archbishop of Canterbury 
    from 1903 to 1928
  • Alan Davidson was an
    Australian cricket all-rounder of the 1950’s and 1960’s

Davidson Numbers Today

  • 67,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Durham)
  • 42,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 44,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


Select Davidson and Like Surnames 

These surnames originated from the northern part of Scotland, either the northeast of the country, the Scottish Highlands, or in one case (the surname Linklater) the Orkney isles north of Scotland.




Click here for return to front page

Leave a Reply