Dawson Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Dawson Surname Meaning

The given name David, from the Hebrew Dodavehu meaning “beloved of Jehovah,” became popular through the fame of St. David, the patron saint of Wales, and several early Kings of Scotland of that name. The pet form of David, Dawe, appeared in Lancashire in 1212 and from that form came the surname Dawson.

Dawson was a surname found in Cumbria, Lancashire and Yorkshire.  Other patronymic names from David – such as Davidson and Davison – turned up in Scotland and the Border country. Davies of course is a common Welsh surname.

Dawson Surname Resources on The Internet

Dawson Surname Ancestry

  • from Northern England and Scotland (East Coast)
  • to Ireland, America, Canada and Australia

EnglandEarly Dawson lines claimed descent from the time of William the Conqueror:

  • the Dawsons of Spaldington in Yorkshire from the Norman adventurer Sir Marmaduke D’Ossone
  • and the Dawsons of Greystoke in Cumberland from Archibald Dawson, a Saxon lord at that time or somewhat later. 

Were they real or imaginary figures? A more creditable historical figure was Bertram Dawson of Greystoke who accompanied the Black Prince to France during the wars there in the mid-14th century.

One family line began with Roger Dawson who was born in Penrith, Cumberland in 1531. He moved to Thanet in Kent when he was a young man and his descendants remained there through fifteen generations.

The largest number of Dawsons, however, have been in Yorkshire. The first record of a Dawson was in fact that of Thomas Daweson in the Wakefield manor rolls in Yorkshire of 1326. Dawson sightings have been mainly in north Yorkshire:

  • the Dawson name began to appear in records in the Grewelthorpe area from the 1550’s.
  • Richard Dawson was recorded at Heworth in 1588. Later Dawsons of this family served in the army in India.
  • a Dawson family has held Langcliffe Hall near Settle since the 1660’s and still resides there. William Dawson of this family became a successful linen merchant in London in the 1760’s, married well, and resided in some splendour in Richmond.
  • the Rev. Joseph Dawson, a Unitarian minister, helped to found the Low Moor ironworks near Bradford in 1789. His grandson Christopher later came into possession of Weston Hall near Otley.
  • while George Dawson was a well-known figure in Harrogate in the late 19th century.

Geoffrey Dawson, who became editor of The Times in the inter-war years, was born in Skipton in north Yorkshire.

Ireland.  English Dawsons have been in Ireland since 1610:

  • The first arrival, from Sowerby in Westmoreland, came to Derry and purchased the lands of what was to be Castle Dawson in 1633. These Dawsons later settled in county Monaghan and became the Earls of Cremorne and Dartrey.
  • William Dawson arrived from Spaldington in Yorkshire as a tax collector in the reign of Charles II. His son Ephraim acquired the Portarlington estate in Queens (Laios) county and the family was later made Earl of Portarlington.
  • another Dawson family came to the Glen of Aherlow in Tipperary in the late 1600’s and remained landlords there until the early 20th century.

There have been some Irish Dawsons in Donegal. The name was adopted at the time of the Penal Laws for some like-sounding Gaelic names.                 

Scotland. Davidson and Davison have tended to be the spellings in Scotland. But Dawson, possibly originally Deason, is to be found – mainly in NE Scotland. The Dawsons of Crombie were an old family from Aberdeen from whom Sir William Dawson of Canada came. Many Dawsons were listed in Strathdon parish in Aberdeenshire in the mid-19th century. 

America.  Charles Dawson’s 1874 book Dawson Family Records provided an early and exhaustive record of early Dawson arrivals, from New England to Virginia, Maryland and the Carolinas.

According to family lore, four Dawson brothers arrived in Virginia from Whitehaven in Cumberland sometime around 1670. Being Puritan they were classified as dissenters. Therefore they departed for Maryland where they made their home. Descendants of the brother most tracked, John, fought in the Revolutionary War and moved west, first to Ohio and then to Indiana.

Thomas Dawson was an Anglican priest and welcome in Virginia. Thought to be from Cumberland, he arrived in Virginia in 1735 and twenty years later became President of William and Mary College. But his position there soon deteriorated due to his drunken habits. Meanwhile Captain Anthony Dawson was in the Albemarle Sound area of North Carolina by 1693 and Dawsons were later recorded nearby in Edgecombe county.

There were Dawsons in Richmond county, Georgia by 1780, either from Virginia or North Carolina. Dread Dawson left there for Alabama where he had a large plantation and then moved onto what became Jasper county, Texas. Brit Dawson made the same journey as a young man and subsequently became a large cattle rancher in Navarro county.

The Dawson family of Greene county, Georgia began with a British soldier who deserted and joined the American ranks during the Revolutionary War. He and his wife Ruth moved to Greene county, Georgia soon after it was formed. Their son Thomas was born there in 1794, the first white child in that county. A younger son William C. Dawson was a much respected US Senator for Georgia, after whom Dawson county and the town of Dawson were named.

Canada.  Thomas Dawson, born and brought up in county Monaghan, came with his family to Prince Edward Island in 1801 and founded Dawson’s Grove by the head of the Hillsborough river. He did not last long in his new country. But his family did and the Dawson name continues in Charlottetown with the Dawson house built there in 1852.

James Dawson had come to Pictou in Nova Scotia from Banffshire in Scotland in 1811. He struggled with his early enterprises but eventually was the proprietor of the local newspaper. His son John William, born in 1820, became one of Canada’s foremost scholars and Principal of McGill University in Montreal for some forty years; while his son George achieved renown as a surveyor and gave his name to Dawson Creek in British Columbia and Dawson City in the Yukon.

Other Scots Dawsons, this time from Aberdeen, embarked for Montreal in the 1840’s. John Dawson eventually made his home in Williams county, Ontario. Benjamin and Janet Dawson, also from the Aberdeen area, came to Niagara, Ontario around 1850.

Australia. In 1830 Elijah Dawson from Kent, leaving the British army, was a very early settler in the Swan river colony that became Western Australia.

William Dawson, the son of a well-to-do London draper, had married an Irish woman and his father had disowned him. So the couple departed for Tasmania in 1833 with their baby daughter.  “After William’s brother drowned his father wrote to him and forgave him, asking him to come back to inherit his brother’s estate. But William had not forgotten his hurt and refused to go.”  

The family later moved to Southland, New Zealand where William was the town engineer responsible for building many of the bridges in the locality.

New Zealand.  A Dawson family on North Island, near Auckland, began when a young cabin boy from Sweden jumped ship and landed on the Mahurangi East Peninsula sometime in the 1850’s. He took the name of John Dawson. The Dawsons in the form of Brian Dawson, his great grandson, are still there on Snells Beach.

Dawson Surname Miscellany

Sir Marmaduke D’Ossone and the English/Irish Dawsons.  According to Burke’s Peerage, Dawsons in England and Ireland claimed descent from Sir Marmaduke D’Ossone, a soldier of fortune who accompanied William the Conqueror to England in 1066. For services rendered in battle he was said to have received a grant of an estate in England and to have remained there for the rest of his life.  It was said that the original seat of the family was in the county of York.

Many generations later came Alexander Dawson who lived at Spaldington in Yorkshire in 1584.  The line from him passed to William Dawson who came to Ireland as a tax collector in the reign of Charles II.  His son Ephraim acquired the Portarlington estate in Queens (Laios) county and the family was later made Earl of Portarlington.

Early Dawsons in the Grewelthorpe Area.  The following Dawson families were recorded in the Grewelthorpe area of north Yorkshire in the 1500’s and 1600’s:

  • Gilbert Dawson of Azerley Hall near Ripon (1535?-1587) and Catherine
  • – son George (born in 1558) who married Margaret Conyers  (they were believed on have come originally from Cumberland)
  • George Dawson of Grewelthorpe (1625?-1672) and Judith (died in 1657)
  • – son Richard (born in 1656)
  • John Dawson of Pateley Bridge (1635?-1688) and wife (unknown)
  • – son John of Ripon (born in 1659)
  • – son Christopher of Ripon (born in 1661)
  • Thomas and Ann Dawson (married in Ripon in 1660)
  • – Thomas of Ripon (born in 1663)
  • Charles Dawson of Grewelthorpe (1645?-1696) and Anne
  • – George Dawson (born in 1675)
  • Richard Dawson, yeoman of Grewelthorpe (died in 1693)
  • George, Charles and Richard Dawson appeared on the Wapentake hearth tax list of 1672.

George Dawson of Harrogate.  George Dawson was a prominent personality in Harrogate in the late 19th century.  As alderman he added materially to the architecture of the town.

He built the Post Office buildings, known as Prospect Crescent, Cambridge Crescent, rebuilt the Crown Hotel, the Crown block, and some of the finest residences.  A passionate Methodist preacher of the hell-fire school, Dawson himself threw drunks and hecklers from his meetings and allowed nothing to stand in the way of his plans to beautify Harrogate.

However, on the eve of him becoming Mayor of Harrogate in 1889, he died of overwork at his mansion, Vanderbilt Court, in Victoria Avenue.  Today a plaque there records his life and achievements.

On the Death in 1737 of James Dawson of Aherlow.  The Dawsons had come to the Glen of Aherlow in county Tipperary in the 17th century.  They were the local landlords, often resented.  Colonel James Dawson of Ahelow died in 1737 and the poet Sean Clarach Mac Domhnaill of Rathluirc composed some satirical verses on his death.

They began as follows:

  • “Taiscighidh, a chlocha, fe choigilt i gcoimead criaidh,
  • Ann feailairefola, is an stollaire Dason liath.”
  • “Squeeze down his bones, o ye stones, in your hall of clay,
  • You reeking, gore-sprinkled boar, old Dawson the grey.”

The poet was forced to leave the district after the verses came out.

The Dawsons were still landlords in the 19th century and still unpopular.  But this time the anger was directed at their agent, “limping” Tommy Saunders. The Dawson home at Ballincourty House was destroyed at the time of the Irish Civil War.

Sir William Dawson’s Forebears in Scotland.  Sir William Dawson, the great 19th century Canadian scholar, gave the following account of his family history in Scotland:

“My father’s people were agriculturists in the north of Scotland, connected with an old family, the Dawsons of Crombie, but, being descended from a younger branch, were themselves of the class of well-to-do tenant farmers.

The tradition was that the family originated with an Irish officer who had come over in the interests of James the Second, and who, when the effort to excite a rising in favor of the exiled king had failed, consoled himself by marrying a Scottish maiden dowered with some landed property.  He was a Roman Catholic and the family continued for some generations to adhere to the old faith and to Jacobite politics.

My grandfather was said to have been present as a stripling on the side of the Pretender at Culloden Moor but, having escaped that dangerous day, afterwards married a Protestant wife, and in his later days went over to her religion.  Their children were educated as Presbyterians.”

The Irish connection seems unlikely.   It may not have been his grandfather but his great grandfather who was present at Culloden on that fateful day in 1746.

Thomas Dawson, Methodist Preacher.  It was said that during his younger days Thomas Dawson had been “wild and profane.”  Then he read Doddridge’s Rise and Progress and realized the error of his ways.  It is not exactly sure when he became a convert of John and Charles Wesley’s Methodism.  However, convert he did and he was soon a preacher.

He had joined in the British army in Ireland, serving as a young man in the American Revolutionary War.  When that employment ended in 1799, he began to think about emigrating.

On March 4, 1801 Thomas and his family set sail from Dublin and finally reached their destination of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island some three months later.

Once settled there, Thomas felt that the spiritual destitution of the Island was so great that he should set out to become the first local preacher in the colony. During 1801 and the following years, prayer meetings were held regularly in Charlottetown and on Christmas Day Thomas would preach in the Coffee House.

An interesting diary note of his friend Benjamin Chappell for July 1, 1803 raised the following question: “Mr. Dawson, was he drunk with Mr. Palmer or not?” Maybe the preacher did slip back temporarily into the wildness of his pre-conversion days and went on a “bender” with Mr. Palmer.  However, the diary indicated that conditions did improve during October and November.

Thomas Dawson was a man of strong constitution and powerful frame. But he could not long sustain the rigorous tests to which he subjected himself.  In December 1803 he was seized by a severe cold which terminated in quinsy.  On January 22, 1804, though very ill, he walked from Charlottetown to his home at the Head of Hillsborough.  Benjamin Chappell was with him for his last few days.  Thomas Dawson died six weeks later on March 4.

William Crosby Dawson of Greene County, Georgia.  William Crosby Dawson of Greene county, Georgia was called “the first gentleman of Georgia.”  He was described as follows by a contemporary:

“He was a man of much suavity of manner; one of that class of Southern statesmen who felt it necessary to carry every measure by the influence of personal kindness, and an expression of horror at all agitation of the slave question, under the apprehension that it might dissolve the Union.”

The following marker was erected at the Greene county courthouse in Greensboro in 1971, commemorating his life as a Freemason:

“A native of Greene county, then on Georgia’s Indian frontier, he was educated in the law and admitted to the Bar in 1818.   The remainder of his exemplary life was spent in public service as legislator, captain of the Volunteers in the Indian War in Florida in 1836, judge of the Oolmugee judicial circuit, Congressman, and US Senator from Georgia from 1849 to 1855.

Brother Dawson served as Grand Master of the Masons in Georgia from 1843 until his death in Greensboro in 1856.  Two cities and one county in Georgia are named for him.  Also named in his honor are two Masonic lodges.

One of the most beloved, respected and distinguished Grand Masters in Georgia’s long Masonic history, his honored remains lie in the city cemetery near this spot.  His entire life was a testimonial to his devotion to his fellow man, his country, and to the sublime precepts of Freemasonry.  His name will always be revered by the Freemasons of Georgia.”

Brit Dawson of Dawson, Texas.  Brit Dawson gave his name to Dawson, Texas.  He was a cattle rancher and was said to have had the largest herd of cattle in all of Navarro county.  He died in 1903 and was buried beside his wife Susannah in the family cemetery just north of “the Big House.”

Brit had eighty six exciting years and had witnessed changes he could never have imagined as a child. He had lived in the territory of Alabama, Mexican territory, the Republic of Texas, and in the thirty-eighth state of the United States, Texas.  His father had fought in the War of 1812 and he had joined Sam Houston’s army and fought Indians.  He had driven ox carts and ridden trains pulled by huge steam locomotives.

Dawson Names

  • William C. Dawson was a US Senator from Georgia in the 1850’s known for his courtly southern manners. 
  • Sir William Dawson was a leading Canadian scholar of the mid-19th century who became the Principal of McGill University in Montreal. 
  • Geoffrey Dawson, born Geoffrey Robinson, was the influential pro-appeasement editor of The Times between 1923 and 1941. 
  • Les Dawson was a non-PC English comedian known for his podgy face and jokes about mothers-in-law.

Dawson Numbers Today

  • 52,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 31,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 37,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Dawson and Like Surnames  

Patronymic surnames can be with either the “-son” or the shorter “s” suffix to the first name.  The “son” suffix is more common in northern England than in the south and in lowland Scotland.  Here are some of these surnames that you can check out.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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