Dickinson Surname Meaning & Origin

Dickinson Surname Meaning

Dick is an abbreviation of Richard (it is said that some of the native English could not get their mouth around the Norman “R” and “R” became “D” or “H” instead).

Maybe this applied particularly to the folks in the north. Dixon and its diminutive Dickinson are common surnames of the north. Dickin and Dickens do crop up in the West Midlands. But the possible southern candidate Dicks is not that common at all.

Dickinson Surname Resources on The Internet

Dickinson Surname Ancestry

  • from Northern England
  • to America, Canada and South Africa

England.  Dickinson is a north country name.

Yorkshire.  Early Dickinsons came from Yorkshire. A Dickinson family from Hull dates from the 1400’s and as Dykonsons possibly back to 1260. During the 1500’s they lived at Kenson Manor near Leeds and at Bradley Hall in south Staffordshire.

A Quaker family of Dickinsons lived at Birds Edge in the West Ridings from the 17th century. There were also Dickinson Quakers in the East Ridings at this time.

Cumberland.  Dickinsons have been numerous in Cumberland as well. Dickinson estate records at Lamplugh near Cockermouth date from 1601, first at Streetgate and then at Red How. Dickinsons have farmed in the Lyth valley for almost as long.

London. Some well-known Dickinsons have come from London. These included Charles Dickinson and his son Walter who carried the family’s arms to Virginia.

John Dickinson was brought up in London and trained as a stationer there. In 1809 he invented a continuous mechanized process for papermaking and started a paper mill in Hertfordshire. This was the forerunner of the John Dickinson stationery company. Joan Evans’ 1955 book The Endless Web described the history of John Dickinson & Co from its startup years.

Joseph Dickinson, originally from Northumberland, operated a stationery and lithography publishing business on Bond Street in London in the early 1800’s.  His son Lowes Cato Dickinson became a well-known Victorian portrait painter; his nephew John, also a portrait painter, made his home in California. One of Lowes’s sons Arthur, later knighted, was an accountant of high repute; another son Goldsworthy or Goldie a pacifist in World War One and a member of the Bloomsbury set.

America. Dickinson is most notably a New England name .

New England.  Nathaniel Dickinson was among the colonists who had left England in 1629 on the Winthrop fleet, settled in Wethersfield, and later removed to Hadley:

  • his descendants, via his son Samuel, came to Amherst in the 1740’s, helped found Amherst College and included in their number a century later the poet Emily Dickinson.
  • Oliver Dickinson, from another line via his son Thomas, migrated west to Randolph township, Ohio in the early 1800’s. Alpheus Dickinson of Randolph township was notable for having six wives.

Captain John Dickinson was a Quaker sea captain who had first arrived in Boston from Ely in Cambridgeshire in 1630. However, encountering religious persecution there, he resettled thirty years later in Oyster Bay on Long Island. His line was covered in Marguerite Dickinson’s 1968 book Descendants of Captain John Dickinson and Elizabeth Howland.

Jonathan Dickinson, the first president of Princeton College, was born in Hatfield, Massachusetts in 1688.  His parents came from pioneer Connecticut valley stock. Ebenezer Dickinson from Hatfield migrated to Litchfield, Connecticut and from his line came Oliver Dickinson, the architect of Trinity Church in Milton, and his son Anson, a nationally known painter of miniatures.

Elsewhere.  Walter Dickinson had emigrated to Virginia in 1654 and, having joined the Quaker movement, moved with others of that faith to Kent county, Delaware. The family land-holdings increased with each generation so that, by the time of his great grandson John Dickinson of Revolutionary times, they had become extremely wealthy. Dickinson College in Pennsylvania was named in honor of John Dickinson.

Canada. It is thought likely that the Loyalist Dickinsons from Dutchess county, New York were descended from Captain John Dickinson of Oyster Bay. Amos Dickinson was the head of nine Dickinsons who came to New Brunswick at the conclusion of the Revolutionary War.

Another New York Dickinson family, that of Barnabus Dickinson (a descendant of immigrant Nathaniel Dickinson), migrated to Cornwall, Ontario in 1827. Barnabus died of cholera five years later. But his son Moss established a business transporting goods along the Rideau Canal between Ottawa and Kingston. Locals started to call him “the King of the Rideau.” He began a grist mill at Manotick on the banks of the Rideau in 1860 which remained with the Dickinson family until 1929.

Frank Dickinson and his family arrived in Canada from Bolton in Lancashire in 1910. They eventually settled in Summerland, British Columbia where they started an apple orchard.  It remains with their family today.

South Africa.  Albert Dickinson emigrated from Leicester to Port Elizabeth in South Africa in the early 1900’s.  His son Albert was married twice and had a son Brian who was killed in Italy during World War Two.  He also had a son through Alice Sisulu (a cousin of Nelson Mandela’s first wife) whom he did not marry.  This son Walter Sisulu grew up to be an anti-apartheid activist and a prominent member of  the ANC.

Dickinson Surname Miscellany

Early Dickinsons.  The first Dickinson mention was a William Dykouson who appeared in the Lancashire subsidy rolls of 1366.   Subsequent Dickinsons with their different spellings were:

  • John Dykonesson, in 1388 in Yorkshire
  • Henry Dicason, in 1518 in Yorkshire
  • Gilbert Dychenson, in 1585 in Yorkshire
  • and Nicholas Dikersone, in 1598 in Norfolk.

John Dickinson the Stationer.  John Dickinson the stationer was the holder of many patents relating to paper and its use in the early 19th century.

His first was for a non-smoldering paper for use in rifles called Cartridge Paper; said to have been particularly helpful to Wellington’s Peninsular campaign and at Waterloo by increasing the British firing rate whilst simultaneously reducing premature firing accidents.

His next was for a means of making paper in a continuous sheet in what has become known as the Cylinder Mould machine.  Dickinson arranged financing to buy Apsley mill in 1809 and the nearby Nash Mill in 1811 where he installed and developed machines of his design which were producing some of the best and most consistent paper in the country.

He was involved with the development of the Penny Post, producing a paper containing silk threads for security purposes.  He also patented a method of slitting paper with sharp bevelled wheels, still used on machines today and from which office guillotines in common use have evolved.

In addition to his factories at Apsley and Nash he built two brand new mills at Home Park and Croxley in 1825 and 1828.  Other sites in Manchester, Liverpool and elsewhere were created for distribution.  He retired in 1858, handing over the running of the business to his nephew John Evans.

Dickinson & Morris of Melton Mowbray.  Mary Dickinson is considered the creator of the hand raised Melton Mowbray pork pie.  In the 1790’s she and her family was already well known as pork pie makers and Stilton cheese merchants.

Mary’s grandson John, the son of a painter, was born in Melton Mowbray in 1828 and began making pies as a young grocer.  In 1851 he rented a shop for his pies in Nottingham Street.  A year later he married Sarah Collet, a farmer’s daughter, and they were to have nine children.

Surprisingly none of them entered the family business.  But an apprentice, Joseph Morris, was taken on in 1886 and he became like a son to John Dickinson. In 1901 a partnership between John Dickinson and Joseph Morris was formed and the business became Dickinson & Morris.  It still flourishes today.

Captain John Dickinson’s Antecedents.  The ancestry of Captain John Dickinson who settled in Long Island has been traced back a long way in England. His forebears seem to have lived from an early time near Hull in Yorkshire.  The early spelling here may have been Decaen.

The first properly recorded in 1502 was William Dickinson of Kenson manor in Leeds, John’s great great grandfather. The line then extended to Bradley Hall in Staffordshire, where Richard Dickinson served as a magistrate, and to the Portsmouth Navy Yard, where Thomas Dickinson was a Chief Clerk, and then to Ely in Cambridgeshire where Captain John Dickinson was born in 1602.

Early accounts of this Dickinson line in England were covered in Wharton Dickinson’s 1883 book Record of the Lambert-Dickinson Family.

Emily Dickinson’s Lineage.  The poet Emily Dickinson was in the eighth generation of Dickinsons in America.  The following were her American forebears:

  • Nathaniel the immigrant (1600-1676), born in England (Lincolnshire), died in Hadley, Mass
  • Samuel (1638-1711), born in Wethersfield, Conn and died in Hatfield, Mass
  • Ebenezer (1681-1730), born and died in Hatfield, Mass
  • Nathan (1712-1796), born in Hatfield, Mass. died in Amherst. Mass
  • Nathan (1735-1825), born and died in Amherst, Mass
  • Samuel (1775-1838), born in Amherst, Mass and died in Hudson, Ohio
  • Edward (1803-1874), born in Amherst, Mass and died in Boston, Mass
  • and Emily (1830-1886), born and died in Amherst, Mass.

The Homestead where Emily was born and lived most of her life at The Evergreens, home of her brother and his family, shared three acres of the Dickinson property in the center of Amherst.  They have now been preserved as the Emily Dickinson Museum.

Alpheus Dickinson and His Six Wives.  In the Congregational burying ground in Randolph township, Ohio lie side by side the six deceased wives of Alpheus Dickinson.

The first wife on her deathbed recommended to her husband Mary Roberts who, like herself, was a native of Middletown, Connecticut.  After a proper time had elapsed, Alpheus started for New England, making the long journey on horseback, and brought back with him his second wife.  That lady soon died.  But she did recommend another lady from Middletown, Mary Johnson.  So he again made the long journey to Connecticut to return with his third wife.  She died in 1832.  These ladies, it transpired, were all cousins.

Giving up on Middletown, he then married Maria Curtis of Charlestown, Ohio and she stayed with him until her death in 1864.  His fifth wife was Martha Sears, her niece from the same town who lived for less than two years after they married.  The name of his sixth wife was not reported, except that she existed.

Alpheus Dickinson, notwithstanding the great afflictions he had been called upon to endure, used frequently to remark:

“I have never been placed in circumstances so distressing and hopeless but that I could not think of someone whose situation was worse than mine.”

Dickinson College.  Dickinson College is a liberal arts college in Carlisle, Pennsylvania originally established in 1773 as a grammar school.  The College was chartered in 1783, five days after the signing of the Treaty of Paris, making it the first college to be founded in the newly recognized United States.

Dickinson was founded by Benjamin Bush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and named in honor of a signer of the Constitution, John Dickinson, who was later the President of Pennsylvania.  Dickinson College is America’s 16th oldest college.

Dickinson Names

  • John Dickinson was an American lawyer and politician, known as the “penman of the Revolution” for the role he played in constitutional matters at that time.
  • John Dickinson invented a continuous mechanized papermaking process in 1809 and founded a paper mill in Hertfordshire which was the forerunner of the John Dickinson Stationery company.
  • Emily Dickinson was a well-known 19th century American poet.
  • Angie Dickinson, born Angie Brown, is an American actress.

Dickinson Numbers Today

  • 16,000 in the UK (most numerous in Cumbria)
  • 10,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 10,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Dickinson 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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