Ferguson Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Ferguson Surname Meaning

The Ferguson name is of Gaelic origin, found in both Scotland and Ireland, and is the patronymic form of Fergus, i.e. son of Fergus. The old Gaelic name was Fearghus, comprised of the elements fear (or “man”) and ghus (“vigor” or “force”). It was the name of an early Irish mythical figure and an early king of the Scots.

Ferguson and Fergusson are the alternative spellings in Scotland. The Fergusson spelling persists (it has continued to be used by various clan leaders). But its general use has fallen – from a 20-25 percent share in the 18th century to less than 5 percent today.

Ferguson Surname Resources on The Internet

Ferguson Surname Ancestry

  • from Scotland (Ayrshire)
  • to England, America, Bahamas, Canada and Australia

Scotland. Ferguson is not one clan but many clans, as the Ferguson name originated at different times and different places around Scotland (the various Ferguson clan records were first collected in James Ferguson’s and Robert Menzies Fergusson’s 1895 work Records of the Clan and Name of Fergusson, Ferguson, and Fergus).

However, from the 18th century, the head of the Kilkerran Fergussons has generally been recognized as the chief of all the Fergusons.

Ayrshire.  The Kilkerran Fergussons claim descent from Fergus, the 12th century Prince of Galloway. It was in the 15th century that Fergus, son of Fergus, received lands in Ayrshire from the King of Scotland. In 1466 John Fergusson signed over a portion of his estate to his son Fergus Fergusson of Kilkerran in Carrick.

The family fortunes fluctuated in the 17th century but the line has continued uninterrupted since that time. Their ancestral home is situated near Maybole in Ayrshire.

Elsewhere  Many other Ferguson families were also being established around Scotland:

  • in Dumfries there were the Fergusons of Craigdarroch
  • in Perthshire the Fergusons of Atholl and Balquhidder
  • in Aberdeenshire the families of Kilmundy and Pitfour
  • in Argyllshire the Fergusons of Glenshellich (although this line died out in the early 1800’s)
  • and in Fife the Fergusons of Raith

There were also Feguson groupings, dating back to the 1600’s or earlier, in the Western Isles.

The history of these different groups tended to be interwoven with that of the particular districts to which they belonged. Thus the Fergussons in Ayr and Dumfriesshire generally supported the cause of the National Covenant and opposed the Jacobite rebellions; but many Perthshire Fergusons backed the exiled Stuarts in 1715 and again in 1745.

By the late 19th century the distribution of the Ferguson name in Scotland stretched from Ayrshire and the border counties to Perthshire, but with a concentration in the industrial heartland around Glasgow. For instance Sir Alex Ferguson, the former manager of Manchester United football club, was born in the Govan district of Glasgow and is descended from shipbuilders along the Clyde.

Ireland. Fergus was an Irish name and a mythical Irish figure. But it was the Scots who brought the Ferguson name to Ireland at the time of the plantations. There were Irish O’Ferguses. But that name seems to have transposed to Ferris.

Among the 17th century Ferguson arrivals were:

  • the Fergusons of Standingstone in county Antrim. Sir Samuel Ferguson of this family said that they were descended from Covenant ancestors who had been persecuted in Scotland.
  • the Fergusons of Burt House in county Donegal, the first in the line being the Rev. Andrew Ferguson who was ordained there in 1690.
  • the Fergusons of Ardtrea parish in county Tyrone, where Alexander Ferguson was recorded as a tenant farmer in the 17th century.
  • and the Fergusons of Growell in county Down. From this family came Harry Ferguson, born in 1884, who was a pioneer in the development of the modern agricultural tractor.  His name lives on in the Massey Ferguson company that he helped form in 1953.

It can be seen from Griffith’s Valuations of the mid 19th century that Ferguson became very much an Ulster surname, with the name numbers found in Antrim and county Down.

England. Fergusons came south across the border into England, some into Cumberland and some further south.

Cumberland.  One set of Fergusons is said to have moved over from Galloway to Cumberland sometime in the early 17th century. From this family came the Fergusons of Houghton Hall who started a cotton spinning industry in Carlisle.

Another Cumberland family line traces back to Ben Ferguson, born in 1766 in Pardshaw near Cockermouth; and other Ferguson lines at that time were to be found at St. Bees and Newtown. Richard Ferguson was mayor of Carlisle in 1881 and 1882.

Elsewhere. Some Fergusons headed further south. These included the military Fergusons of Polebrook Hall near Oundle in Northamptonshire (descendants of two brothers who had fled Scotland for Belfast in the 1680’s). From this line came Major Ronald Ferguson and his daughter Sarah Ferguson.

America. Fergusons in America are either of Scottish origin or are Scots Irish.

Virginia.  First sightings were in Virginia. Three family lines there have been well-documented:

  • one line began in Essex county, Virginia around 1680 with John Ferguson and Ann Stubbleson. James Edward Ferguson’s 1997 book My Ferguson Ancestors in America: 1680-1993 traced this family line.
  • another line was first sighted in Loudon county, Virginia and later congregated in Wilkes county, North Carolina where the Fergusons became quite numerous. John Foster Ferguson was called Brick House Jack because he built the first brick house in the area.  There is a township of Ferguson in the county named after a former resident Captain Lindsay Ferguson. Hortense Abbott’s 1980 book Descendants of the Ferguson Families covered these Fergusons.
  • and Samuel Ferguson was an early settler in Tazewell county, Virginia. He moved with his family to new lands in Wayne county, West Virginia in 1804. Evelyn Booth Massie’s 1985 book Ferguson Family Genealogical History of Wayne County recorded the family.

There was also a notable mixed-race Ferguson in Virginia.  John E. Ferguson, born free in 1810, ran a successful barber shop in Richmond which placed him among the elite of free blacks in the town.  In fact he argued that he was only one quarter black and his three sons did pass as white.

Fergusons in the South.  A line in South Carolina started with a Thomas Ferguson who lived through the Revolutionary War and was recorded as having five wives. The Confederate general Samuel Wragg Ferguson was descended from the first of these wives. After the Civil War he lived in some style in Greenville, Mississippi. However, he was caught embezzling from the Delta Levee Board in 1894 and – rather than stand and face his accusers – he fled the country, eventually surfacing in Ecuador.

Fergusons from Virginia and the Carolinas spread across the South. Daniel Ferguson left South Carolina with his family in 1808 for Bayou Chicot in Louisiana where he operated a large cotton plantation. One branch of this family moved to Texas in the 1850’s. Another Ferguson history records a family from Virginia migrating in the 19th century to Missouri, Texas, and then to Louisiana.

A Ferguson family arrived in Dallas, Texas from Missouri in 1860; while Alabama native James Ferguson became a Methodist preacher in Arkansas before moving to Bell county, Texas in 1847. His son Jim Ferguson was elected Governor of Texas in 1914 and again in 1916.

“Jim was a powerful and charismatic speaker who appealed to the rural masses and to ‘the little man.’ However, his administrations were marked by charges of irregularities so severe that the Court of Impeachment removed him from office.

Unable to hold any office but still extremely popular, Jim nominated his wife for Governor in 1924 with claims that Texas would get ‘two Governors for the price of one.’ She won that election and was re-elected in 1932.”

Ma and Pa Ferguson were two of the most colorful and controversial figures in the history of Texas politics.

Caribbean. Ferguson is a common name in the Bahamas. It appears to have been brought there by Henderson Ferguson from South Carolina in the late 18th century, a Loyalist who had struck out for a new life there as a cotton planter.

Canada. Canada was the destination for many of the Highland Fergusons displaced by the clearances of the early 19th century. They were to be found, often after harrowing journeys, in Highland outposts such as Antigonish and Cape Breton in Nova Scotia and Glengarry in Ontario.

An earlier settler in the Glengarry region was the American loyalist Peter Ferguson who built a log cabin in Charlotteburgh township (which still stands) in 1784.

Fergusons were also to be found in Ontario counties such as Perth and Lanark whose names reflected their Scottish heritage:

  • John Ferguson, known as Craigdarroch, was an early settler in Perth (Fergusons Falls was named after him). He prospered as a merchant and lumberman.
  • another John Ferguson, who for a time ran the Waterloo hotel in Perth, married Craigdarroch’s daughter Margaret.
  • while a number of Ferguson families from Balquidder parish in Perthshire settled in Drummond township, Lanark in the early 1820’s.

Australia.  Daniel Ferguson was one of the early settlers of South Australia, arriving there with his family on the Catherine Jamieson from Ayrshire in 1838. He farmed, first at Little Para on the Gawler Plains before moving to Glenunga closer to Adelaide. James Ferguson came out from Glasgow in the 1850’s and was a storekeeper in Gawler town. He later started a dairy farm at Craigieburn near Melbourne.

Another early settler was John Ferguson who set out with his family from Scotland on the Trusty in 1842 for Western Australia. He did not make a success at farming. But he applied for and obtained the post of Colonial Surgeon in Perth which he held for twenty five years.

New Zealand.  Fergusons were among the Highland families in Nova Scotia who banded together in 1850 to find a new home on the other side of the world – in Waipu, New Zealand. The writer Dugald Ferguson later lived there. A number of Ferguson families from Ayrshire emigrated to New Zealand in the 1870’s and settled in Dunedin.

Alex Ferguson’s Family Ancestry

The football manager Alex Ferguson has his roots in the shipbuilding industry along the Clyde, first in the Govan district of Glasgow when he grew up and before there in Renton, Dunbartonshire.  Just click below if you want to read more about this history:

Ferguson Surname Miscellany

Ferguson Origins.  Some Fergusons say they are descended from an early king of the Scots, Fergus mor MacErc.  The “Scotti,” who had come from Ireland in the third century, were generally well established in their land of Dalriada (Argyllshire and the islands of Jura, Islay and Iona) by 500 A.D.

According to medieval historians this Fergus was the founder of the Scottish monarchy.  More directly, the Argyll and Dumfries Fergussons claim descent from Fergus, Prince of Galloway, who died as a monk in Holyrood in 1161.

However, it is unlikely that all Fergusons have one single origin.  As Sir James Fergusson wrote in his 1956 book The Fergussons:

“As far back as we can find enough evidence on which to base theories, we notice at least five main groups of Fergussons existing independently – two in the southwest, one in Argyll, one in northeastern Perthshire and Angus, one in Aberdeenshire – not to mention others in Balquhidder and Strathyre, in Fife, and in Rossshire.

These groups were so widely separated that they never could and, in fact, never did regard themselves as one clan in the same sense as, for example, the Campbells, Macdonalds, Grants or Munros.”

The Fergussons of Craigdarroch.  The Fergussons of Craigdarroch in Glencairn parish in Dumfriesshire can claim to be the oldest of the Ferguson clans.  The first laird of Craig darroch flourished in the 14th century.

“John Crawford of Balmakane grants a charter of confirmation to Jonyke Fergusson, Lord of Craigdarroch for the four merk worth of land of Jargburch and mill of Balmakane, dated July 6th 1398, which is the oldest bearing date I find.”

However, these Fergussons are probably best remembered by their associations with the song Annie Laurie and the poem The Whistle.

Annie Laurie is an old Scottish song based on a poem by William Douglas who had fallen in love with the lass.  Her family declined the match and Annie Laurie later married Alexander Fergusson in 1710.  She lived at Craigdarroch for over fifty years.

Alexander Fergusson, a descendant, was noted for his convivial habits and he took part in a tremendous drinking bout that was celebrated in Robert Burns’ racy poem The Whistle.

  • “Next uprose our Bard, like a prophet in drink –
  • Craigdarroch, thou’lt soar when creation shall sink!
  • But if thou would flourish immortal in rhyme,
  • Come – one bottle more – and have at the sublime!”

Craigdarroch drank “upwards of five bottles of claret.”  He was the victor of “the whistle” – which survives today as an heirloom in Caprington castle.

Fergusons and Fergussons.  Early spellings were Fergussoun and Fergussone.  Then came Fergusson and Ferguson.  Fergusson survives today.  But Ferguson increasingly predominates.

Ferguson Fergusson
1841 Census   11,082  (88%)    1,442  (12%)
1901 Census  18,082  (96%)       841 ( 4%)
Birth Registrations (1538-1854)   19,939  (78%)    5,558  (22%)
Birth Registrations (1854-2009)   61,841  (95%)    3,380  ( 5%)

Captain John Ferguson and Bonnie Prince Charlie.  The Lowland Fergusons were generally not sympathetic to the Jacobite cause in the rising of 1745 and they fought on the side of the Government against the Pretender, Prince Charles.

It was Captain John Ferguson of HMS Furnace who pursued the Prince throughout the Western Isles after his defeat at Culloden.  When asked by a kin’s woman whether he would accept the 30,000 pounds reward, Ferguson was said to have replied:

“No, by God, I would have preserved him as the apple in mine eye, for I wouldn’t take any man’s word, no, not even the Duke of Cumberland’s, for 30,000 pounds sterling, though I knew many to be such a fool as to do it.”

Fergusons in Ulster.  There were 828 Fergusons recorded in Ulster by Griffith’s Valuations of the mid 19th century.  The largest numbers were in counties Down, Tyrone and Antrim.

County Numbers Percent
Antrim   139   17
Armagh    59    7
Belfast    65    8
Cavan    20    2
Derry   118   14
Donegal    25    3
Down   200   25
Fermanagh    44    5
Monaghan     9    1
Tyrone   149   18
Total   828  100

James Ferguson – from Antrim to the Carolinas.  Family tradition has it that the James Ferguson who came to America from county Antrim sprang from a Major Ferguson who was the sole member of his family who survived the siege of Derry in 1689.

The major married and had three sons.  The oldest was in the army as a surgeon and was expected to take the family estates.  His two younger brothers emigrated to America, one settling in Pennsylvania and the other after a time going to one of the Carolinas. His son or grandson was a member of Congress from that state (there was in fact such a Ferguson in the Carolinas).

The Fergusons of Wilkes County, North Carolina.  It was said that three Ferguson brothers came to America from Scotland in the 1700’s.  By the 1780’s these Fergusons were to be found in Wilkes county, North Carolina, marrying with the Tripletts.  Richard Ferguson married Verlinda Triplett there sometime around 1789. Richard was still in Wilkes county in 1850 where he was recorded in the census at the age of 84.

Curiously, some of Richard’s descendants took a DNA test and discovered that they were not Fergusons at all but Allisons.  There was an Allison family that lived very near the Ferguson farms in Wilkes county.

A correspondent has written:

“My wife is a descendant of Tom Ferguson and a great grand-daughter of Lindsay Carson Ferguson who was a captain in the Home Guard during the Civil War in Wilkes county and then served as its postmaster (which was how the town got its name of Ferguson).  We recently attended the funeral of Edith Ferguson Carter at the cemetery in Ferguson.  She was the local historian, as was her father Thomas Wiley Ferguson, and operated a history center there called Whipporwhill Village.”

Reader Feedback – William Haigler Ferguson.  William Haigler Ferguson, born in 1885, was a descendant of Brick House Jack, Captain Lindsay Ferguson, and the brother of Tom Ferguson of Ferguson in Wilkes county, North Carolina.

He moved to outside of Richmond, Virginia and first managed the large Curles Neck dairy farm.  He was a county supervisor, cowboyed at Chincoteague Island horse round-up. and founded with his sons the James River Lumber Company.  He then bought Malvern Hill Farm on the Civil War battlefield.  He and Myrtle Dean Ferguson had seven children and many grand and great grandchildren.

When he died his descendants, no longer farmers, donated part and sold part of the large farm for a national park and county park. His brother Clyde Ferguson had left home as a very young man and went to Texas where he earned a fortune by inventing a steam-roller used in World War Two to make airfields.

His daughter Dorothy was a WASP in World War Two and his son David was a Master of the Hunt and a polo player in Warrington, Virginia with a large farm called Beaumount. David’s oldest son William went on to have a hotel chain Scotch Inn and Strawberry Banks, a luxury hotel.

Carol Zepfel (czepfel@gmail.com).

Reader Feedback – Mixed Race Ferguson in Virginia.  I am mixed race – Afro, Scots, and Irish.  My great grandfather was named Fergus Ferguson and he lived in Virginia.  My great grandmother was Amy Ferguson, part white and part afro.  While my mother never mentioned it as a significant matter, she must have been Ferguson’s house-keeper when they had their daughter Amelia, my grandmother.

Fergus was a clerk by profession. He owned his place, though not a plantation. When he passed away, Amy travelled with her baby and the household from Virginia to Arkansas.

Patricia Belcher (high_drassage_tyde@yahoo.com).

Fergusons to Louisiana.  Daniel Ferguson and his wife Esther had heard wonderful tales of Bayou Chicot which some said was being settled by Irish holders of Spanish land grants as early as 1760.  They had started out from South Carolina in 1808 in a wagon train with a few other families and settled in this land of sweet gum, magnolia, dogwood, and pine trees.

The Ferguson house, as it is still called, had fine old moss-draped to shelter it and, though it was made of split logs and chinked with moss and mud, it was comfortable and roomy with a large living room heated by an ample fireplace.  It had plastered walls with a lovely chair rail, with bedrooms and a nursery up the narrow stairway.  The nursery was jokingly called the corral.  For here the children all received their lessons from the tutor who lived on the plantation.

These people were not coonskin cap settlers.  Many had parents who had been educated in the great universities of Europe and they brought their cultural life with them.  Here in this little Bayou Chicot there stood a grand Opera House.  Boats came up the bayou from New Orleans bringing world-famous singers.

Fergusons to Texas.  James Parson and Susan Morrow Ferguson had left their home near Chamois in NE Missouri for Dallas, Texas in 1860.  The trip by covered wagon took them through Arkansas and Indian territory.

Young Bill, who had made the trip with his parents, recalled the family was in Arkansas on Election Day and the men were drinking and wild with excitement and the general opinion was that if Abe Lincoln was elected there would be a war and his father would have to go.  The wagon road through Indian territory took them to Boggy Depot where Billy’s younger brother fell ill and died.  The loss of his brother and the sight of the strange people called Indians made an indelible impression on the young boy.

The family, which had left Missouri to escape the harsh winters, now found itself in Dallas county in late November in the midst of a snowstorm.  They settled first on the George West farm in the Cochran Chapel community.  James found work at Terry’s grist mill and later hauled bricks as the town of Dallas was being rebuilt after a devastating fire.

John Ferguson of Perth County, Ontario.  John Ferguson had built the first stone house in Perth (on Gore Street).  He had left Scotland in 1816 and had been one of the earliest settlers in the area.  He was known far and wide as “Craig Darroch,” the Scottish parish from which he had emigrated.  In time he became a wealthy merchant and lumberman.  He died in Perth in 1857 at the good old age of seventy seven.

The Perth Courier of January 8, 1858 reported as follows:

‘To show the estimation in which he was held, the writer would relate the following remarks made over Craig Darroch’s grave.

An old Highlander spoke to this effect: “Craig, Craig, you are lying there decent man, as you were.  My heart is grieving at parting with you.  I have known you for fifty years.  We will long remember you.”

Another Highlander remarked: “Craig, your friends are standing on the brink of your grave.  We are sorry to part with you.  This is the Sabbath day which we have been taught to revere and respect. But after all Peter McGregor might just as well bring his pipes and play Ferguson’s Lament.  I think myself it would be very suitable and proper that when in parting with our friend, his spirit in going aloft should be accompanied by the stirring strains of our national music that so often has cheered many a gallant soul to death or victory.  Oich, oich, there are but few true Highlanders left.”‘

Daniel Ferguson to South Australia.  The Fergusons left Scotland from Leith, on June 28, 1838 on the Catherine Jamieson.  They reached South Australia on December 1, 1838, after a journey of five months.  A barque of 317 tons, the Catherine Jamieson was captained by W Hutchinson and carried 30 passengers.

In the cargo were the possessions that Daniel Ferguson had brought with him from Scotland to start his new life, some of which still survive.  Folding chairs taken out on the vessel and owned by later generations of the family are still in good condition. Christening gowns and baby clothes of fine muslin have also become treasured family heirlooms, as has Daniel Ferguson’s personal seal.

David Ferguson settled at Bank Flat on the Gawler Plains, one of the first settlers in the area.  He established his first farm in the area known as Little Para, about 12 miles from the town of Gawler which was just beginning to be built when Daniel Ferguson arrived in the area.  In 1840, Gawler was described as containing “one very good inn, one public house, police barracks, two smith’s shops, six dwelling houses and 34 inhabitants.”

The 1844 directory listed Daniel Ferguson as a cultivator on section 47 of Bank Flat.  He had under cultivation 49 acres of wheat, five of barley, and a quarter of an acre of garden.  He also had 480 sheep, sixteen cattle and two pigs.

Ferguson Names

  • Adam Ferguson was a noted philosopher of the 18th century Scottish Enlightenment.
  • Sir William Fergusson was the foremost surgeon of mid 19th century England.
  • Sir Samuel Ferguson was a 19th century Scots-Irish poet, barrister and antiquarian.
  • Harry Ferguson was an Irish engineer and inventor noted for his role in the development of the modern agricultural tractor.  His name lives on in the Massey Ferguson company.
  • Jim and Miriam Ferguson were controversial Governors of Texas in the early 1900’s.
  • Sarah Ferguson, popularly known as “Fergie,” is the former wife of the Queen’s son, Prince Andrew.
  • Sir Alex Ferguson was the long-serving and very successful manager of Manchester United football club.
  • Niall Ferguson from Glasgow, now based in America, is a prominent contemporary historian.

Ferguson Numbers Today

  • 42,000 in the UK (most numerous in Glasgow)
  • 55,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 53,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Ferguson and Like Surnames 

These are surnames from the Scottish Lowlands.  Some are clan names; some – like Gordon, Graham and Hamilton – have Anglo-Norman antecedents that crossed the border into Scotland; and some – like Douglas and Stewart – were very powerful in early Scottish history.  Stewart in fact became the royal Stuart line.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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