Ferguson Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Ferguson Meaning
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
Ferguson and
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.

Resources on

Ferguson Ancestry

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

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

  • 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, comes from Glasgow.

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. This name seems
to have transposed to Ferris.

Among the 17th century 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 Growell in county Down. From this family
    came Henry Ferguson, pioneer in the development of the modern
    agricultural tractor.
  • and the Fergusons of Ardtrea parish in county Tyrone, where
    Alexander Ferguson was recorded as a tenant farmer in the 17th century.

It can be seen from Griffith’s Valuations of the mid 19th century that
Ferguson became very much an Ulster surname.

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.

Fergusons in America are either of Scottish
origin or are Scots Irish. 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
    numerous. There is in fact 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.
  • 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.

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

A Ferguson family arrived in Dallas, Texas from Missouri
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. A
number of Ferguson families from Balquidder parish in Perthshire
settled in Drummond township, Lanark in the early 1820’s.

Australia and New Zealand.
was one of the early settlers of South Australia,
arriving there with his family on the Catherine
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.

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.


Ferguson 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

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
and the poem The

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

“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:

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

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

“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.”

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

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.


Select 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.
  • 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
  • Sir Alex Ferguson was the
    long-serving and very successful manager of Manchester United football club.

Select Ferguson Numbers

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


Select 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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