Gibson Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Gibson Surname Meaning

Gilbert – from the Norman Gislebert or Gillebert (meaning “bright noble youth”) – came to England with William the Conqueror. It was recorded in the 1086 Domesday Book in its early form, Gislebertus. The name became popular during the Middle Ages. The pet name was Gib.

The principal surnames from Gib were Gibbs and Gibson (both meaning son of Gib). The Gibson surname was more common in northern England and in Scotland.

Gibson Surname Resources on The Internet

Gibson Surname Ancestry

  • from Scotland and Northern England
  • to America, Canada, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand

Scotland. The Gilbert name first surfaced in Scotland in the 12th century as Gille Brigte (Gilbert in French), the son of Fergus who had created the independent kingdom of Galloway. Gilbert murdered his brother and feuded with the then King of Scotland. The Gib and Gibson name later moved onto Dumfries and eastward to Midlothian and Fife.

The Gibsons of Durie in Fife date from the 14th century. Lord Thomas Gibson of Goldingstones was the forebear of this family in the 15th century, followed by seven Lord George Gibsons.

This Gibson family was on both sides of the religious divide at the time. Bishop William Gibson had been one of the leading Catholic clergymen in Scotland prior to the Reformation. A later William Gibson, son of one of the Georges, took up the cause in England, but was martyred for his faith at York in 1596. Other early Gibsons were followers of John Knox and played their part in the formation of the Presbyterian church in Scotland.

Although this family was based in Fife, most Gibsons in Scotland were to be found further west, in Lanarkshire (around Glasgow) and Ayrshire.

England. Gibsons in the 19th century in England outnumbered those in Scotland by a factor of more than two to one. The name was primarily although not solely a name of the north of England.

Some Gibsons in northern England represented spillovers from Scotland, such as the Gibsons who came to Yelland in Lancashire in the early 1600’s. These Gibsons were later to be found at Myerscough House in Lancashire and Barfield in Cumberland.

Other Gibsons had been landowners on the Cumbrian/Yorkshire border since 1454. This family established themselves at Whelprigg near Kirkby Lonsdale in 1687 and built the present house there in 1834.

Robert Gibson, yeoman, was recorded as living at Bampton Grange near Penrith in Westmoreland in 1469. Local history tells of a feud with the Baxter family of Bampton Hall which lasted over a hundred years. Thomas Gibson, born in this parish, was physician-general to the English army and author of The System of Anatomy, published in 1682. His nephew Edmund was made Bishop of London in 1723.

William Gibson was an early Quaker convert from Caton in Lancashire:

“William Gibson, who at the time of the Civil War being a soldier at Carlisle, he and three others having heard that a Quaker meeting was appointed in that city, they agreed to go thither and abuse the preacher. But Gibson, who came to scoff, remained to pray and became a zealous minister. He resided in Lancashire till about 1670 when he removed to London.”

He became a well-known Quaker in London who incurred both imprisonment and fines. He was one of the first purchasers of land in Pennsylvania, but apparently never went there.  

East Anglia.  There were Gibsons from East Anglia. These included the Quaker Gibsons who were to leave their mark on the town of Saffron Walden in Essex in the 19th century. Francis Gibson, born there in 1763, started the family brewing business.

A later Gibson, George Stacey Gibson, was a generous benefactor to many local institutions and private charities. He was the proprietor of the Saffron Walden and North Essex Bank that in 1896, after his death, joined with others to form Barclays Bank.

America. A large number of Gibsons in America, it would appear, originate from one manJohn Gibson, a staunchly Presbyterian descendant of the Scots Goldingstones Gibsons.

John had left his family home in Scotland in 1632 for a new life in America.  He and his family settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts. However, their early days were stressful as John’s daughter Rebecca was accused of witchcraft and banished from the Puritan community. The unpleasantness persisted and John, the elder Gibson son, eventually relocated to William Penn’s more tolerant Pennsylvania in 1695.

A line from Timothy Gibson, a younger son, did remain in Massachusetts. This line included the shipping merchant Captain Gibson and the Boston merchant Charles Gibson and, in more recent times, the Gibson Girl artist Charles Dana Gibson.

Another line led eventually to John Hutton Gibson, a wealthy tobacco businessman who married the Australian opera singer Eva Mylott in 1917.  Their son was the writer and Jeopardy player Hutton Gibson who migrated to Australia in 1968, taking with him his future movie star son Mel Gibson.

The Gibsons in Pennsylvania ran as follows:

  • William Gibson was an early settler in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania. Later Gibsons of this line may have included Captain George Gibson of Gibson’s Lambs (although some say he was of Scots Irish origin) and Gideon Gibson (although some say he was of mixed race origin), whose descendants made Lexington, Kentucky their home and oversaw from there large cotton and sugar plantations in the Mississippi valley.  
  • other descendants went on to become founding members of York, Pennsylvania, west of Lancaster, with two serving terms as the Mayor of York.  
  • while William and Sally Gibson moved to Baltimore and then inherited the family tobacco plantation at Valley View in Loudoun county, Virginia on the death of his father Moses in 1798. From this branch of the family descended many of the Gibsons in Virginia and the Carolinas. The plantation itself was burnt to the ground by Union troops in 1863.

Scots Irish.  Gibsons in America could also be Scots Irish.

George Gibson, who arrived in Pennsylvania in 1730 from Antrim, was a trader and tavern-owner in Lancaster. His son John, also a trader, was a veteran of all the wars – from the French and Indian War in the 1760’s to the War of 1812 against the British.  He earned a reputation as a frontier leader and, at the age of sixty, was appointed the Secretary of the Indiana territory.  His grandson William was a General during the Civil War and later a Republican politician in Ohio.

John Gibson was a mid-19th century Scots Irish arrival, starting a whiskey distillery in 1856 on the Monongahela river in western Pennsylvania. Son Henry grew wealthy on the whiskey sales and built a European-style castle, Maybrook, for his family outside Philadelphia. Neither Henry nor his wife was to live long there. But their daughter May, after whom the castle was named, was its mistress from 1897 until 1959 when she died.

A third origin for Gibsons from South Carolina in Mississippi in the early 1800’s was mooted at one time, that they were descendants of Huguenot refugees into the colony. Others today see a mixed race origin.

Canada. The Gibsons in Canada have been mainly of Scottish or Irish origin.

There is a large white granite monument on Canada Street in Fredericton, New Brunswick commemorating Alexander “Boss” Gibson, the son of Irish immigrants who had arrived in the province in 1818. The “Boss” grew into an exceptionally tall and powerful man, a red-bearded giant of “very striking” appearance and “fine bearing,” an obituarist noted. He started out poor in the lumber trade but through his industry was largely responsible for turning nearby Marysville (named after his wife) into a prosperous mill town.

Another sort of monument is Gibson House, built in 1851, the home of Scottish immigrant David Gibson and his family. David, who had arrived from Scotland in 1825, was the land surveyor who helped map early Toronto. Wanted by the government for participating in the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837, he was forced to flee to the United States where he and his family remained for eleven years.  He did eventually receive a pardon and, on his return to York county, built Gibson House which is now a public museum.

John Arthur Gibson was a native Canadian, the son of an Onondaga father and a Seneca mother. In his youth he had been a mighty lacrosse player. But in 1881, at the age of thirty one while playing the game, he lost his eyesight in an accident. He later became a spokesman and a preacher for the Iroquois way of life. Son Simeon continued his legacy, but drowned in 1943 while crossing the Grand river in a leaky rowboat. Chief John’s memoir The Iroquois Tradition finally appeared in English in 1992.

Argentina.  The Gibson family were Glasgow merchants whose interests began to turn to Argentina in the 1820’s:

  • Thomas Gibson of this family arrived there in 1838 and was a pioneer farmer on the Pampas.  What he has left behind has been his watercolors.
  • his son Herbert, who took Argentine citizenship in 1888, became a prominent figure in the British community in Argentina.  He was knighted by the British Government after World War One for his services in the purchase of grain supplies during the war.
  • while Herbert’s son Clement, a promising cricketer in England in his youth, returned to Argentina in the 1930’s.  In his later years his position in the country was under attack from Peron’s anti-English policies.

Australia.  David Gibson came to Tasmania in 1804 as a convict, but prospered.  He was granted grazing land and was appointed  the colony’s first Inspector of Stock.  His seven sons all went into farming.  In the 1880’s William was said to have been the first in the Southern Hemisphere to light his house with electricity (which he made using water in the old mill-race).

Arthur and Frances Gibson from Berwick in Northumberland came out to Australia in 1854 and settled in Heathcote, Victoria.  Adam died in 1897, his son John in 1906 from a horse kick.

New Zealand.  John Gibson from Perthshire arrived with his wife Elizabeth in 1841 and was a pioneer settler in Nelson.  The Gibson Cottage, built in 1843, is still standing today.  Tragedy came in 1848 when their eight year old daughter Amelia was lifting a kettle of water onto the fire and her clothes ignited.  She was burnt dreadfully and died the following day.

Gibson Surname Miscellany

Gibbs and Gibson.  The Gibbs name is more to be found in the south of England, the Gibson name more in the north and in Scotland.   The following was the divide in the 1891 census.

1891 Census (000’s) Gibbs Gibson
Scotland     0.1    11.4
Northern England     1.0    14.8
Rest of England    14.5    12.4
Total    15.6    38.6

Gibsons had moved south.  But Gibbs was rarely to be found in the north.

Gille Brigte of Galloway.  Fergus, the builder of an independent Galloway in the 12th century, left two sons to inherit his kingdom, Uchtred and Gille Brigte.

For a time Uchtred and Gille Brigte shared the kingship, with Uchtred ruling in the east and Gille Brigte in the west.  Gille Brigte, however, ensured that Uchtred would not remain a rival to him.  He tore his eyes out and brutally mutilated him (blinding and castration being used in Celtic times to make a man ineligible for kingship), and then had him put to death.

Gille Brigte ruled alone for nine years until his death in 1185.  He tried during that time to keep both the Scottish and English kings at bay. William, the king of Scotland, succeeded in cultivating the friendship of Lochlann, Uchtred’s son.  So when Gille Brigte died Lochlann became king under Scottish suzerainty.

Gille Brigte’s name in French accounts was Gilbert and it is thought that from him the early Gibsons in Scotland originated.

Lord Thomas Gibson the Patriarch.  The patriarch of the Gibsons in Scotland is generally considered to be Lord Thomas Gibson, the second son of Andrew Gibson of Dumfries.  Andrew had married the daughter of Lord George Stirling of Goldingstones in Fife and moved there.

Thomas himself was born in Goldingstones in 1469 and made the Free Baron of Goldingstones by King James IV.  He married Lady Elizabeth Erskine around 1490 and they raised four sons and two daughters. The eldest son George succeeded as Second Baron after Thomas’s death in 1515.  The second son Lord William was Dean of Restalrig and became the Scottish Ambassador to the Pope in Rome.

Richard Gibson the 17th Century Dwarf.  Richard Gibson was one of a small coterie of dwarves collected by Queen Henrietta Maria in the years prior to the Civil War in England. He started as a page to the king and queen, but was also a talented painter.  His small stature made him perfectly suited to a fashion of the time, portrait miniatures.

His skill enabled him to survive the fall of the monarchy, setting up his own studio in London and painting the likes of Cromwell himself.  He married another of the Queen’s dwarfs, Anne Shepherd.  The event was made into a court spectacle.  The Gibsons then surprised everyone by producing a family of perfectly normal-sized children.

Reader Feedback – William Gibson the Quaker Convert.  The following ancestor – the fourth generation from Thomas Gibson of Lancashire – from my family tree might very well be the William Gibson who was that Quaker convert:

“William Gibson Sr. born in 1629 in Caton, Lancashire and died in 1681 in London. Married to Elizabeth Thompson who was born in 1630.”

William Gibson II, William Sr’s son, was born in London, but his son John was born in Virginia.  Since Frederick county, Virginia is one state where Quakers resided and John Gibson (generation six) was born there in 1725. There might also be a connection here too.

The entry I found on another Gibson family tree shows William as dying in Lancashire, not London.  This date and data corresponds to a Wiki dictionary entry for this famous Quaker.

Gerald Gibson (

Gibsons in America.  Thomas Knowlton Gibson, a Gibson genealogist in America, has claimed, in a rather exaggerated way, the importance of the Gibsons of Goldingstones to the Gibsons in America and around the world:

“Almost every living Gibson in the world is descended from Lord Thomas Gibson of Goldingstones, obviously excepting those who were adopted or changed their surname.   Many Gibsons in the United States, especially the New England area, are descended from immigrant John Gibson of Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Others descend from one of the seven George Gibsons, with many immigrating to the south and then westward, especially to Kentucky, Indiana and Texas.” 

Captain George Gibson and His Gibson’s Lambs.  In colonial America, few people were bilingual, much less trilingual.  Captain George Gibson, a Pennsylvanian who spoke English, French, and Spanish, fit the bill.  His grandmother, a French countess who had married a Pennsylvania miller, insisted that her children and grandchildren learn French and Spanish.  This made George Gibson the ideal man to tap for the supply mission to New Orleans.

Gibson was a huge man by 18th century standards, well over 6’5″ tall.  His grandson remarked in his biography that Gibson never met a vice he didn’t like.  Everyone liked George.  With his brother, John, he ran a frontier trading post.

At the start of the war, George Gibson formed his own militia company.  His men were wild frontiersmen who proved difficult to control.  Their idea of fun was to go to the local tavern, get drunk, and cause trouble.  Once, after Gibson’s men had been particularly rowdy, his commander yelled in complete frustration: “Gibson!  Can’t you control your little lambs?”  From then on, Gibson’s  company was known as “Gibson’s Lambs.”

In 1776 General George Washington sent Gibson on a secret mission to New Orleans to get supplies from the Spanish.  He set off from Fort Pitt (now Pittsburgh) with his men down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and arrived in New Orleans a few weeks later.

Gibson got the supplies.  But there were a few alarms along the way.  Gibson was put in a Spanish jail while his men were allowed to return by the overland route.  Gibson was eventually released.  He took the more dangerous sea route through the Gulf of Mexico and around East Florida and arrived in Philadelphia before his men had made back it to Fort Pitt.

George Gibson was Colonel of the Ninth Virginia Regiment during the Revolutionary War, but died fighting Indians at the Battle of the Wabash in 1791. One of his sons was Major General George Gibson, Commissary General of the US Army for thirty years, another John Bannister Gibson, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

Gibsons from South Carolina to Mississippi.  The following is an extract from a letter written in 1878 by the Rev. J. G. Jones from Port Gibson, Mississippi to McKinley Gibson:

“There were three branches of the Gibson connection which settled in Mississippi at an early day  the parents of Rev. Randall Gibson near Natchez; the family of Samuel Gibson, the founder of the town of Port Gibson; and that of Rev. Tobias Gibson in what is now Warren county.  I will now write, from memory and a few scraps of memoranda, what little I know of these three leading Gibson families.

So far as I know these families all came from the valley of the Great Pee Dee river in South Carolina. Sometime in the 16th century three shiploads of Portuguese Huguenots voluntarily exiled themselves from Portugal rather than renounce their Protestant faith, and settled in South Carolina in the very region of county where our Gibsons were first found, and, from their elevated intellectuality, morality, religion and enterprise, I have long believed that they were the descendants of those refugee Huguenots, though I do not remember ever to have heard but one of the connection refer to this as a tradition of the family.

First, the parents of Rev. Randall Gibson came to the Natchez county (as it was then called), about 1781.  In order to avoid the hostile Indians, immigrants from the Carolinas would travel over land to the Holston river in East Tennessee.  There they built family boats and descended the Holston and Tennessee rivers.   Randall Gibson was then about fifteen years old and I have heard him relate this fact in connection with an attack made on their boat by hostile Cherokee Indians.

From the family Bible of Randall Gibson, he was born in September 1766, married Harriet McKinley in 1792 and died on April 3, 1836.  Randall may have had (and I think had) other brothers, but I only knew one, the venerable David Gibson late of Jefferson county who was near one hundred years old at the time of his death.  Unless they have died lately, he has two sons still living – Randall Gibson, Jr. somewhere in Texas and Fielding Gibson somewhere in California.

Second, Samuel Gibson and his branch of the connection were here in the beginning (if not before) of the present century.  In 1803 he sold the land on which the courthouse and jail of Port Gibson stands today.  He was a resident of the town for forty five years and he and his wife Rebecca were buried in the cemetery with plain headstones at their graves.

Third, the first we know of the Rev. Tobias Gibson’s family they were on Great Pee Dee river in South Carolina.  The family consisted of John, Tobias, Nathaniel, Malachiah, Stephen and Rhoda.  John remained in South Carolina and lived there to be upwards of ninety years old. Malachiah and Nathaniel married in South Carolina and died there in middle life, but their widows and children came to this county with Stephen and Rhoda in 1802 and the following year settled in what is now Warren county.

The memoir of Rev. Tobias Gibson in the General Minutes of the Methodist Episcopal Church states that he was born on November 10, 1771.  He entered the ministry in 1792 at the age of twenty-one and died a little south of Vicksburg in the family of Nathaniel Gibson on April 5, 1804.”

Gibson – Black or White?  Gideon Gibson, who lived from 1720 to 1792, ruled land and men in what was then the wild frontier of South Carolina. His family first appeared in records when they applied for land in the Santee river area in South Carolina around 1730.

Although some objected to their being “free colored men with their white wives,” in the end they were given permission by Governor Robert Johnson.  Gibson was said to have been a man of color who had married a white woman at a time when survival was far more important than color.

His progeny drifted south and west to Mississippi and Louisiana where in the 1820’s and 1830’s Tobias Gibson passed fully as white and became a successful sugar planter, owning several plantations and hundreds of slaves.  South Carolina, as well as most other Southern states, usually ruled in questions of racial identity that if an individual looked white and acted white then he or she was legally white.

Tobias Gibson bought a house in the middle of Lexington, Kentucky and soon made it a second home for his eight children, living a life of white antebellum privilege.  Two of his sons, Randall Lee and Hart, attended Yale, often debating against abolitionists in the run-up to the Civil War. In the war, Randall Lee became a Confederate hero and in the aftermath began his political career which culminated in a stint as a U.S. Senator from Louisiana.  Hart tried to salvage the family plantations in Kentucky.

During one point in Randall Lee’s congressional career, a political opponent accused him of being partly black, getting publicity in such places as The Washington Post and the Times-Picayune of New Orleans.  In the 1890’s Hart Gibson was living in a mansion off South Broadway writing a treatise called The Race Problem. Typical of his time, he argued that while slavery was evil, blacks were inherently inferior to whites.

Thomas Gibson and His Watercolors.  Thomas Gibson arrived in Argentina from Scotland in 1838 and was a pioneer farmer at the family’s Los Yngleses ranch on the Argentine Pampas.

There he lived, worked and painted in a room that still exists.  He left a series of oil paintings and watercolors that documented the Argentine countryside, especially the Tuyú region where his ranch was located. He captured in several watercolors the special interest that these places evoked in foreigners and left a valuable visual testimony of daily life in the fields of General Levalle.

Gibson Names

  • Lord Thomas Gibson was the 15th century forebear of the Gibsons of Goldingstones in Fife.
  • Charles Dana Gibson was an American graphic artist, creator of the Gibson Girl.
  • Guy Gibson was leader of the legendary RAF Dam Buster raid during World War Two.
  • Althea Gibson was an accomplished African American tennis player of the 1950’s.
  • Bob Gibson was a great African American baseball pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
  • Mel Gibson is a Hollywood actor, best known perhaps for his portrayal of William Wallace in Braveheart.

Gibson Numbers Today

  • 66,000 in the UK (most numerous in Glasgow)
  • 65,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 44,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Gibson 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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