Harrison Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Harrison Surname Meaning

Harrison is a patronymic surname, meaning “son of Harry.” Harry is a pet form of Henry introduced to England by the Normans. It would seem that “Herry” rather than “Harry” was the usual pronunciation until the 16th century.

Harrison Surname Resources on The Internet

Harrison Surname Ancestry

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

England. There is Harrison and Harris. Harrison used to be more prevalent in the north of England, Harris in the south.

Stephen Harrison lived in Kendal in the early 1400’s; while Thomas Heryson was born nearby in Greystoke, Cumberland around 1390.  His descendants left the region in the 1500’s (John Harrison came to London and his son George was briefly an MP there in the 1550’s).  Some think that the first Harrisons came from Cumberland, possibly as early as the 11th century.

Yorkshire. John Harryson was recorded in Sheffield in 1445 and John Harrison was a prominent wool merchant in Leeds in the late 1500’s. Thomas Harrison from Knaresborough was Mayor of York in 1572 and 1592, as were two of his sons in the early 1600’s. John Harrison, the inventor of the ship chronometer, was born in Feuby in 1693.

Some Yorkshire family histories began:

  • with the birth in 1551 of Thomas Harrison at Holme upon Spalding Moor (later the Harrisons of Wheldrake)
  • with the birth in 1612 of Leonardus Harrison at Robin Hood’s Bay 
  • and with the birth in 1656 of Henry Harrison at Green Houses in Glaisdale. Henry was born into a Catholic recusant family of yeoman farmers in north Yorkshire. Henry appeared on recusant rolls in 1691, 1708, and 1716.

Lancashire.  The Harrisons of Bankfield in Lancashire dated back to the early 1500’s. Later Lancastrian Harrisons were:

  • Joseph Harrison, the Victorian entrepreneur and owner of the Nova Scotia mill in Blackburn.
  • and the Beatle George Harrison.  His ancestry goes back to Robert Harrison, a joiner, born in Liverpool in 1815.

Elsewhere. The incidence of the Harrison name has extended southwards. Harrisons from Cumberland, for instance, had migrated southward to Berkshire as early as 1480, while there were Harrisons from Durham in London by the early 1600’s.

James Park Harrison, a Victorian church architect, was born in London in 1817.  He had some interesting descendants:

  • his son Mathew joined the Royal Navy and was on one of the first British expeditions to Easter Island.  His memorabilia from the voyage were later donated to the British Museum.
  • his great grandson Geoffrey was a diplomat who was appointed Ambassador to the Soviet Union in 1965. But three years later he got caught up in a KGB “honey trap” operation (he had had an affair with a Russian chambermaid at the British Embassy) and had to be sent home.

Scotland. The Harrison name was also found in the Lowlands of Scotland. One family history  began with the birth of John Harrison at Haddington near Edinburgh around 1760.

James Harrison, a journalist from Glasgow, emigrated to Australia in 1837.  He pioneered refrigeration techniques for the transportation of mutton and beef across oceans. Unfortunately his first cargo was ruined when the chemical tanks leaked during the voyage and he was made bankrupt. Others reaped the rewards of his invention.

Ireland. Henry Harrison who came to Ireland as Commissioner of Customs in 1710 claimed a Harrison line dating back to 1066 times. His family established themselves at Charleville in county Cork and made their home at Castle Harrison. This stayed with the family until 1956.

Harrison in Ireland could also be an anglicization of the Gaelic O’hEarchaidh and O’hEarchadha names.

America.  Harrisons seem to have preferred Virginia rather than New England as the point of entry.

Virginia.  The Harrisons were in fact among the first families of Virginia. Benjamin Harrison, the first of many to bear that name, arrived there in the early 1630’s. From where, no one quite knows.

Benjamin Harrison had come to Virginia before 1633 when he was signed as the Clerk of the Council. He was young, in his thirties, and a well-educated man. He was said to have had a brother. Some say the brother’s name was Peter, some say Richard. Some say the brother came to the colonies and some say he stayed in England.”  

His family produced:

  • Virginia Governor and Declaration Signer Benjamin Harrison (1726-1791)
  • US President William Henry Harrison (1773-1841)
  • and US President Benjamin Harrison (1833-1901).

One line of this family through Carter Henry Harrison went to Kentucky and later produced two Mayors of Chicago – Carter Harrison, father and son.

Burr Harrison came to Stafford county from London sometime in the 1650’s.  He took a prominent role as a local justice and in the fight against the Indians.  This may be a little surprising as he was by some accounts illiterate.  His son Daniel migrated to Craven county, North Carolina in the early 1700’s.  Later Harrisons there were plantation owners.

Other Harrison lines in Virginia during the 17th and early 18th centuries were:

  • the Harrisons of Skimino who came from Quaker roots. The first of this family was Richard Harrison from Colchester in Essex who had arrived at Skimino by 1634.
  • Richard Harrison, born probably in Virginia, who was the forebear of the Harrisons of Calvert county, Maryland.
  • while the descendants of Isaiah Harrison, who had come from Long Island to the Shenandoah valley in the early 1700’s, were known as “the Long Grey Trail” Harrisons.

Elsewhere.  Captain John Harrison from Maryland fought in the Revolutionary War and his son James moved to Missouri in 1819.  William Harrison, born around 1777, was first traced in Chatham county, Georgia in 1800.  He and his son George were plantation owners along the Savannah river.  George fought in the Civil War and was a prisoner of war for several months.   

There were early Harrisons in Texas, including two who died at the Alamo in 1836.  Jonas Harrison, after whom Harrison county in Texas was named, also died in that year. 

Arriving in Texas in that year, in both cases from Tennessee, were:

  • Daniel Harrison, thought to have been related to the Harrison Presidential family.  He was a blacksmith in the Corn Hill section of Williamson county.
  • and John Harrison who started a stagecoach business in Texas in the 1840’s.  His home in Selma is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places. 

Canada.  John Harrison of Rillington in Yorkshire was, according to family lore, related to John Harrison the great clockmaker. This John emigrated with his family to Nova Scotia in 1774. They made their home at Lower Maccan in Cumberland county. Harrison descendants still live in the old homestead there.

William Harrison, a widower with seven children from Staffordshire, was a pioneer settler in 1830 at the newly-formed Puslinch township near Guelph in SW Ontario.  He cleared and sowed four acres of land during his first summer there.   In 1848 two of his sons – William and Robert – moved to Sydenham on Owen Sound where they started a grist and woolen mill.

Australia. Another John Harrison, this one from a family of sea captains in Cumberland, arrived in Australia around the year 1830. He was at first a squatter and then a political agitator in Melbourne.  He ended his life quietly as a stationmaster with Victoria railways. His son Henry, together with a cousin, was a founder of Australian Rules football.

New Zealand. Henry Shafto Harrison, from an old Wakefield family in Yorkshire, was one of the first settlers in New Zealand, arriving in Wellington in 1840. He was a militia captain during the Maori wars and later represented Wanganui in Parliament.

Harrison Surname Miscellany

One Early Claimed Harrison Line.  The first Harrisons appear to have been recorded in Cumberland around the year 1400 and they may have been there as early as the 11th century. Henry Harrison who came to Ireland as Commissioner of Customs in 1710 claimed a Harrison line going that far back.

The first in his line in England was said to be Richard, Lord Harrisson, reported to have arrived in 1056.  Through his first and second sons William and John were said to have come the Harrisons of Cumberland, through his third son Edward the Harrisons of Yorkshire.

The Harrisons of Castle Harrison in Ireland claimed their descent from the Cumberland Harrisons.  They posted a parchment of their lineage at the main entrance of the castle so that all visitors might see it as they entered.

The Harrisons of Wheldrake in Yorkshire.  The early spelling was Herrison.  William Herrison died at Holme upon Spalding Moor in the East Riding of Yorkshire in 1576.  The spelling, however, soon became Harrison.  His grandson Thomas Harrison was a prosperous yeoman farmer.  On his death in 1639 he left a considerable sum in his will.  He lived and died in the village of Wheldrake “of the Waterhouses,” what were wetlands at the edge of the village.

The Harrisons remained farmers in Wheldrake until 1800 or so when they moved to Wilberfoss near York.  Thomas Harrison, born in 1817, was a publican there.  Later Harrisons migrated south to London.

John Harrison and Longitude.  Seafarers require two measurements, latitude and longitude, in order to establish precisely their position.  Without having both, there is always the likelihood of misdirection and the real danger of hitting rocks in unknown waters and shipwrecks.  The longitude measure was the problem.

In 1714 the British Government offered £20,000 for a solution which could provide longitude to within half-a-degree, or two minutes of time.  Over the years they received many weird and wonderful suggestions, but no solution.   Many in fact believed that the problem could not be solved.

The longitude problem was eventually solved in 1765 by a working class joiner from Yorkshire with little formal education. John Harrison took on the scientific and academic establishment of his time and won the longitude prize through mechanical insight, talent and sheer determination.

He had developed various chronometer prototypes over the years, H1, H2, and H3.  In 1762 the next prototype H4 was tested onboard a ship in Jamaica.  H4 tested five seconds too slow.  Close but not enough.   Later trials, however, did beat the two minute measurement cut-off time and the prize was eventually awarded after some quibbling.  A few years later Captain Cook took H4 on-board on his voyages of discovery.

The 1997 book Longitude by Dava Sobel recounted this story.

Joseph Harrison’s Tragedy.  The Blackburn entrepreneur Joseph Harrison bought the Samlesbury Hall mansion in Preston in 1862.

But disaster struck there for Joseph’s son William in 1879.  He fell heavily on ice, resulting in a serious head injury and a fractured knee cap.  Just months later, this misfortune was followed by a rabid dog biting William’s own dog.  After the dog started displaying hydrophobic symptoms, William knew the dog would have to be shot.  But his gamekeeper strongly disagreed.  William was later found dead after shooting himself.

William’s sister believed that he shot himself by accident when loading the gun to shoot the dog.  His brother Henry agreed he was unlikely to shoot himself, though he did admit William had complained of his inability to read and sleep and pains in his head.  Henry also said William hadn’t been the same since his accident.

Joseph Harrison himself died the following year.  Some believe that the spirits of the family struck by tragedy still linger to this day at Samlesbury Hall.

Harris and Harrison.  H.B Guppy in his 1890 book Homes of Family Names in Great Britain described the incidence of the Harris and Harrison names as follows:

“Harris and Harrison each has its own area of frequency, Harrison in the north and Harris in the south; whilst they wage a sharp contest for supremacy in the midlands.

Harrison has proved victorious in some counties, such as Derbyshire and Staffordshire, waging an equal contest in others, such as Nottinghamshire, but still completely outnumbered in Warwickshire and Worcestershire. Pushing on however, in greatly diminished numbers, the Harrisons have established outposts on the borders of the English Channel.

In this struggle between the Harrises and the Harrisons, it is evident that the former have been worsted. The Harrises, in fact, have been entirely on the defense. Not only have they been unable to make any successful inroads into the northern territory of the Harrisons, but they have not prevented their foes from forcing a way through their ranks and reaching the south coast.”

Early Harrisons in Texas.  George Harrison came from Tennessee.  He was one of Stephen F. Austin’s “Old Three Hundred” colonists who in 1824 received title to land in the western part of what is now Brazoria county.  There he established his plantation.  The census of 1826 classified him as a farmer and a stock raiser.  He had a wife Catherine and two sons.

One of his sons Andrew was killed in the battle of the Alamo in 1836.  The state of Texas did not appear to recognize his sacrifice.  In 1860 the state rejected a land bounty claim of Harrison’s heirs, claiming that there was “no law for giving any donation for dying in service.”

Another who died at the Alamo was William B. Harrison, born in Ohio, who was a commanding officer in the company known as the Tennessee Mounted Volunteers, which included David Crockett. 

Reader Feedback – Thomas Harrison in Tennessee and Kentucky.  I have tracked four of my grandfathers, starting with my great great great grandfather Thomas Jefferson Harrison.  He was born in Washington county, Tennessee in 1824 and had skills that were needed then, those of a blacksmith.

When Kentucky asked for volunteers to start a regiment, he signed up and this became the 1st Kentucky Cavalry.  His role was as blacksmith, mule and horse tender, and also as a dentist for the troops and for the mules and horses.  This was in the Mexican War.  Well after the war he decided to go West to Colorado.

Donald Gammelgaard (donaldgammelgaard@gmail.com).

Carter Harrison, Mayor of Chicago.  Carter Harrison Sr. was related through his father’s side to the Harrison Presidents and through his grandmother Anne Cabell back to Pocahantas (she was said to have been her great great great great grandniece).

He started out in Chicago as a real estate agent and land investor.  He became Mayor of Chicago in 1879 and was re-elected a further three times in a row.  He had, according to his son, a bushy beard and a keen interest in horse-riding and later in bicycling.

“The squire of the avenue was Mayor Carter H. Harrison who kept his big black bay mare named Kate in a stable near his house.  He liked to ride up and down the street in the manner of a plantation owner looking over his acreage.  He described himself as ‘unable to study out a problem or scheme sitting at his desk but did his best thinking at full gallop upon his flying steed.’”

He ran for Mayor for a fifth time in 1893 and won again. However, six months after taking office, he was assassinated at his home by a disgruntled office-seeker at the time of the Chicago World Fair.

The Harrisons remained popular in Chicago.  His son, Carter Harrison Jr, was also Mayor of Chicago five times, from 1897 to 1911.  Another son William was editor and publisher of the Chicago Times  He later moved to Los Angeles.

Harrison Names

  • John Harrison was the English clockmaker who invented the marine chronometer and thereby solved the problem of measuring longitude.
  • William Henry Harrison was the 9th American President in 1841 (he only lasted 32 days).
  • Benjamin Harrison was the 23rd American President, from 1889 to 1893.
  • Rex Harrison was the British actor famed for his portrayal of Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady.
  • George Harrison was the lead guitarist for the Beatles.

Harrison Numbers Today

  • 123,000 in the UK (most numerous in Kent)
  • 64,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 36,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Harrison 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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