Lawson Surname Meaning, History & Origin

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The surname Lawson comes from Law, a pet form of Lawrence, that was popular in medieval times. Lawson has its origins in northern England and in Scotland.

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Lawson Ancestry

England.  The home for Lawsons in England has generally been Yorkshire.  

Yorkshire.  The Lawsons of Brough Hall near Catterick in north Yorkshire were to be found at Bywell in Northumberland from the 1300’s. It was Ralph Lawson of this family who married Elizabeth Brough, the heiress of Brough Hall, in 1565.  

“The Lawson coat of arms, which is believed to have been the original grant, had the blazon of a silver field, charged with a chevron between three martlets, all black. These arms would suggest a loyal person who lived by the sword, having no estates to
support him.”


By 1565, however, the Lawsons had become substantial landowners in north Yorkshire and in Northumberland and they were to accumulate more estates in northern England and in Scotland later on. The Lawson family was Royalist during the Civil War and afterwards left for exile in Ulster, having had their estates sequestered.  They returned after the Restoration and were to remain at Brough Hall until 1949.

The name Lawson was in fact in Yorkshire at an earlier date. Records indicate that the first recording use of the Lawson name occurred in the 14th century in Upper Littondale, an area close to the present day villages of Litton and Arncliffe along the on the Skirfare river, a tributary of the river Wharfe.

Lawsons featured in two coastal towns in Yorkshire during the 17th century:

  • John Lawson, born in relative obscurity in Scarborough around the year 1615, went to sea and rose to be an Admiral of the fleet under both Cromwell and Charles II. He died through gunshot injuries at sea in 1665 during a naval engagement in the Mediterranean. His great grand-nephew was John Lawson, the explorer in the Carolinas, who also met an untimely end (in his case being killed by Indians).
  • and the Lawsons of Whitby and the neighboring village of Egton who were Catholic and started to appear on recusancy lists in 1655. Their names continued to appear in these lists through the 18th century.

The Lawson name is still strongly concentrated in north Yorkshire, where it is the sixth most common surname.

Other Lawsons.  Nigel Lawson, Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer under Margaret Thatcher, has Jewish roots.  His paternal grandfather was a Jewish immigrant named Gustav Leibson who changed his name from Leibson to Lawson in 1925.  Nigel’s father Ralph ran a commodity trading company in London.


Scotland
. The Lawson name first appeared in Scotland in the 14th century. The Lawson Covenanter list in the 17th century suggests that it was mainly a Lowland name.

The main concentration of Lawsons appears to have been in Fifeshire:

  • Bessie Lawson married James Trottar in Dunfermline in 1609.
  • Lawsons, believed to have been Covenanters, have been traced back to the 1670’s in the villages of Baltilly and Ceres in central Fife.  These Lawsons were masons and builders in the 18th century, building a new house on the Croft House lands.
  • while another family line began with the birth of John Lawson in Kettle parish in 1768.

America. Lawson arrivals in America came mainly from England
and Scotland. 

Virginia.  Lawsons from Brough Hall in Yorkshire came to America. The first was Rowland Larson who came with his brothers to Lancaster county, Virginia (where he was a Justice of the Peace) in 1638.

Then, from  Ulster on the George and Anne in 1727, came Hugh Lawson with two of his cousins John and Roger. Hugh arrived in Pennsylvania, moved to Lunenburg county, Virginia and then settled in Rowan county, North Carolina where he died.

There was a cluster of Lawsons in the Lunenburg/Bedford counties of Virginia that have been commonly referred to as the Falling River Lawsons.  The first of these Lawsons was believed to have been William Lawson, born around 1680.

Other Lawsons in Virginia may have been descendants of John Lawson, the first surveyor of the Carolinas, who was burned at the stake by Indians in 1711. From his line is thought to have come Robert Lawson, a Virginia militia general during the Revolutionary War, and later Lawsons in Halifax county.


William Lawson
, known as the Rebel, was a Scotsman from Montrose who was captured at Culloden in 1746 and transported to America as an indentured servant. At the time of the Revolutionary War he enlisted in Virginia and fought against the British again at the Battle of King’s Mountain in 1780. After the war he settled with his family in Montgomery county.

Elsewhere.  Some Lawsons settled in Tennessee, a state which has one of the largest number of Lawsons in America today:

  • Thomas Lawson was born in Greene county, Tennessee in 1804. His son Daniel became a Justice of the peace in nearby Blount county.
  • a number of Lawsons moved to Tennessee from Bedford county, Virginia n the early 1800’s, for instance Jacob Lawson to Hawkins county and John Lawson to Morgan county.
  • while one Tennessee line dated back to Alfred Lawson who was born in Fentress county in 1838. This line showed several marriages with Cherokee Indians.

Other Lawsons moved south into Georgia. David Lawson was an early resident in Taylor county. Later Lawsons of this line were to be found in Covington county. Reuben Lawson migrated from Georgia to Merengo county, Alabama and then to Palo Pinto county, Texas. John Lawson and his family settled in Cane Creek, Alabama around the year 1835.


Canada.  Early sightings were in Nova Scotia.

Nova Scotia.  The Lawsons were a prominent family in Halifax, Nova Scotia during the late 18th and 19th centuries.  John Lawson, who had come to Halifax from Boston as an infant in 1750, established himself as one of the leading merchants in the town. His son William became the founding director and first president of the Bank of Nova Scotia. A later descendant was the notable American impressionist painter Ernest Lawson who was born in Halifax in 1873.

Another Lawson in Halifax was Alexander Lawson who had arrived with his parents from Scotland in 1828. He became the editor and publisher of the Yarmouth Herald for a period of 62 years. His son John Murray Lawson carried on with the paper after his death in 1895.

Elsewhere.  James Reid Lawson was Scots Irish from county Down in Ireland who had come out to St. John, New Brunswick as a Presbyterian missionary in 1846.  He established his Covenanter church at Barnesville nearby where he remained for the next forty years.  Another Lawson preacher in Canada was William Lawson from Cumbria who founded the first Primitive Methodist congregation in York (later Toronto) in 1830.

Australia and New Zealand. Robert Lawson from Edinburgh departed with his family for New Zealand in 1841, one of the early emigrants there. But they did not remain there for long. Robert got gold fever and he departed for the Victoria gold fields in 1853. He found no gold. The family stayed to farm instead.

Another Robert Lawson, this one from Fifeshire, migrated the other way – from Australia to New Zealand. He came to Australia in 1854 in search of gold. He too found none. But when gold was
discovered in Otago in 1861 he headed for southern New Zealand.  By this time he had found a different profession, as an
architect. He designed his first church in Dunedin in 1862 and became the most popular New Zealand architect of his time.

Australia had two notable Lawson writers and poets of the late 19th and 20th centuries:

  • the first was Henry Lawson, the son of a Norwegian Niels Larson (he later changed his name to Lawson) who had come to Australia in the 1850’s at the height of the gold rush.  Henry was a very popular poet in Australia and crowds lined the streets on his death in 1922 to say farewell to Australia’s “poet of the people.”
  • the second was Will Lawson, an immigrant from Durham in England, who was a popular bush poet and novelist in the early 1900’s.

 

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Lawson Miscellany

Early Lawsons in Northumberland.  Lawsons were to be found at Bywell in Northumberland from the 1300’s.  Lawrence Lawson, a householder in nearby Corbridge, appeared in the subsidy roll of 1336.

Thomas Lawton was said to have fought under Sir John Neville in France at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. He survived the
battle and a long time afterwards.  In fact he lived another 74 years and he was recorded as dying in 1489 (having lived through the War of the Roses from start to finish) at a great age.  He was buried at the family estate at Cramlington.

It was his grandson James who established the basis of the family fortunes.  He was a merchant at Male Street in Newcastle
and served as the town’s mayor in 1529 and 1540.  He was also the King’s tax collector.  At the time of the dissolution of the
monasteries he was able to seize and acquire substantial landholdings.  At the time of his death he held the manors
of Byker and West Matsen and additional estates at Nesham, Cockfield, Little Burdon, and Dynshall.

His eldest son Edmund inherited the bulk of these estates on
James’s death in 1544.  It was his grandson Ralph who was to carry the family fortunes forward from a new home at Brough Hall in Yorkshire.  He married Elizabeth Brough, the heiress there, in 1565.  The Lawsons were to remain at Brough Hall (pronounced Broog) until 1949. 

Lawson Covenanter List.  The table below is a list of Lawson Covenanters in Scotland in the 17th century.  Those shown
were born roughly between 1630 and 1670.

Covenanter Name Location
Archibald Lawson Ratho near Edinburgh
James Lawson Glasgow
James Lawson Strathaven, Lanarkshire
Janet Lawson Torthorall, Dumfries
John Lawson Alyth, Perthshire
John Lawson Strathaven, Lanarkshire
Mary Lawson Woodhouse, Argyll
Michael Lawson Roukine, Fife
Robert Lawson Roukine, Fife
Thomas Lawson Falkland, Fife
Thomas Lawson Longshaw, Berwickshire
William Lawson Edinburgh
William Lawson Coldingham, Berwickshire

William Lawson the Rebel.  William Lawson at the age of 15 was in the vicinity of Culloden in 1746, but it is not known if he actually participated in the battle or was simply rounded up by the English afterwards.  He was moved around during his captivity, first at Clackmannan, then at Stirling Castle, and then at Carlisle in England.

It was decided not to try him, probably because of a lack of evidence.  He was therefore given a conditional pardon.  This meant, however, that he would be banished to the colonies and treated there as an indentured servant.

In July 1747 he was transported on the Gildart to Maryland where he was sold by the disreputable vessel owner in an indenture auction.  William was bound out to a plantation owner
for a probable seven years of indenture. Family tradition holds that he was treated unkindly and that he ran away after a year or so. Some reports have him hiding out in the Dan
river area after his escape.  He appeared
to have married his wife Rebecca in North Carolina sometime around 1760.

William disappeared from the records for many years.  He
reappeared at the time of the Revolutionary War in Montgomery county, Virginia when he enlisted to join Daniel Trigg’s militia troops.  He was nearly 50 years old when he fought at the Battle of King’s Mountain in
1780, once again resisting British rule.
A year later, he was recorded as “not fit” for further fighting.

Lawson Arrivals in America.  The following were the recorded Lawson arrivals in America, based on shipping records and points of departure:

Country of Origin Numbers Percent
England    569    47
Scotland    337    28
Ireland    171    14
Sweden     93     8
Elsewhere     36     3
Total   1,206   100

Reader Feedback – William and Son Marcus Lawson of Georgia.  I am married to a Lawson who is a descendant of Marcus Rueben Lawson of Georgia.  I cannot find any information past his father William T. Lawson. It seems other genealogy sites are also stuck at the same ancestor.

Any information? Jerri Lawson (jerbear315@yahoo.com)

John Lawson, Halifax Merchant.  John Lawson was born in Boston in 1749, the grandson of Lawsons who had immigrated
to America from England in 1715.  His own parents departed for
Halifax, Nova Scotia a year later while he was still an infant.

By 1784 he had established himself as a successful merchant
in the city, being particularly active in the cod fishing
During the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812, when greater quantities of prize (seized) goods were being brought in and sold at auction than the commerce of the colony could handle, Lawson signed a petition for permission to export to the United States the portions of these goods that were particularly adapted to the American market.  This he did so at a profit.

At the time of his death in 1828 he
owned shares in an iron manufactory, the Shubenacadie canal, and the whaling ship Pacific. 

Reader Feedback – Robert Lawson from Northumberland to Australia.  I would be grateful to anyone who can throw some light on my ancestor Robert Lawson who married Isobella Colville in 1850 in Chatton, Northumberland and sailed to Australia in 1854.

Peter (peterkeagegmail.com)

Lawson in Japan.  The Lawson name is everywhere in Japan.  It is the second biggest convenience store in Japan.  But how it got its name is curious.

In 1939 a dairy owner named
James Lawson started a store at his Broad Boulevard dairy plant at Cuyahoga Falls near Akron, Ohio to sell his milk.
The Lawson’s Milk Company grew to a chain of stores, primarily
in Ohio.   Lawson was bought out by
Consolidated Foods in 1959.  Three years
later James Lawson died in a car crash.

In 1974 Consolidated Foods signed an agreement with the Japanese supermarket chain Daiei to open convenience stores in Japan.  The company established was called Daiei Lawson Co. and Lawson was and still is the name used for the stores (even though Consolidated Foods is no longer involved in the company).

 


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Lawson Names

  • Sir Ralph Lawson was in 1565 through marriage the first Lawson of Brough Hall in Yorkshire. 
  • Henry Lawson, the son of Norwegian seaman Niels Larsen,was a popular Australian short-story writer and poet. 
  • Nigel Lawson, from Jewish roots, was British Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Thatcher Government from 1983 to 1989. Two of his children were the TV chef Nigella Lawson and the journalist Domenic Lawson
  • Eddie Lawson, known as “Steady Eddie,” was a four-time motorcycle racing world champion.

Select Lawson Numbers Today

  • 32,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Yorkshire)
  • 39,000 in America (most numerous in Tennessee)
  • 16,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

 

Select Lawson 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.

AtkinsonGibsonMorrisonStevenson
DawsonHarrisonNicholsonTyson
DixonHutchinsonRichardsonWilkinson
EmersonJacksonRobinsonWilson

 

 

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