Lawson Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Lawson Surname Meaning

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.

Lawson Surname Resources on The Internet

Lawson Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Yorkshire) and from Scotland (Fife)
  • to America, Canada and New Zealand

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 from Montrose was a Scotsman who arrived in Virginia around 1750.  He has, probably wrongly, been identified as William Lawson the Rebel captured at Culloden in 1746 and said to have been transported to America as an indentured servant. At the time of the Revolutionary War William 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.

Lawson Surname 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

Reader Feedback – Early Lawsons in America.  The immigrant William Lawson from Montrose is not the William Lawson identified as the Rebel of Culloden. We in fact need to start breaking each of these groups out by DNA. There are probably only three or four groups here that are entirely separate.

There is also Thomas Lawson who came to Jamestown, Virginia with Lord de la Warre who carried under his command one hundred and fifty colonists and a full supply of provisions for four hundred men for twelve months, for the relief of the colony. They arrived in Jamestown on June 10, 1610, just after the Starving Times.  Thomas was commissioned to rebuild the stables at Jamestown Fort.

Geoffrey Lawson (

William Lawson of Montrose Who Came to America.  In Bill Porter’s book William Lawson – A Scottish Rebel William Lawson was recorded as being born in Montrose in 1731 and there is a narrative of this young William of Montrose making a perilous journey to America after Culloden as a Jacobite prisoner aboard the ship Gildart.

In this account he came on the ship to Maryland where he was sold by the disreputable vessel owner in an indenture auction.  There was a family tradition that he was treated unkindly and ran away after a year or so.  Some reports had him hiding out in the Dan river area after his escape.

However, other records in America gave his birth date as 1733, not 1731, such as:

“John Quillin, born in 1793 in North Carolina, acquired the land of his father in Scott county, Virginia. He married first Rebecca Lawson, eldest daughter of William Lawson Jr, a Revolutionary War veteran whose father William Lawson Sr was an immigrant from Montrose in Scotland, born on June 26, 1733 and died in 1826.”

This William from Montrose was lured away from home by reports from America, not banished as a prisoner aboard a convict ship.  Being was born in 1733 he arrived in Virginia around 1750, not Maryland in 1747.  And he was bound as an apprentice, not sold as an indentured servant.

William did disappear from public 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.  A year later, he was recorded as “not fit” for further fighting.

Then who was the William Lawson on the convict ship Gildart to Maryland in 1747?  British records identify him as a 25 year-old blacksmith from Durham in England and not a Scottish Jacobite. He was a member of the Church of England; while most of the Jacobites of Angus in Scotland were Church of Scotland.

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 (

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 (

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).

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.

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)

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.




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Written by Colin Shelley

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