Patterson Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Patterson Surname Meaning

The Scottish Patterson and Paterson surnames are both patronymics from Pate, a shortened version of the first name Patrick. The earlier Gaelic version had been MacPhadraig.

Why the two surnames – Paterson and Patterson? Here is one account:

“According to a story that has come down from the 16th century, the Pattersons all spelled the name with one ‘t’ before Queen Elizabeth set about marking those of her subjects who left the ancient Catholic faith and cast their lot with the Church of England.

She insisted that all the Protestant Pattersons take to themselves a second ‘t’ and since that time many have followed that mode of spelling the name.”

Patterson Surname Resources on The Internet

Patterson and Paterson Surname Ancestry

  • from Scotland and NE England
  • to Ireland (Ulster), America, Canada and Australia

Scotland. There was said to have been a MacPhadraig clan on the northern shores of Loch Fyne in Argyllshire in the 13th century.

Patersons were later linked to the MacLarens in the Highlands, coming in Gaelic forms such as MacFater, MacFeat, MacPatrick, and MacPhater. The earliest specific reference to a Paterson was to Duncan Paterson who was implicated with other MacLarens in the killing of the vicar of Balquhidder in Stirlingshire in 1532.

By the 16th century a dynasty of Patersons were also landholders in Fife. Hew Paterson of this line became a writer in Edinburgh and his son, also Hugh, became the first Baronet of a line of Jacobite sympathizers who entertained Bonnie Prince Charlie following the battle of Falkirk in early 1746.

Patersons in Dumfriesshire on the Scottish borders included William Paterson who was one of the main proponents of the disastrous Darien colonization scheme in the 1690’s. Castle Huntly in Perthshire was acquired by George Paterson of the East India Company in 1777 and it remained in his descendants’ hands until 1946. Paterson is the predominant spelling in Scotland.

Patersons/Pattersons.  The Paterson/Patterson divide was approximately 85/15 in 1891, with the Patterson spelling generally confined along the east coast.

There were both the Patterson and Paterson spellings at Knnettles in Angus. William Patterson left Kinnettles for Australia in 1791 and rose to be Lieutenant Governor of the colony; while James Paterson, a merchant, built a mansion house there, now called Kinnettles Castle, in 1864.

England.  The Patterson line down the east coast extended into England where the main numbers were in the northeast, in Northumberland and Durham. The spelling here could be Pattison or Pattinson.

Northumberland.  An early record in Northumberland was a Thomas Patterson, recorded as a doctor of divinity in 1525.

Some of the Pattersons had come south from Scotland. Peter Patterson, who died in Morpeth in 1770, had been born and brought up in Scotland. The family of Robert Patterson of Croft House in Alnwick was also of Scottish origin. Son John Brown Patterson became a Church of Scotland minister in the 1820’s.

During the 19th century there were Pattersons recorded at Seahouses and Holy Island (Lindisfarne) near Alnwick. James Patterson, born at West Link Hall Cottage just north of Alnwick, emigrated to Australia in 1852 to seek his fortune in the Victorian goldfields. He ended up in politics and became the Premier of Victoria in 1893.  

Ireland.  The Scottish Paterson generally became Patterson in Ulster.

During the plantation era of the 17th century, some Pattersons settled in the Coleraine district of county Derry. Robert Patterson from here set up a small mill furnishing business in Belfast in 1786, which was the basis for the family’s later fortunes. It was also a springboard for a century of naturalists within the family. 

John Patterson came to Bush Hills in county Antrim in 1640. He is believed to have been one of the survivors of the siege of Londonderry in 1689. Many of his descendants departed for America in the 1700’s.

In Galway and nearby Clare, some Irish Cussanes (from the Gaelic O’Caisin) were said to have adopted the Patterson name. Johnny Patterson, born in Clare, was a singer and circus entertainer who toured America in the 1870’s and made a fortune.

America.  An early arrival was the Scotsman James Patterson, sometimes Paterson.  He had fought on the Royalist side in the English Civil War, been captured, and sent to Boston on the John & Sara in 1652.  He ended up in Billerica, Massachusetts.

His descendants migrated to western Massachusetts in the years prior to the Revolutionary War and then to upstate New York afterwards where they were joined by Marean family members.  Patrick Patterson’s 2016 book Pattersons and Mareans covered this history..     

Most of those who came to America in the 18th century were Scots Irish and most spelt their name Patterson.

Patersons.  One who wasn’t was William Paterson who arrived as a young boy from county Antrim and settled in New Jersey. He was the New Jersey signer of the US Constitution and served as the second Governor of the state from 1790 to 1793. Paterson in New Jersey was named after him.

Pattersons.  William Patterson who arrived from Donegal in 1766 had a more adventurous war, being a gun runner for the Continental Army. He later settled in Baltimore and was the founder of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. He was reputed to be the second wealthiest man in Maryland:

  • his daughter Betsy, the belle of Baltimore, married – against her father’s wishes – Jerome, the brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, in 1803 and was outcast. However, she outlasted all her other siblings and returned and died in Baltimore in 1879 at the age of 94.
  • while it was his son George Patterson who took over the family estate and plantation at Springfield on William’s death in 1835.

James Patterson arrived in Pennsylvania from county Antrim around the year 1730. Son William moved to Pattersons Mills in Pennsylvania and grandsons Thomas and John were US Congressmen for Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Robert Patterson was born in 1753 in Bedford county, Pennsylvania, the son of Scots Irish immigrant Francis Patterson. Robert was a pioneer settler on the western frontier, first moving to Kentucky in 1775 and then settling in Dayton, Ohio in 1802 where his family operated a farm and lumber mill.

John Henry Patterson, born in Dayton in 1844, was the founder of NCR (the National Cash Register Company). His name is perpetuated in the Wright-Patterson Air Force base in Dayton.

Another Francis Patterson from county Tyrone came to Pennsylvania later, in 1799. His son Robert and grandson Francis were both Union generals during the Civil War.

Samuel Patterson meanwhile came from Ireland sometime in the 1750’s and married Martha Ledgerwood in Augusta county, Virginia. These Pattersons were later planters and local politicians in Rockbridge county, Virginia and in Salem, North Carolina where they founded a series of paper mills. Rufus L. Patterson became head of American Machine and Foundry, an offshoot of American Tobacco, and was in 1935 one of the eight highest-paid executives in the country.

Patterson records in America have been collated by Norman Patterson in his 1963-67 booklets The Patterson and Pattison Family Association.

Canada.  The settlement of Pictou in Nova Scotia had two prominent Pattersons in its early days:

  • Robert Patterson who came as a surveyor from America in 1767
  • and John Patterson who arrived on the Hector with other Scottish migrants in 1773.  

“Robert Patterson was known as Squire Patterson to distinguish him from John or Deacon Patterson who was the venerable settler who presided over the others.”  

Robert left no legacy in Pictou. But John is generally considered as the father of the town and his sons and grandsons were also prominent there (including George Patterson who was the local historian). Frank Patterson’s 1955 book was John Patterson, the Founder of Pictou.

Out West.  James Paterson and his family from Roxburghshire arrived in Ontario in 1820 and settled in what is now Mississauga. His grandson Hugh worked as a grain merchant in Oshawa and headed west in 1871 to Manitoba as that was where the grain came from. Hugh’s son Norman, born there in 1893, developed the vast grain elevator operation and Great Lakes shipping fleet that became Paterson GlobalFoods. It remains family owned.

Australia.  Scottish Patersons have made their mark on Australia – from Colonel William Paterson who surveyed the Hunter valley in NSW in 1801 (and after whom the Paterson river was named) to Banjo Paterson who wrote Australia’s most popular song, Waltzing Matilda, in 1896.

Some of these Patersons became Pattersons in Australia, such as David Patterson who was an early arrival in 1829 at the Swan river settlement in Western Australia. He later was to try his luck in the Ballarat goldfields.

Patterson and Paterson Surname Miscellany

The Patersons and Bonnie Prince Charlie.  A celebrated episode of the Paterson family was during the Jacobite rising of 1745 when Sir Hugh Paterson, the 2nd Baronet of Bannockburn entertained Bonnie Prince Charlie in early 1746.

His niece Clementina Walkinshaw became Prince Charlie’s mistress.  She followed him to France in 1751 and bore him a daughter Charlotte, styled the Duchess of Albany.

Bannockburn House still stands today as it was when Bonnie Prince Charlie visited it.

The Patersons of Castle Huntly and the Paterson Ghost.  George Paterson, who was born in Dundee and trained in Scotland as a doctor, went out to India in the 1750’s to act as a secretary for the East India Company.  There he made his fortune.

He returned to Scotland a rich man.  He purchased in 1777 for £40,000 Castle Huntly in Perthshire, which was to stay with the Paterson family until 1946.

Within the grounds of Castle Huntly was the famous Wallace Cottage and the green stone where William Wallace was said to have rested while fleeing from Dundee during the wars for Scottish independence.

The castle left the family after the death of Colonel Adrian Gordon Paterson when his widow sold the castle to the Government. The Government also apparently acquired a ghost.  This ghost was a young boy dressed in a double-breasted sailing jacket. It was thought to have been the son of Colonel Adrian Gordon Paterson. The Colonel’s only son Richard had drowned in 1939 in a yachting accident on the Tay river.

William Patterson from Kinnettles.  William Patterson, born in 1755, was a gardener’s son but one who had the good fortune to receive the patronage of Lady Alary Lyon of Glamis, by whom he was educated.  He retained an interest in plants which encouraged him to go overseas and, while abroad, he would frequently send plant specimens to that eminent botanist Sir Joseph Banks.

He joined the NSW Corp in Australia in 1791 and rose to be Colonel of the 102nd Regiment and subsequently Lieutenant-Governor of New South Wales.

Unfortunately the latter period of his life was characterized by alcoholism and ill-health. In 1810 he attempted to return to Scotland, but died on the Dromedary as it was rounding Cape Horn.  A cenotaph, with a suitable inscription containing an account of his services and abilities, was afterwards erected in Kinnettles churchyard.

Pattersons along the UK East Coast.  The table below shows the line of Patterson numbers in the 1881 census along the east coast – running from Angus in Scotland to Yorkshire in England.

Scotland (000’s) England (000’s)
Angus   0.4 Northumberland   1.8
Roxburghshire   0.3 Durham   1.4
Berwickshire   0.3 Yorkshire   0.5

Francis Patterson in County Tyrone.  Francis Patterson of county Tyrone had like other Scots Presbyterians been attracted to the radical politics of the Society of the United Irishmen.  He was thus  united with his fellow ‘Irishmen’ in the Rising of 1798 – a bloody but failed revolt which attempted to found an Irish republic but which was ruthlessly crushed after three uncoordinated outbreaks in Leinster Ulster and Connacht in the summer of that year.

While not captured, Francis Patterson obviously was known to be a participant and had a price on his head.  What to do?   He had to get out of Ireland before the sheriff arrived, which is exactly what he did.  He took with him his wife Ann  and their son Robert, later to become a famous US general.

The Irish network looked after him well in America and he was able to find a home in Pennsylvania and engage in the cotton brokerage business.

Reader Feedback – George Patterson Kicked Out of the Castle.  I was told that we have a castle in either Ireland or Scotland. I think it was George Patterson that came to America when his father passed away and his eldest brother kicked the rest of the family out of the home in the 1860’s. I would love to know how true any of this is.

William Patterson (

George Patterson and His Sorrow.  By the time William Patterson died in 1835, George had already taken over at Springfield, Maryland and would run the huge plantation, dependent on the labor of some 40 slaves, for some 35 years. A letter published years later described his plantation as “one of the finest in the state of some twenty-six hundred acres.”

A born farmer, he was described as one of the first agriculturists in the country.  But he had never been an outwardly friendly man and in his later years he was even less so, walking his vast estate with two large dogs and seldom speaking with anyone.  “Of strict probity, he was yet brusque in speech, dictatorial in manner, and cared not a whit for the pomp of rank.”

George married just after his father died.  He was over 40 at the time and Prudence Brown was not his first choice. Prudence was 21 years younger than the man she married and a member of a prominent local family.

Their son George was born in 1844.  He was the pride and joy of his father, “the companion of his father from the time he could speak and walk.”  But he only lived five years, three months, and 12 days, before dying of a long unidentified illness four days short of Christmas,1849.

George the father never got over his grief.  Patterson lived another twenty years with his wife, his daughter, and the memory of his son, and died in November 1869. 

Johnny Patterson, Singer and Entertainer.  Johnny Patterson worked with a number of circuses in Ireland before crossing to England. where he performed with Pablo Fanque, the black English circus proprietor, who saw his real talent.  John Nee, an Irish actor who portrayed Patterson in a 2010 stage production about his life, said:

“His talent for singing, clowning, and engaging with an audience was immense. He was talent-spotted by Pablo Fanque who the Beatles sing about in ‘Mr Kite.’  He was a famous black Yorkshire showman.  He saw Johnny in Cork, loved him, and brought him to England.”

In Liverpool he met and married a circus bareback rider, Selena Hickey. Around this time he composed the song The Garden Where the Praties Grow.  His fame grew until he was offered a contract in America in 1876. In the United States he became one of most famous and highest paid entertainers at the time.

His political opinions expressed in a song (he wanted Protestants and Catholics to live together peacefully) caused a fight at one performance.  Patterson was hit on the head by an iron bar and was kicked. He died from his injuries at Tralee in county Kerry in 1889.  He was 49.

In 1985 the Irish Circus Fans Association paid for a memorial to be placed in Tralee graveyard to commemorate his interment there.

Banjo Paterson.  The man who wrote Australia’s most popular song, Waltzing Matilda, Banjo Paterson grew up on his family’s property beyond Yass, NSW and drew a lifelong inspiration from the Australian bush and its characters. In 1895 his collection of ballads, The Man from Snowy River, was published. It became an immediate hit. Waltzing Matilda appeared soon afterwards.

Banjo served as a war correspondent during the Boer War in South Africa and later in China.  He came to Europe on the outbreak of war in 1914 and drove ambulances for the Australian Voluntary Hospital. Experienced with horses, he later commanded the Australian Remount Squadron in the Middle East.

He eventually returned to Australia and to journalism and writing there. He was a national celebrity until his death in 1941. Throughout his life he was a living part of the legend of the Australian horseman, bushman, and soldier of whom he wrote so fondly.

Patterson Names

  • William Paterson was a founder of the Bank of England, but was also remembered as the architect of the disastrous Darien colonization scheme. 
  • William Paterson was a signer of the US Constitution who served as the second Governor of New Jersey in 1790. 
  • Banjo Paterson wrote Australia’s most popular song, Waltzing Matilda.  
  • Russell Patterson was a celebrated art deco designer of the 1920’s and 1930’s which promoted the style known as the flapper.
  • Floyd Patterson became heavyweight champion of the world in 1956.
  • PJ Patterson was Prime Minister of Jamaica from 1992 to 2006.

Patterson Numbers Today

  • 51,000 in the UK (most numerous in Northern Ireland)
  • 77,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 35,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

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Written by Colin Shelley

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