Rathbone Surname Genealogy

is a very distinctive English surname and there are many possible
of the Rathbone name.  But no one is in fact
quite sure where the name has come from.

Resources on

Rathbone Ancestry

The name first appeared in Cheshire.  A John Rathbone from north
Wales was reported there in the 13th century as being granted land at
Macefen near Malpas.  A later John was mayor of Chester in the
early 1500’s.  There were subsequent branches of the family
in Chester, the Wirral (where the landscape artist John Rathbone was
born), and the parishes of Astbury, Tushingham, and Farnworth in

Then came the forebears of two famous Rathbone lines:

  • John Rathbone from Ditton near
    Farnworth.  The son of a shoemaker who had inherited some money on
    his father’s death, he left with his wife for America in 1654.
  • and William Rathbone (of the
    Astbury Rathbones) from Gawsworth near Macclesfield.  He set out
    in the 1720’s for the growing port of Liverpool, working there as a
    sawyer and starting up a timber business.

The Rathbone
family of Liverpool
– of whom William Rathbone was the
forebear – was a family of nonconformist merchants whose sense of high
social consciousness led to a fine tradition of philanthropy and public
service well into the 20th century.  Basil Rathbone, famous in film
as Sherlock Holmes, came from this family.

As a surname, Rathbone stretched from Cheshire north into Lancashire
and south into Staffordshire and Warwickshire.  Rathbone in
Warwickshire is said to have come from the word Rawbone.

  Most Rathbones in America probably descend from
John and Margaret Rathbone who came to Dorchester, Massachusetts from
England in 1654.  Four years later, the Rathbones were party to
the purchase of Block Island, a small island off the coast of Rhode
Island where John was given a deed of land in the middle of the

A number of his descendants distinguished themselves in business and
the church in New England during colonial times.  There have been
two noteworthy
longer-lasting Rathbone lines.

One line went via Jonathan Rathbone who had settled in
Colchester, Connecticut:

  • a descendant here was General Ransom
    , after whom the town of Rathbone in Steuben county,
    New York was named.
  • another was Jared Rathbone, a wealthy
    merchant of Albany, New York and the first elected mayor of that
    town.  When he died in 1843 he left an estate of $200,000, an
    unheard-of amount in those times.  His son Henry Rathbone
    is famous for having been in the box at the theater with President
    Lincoln when Lincoln was shot.

Another line went via Joshua
Rathbone who had settled in Stonington, Connecticut, and Wait
Rathbone, a New England sea captain who had fought in the Revolutionary

Later Rathbones of this line worked for Standard Oil Company
of New Jersey, culminating in Jack Rathbone being appointed
CEO of that
company in 1960.  Under his leadership Jersey Standard was
reorganized as Exxon Corp and greatly expanded its international
business.  His great grandson is the actor and singer Jackson

Rathbone Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:

Select Rathbone Names

William Rathbone migrated from Cheshire to Liverpool and
founded the long-lasting Rathbone family business there.  He
became a Quaker in 1726.
Henry R. Rathbone was the man
who tried but failed to stop Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865.
Basil Rathbone of the
Liverpool Rathbones was the film actor who famously played Sherlock
Jack Rathbone was the head of
Standard Oil Company of New Jersey in the 1960’s who forged the modern
company that is Exxon.

Select Rathbones

  • 2,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Cheshire)
  • 800 in America (most numerous
    in North Carolina)
  • 1,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia).




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