Richardson Surname Meaning, History & Origin

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Richard (meaning powerful and brave) was a favorite name amongst the Normans and from this source came Richards and Richardson.

However, these names do seem to have developed separately in different parts of the country.  The Richards name was and is mainly to be found in the west and southwest; Richardson, by contrast, in the northeast and in Scotland.

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England.  A number of records suggest that the name Richardson originated in the county of Cheshire.  A younger son of a Norman family there, John, was said to have taken the paternal name of Richardson when he moved across the Pennines to Durham sometime around 1400.  Richardsons can be traced there from Elizabethan times.

They also settled at Bierley in the heart of Yorkshire’s wool trade.  Nicholas Richardson was recorded there in 1494.  These Richardsons were active in the wool business for several centuries and later, in Barnsley, in linen production.

The Quaker movement begun by George Fox seems to have struck a chord with these Richardsons, first in north Yorkshire, notably in Whitby and then in Newcastle (where they formed was a close-knit Quaker community in the 19th century).

The Richardson name appeared in Cheshire as a well-known family of clockmakers, starting with Richard Richardson at Aston near Great Budworth in the 1730’s.

Scotland.  Other Richardson branches were to be found in Scottish border country, in and around Dumfries.

Gabriel Richardson, a friend of the poet Robert Burns, was a brewer in the town in the 1780’s.   His house on Nith Place stayed in the family until recently.  Gabriel’s son, John, made three journeys of exploration to the Arctic Ocean and published his studies on the animals he discovered there.  Afterwards, he became a mentor and advisor to younger naturalists such as Darwin and Huxley.

Ireland.  Richardsons in Northern Ireland were a Protestant import and were to be found mainly in county Armagh.  One Quaker Richardson family became prominent in the linen industry in Lisburn.

America.   Mary Starbuck became a Quaker convert on Nantucket in 1702 thanks to the persuasions of a charismatic Quaker preacher  John Richardson.  There were also Quaker Richardsons in Pennsylvania by that time.  A number seem to have been personal friends of William Penn and prospered accordingly.

Many Richardsons in America headed south.  There was a sizeable Richardson presence in North and South Carolina during the 18th and 19th centuries, and in Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas.  Richard Richardson was the forebear of a prominent South Carolina Richardson family.

In fact, by the end of the 19th century, the state of Texas had the largest number of Richardsons in the United States.  Many plantation owners had fled there to escape Unionist retribution after the Civil War. They were and are mainly to be found in East Texas, in and around Henderson county, and in Galveston.

Canada.  The earliest Richardson settlers in Canada were Scots active in the fur trade.  A Scots/Canadian Richardson connection has continued since that time.  James Richardson founded his grain merchandising business in Kingston, Ontario in 1857.


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Richardsons in the Yorkshire Wool Trade.  The Richardsons had settled in the late 15th century at Bierley in the heart of Yorkshire’s wool trade.  They were active in this business and their estates extended a third of the way around Bradford, then only a small market town, and included most of North Bierley and beyond towards Wibsey and Calverley.

The family over the years intermarried with other prominent families in the area such as the Currers, Ferrands, Hopkinsons, Midgleys, and Saviles.  Overall, they were middle class made good, rather than aristocracy (none of them for instance ever became peers of the realm).

Richard Richardson, born in 1663, was brought up and lived most of his life at Bierley.  He was a member of the first generation of Englishmen to take an informed interest in botany.

Richardson Quakers in Whitby.  There was a larger Quaker community at Whitby along the coast.  They were tolerated, but often seen as kill-joys:  “At Whitby, the refusal of Quakers to join in public rejoicings by illuminating their windows was traditionally the occasion for much broken glass.”

The Richardsons, farmers and tanners of hides at Boghall nearby, were part of this community.  William Richardson had become a Quaker in the 1680’s.  He later moved to Ayton in Cleveland.

A descendant, Thomas Richardson, became a prominent London financier and, on his retirement, founded a Quaker school in the village (which continued until 1997).  Another Richardson from these roots, John Richardson, moved in the 1760’s further north to Newcastle.

A New England Quaker Story.  Throughout the 17th century, English Nantucketers resisted all attempts to establish a church on the island, partly because a woman by the name of Mary Coffin Starbuck forbade it.  It was said that nothing of consequence was done on Nantucket without Mary’s approval.   Mary Coffin and Nathaniel Starbuck had been the first English couple to be married on the island, in 1662, and had established a lucrative outpost for trading with the Wampanoag.  Whenever an itinerant minister came to Nantucket looking to establish a congregation, he was firmly rebuffed by Mary Starbuck.

Then, in 1702, Mary succumbed to a charismatic Quaker minister named John Richardson.  Speaking before a group assembled in the Starbucks’ living room, Richardson succeeded in moving Mary to tears.  It was Mary Starbuck’s conversion to Quakerism that established the unique fusion of spirituality and covetousness that would make possible Nantucket’s rise as a whaling port.

Quakers or, more properly, members of the Society of Friends, depended on their own experience of God’s presence, the “Inner Light,” for guidance rather than relying on a Puritan minister’s interpretation of scripture.  But Nantucket’s ever growing number of Quakers were hardly free-thinking individuals.  Friends were expected to conform to rules of behavior determined during yearly meetings, encouraging a sense of community that was as carefully controlled as that of any New England society.

If there was a difference, it was the Quaker belief in pacifism and a conscious spurning of worldly ostentation-two principles that were not intended to interfere, in any way, with a person’s ability to make money.  Instead of building fancy houses or buying fashionable clothes, Nantucket’s Quakers reinvested their profits in the whale fishery.  As a result, they were able to weather the downturns that laid to waste so many mainland whaling merchants, and Mary Starbuck’s children, along with their Macy and Coffin cousins, quickly established a Quaker whaling dynasty.

Quaker Richardsons in Newcastle.  Many Richardsons were to be found in Newcastle itself as the city grew.  The table following gives a list of prominent Richardsons in that city from the 18th century onwards:

Born Richardson      Activity
1733 George Quaker missionary
1794 Thomas Miles a painter of local scenes
1837 John Wigham Quaker shipbuilder
1838 Elizabeth Quaker diarist
1864 Hugh Quaker peace advocate
1881 Lewis Fry Quaker who studied the causes of war

These Richardsons started off as tanners in the town and then spread into other activities.  Most sought to lead their lives according to their Quaker beliefs.  The shipbuilder John Wigham Richardson, for instance, founded a local Workers’ Benevolent Trust, the forerunner to today’s trade unions, at his yard in the 1890’s.

Perhaps the most remarkable of these Quakers was Lewis Fry Richardson.  He applied at the Meteorological Office his mathematical mind to the dynamics of weather patterns and the issue of making weather forecasts.  In a sense he was ahead of his time; but the time taken to solve his equations in a pre-computer age was just too long.   Even so, the principles which he established can be said to have laid the foundations for present-day forecasting.  As a Quaker, he was a pacifist and resigned from the Met Office when it became part of the Air Ministry in 1920.  He devoted the rest of his life to a mathematical investigation into the causes of war.

Sir Ralph Richardson, although born in the West Country, came from these Newcastle Quaker Richardson roots as well.  He was one of the great English stage actors of the 20th century.

Quaker Richardsons in Northern Ireland.  As the linen industry in Lisburn in the 19th century progressed, Quaker families such as the Richardsons developed large spinning and weaving factories in the area.  James Nicholson Richardson built up his firm to a workforce of 7,000, with plants in Armagh, Antrim, and Down and offices in Belfast and London.  His family became one of the wealthiest in Northern Ireland.

These Richardsons, like other Quaker families, were buried in the Friends’ modest graveyard in Moyallon, County Down, but with some special treatment:

“Although all Quakers are considered equal in the eyes of God, the Richardsons had their own private burial plot, hedged off from the main burial ground; thus prompting the saying that although all Quakers are equal, some are more equal than others!”

In 1845, John Grubb Richardson conceived the idea of a model village when he and his family bought the Bessbrook linen mill near Newry.  For a working population of 4,000, they built schools, a butcher’s shop, a dairy, a savings bank, and a number of churches.  They refused, however, any building permission for pubs or to sell alcohol.

To this day there are still no licensed buildings in Bessbrook and it is probably the only dry town or village in Ireland.

The Richardson Clockmakers of Cheshire.  The Richardson name at Great Budworth in Cheshire dates back in parish records to 1566.  Curiously, many of these Richardsons bore the rare first name of Holford, which probably stemmed from the marriage of Peter Richardson and Mary Holford in 1654.

The first of the Richardson clockmakers was Richard Richardson.  He was making longcase clocks at nearby Aston in the 1730’s and died there in 1752.  He appears to have been the son of Holford Richardson, a yeoman of Crowley and the son of Peter and Mary Richardson.

From Richard’s brother came two Thomas Richardsons, father and son, who were also clockmakers.  Both lived at Weaverham in Cheshire.  Thomas senior died there in 1778; Thomas junior, who marked his clocks ‘Junior,’ died there in 1818.  Holford and Richard Richardson of the next generation were also clockmakers. Holford’s son Joseph was described as a watchmaker, as pocket watches had begun to take the place of longcase clocks in Victorian fashion.  Joseph who lived at Witton and died in 1887 was the last in this family line of clock and watch makers in Cheshire.

However, another Thomas Richardson had moved to Manchester sometime in the 1790’s and his descendants were watchmakers on Swan Street in the 1840’s.Some later Richardsons here were also watchmakers, others became jewelers and pawnbrokers.

Reader Feedback: This report is based on the family research undertaken by Grahame Bulfield (

Richardsons in South Carolina.  Richard Richardson had arrived in South Carolina from Virginia in colonial times.  He owned a plantation in Clarendon County where he entertained local society.  One member of the Richardson family, who played by ear, came up with a melody which became a favorite.  This waltz, known as “the Richardson waltz,” was handed down from generation to generation by ear until 1985 when an arrangement was created by Mary Richardson Briggs.

These Richardsons had an eventful Revolutionary War.  At the surrender of Charleston, Brigadier Richardson and his two sons, Richard and Edward, were taken prisoner by the British and sent to a military station on John’s Island.  Here the Brigadier died and his two sons nearly fell victim to the smallpox.  However, Richard was able to make his escape and, being disguised by the effects of the disease, returned to the neighborhood of his home where he concealed himself in the Santee Swamp.

Richard did go out and visit his wife at their plantation.  However, he was seen on his way by a loyalist.  A party of them assembled and were soon to be seen drawn up in front of his house.  Richard hastily came forth, leaped on his steed, and galloped up the oak-lined avenue, managing to avoid the firing that was aimed at him.

When peace returned, Colonel Richardson resumed his life as a planter.  Of he and his wife’s ten children, four died young.  The rest married and reared families.  In the 19th century, two Richardsons of this family – father and son – became Governors of South Carolina pre and post bellum.

Reader Feedback – David Richardson of South Carolina and Arkansas.  I am Patricia Sheldon and I have been researching the family of David James Richardson born 1807 in South Carolina (I have seen a reference to him being born in Fairfield) who is my 3rd great-grandfather.

I have done three DNA tests and the Richardson family is very difficult to research because there are so many of them.  I recently had a DNA match and their link is to Thomas Richardson b 1801 in Fairfield, SC and he is also matching other In common matches also related to me and David.

David is found in the 1840 census in Lauderdale, MS; from 1850 to 1890 he is living in Drew Co., Arkansas.

Patricia Sheldon (



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