Richardson Surname Meaning, History & Origin
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.
Select Richardson Resources on The Internet
- The Richardson Name Website. Genealogy of the Richardson name.
- Richardson Family Club. US Richardson association.
- Richardsons in Oregon and Utah. Family history and Richardson heritage.
- Richardson DNA Project. Richardson DNA.
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. A Nicholas Richardson, possibly a descendant, started a family wool business in Yorkshire in 1484, according to the earliest Bierley deed records.
Yorkshire. 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. Richard Richardson, born in 1603, was prominent among these wool merchants. A later Richard Richardson, born in 1663, was brought up and lived most of his life at Bierley. He was one of the first generation of Englishmen to take an informed interest in botany.
The Richardson family over the years intermarried with other leading families in the area such as the Currers, Ferrands, Hopkinsons, Midgleys, and Saviles. Overall, they were middle class made good, rather than aristocracy.
The Quaker movement begun by George Fox seems to have struck a chord with these Richardsons. The first Quaker meetinghouse in Yorkshire was built in 1670 at Kirbymoorside. John Richardson, who lived at Hutton-le-Hole nearby, became apprenticed to a Friend there after having been disowned by his stepfather. He later achieved renown as a charismatic preacher, travelling to America and writing an autobiography at the end of a long and active life.
Richardsons were active in Quaker meetings, first in Whitby along the coast and later further north in Newcastle where they formed a close-knit Quaker community during the 19th century.
In the early 1800’s, Robert Richardson was a wealthy landowner in the weaving town of Barnsley, inhabiting a large stone mansion on Church Street. But the story that has been handed down about him does not do him much credit. When his daughter Frances ran away to marry an Irish soldier, he vowed to disinherit her. And he carried out on his threat. On his death in 1836, she received nothing of his £60,000 estate. Nevertheless there was a happy outcome. The three recipients of the will decided that the settlement had been unfair and conveyed the sum to her.
Later on, another Richardson, Henry Richardson, ran a linen works in Barnsley and was the town’s largest employer. He built a folly, Hartcliffe Tower (which still stands), at Penistone nearby and was the first mayor of the borough.
Newcastle. The following were some of the prominent Quaker Richardsons active in Newcastle in the 19th century:
- George Richardson, a Quaker missionary, born in North Shields in 1773.
- John Wigham Richardson, a Quaker shipbuilder, born in Newcastle in 1837.
- Elizabeth Richardson, a Quaker diarist, born in Westgate in 1838.
- Hugh Richardson, a Quaker peace advocate, born in Newcastle in 1864
- and Lewis Fry Richardson, a Quaker who studied the causes of war, born in Newcastle in 1881.
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.
Elsewhere. 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. Richardson is also a Scottish Lowland family name, with a large number to be found in Dumfries near the English border.
Dumfries. At the time of the English Civil War, Robert Richardson was one of the Dumfries city leaders who, as Covenanters, formed an alliance with the English Puritans. From these roots, a century later, came William Richardson, a Presbyterian missionary, and his nephew, William Richardson Davie, whose lives were to be shaped in America.
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.
Edinburgh and Glasgow. The Richardsons in Edinburgh were initially most evident in the publishing business. Archibald Richardson had moved from the Borthwick valley to Edinburgh in the 1760’s to become apprenticed as a bookbinder. Around the same time, John Richardson had allied himself with the scholarly Ruddiman family to publish The Caledonian Mercury, a newspaper which catered to the well-read middle-class Scots of the day.
The Richardson presence in Glasgow became stronger in the early 1800’s as James Richardson built up his sugar importing business. He was one of the five or six merchants who sourced supplies from producers in the British West Indies and fixed shipping to bring the sugars to Scottish refiners. He was a trader through and through. “Tell me, “ he used to say, “ any general article of commerce that I have not bought or sold.”
Ireland. The Richardsons in Ireland were a Protestant import. They were to be found mainly in county Armagh. They arrived there in the early 1600’s and settled in Loughgall, apparently from Worcestershire. A local grandee was Edward Richardson who was an MP between 1655 and 1696 and built Richhill castle, a Dutch-style manor house just outside Armagh city.
The linen industry had been started by Huguenot immigrants in the Lagan valley in the 18th century. It became a major industry in the 19th. Quaker families were prominent. Early Quaker linen families included the Nicholsons, Christys, and Greers, followed, as industrialization of the industry proceeded, by the Richardsons and the Bells.
Jonathan Richardson was a linen merchant in Lisburn in the early 1800’s who pioneered the techniques for keeping a bleach-green going throughout the year. His son, James Nicholson Richardson, built up the firm of JN Richardson & Sons. His Quaker Richardson family became one of the wealthiest in Northern Ireland.
America. Three Richardson brothers from Hertfordshire – Ezekiel, Samuel, and Thomas – joined Winthrop’s fleet on the Arbella for New England. The eldest, Ezekiel Richardson, arrived in 1636, settling in Charlestown, and his two brothers followed six years later. Their descendants can be traced to this day and include, via Thomas, Bill Richardson, the Governor of New Mexico.
Mary Starbuck became a Quaker convert on Nantucket in 1702 thanks to the persuasions of a charismatic Quaker preacher John Richardson.
Pennsylvania. There were also Quaker Richardsons in Pennsylvania by that time. A number seem to have been personal friends of William Penn and prospered accordingly:
- William Richardson had arrived on the Constant Friendship from England back in 1655. He was a close friend of William Penn, as evidenced by the marker that can be found near his home in Arundel county, Maryland.
- Francis Richardson from Newcastle was granted one of the first tracts of land in Pennsylvania by William Penn. His widow married Edward Shippen, a wealthy Quaker who later became mayor of Philadelphia. And his son Francis, with his shop on Front Street, became a celebrated silversmith in the town. This craft was handed down through two generations.
- while Samuel Richardson was appointed by Penn as the first alderman of Philadelphia. He played his part in the building of the town, from which he gained much wealth.
Heading South. 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.
James Richardson had come to Bladen county, North Carolina from New England in the 1770’s He built his plantation home, Harmony Hall, on the banks of the Cape Fear river. This house still stands. The British General Cornwallis had occupied the house during the War of Independence. Local legend has it that James’s wife, Elizabeth, was instrumental in Cornwallis’s defeat at Yorkville by secretly passing on his war plans to the American forces.
Later, John G. Richardson from this area headed south to the Gulf Coast where he purchased the Bayside sugar plantation in New Iberia, Louisiana in 1829. He was by some accounts a humane slave-owner.
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. Richard Richardson had an eventful Revolutionary War. In the 19th century, two Richardsons from his family, father and son, became Governors of South Carolina ante and post bellum.
Another Richardson family owned a plantation in Hampton county, Georgia at the time of the Civil War. Hattie Richardson was a child at that time. When interviewed some eighty years later, she could recall the day her brothers left to join the Confederate Army and the day Sherman’s army arrived and plundered their house from attic to cellar.
And to Texas. An early arrival in Texas, in 1837, was Willard Richardson. He had espoused the Southern cause and later guided his local newspaper, the Galveston News, to a position of prominence in Texas during and after the Civil War. He was a town booster as well, building an opera house next to his newspaper offices. After his death, the Richardson name continued in the town. Eight Richardsons perished in the great storm of 1900. Willard’s grandson was a long-time professor of obstetrics at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.
A number of Richardsons settled in East Texas, in and around Henderson County. Madison Richardson and his family had arrived by wagon train from South Carolina in the late 1850’s. Charles Bruce Richardson bought a farm there and became in later life a noted horticulturist. Farming was to be the principal occupation of the area until the 1930’s when the East Texas oilfields started gushing. Oil gave Sid Richardson from these parts his Texas money.
Canada. The earliest Richardson settlers in Canada were Scots active in the fur trade. Their sympathies were British rather than American during the War of Independence and they moved to Canada:
- John Richardson, from these Scots fur trading roots, became one of the early civic leaders in Montreal after the War of 1812.
- and another John Richardson began a fiction-writing career with novels about the British and French societies in Canada at that time.
However, perhaps the best-known Richardson name in Canada is that of James Richardson & Sons, whose large offices dominate the Winnipeg skyline. This grain business was started in Ontario by the company founder, James Richardson, in 1857. His son was an aviation pioneer whose company was later incorporated into Air Canada. Winnipeg international airport is named after him.
Australia. John Richardson, sentenced tor life in 1822, is remembered as one of the pioneer horticulturists in Australia. His background as a gardener gave him exposure to those who wanted to explore the fauna of this new and intriguing continent. As a result, he accompanied a number of botanical expeditions in the 1820’s and 1830’s and was able to secure his conditional release as a prisoner in 1837. He lived on for another forty five years.
Richard Richardson the Botanist. Born in 1663, Richard Richardson was born, brought up, and lived most of his life at Bierley on the outskirts of Bradford, a district at the heart of Yorkshire’s textile industry.
He was a member of the first generation of Englishmen to take an informed interest in bryophytes. He was a contemporary of Adam Buddle, Samuel Brewer (who came to live near Richardson), Samuel Doody and William Vernon.
Richardson was sufficiently wealthy not to need to overexert himself professionally, and was able to fully indulge his passion for plants by travelling widely in England, Wales, and Scotland. He took particular interest in mosses and lichens, as well as vascular plants.
He developed the gardens at Bierley to an extent hitherto unknown in northern England. Not confining himself to growing plants of medical interest, Richardson’s gardens became renowned as rich in both native and foreign plants, particularly when a hot-house was built in 1718.
When Richardson was asked for some specimens by a fellow botanist, he complained that the season was rather far advanced, but that he would do his best, and that he had “set about drying such plants as are still in flower; and I think I can preserve for you one hundred and fifty dry specimens that are fair and well-preserved. If I live to enjoy my garden another year, I dare promise you double that number.”
Richardson Quakers in Whitby. There was a large 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.
Lewis Fry Richardson. Perhaps the most remarkable of the Newcastle 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 he 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.
A friend said of him.
“Research for Richardson was the inevitable consequence of the tendency of the mental machine to run almost, but not quite, by itself. So he was a bad listener, distracted by his thoughts, and a bad driver, seeing his dream instead of the traffic. The same tendency explains why he appeared sometimes abrupt in manner, otherwise inexplicable in one of his character.”
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 (Grahame.Bulfield@ed.ac.uk)
James Richardson and the Sugar Business. In 1840 there were four market days in Glasgow, leaving Wednesday and Saturday free, to enable the members of the trade to visit Greenock and Port Glasgow.
The Lochgoil steamer, by which they travelled, left the Broomielaw at half-past seven in the morning, and breakfast was served on the passage down, and after spending two hours or so in business, they generally found their way back to Glasgow about two o’clock.
When there was fog the passage was tedious, and not without hazard. One sugar man was kept all night off Dumbarton in a steamer, with little food and inadequate sleeping accommodation.
Mr. Richardson generally sat near the funnel, enveloped in a blue cloak, interesting himself in some book he had brought with him. He was an omnivorous reader. After a drive of about five miles from Springhall, near Rutherglen, he glanced hurriedly at his letters, which were brought to him before the steamer started, and prepared himself for the eventualities of the day, whether to sell or buy.
The Quaker Richardsons of 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.
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.
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.
John Richardson, born in Yorkshire, was an itinerant preacher, publishing an autobiography at the end of a long and active life.
“More than half of his book is devoted to his trip to America from 1700 to 1703, during the course of which he stayed with William Penn, was present at a council with Indians, disputed with George Keith, met Thomas Story on Long Island, and preached in Maryland before the governor and his wife, Lord and Lady Baltimore.”
Nantuckers benefited from their new Quaker faith. 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.
Reader Feedback – Richardsons from Edinburgh to Wisconsin. Alexander Richardson Sr, and his wife Elizabeth Ann Witherden were members of St Andrews in New Town, Edinburgh at least from 1841 to 1849. I have an oral history given by my great grandmother Helen Rebecca (Porter) Richardson who lived in Evansville, Wisconsin. My great grandfather was Alexander Richardson Jr who was three when his family emigrated.
John Dunn (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Richard Richardson in South Carolina during the Revolutionary War. Richard Richardson 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 (email@example.com)
Texas Money. Like much of East Texas, Henderson county is a rolling expanse of pastureland, woods, and worked-out cotton fields. Its county seat and cultural capital is a sleepy town with the splendid name of Athens (pop. 5,300). Henderson County and Athens have a distinction that makes them notable even in Texas. They have spawned about 50 of Texas’ millionaires and multimillionaires. The biggest of these big rich are a select few known throughout Texas as “the new Athenians.”
Sid Richardson, the richest of the new Athenians because of his ocean of oil reserves, jokingly takes credit for starting the boys from Athens on their way years ago. When making his first killing in oil, Richardson drove into town in a block-long Cadillac. “When I left,” he says, “all of these guys sitting on those benches around the square jumped up and down and followed me out of town.”
A commentator described him as follows:
“He was your classic wildcatter. Nobody could estimate, not even Sid Richardson, how much money he had. During the hot months of summer, he would always spend time in California at a small place in Laboya. It was a place that lured an odd collection of people – Washington figures such as J. Edgar Hoover and Joseph McCarthy, Hollywood types, and Mafia people – because it was close to the race track which Sid Richardson loved.”
Richardson and his friend Clint Murchison hit the front pages when trying to help a fellow Texan buy the New York Central Railroad.
The story goes that Murchison called Richardson in California and said, “I need your help.” Richardson took the call just when he was starting out for a round of golf. In his haste, he agreed to go along on the deal without hearing the details. Next day when he spoke to Murchison again, Richardson was startled to find that it was not a $10 million deal as he thought but a $20 million one. “What the hell did you say was the name of that railroad?” he exclaimed.
- Richard Richardson, who grew up in a wool family in Yorkshire in the 1660’s, was one of the first Englishmen to take an informed interest in botany.
- Samuel Richardson can be considered the first writer of the English novel, with his books Pamela in 1740 and Clarissa in 1748.
- Samuel Richardson, a Quaker, helped build the city of Philadelphia in the early 1700’s.
- Sir John Richardson trained as a doctor in Dumfries in the 1830’s and had a long career as a physician, an Arctic explorer, and a naturalist.
- James Richardson founded his grain business in Kingston, Ontario in 1857. It remains privately owned and family controlled. Now based in Winnipeg, the company office dominates the city skyline.
- Sir Ralph Richardson, who made his professional debut in 1921, was one of the leading stage actors of his generation.
Richardson Numbers Today
- 93,000 in the UK (most numerous in Bedfordshire)
- 90,000 in America (most numerous in Texas).
- 41,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)
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