Robertson Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Robertson Meaning
Robertson is a patronymic name meaning “son of
Robert.” The surname is to be found in the north of England but
particularly popular in Scotland – because of national figures such as
the Bruce.

Robertson Resources on

Select Robertson Ancestry

Scotland. The Robertson clan has laid claim to be the
oldest clan family in Scotland, with descent from the old Celtic kings
and earls
of Atholl. Their base has been Struan in
Perthshire since the early 13th century.
At that time the clan name was de
, but it then took the Gaelic form of Donnachaidh
(descendants of Duncan).

The clan’s first chief was Donnachaidh Reamhair (Stout
Duncan) who, according to tradition, fought for Robert the Bruce in the
Wars of Independence. It was Robert Donnachaidh, the fourth
chief, who
helped capture the assassins of King James I in 1437. He was
rewarded. Around that time most of the clan adopted the
nomenclature of Robertson
after this chief.

The Robertson clan feuded with the Stewart clan of
Atholl and William Robertson of
the sixth chief, was killed in 1516 trying to recover lands he had lost. The eighth chief was then murdered and his
brother inherited the estate

These Robertsons later suffered because of their backing
for the Jacobites.

, known as both a Jacobite chief and a poet,
departed for France in 1690 after having had his estates
confiscated. He
did later return but, following the Jacobite defeat in 1715, took
refuge in
France again. He returned a second time and died in Scotland in
1749 in
his 81st year, the last of his Struan line (the current chief derives
from the
Robertsons of Invervack).

Many Robertsons lost out after the Jacobite defeat in
1745, some being killed at the battlefield, others going into hiding,
others again fleeing to France.
The Robertsons of Lude
managed to
escape the forfeiture of their estates
because the head of their family was at that time still a minor.
William Robertson of this family fought in America and in the
Napoleonic Wars
and was also a friend to Robert Burns.
But he was the last of the line at Lude

Robertsons used
to be found mainly in Perth and Dundee. Today there are more in
around Glasgow and Edinburgh. James
Robertson devised his Golden shred marmalade in Paisley near Glasgow in
1860’s. It proved popular and
Robertson’s Jams resulted.

America. Nicholas Robertson, who was first recorded in
Virginia in the 1680’s, seems to have been the forebear of the Robertson pioneers in Tennessee.

In 1770 James Robertson left his home in
North Carolina and led an expedition beyond the Allegheny mountains
into what
is now east Tennessee. He and his uncle
Charles were leaders of the new government that was formed in the
Watauga settlement
two years later. James later co-founded
what is now the city of Nashville. His
nephew Sterling grew up there and was an early proponent of Texas
colonization. In the 1830’s he founded Robertson’s colony in what
is now
Milam county, Texas.

There were three more notable Robertson families in
Virginia, one of Petersburg and two of Augusta county.

William Robertson of Chesterfield county was
the father
of “Scotch Bill” Robertson, born in 1716, and the forebear of the
Robertsons of
Petersburg, Virginia. Thomas B.
Robertson, born there, moved south to New Orleans to take the post of
Territorial Secretary in 1807. He became
Governor of Louisiana in 1820. Meanwhile
his brother Wyndham was briefly later acting Governor of Virginia.

Another Robertson
line in Virginia began with James and Mary Robertson purchasing land in
county in the 1720’s. Their descendants
to Georgia and Louisiana before returning to Virginia in the late
1800’s. Willis Robertson was a prominent
politician, serving first in the US House of Representatives and then
in the US
Senate in a career from 1933 and 1967.
Although a Democrat, his politics were conservative. His son is the tele-evangelist Pat Robertson.

James and Rebecca
Robertson, Scots Irish from Coleraine, came to Augusta county, Virginia
in the
1730’s. Their descendants moved in the
1780’s to Tennessee.

Canada. Colin
who came to Canada from Perth as a young man in 1802
was one of the pioneers in expanding the fur trading business westward
in the
years between 1815 and 1820. William
Robertson was an earlier Scotsman in the fur trade, initially in
Detroit and
later in Quebec. But the death of his
wife in 1800 left him heartbroken and he left Canada forever.

Two Robertson families from Glasgow – those
of John and James Robertson – were early settlers of Lanark county in
arriving there in 1821. Their father
John had been a soldier with the British army during the Napoleonic

Zealand. Thomas Robertson from Edinburgh was an
early settler on the Otago
Peninsula on South Island in 1847. He
lived there for more than fifty years.


Robertson Miscellany

The Execution of William Robertson of Struan.  The Chronicle of Fortingall recorded:

  • in 1509 “John Cunnison of Edradour by Moulin was slain by
    William Robertson of Struan,”
  • and in 1516 “the death of William Struan Robertson who was
    beheaded at Tulymat
    on April 7th.”

Why was he executed?
Just because he killed Cunnison did not make him a villain.  Justice was very rough and very ready in this
period and Cunnison may well have deserved his end.

The stories written down in the 19th century
have not been kind to William. It was said that he led an army of his
followers and Rannoch MacGregors which gave him ‘a band of upwards of
warlike and unscrupulous freebooters’ which held together for three
before William was caught and executed.

In William’s defense it could be said
that he had been deprived of much of his land and his inheritance by
his neighbors
and there was little else he could do other than to wage war on his
the Earl of Atholl.  And he lost that

Alexander Robertson, the Last of His Line.  Alexander
Robertson succeeded to the family estate and the
Robertson chiefship at the age of 18 in 1688. Soon
afterwards he joined Viscount Dundee for the cause of King James.  Although he does not appear to have been
actively involved in the rising, he was attainted by Parliament and had
estates forfeited.  On this news he
Scotland for the court of the exiled king in France where he lived for

Anne granted him a
remission and he was able to return to Scotland and his estates,
although the
forfeiture of 1690 was never legally repealed.

about 500 of his clan he joined the Earl
of Mar in 1715 and was taken prisoner at the battle of Sheriffmuir, but
rescued. Soon after he fell into the hands of a party of soldiers in
Highlands and was ordered to be conducted to Edinburgh.
However, with the assistance of his sister,
he contrived to escape on the way.  He
again took refuge in France.

1726 Alexander again returned to Scotland and,
obtaining remission again, regained his estates once more.  In 1745 he once more “marshaled his clan” in
behalf of the Stuarts, although his age prevented him from personally
any active part in the rebellion.  He
died in his own house of Carie in Rannoch, in 1749, in his 81st year,
lawful issue and in him ended the direct male line of Robertsons.  It was said that two
thousand men marched a dozen miles behind his coffin to his grave at

volume of his poems was
published after his death and an edition was reprinted at Edinburgh in
1785.  This edition also included his History and Martial Achievements of the
Robertsons of Strowan.

The Robertsons of Lude.  In 1619 Colin Campbell sold the property of Lude of Blair-Athol in Perthshire to Alexander Robertson of Inchmagranichan.  He later sold its Feudal Superiority to the
Earl of Atholl.  This Alexander, who died
in 1639 and was buried in the Lude vault at Kilmaveonaig church, was
the first of six Robertsons to reside at Lude.

Alexander was a zealous Protestant and
assisted in 1627 in raising 3,000 men for the service of the King of
Sweden.  However, in 1745 these
Robertsons were to be on the side of the Jacobites.

James Robertson was only nine when the 1745
Rebellion started.  His mother Lady Lude
raised men from the estate for the Jacobite cause, most of whom then
deserted on
the route to Edinburgh.  Lady Lude also
entertained Bonnie Prince Charlie at Lude with dancing to music on her
fiddle.  Following the failure of the
Rebellion she was briefly arrested.  But
the Lude Estate was not subject to forfeiture because technically its
owner was
still a minor.

The Feudal Superiority of
Lude remained in the hands of the Atholl family all this time.  General William Robertson did make attempts
in 1794 and again in 1804, in between military campaigns, to buy that
superiority.  But with the Lude estate
then in financial trouble, he had little in the way of financial
resources to
do so.  He tried legal action, but to no
avail.  He eventually lost on appeal in the
House of
Lords.  Due to the costs of the legal
action he became effectively bankrupt.
On his death in 1820 the estate went straight into receivership
and it
was sold in 1821 to a gentleman by the name of McInroy.

The Father of Tennessee.  In Wake county, North Carolina there is a historical marker commemorating General James Robertson which reads as follows:

James Robertson.

Father of
He led a delegation from Wake
county across the North Carolina mountains in 1770 and founded Watauga,
first independent self-government in North America.
The Wake county plantation where he lived lies
1.5 miles east on the Neuse river.”

He had
been born in Virginia in 1742, moved to North Carolina with his parents
1768, and died in the Chickasaw Agency (now in West Tennessee) in 1814.
In 1825
his remains were re-interred at Nashville, with marked honors by the
citizens and
an appropriate eulogium by an early historian of the state.

1995 John Brayton published his
findings that both General James Robertson, the “father of Tennessee,”
Colonel Charles Robertson, the trustee for the Watauga settlement, were
descendants of Israel and Sarah Roberson of Bristol parish in Prince
county, Virginia:

  • Colonel
    Charles, born
    in 1733, was their sixth son
  • and General
    James, born in 1742, was the son of their second son John.

other brothers Elijah, John and Mark
were also to be found at the Watauga settlement.

Who was Israel Roberson?  He was probably
the son of Nicholas
Robertson, first found in Virginia records in 1687.
He lived in Bristol parish and both he and
Israel were Baptists.  Israel himself was
born around the year 1698 and first appeared in Virginia records in
1719.  He died in North Carolina in 1758.

Prior to
that, we don’t know.  Some claims have
been made to connect these Robertsons to certain Robertsons in Scotland.  But no linkage has ever been found.

Colin Robertson in Canada.  Colin Robertson was born into a hand-weaving family in Perth in 1783.  He brought this
trade to Canada with him when he arrived there as a young man.

But weaving was not for him.  The trade itself
was dying because of the
competition from factories.   The boss
the Hudson Bay Company, who came to dislike him intensely, wrote in his
that Robertson was “too lazy to live by the loom.”
He was just a “frothy, trifling conceited

had other qualities, however, that brought him to the fore in HBC’s
with their principal rivals, the NW Company, in their westward
expansion.  It was said:

knew the country for which he
was bound; he also knew both the methods of the Nor’Westers and the
personalities of the men with whom he would be contending.
He was a braggart, but an audacious one.  His
favorite maxim was: ‘When you are among
wolves, howl!’

striking man, six feet
tall, with a long aquiline nose, a crest of undisciplined red hair, and
fondness for quoting Shakespeare and drinking Madeira, he was generous,
flamboyant, extravagant and he cultivated these qualities when he was
among the
voyageurs on whom his success depended.
But he was genuinely courageous, willing to take risks, and
aware of the
advantage to be gained from anticipating his opponents.”

In fact his determined
assaults in the Athabasca region between 1816 and 1820 were major
factors in
breaking down the opposition of the Nor’Westers to union with the
Hudson Bay

However, he had by his manners
created numerous enemies and his role in the subsequent expansion of
the company fur
trade became less and less.  During the
last decade of his life he was in obvious mental as well as physical
clinging in memory to his long-past feats as compensation for the
of his later years. 

Thomas Robertson on the Peninsula.  The Otago
Peninsula is a long, hilly indented finger of land of 20
kilometers that
forms the easternmost part of Dunedin on South Island, New Zealand.  This was where Thomas Robertson, his wife
Margaret, and their family came to settle after their arrival from
Scotland in

Thomas lived there until his death in 1898.  The Otago Witness recorded on March 17:

who lived to the great age of 95 on the
Peninsula, came from Edinburgh, arriving in the Philip
.  He opened a quarry at Anderson’s Bay and brought the
stone across the harbor in a punt.  With
his son James he built the school and other buildings with this stone.  Afterwards he quarried at Forbury Road and
discovered lime at Burnside.  He also
on the Peninsula until his death.”

His father Thomas had been a baker in Edinburgh, but had been press-ganged into the British navy
the Napoleonic wars just two days after his marriage.
He managed to escape and return to Edinburgh
but died soon after the birth of his son Thomas in 1803.


Robertson Names

  • Robert Donnachaidh, the fourth chief of the clan, was the first in 1437 to adopt the Robertson name. 
  • Alexander Robertson was a poet and a Jacobite
    chief, the last of his line.   
  • William
    was an 18th century Scottish historian and principal of Edinburgh University.
  • James Robertson was the 18th century American explorer sometimes called the father of Tennessee.
  • Sir William Robertson was British Chief of the Imperial General Staff during the First World War.
  • Sir Dennis Robertson was a distinguished British economist who worked closely with Keynes.
  • Pat Robertson is an American tele-evangelist.

Select Robertson Numbers Today

  • 86,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Midlothian)
  • 56,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 47,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)


Select Robertson 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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