Tyson Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Tyson Meaning
origin of the surname Tyson is not clear.  It could have come from
the Old French tison, meaning
“firebrand,” and be a nickname for someone with a fiery temperament; or
it could have been a variant of the surname Dyson (from
Dennis).   Gilbert
(or Tesson) held the Alnwick estate in
Northumberland in the days before the Norman invasion.  But his
line died out in the 12th century.  In America Tyson could have evolved from the German Thyssen or Dutch Tijssen.

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Tyson Ancestry

England.   There were
Tysons as sheriffs and mayors of Bristol, from whose number came Edward
Tyson, the noted scientist and physician.  But the main
concentration of Tysons was further north, in Cumberland.

Cumberland  Tyson
has been very much a Cumbrian name (it ranked 22nd among
the list of most common Cumbrian surnames in 1829) and was particularly
to be found in the Lake District areas of Langdale, Eskdale,
and Wasdale.  The poet William Wordswoth boarded with an Ann Tyson
at Hawkshead when he attended school there in the 1780’s (her cottage
is still standing).  More recently, Tim Tyson was the local
shoemaker in Grasmere and today Alan Tyson is the mayor of Cockermouth.

By the early 19th century, the Tyson name had extended to the Cumbrian
coast, to the shipping community at Maryport and the mining community
at Workington, as the following account testified:

“I was born in Whitehaven in 1919 and
the Tysons were my mother’s family.  I had six brothers and they
all worked in the pits at one time.  Grandmother Tyson was one of
the “screen lasses” who went to London in the 1880’s as the Government
wanted to stop women working on the screens.”

Elsewhere  Tysons
also moved south into Lancashire.  Thomas Tyson came to Ulverston,
then in Lancashire, from Cumberland in the 1770’s.   The 1891 census
in fact showed
more Tysons in Lancashire than in Cumberland.

America.  Early Tysons in
America may have had English origins, but not necessarily.  A
Thiessen family from the German town of Krefeld arrived in Pennsylvania
in the 1680’s and became Quakers there.  Reiner Tyson was one of
the early settlers of Germantown.  These Tysons later were
prosperous merchants in Baltimore and Elisha Tyson a prominent
abolitionist there.

The origin of earlier Tyson arrivals into Northampton county, Virginia
in the 1660’s is uncertain.  Legend has it that they came from
Wales.  But the early presence of names such as Matthias and
Cornelius might suggest Dutch or German roots instead.

These Tysons moved south into North Carolina in the early 1700’s (some
of their lines were chronicled in Roger Kammerer’s 1987 book The Tyson and May Genealogy of Pitt
County, NC). 
From there they spread into Georgia,
Arkansas, and Alabama.
It is believed that John W. Tyson, the founder of
Tyson Foods in Arkansas, came from this family.

There were also Tysons in America from Germany.  Descendants of Cornelius Tyson from Krefeld in Germany settled in Wood county, Ohio.

The Tyson name has been common for some reason on Nevis St. Kitts, the
smallest islands on the Caribbean Windward island chain.  The name
might have remained obscure had not a Tyson family from Nevis sought to
better themselves in New York.  Their daughter was the noted
American actress Cicely Tyson who married the jazz trumpeter Miles
Davis in 1981.

Australia and New Zealand.
Some Tysons from Cumberland headed this way in the 19th century, such

  • John Tyson from the mining town of Workington who left for
    Australia in 1860 in search of gold
  • and Joseph Tyson and his brother Abraham who emigrated to
    Canterbury, New Zealand later in the 1860’s.

But the most celebrated of these Tysons was James Tyson, born in Australia
in 1819 to a convict mother from Cumberland.  A cattle rancher, he
became a byword for wealth and a legend
in his lifetime.  When he died in 1898 without leaving a will,
many Tysons stepped out of the woodwork to seek a share of his fortune.


Tyson Miscellany

Gilbert Tyson of Alnwick.  Tradition holds that after the Battle of Hastings William the Conqueror
bestowed the barony of Alnwick in Northumberland to his standard-bearer
Gilbert Tyson.  But the reality appears to have been that Gilbert
already held the estate, having received it at the time of Edward the Confessor, and that he fought and died fighting against William at Hastings.

Gilbert’s son William stepped into his role as lord of the manor at Alnwick.  His lands later passed to the Norman lord de Vesci.   It may have been that the transition occurred peacefully, William’s daughter
Alda marrying Ivo de Vesci.  Or it may have been that William was
forcibly removed from his properties.

Some have said that these Tysons were Saxon rather than Norman.  But Gilbert may have been Norman after all. Tyson or Tesson was a
Norman baronial family descended from Radulphus Taxo of Angers who
founded the Abbey of Fontenay near Caen.

Early Tyson Wills in Eskdale

1567 John Tyson Eskdale (Bakerthwaite)
1576 Isabel Tyson Eskdale (Birker)
1584 Edward Tyson Eskdale (Birker)
1588 Roger Tyson Eskdale
1596 Richard Tyson Eskdale (Birker)

Tim Tyson and Colin Dodgson in the Lake District.  Tim Tyson and Colin Dodgson were insatiable hill-climbers from Grasmere.  Colin ran a tearoom in the village, while Tim the local shoemaker.  Colin was a sort of über-bagger and the older Tim was happy enough to let his friend wander off to the more obscure bumps alone.

Although they
finished their Munros together on Mull in 1951, only Dodgson’s name
appears in the list.  “Don’t go writing a lot about me,” said
Tyson when interviewed by Harry Griffin for the Manchester

The pair’s love of
the hills extended to the liquid bits and Griffin – the greatest of
all hill journalists – was able to write a Guardian piece in
1959 entitled “Cold comfort for the tarn baggers”.  This marked
Tyson and Dodgson completing their dips in all 463 Lakeland tarns with
one on Esk Pike.  That wasn’t enough for them, though.  The
pair revised their list and eventually plunged into 534 tarns and 195

Tyson Surname Distribution in the UK in 1891

County Numbers Percent
Cumberland   610   18%
Westmoreland   140    4%
Lancashire  1,150   34%
Yorkshire   350   10%
London   350   10%
Elsewhere   800   24%
Total  3,400  100%

James Tyson the Australian Rancher.  Isabella Tyson had been convicted of theft and transported to Australia
in 1809 and her husband William and young son travelled on the
transport ship out with her.  And so began for this family a
period of hardship, courage, bravery, and survival.  They were
real pioneers in the early days of settlement in Australia.
Isabella and William were to have nine children in total, of which
James was the third.  James Tyson turned out to be a fine-looking
man, six foot four inches tall, hard working and fair minded.

His fortune was founded on success in butchering on the Bendigo
goldfields.  It was extended by canny buying, knowledge of cattle
and of stockroutes, pastoral lending, and the judicious selection of
enormous leaseholds to provide a chain of supply from north Queensland
into Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney.

He was a byword for wealth and a legend
during his own lifetime.  Unmarried and without heirs, he died in
1898 without leaving a will.  Many Tysons back in England, hearing
of developments, pushed their case that they should inherit his
fortune.  The Liverpool Mercury,
for instance, carried this article in early 1899:

“It appears that there are claimants in
Flintshire to the millions left by the late James Tyson the Australian
millionaire.  The claimants reside in the neighborhood of Northop
Hall near Hawarden and consist of two branches of the family, descended
from Tyson who came from Ireland in the last century with the
proprietors of the Irish colliery.

It is Peter Tyson from Northop Hall who claims to be a cousin of the
late millionaire.  Five years earlier, his sister Mary had spent
some time researching the family pedigree and had written to James
Tyson claiming to be a relative through his grandmother.”

The following article appeared more recently in the Journal of the
Cumberland Family History Society.

“A century ago anybody and everybody
with the name of Tyson, possibly for the first time in their lives,
suddenly became fascinated with the precise details of their
ancestry.  In an article about the importance of wills, the
treasurer of this society wrote: ‘When I became vicar of the remote parish of Ulpha, in every register I
found old letters addressed to one of my predecessors thus – Dear Sir:
re. Tyson millions – from which I gathered that the said Mr. Tyson had
died intestate and that dozens of hopeful Tysons hoped to acquire a
share of his wealth.'”

James Tyson’s estate, which realized £2 million, was eventually divided
among his next of kin after an extended series of court cases.

Archibald Tyson of Lowndes County, Alabama.  Archibald Tyson left Pitt county, North Carolina for Alabama in
1828.   According to the family tradition he journeyed for
five weeks with twelve Negroes and ten mules to get to Alabama.
Archibald married in 1843 and he and his wife Sarah built their
house in Lowndesboro known as The
.  He was remembered there as a successful cotton
farmer of
practical means who would not allow his overseers to whip his slaves.

When the Civil War ended, he had on hand 500 slaves to set free.
But he had come through the war with 500 bales of stored cotton and
$10,000 in saved gold.  Archibald’s descendants still live in the

John W. Tyson of Tyson Foods.  According to company lore, truck driver John W.
Tyson ran out of gas in Springdale, Arkansas and decided to settle
there.  He hauled hay, fruit, and chickens for several

When he was unable to get enough freight work in Arkansas he spent his
life savings to buy a truckload of chickens and drove them to Chicago
where they sold for a higher price.  He repeated this procedure
several times, then bought several more trucks, and became a leading
supplier of chickens in several major cities across the Midwest.

In 1935, when he was unable to purchase enough chickens to supply his
route, he began raising his own chickens and milling feed.  Tyson
Feed & Hatchery opened its first processing plant in 1957 and went
public as Tyson’s Foods in 1963.

Tyson and his wife were killed in 1967 when their car was broadsided by
a speeding train.  At the company’s headquarters a replica of its
founder’s office is maintained, with a clock on the wall stopped at the
moment of his death.

The business, known as Tyson Foods since 1971, is now the world’s
largest beef processing firm, America’s second largest chicken
supplier, and a leader in pork production.

Reader Feedback – Tysons from Germany.  In 1987 one
of my cousins compiled a Cornelius Tyson Descendant Book:
1652-1986.  She lived in Wood County Ohio where most of
the Tysons settled.

Cornelius Tyson was believed to be born in Krefeld (Crefeld) Germany in 1652.  The exact date
of his arrival in America is unknown.  He
was noted in Germantown when the town was formed in 1684.  Reynier
had arrived in Germantown in 1683 aboard the Concord but there is no
proof that Corneilius and Reynier were brothers.

Cornelius was married to Margaret and they
were Mennonites in the Skippack area.   According
to his will, he was a weaver, lawyer
and surveyor (these documents at the Library of the University of
Massachusetts).  He was named as one of the
original settlers of Germantown history.

Cornelius’s first son Matthias was born in
Krefeld Germany in 1682 and came to this country with his
Matthias married Barbara Sellen and Mathias was a business man, oil
miller and
attorney in Germantown.   There are
deeds where he purchased tracts of land.   They
lived along the Mill Road, Creamery, Pennsylvania.

Isaac Nash Tyson’s son Daniel Fry Tyson moved
to Montgomery township in Wood county Ohio.  A
Tyson reunion is held each year and I
believe it is over 100 years now.

Tysons of Wood County (tmehall@midco.net).



Select Tyson Names

  • Edward Tyson was a 17th century
    scientist and physician, commonly regarded as the founder of modern comparative anatomy.
  • James Tyson was a legendary
    Australian rancher of the late 19th century.
  • John W. Tyson founded Tyson
    Foods in Arkansas in the 1930’s.
  • Frank Tyson, nicknamed “Typhoon,” was the English cricketer and fearsome fast bowler of the 1950’s.
  • Cicely Tyson is an American actress of Caribbean roots.
  • Mike Tyson rose from the streets of Brooklyn to become the heavyweight boxing champion of the world.

Select Tyson Numbers

  • 7,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Lancashire)
  • 8,000 in America (most numerous
    in North Carolina)
  • 4,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia).


Select Tyson 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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