Watson Surname Genealogy

Watson is patronymical, from “son of
Wat”. Wat was a medieval
abbreviation of the Germanic name Walter, coming from wald meaning “rule” and heri
meaning “army.”  The
surname sprung up in the Scots Lowlands and in the north of
Watson Resources on

Scotland. Watson, Watt,
and MacWatt are all names in Scotland derived from Wat or

Watsons in
Edinburgh dates from 1392. The Watson family of Saughton near
Edinburgh was
influential landowners in the area for about three centuries from
George Watson
was a wealthy Edinburgh banker who, on his death in 1723,
bequeathed the bulk of his fortune to what was to become Watson’s
College in
the city.

Walter Watson was recorded as a landowner in Dumbarton on
Clydeside in
1494. A number of his descendants became magistrates and provosts
(mayors) there. The Watsons have also been long-established at
in Arbroath.

England. A Watson family has been at Rockingham
in Northamptonshire since 1530 when Edward Watson,
the founder
of the
Watson dynasty, first leased the castle. The direct family line
the death of the 3rd Earl of Rockingham in 1746.

Another line,
continued with Charles Watson-Wentworth, Lord Rockingham, who was twice
Prime Minister in the late 1700’s. Some of the Watson families in
Yorkshire may also have had a lineal descent from these Watsons.

A line of Watsons held the old Malton priory and later acquired Bilton
near Harrogate in Yorkshire. Joseph Watson started his soap
business in
Leeds in
1830. This was transformed by his grandson Joseph into the
largest soap
manufacturer in the north of England. The firm was known as

One Watson family history began with the birth of John Watson
Renwick, Cumberland in 1721. They later
spread across Cumberland and Northumberland, as well as abroad.

Ireland. Many
Scots Watsons migrated to Ulster during the 17th
century. Watsons from Ayrshire were in
county Down as early as 1607 as part of James Hamilton’s plantation. A number of Watsons were involved in the
defense of Londonderry during its siege in 1689, including Captain
Watson, Master of the Gunners, and Captain George Watson, a signer of
letter to William and Mary.

Many Ulster Watsons left for America in the 18th
century. Others stayed. Robert
was a
pioneer of the linen industry in Lurgan, Armagh. In
1808 he built one of the first hand-loom
factories in Ireland.

America. Thomas Watson came to Salem,
from Devon in England in 1640. A much
later Thomas Watson, who worked with Alexander Graham Bell on the
was born in Salem in 1854. Whether the
two were related is not known.

The majority of the Watson arrivals, however, were Scots or
Scots Irish.

Thomas Watson
the Scotchman
came to Cherrystone Creek in
Pittsylvania county, Virginia sometime in the 1740’s when it was still
territory. His descendants, at first
Presbyterian and then Methodist, were still living at the Scotchman’s
homestead in 1892 and are still in the area today, the last five of
them being
named Fletcher Watson.

Others who stayed put were the Watsons on land between
the Edisto and Saluda rivers in South Carolina.
William Watson had arrived there in 1745 in a circuitous route
that had
taken in New York, Virginia, and North Carolina. He
himself met his death in a fight with
Cherokee Indians on the Edisto river, supposedly through the treachery
of false

Among the Scots Irish Watsons were:

  • Matthew Watson who arrived in Boston
    from Derry in 1718 and settled in Leicester, Massachusetts shortly
    thereafter. He was not to live long,
    however, being hit by a falling tree in 1720. But
    his son Matthew, born in 1696, lived onto 1803.
  • John Watson from
    Donegal who came to Lancaster county, Pennsylvania in 1730.
  • and other Watsons
    who came to Pennsylvania at that time and later moved onto South

Asia. Thomas Boswell Watson, born on
outskirts of Edinburgh, moved to Asia in the 1840’s and started a small
business in Hong Kong. From these
beginnings came the Watson chain of beauty and health stores in SE Asia.

Australia. John Watson had come to
Tasmania in 1833 from
a shipbuilding family in Beverly, Yorkshire.
He built clippers and whalers there, many of whom his brother

Watson Miscellany

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

Watson Names

George Watson was a
17th century Edinburgh banker who founded Watson’s College, one
of the leading private schools in the city.
worked with Alexander Graham Bell on the invention
of the telephone.
William Watson was a coal
mining baron in West Virginia in the early 1900’s.
John Watson was the fictional
associate of the detective Sherlock Holmes.
Robert Watson-Watt was the
Scottish pioneer of radar.
Thomas J. Watson was the
founder of the computer giant IBM.
Tom Watson is an American
golfer, the great rival to Jack Nicklaus in the 1970’s.

Select Watsons Today

  • 181,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Yorkshire)
  • 90,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 64,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)



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