Williamson Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Williamson Meaning
has been a Scottish and northern English patronymic
surname, from the William that had been brought to England by William
Conqueror. William is derived from the
Germanic elements of wil meaning “will”
or “desire” and helm “helmet” or
Williams has been a more
popular patronymic surname than Williamson in England.
But Williams was never common in Scotland
which preferred the longer Williamson form.
Williamson is mainly found in the Lowlands.
It has also cropped up in the Highlands and
the Shetlands (in some cases from the Highland MacWilliams).

Williamson Resources on

Williamson Ancestry

was first found in Peebles on the Scottish borders:

  • Adam, son of William, rendered the
    accounts of the burgh of Peebles in
  • and John, son of William, was baillie
    there in 1365.

Williamsons were one of the recognized border clans.
However, they – like other border clans –
were dispersed in 1603 when the Scottish and English crowns became

Williamsons did remain in the Scottish borders.
There are Williamson
relics near
and they were Williamsons also at Balgray in Dumfries. But many migrated north to the more populated
areas of the Scottish Lowlands.
Williamsons here have included:

  • the
    Rev. David Williamson, the preacher
    at St Cuthbert’s church in Edinburgh in the late 1600’s.
    His is forever remembered by the Scottish
    folk song Dainty
  • Stephen
    Williamson was a councillor at his
    home-town of Kilrenny in Fife around the same time.
    A descendant, also named Stephen, grew up in
    Fife and co-founded the shipping company of Balfour & Williamson in
    Liverpool in 1851. His son Archibald was
    made Lord Forres.
  • while
    there has also been a long line of Williamsons in
    Kirkcaldy in Fife, prominent merchants there in the 19th century.

who was resident in
Edinburgh from 1760 until his death in 1799, came there in an
extraordinary journey
that had begun with a kidnapping as a boy in Aberdeen and was followed
by a hair-raising
spell in the American colonies, a return to Aberdeen where his
kidnapping story
was not believed, and finally a sanctuary in Edinburgh

was also
a seepage across the border into northern England and across the Irish
Sea to
Ulster. Of the 7,600 Williamsons
recorded in the 1891 Scottish
just 5% remained in the Scottish border counties.

Highlands. Williamsons, possibly as
an offshoot of the Gunn clan, were recorded at Banniskirk in Caithness
1665 onwards. Benjamin Williamson was a
colonel in the Caithness Highlanders.
His sons James and John both died in the Peninsular War in Spain
1812. Other Williamsons held the castle of Craighouse near
Dingwall at the head
of the Cromarty Firth in the 1700’s.

Shetlands. Williamson was the fifth
most common surname in the Shetland Isles in 1804.
The name had appeared there as early as
1630. Williamsons were recorded at
Ruster on the island of Fetlar from the early 1700’s, according to a
descendant Laurence Williamson. Some
like Robert Williamson of Lerwick were seafarers. He
died after a shipwreck off the coast of
Ireland in 1877.

England. Scottish Williamsons
undoubtedly crossed the
border into northern England, but it is difficult to trace which
there might have come from Scotland.

had some early Williamsons. John and
Jane Williamson were married at Newhall in Crosthwaite parish in 1568. Joseph Williamson was the vicar of Bridekirk
from 1625 to 1634. His son Joseph,
knighted in 1671, rose to high office in London as a civil servant and
in the late 1600’s.

Robert Williamson acquired the village and estate of
Markham in Nottinghamshire in 1606. His
family came from nearby Wakeringham, although some reports have
suggested a
Scottish origin. Robert’s son Thomas, a
Royalist, was created a baronet in 1642.
The family moved to Whitburn Hall in Durham in 1723 and
baronets served as High Sheriffs of Durham and local MP’s.

Other early English
Williamsons were:

  • Richard
    Williamson, the son of a Gainsborough draper and
    descended from Lincolnshire yeoman farmers, who was an influential MP
    and was knighted in 1604.
  • and
    , born in Yorkshire in 1769, who amassed a fortune in
    selling tobacco and snuff. But he is
    best remembered as an eccentric businessman who constructed a maze of
    in the Edge Hill area of Liverpool.

Ireland. Many
Williamsons came to Ulster with grants of land in the 17th century on
understanding that they would remain Protestant. A
Williamson family was at Donaghadee on the
Ards peninsula in county Down as early as 1603 and another Williamson
from Ayrshire was in Down four years later.
Later Williamsons came because of Covenanter persecution in
Scotland. They settled primarily in the
Ulster counties
of Armagh, Antrim and Down. Many
departed for America in the 18th century.

Notable Williamsons in Ulster in the
18th century were:

  • the
    Rev. John Williamson of Magheradroll in Antrim who died
    in 1724. His family was to remain
    prominent there until the 1850’s.
  • and
    John Williamson who bought up much of the
    village of Lambeg in Antrim in 1760. He
    played a role in the development of the linen trade through
    ownership of the Lambeg bleach green.

Scottish influx has meant that Williamsons outnumber Williams in
Ireland by about two to one today.

. The early Williamsons in
America were
probably of English origin, such as Timothy Williamson of Marshfield,
Massachusetts in the 1650’s. From his
line came the Williamsons of
including William D. Williamson who was a force behind its move to
statehood in

Richard Williamson from London came to Isle of Wight county, Virginia
in 1641. He is considered to be the forebear of most Williamsons
in Virginia. One line from him led to Colonel Micajah Williamson
who fought in the Revolutionary War and afterwards became a big
landowner in Georgia. His son Peter was the father of Robert
McAlpin or “three legged Willie” Williamson, a legend in the early
history of Texas.

Scots and Scots Irish.
Most of the early Williamsons in
America, however, were Scots or Scots Irish.

The best known of them was Hugh
Williamson, the son of an immigrant clothier from Dublin.
He was born in 1735 in West Nottingham
township in what was then the frontier region of Pennsylvania. He was a man of many talents – a professor of
mathematics, a scientist, and a medical practitioner – who developed a
friendship with Benjamin Franklin. He
served as a surgeon during the Revolutionary War and, after the war,
was a
member of the Continental Congress. The
Williamson counties in Tennessee and Illinois were named in his honor.

Two Williamsons made their mark as rather
blood-thirsty Indian fighters at this time:

  • Andrew
    Williamson had come to the
    Long Cane district of South Carolina with his Scottish parents in the
    and survived the Indian attack on the settlement there in 1760.
    later became
    a soldier in the South Carolina militia, rising to Brigadier General
    during the
    Revolutionary War, and led numerous attacks against the Cherokees along
    frontier settlements.
  • while
    David Williamson, born in Pennsylvania in 1752, was
    a colonel in the Pennsylvania militia in the Revolutionary War. After the war he lived along the western
    frontier, dealing with the Indian menace there. He
    is most remembered for his expedition that led to the
    massacre of a
    hundred Delaware Indians at Gnadenhutten, Ohio in 1782. Sadly, he
    died in prison
    in 1805 through indebtedness.

Williamson, Scots Irish, came to America about
the year 1733. His wife died at sea
leaving him with six young children in his care.
About eleven years later he remarried and
fathered six more children. These
Williamsons first settled in Pennsylvania and later in Virginia.

In the early 1770’s two brothers, Thomas and
John, made the long trek across the mountains to Fort Henry (now
Wheeling) in
West Virginia. Thomas was a weaver by trade and carried his
loom with him
over the mountains to his new home.
They migrated to the nearby Union district in Tyler county in
1785 and
their descendants have been there ever since. The family story
was narrated in
Raymond Bell’s 1986 book The Williamson

Dutch. It
should be said that
the first Williamsons in America were in fact Dutch.
1636 a Wiliemson family sailed from Holland to begin a new life in
New York. They settled on Long Island
William Wiliemson was admitted as a burgomaster.

family flourished over the next two
hundred and fifty years, changing the pronunciation and the spelling of
last name to Williamson in 1761. Their
business enterprise began in 1877 when Cornelius Titus Williamson
started a
company in Newark to manufacture corkscrews.
This business prospered under his descendants until 1946 when a
was made to sell out. The family history was covered in
James Williamson’s 1896 book Genealogical
Records of the Williamson Family.

Australia. Williamsons from
England, Scotland and Ireland came to Australia to
settle in the 19th century. Among them

  • Joseph
    Williamson from Kent who
    first came out with his brother to Tasmania in 1822.
    He moved with his family to Colac township,
    Victoria in 1847 where he farmed and later ran a grocery store. Joseph
    Williamson lived in Colac township
    for sixty four years until
    his death in
  • James
    Williamson from Edinburgh
    who arrived in Sydney around 1837. He
    did well as a sheep farmer at Port Phillip and later was active in NSW
  • and
    Michael and Anne
    Williamson from Belfast who came to Sydney with their four children on
    the Resource in 1840. They
    settled in the Redfern suburb of Sydney. Michael
    arrived as an unskilled laborer but
    prospered there as a local businessman and civic leader.
    Michael was mayor of Redfern in 1860 and his
    son William and grandson Thomas followed him as mayors.
    The family moved to Perth in Western
    Australia in 1898.

New Zealand. There were two
Williamsons from Ireland that were early settlers in New Zealand.

James Williamson from Belfast came out in 1840 and made his home in
Auckland. He did well there as a businessman and land speculator,
building a beautiful mansion for himself, the Pah, outside Auckland.
But no sooner had he moved into his mansion that his business empire
crashed on the back of falling land prices. John Williamson
meanwhile from Newry in county Down arrived in 1841. He too moved
to Auckland, set up a printing press there and started publishing a
local newspaper. He died in 1875.


Williamson Miscellany

Williamson Castle Relics near Peebles.  There were
four castles and fortified buildings within a four mile radius of
Peebles that used to belong to the Williamsons that are now mainly relics:

  • Hutchinfield
    , one mile from Peebles.  This
    tower passed to the Williamsons in 1659.  Little
    now remains of this tower house which was built in
    the 16th
  • Chapelhill
    , one mile from Peebles.  This is a
    harled two story farmhouse held by
    the Williamsons during the 17th century.  It
    is a private house and still occupied.
  • Foulitch
    at Winkston
    two miles from Peebles.  This was the
    site at one time of a Williamson castle.
  • and
    Cardrona Tower, three miles
    from Peebles.  This tower passed to the
    Williamsons in 1685 and they held it until 1794 when it was abandoned.  It is now a ruin.

Williamsons in the 1891 Scottish Census

Area Numbers (000’s) Percent
Scottish borders    0.4     5
Lanarkshire    1.8    24
Midlothian    1.2    16
Fife    0.7     9
Other Lowlands    1.3    18
Highlands    1.1    14
Shetlands    1.1    14
Total    7.6   100

Dainty Davie.  The Scottish folk song Dainty Davie, which has
been around since the 17th century, is believed to have been based on a preacher named David Williamson, the seven times married minister of St.
Cuthbert’s church in Edinburgh.  The
following story about him was well-known in Scotland.

1676 Williamson was
said to have been staying at the house of a sympathetic family of
landowners on
the Scottish borders when a party of dragoons led by Captain Creighton
late at night.  Mrs. Kerr, the mistress
of the house, hurriedly concealed Williamson in bed alongside her
eighteen-year-old daughter, disguising him with her own nightcap, and
downstairs to “soften the hearts of the soldiery with liquor.”  While Creighton’s men were searching the
house, the story ran, Williamson and Miss Kerr became more intimately
acquainted, with the result that he was later compelled to marry her.

was in
fact his third wife to that point, and he went on to be married three
more times,
making him the object of some degree of curiosity and ridicule.
in his
ghost-written memoir added:

Williamson was alive in the reign of Queen
Anne; at which time I saw him preaching in one of the kirks in
Edinburgh.  It is said that King Charles
the second,
hearing of Williamson’s behavior, wished to see the man that discovered
so much
vigor while his troopers were in search of him; and in a merry way
that, when he was in the royal oak, he could not have kissed the
bonniest lass
in Christendom.”

Rev. David Williamson was a real
person.  He died in 1706 and his grave
can be found at St. Cuthbert’s church.

The Extraordinary Story of Peter Williamson.  Peter
Williamson was born in his parent’s croft and
brought up by an aunt in Aberdeen.  In
1743, at the age of 13, he was kidnapped on Aberdeen harbor and taken
as a
slave to Philadelphia, where he was sold for seven years to a planter.  This planter died in 1750 as Williamson’s
period of indenture was coming to an end and he left all his
possessions to
him. Williamson remained in America and in 1754 married the daughter of
wealthy planter.  She came with a dowry
of 200 acres of land in Pennsylvania.

1754 Indians attacked Williamson’s farm
and took him prisoner. After three months in captivity, he made his
escape, only
to find his wife had died during his absence. William then joined the
army.   At the Battle of Fort Oswego
1756 he was captured by the French and became a prisoner of war.  He was subsequently marched to Quebec, and
then put on a ship to England as part of a prisoner exchange.

arrival in
Plymouth he was declared unfit for further service because of a hand
given six shillings, and discharged from the army.
was enough to get to
him as far as York, by which time he was pennilessHe
managed to
persuade some local businessmen to publish his book titled The
Life and Curious Adventures of Peter
Williamson, Who was Carried off from Aberdeen and Sold for a Slave.
sold very well
and gave him enough money to return to Aberdeen in 1758, fifteen years
having been kidnapped.

book, however, caused outrage in Aberdeen:

by this scurrilous and infamous libel, the corporation of the city of
Aberdeen, and whole members thereof, were highly hurt and prejudged;
and therefore that the said Peter Williamson ought to be exemplary
punished in his person and goods; and that the said pamphlet, and whole
copies thereof, ought to be seized and publicly burnt.”

stood trial and was
found guilty.  He
was told by the judge to lodge a document with the court confessing to
falsity of the book and to pay a ten shilling fine, otherwise he would
imprisoned.  This he reluctantly agreed
to, leaving Aberdeen and moving to Edinburgh.

story does have a happy
ending, however.  In Edinburgh Peter contacted a lawyer and
started planning for a legal
challenge.  The year 1760 saw
the start of an extended phase of courtroom battles against
persecutors in Aberdeen. The story of the kidnappings came out.  In 1762 he was successful in getting the
result of the Aberdeen trial reversed and was awarded costs and a £100

used his legal
winnings to buy a tavern in Edinburgh.
He embarked on many new commercial enterprises in the next
thirty years,
including a street directory and a mail service, and remained a tavern
keeper there
until his death in 1799.

Joseph Williamson, the Mole of Edge Hill.  Having made
a small fortune from his tobacco and snuff business, Joseph Williamson bought
an area known as Long Broom Field in Edge Hill, Liverpool in 1805.   This was then a largely undeveloped outcrop
of sandstone.  He began to build houses
there “of the strangest description.”

Following their construction he
continued to employ his workmen and recruited even more to perform
tasks, some of which appeared to be useless (such as moving materials
from one
place to another and then back again).
Labor was plentiful at the time following the ending of the
wars in
1816 and there were plenty of unemployed men in Liverpool.

He also used the men
to build a labyrinth of underground halls and brick-arched tunnels.  The tunnels were built at depths between 10
and 50 feet and they stretched for several miles.  In
the 1830’s he came into contact with
George Stephenson who
was building the extension of the Liverpool
and Manchester Railway from Edge Hill to Lime Street stations
and whose own
excavations passed through those of Williamson.

The reasons for his building the
tunnels have been widely discussed.  He
to be secretive about his motives. This led to speculation that he was
a member
of an extremist religious sect fearing that the end of the world was
near and
that the tunnels were built to provide refuge for himself and his
friends.  However, the most likely
explanation was
Williamson’s own, that his workers “all received a weekly wage and were
thus enabled to enjoy the blessing of charity without the attendant
curse of
stifled self-respect,” his prime motive being “the employment of the

The Williamsons of Maine.  A family
tradition has long existed that three brothers by the name of
Williamson came
to the Plymouth colony from England soon after the first arrivals.   There was a Master Williamson who was
Governor Winslow in March 1621.  But no
other early records of the name exist until Timothy Williamson at
Marshfield in
1657.  His descendants settled in
Canterbury, Connecticut.  George
Williamson fought in the Revolutionary War and afterwards made his home
Bangor, Maine.

His two sons William and Joseph were both to make their mark on
the new state of Maine.

William in fact was a force behind the movement for
Maine statehood.  In 1820 when Maine did
separate from Massachusetts, he was the President of the State Senate,
briefly Governor, and then one of its first US Congressmen.  William
also Maine’s first historian, writing a two-volume History
of the State of
its first discovery in 1602 to its
separation in 1820) in
the late 1830’s.  This stood as the
standard reference on early
Maine history for the rest of the 19th century.

Joseph meanwhile followed his brother into state
politics and served as President of the State Senate in 1833 before
unsuccessfully for Congress.  His son
Joseph, like his uncle William, was also a historian of Maine, taking
the story
up to 1891.  The Joseph Williamson house
in Belfast, built in 1844, is considered one of the most important
architectural residences in the state of Maine.

Joseph Williamson of Colac Township, Victoria.  The
following obituary related to the late Mr. J. Williamson
appeared in 1911 in the Geelong local newspaper in Victoria, Australia
in 1911.

the long list of deaths that have
taken place among elderly people during the past few months, there must
now be
added one more.  Yesterday the Universal
Reaper claimed Mr. Joseph Williamson, who, we believe, was the oldest
of the district.

deceased, who had reached his 92nd year, first sighted
Lake Colac in 1847 and has been a resident of the town and district
ever since,
for a period of 64 years.  This event
carries us back to the day when Colac was a mere way-side town, with
“Cook and Plaid” as its central rallying point.  Mr.
Williamson, although not actively engaged
in public affairs, may be regarded as typical of that large class of
workers – the rank and file – to whom we are so much indebted for the
and uniform growth of the town to its present proportions.

late Mr. Williamson was born in Canterbury,
Kent on the 23rd September 1819, his father being a Church of England
in that town.  In 1823 the father was
induced to emigrate to Tasmania, where the family resided for a number
years.  It was there that the son Joseph
married his first wife.  In 1847 the
deceased, with his wife and young family, came over to Geelong and
were almost
immediately engaged as employees by the late Dr. Stoddart who then had a
station at Colac.  In the following year
the family returned to Colac, purchasing an allotment of land at the
east end as
a site for a residence.

the gold
discovery was made at Ballarat in 1851, Mr. Williamson, in company with
other local residents, was attracted thither, and being fairly
successful, he
returned and purchased 50 acres of land at Birregurra, where he engaged
farming pursuits for the next eight years.

His experience there for the first two years
were rather disastrous.  His first crop
was burnt out by a bush fire and he estimated his loss at 300 pounds.  The next year he suffered heavily with the
grubs, which were prevalent in the early days all through the district.
to Colac, he purchased an allotment of land in Murray Street where he
on a grocery store for some time.”


Williamson Names

  • Rev. David Williamson who died in Edinburgh in
    1706 is forever remembered by the Scottish folk song Dainty
  • J.C. Williamson was an American actor who in the 1880’s became Australia’s foremost theatrical manager. 
  • Sonny Boy Williamson was an American blues harmonica player, singer and songwriter, one of the most
    recorded blues musicians of the 1930’s and 1940’s. 
  • Nicol Williamson was a leading British actor in the late 1960’s. 
  • Roy Williamson was the Scottish song-writer who wrote the de facto Scottish national anthem Flower of Scotland in the 1970’s.

Select Williamson Numbers Today

  • 48,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Lancashire)
  • 44,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 20,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)



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