Williamson Surname Genealogy

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

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

Williamson Names

David Williamson

who died in Edinburgh in
1706 is forever remembered by the Scottish folk song Dainty

J.C. Williamson
an American actor who
in the 1880’s became Australia’s foremost theatrical manager.
Sonny Boy
an American blues harmonica player, singer and songwriter, one of the
recorded blues musicians of the 1930’s and 1940’s.

Nicol Williamson
actor in the late
Roy Williamson
was the
Scottish song-writer who wrote the de facto Scottish national anthem Flower of Scotland in the 1970’s

Select Williamsons 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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