Wilson Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Wilson Meaning
Wilson is a patronymic English name, meaning “son of Will,” a contraction of
William. It is mainly found in the north of England, as opposed
to Wills and Willis which are far more common in the south. In
Scotland, the thinking has been that the Scottish Wilsons were
originally of Viking origin and that Wilson was instead a corruption of “wolf’s son.”

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Select Wilson Ancestry

England. The Wilson surname first came into use in
England in the late 1300’s. At that time, a Yorkshire line ran
William son of John de Waldershelf to John Wilson de Bromhead.
family was later resident at Jerusalem Hill near Sheffield.

Then there were the
Wilsons of Eshton Park in Malhamdale. Mathew Wilson from
Westmoreland had purchased the Yorkshire estate in 1646. He was a
supporter during the Civil War and the ghost of the Royalist leader in
north, James Fairfax, was said to have haunted the grounds. The
stayed with
the family until 1960. A notable 20th century descendant was Peter Wilson,
the man who put the art auction house Sotheby’s on the global map.

There were other Wilson estates in the north of
England from the 17th to the 19th century – at Bank Hall in Cumberland,
Casterton Hall in Westmoreland, Forest Hall in Durham, and Melton Hall,
Sneaton Hall, and Tranby Croft in Yorkshire. From Thomas Wilson,
a Leeds wool merchant of the 17th century, came one line in London and
Sir Robert Wilson, a British army general, and another line in
Yorkshire that inherited Melton Hall near Doncaster.

Harold Wilson’s
Yorkshire forebears are to be found in the manorial records of Helmsley
Ryedale. His great great grandfather James Wilson, born in 1790,
was a cordwainer and farmer

Scotland. The Wilson clan in Scotland may have
taken its name from Will Gunn who held the title of “Crowner” of
Caithness around 1464.

However, the name had surfaced earlier on the
Scottish borders. There were the Wilsons of Croglin near
Dumfries and
Wilsons in Berwickshire (where John Wilson was a burgess in
1467). Wilsons featured initially as a Border clan. By the
17th century,
with the Border pacification, some of these Wilsons had drifted
southwards into England.

The Wilson
name had become fairly well established in Ayrshire and also in
Lanarkshire and
Stirlingshire by the 18th century. In 1684 Margaret Wilson, the martyr
of Wigton
, was drowned for her Covenant faith, whilst
her brothers fled Ayrshire for Ulster. Later Wilsons were:

  • Robert
    , living in the late-1700’s, who was
    the forebear of the Wilsons of Kilwinnet in Ayrshire.
  • a Wilson family from East
    Forth in Lanarkshire who started up the Wilsontown ironworks in the
  • and
    nother Wilson family,
    merchant weavers at Bannockburn near Stirling, who have handed down
    records of
    the tartan trade from 1750 to the early 1900’s.

Ireland. The Wilson
name is also to be found mainly in Ulster, and in particular in
The name could have been an anglicization of the Gaelic word O’Shauaghor
“fox.” However, most Wilsons there are probably of Scottish
ancestry. Some 70% of Irish Wilsons are to be found in Northern

America. The Wilson family was a
prominent landowner in
Norfolk county, Virginia and later of Corntuck county, North
Carolina. Colonel James Wilson, of
probable English roots, was the forebear of this family, arriving there
in 1693.

Some of
the later Wilson arrivals were Scots Irish:

  • John
    from Derry who came to Cumberland county,
    Pennsylvania in 1729
  • William Wilson from Antrim who came to Lancaster county,
    Pennsylvania in the
  • and Charles Wilson, also from
    who came to
    Augusta county, Virginia in 1737.

Woodrow Wilson, the 28th American President, was also from this Scots
stock. His grandfather James Wilson had
arrived from county Down around 1805 and worked as a printer in
before heading west to Ohio. His father
was the Rev. Joseph Wilson, a Presbyterian minister

Two notable Wilson arrivals from Scotland were:

  • James Wilson who came to America from Fife in 1765 and
    established a law practice in Philadelphia. He was one of the
    signers of the Declaration of Independence and in 1789 one of the first
    six Justices of the Supreme Court.
  • and Alexander Wilson who came to Philadelphia from Paisley
    1794. He became
    so well known for his studies and drawings of birds that he is now
    considered as the
    father of
    American ornithology.

Wilson, a Loyalist from Vermont, was an early settler in 1794 at Oshawa
on the
Lake Ontario shoreline when it was still wilderness.
first house was a deserted log cabin once used by the French
as a fur trading post.
, born of Irish
parents outside of Toronto in 1859, headed west as a young man and
became a
famous early guide of the Canadian Rockies.


Wilson Miscellany

Wilson Estates in the North of England.  The
table below shows six of the estates that were owned
by Wilson families in the north of England during the 17th, 18th, and
19th centuries.  The main locations were in
Westmoreland, and northern Yorkshire.

Date Wilson Estate Location Comments
1646 Mathew Wilson Eshton Hall nr. Gargrave, Yorkshire from Westmoreland (1)
1668 Edward Wilson Casterton Hall nr. Kirkby Lonsdale granted then (2)
1786 William Wilson Bank Hall nr. Penrith, Cumberland county sheriff then
1790 Richard Wilson Forest Hall nr. Newcastle, Durham acquired then
1802 Richard Wilson Melton Hall nr. Doncaster, Yorkshire inherited (3)
1820 James Wilson Sneaton Hall nr. Whitby, Yorkshire acquired (4)
1874 Arthur Wilson Tranby Croft nr. Hull, Yorkshire built then (5)

Note (1): These Wilsons were recorded at Nether Levens and Heversham in
Westmoreland from the 1550’s. Edward Wilson founded a grammar school at
Heversham in 1613.  Peter Robinson wrote his book A
History of Eshton Hall
in 2006.

Note (2): Casterton Hall was in
Westmoreland.  These Wilsons had made
money in manufacturing in Kendal before becoming landowners in
Westmoreland and
northern Lancashire.  They were related to
the Wilsons of Eshton Hall.  Edward Wilson of Dallam Tower was
granted the Casterton Hall estate by Queen Catherine out of her dower
lands.  The Wilson name here later became

Note (3): Richard Wilson was descended from
Thomas Wilson, a Leeds wool merchant in the 17th century. The family
become rich
by the next century.  One line of this
family moved to London and produced Benjamin Wilson, the painter, and
his son the British army general Sir Robert Wilson.  Meanwhile
Christopher Wilson
of the family lost both his father and mother in the 1780’s and was
brought up
as an orphan.  But he was the grandson of
John Fountayne, the Dean of York, and inherited his estates and took
Fountayne name after the Dean’s death in 1802.

Note (4): James Wilson had sold his St. Vincent sugar plantation in the
Caribbean and used the proceeds to buy this estate in England.

Note (5): Thomas
Wilson founded the Wilson shipping line of Hull in 1822.  His
family home
of Tranby Croft near Hull, built in 1874, became well-known because of
gambling scandal involving the Prince of Wales in 1890.

Peter Wilson of Sotheby’s.  Peter Wilson
was the architect of international art-auctions in the post-World War
II period
and of the growth of Sotheby’s, the London art-auction house that he
headed for
22 years.

into Yorkshire landed
gentry at Eshton Hall, he had joined Sotheby’s in 1936 as a porter in
the furniture department
and rose to be its Chairman in 1957.
Over the next two decades, he dramatically altered the art
market by
making art auctions not only respectable but also glamorous and one of
the most
popular ways to disperse art collectibles.

the process, he transformed Sotheby’s from a small fine-arts auction
house –
sales were $2 million in the late 1930’s – into a $575-million-a-year
enterprise that functioned in 21 countries and also dealt in real
stamps, livestock, automobiles and ships.

Wilson did it by his expert use of publicity, mass marketing, jet
travel, and his tireless energy and extraordinary knowledge of art.  This tall charismatic man was known to the
writer Ian Fleming and some think that he was the inspiration for
creation James Bond.  However, the
real-life Peter Wilson was different.
His own marriage was dissolved in 1951 after his discovery of
latent homosexuality.

The Martyr of Wigton and Her Brothers Who Fled.  In
1684 a Wigtonshire farmer named
Gilbert Wilson and his wife attended conformist services. However, their
children had become attracted to the teaching of the Covenanters and
illegal ‘conventicles’ to hear their prayers and sermons.
Gilbert Wilson was fined for his children’s
nonconformity and his family was treated like outlaws.
The children took themselves into the hills
of upper Galloway and spent months hiding from the troopers.

of the daughters, Margaret and Agnes, were then found and imprisoned.  Their father secured Agnes’s release as she
was just thirteen at the time.  But
Margaret, aged eighteen, was pronounced guilty and killed by drowning
through “being
tied to palisades fixed in the sand and there to stand until the tide
overflowed her.”  She became known
as the Wigton martyr.

has it
that three Wilson brothers – Robert, Samuel and John – fled to Ireland
in an
open boat that year, bringing with them two ancient wooden family
armchairs.  They made their home at
Ballymena in county Antrim.

John Wilson
of this family emigrated with his family to Bucks county, Pennsylvania
in the
1730’s.  Some Wilsons departed for
in the 1850’s.  Samuel Wilson prospered
there and returned to England thirty years later a rich man.

Wilsons from Ireland to Pennsylvania and Beyond.  John Wilson, according to the family lore, was one of
the defenders of Londonderry during the siege by Jacobite forces in
1689.  His son John departed for America in
1729 and
made his home in what was then still the frontier in Pennsylvania,
Letterkenny township
in the Cumberland Valley.  He was an
elder of the Presbyterian church that was built there in 1737.  He died in 1773.

eldest son Hugh went
to Georgia and was apparently “lost sight
of.”  John moved to North Carolina
in 1764, following other Scots Irish families there, in what is now
county.  James moved west from
Pennsylvania to Ohio in 1797 after his wife died.

and several others clubbed together and
built a flat-boat on the Monongahela river, on which they placed their
families, and floated down to the Ohio river.
They had on board horses, cattle and sheep.
The wolves one day made sad havoc with their
little flock of sheep.  When they arrived
at their destination of Chillicothe, they found but one house with a
roof and that a log structure.”

Samuel remained in Pennsylvania.  He became
the pastor of the Big Springs
Presbyterian church at Newville in Cumberland county, Pennsylvania.

Robert Wilson and Robert Burns.  The Wilson family of Kilwinnet can trace their line of descent back to the Ayrshire village of Mauchline. Robert
Wilson was said to have been a native of Mauchline, although
he may
have been born in Paisley and taken as a baby to Mauchline.

to the poet Robert Burns, Robert
Wilson was the childhood sweetheart of Jean Armour.
In 1786 Wilson was in Paisley working
when he was visited there by a Jean Armour pregnant by Burns.
Burns and Armour
were later married in 1788 after Jean’s return to Mauchline from

Wilson’s nickname was the “gallant
weaver” from the song Burns wrote about him.
He was carrying on a family tradition of weaving.
Robert married Margaret Thomson in 1789
and they had a large family.  His
son William and his grandson Robert were also weavers.
eventually gave up weaving in 1855 for snuffbox

Tom Wilson and the Canadian Rockies.  Tom Wilson
was born of Irish parents in Simcoe county just outside Toronto in 1859.  Excited by tales of the Canadian West, he
decided to enlist in the NW Mounted Police.

there from Ontario at that time was an arduous
journey.  To reach his destination,
according to his daughter, he travelled from Barrie to Sarnia in
Ontario and
then by steamship

Claude de
Jouffroy d’Abbans is generally credited with the first experimentally
successful application of steam power to navigation; in 1783 his to
Duluth, Minnesota.  There he took the Northern Pacific Railway to
the end of its line at Bismarck, North Dakota.  Here
he transferred to a vessel which made its way up
the Missouri river to Fort Benton, Montana.  From
there he travelled by horseback
to Fort Walsh.

worked there for a time for the NW Mounted Police but then in
1882 got a job as packer, pathfinder and surveyor for the Canadian
Railway.  In his initial surveying role
for them that year he was the first white man to see the beautiful Lake
Louise.  Tom went on to become one of the
great mountain men of the Canadian Rockies.

and his wife Minnie made their home in Banff where he opened an
outfitter’s store.  He remained in Banff
to the end of his days.  He was active in
the mountains until 1920.  As an old man
he would entertain guests at the Banff Springs Hotel with stories of
the old
days in the Rockies.


Select Wilson Names

  • Alexander Wilson was a Scots-born American ornothologist of the 18th century.
  • Woodrow Wilson was the 28th President of the United States. He saw America through the end of World War One but failed to get American backing for the League of Nations.
  • Sir Henry Wilson was Chief of the Imperial General Staff during World War One. He was assassinated by Irish extremists in 1922.
  • Bill Wilson was the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous in New York in the 1930’s.
  • Edmund Wilson was an American
    writer and literary critic.
  • Harold Wilson was the British
    Prime Minister in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
  • Brian Wilson was the founding member and lead singer of the American Beachboys group.

Select Wilson Numbers Today
  • 228,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Lancashire)
  • 295,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 134,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)


Select Wilson 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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