Select Williamson Surname Genealogy

Williamson has been a Scottish and northern English patronymic surname, from the William that had been brought to England by William the Conqueror.  William is derived from the Germanic elements of wil meaning “will” or “desire” and helm “helmet” or “protection.”

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)

Select Williamson Resources on The Internet

Select Williamson Ancestry

Scotland. Williamson was first found in Peebles on the Scottish borders:
  • Adam, son of William, rendered the accounts of the burgh of Peebles in 1343
  • and John, son of William, was baillie there in 1365.
These 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 unified.

Some Williamsons did remain in the Scottish borders.  There are Williamson relics near Peebles 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 Davie.
  • 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.
Peter Williamson, 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.

There 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 census, just 5% remained in the Scottish border counties.

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

  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.

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

Cumberland 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 diplomat 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 subsequent 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 Joseph Williamson, born in Yorkshire in 1769, who amassed a fortune in Liverpool selling tobacco and snuff.  But he is best remembered as an eccentric businessman who constructed a maze of tunnels in the Edge Hill area of Liverpool.
Ireland.   Many Williamsons came to Ulster with grants of land in the 17th century on the 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 family 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 his ownership of the Lambeg bleach green.  
The Scottish influx has meant that Williamsons outnumber Williams in Northern 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 Maine, including William D. Williamson who was a force behind its move to statehood in 1820.

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 close 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 1750’s and survived the Indian attack on the settlement there in 1760.  He 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 the 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.  
Samuel 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 Family.

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

This family flourished over the next two hundred and fifty years, changing the pronunciation and the spelling of their 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 decision 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 were:  
  • 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 1911. 
  • 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 local politics.  
  • 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.     

Select Williamson Miscellany

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

Select Williamson Names

Rev. David Williamson who died in Edinburgh in 1706 is forever remembered by the Scottish folk song Dainty Davie.
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 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)

Select Surnames

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 500 surnames.

Click here for reader feedback
Click here for return to front page