Select Johnson Surname Genealogy

Johnson is a patronymic name meaning "son of John."  John became popular as a first name in England, rivalling William, in the 13th century.  It was first recorded as a surname (Jonessone) in 1287.

Johnston and Johnstone are found in Scotland and Ireland.  These names frequently became Johnson in America, as did like names from Scandinavia.

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England.  Early Johnsons - who claimed descent from the Norman fitzJohns - were to be seen in Lincolnshire.  Archdeacon Robert Johnson was a Puritan divine from Stamford in the 16th century.  Later Johnsons were found in the village of Witham and acquired Ayscoughfee Hall near Spalding, one of the landmarks of the Lincolnshire fens, in the 17th century.

Maurice Johnson of this family was known as the “antiquary” because of his founding of the Spalding Gentleman’s Club which included such notables as Alexander Pope, Isaac Newton, and Lord Tennyson. Maurice and his wife Elizabeth raised 26 children.

Samuel Johnson, the composer of the first English dictionary, was born in Lichfield, Staffordshire in 1709, the son of a local bookseller who was described by Boswell as “a native of Derbyshire of obscure extraction.”

Like the other "-son" surnames, the Johnson name distribution was more north than south.  In the 19th century, one third of all Johnsons in England were to be found in Yorkshire and Lancashire. 
Andrew Johnson, a 19th century fish merchant in Hull, was of Danish extraction.  His descendant Amy Johnson was a pioneering English aviator.  She made the first solo flight from England to Australia in 1930.

  Johnston or Johnstone, from "John's town" or John's settlement in Dumfries, have been the more common names in Scotland.  Sir John Johnston of Dumfries was a Scottish landowner who signed the Ragman’s Roll in 1296.

The Johnstons from Annandale were, until dispersed in the early 17th century, one of the larger Border reiver clans. Their warcry was: “Light Thieves All,” a demand to the enemy to dismount and surrender.  Because of their ferocity, they were known ironically as “the gentle Johnstons.”  To keep their chief onside after the Border pacification, he was ennobled as the Earl of Annandale.

Johnstones have come from the town of Perth which was once called St. John's Toun (the local football team is still called St. Johnstone).  Other lines were to be found at Caskieben near Aberdeen and Strathspey in the Scottish Highlands.  The Strathspey family supported the Jacobite cause in 1715 and 1745 and then scattered.

  Johnsons or Johnstons in Ireland could be transplanted Scotsmen (mainly in Fermanagh) or anglicized names from the Gaelic Mac Sean (MacShane) or Mac Eoin (McKeown).  One MacShane line may have produced the Johnsons of Smithstown, Meath and William Johnson of colonial New York repute.  However, it was the Scots Irish who generally predominated.

Walter (Watty Roe) Johnston was in Fermanagh by the early 1600’s and his descendants, starting with the Rev. Hugh Johnston, settled at Magheramena.  The Johnston name would appear frequently among the High Sheriffs of Fermanagh during the 18th century.  George Johnston from Antrim was a leading figure during the siege of Londonderry in 1689.  His son William engineered and built the waterworks of Belfast and was known as “Pipewater Johnston.”  Many of the Scots Irish Johnstons emigrated to America.

.  The first Johnson in America was John Johnson from Scotland who came to Virginia around 1615, survived the Indian massacre of 1622, and thereby earned the title of “the ancient planter.”  Meanwhile Antonio, a Negro, had been brought to Jamestown as a slave in 1621.  He subsequently became free, married a white woman, and adopted the name of Anthony Johnson.  He and his family prospered and moved to Maryland in 1665. 

Another John Johnson, from Norfolk in England, settled in Northampton county, Virginia in the 1650’s; while William Johnston, Scots Irish, was in Isle of Wight county by 1670.  Thomas Johnson, also from Norfolk, emigrated to Maryland around 1690.  His grandson Thomas was in 1777 the first Governor of Maryland.

Some Johnsons in America have Dutch origins.  Jan Willemszen Van der Loosdrecht came with his family in 1661 and settled in Bergen, New Jersey.  The surname became Johnson when his son Willem adopted that name in Staten Island, New York in 1677.  Later Johnsons of this line married with the Vanderbilt family.  Nathaniel Johnson, a Loyalist, left Staten Island for New Brunswick in the 1780’s. 

William Johnson’s arrival in America in 1737 owed everything to the patronage of his maternal uncle Admiral Sir Peter Warren.  He was born into an Anglo-Irish tenant farming family in Smithstown, Meath.  But once in America he started up a trading post with the Indians in the Mohawk valley of New York and soon prospered there.  He died in 1774, knighted and a wealthy landowner.  His son Sir John, a Loyalist, departed for Canada in 1783 and made his home in Montreal

Two American Johnsons became President:
  • Andrew Johnson, President in 1865 after Lincoln’s assassination.  He grew up in North Carolina from ancestors who were probably Scots Irish Presbyterians and had come to America around 1760.
  • and Lyndon Baines Johnson, President in 1963 after Kennedy’s assassination.  His lineage has been traced back to John Johnson, a Revolutionary War veteran from Georgia.  His son Jesse was a cattle rancher who moved to Texas in 1848.
Johnsons in America outnumber UK Johnsons by more than two to one.  This is because the US has absorbed Johnsons from other countries - in particular those from Scandinavia, the Jonssons and Johanssons in Sweden, the Johansens and Johnsens in Norway, and even the Jorgensens in Denmark.  Johan Johansson, for instance, who came to America from Sweden in the 1890’s settled in Minnesota as John Johnson. 

States like Minnesota with Scandinavian immigration have a high proportion of Johnsons.  Foremost among the Swedish-American Johnsons have been the Minnesota Governor John A. Johnson and the Hollywood actor Van Johnson.

As a result of the Scandinavian influx, Johnson is the second most common surname in the United States

Canada.  Many of the early Johnsons in Canada came from the United States.  They could have been of Dutch origin (Nathaniel Johnson in New Brunswick) or of American Indian or African American origin. 

Jacob Johnson, a Mohawk chieftain in New York, had gained his surname from Sir William Johnson, the Superintendent of Indian affairs, who had acted as his godfather in a Christian baptism.   His Mohawks later migrated to Canada and the line there extended to his son Smoke Johnson and to his grandson George Johnson who married an English woman.  George’s daughter Pauline became well-known for her writings in which celebrated her Mohawk heritage. 

The Johnson name in Canada could also have been African American.  The Johnsons of Dresden in SW Ontario can be traced back to Jacob and Margaret Johnson, born in slavery in New Jersey before the American Revolution.  A later Jacob
and his three sons escaped from slavery in Maryland and reached the black community of Dresden sometime in the 1850’s.  Jennie Johnson, born there in 1868, became the first ordained woman Baptist minister in Canada and lived to be almost a hundred.

Select Johnson/Johnston Miscellany

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

Select Johnson Names

Ben Jonson, a contemporary of Shakespeare, was a dramatist and poet, best known for his satirical plays.
Samuel Johnson was the famous compiler of A Dictionary of the English Language.
Howard Johnson was the founder of Howard Johnson restaurants.
Robert Wood Johnson and his two brothers James and Edward were the founders in 1885 of the company that became Johnson & Johnson.
Jack Johnson was the first black heavyweight boxing champion of the world in 1908.
Lyndon B. Johnson
was the 36th President of the United States.
Philip Johnson was a very influential late 20th century architect.
Michael Johnson holds the fastest times in the world for the 200 and 400 meters.

Select Johnsons Today
  • 215,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 602,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 127,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)
Johnson is the #2 ranked surname in America and the #11 ranked in the UK.

Select Surname List

Adams Ellis Johnson O'Connor
Allen Evans Jones O'Sullivan Shaw
Anderson Fisher
Kelly Parker Simpson
Bailey Foster Kennedy Perry Smith
Baker Fox King Peterson Stevens
Barnes Fraser 
Lee Phillips Stewart
Bell Graham Lewis Powell Taylor
Bennett Gray Marshall Price Thomas
Brown Green Martin Reed
Griffiths Mason      
Reynolds Turner
Campbell Hall McDonald Richards
Carter Hamilton Miller  Richardson Walsh
Chapman Harris Mitchell Roberts Ward
Clark Harrison
Moore Robertson Watson
Collins Henderson Morgan Robinson White
Cook Hill Morris Rogers Williams
Cooper Howard Murphy Ross Wilson
Cox Hughes Murray Russell Wood
Davis Jackson Nelson Ryan Wright
Edwards James O'Brien 

For other surnames check the surnames2 page where there are to be found the history and genealogy for more than 800 surnames.

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