Select Wilson Surname Genealogy

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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England.  The Wilson surname first came into use in England in the late 1300's.  At that time, a Yorkshire line ran from William son of John de Waldershelf to John Wilson de Bromhead.  This 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 Royalist supporter during the Civil War and the ghost of the Royalist leader in the north, James Fairfax, was said to have haunted the grounds.  The house 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 in Ryedale.  His great great grandfather James Wilson, born in 1790, was a cordwainer and farmer there. 

   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 Wilson, 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 1770's.
  • and another Wilson family, merchant weavers at Bannockburn near Stirling, who have handed down their 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 Antrim.  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 Ireland today.

  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 Wilson from Derry who came to Cumberland county, Pennsylvania in 1729
  • William Wilson from Antrim who came to Lancaster county, Pennsylvania in the 1730ís. 
  • and Charles Wilson, also from Antrim, who came to Augusta county, Virginia in 1737. 
President Woodrow Wilson, the 28th American President, was also from this Scots Irish stock.  His grandfather James Wilson had arrived from county Down around 1805 and worked as a printer in Philadelphia 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 in 1794.  He became so well known for his studies and drawings of birds that he is now considered as the father of American ornithology.

Canada.  Benjamin Wilson, a Loyalist from Vermont, was an early settler in 1794 at Oshawa on the Lake Ontario shoreline when it was still wilderness.  His first house was a deserted log cabin once used by the French as a fur trading post.  Tom Wilson, 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.

Select Wilson Miscellany

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

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 Wilsons 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 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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