Select Davidson Surname Genealogy

The surname Davidson is Anglo-Scottish, a patronym of the Hebrew name David meaning “beloved of Jehovah.”  The name became popular among Christians throughout Europe in the Middle Ages.   The two spellings of Davidson and Davison were both to be found in northern England, mainly in the counties bordering onto Scotland.

Davidson in America may also have Scandinavian (from Davidsson or Davidsen) or Jewish origins

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Scotland.  The Davidson name is to be found in the Scottish Highlands, but also in the Lowlands and Border areas.

.  There have been different accounts as to the Davidson origins.  As clan Dhai they were associated with the Chattan confederation and the proscribed Comyns around Badenoch.  David Dubh of Invernhaven was the first known bearer of the name.  However, in the Battle of North Inch against the Cameronsat Perth in 1396, these Davidsons were defeated badly.

“Of the thirty warriors from each side selected to fight in single combat only one Davidson survived - by climbing the enclosure and swimming the river Tay.”

The Davidsons dispersed and were never again to reassemble as a proper clan.

One early Davidson sighting elsewhere was Sir Robert Davidson, a collector and distributor of royal dues in Aberdeen.  He led a contingent to fight at the Battle of Harlow in 1411 where he was killed.  The Davidsons were also associated from the early 16th century with the estate of Davidston on the Black Isle in Cromarty.  Popular tradition has had the Davidsons of Davidston linked with the later Davidsons of Tulloch castle.

The Davidsons were in place at Tulloch in Ross-shire from 1762 until 1917.  It was Duncan Davidson who established the family fortunes as a West India merchant in London.  His son Henry was in possession of eight sugar plantations in the Caribbean by the time of his death in 1826.

“By his will of 1826, Henry Davidson left to his sons four Jamaican plantations, the plantation of Mount Gay in Grenada, that of Highbury in Berbice, and that of L’Esperance in Surinam.  To his grandson he left in trust the plantation of Mount Craven in Grenada.”

The largest number of Davidsons today are in Aberdeenshire.  The Davidson family at Tarland on Deeside was long-standing and extended in the 18th and 19th centuries to homes at Tillychetly, Dess and Inchmarlo. The Davidson connection with Aberdeen went back to the early 1600’s when Alexander Davidson began shipbuilding there.  The Davidson name appeared frequently there later as merchants, seamen, and fishermen.

.  There was evidence of a Davidson clan grouping on the Scottish borders in the 16th century.  They were to be found at Oxnam in Roxburghshire, just across the border from Northumberland.  And the Davidson name was also at that time in Midlothian and Ayrshire.  These Davidsons were probably not related to the Highland Davidsons.

.  The Davidson name extended across the border into northern England where the name was either Davidson or, in Northumberland and Durham, more likely to be Davison.  An early Davison was William Davison, secretary to Queen Elizabeth, who was blamed for the 1587 execution of Mary, Queen of Scots.  It was said that “his grandfather was out of the North.”

Among the later Davisons/Davidsons of the north were:

  • Monkhouse Davison from Carlisle in Cumberland who came to London in the 1730’s and became one of the city’s leading grocers.  It was his tea that was dumped in the sea during the Boston Tea Party.
  • Alexander Davison from Lanton in Northumberland who was a contemporary and close friend of Admiral Horatio Nelson.  His business rise and fall was spectacular.
  • John Davidson who was High Sheriff of Northumberland in 1839 and resided at Ridley Hall on Bardon Hill.
  • while Thomas Davidson was a Victorian poet of the Scottish borders, born to parents from Northumberland.
Ireland.  The Davison spelling has predominated in Ireland.  Most were of Scottish origin and had settled in Ulster.  A number of them emigrated to America in the 18th century.  One line of Davisons dates from the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 after which they were granted lands at Tandragee in county Antrim.  Four generations of this family were prominent in the linen industry at Tandragee during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Some Irish from the Donegal sept of Mac Duibheid adopted the name of Davison in Donegal and in neighboring counties.

  The Davidsons in America are mainly Scots or Scots Irish.  Most emigrated there, a few were forcibly taken there.

Included in the latter category was David Davisson, a Scottish soldier captured in 1651 and sent to the Massachusetts Bay Colony as a prisoner of war in 1651.  He made his home in Wenham, Essex county.  His descendants later moved to New Jersey and Virginia and then to various points west and south.

Robert Davidson came to Pennsylvania from Scotland on the Deliverance of Glasgow in 1729.  He died eight years later.  His widow and children uprooted themselves and resettled in Rowan county, North Carolina.  These Davidsons established their Rural Hill Farm in nearby Mecklenburg county in 1788 and became a prominent family of the plantation community there.

Scots Irish in America included two brothers, John and George Davidson, who arrived around 1740 and later settled in Iredell county, North Carolina:
  • John was the father of Major William Davidson, Revolutionary soldier who subsequently made his home in Buncombe county.
  • while George was the father of General William Lee Davidson who died in the war in 1781.  The General is commemorated in North Carolina by Davidson College, the town of Davidson, and Davidson county.
Samuel Davidson came to Virginia from Ulster in the 1730’s.  His son George fought in the Revolutionary War and later moved with his family from Virginia to Kentucky and settled in Lincoln county.

A much later emigration involved Alexander Davidson who departed with his family from Angus in Scotland in 1857, settling in Milwaukee.  His grandsons Arthur, Walter and William were three of the four founders of the Harley-Davidson motorcycle company in 1903.

Other Davidsons
.  Some Davidsons in America came from Scandinavia, others were Jewish:
  • James Ole Davidson, for instance, arrived in America from Norway in 1872.  He succeeded Robert La Follette as Wisconsin’s Governor in 1906.
  • while Gustav Davidson fled with his parents from the Jewish pogrom in Poland and arrived in New York in 1907.  He made his mark there as a poet, writer, and publisher.
Canada.  Many of the early Davidson settlers in Ontario were Scots Irish.

Samuel Davidson came with his family from county Down in 1825 and was one of the first settlers in Mariposa township in the Kawartha Lakes region.  He subsequently served on the town council.   George and Rachel Davison arrived from county Antrim in 1826.  They settled in Augusta township where George built himself a log cabin on the family lot and farmed.   Their descendants have been numerous.

The 1840’s arrivals included Samuel Davidson who made his home at Listowel in Perth county.  James and Sarah Davidson from county Antrim came to Westmeath township in 1845.  This family suffered from a number of misfortunes: 
  • their son Robert, born on the crossing to Canada, was born blind and was known as “Blind Bob.”
  • James himself died in 1861 at the age of 36 after a team of horses ran out of control.  He subsequently died of blood poisoning.
  • while his other son James lost his left arm in a horse-powered threshing machine and had to be fitted with a hook.  James Davidson, however, would continue to take his threshing machine around at harvest time and was a popular member of the community.
Australia.  The early Davidsons in Australia were more Scottish than Scots Irish or English. 

Walter Davidson from Inchmarlo in Aberdeenshire arrived in Sydney in 1805.  Well-connected, he was granted large land holdings in the NSW colony.  Although he departed Australia four years later, he retained his interest in his property which developed into a large sheep farm. 

Alexander Davidson was a carpenter from Aberdeen who came to Sydney with his employer Ben Boyd, a Scottish entrepreneur, in 1842.  Boyd launched numerous enterprises, all of which failed, and left the region.  Davidson stayed on and built Kish House on Kish Inlet, using salvaged timber from the shipwrecked Lawrence Frost.  In the 1860’s he started a whaling operation on Twofold Bay.  This continued with his grandson “Fearless” George Davidson until 1930. 

William Davidson, a blacksmith from St. Andrews in Fife, came with his family to Sydney in 1854.  They were among the early settlers of the New England or North Tablelands area of NSW. 

Two descendants of the Davidsons of Tulloch in Ross-shire also made their way south: 
  • John Ewen Davidson came to Australia in 1865 and was a sugar planter in Queensland;
  • while Hector Davidson, son of the fourth Davidson of Tulloch, departed for New Zealand in 1885 to breed sheep.
Select Davidson Miscellany

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

Select Davidson Names

Monkhouse Davison was the senior partner of Davison, Newman and Co, one of the leading grocers in 18th century London. 
Arthur Davidson
co-founded with William Harley the Harley-Davidson Motor Cycle Company in Milwaukee in 1903.  Randall Davidson was an Anglican bishop of Scottish origin who served as Archbishop of Canterbury from 1903 to 1928. 
Alan Davidson
was an Australian cricket all-rounder of the 1950’s and 1960’s

Select Davidsons Today
  • 67,000 in the UK (most numerous in Durham)
  • 42,000 in America (most numerous in California) 
  • 44,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

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 800 surnames.

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