Select Lawson Surname Genealogy

The surname Lawson comes from Law, a pet form of Lawrence, that was popular in medieval times.  Lawson has its origins in northern England and in Scotland.

Select Lawson Resources on The Internet

Select Lawson Ancestry

England.  The Lawsons of Brough Hall near Catterick in north Yorkshire were to be found at Bywell in Northumberland from the 1300’s.  It was Ralph Lawson of this family who married Elizabeth Brough, the heiress of Brough Hall, in 1565.

“The Lawson coat of arms, which is believed to have been the original grant, had the blazon of a silver field, charged with a chevron between three martlets, all black.  These arms would suggest a loyal person who lived by the sword, having no estates to support him.”

By 1565, however, the Lawsons had become substantial landowners in north Yorkshire and in Northumberland and they were to accumulate more estates in northern England and in Scotland later on.  The Lawson family was Royalist during the Civil War and afterwards left for exile in Ulster, having had their estates sequestered.   They returned after the Restoration and were to remain at Brough Hall until 1949.

The name Lawson was in fact in Yorkshire at an earlier date.  Records indicate that the first recording use of the Lawson name occurred in the 14th century in Upper Littondale, an area close to the present day villages of Litton and Arncliffe along the on the Skirfare river, a tributary of the river Wharfe.

Lawsons featured in two coastal towns in Yorkshire during the 17th century:
  • John Lawson, born in relative obscurity in Scarborough around the year 1615, went to sea and rose to be an Admiral of the fleet under both Cromwell and Charles II.  He died through gunshot injuries at sea in 1665 during a naval engagement in the Mediterranean.   His great grand-nephew was John Lawson, the explorer in the Carolinas, who also met an untimely end (in his case being killed by Indians).
  • and the Lawsons of Whitby and the neighboring village of Egton who were Catholic and started to appear on recusancy lists in 1655.   Their names continued to appear in these lists through the 18th century.
The Lawson name is still strongly concentrated in north Yorkshire, where it is the sixth most common surname.

Nigel Lawson, Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer under Margaret Thatcher, has Jewish roots.  His paternal grandfather was a Jewish immigrant named Gustav Leibson who changed his name from Leibson to Lawson in 1925.  Nigel's father Ralph ran a commodity trading company in London.

.  The Lawson name first appeared in Scotland in the 14th century.  The Lawson Covenanter list in the 17th century suggests that it was mainly a Lowland name.

The main concentration of Lawsons appears to have been in Fifeshire.  Bessie Lawson married James Trottar in Dunfermline in 1609.  Lawsons, believed to have been Covenanters, have been traced back to the 1670’s in the villages of Baltilly and Ceres in central Fife.  These Lawsons were masons and builders in the 18th century, building a new house on the Croft House lands.  Another family line began with the birth of John Lawson in Kettle parish in 1768.

America.  Lawson arrivals in America came mainly from England and Scotland.  

.  Lawsons from Brough Hall in Yorkshire came to America.  The first was Rowland Larson who came with his brothers to Lancaster county, Virginia (where he was a Justice of the Peace) in 1638.  Then, from Ulster on the George and Anne in 1727, came Hugh Lawson with two of his cousins John and Roger.  Hugh arrived in Pennsylvania, moved to Lunenburg county, Virginia and then settled in Rowan county, North Carolina where he died.  

There was a cluster of Lawsons in the Lunenburg/Bedford counties of Virginia that have been commonly referred to as the Falling River Lawsons.  The first of these Lawsons was believed to have been William Lawson, born around 1680. 

Other Lawsons in Virginia may have been descendants of John Lawson, the first surveyor of the Carolinas, who was burned at the stake by Indians in 1711.  From his line is thought to have come Robert Lawson, a Virginia militia general during the Revolutionary War, and later Lawsons in Halifax county.

William Lawson
, known as the Rebel, was a Scotsman from Montrose who was captured at Culloden in 1746 and transported to America as an indentured servant.  At the time of the Revolutionary War he enlisted in Virginia and fought against the British again at the Battle of King’s Mountain in 1780.  After the war he settled with his family in Montgomery county.  

.  Some Lawsons settled in Tennessee, a state which has one of the largest number of Lawsons in America today:

  • Thomas Lawson was born in Greene county, Tennessee in 1804.  His son Daniel became a Justice of the peace in nearby Blount county. 
  • a number of Lawsons moved to Tennessee from Bedford county, Virginia n the early 1800's, for instance Jacob Lawson to Hawkins county and John Lawson to Morgan county. 
  • while one Tennessee line dated back to Alfred Lawson who was born in Fentress county in 1838.  This line showed several marriages with Cherokee Indians.  
Other Lawsons moved south into Georgia.  David Lawson was an early resident in Taylor county.  Later Lawsons of this line were to be found in Covington county.  Reuben Lawson migrated from Georgia to Merengo county, Alabama and then to Palo Pinto county, Texas.  John Lawson and his family settled in Cane Creek, Alabama around the year 1835.

Canada.  The Lawsons were a prominent family in Halifax, Nova Scotia during the late 18th and 19th centuries.  John Lawson, who had come to Halifax from Boston as an infant in 1750, established himself as one of the leading merchants in the town.  His son William became the founding director and first president of the Bank of Nova Scotia.  A later descendant was the notable American impressionist painter Ernest Lawson who was born in Halifax in 1873.

Another Lawson in Halifax was Alexander Lawson who had arrived with his parents from Scotland in 1828.  He became the editor and publisher of the Yarmouth Herald for a period of 62 years.  His son John Murray Lawson carried on with the paper after his death in 1895.

James Reid Lawson was Scots Irish from county Down in Ireland who had come out to St. John, New Brunswick as a Presbyterian missionary in 1846.  He established his Covenanter church at Barnesville nearby where he remained for the next forty years.  Another Lawson preacher in Canada was William Lawson from Cumbria who founded the first Primitive Methodist congregation in York (later Toronto) in 1830.

Australia and New Zealand.   
Robert Lawson from Edinburgh departed with his family for New Zealand in 1841, one of the early emigrants there.   But they did not remain there for long.  Robert got gold fever and  he departed for the Victoria gold fields in 1853.  He found no gold.  The family stayed to farm instead.

Another Robert Lawson, this one from Fifeshire, migrated the other way - from Australia to New Zealand.  He came to Australia in 1854 in search of gold.  He too found none.  But when gold was discovered in Otago in 1861 he headed for southern New Zealand.  By this time he had found a different profession, as an architect.  He designed his first church in Dunedin in 1862 and became the most popular New Zealand architect of his time. 

Australia had two notable Lawson writers and poets of the late 19th and 20th centuries:
  • the first was Henry Lawson, the son of a Norwegian Niels Larson (he later changed his name to Lawson) who had come to Australia in the 1850’s at the height of the gold rush.   Henry was a very popular poet in Australia and crowds lined the streets on his death in 1922 to say farewell to Australia’s “poet of the people.”
  • the second was Will Lawson, an immigrant from Durham in England, who was a popular bush poet and novelist in the early 1900’s.
Select Lawson Miscellany

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

Select Lawson Names

Sir Ralph Lawson was in 1565 through marriage the first Lawson of Brough Hall in Yorkshire.
Henry Lawson
, the son of Norwegian seaman Niels Larsen,
was a popular Australian short-story writer and poet. 
Nigel Lawson, from Jewish roots, was British Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Thatcher Government from 1983 to 1989.  Two of his children were the TV chef Nigella Lawson and the journalist Domenic Lawson.
Eddie Lawson
, known as “Steady Eddie,” was
a four-time motorcycle racing world champion

Select Lawsons Today
  • 32,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 39,000 in America (most numerous in Tennessee) 
  • 16,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

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.

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