Select Patterson Surname Genealogy

The Scottish Patterson and Paterson surnames are both patronymics from Pate, a shortened version of the first name Patrick.  The earlier Gaelic version had been MacPhadraig.

Why the two surnames - Paterson and Patterson?  Here is one account:

"According to a story that has come down from the 16th century, the Pattersons all spelled the name with one 't' before Queen Elizabeth set about marking those of her subjects who left the ancient Catholic faith and cast their lot with the Church of England. She insisted that all the Protestant Pattersons take to themselves a second 't' and since that time many have followed that mode of spelling the name."

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Select Patterson Ancestry

Scotland.  There was said to have been a MacPhadraig clan on the northern shores of Loch Fyne in Argyllshire in the 13th century.  Patersons were later linked to the MacLarens in the Highlands, coming in Gaelic formssuch as MacFater, MacFeat, MacPatrick, and MacPhater.  The earliest specific reference to a Paterson was to Duncan Paterson who was implicated with other MacLarens in the killing of the vicar of Balquhidder in Stirlingshire in 1532.

By the 16th century a dynasty of Patersons were also landholders in Fife.  Hew Paterson of this line became a writer in Edinburgh and his son, also Hugh, became the first Baronet of a line of Jacobite sympathizers who entertained Bonnie Prince Charlie following the battle of Falkirk in early 1746.

Patersons in Dumfriesshire on the Scottish borders included William Paterson who was one of the main proponents of the disastrous Darien colonization scheme in the 1690’s.  Castle Huntly in Perthshire was acquired by George Paterson of the East India Company in 1777 and it remained in his descendants’ hands until 1946.
Paterson is the predominant spelling in Scotland. 

The Paterson/Patterson divide was approximately 85/15 in 1891, with the Patterson spelling generally confined along the east coast.   There were both the Patterson and Paterson spellings at Knnettles in Angus.  William Patterson left Kinnettles for Australia in 1791 and rose to be Lieutenant Governor of the colony; while James Paterson, a merchant, built a mansion house there, now called Kinnettles Castle, in 1864.

.  The Patterson line down the east coast extended into England where the main numbers were in the northeast, in Northumberland and Durham.   The spelling here could be Pattison or Pattinson.

An early record in Northumberland was a Thomas Patterson, recorded as a doctor of divinity in 1525.  Some of the Pattersons had come south from Scotland.  Peter Patterson, who died in Morpeth in 1770, had been born and brought up in Scotland.  The family of Robert Patterson of Croft House in Alnwick was also of Scottish origin.  Son John Brown Patterson became a Church of Scotland minister in the 1820’s. 

During the 19th century there were Pattersons recorded at Seahouses and Holy Island (Lindisfarne) near Alnwick.  James Patterson, born at West Link Hall Cottage just north of Alnwick, emigrated to Australia in 1852 to seek his fortune in the Victorian goldfields.  He ended up in politics and became the Premier of Victoria in 1893.

The Scottish Paterson generally became Patterson in Ulster.

During the plantation era of the 17th century, some Pattersons settled in the Coleraine district of county Derry.  Robert Patterson from here set up a small mill furnishing business in Belfast in 1786, which was the basis for the family’s later fortunes.  It was also a springboard for a century of naturalists within the family.

John Patterson came to Bush Hills in county Antrim in 1640.  He is believed to have been one of the survivors of the siege of Londonderry in 1689.  Many of his descendants departed for America in the 1700’s.

In Galway and nearby Clare, some Irish Cussanes (from the Gaelic O’Caisin) were said to have adopted the Patterson nameJohnny Patterson, born in Clare, was a singer and circus entertainer who toured America in the 1870's and made a fortune.

America.  Most who came to America in the 18th century were Scots Irish and most were spelt Patterson. 

One who wasn't was William Paterson who arrived as a young boy from county Antrim and settled in New Jersey.  He was the New Jersey signer of the US Constitution and served as the second Governor of the state from 1790 to 1793.  Paterson in New Jersey was named after him.

William Patterson who arrived from Donegal in 1766 had a more adventurous war, being a gun runner for the Continental Army.  He later settled in Baltimore and was the founder of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.  He was reputed to be the second wealthiest man in Maryland:
  • his daughter Betsy, the belle of Baltimore, married - against her father's wishes - Jerome, the brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, in 1803 and was outcast.   However, she outlasted all her other siblings and returned and died in Baltimore in 1879 at the age of 94.
  • while it was his son George Patterson who took over the family estate and plantation at Springfield on William's death in 1835.
James Patterson arrived in Pennsylvania from county Antrim around the year 1730.  Son William moved to Pattersons Mills in Pennsylvania and grandsons Thomas and John were US Congressmen for Pennsylvania and Ohio. 

Robert Patterson was born in 1753 in Bedford county, Pennsylvania, the son of Scots Irish immigrant Francis Patterson.   Robert was a pioneer settler on the western frontier, first moving to Kentucky in 1775 and then settling in Dayton, Ohio in 1802 where his family operated a farm and lumber mill.  John Henry Patterson, born in Dayton in 1844, was the founder of NCR (the National Cash Register Company).  His name is perpetuated in the Wright-Patterson Air Force base in Dayton. 

Another Francis Patterson from county Tyrone came to Pennsylvania later, in 1799.  His son Robert and grandson Francis were both Union generals during the Civil War. 

Samuel Patterson meanwhile came from Ireland sometime in the 1750’s and married Martha Ledgerwood in Augusta county, Virginia.  These Pattersons were later planters and local politicians in Rockbridge county, Virginia and in Salem, North Carolina where they founded a series of paper mills.  Rufus L. Patterson became head of American Machine and Foundry, an offshoot of American Tobacco, and was in 1935 one of the eight highest-paid executives in the country. 

Patterson records in America have been collated by Norman Patterson in his 1963-67 booklets The Patterson and Pattison Family Association.

Canada. The settlement of Pictou in Nova Scotia had two prominent Pattersons in its early days, Robert Patterson who came as a surveyor from America in 1767 and John Patterson who arrived on the Hector with other Scottish migrants in 1773.

“Robert Patterson was known as Squire Patterson to distinguish him from John or Deacon Patterson who was the venerable settler who presided over the others.”

Robert left no legacy in Pictou.  But John is generally considered as the father of the town and his sons and grandsons were also prominent there (including George Patterson who was the local historian).  Frank Patterson’s 1955 book was John Patterson, the Founder of Pictou.

James Paterson and his family from Roxburghshire arrived in Ontario in 1820 and settled in what is now Mississauga.  His grandson Hugh worked as a grain merchant in Oshawa and headed west in 1871 to Manitoba as that was where the grain came from.  His son Norman, born there in 1893, developed the
vast grain elevator operation and Great Lakes shipping fleet that became Paterson GlobalFoods.  It remains family owned.

Australia.  Scottish Patersons have made their mark on Australia - from Colonel William Paterson who surveyed the Hunter valley in NSW in 1801 (and after whom the Paterson river was named) to Banjo Paterson who wrote Australia’s most popular song, Waltzing Matilda,in 1896.

Some of these Patersons became Pattersons in Australia, such as David Patterson who was an early arrival in 1829 at the Swan river settlement in Western Australia.  He later was to try his luck in the Ballarat goldfields.

Select Patterson Miscellany

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

Select Patterson Names

William Paterson was a founder of the Bank of England, but was also remembered as the architect of the disastrous Darien colonization scheme.
William Paterson
was a signer of the US Constitution who served as the second Governor of New Jersey in 1790.
Paterson wrote Australia’s most popular song, Waltzing Matilda.
Russell Patterson was a celebrated art deco designer of the 1920’s and 1930’s which promoted the style known as the flapper.
Floyd Patterson became heavyweight champion of the world in 1956.
PJ Patterson
was Prime Minister of Jamaica from 1992 to 2006.

Select Pattersons Today
  • 51,000 in the UK (most numerous in Northern Ireland)
  • 77,000 in America (most numerous in Texas) 
  • 35,000 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.

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