Select Ferguson Surname Genealogy

The Ferguson name is of Gaelic origin, found in both Scotland and Ireland, and is the patronymic form of Fergus, i.e. son of Fergus.  The old Gaelic name was Fearghus, comprised of the elements fear (or "man") and ghus ("vigor" or "force").  It was the name of an early Irish mythical figure and an early king of the Scots. 

Ferguson and Fergusson are the alternative spellings in Scotland.  The Fergusson spelling persists (it has continued to be used by various clan leaders).  But its general use has fallen - from a 20-25 percent share in the 18th century to less than 5 percent today.

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Scotland.  Ferguson is not one clan but many clans, as the Ferguson name originated at different times and different places around Scotland (the various Ferguson clan records were first collected in James Ferguson's and Robert Menzies Fergusson's 1895 work Records of the Clan and Name of Fergusson, Ferguson, and Fergus).  However, from the 18th century, the head of the Kilkerran Fergussons has generally been recognized as the chief of all the Fergusons.

Ayrshire  The Kilkerran Fergussons claim descent from Fergus, the 12th century Prince of Galloway.  It was in the 15th century that Fergus, son of Fergus, received lands in Ayrshire from the King of Scotland.  In 1466 John Fergusson signed over a portion of his estate to his son Fergus Fergusson of Kilkerran in Carrick.  The family fortunes fluctuated in the 17th century but the line has continued uninterrupted since that time.  Their ancestral home is situated near Maybole in Ayrshire.

Elsewhere  Many other Ferguson families were also being established around Scotland:
  • in Dumfries there were the Fergussons of Craigdarroch                                                            
  • in Perthshire the Fergusons of Atholl and Balquhidder
  • in Aberdeenshire the families of Kilmundy and Pitfour
  • in Argyllshire the Fergusons of Glenshellich (although this line died out in the early 1800's)
  • and in Fife the Fergusons of Raith
There were also Feguson groupings, dating back to the 1600's or earlier, in the Western Isles.

The history of these different goups tended to be interwoven with that of the particular districts to which they belonged.  Thus the Fergussons in Ayr and Dumfriesshire generally supported the cause of the National Covenant and opposed the Jacobite rebellions; but many Perthshire Fergusons backed the exiled Stuarts in 1715 and again in 1745.  

By the late 19th century the distribution of the Ferguson name in Scotland stretched from Ayrshire and the border counties to Perthshire, but with a concentration in the industrial heartland around Glasgow.  For instance, Sir Alex Ferguson, the former manager of Manchester United football club, comes from Glasgow.

Ireland.  Fergus was an Irish name and a mythical Irish figure.  But it was the Scots who brought the Ferguson name to Ireland at the time of the plantations.  There were Irish O'Ferguses.  This name seems to have transposed to Ferris.

Among the 17th century arrivals were:
  • the Fergusons of Standingstone in county Antrim.  Sir Samuel Ferguson of this family said that they were descended from Covenant ancestors who had been persecuted in Scotland.
  • the Fergusons of Burt House in county Donegal, the first in the line being the Rev. Andrew Ferguson who was ordained there in 1690.
  • the Fergusons of Growell in county Down.  From this family came Henry Ferguson, pioneer in the development of the modern agricultural tractor.
  • and the Fergusons of Ardtrea parish in county Tyrone, where Alexander Ferguson was recorded as a tenant farmer in the 17th century.
It can be seen from Griffith's Valuations of the mid 19th century that Ferguson became very much an Ulster surname.

England.  Fergusons came south across the border into England, some into Cumberland and some further south.

Cumberland  One set of Fergusons is said to have moved over from Galloway to Cumberland sometime in the early 17th century.  From this family came the Fergusons of Houghton Hall who started a cotton spinning industry in Carlisle. 

Another Cumberland family line traces back to Ben Ferguson, born in 1766 in Pardshaw near Cockermouth; and other Ferguson lines at that time were to be found at St. Bees and Newtown.  Richard Ferguson was mayor of Carlisle in 1881 and 1882. 

Elsewhere  Some Fergusons headed further south.  These included the military Fergusons of Polebrook Hall near Oundle in Northamptonshire (descendants of two brothers who had fled Scotland for Belfast in the 1680's).  From this line came Major Ronald Ferguson and his daughter Sarah Ferguson.     

  Fergusons in America are either of Scottish origin or are Scots Irish.  First sightings were in Virginia.  Three family lines there have been well-documented:
  • One line began in Essex county, Virginia around 1680 with John Ferguson and Ann Stubbleson.  James Edward Ferguson's 1997 book My Ferguson Ancestors in America: 1680-1993 traced this family line.
  • Another line was first sighted in Loudon county, Virginia and later congregated in Wilkes county, North Carolina where the Fergusons became quite numerous.  There is in fact a township of Ferguson in the county named after a former resident Captain Lindsay Ferguson.  Hortense Abbott's 1980 book Descendants of the Ferguson Families covered these Fergusons.
  • Samuel Ferguson was an early settler in Tazewell county, Virginia.  He moved with his family to new lands in Wayne county, West Virginia in 1804.  Evelyn Booth Massie's 1985 book Ferguson Family Genealogical History of Wayne County recorded the family.
A line in South Carolina started with a Thomas Ferguson who lived through the Revolutionary War and was recorded as having five wives.  The Confederate general Samuel Wragg Ferguson was descended from the first of these wives.  After the Civil War he lived in some style in Greenville, Mississippi.  However, he was caught embezzling from the Delta Levee Board in 1894 and - rather than stand and face his accusers - he fled the country, eventually surfacing in Ecuador.

Fergusons from Virginia and the Carolinas spread across the South.  Daniel  Ferguson left South Carolina with his family in 1808 for Bayou Chicot in Louisiana where he operated a large cotton plantation.  One branch of this family moved to Texas in the 1850's.  Another Ferguson history records a family from Virginia migrating in the 19th century to Missouri, Texas, and then to Louisiana.

A Ferguson family arrived in Dallas, Texas from Missouri in 1860; while Alabama native James Ferguson became a Methodist preacher in Arkansas before moving to Bell county, Texas in 1847.  His son Jim Ferguson was elected Governor of Texas in 1914 and again in 1916.

"Jim was a powerful and charismatic speaker who appealed to the rural masses and to 'the little man.' However, his administrations were marked by charges of irregularities so severe that the Court of Impeachment removed him from office.  Unable to hold any office but still extremely popular, Jim nominated his wife for Governor in 1924 with claims that Texas would get 'two Governors for the price of one.'  She won that election and was re-elected in 1932."       

Ma and Pa Ferguson were two of the most colorful and controversial figures in the history of Texas politics.

Caribbean.  Ferguson is a common name in the Bahamas.  It appears to have been brought there by Henderson Ferguson from South Carolina in the late 18th century, a Loyalist who had struck out for a new life there as a cotton planter.

Canada.  Canada was the destination for many of the Highland Fergusons displaced by the clearances of the early 19th century.  They were to be found, often after harrowing journeys, in Highland outposts such as Antigonish and Cape Breton in Nova Scotia and Glengarry in Ontario.  An earlier settler in the Glengarry region was the American loyalist Peter Ferguson who built a log cabin in Charlotteburgh township (which still stands) in 1784.

Fergusons were also to be found in Ontario counties such as Perth and Lanark whose names reflected their Scottish heritage.  John Ferguson, known as Craigdarroch, was an early settler in Perth (Fergusons Falls was named after him).  He prospered as a merchant and lumberman.  Another John Ferguson, who for a time ran the Waterloo hotel in Perth, married Craigdarroch's daughter Margaret.  A number of Ferguson families from Balquidder parish in Perthshire settled in Drummond township, Lanark in the early 1820's.

Australia and New Zealand.  Daniel Ferguson was one of the early settlers of South Australia, arriving there with his family on the Catherine Jamieson from Ayrshire in 1838.  He farmed, first at Little Para on the Gawler Plains before moving to Glenunga closer to Adelaide.  James Ferguson came out from Glasgow in the 1850's and was a storekeeper in Gawler town.  He later started a dairy farm at Craigieburn near Melbourne.

Another early settler was John Ferguson who set out with his family from Scotland on the Trusty in 1842 for Western Australia.  He did not make a success at farming.  But he applied for and obtained the post of Colonial Surgeon in Perth which he held for twenty five years.

Fergusons were among the Highland families in Nova Scotia who banded together in 1850 to find a new home on the other side of the world - in Waipu, New Zealand.  The writer Dugald Ferguson later lived there.  A number of Ferguson families from Ayrshire emigrated to New Zealand in the 1870's and settled in Dunedin.

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

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Adam Ferguson was a noted philosopher of the 18th century Scottish Enlightenment.
Sir William Fergusson was the foremost surgeon of mid 19th century England.
Sir Samuel Ferguson was a 19th century Scots-Irish poet, barrister and antiquarian.
Harry Ferguson was an Irish engineer and inventor noted for his role in the development of the modern agricultural tractor.
Jim and Miriam Fersguson were controversial Governors of Texas in the early 1900's.
Sarah Ferguson, popularly known as "Fergie," is the former wife of the Queen's son, Prince Andrew. 
Sir Alex Ferguson was the long-serving manager of Manchester United football club. 

Select Fergusons Today
  • 42,000 in the UK (most numerous in Glasgow)
  • 55,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 53,000 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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