Select Rathbone Surname Genealogy

Rathbone is a very distinctive English surname and there are many possible origins of the Rathbone name.  But no one is in fact quite sure where the name has come from.

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Select Rathbone Ancestry

England.  The name first appeared in Cheshire.  A John Rathbone from north Wales was reported there in the 13th century as being granted land at Macefen near Malpas.  A later John was mayor of Chester in the early 1500's.  There were subsequent branches of the family in Chester, the Wirral (where the landscape artist John Rathbone was born), and the parishes of Astbury, Tushingham, and Farnworth in Lancashire. 

Then came the forebears of two famous Rathbone lines:
  • John Rathbone from Ditton near Farnworth.  The son of a shoemaker who had inherited some money on his father's death, he left with his wife for America in 1654.
  • and William Rathbone (of the Astbury Rathbones) from Gawsworth near Macclesfield.  He set out in the 1720's for the growing port of Liverpool, working there as a sawyer and starting up a timber business.
The Rathbone family of Liverpool - of whom William Rathbone was the forebear - was a family of nonconformist merchants whose sense of high social consciousness led to a fine tradition of philanthropy and public service well into the 20th century.  Basil Rathbone, famous in film as Sherlock Holmes, came from this family.

As a surname, Rathbone stretched from Cheshire north into Lancashire and south into Staffordshire and Warwickshire.  Rathbone in Warwickshire is said to have come from the word Rawbone.

  Most Rathbones in America probably descend from John and Margaret Rathbone who came to Dorchester, Massachusetts from England in 1654.  Four years later, the Rathbones were party to the purchase of Block Island, a small island off the coast of Rhode Island where John was given a deed of land in the middle of the island. 

A number of his descendants distinguished themselves in business and the church in New England during colonial times.  There have been two noteworthy longer-lasting Rathbone lines. 

One line went via Jonathan Rathbone who had settled in Colchester, Connecticut:
  • a descendant here was General Ransom Rathbone, after whom the town of Rathbone in Steuben county, New York was named. 
  • another was Jared Rathbone, a wealthy merchant of Albany, New York and the first elected mayor of that town.  When he died in 1843 he left an estate of $200,000, an unheard-of amount in those times.  His son Henry Rathbone is famous for having been in the box at the theater with President Lincoln when Lincoln was shot.
Another line went via Joshua Rathbone who had settled in Stonington, Connecticut, and Wait Rathbone, a New England sea captain who had fought in the Revolutionary War. 

Later Rathbones of this line worked for Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, culminating in Jack Rathbone being appointed CEO of that company in 1960.  Under his leadership Jersey Standard was reorganized as Exxon Corp and greatly expanded its international business.  His great grandson is the actor and singer Jackson Rathbone.   
Select Rathbone Miscellany

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

Select Rathbone Names

William Rathbone
migrated from Cheshire to Liverpool and founded the long-lasting Rathbone family business there.  He became a Quaker in 1726.
Henry R. Rathbone was the man who tried but failed to stop Abraham Lincoln's assassination in 1865.
Basil Rathbone of the Liverpool Rathbones was the film actor who famously played Sherlock Holmes.
Jack Rathbone was the head of Standard Oil Company of New Jersey in the 1960's who forged the modern oil company that is Exxon.

Select Rathbones Today
  • 2,000 in the UK (most numerous in Cheshire)
  • 800 in America (most numerous in North Carolina)
  • 1,000 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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