Simpson History



Origin of the Simpson Name

Origin of the Simpson Name
Contributed by Eric Simpson

This is the text I obtained from the Library of Hall of Names in London some years ago:

The distinguished surname Simpson is one of the most notable Anglo/Saxon surnames, and its historical trail has emerged from the mists of time to become an influential surname of the middle ages and of the present day. In an in-depth research of such ancient manuscripts as the Domesday Book compiled in 1086 AD by Duke William of Normandy, the Ragman Rolls (1291-1296) collected by King Edward 1st of England, the Curia Regis Rolls, the Pipe Rolls, the Hearth Rolls, parish registers, baptismals, tax records and other ancient documents, researchers found the first record of the name Simpson in Buckinghamshire where they had been seated since ancient times.

Confusing to most, we found many different spellings in the archives researched. Although your name, Simpson, occurred in many manuscripts, from time to time the surname was also spelt Simson, Simsoun, Symsoun, Simpsone and these changes in spelling frequently occurred, even between father and son. There is one record, a father and eight sons. In the graveyard where they are buried, all nine have different spellings of their surnames. Many reasons were revealed for these spelling variations but mainly church officials and scribes spelt the name as it was told to them.

The family name Simpson is one of the most notable of the ancient Anglo/Saxon race. This founding race of England, a fair skinned people led by the Saxon General/Commanders Hengist and Horsa, settled in Kent from about the year 400 AD. The Angles, on the other hand, occupied the eastern coast. The Anglo/Saxon five century domination of English society was an uncertain time, and the nation divided into five separate kingdoms, a high king being elected as supreme ruler.

By 1066, King Harold came to the throne of England which was enjoying reasonable peace and prosperity. However, the Norman invasion from France and their victory at the Battle of Hastings, found many of the vanquished Saxon land owners forfeiting their land to Duke William and his invading nobles. They became oppressed under Norman rule, and some moved northward to the midlands, Lancashire and Yorkshire, even into Scotland.

The family name Simpson emerged as a notable English family name in the county of Buckinghamshire, where they were descended from Archil, a Saxon lord, living at the time of King Edward the Confessor, about 1050 AD. Even after the Conquest this family held many lands, including the manor of Clint in Yorkshire. In the 12th century this branch called themselves de Clint. Simon, son of William de Clint, adopted the name Simpson to distinguish himself from the de Clints. From the 14th century his family became known as Simpson. They flourished and moved north into Scotland into Fifeshire at Brunton where they became affiliated with the Fraser clan.

In 1405 William Simpson of Edinburgh traded freely with his interests in Yorkshire, as did his successors Robert, David, and Thomas, until the year 1500. They acquired large business interests in Ayrshire, Edinburgh and Glasgow, but were not unknown as professionals. Sir James Simpson invented chloroform in the 19th century. Meanwhile the branches flourished in Scotland and England, at Castle Lodge in Yorkshire, Bradley in Durham, Mellor Lodge in Derby, at Strathavon, Udoch, and Thorntown in Scotland. Notable amongst the family at this time was Dr. Sutherland Simpson of Cornell.

For the next two or three centuries bearers of the surname Simpson flourished and played a significant role in the political development of England. During the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries England was ravaged by religious and political conflict. Puritanism, Catholicism, Royalist and parliamentary forces shed much blood. Many families were freely "encouraged" to migrate to Ireland, or to the "colonies". Some were rewarded with grants of land, others were banished. In Ireland, settlers became known as the Adventurers seeking land in Ireland. Called "undertakers" they undertook to maintain the Protestant faith. In Ireland this distinguished family settled in county Antrim.

Meanwhile the New World beckoned and migration continued, some voluntarily from Ireland, but mostly directly from England or Scotland, their home territories. Some clans and families even moved to the European continent. Kinsmen of the family name Simpson were amongst the many who sailed aboard the armada of small sailing ships known as the "White Sails" which plied the stormy Atlantic. These overcrowded ships were pestilence ridden, sometimes 30% to 40% of the passenger list never reaching their destination, their numbers reduced by sickness or the elements.

Principal amongst the settlers which could be considered a kinsman of the surname Simpson, or a variable spelling of that family name was Henry Simpson who settled in Maine in 1635; John and Joe Simpson settled in Boston in 1635; Robert Simpson settled in Maryland in 1633; another Robert Simpson settled in Salem in 1630; Patrick Simpson settled in Virginia in 1639; Dan Simpson settled in Virginia in 1654, along with Edward, John and Kath; Richard Simpson settled in Newfoundland in 1704; Andrew Simpson settled in Bell Island, Newfoundland in 1771.

The trek from the port of entry was also arduous and many joined the wagon trains to the prairies or to the west coast. During the American War of Independence, many loyalists made their way north to Canada about 1790, and became known as the United Empire Loyalists. 20th century notables of this surname, Simpson, include many distinguished persons, Alan Simpson, Author; Alan Simpson, President of Vassar; Justice Alfred Simpson; General Sir Frank Simpson; Sir James Simpson; Sir Cyril Simpson; Rev. Rennie Simpson; Oliver Simpson, Scientist.

During the course of the research we also determined the many Coat of Arms matriculated by the family name.

The most ancient grant of a Coat of Arms found was:  Gold and black diagonally with a lion rampant.
The Crest was:  A demi lion.
The ancient family Motto for this distinguished name was:  "Nil Desperandum", which means "Never Despairing".

The Hall of Names Ltd.
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Battersea, London

The Simpson Family Name


A Johannes Symson is listed as living in Yorkshire in the year 1379. Northern England, particularly Yorkshire, was the traditional home of the Simpson family, while today the family is primarily concentrated in Durham, Lancashire, Cheshire, Staffordshire, and Derby. Simpson is also a common name throughout southern Scotland; this fact leads us to believe that many American Simpsons are descended from Scottish branches of the family.

When President George Washington authorized the first official national census in 1790, the population of the United States numbered about three million whites and their one million slaves. The Simpson family was not one of the more numerically prominent families at that time, but it was a rapidly growing family nevertheless.

The average Simpson family had 5.4 members. Of the 371 Simpson families in the new United States most were concentrated in North Carolina (65), Pennsylvania (55), Virginia (48), South Carolina (42), Maryland (40), and Maine (38). The remaining eighty-three families were distributed in five other new states. There were also an additional 1,638 adult and single Simpsons not counted among the above-mentioned households. The majority of these were young men making their future on the frontier.

A more modern census taken in 1964 from the files of the Social Security Administration reveals that Simpson is the 128th most numerous name in the country. There are approximately 147,500 adult Simpsons in the United States today.

The Border Reivers
Written by David Simpson

Lawless Clans

From the 14th to the late 17th centuries, the area bordering England and Scotland was a violent place. Inter-family feuds carved fear into the life of all the local people as they fought for their lives and their property in an area lacking in any form of discipline and with no rule of law. For over 350 years, the Border Reivers carried out their fearsome raiding in which the victims lost their homes, their cattle and sometimes their lives.

Border history may well have been dominated by the political struggle between England and Scotland, but it would be wrong to assume that the story of the Borders was always a saga of Englishman against Scot and vice versa. In Elizabethan times the Anglo-Scottish Border counties, including Northumberland, were the home to the notorious Border Reivers, the lawless clans of the border valleys, where a lifestyle of raiding and marauding was the only way to survive. The life of the Border Reiver was not necessarily ruled by his allegiance to the English or Scottish Crowns, but more likely by his allegiance to a family surname.

Feuds were often fought and raids were made, not in the name of England or Scotland, but in the names of Armstrong, Robson, Charlton, Elliott or Dodd, or in the names of other Border surnames, that are still common in the region today. Indeed it was a common occurrence for English families to side with Scottish families in border feuds, especially as some of the reiver surnames, like Armstrong, Hall and Graham were to be found on both sides of the border.

Stories of these raids appear in the Border Ballads, the dialect folk poems which have been handed down from generation to generation over three lawless centuries, and which feature surnames which have given the region its unique character.

There are 77 known 'reiving' families. Their names are listed at Tullie House Museum in Carlisle. They include such well known names as Maxwell, Nixon, Elliot, Simpson and Armstrong. 'Reiving' was mainly a seasonal event as there was a preference for marauding from Lammas-tide (1 August) until the reconvening of the official judicial courts three months later, which gave the Reivers a good chance of escaping detection and retribution during that period.

The Reivers also wanted well-fed cattle which had benefited from a summer's grazing and firm dry ground underfoot to ensure fast journeys over the Border.

In the addition to the warlike activities of the Reivers, it would seem that they played a basic version of the modern game of soccer. It had been recorded that Mary Queen of Scots watched a two hour match taking place in the meadow below the walls of Carlisle Castle where she was imprisoned. And, like today, there were incidents of violence as a result of the game. Some of these would end in bloodshed, even deaths, as in 1599 when six of the Armstrong clan went to play at Bewcastle (on the English side of the Border) against six of the local men.

After the games, the two sides were involved in some hard drinking in Bewcastle, when one William Ridley saw it as an opportunity to capture the Armstrongs while they were on English ground. Ridley and his follower staged an ambush of the Armstrongs, but it seemed the intended victims had been tipped off, and the ambush party found the tables had been turned.

Ridley's men were set upon by a band of more than 200 riders, and in the resulting melee, Ridley and two of his friends were killed and 30 were taken prisoner. Many were badly injured, including one John Whyfield, whose injuries were such that his "bowells came out, but are sewed up againe".

Of all the reiving families, possibly the most feared and most dangerous were the Armstrongs, and one of the most infamous was William Armstrong of Kinmont, popularly known as Kinmont Willie. He was a man who would not strike at single farms or villages, but at whole areas, spreading terror, death and destruction and unlike other Reivers, he liked to ride by day rather than under the cover of darkness. His first recorded raid was in August 1583 when he was in his forties.

When the raiding party left, it was with 800 stolen cattle, $300 worth of goods and 30 prisoners, while six men were killed and 11 wounded. His reiving led his name to be a by-word for violence, and in 1593 saw his biggest raid. He rode with an army of 1,000 men who stole 2,000 beasts and $500 worth of goods. Three years later he was captured and imprisoned in Carlisle Castle, only to be set free by his sons in a daring rescue. The scale of his exploits declined somewhat after that, and he then became a victim of raiding parties.

The Reivers left a lasting testament to the English language as many a grieving widow was left "bereaved" and families were "blackmailed". Rent payable to the landowner was referred to as "greenmail" and so protection money paid to the stronger reiving families became known as "blackmail".

Murderous Robsons

There is a well known tradition that the Robsons of North Tynedale once made a foray into the Scottish valley of Liddesdale and stole a large flock of sheep belonging to the Graham family, which they brought back into Northumberland. Later it was discovered that the Graham sheep were infected with scab, which spread like wild fire through the Robson's flock. The Robsons were so angry that they returned to Liddesdale in another raid, where they caught seven members of the Graham family and hung them until they were dead. They left a note to the effect that:

"The neist time gentlemen cam to tak their schepe They are no te' be scabbit!"

Such tales as this were typical of the border country many centuries ago, though it is not always easy to separate the fact from the fiction, since these stories were often constructed by people who may not have even visited the borderlands.

Border Reivers and their way of life were certainly feared by outsiders in days gone by and the Border Country had a certain element of mystique and danger about it. Even in the nearby walled town of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, there were rules forbidding the apprenticeship of North Tynedale and Redesdale men to certain Newcastle trades, for fear that there might be trouble.

Fears may well have been justified for one Newcastle man writing of the Tynedale and Redesdale folk in 1649 records that:

"They come down from their dales into the low countries and carry away horses and cattle so cunningly that it will be hard for any to get them or their cattle except that they be aquainted with some master thief, who for safety money may help them to their stolen goods, or decieve them."

Celtic, Viking or Anglo-Saxon Clans

It is often said that the Border Reivers are the descendants of war hungry Vikings or Celtic tribesmen. It is also sometimes thought that the Border Reivers are just another group of Scottish clans who have spilled over into England. What is the truth?

The surnames of the Border Reivers seem to have been Anglo-Saxon, rather than Scots-Celtic in origin as unlike most of the famous clans of the Scottish Highlands, they all lack that Celtic element Mac, (the Gaelic word meaning son of), which occurs in names like McDonald and McDougal.

It therefore seems probable that the Border Reivers on both sides of the border were largely Anglo-Saxon by origin. This has a simple explanation; the boundaries of the old Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria, stretched far to the north of the modern Scottish border, towards Edinburgh and the Lothians.

Some people have suggested that the Border folk were largely descended from Norse-Viking warriors, but there is very little evidence of Viking settlement in Northumberland, where both local place names and local dialect are of a highly Anglo-Saxon (Old Germanic) nature. Cumbria on the western side of the Pennines is however a different case. Here the local dialect is noticeably different and many local place names are of Norse origin (as in Yorkshire - the old Viking kingdom of Jorvik).

Many place names with typically Norse-Viking endings like 'Thwaite' (meadow) and 'By' (village) are extremely common in Cumbria and yet virtually absent from Northumberland. Some features in Cumbria also have completely different names to those of Northumberland. Thus in Cumbria, shepherd's huts were called 'Scales', streams are called 'Becks' and waterfalls are called 'Forces', all words of Viking origin. In Northumberland the equivalent names are Anglo-Saxon (old Northumbrian), thus we have Shiels, Burns, and Linns.

The best example of a Northumbrian 'Linn' is the Hareshaw Linn - its Anglo-Saxon name means Grey-Wood waterfall. This is situated in the Dene (wooded valley) of the Hareshaw Burn, to the north of Bellingham.

With sudden dash and bound and splash
With rout and shout and roar and din
The brook amazed, alarmed and crazed
Is sprawling into Hareshaw Linn

A List of Border Reiver Surnames
Archbold Armstrong Beattie
Bell Burns Carleton
Carlisle Carnaby Carrs
Carruthers Chamberlain Charlton
Collingwood Crisp Crozier
Cuthbert Dacre Davison
Dixon Dodd/s Douglas
Dunne Elliott Fenwick
Forster Graham Gray
Hall Hedley Henderson
Heron Hetherington Hume/Hulme
Irvine/g Johnston/e Kerr
Laidlaw Little Lowther
Maxwell Milburn Musgrove
Nixon Noble Ogle
Oliver Potts Pringle
Radcliffe Reade Ridley
Robson Routledge Rutherford
Salkeld Scott Selby
Shaftoe Storey Simpson
Tait Taylor Trotter
Turnbull Wake Watson
Wilson Woodrington Young

SIMPSON - A Border Reiver Name

According to surname scholars, Simpson is a surname which has been infected by 'parasitic glide consonants'. This basically means that the 'p' was not originally there and has come about naturally from the pronunciation of Simson. Simpson is a fairly common name in Scotland, where it is a minor clan name and was also a family name of the Anglo-Scottish Border on the English side. The earliest recorded owner of the name was a Richard Symmeson of Staffordshire in 1353 and the first mention in the north was Adam Symson of Whitby in 1395. Simpson with the 'p' first occurs in 1397 when a John Simpson is recorded in Yorkshire. In the following century a John Symson living in the City of London was alternatively known as John Sympson showing that two spellings of the same name could exist side by side. Simpson and Simson in all their forms mean son of Sim, a shortened form of Simon. Other similar names include Simpkin or Simkins, meaning a relative of Sim, but these names are more commonly found in the south of England. A totally unrelated name is the surname Simple which means honest, open and straightforward. Fortunately there is no evidence that Simpson means son of a foolish, gullible, simpleton.

The End of the Border Reivers

In 1603 James VI of Scotland became James I of England. James immediately set about unifying the two countries. The Marches and the posts of wardens were abolished. The term 'the Borders' was forbidden. The old Border ceased to exist. Strong measures were pursued to enforce the law and there was, after centuries of disorder, a will to see that the law was enforced. Wanted men were hunted down and executed. All Borderers were forbidden to carry weapons and they could only own horses of a value up to 50 schillings.

Deprived of their basic reiving requirements, all reiving activities ceased. Reiving families were dispossessed of their lands. Their homes were destroyed and the people scattered or deported. Some clans that had been active reivers hastily abandoned their reiver connections and sought and found favour with the king and joined in the subjugation of the old reiving families, often with great enthusiasm. Many were rewarded with gifts of land, and they prospered, acquiring the lands of their former friends and allies.

Thus many proud and fearless families were broken up and scattered beyond their homeland. They were the Grahams, the Armstrongs, Elliots, Routledges, Nixons and many others. Only a few remained, adopting a peaceful way of life. Others moved into England, Ireland, America, and elsewhere, where their descendants live and prosper to this day.


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