Select Gordon Surname Genealogy

The Scottish surname Gordon originated from the place-name Gordon in Berwickshire on the Scottish borders, this name deriving from the Old Gaelic gor meaning "large" or "spacious" and dun meaning "fort."  It became adopted by an Anglo-Norman family there in the 12th century.

Gordon is also a Jewish name, possibly dating back to the 17th century.  Its most likely source is a place-name of Grodno in Belarus near the Polish/Lithuanian border.  The Gordon name featured among the late 19th century Jews of Bialystok. 

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Scotland.  The Gordons are believed to have been originally of Norman descent.  The name started to appear in the Borders in the 12th century.  It was Sir Adam de Gordon, a friend of William Wallace, who was appointed to the lordship of Strathbogie and Badenoch by Robert the Bruce in 1319.  He brought the name and the family to Aberdeenshire in the northeast of the country.

Within these Gordons three early branches emerged:
  • the Jock and Tam Gordons, from Jock Gordon of Scurdargue and Tam Gordon of Ruthven dating back to the 1360's.  They were said to have had twenty two sons between them.
  • the Sir William Gordon branch, from Sir William, the son of Sir Adam, who remained in the Borders.
  • and the Seton-Gordon branch, stemming from Elizabeth de Gordon - cousin to Jock and Tam - who married Alexander Seton, with Seton taking the Gordon name.   The main Gordon line continued here.
These Gordons were at first major landowners there, rather than the traditional tribal clan.  Huntly castle, originally Strathbogie castle, was the Gordon seat from the 14th to the late 17th century.  In the 15th century, Alexander Seton was created Lord Gordon and his son became the first Earl of Huntly.  By that time the Gordons were becoming known as the "bowl o' meal Gordons."  The Earl was said to have rewarded anyone who adopted the name of Gordon with a gift of oatmeal. 

"The Gordons subsequently became one of the most powerful clans in Scotland, so strong in the Highlands that their chief was known as ‘Cock o' the North.’"

Clan feuds and battles were frequent in the 16th and 17th centuries.  The Gordons came up against Mary Queen of Scots in the 1550's and were also caught up in the English Civil War.  George Gordon, the seventh earl, lost his head in 1647 for supporting the Royalist cause.  However, the Gordons were returned to their titles and estates with the Restoration. 

They had split allegiances over the Jacobite uprisings in the 18th century, with clan members fighting on both sides.  In 1794 the Duke of Gordon raised and recruited the 92nd Highlanders which became renowned for their famous charge at Waterloo.   They became known as the Gordon Highlanders and, colloquially, as the Gay Gordons.

Gordon history was told in Edward Gordon's 1949 books History of the House of Gordon.  

Other Gordons from Aberdeen were:
  • Alexander Gordon, the 16th century bishop of Galloway
  • John Gordon, an Aberdeen merchant and MP of the early 1700's;
  • and Robert Gordon, another Aberdeen merchant at that time who prospered in the Baltic trade and funded the building now known as the Robert Gordon University.
Ireland.  The Scots brought the Gordon name to Ireland during the plantation era of the 17th century.  Thus the surname has been most common in Ulster.  One Gordon family dates from about 1680 in Ballynahinch in county Down; while Robert Gordon had acquired the Florida manor estate in the same county through marriage in 1755.  Gordons in Mayo date from around 1800.  They were flax growers.  

Many of these Scots Irish Gordons later emigrated, first to America.  Nathaniel Gordon, for instance, left his home in county Tyrone for Massachusetts in 1749.  Others left in the 19th century for Australia.

There were Irish Gordons as well.  The Gaelic
Mag Mhuirneacháin and Mórbhoirneach became Gordon in some instances, in particular in Connacht.

Wales.  Charles Gordon, a son of the Duke of Gordon, had fought at Culloden in 1746 and then fled the scene of battle after the defeat.  He ended up in Carnarvon in north Wales where he was captured and executed.  However, he left a family there, the Gordon Hopes, who in 1836 made claim to the vacant dukedom of Gordon.

There was also a Gordon family from the Gower in south Wales which had changed their name from Gorton to Gordon in the 18th century.
England.  Alexander Gordon, a Scot, had opened a gin distillery in the Southwark area of London in 1769, later moving it to Clerkenwell.  The Special London Dry Gin he developed proved successful and its recipe has remained unchanged to this day.  The business boomed in 1850 under grandson Charles after Parliament removed the export tax on gin and Gordon's could profitably be shipped around the empire.

There were army Gordons in London as well, notably the family of the artillery officer Henry Gordon.  His son Charles Gordon is remembered for his campaigns in China and north Africa and in particular for his vainglorious death at the fall of Khartoum in 1884.  Gordon was supposedly Queen Victoria's favorite general and his memory has been preserved.  

America.  The first Gordon in America was probably Alexander Gordon, born in Aberdeen, who was captured by Cromwell's soldiers in 1651 and deported to Boston as an indentured servant.  Ten years later he was able to secure his release and find employment at a sawmill in Exeter, New Hampshire.  His descendants moved onto Salem, New Hampshire.  George Gordon, born there, developed the design of the most common printing press, the Gordon Letterpress.  Marian Otis's 1999 book Alexander Gordon and His Descendants followed these Gordons.

Thomas and Charles Gordon from Aberdeen arrived at the East Jersey colony of Perth Amboy in the early 1680's.  Later Gordons moved to Georgia and Kentucky. 

Gordons in the South.  William Gordon was mayor of Savannah and the founder of Georgia's first railroad.  Gordon county in Georgia was named after him.  A later Gordon of this line was Daisy Gordon, founder of the Girl Scouts of America in 1912. 

Another southern line began with John Gordon who had come to North Carolina from Scotland sometime in the 1720's.  Grandson Zachariah established himself in Upson county Georgia, a preacher and a planter and in his later life an owner of a mineral spring resort; while his son, John Brown, was one of Robert E. Lee's most trusted Confederate generals during the Civil War.  After the war, John Brown Gordon became a strong opponent of Reconstruction and was thought by some to have been the titular leader of the Klu Klux Klan in Georgia during the late 1860's.  His long political career, as a Senator and Governor of Georgia, extended from 1873 to 1897.

Jewish Gordons.  Gordon in America could be a Jewish name.  Harold Gordon was a Nazi concentration camp survivor from Grodno who settled in Salinas, California after the war.  Michael Gordon, the film director blacklisted during the McCarthy era, was brought up in a Jewish household in Baltimore.

Caribbean.  Joseph Gordon had came to Jamaica from Scotland as an attorney for a number of absentee landlords.  He purchased a number of their estates, including Cherry Garden where the second of his seven children of a union with a mulatto slave woman was born. 

This son George William, who was later to acquire the estate, was arrested and then hanged for his alleged role in the Morant Bay rebellion of 1865.  His name has lived on as a martyr and "National Hero of Jamaica." The Parliament of Jamaica meets in the Gordon House, built in 1960 and named in his memory.

  Robert and Ann Gordon arrived in Sydney in 1817 from Limerick in Ireland on board the military transport MatildaAnn Gordon was to become the matron of the second Parramatta Female Factory, an asylum for female convicts, from 1827 to 1836.  Other Gordons from Ireland were: 
  • John Gordon and his family from county Down who came to Sydney on the Mandarin in 1837.  His father David had earlier been transported to Australia as a convict.
  • William and Jane Gordon from Belfast who arrived on the Wilson five years later.  They later settled to farm in Jamberoo, NSW.
  • and Thomas Gordon from county Tyrone who married Margaret McKenzie in Wollongong, NSW in 1871 and who later moved to Waitekauri, New Zealand.
Select Gordon Miscellany

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

Select Gordon Names

Sir Adam de Gordon
first brought the Gordon name and Gordon family to Aberdeenshire in the early 14th century.
Alexander Gordon started up Gordon's Gin in London in 1769.
Lord George Gordon, born into the Scottish nobility, was a colorful politician in England, best known for lending his name to the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots of 1780 and for converting to Judaism.
General Charles Gordon was the British 19th century army officer known posthumously as Gordon of Khartoum.  He famously died after his forces had been beseiged by Mahdi forces in Khartoum in 1884.
Dexter Gordon was a jazz tenor saxophonist of the post-bebop era.

Select Gordons Today
  • 55,000 in the UK (most numerous in Surrey)
  • 60,000 in America (most numerous in California) 
  • 31,000 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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