Select Stevenson/Stephenson Surname Genealogy

It could be Stevenson, it could be Stephenson - being "son of Steven" and "son of Stephen," a personal name from the Greek Stephanos meaning "crown."  It was a popular name in the early Middle Ages, having been borne by the first Christian martyr.

Stevensons outnumber Stephensons by roughly 60/40 today. 

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Select Stevenson/Stephenson Ancestry

EnglandBoth Stevenson and Stephenson are northern surnames, Stephenson more so.  It was hardly to be found south of Yorkshire and Lancashire in the 19th century.  Stevenson, by contrast, extended down into the west Midlands (the largest numbers are in Nottinghamshire today) and there have also been increasing numbers further south.

John Stephenson was recorded as a freeman of York in 1395.  But the best-known Stephenson is probably George Stephenson, the man who built the first public railway line from Stockton to Darlington.  He was born in 1781 to illiterate parents in a small village north of Newcastle.  He worked in the mines nearby and was soon an expert in steam-driven machinery.  He built his first prototype locomotive in 1814 and the first line on the Stephenson guage began in 1825.

From Alston in Cumbria came two brothers, William and John Stephenson, who were to do well for themselves.  William made his way to London, became a successful brewer there, was knighted and made Lord Mayor of London in 1764.  His brother John Stephenson headed to Newcastle where he became a wine merchant, directing in the north his brotherís speculation in hops down south.  John was sheriff of Newcastle in 1728 and its mayor in 1750.

There was a line of Stevensons at Balladoole on the Isle of Man from the 14th century.  Many of them emigrated in the 19th century, primarily to Canada.
Scotland.  Stevenson but not Stephenson extended as a surname into Scotland.  The writer Robert Louis Stevenson suspected a Highland origin for his Stevensons.  But most see Stevensons as having their origins in the Lowlands, in the counties of Lanark, Renfrew and Ayr.  One early Stevenson family came from Bothwell near Motherwell in Lanarkshire.

Neilston parish near Paisley in Renfrewshire was a source of many Stevensons.  John James Stevenson was a tenant farmer there in the 1650's.  The family later moved to Glasgow and prospered as merchants.  Robert Stevenson, the famous lighthouse engineer, was born there in 1772.   Robert Louis Stevenson was his grandson.  Bella Bathurst's 1999 book The Lighthouse Stevensons narrated this family story.

"Bathurst tells how four generations of Robert Louis Stevenson's family designed and built the 97 manned lighthouses that speckle the Scottish coast.  A reluctant engineer turned writer, RLS transmuted his lighthouse-building expeditions into Treasure Island and Kidnapped, but he rebelled against his quarrelsome father Thomas who tried to corral him into the family business."

RLS spent his final years in the South Pacific.

James Stevenson of humble Lanarkshire origins moved to Paisley in the 1750's to profit from the house building boom there.  His eldest son James became a textile merchant in Glasgow before moving south in the 1840's to work on Tyneside.  One of his sons became a local MP there, another a well-known architect; while his two daughters were active in women's causes and educational reform.  Their family story is told in Hew Stevenson's 2009 book Jobs for the Boys.

A Stevenson line in the Orkneys can be traced back to the 1740ís on the island of Westray.  However, the agricultural depression in the 1870ís saw emigration.  From a Stevenson family there at that time, eight Stevensons Ė including Ben Stevenson - emigrated to Canada, one to Australia, while two of the daughters married and stayed home.

Thomas Stevenson, an Englishman, arrived in Dutch New York from London around the year 1643.  He settled in Southhold, Long Island.  The lines from his sons Edward and Thomas, Quakers, led to Hunterdon county, New Jersey and Bucks county, Pennsylvania.

Illinois.  The Stevenson family of Illinois were prominent politicians in the American Democratic party for almost a hundred years - from Adlai Stevenson I, the American Vice President in the 1890's, to Adlai Stevenson II, the Democratic Presidential candidate in 1952 and 1956, and to Adlai Stevenson III, the Illinois Senator in the 1970's.

These Stevensons were originally Scots Irish.  William Stevenson had arrived from Ulster in 1748, settling first in Pennsylvania and then in North Carolina.  The family moved to Kentucky in 1813 and, after the Civil War, to Bloomington, Illinois which was where the first Adlai Stevenson grew up.

Two other Stevenson families arrived in Illinois sometime earlier: 
  • Benjamin Stevenson came via Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Kentucky, getting there in 1809, the year that the Illinois territory was opened up.  He served as the first Sheriff of Randolph county and died in Edwardsville in 1822.  His house in Edwardsville has been preserved as the Colonel Benjamin Stephenson House.  
  • while Michael and Janet Stevenson arrived from Renfrewshire in Scotland in 1840, also settling in Randolph county.  A descendant recalled that their five grandsons played in the Stevenson Boy's Band in southern Illinois in the late 1800's.
Australia.  George Stevenson, a wanderer from his early days in Berwick, ended up in South Australia in 1836 where he produced the first newspaper of the colony.  Stevenson was an enthusiastic horticulturist and his garden and orchard were among the best in early Adelaide.

Four years earlier Joseph Stevenson had left his home in Banff in NE Scotland to seek his fortune in Australia.  He worked first in the timber trade in Tasmania and then moved to Victoria with his family and eventually homesteaded on Kangaroo Ground at what became known as Stevenson's Creek.  Towards the end of his life this aged pioneer handed over his vineyard to his son Robert, preferring instead to live out his years in the solitude of the Australian bush.

Select Stevenson/Stephenson Miscellany

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

Select Stevenson/Stephenson Names

Robert Stevenson was a Scottish civil engineer and a famed builder of lighthouses in the early 1800's.
George Stephenson built the first public railway line in 1825 to use steam locomotives.  He is known as the father of railways.
John Stephenson, a coachbuilder from Ireland, patented in 1832 the first streetcar to run on rails in the United States.
Robert Louis Stevenson was a highly popular Scottish novelist, the author of children's classics such as Treasure Island and Kidnapped.  He was the grandson of lighthouse builder Robert Stevenson.
Adlai Stevenson, a Governor of Illinois, was defeated by Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Presidential race in 1952 and again in 1956.
Teofilo Stevenson was a Cuban boxer who won three Olympic gold medals betewwen 1972 and 1980.  His parents had been immigrants from the Anglophone island of St. Kitts.

Select Stevensons/Stephensons Today
  • 76,000 in the UK (60% Stevenson, 40% Stephenson)
  • 43,000 in America (58% Stevenson, 42% Stephenson) 
  • 29,000 elsewhere (65% Stevenson, 35% Stephenson)

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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