Clan Thom(p)son History

There are lots of Thom(p)sons around, it is one of the most common names in Scotland today, Thom(p)son is popular in the Borders, Lothians, Perth/Argyle.  Even in Shetlands where the name was ‘Thomason’  ’Son of Thomas’.

The name Thom(p)son is patronymic, in that the next generation is named after the father’s personal name. So means literally ‘son of Thom’. Because of this there is no single originating family named Thomson responsible for all the Scottish Thom(p)sons found today. So there is no original place to pin point on a map like other Clans & Families. Therefore not all Thom(p)sons are linked. If you have this surname it’s going to take research to discover which Thom(p)son you are.

A ‘P’ or not a ‘P’?

Thomson (without the ‘p’) is the most frequent spelling in Scotland. Thompson (with a ‘p’)  is found more in the North of England and Thomas in Wales.  The earliest documented  Thomsons spelled with an (a), (e), and sometimes a (p), had slowly evolved from the 12th century into families with a central head or leader in the border and Lothian areas of the Scottish lowlands from Dunfriesshire to Roxburghshire.

So if your name is spelt with a ‘P’  an ‘A’ or an ‘E’ the chances are you come from the the Thom(p)son’s of the borders.  But remember spellings change, so see if you can trace back a consistent spelling or see how it was originally spelt in your tree.

Thom(p)sons in the Borders

Reivers at Gilnockie Tower, from a 19th-century print

Thom(p)sons were located in the West March of the borders.  They were among the border Clans listed with lairds (not the same as chiefs) in the 1587 and 1594 Acts of the Scottish Parliament.

The US Clan MacThomas Society has been working to get the Thom(p)son recognised as a Clan of the borders.  They have been granted arms – these are corporate arms for the Society. Members of the Society will be able to use the following Crest:

MacThompson Society Crest

MacThompson Society Crest – The crest shows a Border Reiver.



The Thomsons of Eskdale were a rather small fifteenth-century clan closely aligned with the larger families of  Beattison and Nixons. In the 1540s the English Lord Wharton reported to the Earl of Shewsbury that the Batysons, Thomsons, and Lytles of Esskdayle have made raiding (reiving) forays on several English towns.

Eskdale in the Scottish Borders

Eskdale in the Scottish Borders

In 1547  the English Lords Lennox and Wharton crossed the Esk River to subdue the south of Annandale and Castlemilk. The continuing reiving on the borders resulted in several lairds and clans being forced to give an oath of obedience to the King of England. In Carlisle Cathedral Library, there are lists of the names including 166 Beatties and Thomsons who had surrendered to the English King.  The 1551 peace accord created the Debatable Lands between the Esk and Sark rivers which belonged to neither kingdom.  So this was neither Scotland or England. People living in this area were only allowed to graze cattle, goats and pigs. They were not allowed to erect any building. The Lords warden of both England and Scotland frequently made raids into the area to destroy temporary buildings and apprehend those who tried to live there. Can not begin to imagine how hard life would have been for them. This is one of the reasons why so many from the area ended up emigrating to other Countries.


Thom(p)sons in Central Scotland

The name is found most in central Scotland, south of the Forth and Clyde.

Thomsons’ of Duddingston

“The most conspicuous family of the name were the Thomsons who possessed Duddingston, near Edinburgh, for five generations till sold by Sir Patrick about 1668; his father had been created a baronet in 1636″ (Stodart, II, p.140)

John Thomson by Henry Raeburn

John Thomson
by Henry Raeburn

The Rev John Thomson FRSE RSA (1 September 1778 – 28 October 1840) was a Scottish minister and landscape painter. He was the minister of Duddingston. Rev John Thomson in addition to being known for his landscape paintings, Thomson is often credited with giving rise to the famous Lowland Scots adage “We’re a’ Jock Tamson’s bairns”, which as early as 1847 was described as “an expression of mutual good fellowship very frequently heard in Scotland.” It is still commonly used today, However, there is some evidence that it may predate John Thomson, and there is also a Scottish Gaelic version so this is not proven.

The Skating Minister by Henry Raeburn 1790s

The Skating Minister by Henry Raeburn 1790s

Duddingston Loch has a long historical connection with curling and skating and is the setting for the iconic painting, The Skating Minister, by Thomson’s artistic acquaintance, Sir Henry Raeburn. The subject of the painting is not Thomson however, but the Reverend Robert Walker, minister of the Canongate Kirk.

Thomson’s Tower

Thomson's, Tower, Duddingston, Edinburgh

Thomson’s, Tower, Duddingston, Edinburgh

Thomson’s Tower is a building located on the shore of Duddingston Loch. It was designed by William Henry Playfair (1789-1857), an Edinburgh architect, and built by the Duddingston Curling Society whose members first wrote down the rules of curling.

In 1805 the then factor of Duddingston Estate, Thomas Scott, the brother of Sir Walter Scott, was influential in bringing the Rev. John Thomson (1778-1840) to be minister at Duddingston Kirk and the minutes of the Kirk Session of March 1806 show that Walter Scott, Advocate (as he then was), was ordained as an elder the following year.

The Highland Thom(p)sons

So if you spell Thomson without a ‘p’ there is a chance you may be a Highland Thomson.

Thom(p)sons and The MacTavishes

There are many people with this name around Perthshire and Argyllshire, these were seen as septs of the Clan MacTavish.1.  The surname in this area is an anglicised form of the Gaelic Mac Thomáis, ‘son of Thomas,’ or of Mac Thomaidh, ‘son of Tommie’. The name is usually spelled MaKcome in the early records, and used to be common in Upper Deeside. The name Thomson could, in some people be a anglicised form of MacTavish so could be directly related. There are Gaelic equivalents in MacTavish (son of Tammas) and McCombie (son of Tommy) and MacLehose is from the Gaelic ‘mac gille Thoimis” or son of St Thomas. So links are clear to some Thom(p)sons.

Dugald MacTavish of Dunardry, Chief of Clan MacTavish has tried to claim that all clansmen all who bear “the name of Thom(p)son” are of Clan McTavish but this can not be true as the surname Thom(p)son comes from different sources and from different areas of Scotland. This was allegedly stated in a letter.

Blazon from the arms of MacTavish of Dunardry

Blazon from the arms of MacTavish of Dunardry

The arms of MacTavish of Dunardry include Thomson arms in the 2nd and 3rd quarters. Note that the principal charge is the head of a buck, not of a stag as is usual in Thomson arms. (The buck is a male fallow deer, whereas a stag is a five years or older male red deer. The heraldic difference is in the shape of the antlers.)

When looking up the Thom(p)son crest you will see the McTavish Boars Head is used.  This is not the correct crest from all Thom(p)sons.




The Highland Thomsons of Glenshee

Clan MacThomas is associated with Upper Glenshee. Also Clan Chattan Mackintoshes and was based initially in Glenshee.

The Thom(p)sons and the Mackintoshes

Clan MacThomas was descended from Clan Chattan Mackintoshes and was based initially in Glenshee. The MacThomases supported King Charles I and the Marquis of Montrose but after the defeat of Montrose at the Battle of Philiphaugh, the chief withdrew his men and extended his influence into Glen Prosen and Strathardle. The chief approved of the stable government brought about by Oliver Cromwell and the Commonwealth. Consequently, after the Restoration of King Charles II the MacThomas fortunes declined and the clan drifted apart – some clansmen moving to the Lowlands and changing their name to Thomson or Thomas.

The Thom(p)sons and the MacThomas’

The origins of Clan MacThomas are said to come from Thomas, who was Gaelic speaking Highlander. He was known as Tomaidh Mor, grandson of William Mackintosh, 7th chief of Clan Mackintosh. This was in the fifteenth century. Thomas moved to Glenshee with his branch of the Clan as The Clan Chattan federation (his grandfather was 8th chief of this) was too large and uncontrollable. Here they settled and thrived. The names evolved, various spellings were Mccomie, Mccolm and Mccomas. Remember that most people at this time were illiterate and names were rarely wrote down, when they were the person writing just made their best guess at it.

In around the 1670s The MacThomas chief is mentioned in Government proclamations, the clan had begun to drift apart. Some moved south to the Tay valley where they became known as Thomson and others to Angus in Fife where they are known as Thomas, Thom or Thoms. The tenth chief, Angus, took the name Thomas and then later Thoms. He settled in northern Fife and successfully farmed.  So there will be Thomsons that have connections here.


Recorded Thomsons

  • There was a John Thomson in Ayrshire in 1318 who led part of Edward Bruce’s invading army in Ireland on behalf of Robert the Bruce. John Thomson “a man of low birth but approved valour,” was leader of the men of Carrick in Edward Bruce’s war in Ireland in 1318 (Hailes, II, p.102, 206).
  • Adam Thomson, appeared as lord of Kylnekylle, Ayreshire, 1370 – 80 (Laing 64)
  • Johannes filius Thome was elected bailie of Aberdeen in 1398 (CRA. p.374)
  • John Thomson witnessed a grant in Ayr in 1401 (Friars Ayr, p.37)
  • Donald Thomson was one of an inquest to determine the rights of pasturage which the Templer lands had over the adjoining town and territory 1461 (Strathendrick, p. 222).
  • “Thomson of that Ilk” is, based on Workman’s Manuscript, Henry Thomson, Lyon King of Arms, 1504-12, who held lands in the barony of Dirleton in East Lothian, not on the Border.
  • In 1548 the goods of three brothers named Thomasson in the barony of Skebo were escheated for slaughter committed by them (ibid,. II, p. 609)
  • James Thomson (1700-1748) was a poet who wrote “The Seasons” which is regarded as a classic of English literature but is best remembered now for writing “Rule Britannia”. Alexander “Greek” Thomson was a 19th century architect of note who is becoming more recognised at the end of the 20th. Robert William Thomson invented the pneumatic tyre in December 1845 and scientist and inventor William Thomson, though born in Belfast, became associated with Glasgow University and became Lord Kelvin. He gave his name to the measurement of temperature “Kelvin”.

Thomson’s Worldwide and The Clan Today

William Thompson of Tower City was born about 1839 or 1840 in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, the son of Alexander Thompson (1805-1873), an immigrant from Scotland who emigrated to America in 1828 to engage in various pursuits including flour milling, lumbering and mining.

William Thompson of Tower City was born about 1839 or 1840 in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, the son of Alexander Thompson (1805-1873), an immigrant from Scotland who emigrated to America in 1828 to engage in various pursuits including flour milling, lumbering and mining.

Many Thomsons emigrated or were forced to emigrate (forced pacification) to Ireland, some were refugees and also to to the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Will the work of groups like The Clan Thompson Society in the USA the borders branch of this Family may end up locating a Clan Chief making it a separate identified Clan. The other pockets of Thomsons will probably stay as parts of other Clans, namely MacThomas, MacTavish or Mackintosh.










1. The Surnames of Scotland, George F. Black, p.789

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