During the 11th century the use of surnames was
introduced to the British Isles by the Normans. They were usually
local (a place or landmark), patronymic ("son of"), a
trade or profession name, or a nickname.
The name Dickson is a patronymic name, meaning
"Dick's son" or "son of Dick". Coming from
Scotland it might seem strange that it is not
"MacDick", but this is simply explained by its lowland, rather than highland, origin.
The Dickson or Dixon (and other spellings and derivates)
family name was first found in Scotland. Early records show Thomas Dicson, a
follower of the Douglas clan, at the capture of Castle Douglas in 1307.
Although the name was Scottish in it's origin, with the
spelling of Dicson or Dickson (the most common usage in Scotland
today), with it's very earliest origins being in Lanarkshire, it became predominately a Borders counties name with a subsequent spread to the north
and midlands of England to become a popular family name with the
spelling of Dixon.
Thomas - the first Dickson
In his book " The Border and Riding Clans followed by a
Shorter History of Clan Dickson", (published by Albany,
New York, 1888) B. Homer Dixon wrote:-
"In a charter from King Robert Bruce about A.D. 1306
to Thomas Dickson it [the name] occurs as Filius Ricardi (son of
Richard) and the Charter is endorsed Carta Thomas fil Dick."
"Nesbit in his Heraldry (Edinburgh, 1722) says 'The
Dicksons are descended from one Richard Keith, said to be a son
of the family of Keith's Earls Marshalls of Scotland.' and in
proof thereof carry the chief of Keith Marischal. This Richard
was commonly called Dick and the 'son' was styled after him. The
affix of son in the Lowlands answering to the prefix Mac in the
Thomas Dickson himself has quite a history. He was
associated in some way with William
Wallace (of "Braveheart" fame),
and he was killed by the English in 1307 in battle. Robert de Brus
(Bruce) had made him Castellan of Castle Douglas the year
before he was killed. (Castle Douglas was taken by Sir Walter Scott as the inspiration for his "Castle Dangerous" novel written in 1832).
Thomas died while attempting to retake Douglas Castle from the garrisoned English troops. This is said to have been on Palm Sunday 1307, which would have been 19th March. The plan was that the attack would take place while the soldiers were at worship in the castle chapel. Although ultimately successful, the attack did not go entirely to plan and Thomas paid the price.
states that Thomas was slashed across the abdomen but continued to
fight holding the abdominal wound closed with one hand until he
finally dropped dead. According to a note in "The Prose Works of Sir Walter Scott, Supplementary Volume: containg notes, historical and illustrative, by the author, glossary, etc." published in Paris in 1834, The Rev Mr Stewart of Douglas states "the tradition........is supported by a memorial of some authority - a tombestone, still to be seen in the churchyard of Douglas, on which is sculptured a figure of Dickson, supporting with his left arm his protruding entrials, and raising his sword with the other in the attitude of combat." Today, no such memorial can be located in the old St Bride's kirkyard and even in the later 1800's B Homer Dixon indicated that he had been unable to locate the claimed tombestone.
Although tradition indicated that Thomas was buried in the Kirkyard at Douglas, the ruins of the old St Bride's Church are believed to date from the late 1300's, many years after the death of Thomas. No mention has been found as to whether there might have been an earlier church and/or burial ground.
A Note from Mr Haddow regarding the property of Hazelside
granted to Thomas Dickson by William, seventh Lord Douglas
A note by the Rev Mr Stewart of Douglas regarding
what he sees as historical fact as compared to the fiction of "Castle Dangerous"
"A" marks the location of the ruins of Douglas Castle
From Lanarkshire to the Border Counties
It is not entirely clear how or why the Dickson name migrated from Lanarkshire to the Border counties but it is likely to be the consequence of a number or reasons.
- Thomas Dickson's son, also Thomas, in recognition of his father's bravery and loyalty, was given the Barony of Symington. His immediate family took on the surname of Symington although it is believed that further generations may have reverted to the Dickson surname.
- The Douglasses acquired lands in the county of Berwick in the reign of Robert I (1306-1329) and a Keith was governor of Berwick-on-Tweed in 1333, both of which may be reasons for family members to move eastwards.
- The Keiths also held the lands of The Merse (or Marcia) which straddled the present Scottish/English border and included the towns of Duns and Berwick.
Clan affiliations for the Dickson / Dixon name
- Clan Keith
Because of the connection to Richard Keith (Thomas's father), the descendants of
Thomas Dickson are considered a sept (or branch) of the Clan
Keith and can use their tartan.
- Clan Keith has the Latin motto "Veritas Vincit,"
which translates "Truth Conquers."
- Clan Douglas
In July 2012 the Clan Douglas Society of North America accepted Dickosn / Dixon as a Sept of Clan Douglas because of the stong historical links.
The Dicksons (with a variety of ancient spellings) was also recognised in ancient Scottish government documents as a clan in their own right. In more recent years there was a tendancy to refer to Borderers simply as families but history show that they were recognised as clans in the same way as highlanders are.
- The Dickson family motto is said to be "Fortes
Fortuna Juvat" (Fortune
Helps the Brave).
Dickson Clan Chiefs
Sir Walter Scott in his Border Antiquities says that "a little work called Monipenny's Chronicle, published 1597 and 1603, gives, among other particulars, a list of the principal clans and surnames on the borders, not landed, as well as the chief riders and men of name among them." It commences "Bromfields (Chief, Bromfield of Gordon Mains, or of that Ilk), Trotters (Chief unknown), Diksons (Chief unknown)."
B Homer Dixon offered his opinion that
"as regards the words "Chief unknown," it would seem, on the contrary, that Buhtrig was the chief as in a Bond of 1573-4, Buhtrig, Belchester and three others are styled the principals and representatives for the surname of Dickson, and in four other Bonds from 1563 to 1591, where they also appear as a body Buhtrig always signs first. That of August, 1591, was probably signed in the order as they arrived, for near the head is Alexander Diksoun, without local designation, and lower down Buhtrig and Belchester.
"Nisbet in his Heraldry (Edinburgh, 1722), says: "There are several families of the name of Dickson of good old standing in the shire of Berwick," and names Dickson of Buhtrig, Dickson of Belchester, now the only old family of the name since Buhtrig has failed (i. e., become extinct) ; Dickson of Newbigging next to Belchester; Dickson of Wester Binning and Sir Robert Dickson of Sornbegg, now designed of Inveresk, but the author here contradicts himself, and •probably meant to say several families of "good standing," Belchester being then the only "old family. He did not, however, seem to be aware that Sir Robert claimed descent from the house of Buhtrig, and he overlooked the families of Hartrie and others."
Association with Clan Keith
It is said that a Scottish warrior slew the Danish General Camus at the Battle of Barrie in 1010. For this, King Máel Coluim (Malcolm) II of Scotland dipped three fingers into the blood of the slain and drew them down the shield of the warrior. Thereafter the warrior was named Marbhachir Chamius or Camus Slayer. It has been claimed that, ever since this event, that the Chief of the Clan Keith has borne the same mark of three red lines on his arms. Máel Coluim's further victory at the Battle of Carham in 1018 brought him into outright possession of the lands of the Lothians and the Merse (The Merse or Marcia is an area which straddles the current border or Scotland and England with the town of Duns (or Dunse) in it's middle and the town of Berwick as it's capital. Read some more detail of the Merse here.).
The Keiths derive their name from the Barony of Keith, Humbie, East Lothian, said to have been granted by the king to Marbhachir Chamius for his valour.
In 1150 a Norman called Hervey won the hand of the Keth heiress and the lands were given to them in a charter by David I. In a charter of 1176, Hervey's son was named "Marischal of the King of Scots". This position made the King's safety and regalia his responsibility and was later to become hereditary. Hervey de Keith (d.c. 1196) was described as Marscallus Regis Scotie in correspondence between the monks of Kelso Abbey and Jocelin, the Bishop of Glasgow. He was Marischal during the reigns of Malcolm the Maiden and William the Lyon.
The office of Earl Marischal and later Knight Marischal of Scotland was hereditary in the Keith family until the 18th century. It may have been conferred at the same time as the barony, since it was confirmed, together with possession of the lands of Keith, to Sir Robert Keith by a charter of King Robert the Bruce, and appears to have been held as annexed to the land by the tenure of grand serjeanty.
Thomas Dickson was a son of Clan Keith. His father was Richard de Keith. Richard, in turn, was said to be the son of Harvey (or Hervey) de Keith, Great Marischall of Scotland, and his wife Margaret Douglas (daughter of William, the third Lord Douglas - hence a blood relationship also to Clan Douglas)
Sir Robert de Keth was a close friend of Robert the Bruce and was given Halforest by him in 1308.
For centuries clans (or families) in the border areas of Scotland and England were known for the raids they undertook cross border (or sometime simply cross clan) plundering the property of other families. These raids went on unchecked - and sometimes encouraged - by the governments in both Scotland and England.
The clans involved in this raiding were known as the Border Reivers. The Dixons, although possibly small in number compared to other family groupings, were part of Border Reiver history. Their territory was to the extreme south-east of the Scottish Borders in the area which became known as the East Marches and broadly equates to the Merse area which was once the domain of the Keiths from which clan the Dicksons came..
The border areas of both Scotland and England were largely ungoverned by the Kings and Nobles of both countries. It was not until King James VI of Scotland added the territory of England to his Kingdom that law and order was brought to bear in the troublesome border area.
Border Clan Family Names
Ancient or Notable Dicksons
According to Dr. Rogers (Traits and Stories of the Scottish People, London, 1867) the clansmen were called
"The Famous Dicksons".
Certainly, there is strong evidence that they were a significant force in Scottish society and politics.
Dicksons in Peebleshire
In the County of Peebles the Dickson name appears as early as 1338. Chambers in his History of Peeblesshire (1864) says: "These Dikesons or Dyckisons (now modernised into Dickson), seem to have been an old and pretty numerous family in the district, for they turn up on all occasions in the burgh and other records."
- Ade Dicson was Sheriff-Depute of Peeblesshire in 1338
- Ade Dekysoun was bailie or alderman of Peebles in 1400.
- John Diksone was bailie in 1433, Thomas Dickesoun in 1444, William Dekysone in 1464, John Dikesoun in 1466 and Robert Diksone in 1480.
- John Dykkyson rendered the accounts of the bailies of Peebles in 1440.
- Patrick Dikesone, bailie in 1482, had a grant under the great seal of £8, 3s. 4d. yearly for nineteen years to come for his services in capturing certain rebels to the king.
- John Dickson was baillie in 1620
- Dicksons of Hudleshope 1620 and 1635
- John Dickeson of Winkston was Provost of Peebles in 1572, Dikesoun in 16o6, and John Dickiesonne in 1622.
- Robert Dyckison of Hutcheonfield, county Peebles, had a charter from King Robert III (1390-1406)
- John Dikeson of Smithfield, county Peebles, who was living in 1457, was the oldest recorded proprietor of that castle.
Dicksons in Berwickshire
- The Dickson name was known in Berwickshire in 1380, when Hugo Dekounson of Lathame is mentioned.
- Patrick Diksone, Laird of Mersington, parish of Eccles, county Berwick, was living at his bastel-house and Will Diksone of the tower at his tower in Eccles in 1479, when they were charged with treason along with the Duke of Albany and others.
Dicksons in Dumfriesshire
- Matthew Dickson was Provost of Dumfries in 1582.
- Henry Dikson was one of a party of five to whom a safe conduct was granted by Henry VI, King of England in 1426, to "George of Fallo, William of Karylers, Patrick Kant, James Banbury and Henry Dikson, Scotsmen, with six attendants, foot or horse, baggage, 'ferdills,' etc., to come and to go between England and other places at pleasure."
- William Dicson was in 1445, a companion of Sir James Stewart, Lord of Lorn, called the Black Knight of Lorn, who married Jane Queen Dowager of Scotland, for in that year a safe conduct was granted by Henry VI, to "James Stewert lately husband of the late Queen of Scotland, John Stewert his son and William Dicson, Scots with twenty persons Scotchmen in their company."
This William Dicson was evidently a person of consequence, for although there were twenty others he is the only one mentioned by name in connection with, if not even as the equal of, the step-father and step-brother (Sir John Stewart, afterward Earl of Athol) of the reigning King James the Second.
- In 1544, the English army destroyed no less than eleven or twelve places belonging to the clan, all of which must have been of more or less importance to have found a place in the report sent to the King of England.
One year after this a bond was subscribed by the Lords, Barons and Gentlemen of the March of Teviotdale, obliging themselves to furnish one thousand horsemen to serve on the Border. Among the signers was John Diksone of Belchester.
- In 1591, two bonds were signed by the principal Barons and Gentlemen of the East Marches pledging themselves to serve the King against Bothwell, and of the forty-one subscribers whose names have been preserved four were Dicksons. Alexander Dickson, one of the above four, who was living in Edinburgh in the last decade of the sixteenth century appears to have been a prominent personage on friendly terms with Queen Elizabeth's ambassador in Scotland, and with the French ambassador in London, and to have been himself appointed Scotch ambassador to the Low Countries (In Thorpe's State Papers there are two letters written by Alecander Dickson and he is mentioned in five others).
- In 1596, a passport was given in Edinburgh by Mr. Bowes to Robert Dixon to go to London.
- According to B Homer Dickson "From the year 1558, to the end of the last century fifteen of the clan were members of Parliament, as will be seen in the sequel, and the eldest son of the last laird of Belchester has represented an English constituency for several years."
- B Homer Dixon also reported that "Some of the clan left Scotland at an early date and became tenants of Furness Abbey, county Lancaster, one of whom, Sir Nicholas Dixon, Rector of Cheshunt, Prebendary of Howdon and Baron of the Exchequer, died in 1448; and from John Dixon of Furness Falls sprang Richard Dixon, Lord Bishop of Cork, A. D. 1570, and also Sir Richard Dixon who married the widow of the Lord Chancellor Eustace, and whose daughter Eliza (ob. 1745) married Sir Kildare Borrowes, 3d Baronet, who assumed the additional name of Dixon, and was ancestor of the present Sir Erasmus Dixon-Borrowes, Bart. John Dixon was also ancestor of the Dixons of Beeston, county York, now of Seaton Carew, county Durham."
- William Dickson (1751-1823) from Moffat was secretary to the Governor of Barbados for 13 years. There he witnessed slaves being brutally treated. From January to March 1792 he toured Scotland from Kirkcudbright to Nairn presenting evidence of the evils of the slave trade. This evidence was summarised in 'An abstract of the evidence delivered before a select committee of the House of Commons' [source]. Book Mitigation of Slavery by William Dickson, Ll.D.
- Benjamin Homer Dixon (B. Homer Dixon) (1819-1899) provided a service to all present day researchers of the Dickson/Dixon name by writing the book The Border and Riding Clans followed by a
Shorter History of Clan Dickson which gives an insight into Borders history, the origins of the Dickson name and background on his ownnot-insignificant family.
Members of the United Kingdom Parliament
- James Dickson was Member of Parliament for the Lanark Burghs Constituency in 1768. This constituency included the Burghs of Lanark, Linlithgow, Peebles and Selkirk (each of these Burghs being self-governing towns within a county of the same name). James was born about 1715 and died 14th November 1771 (source) .
- William Dickson was Member of Parliament for the Lanark Burghs Constituency in 1802. William was born 3rd June 1748 and died 18th May 1815 (source) .
- Thomas Scott Dickson was Member of Parliament for the Lanark Burghs Constituency in 1923 and again in 1929. Thomas was born 1st November 1885 and died 25th January 1935. (source) .
Distribution of the Dixon and Dickson name
The high proportion of the Dixon name appearing in the English northern counties in 1881 is clearly displayed above
while the 1998 distribution of the Dixon name continues to show a large distribution in the northern counties of England.
The usage of the original Dickson form of the name in Scotland in 1881 is clearly shown above
and displays the significant presentation of the name in the eastern Scottish border and Lothians areas
the 1998 distribution continues to show a significant distribution of the name in parts of the Lothians and coast to coast across the Scottish borders areas.
Internationally, Public Profiler shows that the UK continues to be home to the Dixon name with large numbers also to be found in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States and Ireland. The Dickson name, however, is stronger in Australia and New Zealand than in the UK with again significant popualtions in Canada, the United States and Ireland. Although all the foregoing are English speaking countries, both forms of the name appear in places such as Denmark, Switzerland and Spain with the Dixon form also found in France and the Dickson form in Sweden.
Dickson Land and Properties
Much of the history of much of the lands and properties own owned or occupied by the Dickson family has probably passed into unrecorded history. But a significant amount of information remains, showing the family's significance in Scottish history.
- Hazelside is located to the west of Douglas in Lanarkshire. Thomas, the first Dickson, for his service to the crown, was given the lands at Hazelside and Symington and was known as Laird of Hazelside and Symington. Today there are still properties at Hazelside but B Homer Dixon argues that the original property occupied by Thomas Dickson must have been a building of significant size since Thomas was able to receive and entertain Sir James Douglas and those who accompanied him without them being observed. Hazelside on Google Maps
- Symington, Lanarkshire. The Barony of Symington was also bestowed on the Dickson family although there appears to be two opinions on when this came about. The first is that the Barony was first given to Thomas the first Dickson, the argument for this being that it was betowed on Thomas fil Ricardi. The second opinion is that it was given to the Dickson family in honour of Thomas Dickson's service, and ultimate sacrifice, to the crown and it's associates. Whichever is correct, it appears that Thomas' son, also Thomas, took the title with his family assuming the Barony name of Symington as their family name. Although it believed that some of future generations may have reverted to the Dickson surname, there will be those with the name Symington in their history who can trace their links back to Thomas Dickson., Symington on Google Maps
More Dickson / Dixon Links