Archibald Wasson
c. 1714-1719 – Glencastle Bridge, County Mayo, Ireland
1795 – Rowan County, North Carolina
Relationship to Fawn: 6th great grandfather

In our own family line line this name has been spelled Wasson, Wason, Watson, Watsoun, and Wausoun.  For ease, I’ll use Wasson when referring to any members of the family as Archibald spelled it as Wasson in his will. 

Archibald Wasson Will - 1795

The Wassons connect to our family line when Agness Wasson married William Murdah on the 14th of November 1769.  The family name eventually became Murdoch and Murdock.  In the story, A Mordah Immigrant Story: A Romantic Comedy, we introduced Jean Mordah, and said we are descended from Jean’s brother, James.  William Murdah is the son of James Mordah and Agnes McKee.

I love old occupational names, and that is what stimulated this story.  I ran across the fact that Archibald Wasson was a cordwainer (also a farmer).  I had never heard of a cordwainer, but it turns out that a cordwainer made luxury shoes and boots out of the finest leathers.  In the British guild system, a cordwainer was distinguished from a cobbler because the guild tradition restricted the cobbler to repairing shoes and making new shoes only out of old leather.  In fact, the cordwainers and cobblers had separate guilds.

The Oxord English Dictionary indicates that the term cordwainer derived from the Anglo-Norman word, cordewaner, itself derived from Old French, cordoanier, initially denoting a worker in what English called cordwain, or cordovan, the leather historically produced in Cordoba, Spain in the Moorish period of the Middle Ages.

This working with fine leather making luxury items might be the roots of a very interesting story related later in this essay.

Archibald was born in County Mayo, but his family originates in Mauchline, Ayrshire, Scotland.  His father, John Wasson, emigrated to County Antrim, Ireland sometime before 1700 when his first son, John, Jr. was born in Dunaghy Parish, Antrim, Ireland.  There seems to be some confusion as to whether Archibald’s mother was Mary Deemer or Jean Walker, so I will leave that matter to another day. 

~ Above left is a 1748 map of Ireland.  Above right is a modern map of Ireland. ~

The Wasson family was rooted in Ayrshire for as far back as we currently know, which is six generations back from and including John, leading us back to the early 16th century.

Mauchline countryside

Mauchline, Ayrshire countryside

Given that traditions seems to agree that Archibald was born in County Mayo, the only one of the siblings born outside Antrim, and his father dies in Antrim there must have been movement back and forth between those parts of Ireland.

The whole family seems to have emigrated to the American Colonies prior to 1739.  They must have had connections both in the Ulster Scots community in Pennsylvania and in North Carolina.  A Rowan County, North Carolina marriage bond is on record for Archibald Wasson and Elizabeth Woods, also of Ireland, in 1739, while their marriage in 1741 in Pennsylvania is also on record.

In any case we find Archibald and Elizabeth living in Chester County, Pennsylvania prior to 1742. There is a Land Warrant for 103 acres in Chester County to Archibald Wasson dated 17 March 1745.  They live in Fallowfield Township, Chester County in 1747.

However, the Wasson clan had to have moved to Rowan County, North Carolina by 2 August 1761 when Earl Granville grants Archibald Wasson 415 acres of vacant land on the south side of Grant’s Creek (in Rowan County’s Irish Settlement) for ten shillings. Grant’s Creek flows into the upper Yadkin River; it flows through the center of Salisbury, Concord, Kannopolis, Spencer, and China Grove. In 1769 Archibald and Elizabeth acquired more land in Rowan County. By 1768 they had moved from their landholdings to the area north of the South Yadkin River.

The 1773 map of Fourth Creek Presbyterian Church made by William Sharpe shows land held by Archibald and his son, Joseph, Wasson on the Northwestern side, 10 or 12 miles from the church between the South Yadkin River and a small branch of Snow Creek. The map depicts landowners in the Fourth Creek Congregation, Iredell County, North Carolina. Notes at the bottom of the map give directions to the center of the congregation.

1773 William Sharp Map

During this time we see that Archibald liked fine things.  Perhaps it was part of his personality even as a cordwainer working with top quality leather.  In an article in the Journal of Backcountry Studies entitled “Barcelonia” Neckerchiefs, Teaware, and China Plates: Kinship, Status and the Division of Fourth Creek Church” Joshua Lee Mckaughan states, “During the early 1770’s, Archibald Wasson, although possessing an estate valued far below that of either his grandson or son Joseph, sought to acquire several status-granting items. Like his grandson’s purchase of fragile “China plates,” Archibald Wasson invested in an equally breakable tea set, spending the extravagant sum of seven shillings. Equally lavish was his purchase of a ‘barselonia’ neckerchief for himself, which, at the price of ten shillings, cost far more than the checked and printed neck cloths which adorned his neighbors.”  My mother might have referred to this as “putting on airs,” but Archibald does seem to have had a taste for finery and setting himself apart.  And with the image of Archibald’s smiling face as he strokes his ten shilling neckerchief we will leave the Wassons for now.

The focus of the article by Mckaughan is actually on the importance of kinship networks that allowed the movement of clans, though perhaps emigrating at different times, to settle together and move around as an intact social unit.

Origins of the Wasson Surname

The commonness of this name allows for some variety as to its origins.  Since this line in our family, as far back as we can see it anyway, is Scottish, I’ll start with the Scottish version. Wasson and its variant spellings is generally regarded as a variation on Watson.  Many non-Gaelic personal names made their way even into Gaelic families, one of those being Walter. Watson, Wat, Watt MacWattie, Macouat and MacWatson are all derived from Walter, a fact I was surprised by when I discovered it while looking at a separate Watt line in the family that came out of a Buchanan family.  The name is fairly common throughout Scotland and England, but is more strongly associated in Scotland with certain areas such as Aberdeen and Kincardineshire.  The Watsons are linked to the Forbes clan in Angus and to the Buchanans in Stirlingshire and western Perthshire.

In addition, in the 1980s Watson descendents in Nova Scotia enquired of The Court of The Lord Lyon as to whether the Watsons had ever existed as a clan under a chief. The Court responded to the query, and confirmed that the last registered chief was one James Watson of Saughton, who was recorded in their 1818 books as “direct male line from Richard Watson of Saughton, to be described as: Chief of the name in Scotland”.  The lands of Saughton lay within the village of Corstophine, around three miles outside of Edinburgh.  They had been held by the Abbey of Holyroodhouse until they were divided up among various families in the 16th century.  Richard Watson was the first of the Watsons there in 1537.  Some regard the Saughton Watsons as a branch of Clan Buchanan.

Whether our Ayrshire Wassons were connected the Saughton Watsons or to Clan Buchanan in the southern Highlands in another way, or perhaps something else entirely I don’t know.

Though I have not noticed any of the Wasson line born in England, it is worth noting that an English origin of the name lies (1) in the Norman personal name Wasso or Wazo, (2) Watt as you find in Scotland as well, and (3) the softening of the “t” in Watson to “s” in the West Country of England: Somerset and Devonshire.