Introduction: Patterson


Larry Pearce



We know almost nothing about my great, great, great-grandmother, Mary Patterson. However, so that we may graft a “start” onto this important ancestral root, we offer several “clippings,” small bits of information, and “gardening tools,” hyperlinks and resources, for the nurture and growth of future research into what, so far, has been loaded with fascinating possibilities.

Family tradition says that our Mary Patterson was born in 1797, but that would mean she was only eight years old when she married James Gray in 1805. Not likely. Piecing together several other bits of information is helpful to find her approximate year of birth, although not exact by modern standards of research. Various sources (“On the Bicentennial of James & Mart Gray’s Wedding”) suggest that James Gray sailed from Northern Ireland with the Boyd family before 1790. If James and Mary were, say, in their early 20’s when they married, that would put their years of birth sometime in the early 1780’s. We know that family friend Abraham Boyd (1770-1854) went into the ministry in frontier Western Pennsylvania, pastored the church, and possibly two, that the Grays were associated with, and joined James and Mary in holy wedlock in 1805 (“The Rev. Abraham Boyd . . .”). Many of my recent Gray ancestors are buried at The Bull Creek Presbyterian Church in West Deer Township, but neither James nor Mary nor any Pattersons may be found in the graveyard there (Bull Creek Cemetery).

However, just north over the Allegheny/ Butler County line in the Middlesex Presbyterian Church cemetery lay many Pattersons. And, most interestingly, this was also the church that Rev. Boyd pastored during the early 19th century. Certainly, it wouldn’t be unusual for a husband to live and work near his wife’s family, in which case he probably would attend her church.Unfortunately, most of the cemetery records from that era that might list James or Mary were destroyed by fire, but some of the gravestones still remain, most illegible. That James and Mary are there, we can’t be certain. One source lists a James Gray living at that time near Connequenessing in Southern Butler County. Another says that a James Gray took part in the building of the nearby Glade Run Presbyterian Church in Cooperstown. We’ll continue to seek connections.

The final piece of the puzzle for this article alludes to the Scots-Irish custom of male grandchildren taking the name of their maternal grandparent. My great-grandfather was Robert Patterson Gray (1844-1928). Unfortunately, family tradition doesn’t say more about his namesake, his Grandmother Mary.

Let’s take a minute to reveal other interesting information on the Patterson name. According to WWW.ELECTRICSCOTLAND.COM, “Paterson” or “Patrickson” simply means “son of Patrick.” Though only common in Ireland after King James’ colonization around 1600, the name had been popular in Scotland since the Reformation over a century earlier. The earliest record is 1446 in Aberdeen when William Patrison and John Patonson appeared as witnesses in a legal matter. Apparently, unlike other traditional Scottish surnames, the variations of Patterson belong to no single district:

Fife (16th century) dynasty of landholders

Stirling (Hew Patterson) writer and owner of the Barony of Bannockburn

Falkirk (1645) son Hugh entertained Prince Charles

Panama (William 1658-1719) involved with Bank of England in “Darien Scheme”

Lochfyne (Clan Pheadirean) claims ties to Maclarens, Lamonts, Farquharson, MacAulays

Paterson is a lowland rendering of MacPatrick and thus related to the Campbells of Glenorchy. I’m reminded that my grandfather, a Gray from Patterson stock, married a Campbell. (See “E-Gen: Gray” or “E-Gen: Campbell.”) Some say that another possible source of the name Paterson was MacPhedran or MacFetridge, which is also “son of Peter or Patrick.” My mother married the great-grandson of an Englishman named Pearce, meaning “son of Pierre or Peter. (See “E-Gen: Pearce.”) Seems like the Western Pennsylvania frontier became the melting pot for the British Isles.

The Memoirs of Allegheny County, PA (18) says that the Pattersons were “an old family, the early members of which came to America prior to the Revolution. They were early settlers of Allegheny County” (303). The following are some famous Pattersons of Western Pennsylvania:

Rev. Joseph (1752-1832) born County Down, N. Ireland, son of Robert and Jane, married to Jane Moak before coming to America. They had eight children. He left his job as school teacher to fight in the Revolutionary war until 1777. After living in York, PA, he came to Washington County, Western PA, to serve as ruling elder at Cross Creek Presbyterian Church. Becoming ordained in 1788, he served various local churches from 1788 until 1816 when he retired because of ill health and moved to Pittsburgh. After losing his first wife, he married Rebecca Leech in 1812. A granddaughter became a minister’s wife and a great-grandson was also a pastor.

Robert ( ), Joseph’s brother, was professor of mathematics at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Rev. Robert, Sr. (1773-1854) was Joseph and Jane’s oldest son and minister in the Presbytery of Erie, which then covered most of Western PA. He was the first student to recite at the new Canonsburg Academy (now Washington & Jefferson College) in 1791, and while traveling with his Uncle Robert to study at Penn, he met General George Washington who was on his way to Western PA to quell the Whiskey Rebellion. After his return to Washington County, and upon graduation, he married Jean, the daughter of Col. John Canon, for whom the academy and town are named. After being licensed to preach, in 1802 he founded and served several churches in the Conneaut Creek region of Northwestern PA, In 1807 he accepted the president’s chair at the Pittsburgh Academy, renamed the Western University of Pennsylvania, and now the University of Pittsburgh. Patterson also preached at the Hiland Presbyterian Church along Rt. 19 in Perrysville. (Read the fascinating newspaper account of that church’s Centennial Celebration.) He also took on a partnership with John Hopkins from 1810 to 1812 in a Pittsburgh-based book selling business. Afterwards the book and paper supply venture continued with his brother Joseph. Some publishing was done, in particular the poetry of Rev. Patterson under the pen name of “The Recluse.” In 1813 he released The Honest Man’s Almanack. The title page read, “This almanack contains nothing to encourage the evil practices of liars, drunkards, rogues, lazy fellows, infidels, tories, cowards, bad husbands, and old bachelors.” Though they eventually declared bankruptcy, a third effort was made under the name Patterson & Lambdin, which failed also.

Rev. Robert, Jr. ( ) was a professor at Jefferson College, now Washington and Jefferson, and editor of the Presbyterian Banner.

Robert (1785-1861) was the son of Josiah, who came to Burgettstown, Washington County in the West from Cumberland County, Eastern PA. It is not clear what, if any, relation there was between the two Patterson families, but this Robert became an elder in the Cross Roads Presbyterian and became a charter member and elder in the Burgettstown Church. He was a surveyor and Justice of the Peace. His son, James L. took his place as elder, and daughter Mary married a minister.

Nationally and internationally, the Patterson name is even more celebrated. The following links will provide further information, inspiration, and pride:

+Wright-Patterson National Museum of the USAF , Dayton, Ohio: Wishing to recognize the contributions of the Patterson family (owners of National Cash Register) the area of Wright Field was renamed Patterson Field on July 6, 1931, in honor of Lt. Frank Stuart Patterson, who was killed in 1918 during a flight test of a new mechanism for synchronizing machine gun and propeller, when a tie rod broke during a dive from 15,000 feet (4,600 m), causing the wings to separate from the aircraft.

+Patterson, CA, Apricot Capital of the World: A patent encompassing the land grant was signed by President Abraham Lincoln received title to 13,340 acres on August 15, 1864. John D. Patterson took ownership on August 14, 1866 for $5,400 and soon purchased additional land. At his death on March 7, 1902, a total of 18,462 acres was willed to nephews Thomas W. and William W. Patterson, executors of his estate, and other heirs. Two of the heirs, Thomas W. and John D. Patterson bought out the other heirs for the sum of $540,000 cash gold coin and incorporated the Patterson Ranch Company on May 16, 1908.

+Patterson, NY: With more than 200 years of history, this town is located in the northeast corner of Putnam County, with Dutchess County, NY, along the northerly border, and the State of Connecticut along the eastern border. This Patterson has a very rich and interesting history.

+Patterson Heritage: This book will be a starting point for all who are interested in knowing the country and origin of the name, those interested in family history, and particularly for families researching the name of Patterson and its derivatives!

+Google “Patterson”: Find lots of interesting namesakes, from controversial governors to successful college foorball coaches, from state parks to schools.

With much more research to do, but energized by all the famous Pattersons I may possibly be related to, I hope to report in future articles finding the gravesite of my great-great-great grandparents, James and Mary Patterson Gray. Perhaps we’ll also have another college president to mention in our family history or, at least, the adventures of living on the Western Pennsylvania frontier.

Works Cited

Clan Patterson. 10 Dec. 2002<>.

History of Butler County Pennsylvania, 1895 . Middlesex Township. 20 December 2004<>.

History of Erie County, PA. Chicago: Warner, Beers, & Co, 1884.

Luckhardt, Virginia E. Notable Printers of Early Pittsburgh. Unpublished Masters Thesis for the Carnegie Library School, Pittsburgh, 1949.

Memoirs of Allegheny County, PA

PAWASHIN-L Archives. Presbytery of Washington, 1889. 10 Nov. 2004<>.

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