Our Pinkerton Family History


Early Pinkertons

The Potato Famine

Generation 1: Robert Pinkerton

Generation 2: Samuel Pinkerton

Generation 3: Robert R. Pinkerton

Generation 4: Arthur Robert Pinkerton

Generation 5: Ruth E. Pinkerton


In his book A Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames, Charles Wareing Bardsley claims that the Pinkerton surname was first adopted by people living near Pont-Cardon (or Pont-Chardon) in Normandy, France. It is said that the name came to England in 1066, in the form of one Robert de Pontecardon, a knight in the service of William the Conqueror. In the centuries following, the name is often found in ancient records of England as Punchardon and similar variations of that spelling. By 13th century, the name was appearing as Pynkerton and the familiar Pinkerton spelling in the English Counties of Devon, Berkshire, Hants, Somerset, Hertford, Norfolk, York, and London.

At about the same time, one Nicol de Pynkertone first appears on the Ragman Roll (a parchment in which Scottish nobles showed fealty to the English king) in the Barony of Pynkerton at Dunbar, East Lothian, Scotland (south of modern Edinburgh). Throughout the 1500-1600s, Pinkertons show up in records scattered across Scotland, but with a concentration around Glasgow and along the west coast of Scotland.

While our Pinkerton story certainly begins in Scotland, our known ancestors are first found in County Antrim, in the north of Ireland. Antrim is one of the five northern Irish counties in which King James – the same King James which ordered the new translation of the Bible – “planted” with non-Catholic Scots and English families in an effort to increase his control over the ever rebellious Irish. And the records do show that there have been Pinkertons in County Antrim since the late 1600s. But there was a more or less constant flow back and forth between northern Ireland and Scotland – the channel between the two countries is only 13 miles wide there – and our family story, as reflected in interviews given by the sons of our immigrant ancestor, Samuel Pinkerton, has our Pinkerton family coming from Scotland to Ireland in the 1700s. In Ireland the Pinkertons continued to marry folk with Scottish names, so the story is probably accurate.

Unfortunately, the destruction of the majority of early Irish records during the Irish Civil war in 1922-1923 make it very unlikely that we will ever find which Scottish Pinkerton family our Pinkertons were from.