Barbour, John (1753?–1823), manufacturer, was born in Scotland, probably at Kilbarchan, Renfrewshire, near Paisley, in either 1753 or early 1759, eldest son of John Barbour and his wife, whose name may have been Jean Connel, both of Kilbarchan, where the family had linen works. They had been using Irish-made yarn to make linen thread, and decided in 1783/4 to transfer the thread manufacture to Lisburn, Co. Antrim. Barbour built a village called The Plantation, with workers' houses containing hand-operated thread-twisting machines, and with a central bleaching and finishing establishment. John Barbour was made a freeman of the borough of Paisley in 1811, after he had sent money to aid poor silkweavers in the town. He died 2 August 1823, leaving property worth over £60, 000. His wife may have been named Bridget Connal; they had at least three sons: one died in 1825, and two others – John (d. 1831) and William Barbour (1798?–1875) – went into the business. William bought Hilden, near Lisburn, on the River Lagan, and established a thread-making enterprise there. On the death of his elder brother, John, he bought the original establishment at The Plantation from the widow, but concentrated on the site at Hilden, introducing there the use of water power from the Lagan to twist the thread. The business flourished and became the most successful firm of its type in the world, producing linen thread and all kinds of netting, as well as sewn muslin goods. In the Hilden works, on a site of about forty-five acres, there were in 1906 over 1,700 workers, some of whom lived in 350 houses supplied by the Barbours, who also contributed to a school and provided a canteen and reading room. William Barbour married (1823) Eliza Kennedy (d. 1873), and died 6 September 1875. Their family of seven sons and six daughters consolidated the social and economic position of the Barbour family and businesses; the eldest son, John Doherty Barbour (31 March 1824–18 June 1901), was chairman of the company for over thirty years and prominent in Lisburn public affairs, and organised the European side of the amalgamation (1898) of previously competing thread manufacturers into a new corporation, the Linen Thread Company, composed of the Lisburn parent company, William Barbour & Sons, the businesses established by the Barbours in the USA, and their erstwhile rivals. A younger son, Thomas Barbour (14 July 1832–19 January 1885), born at Hilden, established large textile factories in Paterson, New Jersey, in which his brother Robert Barbour (1825–92) was also involved; hundreds of workers were brought from Co. Antrim to the huge mills. Thomas Barbour succeeded in reforming an aspect of US trade duties that had been disadvantageous to Irish businesses in general, as well as threatening Barbours' survival in America; he was honoured at a public banquet in Belfast (19 October 1874) by the merchants of Ulster. Thomas's son William Barbour (1857–1917), born in Paterson, was active in American politics and in other businesses, and organised the American side of the 1898 amalgamation that formed the Linen Thread Company.
Other descendants of the first John Barbour include Harold A. M. Barbour (d. 1938) and Sir John Milne Barbour (d. 1951) (qv), who were both sons of John Doherty Barbour and his wife Elizabeth Law (née Milne).