Select Smith Surname Genealogy

Smith is an occupational name for a worker in metal, deriving from the Anglo-Saxon smitan to strike.  This term led to the occupational name because the smith had to strike the metal with a hammer in order to shape it. 

Metal-working was one of the earliest occupations for which specialist skills were required.  Medieval smiths were important not only for making horseshoes, plowshares and other domestic articles, but above all for their skill in forging swords, other weapons, and armor.  As a result, the name and its equivalents became the most widespread of all occupational surnames in Europe. 

Smyth or Smith?  Smyth was the early surname spelling.  Smith is now almost universal.  Smith is in fact the leading surname in terms of numbers in both England and America.  "John Smith" has become a generic name for the average man.

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England.  The earliest recorded Smith in England was an Ecceard Smid in Durham in the year 975.

Smyths from Sneinton in Yorkshire moved to nearby Rosedale Abbey in the 1530’s after the dissolution of the monasteries.  A hundred years or so later, William Smyth left Rosedale Abbey for Ireland after the death of his wife Ann.  A related Smyth line stayed in Durham and was staunchly Catholic through the religious turmoils of the 16th and 17th centuries.  Edward Smythe of Eshe Hall was rewarded for his loyalty at the time of the Restoration.  He later made his home in Shropshire.

The Smyths/Smiths of Cuerdley and Hough near Nantwich in Cheshire dated from the early 1400’s.  A century later these Smiths were important civic leaders in Chester and Thomas Smith was its Mayor in 1504. William Smyth, the Bishop of Lincoln and founder of Brasenose College in Oxford, came from this family.

Other prominent early Smiths hailed from the west country:
  • a Smythe family were clothiers at Corsham in Wiltshire in the early 1500’s.  Thomas Smythe, known as Customer Smythe, moved to London and established a large merchant trading business there.  His son, Sir Thomas of Westenhanger Castle in Kent, was in the early 1600’s the first Governor of the East India Company and the Treasurer of the Virginia Company.  In the latter capacity he funded both explorers and colonizers.
  • while Matthew Smyth from the Forest of Dean was the progenitor of the Smyth family of Bristol merchants.  His son John acquired the Long Ashton estate in Somerset in 1545, which was to remain with the family until 1946.
There was an early Smith family from Saffron Waldron in Essex which claimed descent from the Black Prince. Sir Thomas Smith of this family was Secretary of State under Queen Elizabeth.  These Smiths of Hill Hall in Essex became, curiously, Smijths and then Smyths.

Smith families have lent their names to three well-known brands, one of yesteryear and two still operating:
  • Smith’s Bank which was begun in Nottingham by Thomas Smith in 1658 and is believed to have been the first bank ever formed outside of London.  Family members ran the bank for the first hundred years.  The bank remained independent until it was acquired by National Provincial Bank in 1918.
  • W.H. Smith the booksellers which was started by, strangely, H.W. Smith in London in 1792.  However, three W.H. Smiths were to follow.  It remained a family-run business until 1948, although a Smith stayed on as Chairman until 1972.
  • and Smith’s Crisps which began in Frank Smith’s garage in Cricklewood, London in 1919.  By 1931 Smith’s Crisps was selling in both the UK and Australia.  Since that time, his company has passed through many hands.  Pepsico are the present owners.
Smith today is the most common surname in England.  However, it is not equally spread about the country. It has its largest concentrations in the East Midlands and East Anglia, both areas of early Anglo-Saxon settlement.  Some have suggested that it was these Anglo-Saxon invaders that brought the Smith name with them.

Scotland.  The name was first recorded in SE Scotland in the 13th century.   According to legend one clan of Smiths, known as sloich gow chrium (the race of the hunchback smith), originated in Perth a century or so later.  There was a Smythe family of Braco and later of Methven in Perthshire from the 1470’s.

The Gaelic word gobha for smith gave rise to surnames such as Gow, MacGow and MacGowan, but also by the 17th century, in an area around Loch Lomond, to the anglicized form of Smith.  Later it was said that many Highland clansfolk adopted the Smith name after the Jacobite defeat in 1746 to hide their clan association.

The name Smith was also widespread in Lowland Scotland.  Adam Smith, famous for his book The Wealth of Nations, was born in Kirkcaldy, Fife in 1723.  The largest Smith numbers in Scotland are now in and around Glasgow.

.  The Gaelic name MacGabhann (from the Gaelic word gobha) was often anglicized, as in Scotland,to Smith.  Smiths in county Cavan were descended from Irish families that had been transplanted there from Antrim and Down in the 16th century.  The progenitor of the Smiths of Ballinure in Cavan was the Rev. William Smith, rector of Clones for forty years who died there in 1717.  It has been said that many of the Scots Smiths in Ulster were in fact McGowans in disguise.

William Smyth of the Yorkshire Rosedale Smyths moved to Dundrum near Dublin with his family in the 1630’s. Later Smyths of this family were prominent churchmen:
  • the Rev. Arthur Smyth, Archbishop of Dublin in the 1760’s
  • the Rev. John Smyth, Archdeacon of Limerick
  • and, more controversially, the Archdeacon’s son Edward Smyth who was expelled from his living as an Anglican minister and became a travelling Methodist preacher.
Captain Thomas Smyth, grandson of William Smyth, had arrived in Westmeath by 1671 and was the forebear of the Smyths of Drumcree.  His brother the Rev. Robert Smyth acquired Portlick castle in Westmeath in 1703.

Many Smiths in Kilkenny and Tipperary have descent from the William Smith who had come to Kilkenny from Ashton Court in Somerset in 1630.  It was recorded that the Earl of Ormond "was well pleased that William Smith of Damagh should bear some parcel of his arms for diligent services done by him to the said Earl."  The family line continued through William’s grandson Valentine.

Both Smith and Smyth spellings persist in Ireland.  Overall, the Smith spelling is slightly more popular than Smyth.  Smyth is more common in Northern Ireland.

   One of the first Smiths in America was the explorer and writer John Smith of Jamestown fame. Born in Lincolnshire, he arrived there with the first Virginia colonists in 1607.  He was famously saved from execution that winter by the Indian chef's daughter Pocahontas.  He returned to England and, after voyages of exploration along the New England coastline, died in England in 1631.

Robert Smith, also from Lincolnshire, came to Topsfield, Massachusetts in 1638.  His descendants lived there through five generations and Joseph Smith Sr. was born there in 1771.  It was his son Joseph Smith Jr. who founded the Church of Latter Day Saints or Mormon Church.  Mormons point out Topsfield in their history books and continue to visit the Smith ancestral hometown there

Other early Smiths in America included:
  • Henry Smith who arrived in 1637 and settled in Wethersfield, Connecticut.  His descendants included the Puritan minister Cotton Mather Smith and his son John Cotton Smith who became Governor of Connecticut in 1812.
  • Richard Smith who came around 1640 and was the first European settler on Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island.
  • Thomas Smith who came to Charleston, South Carolina in 1684 and was a planter and merchant there (and briefly its colonial Governor).  His grandson Josiah was a prominent evangelical preacher.
  • and William Smith who was born in Virginia, probably in Old Rapahannock county, around 1690.  A later William Smith in Fauquier county was nicknamed “Extra Billy” because of the extra fees he charged on the mail service he established in Virginia in the 1820’s.  He was twice Governor of Virginia and, at the age of sixty five, the oldest Confederate general in the Civil War.  
John Smith came to Philadelphia from Ireland in 1720 and made his home in the Brandywine settlement in Chester county, Pennsylvania.   He was the forebear of the first prominent Irish-American Smith family. Son James was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, but he lost most of his money supporting the Revolution. Grandson Joseph was financially more successful, a Philadelphia merchant who traded with the East.

There were already 35,000 Smiths recorded in the US census of 1840, with 20% of that number in Pennsylvania and a further 20% combined in Ohio and New York.

The larger number of Smiths in Pennsylvania is probably explained by the many German Schmidts who arrived there in the 18th and 19th centuries and became Smiths.  Smith was also adopted as a surname by some from other countries whose name meant Smith but was spelt and sounded different.  Alfred Ferraro from Italy, for instance, fought in the American Civil War and took the name of Alfred Smith.  His son Al Smith was four times Governor of New York and in 1928 the first Catholic US Presidential candidate.

Smith was an important name in early Texas history:
  • Henry Smith, born in Kentucky, arrived in Texas in 1817, and became the leader of the pro-Independence party.  However, he lost out to Sam Houston and died in a mining camp in California.
  • another Smith, James Smith, was much honored in Texas and had Smith county named after him.  Born in South Carolina, he arrived in Texas in 1835 and earned his spurs leading the fight at the Battle of San Jacinto.
  • also at the battle was Erastus Smith, a scout for Sam Houston despite his deafness.
  • while an early settler in Texas was French Smith and his family who arrived in Gonzales county, Texas in 1837.  He was a descendant of William Smith who had come to Northumberland county, Virginia around 1657.
Today the Smith numbers in America are greater than those in England, having absorbed these non-English immigrants as well as many African Americans also taking the Smith name.

Select Smith Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

Select Smith Names

William Smyth was Bishop of Lincoln and founder of Brasenose College in Oxford.
Adam Smith was a famous 18th century Scottish economist, the author of The Wealth of Nations.
Joseph Smith Jr. was the founder of the Church of the Latter Day Saints (the Mormon movement).
Donald Alexander Smith was the Scottish-born fur trader, railroad baron, and politician in Canada in the 19th century.
Ian Smith was Prime Minister of Rhodesiia from 1964 to 1979, the last leader of white monority rule.
Jimmy Smith was a jazz musician, a virtuoso on the electric organ.
Alexander McCall Smith is the author of the No. 1 Lady Detective Agency series of books.
Will Smith is a popular African American hip hop artist and actor.

Select Smiths Today
  • 730,000 in the UK (most numerous in West Midlands)
  • 907,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 346,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)
Smith is the #1 ranked surname in the UK and America.

Select Surname List

Adams Ellis Johnson O'Connor
Allen Evans Jones O'Sullivan Shaw
Anderson Fisher
Kelly Parker Simpson
Bailey Foster Kennedy Perry Smith
Baker Fox King Peterson Stevens
Barnes Fraser 
Lee Phillips Stewart
Bell Graham Lewis Powell Taylor
Bennett Gray Marshall Price Thomas
Brown Green Martin Reed
Griffiths Mason      
Reynolds Turner
Campbell Hall McDonald Richards
Carter Hamilton Miller  Richardson Walsh
Chapman Harris Mitchell Roberts Ward
Clark Harrison
Moore Robertson Watson
Collins Henderson Morgan Robinson White
Cook Hill Morris Rogers Williams
Cooper Howard Murphy Ross Wilson
Cox Hughes Murray Russell Wood
Davis Jackson Nelson Ryan Wright
Edwards James O'Brien 

For other surnames check the surnames2 page where there are to be found the history and genealogy for more than 800 surnames.

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