Select Stevens/Stephens Miscellany

Here are some Stevens/Stephens stories and accounts over the years:

Airard Fitz Stephen and His Line

The Norman house of Fitz Stephen was said to have originally taken its cognomen from the Christian name borne in honor of St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Church.  A Norman noble, Airard Fitz Stephen, commanded the ship Mora that brought William the Conqueror across the Channel on his invasion of England in 1066. 

His son Thomas was in charge of the White Ship when it sunk off the Normandy coast with all hands on board, including the King’s son Prince William, in 1120.  Finely dressed bodies were being washed up along the Norman shoreline for months afterwards. 
After King Henry heard of the disaster, it was said that he never smiled again. 

The Fitz Stephen line in Gloucestershire began with Thomas’s son Ralph who was Sheriff of Gloucestershire and died in 1190.  John Stephens was the first to drop the “Fitz” nomenclature around the year 1350.  

The main later lines in Gloucestershire began with:  
  • Edward Stephens from the 1570's with Eastington Manor and the Chavenage estate 
  • and Thomas Stephens from 1610 with Lypiatt Park.
Chavenage House is said to be haunted.   Nathaniel Stephens had agreed to the execution of Charles I in 1649.  Some years later he was taken ill and died.  Ghostly apparitions then appeared:

"Following his death, a hearse driven by a headless man was said to have pulled up at the manor house.  Legend holds that Nathaniel Stephens rose from his coffin and, having knelt in reverence before the figure, was seen to climb into the hearse which then sped away."

One line from Eastington extended to Nathaniel Stephens, the rector of Alphamstone in Essex, and to his son Sir Philip Stephens, First Secretary of the Admiralty in the late 18th century.  Port Stephens in Australia was named after him. 

Lypiatt Park is believed to have been the venue where the Gunpowder Plot was hatched in 1605.  But that was before the Stephens had acquired the property.  It remained in Stephens' hands until 1802.

Samuel Stephens of St. Ives

The Stephens family, which had been settled at St. Ives since the 15th century, was Presbyterian, deriving their wealth from the local fishery and from mining.  

Samuel Stephens inherited this wealth and decided to live like a gentleman.  In the 1770’s, he disposed of everything connected with trade or with fishing and began to build a splendid mansion for himself in the town, Tregenna castle.  He also pulled down the local Presbyterian chapel and withdrew his support for its minister. 

But he never escaped the taint of trade from his “betters.”  The following was one report on him: 

“Mr. Stephens was born at or near St. Ives and is but of low origin.  When he offered himself as a candidate to represent St. Ives an opposing candidate reproached him with this circumstance.  In his reply he acknowledged that he sprung from the lower orders of the people, but that he could boast of having a very considerable number of the electors in the list of his relations and hoped to have the gratification of being returned a member by these near connections.” 

His son Samuel, who also became an MP for St. Ives, had another advantage.  He had married an heiress, Betty Wallis, who brought with her a fortune said to have been in the order of £100,000.

The Stevens of Bradfield

Richard Stevens was a London lawyer of the Inner Temple who had acquired properties at Wargrave and Henley in Berkshire in the 1670’s.  His son Henry built Culham Court on the Wargrave land in 1706.  The family left a legacy founding the Green Coat charity at Henley in 1718. 

The Stevens’ first connection with Bradfield came in 1740, when the Rev. John Stevens, son of Thomas Stevens of Henley, became rector of the parish.  From then until 1881 the successive rectors were all members of the family.  The last rector, the Rev. Thomas Stevens, was the founder of Bradfield College, converting the Bradfield manor for this use. 

John’s brother Henry had acquired the manor of Bradfield sometime around 1750.  Henry’s descendants were either lawyers or merchants connected with the East India Company.

Stevens and Stephens in the 1891 Census

Stevens and Stephens have been mainly names of the south of England.  Stevens outnumbered Stephens overall in the 1891 census and was very much a name of London and the southeast.  Stephens was strongest in the west of England and in Wales.

Numbers (000's)
West of England
Rest of England

There was a Stevens outpost in the west of England in Devon.  And the spelling also appeared in Cornwall.  The largest Stephens numbers in the west were in Cornwall.  Stephens was also a name in south Wales, mainly in Glamorgan.

Peter Stephens and Stephens City, Virginia

Peter Stephens was born Peter Steffen in Steinfurt in the German Palatinate in the year 1687.  He was thought to have come to Pennsylvania with his parents in 1710 after a particularly brutal winter in Germany. However, the earliest record of him in America was in 1730 and it was not until 1743 in Virginia that he was naturalized. 

Peter Stephens is one of the few persons definitely named by historians as going to the Shenandoah valley in Virginia with the Hite party.  This group of 16 families was known to have been the first settlers in the valley. 

After buying 675 acres from Josh Hite in 1734, Peter Stephens built his house there along what was then the Great Wagon Road.  A community developed there which was unofficially called Stephens Town.  After Peter’s death in 1757, this township would be chartered by the Virginia General Assembly as Stephensburgh at the special request of his son Lewis.  Today Stephensburgh is called Stephens City and celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2008.  

Another son of Peter, Henry, was a close neighbor of George Washington when he lived in Frederick county. His line went west to Ohio after the Revolutionary War.   Other Stephens ended up in Texas.

John Stevens of Perth Amboy

John Stevens who had come to New York in 1699 was the patriarch of a very notable early American family. His age on arrival was just seventeen.  He had been sent by his father Richard Stevens of St. Clement Dane in London as a clerk under a seven year indenture to the New York governor’s secretary.  He learnt skills as a writing master there. 

However, his real attention was elsewhere.  He saw the potential that America had to offer and wanted to take his chances.  Some early privateering under Colonel Peartree did not turn out that well.  Land speculation became more his game.  He learned the basics quickly and very soon his name began to appear with great frequency in options, deeds, mortgages, and every conceivable lien upon land. 

His main landholding came from his wife Ann Campbell, whose inheritance included some 2,000 acres of land on the west bend of the Raritan river close by Andrew Hamilton’s estate.  Here, near Perth Amboy in New Jersey, he made his home.  He involved himself in local politics and was a prosperous member of the community when he died there in 1737.

Samuel Stephens in South Australia

Samuel Stephens had lost his position with a Birmingham commercial house after a quarrel and was seeking something new.  Through a distant relative he secured a position as colonial manager of the newly formed South Australia Company.  

For a time everything went well.  In 1836 he sailed for South Australia on the Duke of York and was the first of the settlers to step ashore at Nepean Bay on Kangaroo Island.  Later that year he married Charlotte Hudson, a fellow-passenger and daughter of the second in command at the South Australian Company.  

However, everything soon went downhill.  His contract with the company was cut short because of his lack of diligence and his frequent bouts of drunkenness.  In 1837 he was charged with killing a sailor from a rival fishery and was subsequently dismissed.  Three years later, he was killed when he was thrown from his horse on the Main Beaumont Spur while returning from a River Murray expedition.  The cause of death was a fractured neck.

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