Select Arnold Surname Genealogy
Arnold is a personal name of Germanic origin composed of the elements arn, meaning “eagle,” and wald, meaning “to rule.” The name spread across Northern Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire. Arnulf or Arnold the Bad became Duke of Bavaria in 907; the 11th century Arnulf or Arnold of Soissons is the patron saint of Belgian brewers; while some see Switzerland as the Germanic origin of the Arnold name.

In Germany its earliest appearance as a surname was Adler Arnoldt in Meskirch in 1282 and in England William Arnold in Suffolk in 1277. In some cases the surname in England can be locational, from Arnold place-names in Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire.Arnold can be a Jewish name, perhaps because of its resemblance to the Jewish Aaron.

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Arnold is a Germanic name and there are some 50,000 Arnolds in Germany today, with the largest numbers in Bavaria and Saxony in the south of the country, and a further 15,000 in Switzerland. This compares with about 35,000 Arnolds in England.

. Roger Arnold – from an old Monmouthshire family that was descended from Gwilym ap Meurig was the first in the 15th century to adopt the Arnold name. But it was Nicholas Arnold, an English courtier from Highnam in Gloucestershire, who would purchase the Llanthony priory in Monmouthshire at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries. Llanthony was to stay with his family until 1720 when the male line died out.

England. Two notable Arnold families have west country origins, but not necessarily the ancient royal Welsh blood that has been claimed. Both have their roots in Somerset, in Cheselbourne in the case of the English Arnolds and Ilchester in the case of the American Arnolds. Although the two places are not that far apart, no linkage has been proven between these two family lines.

The English Arnolds were recorded in Somerset in the 16th century. William Arnold, father of Thomas, left his home there in Cheselbourne and took up the post of Customs inspector on the Isle of Wight in 1777.

His son Thomas Arnold, an early supporter of the Broad Anglican church movement, was a well-known educator of the 1830’s from his position as headmaster of Rugby School. His three sons excelled in their chosen fields:

  • Matthew as a poet and cultural critic of his age;
  • Tom as a literary professor;
  • and William as a colonial administrator and novelist.

Tom’s daughter Julia married Leonard Huxley and was the mother of Julian and Aldous Huxley.

Arnold origins may have been west country. But there had been a decided eastward shift in the population by the 19th century. Almost 40 percent of the Arnolds in England at the time of the 1891 census were to be found in London and the southeast.

America. William Arnold from Ilchester in Somerset had come to New England in 1635, initially to Massachusetts, but soon removed himself with Roger Williams to the new settlement in Providence. He was a founder of the colony of Rhode Island and one of its wealthiest settlers. William’s son Benedict Arnold was the first Governor of Rhode Island under the royal charter of 1663. Other members of the Arnold family came to Boston in 1687, including the Rev. William George Arnold and his brother Edward.

During the American Revolution the Arnolds became active in politics. Benedict Arnold was one of the great generals of the Revolutionary War, although he was better known for his later treachery to the American cause.  Generally, the older Benedict side favored American independence; whilst William George’s side remained loyal to English rule. Various Arnolds served in political office in Rhode Island in the 19th century. A number, however, left after the war for Savannah, Georgia where they opened cotton mills.

Arnold descendants are widespread and include the Perry naval
commodores, the Stephen A. Douglas who debated and lost to Lincoln in the 1860 Presidential race, and the recent Bush Presidents.

Another Arnold family in America began around 1725 when John Arnold was shipwrecked off the North Carolina coastline. His descendants were Quaker and many of them, being criticized for their refusal to keep slaves, headed north to Ohio in the early 1800’s.

German. Most Arnolds in America are likely to be of German origin:

  • Johannes Arnold from Bavaria, for instance, came to Philadelphia on the Two Brothers in 1753 and settled in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania.
  • another Johannes Arnold from Bavaria was an early settler in Bedford county, Pennsylvania.
  • while Frederick Arnold came from a family of bakers going back generations in Ortenburg, Bavaria. He sailed with his younger brother Gottfried for America in 1854 and settled in Bay City, Michigan where he started his own bakery.

Canada. Benedict Arnold had come with an American army to make Canada its fourteenth colony in 1776. But four years later, during the Revolutionary War, he defected to the British. He later spent six years in New Brunswick and his sons received land grants in Ontario. J.R. Arnold’s 1984 book The Descendants of Benedict Arnold in Canada has traced this line.

Frederick Arnold had left his native Germany for America in 1773 (his descendants have in their possession the Lutheran Bible in which the names of his family were registered before they departed). Frederick was, however, a British supporter during the Revolutionary War and he decided to leave for Canada in 1787. He was an early pioneer on the Thames river in Ontario and his son Christopher Arnold had the same frontier spirit.

“Christopher Arnold was a powerful man and was said to possess strength equal to that of two ordinary men. During the War of 1812 he was at the fighting of the Maumee and at St. Stevension. Tecumseh, the famous Indian chief, stayed at Christopher Arnold’s house the night preceeding the battle in which he was killed and he ate his last meal at Christopher’s table.”

Australia. Joseph Arnold was the naval surgeon who accompanied Governor Macquarie on his voyage to Sydney in 1809. He was also a gifted painter and left 244 watercolor sketches of the coastlines during the voyage.

The first Arnold brother, Gottlob Arnold, came to Australia from Silesia in 1848. Four other brothers were to follow him. They all settled in the Barossa valley of South Australia. Their descendants now number in excess of five thousand.

Select Arnold Miscellany

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

Select Arnold Names

Benedict Arnold was the American general who defected to the British during the Revolutionary War.
Thomas Arnold was the famed head of Rugby school in England from 1828 to 1841.
Malcolm Arnold was an English 20th century composer and symphonist.
Eddy Arnold was a popular American country music singer with his Nashville sound.

Select Arnolds Today

  • 35,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 51,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 24,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


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