Select Bennett Surname Genealogy

The English surname Bennett developed from Benet or Bennets, names that derived from the medieval name Benedict or from its Old French forms Beneit and Benoit which were popular among the Normans.  Benedict came from the Latin benedictus meaning “blessed” and the term benedicte, meaning “bless you,” was a common medieval expression.

Benedict never really caught on as a first name.  Perhaps its association with “oyle of Benedictine,” a laxative, acted as a deterrent. Instead, the Bennett surname seems to have started with the Benedictine monasteries in England.  Its earliest use appears to have been among the monks who lived at or near the Furness Abbey monastery in present day Cumbria.

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England.  The Bennett surname probably originated independently in different parts of England and was widely spread by the 14th century.

Berkshire and London  The Bennets of Clapcot near Wallingford in Berkshire date from the 1430’s.  Later Bennets made it in London and Thomas Bennet was its Lord Mayor in 1603.  Sir John Bennet, a judge, was convicted of extracting bribes in 1621 and his career ended in disgrace.  But Henry Bennet, a prominent courtier in Restoration England, was ennobled in 1663 and Charles Bennet made Earl of Tankerville in 1714.

West of England There were Benetts in Wiltshire in the west country at Norton Bavant (near Warminster) from the 1300’s and later at Pythouse (near Tisbury).  These Benetts were Royalists during the Civil War and lost out at that time.  Later, their fortunes were restored and Thomas Benett was able to consolidate the estates in 1715. They remained with the family until 1860.

There were also early Bennetts in Somerset:

  • in Wiveliscombe from the 1480’s (where three Bennett brothers set off for America in the 1640’s)
  • and in Winsham from the 1550’s (this family were wine merchants in London in the 1700’s and with the proceeds bought the North Cadbury estate in Somerset in 1790).

Another Bennett family in the west country can trace their roots back to Tortworth in south Gloucestershire in the 1650’s. They were at one time farmers and later clothiers.

Staffordshire  Further north, there was a Bennett line at Saughall Massey in Cheshire.  The first record here was that of a Piers Benet in 1369.   This family were merchants in Chester for many generations.  One branch moved to Dublin in Ireland.  Bishop William Bennet of Ireland left his name to Bishop Bennet Way, a hiking route which tracks the ancient Roman road in Cheshire.

Scotland.  Bennett also appears in Scotland, from the same Benedict root, but generally spelt Bennet.   An early family were the Bennets of Grubbet in Roxburgh.  The name became quite common in and around Edinburgh by the 17th century.  One family traces itself from Steven Bennet in Midlothian (Dalkieth) in the 1630’s.  Bennets were also to be found in Banffshire (Keith) and later in Ayrshire (Saltcoats).

More recently, the Bennett name has been associated with traditional Scottish folklore and song in Newfoundland, first from the writer and broadcaster Dr. Margaret Bennett and then from the performer Martyn Bennett.  Their root in each case has been the Isle of Skye in Scotland.

America.  Bennetts from Somerset were early settlers in Virginia.  Edward Bennett, a well-to-do merchant based in London, was granted land and set off with a hundred and twenty settlers on the Sea Flower in 1622. His nephew Richard was governor of the new colony in 1652.  Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general, was a descendant.

New England  More Bennetts came to New England during the colonial period than to Virginia.  Prominent among those into Massachusetts were:

  • Edward Bennett, who arrived in Weymouth in 1636
  • James Bennett, who came in 1639 and settled in Connecticut
  • Henry Bennett, who settled in Ipswich in 1650
  • and David Bennett, granted land in Rowley in 1671 (his descendants moved onto Sanford in Maine)

A Bennett family in Connecticut migrated to Nova Scotia in 1765.  R.B Bennett, the Canadian Prime Minister during the Depression years of the 1930’s, came from this family.

Willem Bennet built the first stone house in Brookyn in 1638 and was killed there during an Indian attack six years later.  New York was then still New Netherlands and he himself was probably Dutch.  His descendants were to be found on Long Island and in New Jersey and are said to include the Democrat politician, Howard Dean.

Gordon Bennett, who arrived in New York from Scotland in 1823, took over the New York Herald and made it one of the best-selling newspapers in 19th century America.  The phrase “Gordon Bennett,” denoting surprise or shock, reportedly derives from his playboy son who had a habit of outrageous behavior.  The expression Gordon Bennett also found its way into colloquial use in England.

AustraliaJames Bennett had been sentenced in London as a 13 year old to transportation for life to Tasmania.  He arrived there in 1823 and served twenty years of his prison sentence before receiving his conditional pardon.  He then married, settled in Victoria, developed a successful market gardening business, and died prosperous in South Brighton at the age of 82.

Meanwhile, Samuel Bennett was a Cornishman who had come to Sydney in 1841 as a bounty immigrant.  He started a newspaper business in the 1860’s around his Sydney Evening News and this made him very wealthy.  In 1858 James Bennett began a coach and wagon business in the St. Mary’s suburb of Sydney.  This business also prospered and continued to be family owned until 1954.

New Zealand.  George Bennett had arrived in Wellington in 1840 and was appointed the first keeper of the Pencarrow lighthouse in Wellington harbor in 1852.  He drowned in 1855.  His wife Mary Jane took over his lighthouse responsibilities for the next ten years.

Henry Bennett came to the Bay of Plenty from America in 1853.  He was an early settler in Tauranga where his descendants are still to be found.   Stuart Ward compiled an account of this family, The History of the Bennett Family, in 1993.

Two Bennett arrivals of the 1870’s were from Ireland:

  • Thomas Bennett, who became New Zealand’s first Registrar General
  • and Henry Bennett, whose son became a noted horticulturist in Dunedin.

Thomas’s son Frederick married twice, in each case to Maoris, and fathered 18 children overall.  Some of these children became
prominent in the Maori cause.

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

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William Bennett served Henry VIII in his unsuccessful attempt to get the Pope to grant his divorce from Catherine of Aragon.
Etheldred Benett from Norton Bavant in Wiltshire has been called the first woman geologist.
Elizabeth Bennet was the fictional heroine in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
Gordon Bennett from Keith in Banffshire crossed the Atlantic and founded The New York Herald in 1835.
Arnold Bennett, the Victorian novelist, grew up in the Potteries district of Stafforshire and based his novels around life in the six towns there.
R.B. Bennett was the Prime Minister of Canada in the 1930’s.
Tony Bennett, the American singer, was born Tony Benedetto.
Alan Bennett from Leeds is a popular British playwright and writer.

Select Bennetts Today

  • 94,000 in the UK (most numerous in West Midlands)
  • 91,000 in America (most numerous in Florida)
  • 65,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada).



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