Bradley Surname Genealogy

Bradley is a
, found in various places in
the north of England. The name is derived from the Old
English brad meaning “broad”
and leah meaning
“meadow.” The surname Bradley (and its variants Bradlee and
Broadley) originally meant someone from Bradley.
In Ireland, Bradley is the anglicization of the Gaelic O’Brolchain or O’Brollachain. They were an Irish
clan that started out in county Tyrone and spread across Ireland.
The word comes from the Gaelic brollach,
meaning “breast.”

Resources on

Bradley Ancestry

Early Bradley locations have been Durham, Yorkshire, Derbyshire and
Nottinghamshire, and Staffordshire.

Durham The
earliest mention of Bradley as a surname appears to have been in
Durham, from the Bradley lands near Wolsingham on Lanchester
Moor. Roger de Bradley was said to have held land there in 1183
in lieu of forestry work and William de Bradley in 1341. Bradley
descendants were resident at Bradley castle.

A branch of the
family migrated south to Gloucestershire and from them in the 18th
came the Astronomer Royal, James Bradley.

Yorkshire The
Bradleys of Yorkshire were on both sides during the Civil

  • those in Ackworth near Pontefract were Royalist.
    Thomas Bradley had been chaplain to Charles I and is believed to have
    attended him to the scaffold in 1649.
  • on the other hand, Bingley
    near Bradford was a center for Puritan sympathizers. One such
    Puritan was
    William Bradley who later emigrated to America with his

A century or so later came the Yorkshire
, William Bradley, from Market Weighton in the East

Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire
One Derbyshire family may have originated in Bradley,
Derbyshire as their early records were from Ashbourne nearby.
Another began in the early 1600’s in Elkesley in Nottinghamshire.
These Bradleys were farmers who later moved to Derbyshire and
Their conclusion on the Bradleys:

“The fact that the 1881 distribution
of Bradleys in England also reflected the main English coalfields was

The Bradley name was also evident in south Staffordshire. Thomas
Bradley lived at Gornal Wood in Sedgley in the early 1600’s.
Later Bradleys in this area became prominent as iron-founders –
Richard Bradley in Tipton, Staffordshire
and, most famously, John Bradley in Stourbridge, Worcestershire.
His plant at Woolaston produced in 1829 the first locomotive to run on
rails in America.


O’Brolchain sept
had reached county Derry from Tyrone by the
12th century. Flaibhertach O’Brollachain was recorded as
rebuilding the Derry cathedral in 1164. The name in Derry
later anglicized to Bradley. There were Bradleys as well in
Donegal, in particular on the Inishowen Peninsular from the early
1700’s, and further south in county Cork, in addition to English

The early Bradley arrivals were English.

English Bradleys
William Bradley came in 1638 from Yorkshire with like-minded
enthusiasts to found a new colony. This colony was to be New
Haven in Connecticut. The construction took three years and
William spent the first winter with his companions huddled in holes in
the ground near the site.

Another Bradley, Isaac Bradley, moved to New
Haven in 1683. He was the patriarch of a great number of Bradley
descendants, as tracked in Leonard Bradley’s 1917 book Descendants of Isaac Bradley.

Meanwhile, Stephen Bradley was growing up in neaby Guilford. From
him came a succession of Abraham Bradleys, including the Abraham who
helped set up the national post office in Washington DC. And
George Bradley of Tolland, Connecticut was the forebear of the
Cleveland shipping Bradleys:

“Alva Bradley was one of the foremost
figures in the shipping industry of the Great Lakes. He began as
a sailor before the mast, was a vessel master many years, and built and
owned vessels until the Bradley fleet was one of the largest under
individual management on the lakes.”

Then there were the New England Bradlees. Sam Bradley of
Dorchester, Massachusetts changed his name to Bradlee in the 1750’s
because, he said, “there were too many Bradleys in the Boston
area.” His four sons and daughter Sarah Bradlee were reportedly
responsible for carrying out the Boston Tea Party in 1773. A
descendant is Ben Bradlee, editor of the Washington Post during the
Watergate scandal.

Irish Bradleys
Later Bradley arrivals were more Irish than English. Those in the
18th century included:

  • John Bradley and his wife
    Martha, who arrived in the 1760’s and stayed in Raleigh, North Carolina
    before moving onto Tennessee. In 1818 their Bradley children
    would become pioneer settlers in Arkansas.
  • a Bradley
    family from Antrim, who arrived in South Carolina in the 1770’s.
    A descendant Patrick Bradley was a planter in the White Hall section of
    Abbeville. The town of Bradley in Greenwood county grew up around
    the railroad depot built near his home.
  • and Charles Bradley, who arrived in the 1770’s, fought in the
    Revolutionary War, and settled in Cambria county, Pennsylvania.

Larger numbers would come in the 19th century. In this second
wave was a Hugh Bradley from Draperstown in Derry and his son, born in
America, the legendary Colonel Edward Riley Bradley.

Canada. The first
Bradleys in Canada were probably Empire Loyalists, William and Lewis
Bradley, both from Savannah in Georgia:

  • William Brown Bradley had
    first moved to New Brunswick and, after fighting in the War of 1812,
    was granted land in the Ottawa valley where he and his family
  • while Lewis and Elizabeth Bradley moved to a log cabin in
    Mississauga, Ontario. They built a small saltbox-style farmhouse
    there in 1830 to cope with their growing family, a farmhouse which has
    been restored as a museum to show how the early settlers lived.

George Bradley was an English immigrant to Vaughan township in York
county in the 1840’s. There were also a number of Irish Bradleys
who had arrived around that time in the Ottawa valley. These
included William Bradley in March township, William and Jane Bradley in
Huntley township, and John and Jane Bradley in Marlborough

There were two Bradleys on the First Fleet to
Australia in 1788, Lieutenant William who compiled a journal of the
voyage illustrated with water color drawings and convict James from
London whose sentence was seven years. Another Bradley convict,
William, was on the Matilda
three years later. Both these convicts married in Australia and
have living Bradley descendants. Another convict James Bradley, who
arrived in 1813, had no fewer than five marriages and liaisons during
his time in Australia.

However, the Bradley that made the most impression on early Australia
was the Jonas Bradley of the NSW Corp who came with the Third Fleet in
1791. Jonas Bradley was the first successful grower of tobacco in
Australia. His son William Bradley began the Goulburn brewery and
became an important political and social figure in the early days of
the NSW colony. Today these Bradleys are recognized as one of the
seventy pioneer Australian families.

New Zealand. William
Bradly of a naval family in Kent came to Auckland in 1842 and settled
down in the Helensville area. Franklin Bradley, a Presbyterian
minister from Down in northern Ireland, arrived there in 1863. He
was one of the pioneer farmers in Arapohue.

Meanwhile another minister, the Rev. Robert Bradley, arrived in
Christchurch, South Island in the 1850’s and bought land for farming in
Charteris Bay. Much of this land is now the Orton Bradley Park,
having been donated by his son Orton after his death in 1943.

Bradley Miscellany

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

Select Bradley Names

James Bradley was the astronomer
who discovered the aberration of light mutation of the earth’s
axis. He was appointed Astronomer Royal in 1742.
William Bradley, born in 1787,
was said to have been the tallest man in England. He was measured
at seven feet nine inches.
William Bradley was a pioneer
sheep farmer in Australia and one of the leading social and politicial
figures in Sydney during the 1840’s and 1850’s.
was one of Eisenhower’s leading generals during World
War Two.
Bill Bradley was a Rhodes
scholar, professional basketball player, and Democrat Senator for New

Select Bradleys

  • 53,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Teesside)
  • 48,000 in America (most numerous
    in Texas)
  • 28,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada).




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