Brett

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Brett Surname Genealogy

Bretons were Celtic-speakers from present-day Brittany in France.
They brought the Brett name and name variants like Britton with
them when they came over with William
the Conqueror or later. In France and among
Normans, however, the Bretons had a reputation for stupidity.
In
some cases the Brett name may have started out as a
derogatory nickname.Brett enjoyed a revival in reputation later in the Middle Ages as a
first name.
Brett could mean a native of Brittany. It
could also mean a native of Britain. This latter use here spread
first in England and then overseas where its original connotation
gradually got lost.
Select Brett Resources on The Internet

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Brett Ancestry

England. The Brett name
was to be found in SW England, East Anglia, and in Kent.

SW England The
Breton name
first appeared in public records in England after the Norman Conquest
in Somerset.
Ansger the Breton held lands there in the Domesday
Book. Later Bretts left their name to the village of
Sampford Brett near Taunton. Richard
le Bret from Sampford Brett was one of the four killers of St. Thomas a
Becket
at
Canterbury in 1170 – although the suspicion was that he was a Saxon
rather than a Breton.

These Bretts had established themselves at Whitestaunton near Chard by
the 1400’s. But they were Catholics and held onto the old
religion. Lady Anne Brett, a recusant, lost her lands and her
“fair old stone mansion” in the early 1600’s. Some Bretts became
Jesuits. Sir Edward Brett, a decorated soldier of this family,
fought for the Royalists during the
Civil War and later on the Continent for William of Orange. He
was buried in Bexley church in Kent. Meanwhile the Brett line
lived on at Whitestaunton until 1718.

East Anglia More
Bretons settled in East Anglia where the Brett name became quite
widespread. Le Bret families held lands near Boston in
Lincolnshire and in Aveley in Essex from the 1200’s.

In Norwich,
St. George’s church
records show Richard
Brett marrying Elizabeth Leive in 1552; and the Brett name can be found
around Norfolk parishes in the 18th and 19th
centuries. One Brett institution, sadly, is being wound up.
Jonathan Brett had started his family furniture business in Norwich in
1870. There was a time when every British embassy in the world
had at least one piece of Brett furniture. But these days are
long gone.

Kent The
largest number of Bretts in England were and still are to be found in
Kent,
particularly around Tenterden and Ashford:

  • Percival Brett was the
    mayor of Tenterden in 1609. His family remained influential in
    that town for the next two hundred years.
  • A Brett family dates
    from the
    1540’s at Spring Grove in Wye. Many of them were
    clergymen, in
    their time
    Catholic-leaning. Thomas Brett in fact resigned from his post in
    1714 when the new Protestant oath took effect.
  • There were as well
    the 18th century Kent naval Bretts, including Sir Piercy Brett who
    became a Lord of the Admiralty:
“Piercy Brett had been a lieutenant on
board the Centurion and had
circumnavigated the world under Commodore Anson. He had been
responsible for the drawings which became part of the narrative of the
journey.”

Descended from the Bretts of Wye was Thomas Brandon
Brett,
a prominent figure during Victorian times in Hastings in Sussex. He had been born there in 1816, his father
being a smith who was found dead in a fishing boat ten years later. He put together the first brass band in the
town and later started the St. Leonards
and Hastings Gazette
on his own printing press.
In 1894, on the occasion of his golden wedding anniversary,
he was presented with an illuminated address and a sum of 200 guineas
by his
fellow townsmen.

London
Brett
clergymen were to be found in London, starting with the Rev.
Richard Brett in the late 16th century. An erudiite man who
a wide range of interests, he is buried in Quainton church in
Buckinghamshire where he had ministered for forty three years.

The progeny of Rev. Joseph Brett, a vicar of London in the early
19th
century, presents a more unorthodox picture:

  • his son William rose
    to be Lord Esher, a lawyer with possibly a rakish side to him (he
    married Eugenie
    Meyer, the illegitimate daughter – it was said – of Napoleon
    Bonaparte).
  • their son Reginald was a close confidant of the Royal
    Family who helped to edit
    the papers of Queen Victoria. But he was also said to have
    carried on a series of chaste
    pederastic friendships with adolescent boys throughout his
    life.
  • while his daughter Sylvia Brett, who had a troubled
    early life (twice
    trying to kill herself), ended up marrying his Highness Rajah Vyner of
    Sarawak and living a glittering socail life.

Ireland. The name Milo le Bret
dates from 1199 when he was granted lands in Dublin and in Rathfarnham
in nearby county Louth. In succeeding centuries, the Bretts were
considered among the leading landed gentry of Louth.

In the early 17th century, the Taaffe family had moved into
Sligo on the west coast where they quickly became one of the largest of
the new landlords. The Bretts followed them. Jasper Brett
built a fortified home at Deroon.
Although the family was staunchly Catholic, they somehow managed to
survive the Cromwell incursions and the subsequent Catholic penal laws
and continued to practice their faith.

18th century Brett
priests included Father John, who spent most of his working life in
Italy, and Father Charles, who ministered at Ballysadare until his
death in 1768. Brett names continue in and around Achonry
in Sligo. Some of these Bretts crossed the Irish Sea to England
in the 20th
century.

Protestant Bretts were to be found in county Down on the east
coast. Charles Brett was a successful merchant there who
married Martha Black in 1795. A marriage quilt was made for the
occasion. This quilt ended up in New Zealand after their
granddaughter Martha took it there in 1881 ahead of her own prospective
marriage.

America. There arrived
in America in the 1630’s two Bretts, one into Virginia and the other
into New England. The first, Mary the sister of Sir Edward
Brett, had married William Isham and they were one of the first
families of Virginia. The second, William Brett from Kent, settled
in Bridgewater. He became an elder in his church and was
respected as a “grave and godly man.”

The Brett name also appeared from an early time in upstate New
York. The Madame
Brett Homestead
in Dutchess county was built in 1709 and
stayed with the family until 1954.


Canada
. Many Irish Bretts
emigrated to Canada in the 19th century. Jane and Elizabeth
Brett arrived there in the 1820’s. Their son Robert prospered as
a merchant and banker in Toronto. Another first generation Robert
Brett practiced medicine, moved west, and later became active in
Alberta provincial politics.

Jasper and Celia Brett settled in Essex County, Ontario. Their
name is still prominent there, as owners of The Essex Free Press. It has
been operating as a family-run newspaper for over a hundred years,
presently under Laurie Brett, the great granddaughter of the founder.

Australia and New Zealand.
Among Brett arrivals to Australia were:

  • George and Sarah Brett from
    Suffolk in 1855. They came on the Constitution and were lucky to
    survive the journey because of the many deaths that occurred during the
    voyage and in quarantine.
  • James and Susan Brett from Essex
    in 1857. They arrived with their three children on the Plantagenet.
  • and William and Ruth Brett from London in the 1860’s. The
    family later moved up to Queensland and their grandson James became a
    prominent Brisbane timber businessman in the inter-war years.

Henry Brett left Sussex for New Zealand in 1862 and made his mark in
Auckland as a newspaper publisher (for which he was knighted).
The Brett Printing and Publishing Company became New Zealand Newspapers
in 1929.

Select Brett Miscellany

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


Select Brett Names

Milo le Bret appears to be the
forebear of the Brett name in Ireland.
The Rev. William Brett joined
the Church Missionary Society in 1840 and was their missionary in
British Guiana for the next forty years. His memoir The Apostle of the Indians of Guiana
recounts this missionary work.
Jeremy Brett was an English
actor best known for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes.

Select Bretts Today

  • 16,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Kent)
  • 2,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 7,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

 

 

 

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