Browning Surname Genealogy

started out as the Anglo-Saxon first name Bruning,
probably a nickname, from the Old English brun meaning
“brown.”  As Norman names were introduced,
the use of Bruning as a first name gradually faded
out.  Still,
de Cestretona
was recorded in Cambridgeshire in 1086 and Brunyng Dypres in Sussex in
1296.   Early examples of Browning as
a surname were
Hugo Bruning in Norfolk in 1198 and William Brouning in Cambridgeshire
in 1291

Browning Resources on

Browning Ancestry

England.   Browning’s
origin as a surname looks to be clearly in the west country;
although the Browning numbers in the southeast, in particular in Kent,
rival or surpass those there.

West Country.  The
Browning family of Gloucestershire
dates from about 1300, and
maybe earlier.  John Browning of Leigh was
active in local politics and was elected MP for Gloucestershire three
times in the late 1300’s.  His direct line
seems to have ended about 1460.

the Browning name did continue at Cam and Cowley in Gloucestershire in
the next
two centuries.  It also extended into
neighboring Somerset, appearing at East Quantoxhead and Watchet in the

The earliest recorded
Browning in Dorset was John Browninge at Bere Regis in 1550.  Robert
died at Pentridge in 1746.
He was the first known ancestor of Robert Browning the poet.  The line went to:

  • Thomas
    Browning who held the
    lease of the Woodyates Inn and was for many years the churchwarden at
  • Robert
    Browning, the poet’s grandfather, who in 1769 left Dorset for London
    where he
    worked at the Bank of England for over fifty years.
    He married into the Tittle plantation family
    of St. Kitts in the West Indies.
  • Robert’s
    younger brother William meanwhile had
    been drowned in the West Indies in 1781 while serving with HMS
    at the naval anchorage in Antigua.
  • and
    Robert Browning,
    the poet’s father, who renounced the family’s slaveholding and worked
    for the
    Bank of England in London.

Tittle was said to have had a mixed race
ancestry.  Both her son Robert Sr. and
the poet were dark-complexioned, which raised eyebrows.
According to one account, Robert Sr. – on
visiting the family plantation in St. Kitts – was made by the church
beadle to
sit with the “colored” people rather than with the white.  The two
poets Robert and Elizabeth
Barrett Browning
married in secret in 1846. 

.  Kent has many Brownings as well,
there is a lack of evidence of any early presence there.
One family line has been traced back to the
marriage of Matthew Browning and Susannah Smith at Whitstable in 1737.

Browning instrument makers were thought to have come from Kent.
They included the brothers John and Samuel
Browning, the latter who went into partnership to form the nautical
makers Spencer & Browning in 1778.
However, it was John’s great grandson John Browning who became
best-known of these Brownings.  His
speciality was spectroscopes and his were considered by the 1870’s to
be the best
in England.  He later produced optical

Scotland.  There
was a small enclave of Brownings in Lanarkshire, centered around
Avondale.  Gavin and Ann Browning left
there in the
early 1840’s for Canada.  They settled in
Lambton county, Ontario.  Their son
Robert later moved south to Nebraska.

America.  Brownings
were prominent at an early stage in
America’s history.  Three books covering
these Brownings were:

  • Edward F. Browning’s 1908 book Genealogy
    of the Brownings in America
  • Clint Joyce and Cecil Houk’s
    2000 book Browning Family History
  • and
    Dr. Jess Browning’s 2015 book Captain
    John Browning: A Family History.

John Browning
was a prominent early settler and tobacco grower
Jamestown.  He had arrived there with his
family on the Abigail in 1621 and was
recorded in the Muster of Inhabitants in
in 1624.  Thomas Browning, also from
Gloucestershire, meanwhile had
arrived in Old Rappannock county with his wife Hester around the year
1656.  Their son John later made his home
in Cecil county, Maryland.  This was the
other significant Browning southern line.

One line via Captain John’s son
William led to Francis and Elizabeth Browning of Culpepper county,
Virginia in
the 1730’s.  Some of their descendants
were later to be found in Greene county, Georgia and then in Arkansas.

There was the line as well via George Francis
Browning in Kentucky in the early 1800’s and found in Louisville.  This line led to:

  • Pete Browning, known as the
    Louisville Slugger, who was a baseball
    star in the 1880’s
  • and
    his nephew Tod Browning, a film director who pioneered
    horror movies in Hollywood in the early 1930’s.

Browning also came out of
Culpepper county.  His son Jonathan, born
in Tennessee in 1805, was the forebear of the famous Browning
gun-makers.  Jonathan, the inventor of the
repeating rifle,
first set up his gun-shop in Quincy, Illinois.
There he converted to the Mormon faith and in 1852 made
the long
trek to Salt Lake valley.  His son
John Moses Browning, born in Utah, worked with his father there and
later founded
Browning Arms Company.  Credited with
over 120 patents for firearms, John Moses made the name Browning
with guns

Browning was a soldier with the First
Fleet that arrived in Botany Bay in 1788.
He stayed in Australia, first working for the NSW Corps and then
in the Seven Hills area.  William and Nancy Browning were bounty
immigrants from
Devon who came to Sydney in 1840.
William was a shepherd and found work in the Lismore area where
were said to have been the first white settlers

Browning Miscellany

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

Browning Names

John Browning
three times MP
for Gloucestershire in the late 1300’s.
and his wife Elizabeth
Barrett Browning
were widely-read Victorian poets.

John Moses Browning

was the late 19th century
firearms developer who founded the Browning Arms Company in Utah.
Tod Browning was a Hollywood pioneer of
horror movies in the 1930’s

Brownings Today

  • 9,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Kent)
  • 16,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 4,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)


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