Select Chapman Surname Genealogy

The name Chapman comes the Old English or Saxon ceap, meaning a bargain or cheap, and the suffix mann or man. The German equivalent was Kaufman.  The name came to describe a merchant or trader who travelled from place to place selling small wares.  An act of Edward VI spoke of "person or persons commonly called peddler, tinker, or petty chapman."  A chapman, however, was not necessarily held in low regard.  He would bring to isolated villages welcome news and gossip about the outside world.

In Yorkshire the chapman or itinerant peddler gave his name to the Chapman packhorses once prevalent in the Yorkshire dales.

A Chapman Tale.  There is a folk tale in Norfolk about a peddler called John Chapman who suddenly became very wealthy and donated much of his money to refurbishing the church in Swaffham. 

In 1454, according to legend, the peddler had a dream that he should go to London to meet a stranger on London Bridge.  In due course the peddler set off for London and on the third day in the capital he did meet a stranger.  This stranger told him about a dream that he had had about finding a treasure in a garden in Swaffham.  John Chapman swiftly returned home and discovered the treasure trove in his own garden.    

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England.  The Chapman name appeared in various places around England in medieval times.  But the early demographics indicate that the name was mainly to be found in Yorkshire, with a smattering across East Anglia and the southeast. 

Although the name might suggest humble origins, there were some who made it into landed gentry.  One well-to-do family from Cambridgeshire can be traced to Rainthorpe Hall in Norfolk until Elizabethan times.  The Chapman name has continued in villages around King's Lynn.

Yorkshire  The name Chapman appeared in Whitby records as early as 1216.  They were one of the long-established families of this coastal town.  Later generations were Quakers and prominent mariners and bankers in the town (the name of Abel Chapman is to be found on the plaque at the old entrance to Whitby harbor).  In 1758, according to local newspaper reports, Captain William Chapman found fossil bones of an alligator off the Whitby coast. 

Some of these Chapmans left the region:
  • Thomas Chapman, an English naval officer, moved to Sweden in 1715 and joined the Swedish navy.  His son Fredric was a naval architect who rose to be vice-admiral of the Swedish navy in 1791. 
  • and many Chapmans departed for America, including the Quakers Giles and Sarah Chapman who set off from Bridlington for Virginia in 1734.  One of their most treasured possessions (which still exists today) was a family Bible dating back to 1613.
Another Chapman base, from the early 1600's, was Hawnby in north Yorkshire.  The New Hall in Hawnby was home to generations of Chapmans until religious oppression drove many away.  William and Mary Chapman, Methodists who were unable to practice their faith, embarked with their nine children on the Albion in 1774 for New Brunswick in Canada.  Their departure was commemorated in Michael Chapman's anthem of loss and regret, In The Valley.

Leicestershire  A Chapman family in Hinckley near Leicester had family ties with the Elizabethan adventurer, Sir Walter Raleigh.  Through these ties, Francis Chapman set sail for Virginia in 1608 as one of the early Jamestown settlers. 

Later, Benjamin Chapman served in the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland and received as reward Killua castle in Westmeath.  His family became part of the Anglo-Irish landowning class in succeeding generations.  In the 1880's, Thomas Chapman had an affair with his governess Sarah Lawrence.  Their son, born illegitimately, was the T.E. Lawrence of Seven Pillars of Wisdom fame. 

Cornwall  A cluster of Chapmans can be found as well in the southwest, in Cornwall.  The Chapman name in St. Breward church records here dates from the 1550's.  During the Cornish exodus of the 19th century, William Chapman departed for Northampton County in Pennsylvania, John Chapman for Prince Edward Island in Canada, and Edward Chapman for Sydney in Australia.       

America.  Many of the Chapman immigrants to America came from Yorkshire.  In fact, when William Chapman built his opulent family house in Rye, New York in the 1850's, he named it Whitby castle after Whitby Abbey in Yorkshire (it is now part of the Rye Golf Club). 

New England  Early New England arrivals included Robert Chapman who arrived in 1635 and settled in Saybrook and Edward Chapman who arrived in 1644 and settled in Ipswich.  From the latter family came the Rev. Eliphaz Chapman, an early settler in Bethel Maine, and William Rogers Chapman, the director of the Maine musical festivals in the 1920's. 

Eminent 19th century Chapmans included Henry Chapman, a Boston merchant and abolitionist, and his wife Maria, an even more fervent anti-slavery advocate; Oliver Chapman, the railroad contractor who pioneered the use of steam shovels; and Josephine Wright Chapman, one of the first women architects.

Virginia  Francis Chapman was described as one of the "ancient planters."  He lived through the Jamestown deprivations and was listed among the survivors in 1623.  His family later moved to Northern Neck, Virginia where they became well-to-do and well-connected planters (including friendships with the Washingtons nearby). 

In the 1740's, Jonathan Chapman built Chapman's Mill in the Thoroughfare Gap, a gristmill that fostered the agricultural development of the Shenandoah valley.  The present-day Chapman Forest in Maryland exists on land that this family acquired in the 1750's.

Many more Chapman immigrants came to Virginia in the 1740's.  Some stayed; others moved onto South Carolina, Georgia and elsewhere: 
  • the descendants of John and Mary Chapman settled in Newton County, Mississippi in the early 1800's.
  • one Virginian Chapman, William Chapman, moved further afield, to Portland in Oregon.  He founded The Oregonian newspaper in the 1860's. 
  • while George Chapman arrived in California from Kentucky as early as 1843. 
  • and William Chapman was in the 1880's an early farmer in Glenwood, Colorado.
South Africa.  John Chapman was a ship mate on the Consent who, in 1607, landed near Cape Town in search of safe anchorage.  He left his name to Chapman's Peak overlooking Cape Town. 

James Chapman was born in Cape Town in 1831.  He was an early South African hunter, trader, and explorer.  His brother Henry and son William followed in his footsteps.  Another son Charles perished in the Titanic disaster of 1912.

Australia.  William Chapman had been transported to Australia in 1791 for stripping lead off a church roof in Stepney.  He was described as "very dressed, very smart, in long coat, clean shirt, and very tidy."  He next appeared at the Theater in Sydney in 1796 where he played the part of a polished gentleman (possibly the right role for a well-dressed burglar).  He subsequently lived with the formidable Ann Marsh and they developed a number of businesses together in the new colony.

Thomas and Mary Ann Chapman from Kent were among the first free settlers to Australia.  Mathew Chapman from Yorkshire was an early settler in the Hunter valley.  And another Thomas Chapman also arrived in the 1830's, an orphan who had been sent out by the short-lived Children's Friends Society.  He went to Western Australia where his descendants still reside.

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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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George Chapman, a contemporary of Shakespeare, was a poet and the translator of Homer's Iliad, a work much admired by Keats.
John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, was a New England pioneer nurseryman who introduced the apple to large parts of the Midwest.  He became an American legend in the early 1800's because of his open and generous nature.
James Chapman, born in Cape Town of an English immigrant father and an Afrikaans mother, was an early Victorian explorer of southern Africa.
Herbert Chapman, born in Rotherham, was the great English club football manager of the 1920's and 1930's.
Colin Chapman was an influential British race car designer and developer in the 1960's and 1970's.  His Team Lotus won seven Formula One World Championships during this period.
Tracy Chapman, born in Cleveland Ohio, is a singer-songwriter and four-time Grammy Award winner.

Select Chapmans Today
  • 88,000 in the UK (most numerous in Kent)
  • 49,000 in America (most numerous in Texas).
  • 46,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada).

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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