Cole Surname Genealogy

Cole in the old English nursery rhyme Old
King Cole
ancient origins.  It is thought to refer to a
king known as Coel the Old at a time soon after the Roman occupation of
Britain.   The first verse runs as follows:

“Old King Cole was a merry old soul
And a merry old soul was he;
He called for his pipe and he called for his bowl
And he called for his fiddlers three.”

The song was first recorded in the early 18th century.

However, Cole as a surname has different origins.  One root is the
Old English cola, meaning
“coal,” and was probably originally a nickname for someone who was
dark-complexioned or “coal-black.”  In some cases Cole may have
been a pet name for Nicholas.  Both Cola and Cole were recorded as
personal names in the Domesday Book.   Its first appearance
as a surname was a Randolpihi Cole in the Hampshire Winton rolls of
1148.  The patronymic variant Coles, or “son of Cole,” was not
seen until the 16th century.

Some German Kohls became Coles in America, although kohl here means
cabbage or cabbage-seller rather than coal.  As did some
Scots and Irish McCools.

Cole Resources on

Cole Ancestry

Cole began as a west country name.

SW England.
Several ancient
places of Cole can be found in the counties of Wiltshire and
Somerset.  The earliest incidence of the Cole surname appears to
have been in Cornwall, at Travenna near Liskeard.  The Rev. Thomas
Cole, minister at Landewednack, was said to have been 120 years of age
on his death in 1683.

The Coles in fact were one of the largest landowners in the southwest –
Devon, Cornwall, and Somerset – until the early 1600’s.  The first
of this line appears to have been William Cole of Hollisleigh in
1243.  The Coles of Slade date from the
early 1400’s.  Sir John
Cole of Devon fought with Henry V at Agincourt. Margaret Cole was
Sir Francis Drake’s grandmother; and her father John was grandfather to
Sir Walter Raleigh.

The leading counties in terms of Cole numbers
by the 19th century were Devon, Gloucestershire and Hampshire (the
Coles spelling was more popular in Somerset).
James Edwin-Cole’s 1867 book The
Genealogy of the Family of Cole
covered the Coles of Devon and
their later spread across England and into Ireland.

London.  There
were also Coles in and around London.  A Cole family was
seated at Twickenham
in Middlesex for several
generations, dating back in parish records to 1584.  A monument
was erected to them in Petersham church in 1624.

  William Cole, a
professional soldier, came to Ireland in 1601 in search of
his fortune.  He was appointed Governor of Enniskillen and was
mainly responsible for the building of the town.  His descendants,
ennobled as the Earls of Enniskillen, were to remain at Florence
there until the early 1900’s.  Many were then among the early
English settlers in Kenya.

America.  Early Coles came
from England to New England.

New England.
Eunice Cole,
better known as “Goody
Cole,” was the only woman convicted of  witchcraft in New
She was whipped and spent much of her time in prison between 1656 and
1671.  On her death in 1680 it was said that a stake was driven
her body “in order to exorcise the baleful influence she was supposed
to have possessed.”

Robert Cole from Suffolk came to Massachusetts with Winthrop’s fleet in
1630 and later moved onto Rhode Island.  His son Nathaniel
migrated to Oyster Bay on Long Island in 1665.  These Coles
intermarried with the family of another early settler, Thomas
Townsend.  Hewlett Townsend Coles and his son Alexander were sea
captains in the early 1800’s.  Their correspondence has been
preserved in The Coles Family

Another Cole family account is Joseph Curtis’s 1909 book The Descendants of Elisha Cole.
Elisha had been born on Cape Cod in 1719.  He moved with his wife
to upstate New York in his twenties and built a log cabin and grist
mill in what was to become Putnam county.  The Cole family
maintained this mill for the next hundred and fifty years.

Virginia.  The
prominent Coles family of Albemarle county, Virginia came
originally from Wexford in Ireland in the early 1700’s.   The
following was a description of Colonel John Coles of this family:

“Colonel Coles was a genial,
horse-loving, hospitable Virginia gentleman of the old school.  In
recounting his blessings he would speak with pride of the ability of
his sons, adding – like the French poet Martial – that he was glad his
daughters were not too learned.”

Edward Coles, cousin to Dolly Madison, was private secretary to
Presidents Jefferson and Madison. Surprisingly for a Virginia
plantation owner, he released his slaves and removed himself to
Illinois where he was elected Governor on an anti-slavery platform.

The story of George Coles was one of the tragedies of the Confederation
era.  Coles, born on Prince Edward Island in 1810, was poor for
much of his life.  Eventually, by dint of hard work, he managed to
build up a business as a brewer and distiller. Then a great fire swept
through Charlottetown, burning down Coles’ properties. The fear
that further calamity might come gripped Coles’ mind to such an extent
that he abandoned public life and went into seclusion, eventually going

  The Coles
retail dynasty
began when the first George Coles arrived in
Victoria in
1854 to work in the goldfields.  His son George started a
shop and went on to open a number of country stores in rural
The next George bought and sold various businesses from his father
before opening his first store in Melbourne in 1914.  Expansion to
more stores occurred after World War One and Coles grew to
be one of Australia’s largest supermarket chains.

Cole Miscellany

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

Cole Names

Sir William Cole was the forebear of the Coles of Enniskillen in
founded in the 1920’s with his brothers what was to
become the Coles Group
shopping empire, the largest chain store group in Australia.
Nat King Cole was a popular
American singer of the 1950’s and 60’s.

Select Coles Today

  • 60,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in London)
  • 69,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 30,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)



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