Coleman Surname Genealogy

surname Coleman has two distinctly different derivations, one English
and the other Irish:In England, the
surnames Coleman, as well as Collier
, is occupational,
describing either
a burner of charcoal or a gatherer of coal (col was Old English for coal or
charcoal).  The German surname Kohlmann has the same roots.
A spelling variant
Colman crops up in East Anglia.
In Ireland, Coleman is
an anglicized name from the Gaelic Clumhain
or Colman:

  • the former (or O’Clumhain,
    descendant of Clumhain), a
    personal name, derived
    from the Gaelic clumh,
    meaning “down” or “feathers.”  The O’Culhains were originally a
    literary and bardic family in county Sligo.
  • the latter (or O’Colman,
    descendant of Colman) refers
    to a 6th century
    Irish missionary called St. Columban who enjoyed at one time a cult
    following in Europe.  There is a St. Colman’s Cathedral in Cork
    Harbor today.

Coleman can also be the Americanized form of the German Kohlmann or

Resources on

Coleman Ancestry

The Coleman name was mainly to be found in SE England and in East

SE England  The
name Colemans
in East Sussex is said to have derived its name from a
Coleman family of charcoal makers recorded in Hartfield in the late
1200’s.  Coleman appeared in the records of Fletching parish
nearby from the mid 1500’s.  A Coleman family was in Brede from
the mid 1600’s.  They were prosperous enough to purchase Chitcombe
Farm there in 1821 and to become benefactors to the village
(building a church and a local school).

The Coleman name mainly sprung up in the southeast of England, in Kent
and Essex as well as Sussex, with outposts in Northamptonshire and
in East Anglia (where the spelling has been and continues to be

East Anglia
There has been a Colman family recorded in Little Waldingfield (near
Sudbury in Suffolk) from the early 1400’s.  They prospered as
clothiers – as the brass in the local church reveals:

“A reminder of happier times in the
parish is the grandest brass of all, that of the clothier John Colman
in 1506.  His family may well have paid for the rebuilding of the
church at that time.  Beneath him, six sons and seven daughters
stand in pious grief.”

Edward Colman of this family later met a grisly end.  A
Catholic convert, he had become implicated in the Popish plots, was
tried for treason in 1678, and, on conviction, was executed by the
barbaric means of being hung, drawn, and quartered.

Colmans in Norfolk have produced the Colmans of Colman’s Mustard.

Ireland.  The
O’Clumhain name has cropped up in the Annals
of the Four Masters
, such as this entry in 1493:

“Mac Namee, the son of Conor Roe and
son of Eachmarcach, an eminent poet and a good scholar, was slain by a
laborer, one of his own people the O’Clumhain.”

Their original homeland was the barony of Tireragh in county
Sligo.  Coleman country today is south Sligo, in and around
Tobercurry and Gurteen.  This was where Mary Coleman lived
and where the famed Irish fiddler Michael Coleman grew up.  Over
time these Colemans have spilled over into the neighboring counties of
Mayo and Roscommon.

The Coleman numbers (from St. Colman, the 6th century
Irish missionary) have been larger further south, in county Cork.
Today Inishannon in Cork is the home of two well-known Coleman jump

America.  In terms of
recorded arrivals to America, Colemans came:

  • 60 percent from Ireland
  • 38 percent from England
  • and 2 percent from Germany.

New England  The
English arrived first.  Among the New England arrivals was
Thomas Coleman who came to Newbury in 1635.  He was the forebear
of a long line of Quaker Colemans, in Nantucket
(where Elihu Coleman was an early opponent of slavery), New Hampshire,
and in and around Philadelphia.  William Coleman was one of
Philadelphia’s first civic leaders, Nathaniel Coleman a well-known
silversmith in Burlington, New Jersey.

Virginia  More
came via Virginia, including four Robert Colemans – three of whose
family trees have been extensively documented:

  • Robert Coleman of the first doomed Virginia settlement.  He
    apparently died in the water in 1590 while attempting to rescue other
    members of a landing party.
  • Robert Coleman of Mobjack Bay Virginia, whose presence was first
    recorded there in 1638.  A descendant was the Texas adventurer,
    Robert Morris Coleman.  This family history was recorded in Sherry
    Nicoll’s 1998 book The Coleman
    Family of Mobjack Bay
  • Robert Coalman (later Coleman) was in Charles City county,
    Virginia by 1652.  His line went south to South Carolina,
    Mississippi, and Texas.  A descendant was the Mississippi
    Governor, JP Coleman, who in 1965 published The Robert Coleman Family – from Virginia
    to Texas.
  • and Robert Coleman of Nansemond
    county Virginia, first recorded there in 1684.  His sons settled
    in Edgecombe county, North Carolina and later descendants moved onto

Irish Colemans
One of the earliest Irish Colemans was a Robert Coleman from Donegal
had arrived in Philadelphia in 1764.  He started an ironworks,
built up a business making cannonballs, and became Pennsylvania’s first
millionaire.  However, two of his daughters would meet tragic ends.

The 19th and early 20th century saw a much larger influx of Irish
Colemans to America – including in 1914 the famed fiddle player Michael
Coleman (who made his home and recorded in New York City).

German and Jewish Colemans
Colemans of German origin are much larger in proportion than the
arrival data above would indicate – as many changed their names to
Coleman once in America and after their arrival, such as:

  • Sebastian
    (later Coleman) who came to Pennsylvania from Baden in Germany n 1738
  • Nicholas Kuhlmann and
    his family, Protestants, who brought their German religious books
    with them to Philadelphia from Strasburg in 1768.  Their
    descendants, as Colemans, migrated to
    North Carolina and the Wiregrass area of SE Alabama.
  • while other
    Kuhlmanns/Colemans arrived in Minnesota in the early 1800’s.

there were Jewish Kalmans who became Colemans and even a Kaufman (Cy
Coleman the jazz pianist and songwriter).

Central America.  William
and Cynthia Coleman were Confederate refugees who fled to Honduras
escape the Reconstruction era in Georgia after the Civil War.
William started up various businesses there which did well and his sons
William and John carried on.  The family became involved in
Honduras politics during the 1920’s.  John was killed in the 1932
revolution, William died in Honduras in 1944.

Africa.  Liberia
has been ruled for most of its history by a small group of
Americo-Liberian families from Clay-Ashland, including the
Colemans.  William
Coleman had arrived in Liberia, aged 11, in 1853 and rose to become
President of that country in 1896.  He was the father of ten –
including David Coleman who in 1955 was shot dead by security forces
after a failed attempt to assassinate the then President.

Australia and New Zealand.
  Henry Coleman was possibly the
first Coleman in Australia, a convict transported there from England on
the Barwell in 1798.  His descendants were in
Parramatta and nearby Smithfield.  Tom Coleman died there in 1955
at the ripe old age of ninety five.

A notable early settler was Benjamin Coleman, a farm worker from
Sussex.  He arrived in New Zealand in 1840 and was one of the
first white settlers in Otago, South Island.  He lived to see the
arrival of the Dunedin settlers in 1848 but died by drowning one year

Coleman Miscellany

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

Select Coleman Names

Morris Coleman organized the first Texas Rangers, helped defeat
the Mexicans at the Battle of San Jacinto, but later fell out with Sam
Houston and died young in mysterious circumstances.
was the man who built up Colman’s of Norwich, the
mustard-makers, in the second half of the 19th century.
William Coleman became
President of Liberia in 1895.
Michael Coleman was
the legendary fiddler from Sligo most responsible for the revival of
traditional music.
Ornette Coleman, the jazz
saxophonist, was one of the major innovators of the “free jazz”
movement of the 1960’s.

Select Colemans

  • 35,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Kent)
  • 70,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Texas)
  • 25,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia).




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