Select Fox Surname Genealogy

If your surname is Fox, it could be of English, German, or Irish origin.  The English name was at first Foxe and then Fox.  The German word is Fuchs, often anglicized to Fox.  The Irish source is either the Gaelic Sionnach or the Anglo-Norman de Bosque.  In each case, the root is the animal, the fox.

Fox must have started out as a nickname.  Did it refer to someone of red hair, the color of a fox?  Or was it someone considered crafty or cunning, characteristics that are attributed to a fox?  

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Select Fox Ancestry

England.  Where were the foxes?  A 14th century name distribution showed the Fox surname to be mainly concentated in a broad swathe of Middle England from Nottinghamshire to Cheshire, with a lighter smattering in the southern counties. 

Notable Foxes in Tudor and Stuart times came from Lincolnshire and Leicestershire:
  • Lincolnshire supplied Richard Foxe, the prominent churchman who founded Oxford's Corpus Christi College, and John Foxe, the author of Foxe's Book of Martyrs.  
  • George Fox, the founder of the Quaker movement, was born in a small village just outside Leicester.
From rural Wiltshire came two families:
  • one prominent in politics, the Foxes who were ennobled as the Barons Holland of Foxley
  • and the other a Quaker family who moved to Falmouth in Cornwall and started there various businesses based on Quaker principles. 
The ship agency business which George Croker Fox began in Falmouth in 1762 still survives today.  So too do Caroline Fox's diaries of her meetings and correspondence with prominent Victorians of her day.   From this family also came Edward Long Fox, the medical practitioner who in 1800 built an asylum for the well-to-do insane at Brislington House near Bristol.

A Fox family dated from about 1500 at Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire.  Henry Fox of this family was a London merchant who traded with the American colonies in the early 1600’s.  This trading was then carried on by his son John and grandson John, the latter who was granted land in Virginia and moved there.

Yorkshire and Lancashire.   By the 19th century for whatever reason, the Fox name had spread steadily northwards, into Yorkshire and Lancashire.  Did this represent migration?  Or some quirks in nomenclature?  

In Yorkshire the cluster of Foxes was mainly in the South Riding, particularly in and around the town of Dewsbury. Thomas Fox was born there in 1591 and there was the redoubtable Squire Fox of the 18th century.  A Victorian instiitution was Fox's biscuits in nearby Batley.  Another Fox family business was the curiously named "shoddy and mango" merchant.  And Dewsbury produced in the 20th century Leslie Fox, the noted mathematician, and Sir Marcus Fox, the Conservative politician. 

In Lancashire a family historian has traced his own family in Roeburndale near Lancaster back to the early 1700's.  Isaac Fox went out to Jamaica in the early 1800's.  Interestingly enough, a descendant of this family has seen the DNA's of a number of Foxes in Yorkshire and Lancashire and found little genetic connection with his family.  
  If there was no Fox clan in England, there definitely was in Ireland, or rather two of them:
  • the Sionnach Foxes, who claimed an ancient heritage
  • and the de Bosque Foxes who came with the Anglo-Norman influx in the 12th century. 
The Sionnach heartland was County Offaly in the middle of Ireland; the de Bosques were mainly in County Limerick, in particlar in Doon.  When the English began to enforce the anglicization of names, both Sionnachs and de Bosques became Foxes (although some Sionnachs did opt for Shinnick instread).  In Gaelic speaking schools, a distinction did remain between the two names.

Tadg O'Catharnaigh, the Offaly clan chief who died in 1086, was the first to adopt the Sionnach (Fox) name.  Their base was an area between what is now Clara and Ballycumber (the Rock of the Fox, an ancient ceremonial place, still exists there). 

They were an aggressive warlike clan, engaged in raiding against their neighbors and fighting the Anglo-Norman presence in the region. 
Their chief Hubert Fox resisted but lost against the forces of Cromwell in the 1650's.  As a result, his estates were confiscated and the family scattered. 

One who did well for himself, as a merchant in Dublin, was Patrick Fox.  He acquired Foxhall in County Longford and his family became landed gentry there.  But Foxhall, like Kilcoursey castle in Offaly, is just a ruin today.  The last of this line were two sisters, Amelia and Evelyn Fox.

America.  If you are a Fox in America, you could be of English, Irish, or German origin. 

English Foxes  One early arrival was Thomas Fox who settled in Concord, Massachusetts in the 1640's.  In 1819, the Rev. James Angel Fox moved to Mississippi and later generations lived in Louisiana.  Charles Fox, a descendant of another early Fox immigrant into Massachusetts, headed West in the 1860's and was one of the founding fathers of San Diego in California. 

Justinian Fox from the Fox family in Falmouth had arrived in Philadelphia in 1686.  A descendant, Joseph Fox, was Speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly during the Stamp Tax uproar and the family later moved to Foxburg in western Pennsylvania.  The family story was recounted in Joe Fox's 2006 book, The Fox Family of Philadelphia.

Captain John Fox, a London merchant, came to Virginia in 1664 and was the forebear of a well-to-do Virginian family.  Gentleman Henry Fox was his son and he made his home at Huntington along the Mattaponi river in King William county.  There followed:
  • the Rev. John Fox who was the rector at Ware in Gloucester county in 1750.  
  • William Fox who was supposed to have ”put a period to his existence by firing a ball into his head” in 1795 after having been indicted for killing one of his servants for stealing.
  • while William D. McCain’s 1971 Fox book covered the later Henry Fox lines in South Carolina and Mississippi.
Irish Foxes  John Fox had arrived in Virginia from Ireland in 1649.  Possibly he was the forebear of the writer John Fox Jr. 

His earliest known ancestor was William Fox who was born in Loudoun county, Virginia around 1710.  His Scots Irish descendants crossed the Wilderness Road to Kentucky in 1790.  There followed three generations of Kentucky schoolmasters and then John Jr. who became famous through his novels about the mountain people of the bluegrass region.  John settled in Big Stone Gap, Virginia where there is now a John Fox Jr. museum. 

The Fox influx from Ireland gathered pace as the 19th century proceeded.  William Fox, for instance, came to Wisconsin from West Meath in the 1830's; Richard Fox to Ohio from Dublin in 1841; Francis and Mary Fox to Tennessee from Roscommon in 1848; and Miles and Bridget Fox to Bytown in Ontario from Sligo in the 1870's. 

German Foxes  The Fox/Fuchs immigration from Germany seems to have started in the 1700's, into New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.  Christoph Fuchs, later Christopher Fox, came to Ohio in the 1850's. 

Two well-known descendants of 19th century immigrants were William Fox, who founded the Fox Film Corporation, and Vicente Fox, a recent President of Mexico. 

Canada.  James and Johanna Fox left Ireland for Canada in 1825.  They kept the old Gaelic name of Sionnach until the 1830's.  They were listed as "Shinig" in the 1826 Newcastle district cansus.  By the time of the 1839 census, they were referred to as Fox.

Australia.  Arthur and Frances Ellen Fox arrived from Cavan in Ireland in the 1840's.  They bought the Marybank estate in the Adelaide foothills in 1852 and their descendants (now into the fifth generation) have held onto the property ever since.

Another early settler was the English Isaac Fox.  He was said to be a man of stern principles and never happy with his lot.  However, he married twice and raised thirteen children in total.  They made their homes in New South Wales and Queensland.

Select Fox Miscellany

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

Select Fox Names

Tadg O'Catharnaigh, the Irish clan chief who died in 1086, was the first to adopt the Sionnach (Fox) name.
John Foxe published his Foxe's Book of Martyrs in 1563, a book that helped inflame anti-Catholic sentiment in England at the time.
George Fox, born in Leicestershire in 1624, was the founder of the Religious Society of Friends, i.e. the Quaker movement.
Charles James Fox was a leading Whig politician of the Regency age, bested, however, by his arch-rival William Pitt.
John Fox Jr wrote books such as Trail of the Lonesome Pine and The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come which were the first million-copy sellers in the United States.
William Fox, born Wilhelm Fuchs, started the Fox Film Corporation in 1915, the forerunner to today's 20th Century Fox and the Fox Television Network.

Vicente Fox
was President of Mexico from 2000 to 2006.  Although born in Mexico, his paternal line traces back to a German immigrant Fuchs family that settled in Cincinnati.

Select Foxes Today
  • 92,000 in the UK (most numerous in Gloucestershire)
  • 61,000 in America (most numerous in California).
  • 37,000 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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