Kemp Surname Genealogy

The Middle English and German word kempe
was a status name for a champion, a professional fighter or jouster who
engaged in
single combat on behalf of others.
For example the King’s
champion at his
coronation had the duty of issuing a general challenge to battle to
anyone who would deny the king’s right to the throne. The Norfolk
is a term for an old warrior who has seen many a battle.
The surname
spelling began as Campe or Kempe and later gave way to Kemp.

Kemp Resources on

Kemp Ancestry

Fred Hitchin-Kemp in his 1902 book A
History of the Kemp and Kempe Families of Great Britain
that the Kemp name was mainly to be found in the eastern and southern
counties of England. Early sightings of the name were:

  • Edmund Kempe in Norfolk in 1099
  • Alan Kempe in Suffolk in 1273
  • and Ralph le Kemp in Sussex in 1296.

SE England.
Ralph Kempe who lived in the early 1300’s and held the Olantigh
manor near Ashford was the earliest known ancestor of the Wye Kempes
Kent. Two famous descendants were John Kemp, the 15th century
Archbishop of Canterbury, and his nephew Thomas Kempe, Bishop of
London. An account of the time read:

with two great men of this name, John Kempe, born at Wye in Kent,
Archbishop of
York and afterwards of Canterbury. He
died a very old man in 1453. The other
was Thomas Kemp, his nephew, who was consecrated Bishop of London in
1449 by
his uncle the Archbishop.”

Sir Thomas Kempe died in 1607 and he was the last of the
family to live at the manor.

Will Kempe, a comic actor on the
London stage at the time of Shakespeare, is believed to have been
related to him. The Kempes intermarried with the nearby Digges
family and some of them were to cross the Atlantic to America. Other
Kempes moved to Lavethan in Cornwall and to Slindon in
Sussex. A later descendant was the property developer Thomas Read
Kemp who built Kemp Town in Brighton in the early 1800’s before fleeing
his creditors and dying in France.

East Anglia.
Another notable Kempe family began in East Anglia with Nicholas
Kempe in the early 1400’s. They
resided at Spains Hall at
Finchingfield in Essex
and at Cavendish in Suffolk. Their
numbers included the 16th century judge George Kempe.
William Kempe the mute died at Spains Hall in
1628; while
Kempe was supposed to have been knighted by Cromwell on the steps
of the house in 1641 (
home in Huntingdon was but a short distance away and Stephen Marshall,
Cromwell’s favorite preacher, was the incumbent at Finchingfield). This Kempe line died out in the 1750’s.

John Kempe and Margery Brunham married in King’s Lynn, Norfolk
around the year 1393. It was Margery Kempe who became famous –
writing The Book of Margery Kempe, a work considered by some to
be the first autobiography in the English language. The book
chronicled her pilgrimages to various holy sites in Europe and Asia, as
well as her mystical conversations with God.

local gentry at the small village of Gissing near Diss in Norfolk,
starting with
Robert Kempe in the early 16th century. For
generations the bulk of the population there were Kemp family tenants. The last of these Kemps, Sir Robert Kemp,
died in 1936.

There was also a Kemp outpost in Cornwall, dating back to the 1500’s
at Lavethan. James Kempe, the son of Nicholas and Joanna Kempe,
was born at St. Gerrans in 1637. The American politician Jack
Kemp was said to
have been of Cornish origin.

Scotland. Kemps in
Scotland are thought to have a similar meaning but be of Viking origin.

“It appears that a branch of Norwegian
settlers with the name Kemp first settled in Scotland in the Orkneys
but later moved to safer ground on the mainland and further south as
the Vikings began their forays and invasions into the area.”

They were to be found in the Black Isle in eastern Rossshire, near
Inverness in the Highlands. This isle was a hotbed of Jacobite
in 1745. After the defeat at Culloden many Kemps emigrated. Some
Kemps in Rossshire
may have been English ironworkers at

America. Edmund Kempe had
married Mary Digges in Kent and they were in Virginia by 1653.
Their son Colonel Matthew Kemp was a Virginia colonial politician, a
Speaker at the Virginia House of Burgesses.

Robert Kemp was a
Quaker from Yorkshire who came to Maryland in 1664. He married and secured a
tract of land called Bolton in Talbot county.
His son John was the first of five father-to-son John Kemps that
and worked on the Bolton farm. Kemp
descendants were to live on the property for nigh on two hundred years

Edward and Ann Kemp came to Groton, Massachusetts from Norfolk in 1658
and Ebenezer Kemp
of this line fought in the Revolutionary War. Afterwards Ebenezer
moved his family to Gorham in Maine.

German Kemps.
Kemps in America are mainly of English origin. Conrad Kaempf
(Kemp in America) came to Philadelphia with three of his sons from
Germany in 1733 and made for the German community in Frederick county,
Maryland. Some Kempes/Kemps
arrived from Germany in the 19th century and a few also from Sweden.

Kemps were one of the families that left
Charleston, South Carolina for the Bahamas in 1776 to start a new life
there. They were to be found on the
island of Eleuthera. Some later
emigrated to Canada

South Africa.
in South Africa are as likely to be of Dutch as of English

  • Pieter Kemp arrived in the Cape in the early 1700’s and
    his family settled at Stellenbosch.
  • Dr. Johannes van der Kemp was
    a Dutch missionary who came to Port Elizabeth in 1803 and left what is
    now called the Van der Kemp Memorial Church.
  • and Jan

    the Eastern Transvaal was a commando leader against the British during
    the Boer War.

John and Anne Kemp from Sussex were among the 1820 British settlers and
James and Martha Kemp from Kent arrived on the Eastern Cape sometime in
the 1830’s. They were brother and sister and had apparently left
England because Mary was bearing an illegitimate child. Joshua
Kemp was father of the first board of commissioners in Port Elizabeth
in the 1840’s. South African Kemps were covered in M.V. Hall’s
1995 book Kemps of the Border.

Australia. Anthony Kemp

had come out to Australia
in 1795 as part of the NSW Corps. He was one of the key
participants in the Rum Rebellion that removed the existing governor of
the colony and established an interim
military government. He later settled in Tasmania and became a
successful merchant and farmer there.

Charles Kemp was one of Sydney’s early successful businessmen. He
had arrived with his parents from London in 1825 and rose “from
obscurity to eminence and influence.” He had started out in
newspapers and expanded into banking, insurance and railways.

New Zealand.
James and Charlotte Kemp, missionaries from
Norfolk, were very early arrivals in New Zealand. They
came to the Bay of Islands via Sydney in
1818 and helped found the Church Missionary Society station at Kerikeri. The Kemps lived on until 1860 in their mission
house, the present Kemp House, into which they had moved in 1832. In 1974, the house, the oldest existing
building in New Zealand, was presented to the nation by their great
Ernest Kemp

Kemp Miscellany

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

Kemp Names

John Kemp was a 15th century English cardinal, Archbishop of
Canterbury, and Lord Chancellor of England.
was an English landscape architect, one of the leaders in
the design of parks and gardens during the Victorian era.
Jack Kemp was a star American
football quarterback who became a Republican politician in the
1970’s. He was the Republican running mate in the 1996
Presidential campaign.

Select Kemps Today

  • 30,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Hertfordshire)
  • 17,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 17,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)




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