Select Palmer Surname Genealogy

In the Middle Ages, when people came back from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, they carried palm fronds to show where they had been.  The wearing of a badge with palms denoted the sign for people who had made that journey.  These pilgrims became known as "palmers."

However, not all "palmers" had really been to the Holy Land.  There was a very active trade in false souvenirs and the name also came to be applied to a cleric who sold indulgencies.

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England.  The first records of the Palmer name were Manfred Palmes living in Taunton, Somerset in 1141 and Wiger le Palmer in the 1191 Lincolnshire rolls.  These two areas of England - the southwest and East Anglia - remained the main two areas where Palmers were to be found in subsequent centuries.

SW England  Palmers were recorded as early as the 13th century in Gloucestershire, in villages such as Tetbury, Tytherington and Upton St. Leonards.  Their presence in Bitton St. Mary was evident from the 1500's and was more long-lasting.

There were also Palmers in Somerset.  A Palmer family built Fairfield Hall near Stogursey.  They had been Elizabethan adventurers, sailing with Drake and Hawkins in their ecapades against the Spanish.  In 1693, Nathaniel Palmer acquired the Alfred Jewel, which had been discovered near his land, and bequeathed it to Oxford University. 

A later Palmer family came from Wood Court, Ashill in Somerset.  A Palmer family of farm workers, dating from the 1720's, has traced their history from Wiltshire to Gloucestershire and then onto Somerset.

East Anglia  Palmers could also be found in East Anglia, notably in Cambridgeshire and Norfolk: 
  • Palmers in Soham in Cambridgeshire date from the 14th century.  One family accounts tells of a Palmer who was a soldier in the Peninsular War and brought back a Portuguese bride to his home in Burwell, Cambridgeshire. 
  • while William and Mary Palmer's marriage was recorded in Ranworth, Norfolk in 1606.  They were among the early settlers in New England.  Another Palmer family in Norfolk traces itself to Old Buckenham.  Palmer's department store was started by Garwood Burton Palmer in Great Yarmouth in 1837 and has remained a Norfolk family-run institution until this day. 
SE England  Palmers in the 15th and 16th centuries were from:
  • Sussex - Angmering and Parham
  • and Kent - Snodland near Rochester and Owlets in Bekesborne. 
One Palmer family, originally from Angmering, were landed gentry at Wingham and sheriffs of Kent in Elizabethan times.  In 1607 they inherited through marriage the manor of Dorney Court near Windsor in Buckinghamshire.  At that time these Palmers were royalist supporters and Roger Palmer, who had married one of Charles II's mistresses, was a Catholic recusant.  The family is still in residence at Dorney Court, the property having passed from father to son through thirteen generations.  

Elsewhere  There were also Palmers recorded from an early time in Northamptonshire and across the border in Leicestershire.  The Palmers of Carlton date from the 1400's.  They extended their landholdings under Geoffrey Palmer, Charles II's Attorney General. 

Another Palmer family, originally from Staffordshire, made their money in London and acquired the Wanlip estate in Leicestershire in 1626.  These Palmers owned sugar plantations in the Caribbean but later befriended William Wilberforce and supported his abolitionist cause.  They ran Wanlip Hall and the surrounding village on semi-feudal lines until the death of the last Palmer, Lady Augusta Palmer, in 1933.  The Hall was demolished and the estate was then taken over by the Palmer-Tomkinson family. 

Wales.   The Palmer family of Llangwm in south Pembrokeshire may trace itself back to the marriage of John Palmer and Anne Jones in 1765.  Its best known member was Dolly Palmer the fisherwoman.   

Ireland.   Palmers came to Ireland as part of the English occupation.  Two Palmer brothers were said to have arrived in county Down from England in 1660. 

A Palmer family took extensive estates in Mayo through the royal land grants they received in 1684.  Later, Roger Palmer of this family married Eleanor Ambrose, one of the leading beauties of Dublin in her day, and was created a baronet in 1777.  Their Mayo family home was Castle Lacken and, in more recent times, Keenagh Lodge. 

Many Palmers were also to be found in county Antrim and elsewhere in Ulster.
.  Walter Palmer arrived in Salem, Massachusetts from Dorset in England in 1629.  He helped found the settlements of Charlestown and Rehoboth in Masachusetts and New London in Connecticut.  The Stonington chronicle described Palmer as:

"the patriarch of the early Stonington settlers, a vigorous giant - 6 feet 5 inches tall.  When he settled at Stonington he was 68 years old, older than most of the other settlers."

Descendants have included:
  • William Palmer, Governor of Vermont
  • Nathaniel Palmer the whaler and seal hunter
  • Thomas Palmer, a Senator from Michigan
  • and Ulysses S. Grant, the Civil War General and later American President.
Another Palmer, William Palmer, arrived in New England in the 1630's and settled in Weatherfield, Connecticut.  His descendants moved first to upstate New York and then headed West, to Illinois.  Two grandchildren went onto Kansas, eventually arriving in Oklahoma territory during the great Indian land rush of the 1890's.  

Also from original Connecticut stock via Canada came Daniel Palmer, the chiropractic pioneer. He started his practice in Davenport, Iowa in the 1880's.

Palmers in the South.  Captain Thomas Palmer, from west country roots, came with his familyon the Tyger to the Jamestown settlement in 1621.  His descendants later settled in Richmond and Halifax counties, Virginia.

Among other Palmers to be found in the South were:
  • Elias Palmer, born in Virginia in 1725, who was the patriarch of a Palmer family that migrated southward to South Carolina and then, in 1818, to Georgia.
  • Paul Palmer, first recorded as being married in Virginia in 1717, who is considered the founding father of Baptists in Virginia and North Carolina.
  • Joshua Palmer who came to South Carolina from England sometime in the 1760ís.  He became a farmer there and later an itinerant Baptist minister.  He moved to Indiana in 1807 where he continued his ministry.  After his death in 1845, his widow and children resettled in Missouri.
  • and William Palmer who came to Charleston in 1845 and was prominent there as a merchant and ship-owner in the years prior to the Civil War.  A slave owner, he fought on the Confederate side in the Civil War but died in the fighting in 1862.  Curiously, his father John was an abolitionist whose farm in Ohio served as a station on the underground railway.
Canada.  Early Palmer arrivals were Loyalists from America, leaving Boston in one case for New Brunswick and New Jersey in another for Grimsby, Ontario.  The former family headed West to Calgary later in the 19th century, the latter returned to America and Kansas and Florida. 

Another Palmer family which straddled both Canada and America were the descendants of William and Barbara Palmer from Prince Edward Island.  This family ended up in the early 20th century on the West Coast in Winoma, Washington.

Charles Palmer arrived from England to homestead in the Marriott area of Saskatchewan in 1906.  His youngest daughter, Agnes M. Weicker, has recorded her recollections of prairie life in the early 20th century in her recently published book, A Walk Down Memory Lane.

Caribbean.  The Palmers were well-to-do sugar planters in Jamaica who had, however, become overextended by debt by the end of the 18th century.  Their plantation house, the Rose Hill Great House, was destroyed during the slave rebellion of 1831, but not before it had become the stuff of legend (as the home of Annie Palmer, the white witch of Jamaica).

Australia and New Zealand.  The Palmer name appeared early in Australia's history.  John Palmer arrived with the First Fleet in 1788 and soon became the commissary of the new colony.  He built Woolloomooloo Farm, one of the colony's first permanent residences where the Palmers entertained lavishly.  Another early settler was Charles Palmer who arrived in Sydney in 1802 and received a generous land grant.

Charles Palmer ran away from his home in Suffolk in the 1830's and went to sea.  He was one of the earliest settlers in New Zealand, arriving at New Plymouth in 1841.  The 1975 book Palmer Family History by Ivan Skipworth records this family history.   

Select Palmer Miscellany

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

Select Palmer Names

Barbara Palmer was a royal courtesen and a mistress of Charles II.
Nathaniel Palmer was a 19th century whaler, said to be the first American to see Antarctica.
Charles Palmer started Palmer's shipbuilding company in Newcastle in the 1860's.
Daniel Palmer in Iowa was a pioneer of chiropractics in the 1880's.
Vera Jane Palmer was the original name of the actress Jayne Mansfield.
Arnold Palmer from Pennsylvania was the great American golfer of the 1950's and early 1960's.

Select Palmers Today
  • 76,000 in the UK (most numerous in Nottinghamshire)
  • 58,000 in America (most numerous in Florida)
  • 32,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

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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