Select Parsons Genealogy

The Parsons name could have dated back in England to the time of the 12th century Crusades.

It is thought to have derived the Middle English persone or persoun meaning a parson or priest.  Parsons might have been an occupational name for the parson's servant, a patronymic form denoting the child of a parson, or it might also have been a locational name, as with Ralph del Persones recorded in 1323, denoting residence at the parson's house

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Select Parsons Ancestry

EnglandThere was an early story of a Richard Persons in 1192 at the time of the Third Crusade. 

The next references were in Norfolk.  Clemens Persone appeared in the county rolls of 1273; Sir Richard Parson was resident at Antingham in 1344; and John Parson was rector at Yaxham in 1425.  Three Parsons brothers from Norfolk migrated to Ireland in Tudor times.

SW England
.  However, there were larger numbers in SW England.  Kirby’s Quest recorded William Parson and Isabel Parsones as living in Somerset in the 14th century.  Robert Parsons, the Tudor composer of church music, was born in Exeter in the early 1530’s.

Parsons have been particularly numerous in Somerset and the Bristol area:
  • Robert Parsons, born at Nether Stowey in Somerset in 1546, was a prominent Jesuit missionary of his time.
  • the Parsons of Kington Magna across the border in north Dorset originated in the mid-1600’s from Wincanton in Somerset.  
  • the Parsons at Horsington in Somerset date from the 1750’s and from Moses Parsons of Kington Magna.  William Parsons of this family emigrated to Brisbane, Australia in 1888.  
  • Thomas Parsons from Middlezoy in Somerset had been imprisoned in 1685 for having attended a Quaker meeting at Ilchester.  Immediately upon his release he departed with his wife for Philadelphia.
  • Parsons in Bristol is the oldest jewelry store in Britain.  It was established in 1710 and was run by ten generations of the family until its recent closure.  
  • while Joseph Parsons was a maltster at Laverton near Frome in the early 1800’s.  His son Joshua was a practicing doctor at Beckington from 1845 to 1862.
Elsewhere.  Parsons have also extended to London and SE England.  The Parsons brewery at East Smithfield in London, established in the mid-1600’s, brought much fame and fortune to Sir John Parsons later in the century.  His son Humphrey Parsons became the proprietor of the Red Lion brewery and Lord Mayor of London in 1730.

Meanwhile the Parsons of Langley Hall in Buckinghamshire also dated from the mid-1600’s, although this line died out in the early 1800’s.  Thomas Parsons was a china, glass, and tea merchant in Oxford in the 1750’s.  Both his son John and nephew Herbert became mayors of Oxford.  A later Herbert, a banker, made his home in the 1850’s outside of Oxford at Elsfield Manor.

  William Parsons from Leicestershire, but of probable Norfolk ancestry, came to Ireland around 1600 with his brothers Laurence and Fenton.  As a young man William grasped land in Ireland, dubiously acquiring land titles that had been held by Gaelic clans; and as an older man grasped power - notably with his suppression of the Irish Rebellion of 1641.  He continued in power for another two years before he was removed from office, charged with treason, and briefly committed to prison.

Despite his fall from grace, the Parsons remained an important Anglo-Irish family, based on their home of Birr castle at Parsonstown in Offaly.  They were ennobled as the Earls of Rosse in 1718.  Their line included: 
  • William Parsons, the 3rd Earl of Rosse, who became famous as an astronomer, building his Leviathan of Parsonstown in the 1840’s.  
  • and his son Sir Charles Parsons, the inventor of the steam turbine engine in 1884.  
According to Griffith’s Valuation of the mid-19th century, there were 86 Parsons households recorded in Ireland, widely spread around the country.  The largest numbers were in Leitrim, Mayo, and Meath, followed by Offaly.

America.   There were early Parsons in New England. 

New England.  Benjamin Parsons from Torrington in Devon arrived in 1635 and settled in Springfield, Massachusetts.  Samuel Holden Parsons, a Major General during the Revolutionary War, was a notable descendant.

Cornet Joseph Parsons from Dorset arrived one year later in 1636 and also initially settled in Springfield before moving to Northampton, Massachusetts.  His son Daniel, however, stayed at Springfield as an inn-keeper and Parsons Tavern remained a feature of the town, as the following tablet inscription revealed:

“Here stood the Parsons Tavern where Washington was entertained in 1775, traveling in the saddle from Philadelphia to Cambridge to take command of the American forces.”

Joseph’s line of descent was covered in Henry Parsons’ 1912 book Parsons Family.

Meanwhile Jeffrey Parsons from Lodiswell in Devon came via Barbados and arrived in New England sometime in the 1650’s.  He settled in Gloucester, Massachusetts.  His line led to the Rev. Moses Parsons, a minister at Byfield, and his son Theophilus Parsons, whose judicial knowledge and legal acumen won for him the title of “Giant of the Law.” 
He served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts from 1806 until his death in Boston in 1813.  His son Theophilus was the author of Parsons on Contacts at Harvard.

.   Joseph
Parsons died young in Charles City, Virginia in 1656 and Edward Mosby became guardian to his daughter Judith.  Joseph’s line is thought to have extended through his son Joseph to Gustavus Parsons, born in 1801, who served Thomas Jefferson for much of the President’s life.  After Jefferson’s death Gustavus moved to Jefferson City, Missouri.  His son Mosby fought in the Mexican War and Civil War, but died soon after in Mexico.

Peter Parsons arrived in Somerset county, Maryland in 1672, either from Virginia or from England.  He was a planter there.  Early Somerset records have three Parsons brothers – Peter, John and Amos – as part of the Maryland militia combating the Nanticoke Indians.

Thomas Parsons, a Quaker from Somerset, came to Philadelphia in 1686.  His line led to the eastern shore of Maryland in 1725 and then to Hampshire county, Virginia (now West Virginia) in the 1740’s.  Isaac Parsons, born there in 1752, was a militia officer during the Revolutionary War and a plantation owner at Wappacomo.  His son Isaac who inherited his estate was killed in 1862 during the Civil War. 

There were railroad towns named Parsons in Kansas and Tennessee.  The first was named after Levi Parsons, a wealthy New York lawyer and President of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad.  The Parsons of Parsons, Tennessee is uncertain. 

.  Parsons, mainly from Devon, appeared at an early time in Newfoundland.  Joseph Parsons arrived at Carbonear with his wife and children in 1677; while Edward Parsons was listed in 1801 on property at Parsons Cove that dated back to 1745.  Parsons were to be found at Harbour Grace from 1765.

William Parsons and his wife came to Shelburne, Nova Scotia from the Isle of Wight in 1783.  Their descendants have generally remained in Nova Scotia, mainly in Hants county.

.  Thomas and Mary Parsons came to Western Australia on the Rockingham in 1830.  Their son Thomas purchased the Greenhills estate in the hills behind Victor Harbor in South Australia after his marriage in 1865.  His grandson Allenby was mayor of Victor Harbor in the 1980’s.

Matthew Parsons, his wife Puah and their two children left Chalford, Gloucestershire on the Leyton in 1838 for Sydney.  One child died during the 133 day voyage, another child was born.  The couple ended up settling south of Sydney in Wollongong, NSW.  They celebrated their platinum (70th) wedding anniversary there in 1900; and their son Henry celebrated his golden (50th) anniversary there in 1923

Select Parsons Miscellany

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

Select Parsons Names

Robert Parsons was an English composer of the Tudor period, noted for his compositions of church music.
Sir Charles Parsons
was an Anglo-Irish engineer, the inventor of the steam turbine engine in 1884.
Talcott Parsons was an American sociologist, considered one of the most influential figures in the development of sociology during the 20th century.
Nicholas Parsons
is an English radio and TV presenter
, best known for the radio panel show Just a Minute which he has hosted since 1967.

Select Parsons Today
  • 35,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 28,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 31,000 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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