Powell


Select Powell Surname Genealogy

The Powell came can be either Welsh or English in origin.

Welsh Origin.  The Welsh patronymical form of "Hywel" was rendered as as Howell or Hywel, a male personal name popular since the Middle Ages in honor of Howel Dda (Howel the good), the great 10th century law-giving Welsh king. 

In time the two elements contracted to produce the name "Powell."  This was first recorded in its modern form as Roger ap Howell, alias Powell, named in a lawsuit in 1563.  He was the grandson of Howell ap John.
Powell has become more numerous as a surname than either Howell or Howells.

English Origin.  Powell also has separate English origins.  The most significant non-Welsh derivation was from the personal name Paul.  Paul was spelt "Powel" in Langland's poem Piers Plowman in 1367. 

The pronunciation here could be "Pole."  The scouter Robert Baden Powell said it this way: "For Baden let it be maiden, for Powell let it be pole."  This "sound of Pole" was picked up by the novelist Anthony Powell and by the diplomat Charles Powell, even though both had Welsh blood in their veins.

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Wales.  Powell first appeared as "ap Howell" or ap "Hywel" and later in the 16th century as Powell.  Thus Griffith Powell, the principal of Jesus College in Oxford, was described as "the third son of John ap Hywel ap John." 

The Powell name was mostly to be found in south Wales, in Brecon and Glamorgan.  The Powells of Castle Madog in Brecon date from an early time.  And the Powells in Penkelly can be traced to the 1620's.  A Powell family in Glamorgan follows its history back to the parish of Llanwit-juxta-Neath in the Neath valley in the early 1700's.  Mainly farmers, they settled in Baglan and Margam and later in Pyle.  A number of them emigrated to Australia in the 1860's.

The name also crops up in Carmarthen, a Powell family there being squires of the Maesgwynne estate. Another Powell family of substance established themselves in the 1650's further north at Nanteos in Cardiganshire.  A third Powell line traces from Horsley in Denbighshire.

The English counties bordering on Wales - Shropshire, Herefordshire, and Gloucestershire - also had many Powells.  Thomas Powell from Montgomery resided at Bank House near Shrewsbury in the 1670's.  Further south, Styles Powell was an early breeder of Hereford cattle.  And a Powell family dating back to the 1780's were stonemasons at Brilley in Herefordshire.  Birmingham and the Black Country attracted Powell immigrants as well.  The English politician Enoch Powell, born in Birmingham, had Welsh heritage.  The Powell family which includes the brothers Charles and Jonathan Powell has descent from a Welsh hill farmer.

England
.  Powell first surfaced in East Anglia.  The earliest recording was a Radulphus Powel, a landowner at Carleton in Suffolk around 1200.  The name had become fairly common in that county by the end of the 15th century.  Some were called Powell, others Powle (such as the landowners at Great Waldingfield).  Clement Powell, born in Mildenhall in 1576, settled in Saffron Walden in Essex.  A later Powell family migrated the other way, from Wivenhoe in Essex to Great Yarmouth in the 1820's.  They ran local pubs and hotels there for the next hundred years.  

David Powell moved from Hawstead in Suffolk to London in 1712, was apprenticed to a Mr. Baden, and became a successful merchant in the City of London.  From this Powell came the noted Baden Powell family, including Robert Baden Powell the founder of the boy scout movement.

Ireland.  
There were Irish Powells as well, mainly of Welsh origin.  The Powells of Templederry in Tipperary date from a Robert Powell who was granted land by Cromwell in 1650.  Powell in Ireland could also be an anglicization of the Gaelic Mac Giolla Phoil or Guilfoyle sept in Offaly.  The name here meant "son of the servant of St. Paul."
 
America.
  The early Powell arrivals in America, whether they be from England or from Wales, came mainly into Virginia.  Anthony Powell had been the military commander of Sir Walter Raleigh's colonists who had landed at Roanake island in 1583. 

Following him were Nathaniel and William Powell, two brothers who were prominent at Jamestown but were killed during an Indian raid.  Nathaniel had been governor of the colony in 1618.  William was described as "a man of character and wealth, a gentleman of great name and fortune."  His descendants became well-to-do plantation owners who, however, lost out during the Civil War.  They now trace through nine generations. 

A later arrival into Maryland from Wales was Walter Powell.  He too was well connected.  His great grandson Leven was a neighbor of George Washington's, fought in the Revolutionary War, and was an early developer of Kentucky settlement.

A number of Powells moved on from Virginia, to North Carolina or west to Kentucky and Tennessee or south to Georgia and other states.  Wiley Powell for instance, who was born in Virginia in 1791, moved first to North Carolina and then to Alabama before settling in Rankin county, Mississippi.  Daniel Powell who had fought in the Battle of New Orleans migrated from Kentucky to White county, Illinois in the 1820's.  A later family account by O.B. Powell narrates the story of the Powell journey from Arkansas to Squaw Creek in Hood county, Texas in the 1850's.

Many Powells headed West.  The Rev. Joab Powell made it to Oregon from Tennessee in 1851.  As did the Christian church missionaries John and Alfred Powell from Ohio at around the same time.  Meanwhile, William Powell is commemmorated at the Great Plains Welsh Heritage Center in Wymore, Nebraska.  He pioneered hundreds of immigrants into South Dakota and the other Plains states in the 1860's.  He and his family settled in Milwaukee.  Other Welsh Powells, starting in Pennsylania and speading across the West, ended up in Comanche county, Kansas. 

Another Western pioneer, in this case from the English/Welsh borders, was John Wesley Powell.  He is famous for the 1869 Powell geographic expedition, a three month trip down the Green and Colorado rivers which included the first passage through the Grand Canyon.  Lake Powell on the Colorado river is named after him.  

Canada.  The first settlers in Newfoundland were Welsh, led by Captain Daniel Powell in 1622.  The Welsh character of the colony was then gradually overwhelmed by the arrival of English settlers.  There were reports of Powells, once rock miners in Wales, who arrived a century or so later.

The next Powells were Empire Loyalists who had come from America.  William Dummer Powell was the grandson of John Powell, a Boston merchant.  He arrived in 1779 and rose to become Chief Justice of Upper Canada (Ontario) in 1816.  The Powells at that time were one of the elite families of the colony.  Their country home was called Caer Howell, reflecting the Welsh origins of the family. 

Caribbean.  The Powell name was first attached to Barbados.  John Powell made landfall on this island in 1625 and claimed it for Britain.  His brother Henry arrived with eighty colonists two years later.  

Powell has also been a Jamaica name and, more recently, an Afro-Caribbean Jamaican name.  Luther Powell grew up in Top Hill, Jamaica, before emigrating to New York in the 1920's.  His son Colin Powell rose to become US Secretary of State under President Bush.  He has a mix of African, Scottish and Irish ancestry. Another Jamaican immigrant to the US is the author Patricia Powell.  The Jamaican runner Asafa Powell was for a short time the world 100 meter record holder.  

Australia.  Edward Powell had first come to Australia with the First Fleet as a guard looking after convicts. He returned, in 1792, as one of the first settlers to that country.  His descendants were pioneers of the Hawkesbury district in New South Wales.

James Powell was probably the first Powell settler in South Australia.  He was in fact a seaman who had jumped ship in 1837 and joined the early settlers of Coromandel valley.  Other settlers, such as William and Caroline Powell from London, arrived in the 1850's.  

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


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Vavasor Powell was a fiery Puritan preacher from Wales who was imprisoned by both Cromwell and the King's party.
William Dummer Powell was Chief Justice of Upper Canada (Ontario) from 1816 to 1825.
Robert Baden Powell was the founder of the worldwide Scout movement.
Anthony Powell was a 20th century English novelist best known for his A Dance to the Music of Time series.
Adam Clayton Powell was a charismatic African American politician who represented Harlem from 1945 to 1971.
Enoch Powell was a controversial British Conservative politician who created a storm in 1968 with his anti-immigration "Rivers of Blood" speech.
Bud Powell was a bop jazz pianist of the 1940's and 1950's.
Colin Powell, born to Jamaican immigrant parents, was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the first Gulf War and later US Secretary of State.
Asafa Powell from Jamaica broke the world 100 meter running record in 2005.

Select Powells Today
  • 77,000 in the UK (most numerous in West Midlands)
  • 45,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 35,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)



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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 500 surnames.

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