Select Powell Miscellany

Here are some Powell stories and accounts over the years:

Powell's English Origins

In 1895 an eminent authority on surnames stated that probably half the number of families called Powell had any connection with Wales.  This can be confirmed from the biographical dictionary in which just six of the dozen entries under Powell are clearly shown to be of Welsh extraction.    

The most significant non-Welsh derivation is the personal name Paul, from which came Powell as well as Poole, Pole, and Pawle.  The records for London in 1279 name a certain John as both "Paul" and Powel."  Two places in Essex, Wickham St. Pauls and Belchamp St. Pauls, used the form "Powel" in the 12th century.  And a Surrey landowner whose name was John Paul used a seal in 1295 as "Johanis Powel."

The name can also have been derived from locations.  Families with Cumberland associations might possibly owe their name to Powhill, a small settlement west of Carlisle.  And the name could also signify a proximity to a pool (which was once spent powl).  There are certainly old records to support this derivation, such as Jordan de Powella (Warwick in 1184), Ralph atte Powel (Huntingdon in 1288), and John de Powel (Oxford in 1339).         

The Powells of Nanteos

Nant Eos means "spring or brook of the nightingale."   There has been a house on the site in Cardiganshire near Aberystwyth for centuries.  The present one was begun in 1739.  Parts of the house are much older than the Georgian period, the cellars dating back to the 11th century.

The Powells had come to Nanteos by the time of the English Civil War.  In the early days the estate covered some 30,000 acres.  Over the years some of the acreage was sold to pay off debts (the Powells certainly enjoyed life to the full and lived up to their position).

These Powells were descended from Philip ap Howell.  In the late 17th century Sir Thomas Powell had enjoyed a very successful legal career, thereby ensuring the rise to local eminence of the Powell family. They later profited from the operation of the nearby Llywernog silver and lead mine.

Several stories of hauntings surround Nanteos Mansion, with the tales often involving ghosts.  The most famous story of all is the legend of the Holy Grail or Nanteos Cup.  Legend has it that the grail was brought to Britain by Joseph of Arimethea who settled in a Glastonbury monastery.  At the time of the dissolution of the monasteries, the cup was said to have left Glastonbury and been passed into the family who then owned Nanteos.

Through a series of misfortunes, Nanteos Mansion went out of Powell hands in 1957 and, ten years later, was sold to a scrap dealer.  The house was in sad condition at that time.  Mrs. Edwina Powell Colgate heard of the situation and after a hard struggle managed to save the house and the Powell paintings and fixtures.

Early Powells in America

Thomas Powell
born circa 1607 in England

died 1687 in Virginia (isle of Wight)
Nicholas Powell
born circa 1630 in England

died 1670 in Virginia (Northampton)
Powell senior
born 1635 in Virginia (Lancaster co)

died 1701 in Virginia (Essex co)
Thomas Powell
born 1640 in Wales

died 1714 in Pennsylvania
Thomas Powell
born 1641 in Wales

died 1721 in New York (Nassau)
Thomas Powell
died 1658 in Virginia (Lancaster co)
Thomas Powell
died 1701 in Virginia (Essex co)
John Powell
born 1720 in Virginia (Old Rappahannock co)

died 1780 in North Carolina (Burke co)
Isaac Powell
born 1720 in North Carolina (Chowan co)

died 1762 in North Carolina (Johnson co)
Charles Powell
born 1721 in Virginia or North Carolina

died 1772 in North Carolina (Bladen co)
Charles Powell
died 1744 in Virginia (Stafford co)
Ambrose Powell
born 1754 in North Carolina (Burke co)

died 1827 in Tennessee (Maury co)
Willoughby Powell
born circa 1754 in North Carolina

died 1830 in Kentucky (Henderson co)

John Powell and Anne Dummer

John Powell was born in Shropshire around 1682, the son of Thomas Powell of Bank House near Shrewsbury. Being the younger son, he sought his fortune in the New World and came out from England as Secretary to Lieutenant-Governor William Dummer of Massachusetts.

There he met Anne Dummer.  His grandson William Dummer Powell wrote the following about their marriage:

"An anecdote was handed down about the town of Boston.  Soon after his arrival in Boston, John Powell heard that this lady was a good match, but a proud Presbyterian who had disdained many offers.  He laid a bet at his club that, if he could effect an introduction to the family, then he would marry her.  He effected his purpose by a compromise arrangement that all of the children after the first son should be brought up in the Independent Church.

My grandfather was an adventurer of the Cavalier stock, a man of gaiety and pleasure.  From pure gaiete de coeur he married my grandmother Anne Dummer.  She was a little woman of very dignified presence and manner and sober conversation.  She survived her husband, whose habits were too dissipated to secure him happiness."

John Powell died in 1740, Anne in 1763.

Daniel Powell in Illinois

According to Silas Wright Heard, the Powells came from Virginia.  Other sources say the Powells came from South Carolina.  Some sources say Daniel and his family moved from South Carolina to Tennessee when Daniel was twelve.  They did live in Kentucky before moving to Illinois.

Daniel ran for State Senator in Illinois on the Democratic ticket in 1840 and was defeated.  A History of White County recalled the following incident:

"All the candidates of both parties made a canvas through the county and had a joint discussion.  At their meeting at Phillipstown, while Major Powell was speaking, a very zealous Whig thought he would send a prosser between the Major's eyes.  It was thus: 'Well, old Powell, you want to step on another butcher knife and cut your foot so you can draw a pension.'

Powell, as qiuick as powder, replied: 'You are a dirty liar and I can whip you like a dog,' and down he stepped from the stand and at it they went.  Each of the men weighed over 200 pounds and each was very fleshy.  Major Powell rode the bald horse in that fight."

In 1939 his granddaughter Florence Powell Caton wrote the following about Daniel and his home in Duncanton:

"I believe it was one of the Bryant men who told me the foundation of the old Powell home was of hickory.  It might have been oak, I wouldn't want to go on record that it was hickory.  At any rate it stands there imposing, homey and as staunch as the people who built it were.

Two years ago when I visited it last they told me that long ago, there were great granaries, a blacksmith shop, a store, all kinds of stock, mules, stallions, bulls, rams - everything to improve the farm.

Daniel had built a church with doors too narrow for women with hoops to crowd in.  He did not permit his women folk to wear those 'contraptions,' cousin Rebecca told me.  He built the school house and mostly paid the preachers who came now and then, also the teachers.  They said he had a voice that would reach from one end of the county to the other when he called his hogs (of which he had hundreds fattening on the native nuts in the forests).

The Bryants told me during my last visit that the house had eleven rooms.  I did not suspect it of being so large, but I've no doubt it was always pretty well filled.  I have an old portrait of grandfather hanging up here near my desk and a large photo of his old home."

Charles and Jonathan Powell

There was something about the Powell family dynamic that drove all four brothers to overachieve.  Their father, Air Vice Marshal John Powell, was the son of a Welsh hill farmer who once campaigned for Keir Hardie, the first leader of the Labor party.  John went to Cambridge University on a choral scholarship.  There he met and married Geraldine Moylan, a classical scholar from an aristocratic family.  Their four sons - Charles, Chris, Roderick, and Jonathan - all went to private schools.  They have been called "the most powerful political family in Britain."

The eldest Charles became one of Prime Minister Thatcher's most trusted foreign policy aides.  He was routinely depicted as an "eminence grise," gliding by her side as she met foreign dignitaries on overseas visits.

He generally cut an establishment figure.  An odd feature though has been that he has always pronounced his name "Pole," while his wife, the Italian-born party-loving Carla, and his brother both use "Powell."

"Carla and I once got announced at a Guildhall banquet as Sir Charles Pole and Lady Powell.  They obviously didn't think we were married," he said.

Charles with typical condescension once expressed surprise at his youngest brother's claim to be a "lifelong supporter" of the Labor party.  But Jonathan was always on the left, declaring himself a Maoist at the age of fourteen.  After a series of short-term jobs, he followed Charles into the Foreign Office.  His great break came in 1991 when at 35 he became political secretary at the British Embassy in Washington.  He progressed to becoming Prime Minister Blair's Chief of Staff.  


Powell in America

In his autobiography My American Journey, Colin Powell recalled his father, a Jamaican immigrant.

"I was born on April 5, 1937, at a time when my family was living on Morningside Avenue in Harlem.  The dominant figure of my youth was a small man, 5 ft. 2 in. tall.  In my mind's eye, I am leaning out the window of our apartment, and I spot him coming down the street from the subway station.  He wears a coat and tie, and a small fedora is perched on his head.  He has a newspaper tucked under his arm.  His overcoat is unbuttoned, and it flaps at his sides as he approaches with a brisk, toes-out stride.  He is whistling and stops to greet the druggist, the baker, our building super, almost everybody he passes.  To some kids on the block he is a faintly comical figure.  Not to me.  This jaunty, confident little man is Luther Powell, my father.

He emigrated from Jamaica in his early 20s, 17 years before I was born.  He never discussed his life in Jamaica, but I do know that he was the second of nine children born to poor folk in Top Hill.  He literally came to America on a banana boat, a United Fruit Co. steamer that docked in Philadelphia.  He went to work for Ginsburg's (later named the Gaines Co.), manufacturers of women's suits and coats at 500 Seventh Avenue in Manhattan's garment district.  He started out working in the stock room, moved up to become a shipping clerk, and eventually became foreman of the shipping department.

Luther Powell never let his race or station affect his sense of self.  West Indians like him had come to this country with nothing.  Every morning they got on that subway, worked like dogs all day, got home at 8 at night, supported their families and educated their children.  If they could do that, how dare anyone think they were less than anybody's equal?  That was Pop's attitude."

Reader Feedback - Samuel Powell from Shropshire to India

My motherís maiden name was Gladys Powell.  She married Branson Edwards in India.  She was born in India. Her fatherís name was Samuel Powell who came to India from Shropshire in the 1800's and married an Indian woman - hence the Anglo-Indian connection.  He worked as a jailer in India and had five sons and three daughters.  He left the family home when my mother was eight years old and married again.  He died in India.  
Would be nice if there is anyone out there who had connections with Samuel Powell who came to India.  My mother was born in 1904 and she was the youngest in the family.  So I guess he came to India around 1870 or thereabouts.  I beleive there are many Powells in Shropshire.  It would be nice to see if I have relatives still there who we can trace back.  

Brian Edwards (

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