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

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
Nicholas Powell born circa 1630 in England
died 1670 in Virginia
Powell senior born 1635 in Virginia (Lancaster
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
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
died 1772 in North Carolina
(Bladen co)
Charles Powell died 1744 in Virginia (Stafford
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


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
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

“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

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

maiden name was Gladys Powell.  She married
Branson Edwards in India.  She was born
in India. Her father’s name was Samuel
Powell who came to India from Shropshire in the 1800’s and married
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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