Vaughan


Select Vaughan Surname Genealogy

The surname Vaughan comes from the Welsh fychan, itself a mutant of hychan meaning little or small.  It could be added to a family name, meaning junior, and would apply to a son who had the same name as his father.  For example. the Welsh patriot who was captured by the English and executed in Llandovery in 1401 was styled as Llywelyn ap Gruffydd fychan,  Alternatively, Fychan might simply have developed as a nickname.

Fychan could pass from father to son in the Welsh patronymical style.  Thus the son of Dafydd Fychan ap Daffyd was Gruffydd ap Dafydd Fychan.  However, his son was born at a time when surnames in the English style were starting to get used and he was known simply as Hugh Fychan. 

The earliest example of Fychan as a surname was probably Rhosier Fychan who fought and died at Agincourt in 1415 (when Gryffydd of the same name was said to have saved the life of King Harry in the battle). Rhosier's sons assumed the Fychan name.  Sometime later in the century the Welsh Fychan changed in spelling to the English Vaughan.

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Wales.  There were various Vaughan landed gentry in mid-Wales:
  • They started with the Vaughans of Tretower near Crickhowell.  Sir Roger Vaughan took over the property in 1450 and it stayed with his family for the next three hundred years.
  • The Vaughans at Trawsgoed near Aberstwyth were equally long-standing.  This family really established itself in the 17th century when Sir John Vaughan was made Chief Justice of the Common Pleas by Charles II.  They remained locally powerful and influential despite their spendthrift habits in the 18th century. 
  • A third Vaughan family can be found at Hengwrt near Dolgellau in Gwynneth from Elizabethan times. They included the noted antiquarian Robert Vaughan.  One of these Vaughans later emigrated with the Quakers to Pennsylvania.
In addtion to the gentry families, the Vaughan name can also be found in mid-Powys church records in Llanerfyl and Llanfylllin from the 1600's.

South Wales.  In 1485, a Welsh prince, Owen Tudor, had captured the throne of England by his victory at the Battle of Bosworth Field.  In his wake came Hugh Vaughan who became wealthy through this royal connection.  His son John subsequently established the family estate at Golden Grove near Carmarthen in South Wales.  From this family came Walter Vaughan, one of the early developers of the town of Llanelli, and various courtiers and politicians on the Royalist side in the 17th century. 

A Vaughan family, originally from Gloucestershire, ran an iron forge at Whitchurch near Cardiff from the 1700's for five generations.  More Vaughans were to be found in Glamorgan in the 19th century as industrialization based on coal and iron developed.

England.  Welsh names extended across the border into England from an early time.  The 1327 Subsidy Rolls for Shropshire showed that one in five names recorded there was Welsh, including a Cardogan Vaughan.

There were Vaughan gentry families at Courtfield in Herefordshire and Ruardean in Gloucestershire in Elizabethan times.  Many of these Vaughans were staunch Catholics who paid for their allegience at times.  In the 19th century, Roger Bede Vaughan from this family became Archbishop in Sydney in Australia and Herbert Vaughan, in 1892, Archbishop of Westminster.

Ireland.  Protestant Vaughans came to Ireland with the Protestant land-grab in the 1600's.  The Carmarthen Vaughans established themselves in Donegal.  George Vaughan, governor of Donegal, built Buncrana castle in 1718.  The Vaughan name has remained in Donegal, particularly in Ballyshannon.

From Ireland in the 1750's came Samuel Vaughan, who became rich as a merchant in London and owned sugar plantations in Jamaica.  One son emigrated to Hallowell in Maine; another, also a merchant, lost most of his money.

A Vaughan family lived on Quilly Road in Dromore in county Down.   There has been some suggestion that their name might have formed the basis for the popular Irish folk song, Polly Vaughn.  The song goes roughly as follows: 

"A man called Johnny Randle goes hunting for birds.
He sees something white in the bushes.
Thinking that it is a swan, he shoots.
To his horror, he has killed his true love,
Polly Vaughn, sheltering from the rain." 

America.  There were some early Vaughan immigrants into New England, such as John and Gillian Vaughan recorded in 1638 in Newport, Rhode Island. 

Virginia.  But more came via Virginia.  Rebecca Vaughan's house, built in 1795, still stands in Courtland, SE Virginia.  She herself was killed in the 1831 slave insurgency.  From Virginia:
  • we find Vaughan/Vaughn families moving to Tennessee, North Carolina, and to Montgomery, Alabama.  
  • other Vaughans/Vaughns pushed inland - William and Fereby Vaughan got to NW Arkansas in the 1820's (where there is a Vaughan valley today); John Vaughn to Jefferson County, Illinois; and Amos and Susan Vaughn to Iowa (then part of Wisconsin territory) in the 1830's.
  • while Colonel Alfred Vaughan was an Indian agent based in St. Louis in the 1850's.
Missouri.  The Vaughn name also cropped up in Missouri.  Elisha and Patsy Vaughan reached there in the 1820's. 

Cornelius Vaughn was a slave owner in Missouri in the years prior to the Civil War.  After the war, he and his family departed for Spokane in Washington.  Victor Vaughan, who later became Dean of the Medical School at Michigan University, recorded his memories of slavery and growing up on a farm in Missouri in his 1926 book, A Doctor's Memories

South Africa.  Lieutenant Colonel Edward Vaughan came to Cape Colony with the British troops in the 1820's.  He died in Cape Town in 1833 and there is a commemorative plaque to him in St. George's Cathedral. 

More Vaughans arrived in the 1850's.  Cecil Vaughan was a magistrate in the Eastern Cape in the late 1800's.  His young daughter wrote a diary of her daily life at the time of the Boer War.  The Diary of Iris Vaughan was lost but rediscovered in the 1950's and attracted a great deal of interest on its publication.

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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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Sir Roger Vaughan
was said to be the richest commoner in Wales when he acquired Tretower castle in 1450.
Henry and Thomas Vaughan were twin brothers from the Tretower family who grew up in Brecon in the 1630's.  Henry became a metaphysical poet, Thomas an alchemist.
Sir John Vaughan was Chief Justice of the Common Pleas in the reign of Charles II.
Herbert Cardinal Vaughan was appointed Archbishop of Westminster in 1892.  His two brothers, Bernard and John Stephen, were also prominent Catholic clergymen.
Arky Vaughan, born in rural Arkansas, was the premier baseball shortstop of the 1930's and was later inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame.
Sarah Vaughan made her breakthrough as a jazz singer in 1943.  He family came from Virginia and she grew up in Newark.
Michael Vaughan is the present captain of the English cricket team.

Select Vaughans Today
  • 22,000 in the UK (most numerous in Glamorgan)
  • 14,000 in America (most numerous in Virginia)
  • 13,000 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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