Washington


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The surname Washington comes from the place name Washington (originally Wassyngton) near the river Wear in what was then Durham.  The Washington family took their name from this location.

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England.  George Washington's family dates from 1183 at Washington on the Wear and possibly before. They were landed gentry and owned property in Yorkshire (Selby) and in Lancashire (Chorley). 

Some 350 years later, a descendant, Lawrence Washington, moved south and bought Sulgrave manor near Banbury in Oxfordshire.  This was the home from which George Washington's great-grandfather, John Washington, departed for Virginia in 1656. 

There are still Washingtons to be found in the north of England, but more in Staffordshire.  The earliest record is a will and inventory of Edmund Washington of Leek, dated 1537.  The name has continued there and in nearby towns and villages. 

America.  The John Washington who settled in Westmoreland county and was the forebear of President George Washington was not the only Washington to come to Virginia in the 17th century.  The records show two others: 
  • Edward Washington, possibly related, who became constable of Westmoreland county  
  • and John Washington of Surry county  
There was descent from both of these Washingtons.

George Washington and his wife Martha had no children.  Their Mount Vernon estate passed onto his nephew Bushrod and then to Bushrod's nephew John Augustine.  The Washington trail then went south: 
  • Thomas Washington moved his family to Alabama and Thomas Pratt Washington brought his family and slaves to Texas in 1845.  
  • Joseph Washington from Tennessee was one of the men who perished at the Alamo at the hands of the Mexicans in 1836.
  • while Lewis Washington, a writer and journalist from Georgia, lived through these times as well.  He was killed in 1857 while covering a war in Costa Rica.
African Americans.  The number of Washingtons in America must have something to do with African Americans taking the name after emancipation. 

Booker T. Washington, born a slave in Virginia in 1856, took his name from his step-father, Washington Ferguson.  He was an educator and writer and emerged as the spokesman for African Americans post-emancipation.  His autobiography Up From Slavery is still widely read. 

Another former slave was John Washington from Fredericksburg whose ordeals after the war have recently been retold by the historian David Blight.  And Jesse Washington, a seventeen year old lynched in Waco Texas in 1916, provides a further sobering reminder of the past race divides. 

It is a remarkable fact that 90% of the Washingtons in America were black in 1900 and the same percentage holds true today.  African Americans could choose their name after Emancipation and many of them obviously chose Washington, the founder of their country.  Washington was a slave-owner.  But he did give orders that 124 of his slaves should be released on the death of his wife.

Today's African American Washingtons include jazz performers, baseball players, and the Academy award winning actor, Denzel Washington.  Of course, these Washingtons have their own genetic roots.  The actor Isaiah Washington discovered that his DNA roots lay on his mother's side with the Mende people of Sierra Leone.

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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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George Washington
was the first President of the United States.
Eugenia Washington, grand niece of the President, was one of the founders of the DAR (Daughters of the Revolution) in 1890.
Booker T. Washington, born a slave, was an educator and writer and emerged as the spokesman for African Americans until his death in 1915.
Dinah Washington, the jazz singer, was born Ruth Lee Jones.  It is said that Lionel Hampton gave her this name.
Harold Washington was the first African American mayor of Chicago, serving from 1983 to 1987.
Denzel Washington, the American actor, is a two-time Academy award winner.

Select Washingtons Today
  • 1,500 in the UK (most numerous in West Midlands)
  • 52,000 in America (most numerous in Texas). 



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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