Webster


Select Webster Surname Genealogy

Weaving as an occupation has generated a number of surnames: Webb, Webster, Webber, and Weaver.

There was a definite south/north divide in the incidence of Webbs and Websters, rather than a male/female divide as the original Anglo-Saxon might suggest (webbestre meaning a female weaver):
  • Webbs were mainly to be found in the south,
  • Websters in the north, although stretching as far south as Suffolk, and in Scotland
  • while Webbers and Weavers were much more geographic specific, Webbers in the southwest and Weavers in Cheshire.
Weavers were called websters in Yorkshire.  The fact that you were a webster did not necessarily mean that your surname would be Webster.  The 1379 Poll Tax returns for the West Ridings of Yorkshire show that only 20 percent of websters by trade were Websters by surname; and many who were called Webster were in fact listed in other occupations.  

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England.  The earliest references were to le Webbesters and le Websters, such as Henry le Webster who was a bowman at the siege of Calais in 1345.

Websters in Yorkshire  There was and is a cluster of Websters in and around Driffield in the Yorkshire Wolds.  A Webster family were landed gentry at Lockington near Driffield from the 1330's.  They later moved to Bolsover in Derbyshire and then to Essex and Sussex.  From this family is believed to be descended John Webster, an early immigrant into America. 

The line fizzled out in England in the 19th century, but not before Sir Geoffrey Webster, the fifth baronet, was cuckolded in Florence by his young wife Elizabeth during their European grand tour. She, incidentally, is credited with having introduced the dahlia flower to England.  Their son General Henry Webster, who distinguished himself at the Battle of Waterloo, later killed himself.

Websters were to be found at Austerfield near Doncaster from the late 1500's.  Robert Webster was a clergyman in Hull in the 1760's.  James Webster, born there in 1767, was the forebear of a family of entrepreneurs in Russia (a descendant narrowly getting out of Odessa after the 1917 revolution). 

In Yorkshire, the Webster name has been very much associated with beer and Webster's Yorkshire bitter. This was first brewed by Samuel Webster at Ovenden near Halifax in 1838.  The brewery stayed family-owned until 1971. 

Websters Elsewhere  There were also Webster outposts in Norfolk, Lancashire, and Cumbria:
  • In Norfolk, the name was fairly common in the villages around Norwich.  The earliest reference appears to have been a Wate Webster who delivered the beer at the funeral of Sir John Paston in 1466. 
  • In Lancashire, the name started in places near present-day Liverpool.  William le Webster was recorded as a property renter in Much Woolton in 1384.  The name features in the parish records of Childwall from the 1630's and of Wavertree later on. 
  • In Cumbria, the Websters appear as master masons in Kendal and Cartmell from the 1700's.  Francis Webster and his son George took this trade a step further and became one of the premier building designers and architects of the region.  Their work can still be seen in the Victorian edifices of Kendal.  The family story was described in Angus Taylor's 2004 book The Websters of Kendal.
Scotland.  The Webster name may not have been indigenous to Scotland but taken north by English settlers.  An early reference is Malcolm Webster in Stirling in 1436.  The name became common in the northeast of Scotland, in Angus and Aberdeenshire. 

Alexander Webster was the master of a musical school in Melrose in the 1670's.  In Aberdeenshire, one farming family at Mains of Inveramsay and another at Old Deer can trace their records back to the 1700's (Jack Webster, who grew up in the village of Maud, is a local historian of the area).  Francis Webster set up his weaving business in Arbroath.  He was a town benefactor and built his Memorial Hall there in 1870 (now renovated as the Webster Memorial Theater).

America.  There were a number of Webster arrivals into Massachusetts in the 1630's; John Webster from Leicestershire in 1634; another John Webster in the same year (who founded Ipswich after his home town in Suffolk); and Thomas Webster from Lincolnshire in 1638.  A later arrival was James Webster from Scotland whose descendants became Methodists in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

There were many notables among the early Websters.  The first John Webster was an early Governor of the colony of Connecticut.  From this family came Noah Webster, the famous dictionary writer who was principally responsible from the Americanness of the American language.  From Thomas Webster came Daniel Webster, a formidable orator in the US Senate during the 1830's.

Grant Webster was a successful Boston merchant in the 1750's.  His daughter Hannah Webster (later Hannah Foster) wrote a spicy potboiler The Coquette which was hugely popular in the early 1800's.  A descendant John W. Webster, a Harvard professor, became famous in 1850 for his conviction and hanging for the murder of George Parkman in a trial that shook Boston society to its core.  

Some Websters ventured elsewhere.  Ephaim Webster was an early settler in Syracuse in upstate New York while it was still Indian territory.  These Websters are still present there today.

In 1856 Francis Webster from Norfolk farming stock in England set off via Sydney and San Francisco for Salt Lake valley and the Mormon colony there.  He settled in Cedar City and later served as mayor of the town. Generations of Websters, written in 1960, recounts his family history.

Canada.   In 1760, Abraham Webster and his wife Margaret left their home in Connecticut with other pioneers for Cornwallis in Nova Scotia.  His nephew Isaac had the benefit of a higher education and studied medicine in Edinburgh.  There followed six generations of Webster doctors in Kentville Nova Scotia, starting with Isaac himself in 1791.

Another long-standing family has been the Websters of West Flamborough (near Dundas in Ontario).  Joseph Webster had been a British army officer in 1795 when his regiment mutinied.  No blame was apparently attached to him as he was subsequently granted land in Canada.  He arrived there in 1817. Although he himself became homesick and subsequently returned, his family remained and are still to be found there.

A number of Websters came to Canada from Ireland.  Three brothers - John, Nathaniel, and Robert - settled in the Grenville area of Quebec in 1812.  Daniel Webster and his family arrived in Streetville, Ontario from Tipperary in 1837.  Much later, in 1907, came Robert Webster and his family from county Wexford.  Robert made his home in Toronto, worked on the railroad, and lived onto 1934.

Australia and New Zealand.  Two Websters who survived the harsh convict regime of early Australia were John and Jane Webster.  John died in 1842, Jane lived onto 1868.  They raised a large family in Golbourn and they have many descendants today in New South Wales.

The first European settler on the Coromandel peninsula in North Island, New Zealand was an American by the name of Bill Webster.  In the 1830's he deserted from an American whaling ship and set up a trading post on Whanganui island.  He befriended the local Maoris and married the chief's daughter.  However, he did not stay and departed back to America in 1845.

Two Webster brothers from Montrose in Scotland did stay.  William and John Webster arrived in 1841 and settled in the Hokianga, North Island.  William was the first settler in the Wairere Boulder valley, erecting New Zealand's first water-driven timber mill and making its first pipe organ from native woods.  He too married the daughter of a local chieftain.  John had a more wandering early life.  He later published his memoirs, Reminiscences of An Old Settler in Australia and New Zealand, in 1908.    

Select Webster Miscellany

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


Select Webster Names

John Webster
was an English Jacobean playwright, a late contemporary of Shakespeare.
Alexander Webster carried out the first census of Scotland in 1755.
Noah Webster published his American Spelling Book in 1786 and his first Dictionary of the English Language in 1806 (updated in 1828).
Daniel Webster from New Hampshire was a leading American senator in the years prior to the Civil War.
Ben Webster was one of the great tenor saxophone players of the swing era.

Select Websters Today
  • 37,000 in the UK (most numerous in Kent)
  • 25,000 in America (most numerous in New York).
  • 26,000 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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