Abbott Surname, Meaning, History & Origin

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Abbot, from the late Latin abbas meaning “priest,” was the ecclesiastical title for the head of a monastery. Its use as a surname might designate the abbot himself, someone employed in the household or on the lands of an abbot, or might even possibly have been a nickname for a sanctimonious person who acted like an abbot.

Abbot or Abbott?  The early spellings of the surname might suggest Abbot. But that spelling is rarely found now.

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England.  Ralph Abbod was recorded in Somerset in 1272 and an Abbot family has been traced to the village of Chelsworth in Suffolk from the early 14th century.  These Abbots were clothiers in the 16th century and were still evident there, as Abbotts, in the 19th century.

However, the Abbot and Abbott names in England have been found more in the southeast and the southwest of the country and in Yorkshire (as Abbotts are today).

SE England.  Maurice Abbot, a staunch Protestant, was a cloth worker in Guildford, Surrey during Elizabethan times.  He died in 1606.  Three of his six sons reached high positions in their respective fields:

One line from George Abbot led to the Victorian schoolmasters Edwin Abbott, father and son, in London.

SW England
. The Abbots were to be found in Shaftesbury in Dorset from the 1600’s and possibly earlier. The local churchyard has a monument to John Abbot.  He was the grandfather of Charles Abbot who served as Speaker of the House of Commons between 1802 and 1817.

Earlier records in Dorset include:

The Abbotts were also in Devon. William Abbott, in charge of wines at Hampton Court, came into possession of Hartland Abbey in 1539 as a gift from the King at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries. His descendants through the female line have remained there to this day. During the 16th and 17th centuries an Abbott family of Frithelstock in north Devon were renowned for their plasterwork at houses in the area.

Yorkshire. Early Abbots were on both sides of the religious divide.  Henry Abbot who had converted to the Roman Catholic faith was executed in York in 1597 for seeking to convert others to Catholicism; while George Abbot, from a gentry family at Easington in the East Riding, was a staunch Parliamentarian during the Civil War.  He was known as “the Puritan” because of his writings.  One later Abbott line began with the marriage of William Abbott and Elizabeth Kirby in Kirklington in north Yorkshire in 1742.

Elsewhere. Abbotts were recorded in Wellingborough in Northamptonshire as early as the 14th century. One important Abbott family was traced back to the village of Gretton in this county where Robert Abbott was born in 1610. He made his mark in London as a scrivener (money-lender). The line through his son Jasper  became merchants in the Levant.

“Jasper Abbott was a merchant in Smyrna for twenty years, from about 1660 to 1680, and was then a merchant in Constantinople for the other twenty years, there dying.  He was buried in the English cemetery at Feri-keui (in Constantinople) where his tomb may still be seen in good order.  His tomb is emblazoned with a coat of arms and records his pedigree in as much dignity as Latin can give.”

The line from Henry Alexius Abbott of this family included four sons who were to be generals in the British army and one son who became the British Consul General in Odessa.  Sir James Abbott had the town of Abbottabad in present-day Pakistan named after him following his military exploits in the region in the 1840’s.

A descendant Jasper Abbott put together the Abbott Family Pedigree in 1952.

Scotland.  Abbott does occur in Scotland as a surname mainly in and around Dundee. William Abbat was born in Dundee in 1654. His name had become Abbott two generations later.  The more common Scottish name is McNab which originated in Perthshire and means “son of the abbot” from the Gaelic.

Ireland. The Abbott surname, of English origin, was to be found mainly in Dublin.  John Abbott from Devon who came with Cromwell in the 1650’s and was known as “God Be With Us” Abbott was granted lands in Cork.

America.  George Abbott came to the Massachusetts colony around the year 1640 from Yorkshire, according to the family tradition (although this tradition was probably not true).  He was among the first settlers of Andover three years later.  The Abbott house in which George Abbott and his wife Hannah lived was still inhabited two hundred years later by a seventh generation Abbott.

Descendants of George Abbott included:

Isaac Abbott was born in Andover in 1810. He moved around a lot during his youth before heading west and settling in Iowa. His son Isaac fought in the Civil War and his son Edward wrote of him:

“While there were many Union men captured during this bloody conflict, Father escaped capture. But shortly before joining the army he was captured by a Miss Elizabeth Hayes, the dearest woman in all the world, and she has held him captive ever since.”

Other early Abbott arrivals in America were:

Canada. The Abbott name appeared in Newfoundland as early as the early 1700’s. The Abbotts in Bonavista came originally from Dorset. It was calculated that there were ten Abbott families in Bonavista by 1800.  Some of them became prominent Methodists in their community during the 19th century. Abraham Abbott was quite a celebrity in his day, as this account from the 1850’s suggests:

“On one occasion Abraham Abbott was brought into court for some remark he had made in the pulpit. Before the verdict was given Mr. Abbott was asked for his defense. His accusers were put to silence and Abraham, though ‘severely tried,’
walked triumphantly from the courtroom.”

William Abbott, thought to have been a Loyalist sympathizer, left his home in Vermont in the early 1800’s and settled in Point Pelee in southernmost Ontario.  Clinton Abbott’s 2010 book Abbott Family History covered this line. Another Tory, this time from England, was the Anglican minister Joseph Abbott who came to Quebec in 1818. His son John rose in the political ranks to become briefly Canada’s third Prime Minister in 1891.

There was a prominent Abbott black family in Toronto during the 19th century. Wilson Abbott, originally from Alabama, had left that state as a “free person of color” and, after a short sojourn in New York, had made the trek north to Canada in the 1830’s.  He prospered in Toronto real estate. His son Anderson was the first black Canadian to become a licensed physician.

Australia. Among the early Abbott arrivals were:

 

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Abbot or Abbott?  Both the Abbot and Abbott surname spellings occurred at an early time.  However, the Abbott spelling may have been more common even then.

Someone who has researched London wills during the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries came up with 211 Abbots and Abbotts.  Of that total 195 were Abbotts and only 16 were Abbots.  But the story may have been different outside of London.  The transition from Abbot to Abbott looks there to have occurred later.

Major Lemuel Abbott undertook the same exercise for the early American Abbots and Abbotts and came to the same conclusion as the London researcher – even though he personally would have preferred the single ”t” and always supposed that it was the original form.  The pioneer Abbotts of Concord, New Hampshire generally used the double letter, as can be seen from their signatures.

George Abbot as Archbishop of Canterbury.  George Abbot became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1611 at a time when the court was becoming more Catholic.  In spite of his defense of the Catholic nature of the priesthood, his Puritan instincts often drove him towards a harsh treatment of individual Catholics.  This policy brought about the hatred of the King’s court and of William Laud who was to succeed him as Archbishop.  However, King James himself never forsook Abbot.

In 1621, while hunting in Hampshire, a bolt from his cross-bow aimed at a deer happened to strike one of the keepers who died within an hour.  Abbot was so greatly distressed by the event that he fell into a state of settled melancholia.  His enemies maintained that the fatal issue of this accident disqualified him from his office and argued that, though the homicide was involuntary, the sport of hunting which had led to it was one in which no clerical person should lawfully indulge.

The King had to refer the matter to a commission of ten, which was divided in its opinion.  The King then gave a casting vote in the Archbishop’s favor, though signing also a formal pardon or dispensation.  One commentator noted that Abbot was both “the only translator of the 1611 Bible and the only Archbishop of Canterbury ever to kill a human being.”

Abbot remained Archbishop until his death in 1633.  He was essentially a lame duck Archbishop during this time, being affected by both his unpopularity in court and his increasing ill-health.

The Will of George Abbott.  George Abbott, the early emigrant to America, probably came from the town of Bishop’s Stortford in Hertfordshire, and not from Yorkshire as family tradition has suggested.

He is likely to be the son referred to in the will of George Abbott the elder, a yeoman of Stortford, that was made in 1619.

“To my eldest son George Abbott, my table and frame stools, benchboard, and cupboard in the hall of the messuage in Stortford where I dwell, and also the bedstead in the chamber over said room.

To my wife Bridget all my other household stuff, maintenance for life in my said messuage, meat for an aged woman, and an annuity of 40 shillings, out of my said messuage, with lands of eighteen acres, to be paid at the four quarterly feasts, and these bequests are to be in lieu of a dowery; but if she prefers to remove from said messuage and to live elsewhere, then she is to have an annuity of £6 out of my said messuage, in lieu of a dowery.

To my son George Abbott and his heirs my said messuage and lands at my decease, he paying to my wife as aforesaid and also paying to my son Edward Abbott, within one year of my decease £30, so as Marsh of Chrissing, yeoman in Essex (father-in-law to my said son Edward) shall deliver, within six months of my decease, to my said son George an obligation wherein said Marsh shall be bound in £60 to my said son George to pay within one year to my son Edward Abbott £40 of the £50 which he promised on the marriage of his daughter to my son Edward; and if said Marsh fails to pay, then my gift to my son Edward is to be void. If my son George fail to pay the £30 to my son Edward, the latter is to have my croft of three acres, in two parcels, next the commons, called Chalnerscroft or Chalkcroft.

To my daughter Joan (if she happen to be a widow before her two children be of age) £10.

To the two daughters of my daughter Anne (now wife of Mathew Reeve) 20 shillings each at twenty-one or marriage.All the residue to my son George Abbott, who is to be my sole executor.”

George Abbott’s Home in Andover.  George Abbott and his bride Hannah went to live in the garrison house in Andover, Massachusettsth at was originally called Cochichawiche.  He had spent two years building this house. It was constructed of heavy hewn or sawed logs with the corners securely fastened.  The eaves were extended out over the walls by two feet or more so that in case of an attack, the defenders could fire down upon the enemy or pour water on a fire if one was started.

Old records indicate that the house stood on a plot of about four acres on the eastside of what is now Court Street in North Andover, a short distance north of the old burial place and meeting house.  In this area, the houses were built close together for protection during Indian attacks. Later George and Hannah lived in a garrison house on their farm land, two or three miles to the southwest.

During King Philip’s War, a band of Indians attacked Andover in 1676.  The villagers fled into the garrisons for protection, George Abbott’s house being one of these garrisons.  However, one of George’s sons, Joseph, heard the alarm too late and was killed while working in the fields.

George’s garrison house was the home of the family until 1704 when it was replaced by a structure which later became known as The Old Red House. This replacement was used for many years after his death.  It too in time was torn down and replaced with the first section of a large house which would be owned and occupied by Abbotts for seven generations through George’s eldest son, John.  This house was eventually was demolished around 1858.

Sir James Abbott and Abbottabad.  Abbottabad took its name from General Sir James Abbott, one of three illustrious sons who became generals of the family of Henry Alexius Abbott, a navy agent and Calcutta merchant.

James was commissioned in the Bengal artillery in 1823.  In 1839 he was sent to negotiate a treaty between Khiva and Russia, signing the terms in St Petersburg in 1840. His memoirs of the Khiva campaign were published in 1843.  He was the commander of the garrison at Hazara during the Sikh War of 1849-50 and held it so tenaciously that he received the thanks of Parliament.

The town of Abbottabad in the Orash valley in NE Pakistan was named after him.  Abbottabad became famous in 2011 as the place where Osama Bin Laden sought refuge before being discovered and killed by American troops there. 

Early Abbotts in Newfoundland

Date Abbott Location
1705 ? Abbott St. John’s (killed by the French)
1706 Thomas Abbott St. John’s
1739 William Abbott St. John’s or Petty Harbour
1765 Richard Abbott son of Elizabeth Abbott of
Bonavista
1791 Stephen Abbott Bonavista petitioner
1793 Richard Abbott Bay Bulls

The Abbotts of Bonavista probably originated with Matthew Abbott, recorded in the Poor Law settlements of Dorset, who came to Newfoundland as a servant to James Perkins in 1758.  He married Grace Gillette in Newfoundland two years later.

Early Abbotts in South Australia.  The Abbott family from Little Addington in Northamptonshire came in stages to Australia.  First it was William who had emigrated to Tasmania in 1827 and encouraged the rest of his family to make the crossing.  Then it was his brother Giles who came with his wife Sarah and their four children on the Buffalo in 1836.  They headed, however, for the new colony of South Australia where they were one of the first arrivals.

Giles was followed one year later by his father Giles Sr, mother, and four more siblings on the John Renwick.

Giles Jr was by trade a stonemason and by 1837 he had built himself and his family a stone house in what is now north Adelaide.  A year later he built on another site a building that was to become the Queens Head Hotel.  The Abbotts ran it for many years until it was sold in 1856.  Today Abbott Lane on the east side of the Queens Head Hotel commemorates the Abbott family.

The Abbotts later moved along the coast to Middleton.  John Abbott, a grandson of Giles Jr, built the Mindacowie Guest House there in 1899.  It still stands and is a local landmark.

 

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George Abbot served as Archbishop of Canterbury from 1611 to 1633.  Francis Abbott was an English portrait painter of the late 18th century, famous for his portrait of Horatio Nelson now hanging in 10 Downing Street. John Abbott was the third Prime Minister of Canada, taking office in 1891. Diane Abbott is a British Labor Party politician who in 1987 became the first black woman to be elected to Parliament. Tony Abbott became Prime Minister of Australia in 2013.

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