Archer Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Archer Surname Meaning

The Archer surname is occupational, meaning – as its name suggests – a professional bowman. The Old French name archier had been brought to England by the Normans at the time of the Conquest. It first appeared in English records in the 12th century and was replacing the native English word Bowman by the 14th century.

Curiously, the American actor Ralph Bowman made his breakthrough in a radio contest for which he was given an RKO contract under the name of John Archer. His daughter is the actress Anne Archer.

Archer Surname Resources on The Internet

Archer Surname Ancestry

  • from Southern England and Ireland
  • to America, Caribs (Barbados), and Australia

England.  The Norman surname Archer first surfaced in the county of Wiltshire in the west country. Edward and William L’Archier were recorded there in 1166.

The name moved west to Cornwall where John Archer was MP for Helston in the early 15th century and his line then devolved to the Archers of Trelaske. They remained the local squires until 1958 when the last of the line died. The Archer Arms still flourishes at Launceston. Another Archer family of local squires was to be found at Castle Eaton on the Wiltshire and Gloucestershire border.

The Archers in Warwickshire date from an earlier time. In the 12th century Robert L’Archer had married into the de Villiers family and been granted the estate at Umberslade near Tanworth-in-Arden. These Archers were many times the MP and Sheriff for Warwick and were remain at Umberslade for the next six hundred years. Andrew Lord Archer, who died in 1778, was the last of the line.

Another Archer family was to be found at Theydon Garnon near Epping in Essex.

“Simon de Boys assumed the name of Archer by command of Henry V after shooting a match against the King who had granted him a patent of five marks yearly for his services at the Battle of Agincourt.”

These Archers later held Coopersale House and included in their number the 17th century judge John Archer. Then there were the Archers traced from family history in and around Lodsworth on the Rother valley in West Sussex. The first recorded here was a William Archer in the late 17th century.

Ireland. The Archer name probably came to Ireland at the time of the Anglo-Norman invasion in the 12th century.

An Archer family was long prominent in county Kilkenny, acting as sovereign and mayor of Kilkenny city during the 16th and 17th centuries. A prominent member of the family was the Jesuit priest James Archer. Because of his involvement with Spanish plots in Ireland in the 1590’s, he became a leading hate figure for the British Government of the time. Archers are few in Kilkenny today.

America. Gabriel Archer from Warwick had been part of an expedition with Captain John Smith to explore the Virginia coast. In 1607 they discovered a point of land on the James river which they named Archer’s Hope in his honor. He was one of the first planters in Virginia, but died in 1609.

Other early Archers in America were:

  • Samuel Archer, a carpenter, who came to Salem, Massachusetts in 1630. His family were merchants in the town for several generations.
  • Henry Archer, who came to Roxbury, Massachusetts in 1639
  • and Jan Arcer, a Dutchman who later styled himself John Archer. He founded the hamlet of Fordham near New York in 1669.

John Archer came from Derry in Ireland to Harford county, Maryland in the 1720’s. This Archer family were first planters and then politicians. Three generations of this family were US Congressmen from Maryland. John Archer of Medicine Hall was the first to receive a medical doctor degree in America.

Meanwhile, Patrick Archer, also from Ireland, came to Maryland in 1759. His descendants settled in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Caribbean. There were Archers in Barbados as early as 1643. The Edward Archer who married Elizabeth Braithwaite died in 1693. The next Edward Archer, who married in 1715, was said to have had twenty five children.

A number of Archers left the island in the early 1900’s, for America and other places in the Caribbean. Richard Archer came to England and his son John Archer became mayor of Batterseain 1913. But there are still many Archers in Barbados. Andrew Archer’s 1935 book The Archer Surname in Barbados recounted this Archer history.

Australia. Thomas Archer, a miller’s son from Hertfordshire, emigrated to Australia in 1812 and secured a plum job in charge of the government stores in Tasmania. He retired in 1821 to develop a 2,000 acre estate that he had acquired at Longford in northern Tasmania.

“The Archers became one of Tasmania’s great landowning families. Within this one dynasty were two brothers with very different ambitions. Thomas would accumulate great wealth and become a member of the colony’s ruling elite. His brother William simply wanted to farm and farm well. Both built their estates on the back of free convict labor.”

Thomas created Woolmers. It stayed with the family from 1817 until 1994 when Thomas Archer, the sixth of the line, died without children. William’s home at Brickendon, built seven years later, has remained with his family into the seventh generation. Kerry and Angela Archer live on the estate today.

Another Archer settler in Tasmania was John Archer from Ireland. Having helped with the design of Waterloo bridge and London bridge in London, he set off for Tasmania in 1827 to take up the position of civil engineer and architect for the colony.

William Archer, a timber merchant from Perth in Scotland, and  his wife raised thirteen children, nine of whom were to spend time in Australia. The first to arrive was David Archer in 1834. He and his brothers took up sheep ranching, eventually settling in the Fitzroy valley in Queensland. Another brother, Thomas Archer, led a wandering life, spending some time at the California goldfields, before becoming an Agent General for Queensland.

Archer Surname Miscellany

The Archers at Umberslade.  The estate of Umberslade near Tanworth-in-Arden in Warwickshire had been given in the reign of Henry II by Henry de Villiers to Robert L’Archer (Sagittarius), son of Fulbert, who had married his daughter Selida.  The estate remained in the hands of the Archer direct male descendants for the next six hundred years.

Robert’s son William acquired additional land from Earl Waleran and his son John was granted by Earl Thomas, to whom he was acting as “champion,” extensive rights of hunting and hawking in return for a render of twelve broad arrow-heads and two capons at Whitsuntide.

A later John Archer of this family was Constable of the Tower of London in the 1450’s.

The Umberslade Venus.  The sculpture of the Crouching Venus is thought to have been commissioned by the statesman and lawyer Andrew Archer for his home at Umberslade Hall in Warwickshire.  The house had been constructed in the 1690’s and the sculpture was then placed in the entrance hall, paired with a statue of Apollo.

The artist was John Nost the Elder.  His nude goddess half-kneels on an integral plain rectangular base, her arms crossed in front of her breasts, her head turned to her right, and her hair partly coiled in a bun at the back of her head.  The figure was after the antique prototype of the Crouching Venus of which several versions were known.  One version, dating from the 2nd century, had been presented to Charles II by Sir Peter Lely and was probably seen by Nost.

No documentation of the original commission has survived.  The sculpture had apparently remained at Umberslade throughout the 18th century.  It was first recorded at Umberslade in 1815 when the house was described as being “long neglected.”   It stayed there until the 1970’s when Umberslade Hall was sold for conversion into flats. 

Archers of Kilkenny.  Archers date from an early time in county Kilkenny in Ireland.  The following extract comes from the Rev. Carrigan’s 1905 book History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Ossory.

“The Anglo-Norman family of Archer or Le Archer appeared in the records of Kilkenny city for the first time in 1307 when Walter le Archer was named as one of the jurors who “extended” the Countess of Gloucester’s property in the burg of Kilkenny.

In 1345 Walter Archer was Portreeve of Kilkenny city and, from thence to the year 1652, the name Archer was found no fewer than sixty-four times in the lists of civic magistrates, as porteeves, sovereigns, mayors, sheriffs, coroners etc.

On December 3, 1557, the Bishop of Ossory, the sovereign of Kilkenny, David Rother, Robert Shethe and Walter Archer, had a royal commission ‘to enquire of all chalices, ornaments, bells, houses and lands, belonging to parish churches and chapels in the County Kilkenny, and in whose hands they are now, and to return their inquisition into chancery.'”

Archers in Harford County, Maryland.  There was a paper written by Dr. John Archer in 1786 entitled The Descent of the Archer Family.  It named as the earliest known ancestor of the family, Robert Archer, but failed to state either the name of his wife or the place of their abode.  His son John Archer immigrated to America in the early part of the 18th century from Derry in Ireland and settled in what is now Harford county, Maryland.

John’s son Thomas was the first of the name in Maryland of whom there is certain knowledge.  He settled about 1740 near what is now Churchville in Harford county.  He appears to have been one of the colony of Presbyterians who first settled that part of what was then Baltimore.  He is styled as “planter” in the deeds by which he first acquired land in the county. He was also a merchant and had a smith to work for the vicinity and himself. He died a wealthy man for his time.

Thomas Archer was a prominent member of the local Presbyterian chapel. All of his children bar one died of scarlet fever with 10 days of each other in October 1747.

The Thomas Archers of Woolmers.  Thomas Archer chose the pick of the plains in northern Tasmania to build his home.  By the mid 19th century he’d created an estate to match his ambitions.  Sumptuous Woolmers covered 13,000 acres and was complete with crested china and fine furnishings from the Continent.

However, the unexpected death of his son Thomas the 2nd left only a young grandson to inherit the mantle.  The connection between family and estate was lost.  Thomas the 3rd chose to live elsewhere.  The Archers of Woolmers became absentee landlords.

It was two generations later in 1934 that Thomas the 5th, his wife Marjorie and their son young Tom moved back into the big house on the hill.  Marjorie would prove to be a potent force at Woolmers.  She was called the Dutchess, she had a sort of regal presence, and she was very possessive of her son young Tom  She never left the estate until her death.

Soon after, her husband died and young Tom, now in his fifties, was all alone.  He’d had this lifetime of non-associating and he was living there like a hermit.  In May 1994 Thomas Archer the 6th, the last of his line, died.  Two centuries of Woolmers history were then frozen in time.

Today Woolmers is a museum run by a public trust.  Young Tom’s reclusive life is on show for all.  Sadly the lifestyle that young Tom had is the reason that Australia has this time capsule. And he virtually sacrificed his life for that.

Thomas Archer’s Wandering Life.  Thomas Archer was born in Scotland but, when he was three, he was taken to Larvik in Norway by his parents where they were to live for the rest of their lives.

At 14 years of age Thomas set off for Australia, arriving there in 1837.  A elder brother David had gone there in 1834 and two other brothers, William and Thomas, were to follow in 1838.

In 1841 these brothers moved to what is now the border between New South Wales and Queensland, taking about 5,000 sheep with them. Travelling approximately on the line of the present towns of Warwick and Toowomba, they crossed the main range at Hodgson’s Gate and established themselves for four or five years in the Moreton District. They also did a good deal of exploratory work as far north as the Burnett river.

In 1849 Thomas left his brothers and went to California.  He had some success at the diggings and then went to Europe.  In 1853 he married, to Grace Lindsay, and they returned to Queensland.  The harsh life, however, did not suit his young wife’s health and a return was made to Scotland in 1855.  Part of the next five years was spent in Norway and most of the time between 1860 and 1872 in Scotland.

Archer still retained an interest in the Queensland station along the Fitzroy river and he again set sail for Australia in 1872 and spent about eight years at the station at Gracemere, about seven miles from present-day Rockington in central Queensland.  He was back in London with his family in 1880 but then returned in 1881 as Agent General for Queensland.

John Archer, Mayor of Battersea.  John Archer was born in Liverpool in 1863, the son of Richard Archer and his wife Mary Thersea.  Richard was a ship’s steward from Barbados, his wife Irish and illiterate and Catholic, the faith in which John grew up and remained for the rest of his life.

When he was elected mayor of Battersea fifty years later, John replied to press speculation about where he might have come from with the remark that he had been born “in a little obscure village in England probably never heard of until now – the city of Liverpool.”  He went on to declare: “I am a Lancastrian bred and born.”

Archer Names

  • John Archer of Medicine Hall in Maryland was the first to receive a medical doctor degree in America.
  • Fred Archer was the leading jockey of the Victorian era. He was champion jockey for thirteen successive years from 1873 to 1886.
  • Jeffrey Archer is a highly successful English thriller writer. He has also had a checkered career in politics and was imprisoned at one time for perjury.
  • The Archers is a long-running British radio soap about rural life on Ambridge which has been on the air since 1950.

Archer Numbers Today

  • 21,000 in the UK (most numerous in Nottinghamshire)
  • 13,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 11,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Archer and Like Surnames  

The various medieval trades and occupations were a source of surnames as John the baker would over time would become known as John Baker.  Some skilled craftsmen – such as chandlers, fletchers and turners – were able to form guilds, protective organizations, and style themselves Worshipful Companies.

These are some of the occupational surnames that you can check out.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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