Baldwin Surname Meaning, History & Origin

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Baldwin comes from the Germanic and Old English beald and wine, meaning “bold friend.” The name appeared initially in various spellings – Bawdewyn, Bawdwin, Baldwyn, Baldwen, and Baldwin. Baldwins were named as Earls of Flanders in the ninth century during the time of Alfred the Great.

The name Baldwin became extremely popular among the Normans and in Flanders. It was the personal name of the Crusader who became the first Christian king of Jerusalem in 1100 and of four more Crusader kings there. It was also born by Baldwin, the Count of Flanders and leader of the Fourth Crusade.

Baldwin appeared in England in the early Middle Ages, first as a first name and then as a surname. Baldwin of Ford in Devon was Archbishop of Canterbury in the 1180’s; while Baldwin of Bramhope held lands near Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire around the same time.

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England. Earlier sightings of the Baldwin name were in Shropshire and Staffordshire:

  • Baldwin de Boulers came to England from Flanders in 1105. His family became the Bowdlers in Shropshire.
  • another Baldwin family in Shropshire may have started with Bawdewyn, a Norman on the roll of Battle Abbey. Their Shropshire home was Dodebury. Among their number was William Baldwin, a Protestant man of letters in Elizabethan times. The family changed its name to Childe in the 18th century.
  • in Staffordshire, William Baldwin was recorded as the park keeper of Madeley deer park in 1293. He is thought to have given his name to Baldwin’s Gate, now a hamlet in Newcastle-under-Lyme.

At the beginning of the 19th century, a Baldwin family had moved from Shropshire to Worcestershire and set up the Wilden ironworks at Stourport. From this family came Stanley Baldwin, the British Prime Minister in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

Buckinghamshire. The name first appeared there in the 1300’s. John Baldwyne served as the rector of Layton Hundred in the 1440’s. A Baldwin family can trace itself back to William and Jane Baldwin in Aylesbury in the later 1400’s. A descendant here was Sir John Baldwin, the Chief Justice of the Common Pleas in England during the reign of Henry VIII. These Baldwins held Dundridge manor near Cholesbury for many generations.

Lancashire and Yorkshire. There were Baldwins, originally Bawdens, in the Colne valley of Lancashire in the late 16th century. Richard Baldwin of Wheathead got embroiled in the Lancashire witch conspiracy after his daughter Ellena was supposedly killed by a sorcerer in 1610. The Baldwins of Hoole Hall near Chester produced Thomas Baldwin, a pioneer balloonist in the early 1800’s.

Anthony Baldwin leased Ingthorpe Grange in Craven in Yorkshire after the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1550’s. Baldwins rebuilt the house in 1672 and they were to remain there until the 19th century. The line was covered in Richard Cragg’s 1905 book Some Account of the Baldwins of Ingthorpe Grange. Baldwins were also to be found at Halifax from the 1740’s onwards. James Baldwin of Halifax was an early wool washer and spinner with his “Baldwin beehive” designs.

By the end of the 19th century, the largest number of Baldwins in England was in fact in Lancashire and Yorkshire.

Ireland. There were Baldwin English implants in Cork, Dublin, and in King’s county (now Offaly). The Baldwin name in Cork dates from Elzabethan times. One line traces from William Baldwin, a ranger of the royal forests in Shropshire, who settled in Mount Pleasant, Cork. John Baldwin of Lisnugall was mayor of Cork in 1737. His son Robert left for Canada after his wife’s death in 1798. Other Baldwins later emigrated to Australia and New Zealand.

America. Most of the early Baldwins in America, as traced by Charles Baldwin in his 1889 book Baldwin Genealogy: 1500-1881, came from Buckinghamshire.

The first departure appears to have been Sylvester Baldwin and his family who set sail for New England on the Martin in 1638. Although Sylvester did not survive the journey, other Baldwins from Buckinghamshire did, including Joseph and his wife Hannah. Their descendants in America now number over 3,000.

Connecticut. These Baldwins settled in the newly established New Haven colony on land adjacent to present-day Milford, Connecticut.

“At the first town meeting on November 20 1639, Joseph Baldwin and 43 other church members were granted the franchise as ‘free planters.’ The following summer, roads were laid along the bank of the river and 41 plots of about three acres each were staked out.”

The Baldwins, together with the Evarts, Hoars and Shermans, became a politically important family in Connecticut over the 18th and 19th centuries. The Baldwins were Governors of Connecticut when it was a colony and when it was a state, culminating with Simeon Eben Baldwin in 1911. Abraham Baldwin, the son of a self-taught blacksmith, headed south in the 1780’s and was a founding father of the state of Georgia. Typically these Baldwins went to Yale University and then became lawyers and politicians.

One line of Baldwins from Buckinghamshire, via John Baldwin, was to be found in Stonington, Connecticut from 1672. Later Baldwins had some unfortunate sea experiences:

  • Sylvester Baldwin was lost at sea in 1795
  • and Roswell Baldwin, born in Stonington in 1818, was the captain of the merchant ship Isaac Allerton that was wrecked off Key West during a hurricane in 1856.

Roswell Baldwin later settled in New York. His descendant Alexander Rae Baldwin was the father of four Baldwin actors, the most famous being Alec Baldwin.

From the Buckinghamshire line also came Dwight Baldwin. He departed Connecticut in 1831 for Hawaii. Based in Maui, he was one of the first missionaries on the islands. He and his wife raised seven children, many of whom were to become prominent in later Hawaiian life. Henry Baldwin co-founded Alexander & Baldwin, one of the leading American companies on the islands in the early 20th century.

New Jersey The Baldwin family was one of the old families of Newark, New Jersey, dating back to Benjamin Baldwin in 1674. The Baldwin roster there for the Continental Army in 1777 numbered no fewer than thirty. From nearby Elizabethtown came Matthias Baldwin, the pioneer of Baldwin railroad locomotives. He started building them at his Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia in the 1830’s.

Pennsylvania. William Baldwin was a Cromwellian general during the English Civil War who found life difficult for him after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. He departed with his three sons – Thomas, Francis and John – for America in 1668. The general died during the voyage His sons eventually settled in Pennsylvania.

A number of Quaker Baldwins sought sanctuary in Penn’s Pennsylvania. John and William Baldwin from Pendle in Lancashire arrived in Bucks county in 1700. Their descendants were to be found in the Midwest. Jesse Baldwin was an early settler in Waynesville, Ohio. Other Baldwin Quaker families ended up in Virginia, Indiana and Wisconsin. Lydia Baldwin, an early Quaker settler in Grant county in Indiana, wrote her reminiscences of pioneer life in 1897.

Caribbean. Robert Baldwin arrived in Kingston, Jamaica in 1717. He started up the island’s first printing press and began producing the weekly Jamaican Courant. He is thought to have been related to the radical Baldwin printers of London of that time.

Canada. Robert Baldwin and his family left Cork for Canada in 1798. These Baldwins became very prominent in their new country, primarily through his son William and his grandson Robert, regarded by many as Canada’s first pre-confederation Prime Minister.

Robert Baldwin counted among his cousins the Anglican bishop Maurice Scollard Baldwin, Toronto mayor Robert Baldwin Sullivan, and the Irish-Catholic leader Connell James Baldwin. Robert was the grandfather of Casey Baldwin, the engineer who worked with Alexander Graham Bell and was the first Canadian to pilot an airplane.

Australia and New Zealand. Two Baldwin convicts to Australia made good:

  • One was Henry Baldwin, transported to Sydney in 1791 for petty theft. His family later, under the guidance of Charles Baldwin, were important breeders of thoroughbred horses and high-quality shorthorn cattle.
  • another was Bessie Baldwin, a pastrycook and baker, transported to Tasmania in 1840 after “having thrown a rabbit pie at her employer and then beaten him about the head with a pie dish.” On being freed she became the cook at Government Housei n Port Arthur. A recent book, The
    Australian Convict Recipe Book
    , commemorates her.

William Baldwin arrived in New Zealand from Ireland in 1860. He became a newspaper publisher and local Otago politician. Baldwin Street in Dunedin is named after him. It is said to be the steepest street (in terms of incline) in the world.

 

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William Baldwin, A Protestant Man of Letters.  A respected author, editor and translator during the middle years of the 16th centrury, Baldwin published a small number of works that displayed linguistic and narrative complexity as well as a sophisticated understanding of the political power of writing. As the editor of the anthology A Mirror for Magistrates (1559), as a compiler of a popular philosophical compendium, as a translator of the Biblical Song of Songs and of Italian satirical works, and as the writer of original works of poetry and prose, Baldwin demonstrated the range of his interests and the scope of his literary experimentation.

Baldwin had the distinction of having published the first sonnet in English and the first long work of prose fiction in English, Beware The Cat (1570).  This book is now seen as the best piece of anti-Catholic satire of its time.

Thomas Baldwin the Balloonist.  Vincenzo Lunardi, the dare-devil Italian balloonist, visited Chester in 1785.  While he was in the White Lion regaling his audience with spellbinding stories of the air, one who took heed was a young clergyman from Hoole Hall, Thomas Baldwin.  Thomas had already experimented with balloon making and subsequently made the ascent in Lunardi’s balloon to applause “that was mixed with terror and delight.”

The scientifically minded Baldwin carried out experiments whilst in the air, including sampling foods to see if they tasted the same (they did!) and carrying feathers to see if the balloon was rising or falling.  He went on to write Airopaidia, one of the first English books on ballooning.  Artifacts of his exploits are on display at Hoole Hall, now a country house hotel.

Baldwins of Buckinghamshire and Connecticut.  When Sir John Baldwin died, he left his son Richard part of the parish of Dunrigge.  He became thereafter Richard of Dunrigge.  Richard gave his namesake grandson Richard some land in Cholesbury.  So this Richard became known as Richard of Cholesbury.  Richard then married and had a son Joseph who sailed
away to America.  Joseph would be known as Joseph of Milford because he was one of the pioneer founders of Milford, New Haven.

Baldwin Governors of Connecticut.  Simeon Eben Baldwin was born in 1840, one of nine children of Roger Sherman Baldwin and his wife Emily.  He came from a family of Governors.  His ancestors included the first five Governors of the
colony of Connecticut.  His father had been Governor of Connecticut from 1844 to 1846.  Roger Sherman, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was another ancestor.

Baldwin Quaker Immigrants.  The large wave of Quaker immigrants which moved from England to Pennsylvania in the late 17th and early 18th centuries included two brothers from Pendle in Lancashire, John and William Baldwin.  Their father had been a Quaker too, having attended monthly Quaker meetings at Marsden since 1675.

John had married Jennet in England in 1697 and they migrated to Makefield township in Bucks county, Pennsylvania two years later.  Jennet died soon after and John married for a second time to Ann Scott.  They were the forebears to a large number of Baldwin Quakers in the Midwest.

Although he had visited America earlier, William Baldwin did not come to America to stay until 1714.

The Baldwins in Canada.  In the summer of 1799 a family of new Irish immigrants arrived in Upper Canada – Robert Baldwin and his two sons and four daughters.  They were impoverished.  Fortunately, while in York they were able to stay on Duke Street with William Willcocks, a former neighbor of theirs who had enticed them over.

Robert had been, according to the reminiscemces of his youngest daughter, deeply alarmed by the persistent rumors of impending French landings in Ireland (in anticipation of which he had barricaded his house and armed his servants).  The unrest preceding the uprising of the Society of United Irishmen in 1798 had also convinced him of the need to leave.  His eldest son William Warren noted in 1801:  “The horrors of domestic war conspired to drive us from our native country.”  The motivation of acquiring cheap land also probably played a part.

The Baldwins married into the Willcocks money and, when Robert died, his surviving sons inherited thousands of acres of land throughout Upper Canada.  Spadina House, a present tourist attraction in Toronto, was built by eldest son William.

Dr. William Baldwin and his son Robert became active in the political reform movement and evolved the principle of responsible government with which their names are associated in Canadian history.  Robert Baldwin was one of the first proponents of a bicultural nation and is regarded by many as Canada’s first pre-confederation Prime Minister.  According to The Canadian Encyclopoedia: “The domestic change from autocracy to responsible government was achieved by the most
remarkable political partnership in Canadian history – that of Robert Baldwin and Louis LaFontaine.”

Indeed, the victory of the Reform Party in 1848 was “one of the most significant in Canadian history.”

When the new parliament assembled, Baldwin rose to insist that the new speaker be fluent in both English and french, a motion seconded by LaFontaine and carried by loud cheers from all parts of the chamber.

The Baldwin Fiddlers.  Four generations of Baldwins have been fiddlers in and around Newent in the Forest of Dean.  The first was James who passed the mantle down to his son Charlie.  Charlie, born in 1827, lived to be 98.   When he was old and living in the almshouses in Newent, he was visited by the collector Cecil Sharp who noted down a number of the tunes that he played.

Charlie’s son Stephen was the youngest of his eight children.  Stephen learned to play by watching his father’s fingers as he played and imitating them.

“When I’d just left school something came over me and I asked him to show me how to finger it.  He showed how to put my fingers on.  The first tune I played was Men of Harlech.   I learnt to put them in tune and somehow I stuck to it.  It was like a gift.  All of it came to me, one after the other.

Eighteen months later I was playing for dances and all sorts of things.  You could tell I’d picked it up quick.  I suppose it was my old man being a fiddler.  Look, it came from him.  At any rate, I managed to learn it.”

Stephen inherited his father’s fiddle which Charlie Baldwin had bought at a music shop in Hereford and he in turn passed it on to his own son Charlie.  Charlie continued to play it until he was forced to give up when rheumatism stiffened in the the first finger of his left hand.

Charlie, born in 1902, would often accompany his father in pubs
vamping on the piano.  He remembered one such occasion at the Crown in Aston Crews (Herefordshire) when his father suddenly stopped playing and said: “Listen! There’s a wireless, we’re off.”  Off they went down the road to the White Hart where there happened to be a coachload of people from Wales.  Stephen and his son Charlie got in by the back door, collected their pints, and
“soon got going.”

Stephen Baldwin died in 1955.

 

Select Baldwin Names

  • John Baldwin was the judge in the trials of Sir Thomas More and Anne Boleyn during the reign of Henry VIII.
  • William Baldwin was a Protestant man of letters in Elizabethan times.
  • Roger Baldwin established a national reputation for his anti-slavery defense of slaves in the Amistad case in 1840 and then became Governor of Connecticut.
  • Robert Baldwin was one of the first proponents of a bicultural nation and is regarded by many as Canada’s first pre-confederation Prime Minister.
  • Stanley Baldwin was three times Prime Minister of Britain during the 1920’s and 1930’s.
  • James Baldwin was the African American writer who came to national prominence in the 1960’s.
  • Alec Baldwin is an American actor.

Select Baldwin Numbers Today

  • 23,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 30,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 14,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

 

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