Barker Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Barker Surname Meaning

Barker is an occupational name, but descriptive of two different occupations.

The most probable root is the Old English barken, meaning to strip or tan from the bark of a tree. The barker is the name, now obsolete, for a bark stripper or rather for the man who prepared the bark for the tanner. In time it became the occupational name for a tanner of leather in northern and eastern England.

The alternative version has barker derived from the Norman berchier or berkier, meaning a shepherd. These names led to bercar, a sort of inspector or chief shepherd whose duty it was to superintend the stint of sheep on the common lands of the manor.

Barker Surname Resources on The Internet

Barker Surname Ancestry

  • from England
  • to America, Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand

England.  The Barker name made an early show in Shropshire where William Barket was recorded as a tenant at Stanton Lacy in 1292.  The Barker name probably derived from bercer, meaning a chief shepherd.  William Barker alias Coverall appeared in the 1400’s.

Most of the Barkers of Shropshire seem to have been descended from him.  These included Barkers in Shrewsbury, Barkers in Fairford Park in Gloucestershire, and some emigrants to America.

Other early Barker families were to be found in Rutland, Suffolk, and London:

  • the Barkers of Rutland were originally of yeoman stock, going back to the early 1500’s. Abel Barker bought the manor of Nether Hambleton in 1634. He prospered as a large-scale sheep farmer, became a baronet, and acquired Lyndon Hall nearby. His descendant Thomas Barker was a Rutland squire who kept a detailed weather record at Lyndon Hall from 1736 to 1798.
  • the Barkers of Ipswich in Suffolk were prominent cloth merchants trading with the Continent in Elizabethan times. They held Grimston Hall in Suffolk and many were local MP’s. The male line died out in 1766. The Barkers of Bocking Hall in Essex were a subsidiary line.
  • while in London, Christopher Barker, printer to Queen Elizabeth, was the father of a printing dynasty that included his son Robert and three of his Constable grandsons. Robert Barker was famous as being the printer of the King James Bible in 1611. These Barkers may have been descended from earlier Barkers at Stokesley in north Yorkshire.

Yorkshire. The largest number of Barkers (one in four in the 1891 census) has been in Yorkshire. William Barker was born in Stokesley around 1525. Elsewhere in north Yorkshire:

  • the Barker name cropped up at Masham and Kirkby Malzeard from the early 1600’s. There was a well-known court case involving a Barker matricide at Kirkby Malzeard in 1874.
  • a Barker family at Egton was a stubborn Catholic recusant family. George and Ann Barker were recusants there in 1628; and George and Mary Barker recusants in 1780.
  • while one family line at Appleton-le-Street began with the birth of Robert Barker around 1688.

The Barker name was to be found elsewhere in Yorkshire. The Barkers of Nafferton in the East Riding date from Thomas Barker who was born there around 1690. Samuel Barker took over the Mexborough pottery works in the East Riding in the 1820’s. His sons acquired the larger Don pottery in 1856 and this remained in family hands until 1893.

America. Two early Barker arrivals in New England were:

  • James Barker from Suffolk who came to New England with his family on the Mary and John in 1634. He died during the voyage. His son James settled in Rhode Island, married Barbara Dugan in 1644, and was elected Deputy Governor of the colony in 1678.
  • while Robert Barker came to Plymouth, Massachusetts with his brother John sometime in the 1630’s. They later made their home in Pembroke, Massachusetts. Their line was covered in Barker Newhall’s 1900 book The Barker Family of Plymouth Colony.

One line from Robert Barker led to Nantucket and then to Swan’s Island in Maine. A later Robert Barker, a mariner, bought land there and built himself a spacious frame house in 1773. Jacob Barker, born on Swan’s Island five years later, was for much of his life a prosperous merchant and financier in New York and New Orleans.

Virginia. John Barker of uncertain origins was a sea captain who sailed the Atlantic regularly from England to Virginia. He formally emigrated to Virginia in 1635 but continued to sail until his death in 1689. His son John, however, made his home in Virginia, acquiring land in 1653 on Chippokee Creek in Surry county for “one thousand pounds of good tobacco.” This line was described in William Pullen’s 1971 booklet The Barkers of Virginia.

There was another Barker mariner William Barker, possibly from Shropshire, also sailing the seas between England and Virginia. He brought emigrants to the new colony and traded tobacco. He moved to Virginia permanently in 1635, acquiring land in Charles City county.

Elsewhere. The Barkers of Philadelphia had their origins in New Jersey where John Barker was born in 1746. By trade a tailor, he was twice mayor of Philadelphia in the early 1800’s. He was the father of the playwright James Nelson Barker who served in the army during the War of 1812 and was also later mayor of Philadelphia.

Canada. The early Barkers who came to New Brunswick arrived from America. Jacob and Mary Barker came to the new Maugerville settlement with their sons Thomas and Jacob from Massachusetts in 1764. Thomas Barker, a Loyalist magistrate in upstate New York, moved to Fredericton in 1787. His son Thomas was a member of the New Brunswick legislature for many years. Barker’s Point Bridge was named after another son Anthony.

David Barker, another Loyalist (this time with Rhode Island and Quaker roots), left Poughkeepsie in New York for the Bay of Quinte on the northern shoreline of Lake Ontario in 1784. He died there in 1821, aged 91.

Shortly before his death he inscribed on the family Bible as follows: “Be it remembered that I make this Bible a present to my grandson David Barker, son of Edward Barker; and it is my desire that it may be kept in the family, to the name of David.”

It was another grandson David who was appointed postmaster at Picton in nearby Prince Edward county in 1848. A later David ran a foundry there.

South Africa. George Barker, a missionary from Essex, was an early arrival in South Africa, coming there with his family five years before the 1820 settlers. He spent most of his life at the Theopolis mission station in Cape colony.

“His early diary there recorded vast herds of the now extinct quagga, an infinite variety of other game, and constant troubles with elephants, buffaloes, leopards and snakes. Depredations by the Xhosa tribes from across the Fish river caused much distress and anxiety.”  

Arthur Barker from London meanwhile was one of the 1820 settlers, arriving at the Cape colony with his family on the Zoroaster. He acted as a chaplain for the settlers. He was allotted a farm on the Kanega river, 25 miles from Grahamstown.

Australia. Collet Barker, a British army officer from London, arrived in Sydney on the prison ship Phoenix in 1828. During his brief time in Australia, he made various explorations of the Australian continent. Mount Barker in South Australia was named in his honor. However in April 1831, at the mouth of the Murray river, he was killed by Aboriginal people in the belief that he was a whaler or sealer wishing them ill.

Henry Barker from Kent, a convict, had arrived in Tasmania on the prison ship Bussarch Merchant in early 1830. He was to live longer, until 1895. After his release, he settled down to farm in the Geelong area of Victoria where he and his wife Margaret raised seven children.

New Zealand.  Alfred Barker from London came to New Zealand with his family in 1850 and settled in Christchurch. He is best known today for the photographs he took of himself and his family between 1858 and his death in 1873. Alfred was a descendant of the Aston Barkers of Staffordshire.

Barker Surname Miscellany

Barker and Tanner.  According to the Victorian surname writer Henry Guppy, Barker was the old name for a tanner.  It was confined to the northern half of England and to the eastern counties north of the Thames.  It was very frequent in Yorkshire and was also well represented in the counties of Derby, Lincoln, and Norfolk. Tanner, its substitute in the south of England, had its home in Wiltshire, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, and Hampshire .

In the old ballad of The King and the Tanner in Percy’s Reliques, the latter called himself a barker:

  • “What craftsman art thou, said the king,
  • I pray thee tell me trowe?
  • I am a barker, sir, by my trade,
  • Now tell me, what art thou?”

The Barkers of Shropshire.  The Visitations of Shropshire in 1584 traced the Barkers of Shropshire back to a common ancestor, William Barker alias Coverall, who married Margaret Goulston in the early 1400’s.  The early name probably had been Coverall, dating back a further hundred years.  The Barker name was later adopted.  Family tradition has it that they were bercers, later barkers, who were the appointed chief herdsmen of the area.

Barker descendants in Shropshire were first found in Aston.  Arthur Barker covered this line in his 1932 book The Barkers of Aston.  They extended to Wolverton, Haughmont, and Hopton Castle in Shropshire and to Colehurst in Warwickshire.  Randulph Barker who had fled Shropshire for killing a man was the ancestor of the Barkers of Little Over and Vale Royal in Cheshire.  One line from Aston led to some prosperous merchants in Birmingham.

The family connections to Sir Rowland Hill, a Shropshire man who became Lord Mayor of London, enabled the Barker family to acquire Haughmond Abbey in 1543 at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries.  Haughmond Abbey was close to Shrewsbury and the Barker family became influential in that town.

The Barkers of Pembroke, Massachusetts.  According to family tradition, three Barker brothers crossed the Atlantic to Plymouth, Massachusetts sometime in the 1630’s. One of these brothers was said to have settled in Rhode Island.   The other two, Robert and John, set out on an expedition northward.

Sailing from Plymouth, they coasted until they reached the North river.  They then proceeded up the river until they found a suitable site for a trading post.  Here they founded the township of Pembroke (now part of Duxbury).

The people of Pembroke claim to possess the oldest existing dwelling house in the United States.  It was built by the Barkers and still stands in its primitive state.  It was built of stone, laid in clay mortar.  Its only apartment was fifteen feet square.  Its purpose was as much for that of defense as of trade. Loopholes were ranged at equal intervals on the walls.

John Barker worked as a ferryman over the Jones river.  However, he fell into the river at Little Bridge and was drowned in 1652.  Robert Barker lived onto 1691.  It is thought that his son Francis built with his brothers the first iron foundry in America in 1702.  The material for the iron business was fished up from the various bogs that lay in the immediate vicinity.

The Barkers on Swan’s Island.  One of the most prominent residents of Swan’s Island at the mouth of the Kennebec river in Maine was Robert Barker.  He brought to Swan’s Island his bride Sarah Folger, a member of the wealthy Nantucket family.  In 1773 he built himself a spacious frame house on the southern end of the island.

When he was lost at sea seven years later, his wife and children moved back to Nantucket.  But later their son John, who became a successful merchant, placed family relatives on Swan’s Island, so that the Barker heirs lived in the old house for several generations. John himself had been born on the island; as was Jacob who was later to become a prominent financier.

David Barker the Loyalist and His Family.  David Barker had owned a fine farm in upstate New York which was confiscated during the Revolutionary War because he had sold cattle to the British.  When peace was declared, he joined Major VanAlstine’s party in New York and came to Canada, arriving at Adolphustown, New Brunswick in 1784.

David settled in Barker’s Point where he died in 1821, aged eighty eight.  His wife had died seventeen years earlier. They had a family of twelve children, only eight of whom, however, settled in Canada.

David was not a Quaker, although he always attended Quaker meetings.  He and his family wore the plain dress and adopted Quaker customs. But he held strongly to the creed of the Church of England.  It was because of his influence that the members of the family of Abraham, his son, were baptized as soon as an Anglican clergyman could come to Hallowell.

Abraham and his brother James erected a grist mill at nearby Wellington where they began grinding wheat in 1815.  Abraham always kept in touch with his American cousins.  Almost every other year he took with him his eldest daughter to introduce her to the American branches of his family.

James who joined Abraham at Wellington named the village of Bloomfield where he settled and made his home until his death in 1847.

The Kirkby Malzeard Matricide.  The following was reported in The Morpeth Herald of north Yorkshire on June 13, 1874.

“The young man, John William Barker, aged 23, who has been charged with the murder of his mother Anne Barker, aged 52, at Kirkby Malzeard by cutting off her head with a hedging bill, was on Monday brought up on remand at Ripon, for examination prior to commitment.

The courthouse was crowded, much curiosity being exhibited to obtain sight of the prisoner.  He is now considered insane and certainly looks so.   Mr. Marsden, the West Riding solicitor, prosecuted, instructing the Chief Constable.

Mr. Batson of Harrogate appeared for the prisoner and elicited in the examination of his father William Barker and a younger brother Alfred, who were the principal witnesses called, that he had for two or three months back, since an attack of quinsey, been exceedingly singular in his habits, moping in the house or lying in bed all day.

It was stated that he had been very fond of his mother and it was denied that he had struck her except once, a few days ago.  The father said that a short time since he had gone to see the assistant overseer about the prisoner being admitted into an asylum and, it was added, that his grandmother was at one time confirmed a lunatic.

The police officer who apprehended the accused found him in the armchair, while the deceased lay in pool of blood in the cellar.  The prisoner, after the usual caution and much hesitancy, said he had nothing to say and was then committed to Wakefield for trial at the Leeds assizes.”

The verdict from Leeds Assizes in August 1874 was that John William Barker was acquitted through insanity and will be detained in jail during her Majesty’s pleasure.

Barker Names

  • Robert Barker was the printer of the King James Bible in 1611. 
  • Jane Barker was a popular English fiction writer and poet of the early 18th century. 
  • James Nelson Barker was an American playwright of the early 19th century. 
  • Ronnie Barker was an English comedian, best known for his roles in TV series such as Porridge and The Two Ronnies.

Barker Numbers Today

  • 63,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 35,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 20,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Barker 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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