Barrett Surname Meaning, History & Origin
that the word was derived from the Old French barat and
barater meaning “commerce” or “dealings” and described a
market trader; or possibly it could have been a nickname for someone quarrelsome. Alternative suggestions
have been the French barrette meaning “cap” or a
Norman personal name of similar sound.
the south (in county Cork) and Baireid
in Connacht (Mayo and Galway). The similarity of these two names may have been coincidental. The Barretts of Cork were said to have derived their name from the
Norman-French Barat or Barratt;
while the Barretts of Mayo and
Galway picked up the Gaelic name Bairéad which
meant “quarrelsome” or “warlike.”
Barrett Resources on
- Barrett Family History
- The Barrett History
Barrett genealogy weblog.
- Barretts of Catawissa
Barretts from Ireland to America.
Ireland. The two Barrett branches in Ireland may nor may not
have been related. Both came with the
Anglo-Norman invasion in 1170 and both originated from the Pendyne region of Carmarthenshire in Wales.
County Cork. One branch claimed Norman origins, from a
knight named Baret who had come to England with William the Conqueror in 1066. These Barretts, initially called
Barratt, settled in county Cork where their name was rendered as Baroid. They became influential in the part of central Cork which became known as Barrett’s Country and they were large landowners there until 1691.
Their castle at Castlemore had been damaged by
Cromwell’s forces in 1645, but not pulled down, and they managed to retain their lands at that time. In 1691, however, the
then head of their family, Colonel John Barrett, had Castlemore destroyed and had 12,000 acres of his
land taken away for having raised a regiment of infantry for
King James’s Irish army.
Mayo/Galway. The second line of Barretts established themselves in the Connacht counties of Mayo and Galway, where their name was Gaelicized as Bareid. Although
the pedigree produced in 1588 claimed a noble lineage, the alternative version was that they had just been hired mercenaries at the time of the invasion. They were consequently known as “the
Welshmen of Tirawley,” having originally settled in
the barony of Tirawley in the mountainous part of Mayo/Galway.
These Barretts came to form a clan in
the Gaelic fashion, the head of which was known as Mac
Bhaitin Baireid (Mac Watten Barrett), and over time they
assimilated fully into Irish culture.
England. Baret was an early
spelling of the name in England. Baret
was recorded as owning lands in Yorkshire at the time of Edward the Confessor;
while a Baret may have arrived with William the Conqueror in 1066. Barets and later Barrets and Barretts were later to be
found primarily in SW and SE England.
SW England. Barets were cloth manufacturers in Gloucester
in the mid/late 1300’s. Richard Baret often traded these cloths to Wales.
There were also Barretts at Penquite in
Cornwall. They were Royalist and had
their lands confiscated by Cromwell in 1651.
But Hearcey (Hercie) Barrett, said to have been of this family,
was part of Cromwell’s invasion force in Jamaica, remained there, and was the forebear of the Barretts of Jamaica.
SE England. There was a Barret line in
Kent where Valentine Barret was sheriff of Kent in the early 1400’s. His brother John established the family at
Aveley Belhus in Essex where they were to remain for the next 250
years. According to family tradition Queen Elizabeth stayed at Belhus on her way to review the
troops at Tilbury Fort in 1588. These
Barretts later became the Barrett-Lennard baronets.
Other Barets/Barretts were to be found in
Norfolk. One line began with Simon
Barret who was married in Hardwick in 1385.
Another started in the village of Blythborough, just across the
border in Suffolk, in the next century. It
included Christopher Barrett, mayor of Norwich in 1634.
From a Barret family in King’s Lynn came the
clergyman John Barret. He switched from
Papacy to Protestantism very rapidly after the death of Queen Mary in 1558.
Elsewhere. The Barrett spelling had become predominant by 1600, although older spellings did persist. George Barret, father and son, were 18th century landscape painters and early members of the Royal Academy. Barratt
continues to be found in the Midlands and the north:
- William Barratt founded the Barratt shoe company in Northampton in 1903. It has lasted as a High Street store until recently.
- while Lawrie Barratt from Newcastle began Barratt Developments, one of the UK’s largest homebuilders, in the early 1960’s.
Caribbean. R.A. Barrett began his 2000 book The
Barretts of Jamaica with the following sentence:
fleet dropped anchor at Port Royal, Jamaica.
On board was a young lieutenant, Hercie
Barrett, and his wife and child.”
In the years that followed, his family acquired substantial wealth and influence in Jamaica. They controlled much of the island’s mining and agriculture, becoming as
well one of its leading plantation owners.
Among the more prominent members of the family was Richard Barrett who was elected three times
as Speaker of the House of Assembly in Spanish Town. He was cousin to the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning who married Robert Browning in 1846. Richard built Greenwood
as his home outside of Montego
Bay, a mansion which still stands.
These Barretts have long since left
Jamaica. But the Barrett name remains in
Jamaica, notably with the musicians Carly and Aston Barrett who played with Bob Marley and the Wailers in the 1970’s.
America. Two early Barretts to New England were:
- Thomas Barrett and his wife Margaret who came in the late 1630’s from Suffolk to Braintree,
Massachusetts. The family moved in 1663
to Chelmsford (where their home, the
Barrett-Byram Homestead, still stands). Martha
Barrett Sparks was accused of witchcraft in 1691 but
later released. Oliver Barrett was a
minute-man at the time of the Revolutionary War.
- and Humphrey Barrett who came from
Kent to Concord, Massachusetts in 1639. His
descendants remained there. Colonel James
Barrett was a well-known Revolutionary leader
in the town in the 1770’s. After the war Samuel
Barrett had a gristmill there, hence the present-day Barretts Mill Road.
There were early Barretts also in Virginia.
Thomas Barrett arrived in Jamestown on the Abigail
in 1620. Later Barretts operated a ferry along the Chickahominy river which was still functioning by the time of the Revolutionary War. Many Barretts descend from the Rev. Robert
Barrett who came as a missionary to the Norfolk area in 1737.
John Barret was a merchant in Richmond, Virginia and its mayor three times in the 1790’s. His
son William was a tobacco manufacturer
whose home, Barret House, has been preserved.
when he set his dressing gown on fire while lighting his pipe.”
Barrets have continued to live in Richmond.
Over time, more Barretts have come to America from Ireland
than from England. Many arrived poor at
the time of the Great Famine. Patrick
Barrett brought his entire family
from Mayo to Cork and thence to America in 1847. They
made it to New Orleans and then worked a
passage up the Mississippi to St. Louis. Finally,
after fleeing fire and cholera there, they were
able to make a home for themselves in the village of Catawissa in
Canada. William Barrett, a poor subsistence farmer
from Ballygally in Cork, joined Peter Robinson’s emigration scheme to Canada in 1825. He settled with his family in
Peterborough in eastern Ontario. The
family history was recounted in Anthony Barrett’s 2014 book The
At the other end of the
social spectrum, Hugh Massey Barrett from county Down, a descendant of the Cork
Barretts, brought his family to Quebec on the Bolivar
in 1830. His son
T.B. Barrett migrated to Port Dover on Lake Erie ten years later. Three Barretts of his family, Harry and his son
and niece Alice, moved west to British Columbia in the 1880’s. Alice kept diaries of her time in Port Dover
and British Columbia which were published in 2002.
A Jewish immigrant to British
Columbia in the 1920’s, a fruit and vegetable peddler in Vancouver, adopted the
name of Barrett. His youngest son Dave,
a former social worker, rose to become Premier of British Columbia in the 1970’s.
Australia. Some early Barretts came as convicts. Thomas Barrett had been a First
Fleeter. In Australia he was accused of
stealing food from the Government storehouse and in February 1788 became the first man to be hanged in the colony.
Edward Barrett-Lennard from Essex arrived in style in
Western Australia in 1829, being one of its first settlers. He brought with him on the Marquis of Anglesea six servants and
some farm animals and equipment so that he could start farming on the large
acreage that he had secured on the banks of the Swan river. Grandson George died on the family property
in 1917, following the death of his son Forrest by accidental drowning and his son Douglas who fell at Gallipoli.
The Two Barrett Clans of Ireland. There were two Barrett clans in Ireland, the first branch of
the clan were the Munster Barretts of county Cork and the other branch the Barrett clan of Connacht, most numerous in the Mayo-Galway mountainous areas. The two
clans were believed to have been unrelated
But recent research has suggested otherwise. The English pipe
rolls of the 13th century have indicated that the overlords of both the Cork and the
Mayo Barretts were the same people. The records further showed that both families came from Wales.
Hercie Barrett and His Descendants in Jamaica. Hercie
or Hersey Barrett was said to have been from an
old landed family in Cornwall. He was a Lieutenant
in Cromwell’s army under Penn and Venables in the West Indies which landed in Jamaica in 1655.
He had two sons – Hersey born in 1650 in England, and Samuel born in Jamaica in
1662. He also had a property in Vere between Carlisle Bay and Milk River called Withywood.
Hersey the pioneer died in 1685, his son
Hersey in 1726. The latter was buried
in the cathedral in Spanish Town and his tombstone can still be seen there. The other son Samuel Barrett had
died in the French invasion at Carlisle Bay at the age of 32. But he did leave three children, Richard,
Samuel and Anne.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Jamaican Heritage. Elizabeth Barrett Browning was born at Coxhoe Hall in Durham in 1806, the first of twelve children to Edward Moulton Barrett, a Jamaican plantation owner, and his wife Mary.
Edward was really a Moulton rather
than a Barrett. His parents were Charles
and Elizabeth Moulton who had married in Jamaica. But
his fortune had not come from his father,
who soon separated from his wife, but from his maternal grandfather, Edward
Barrett, the owner of the Barrett family estates in Jamaica. By 1798 all three of Edward Barrett’s sons
had predeceased him, thereby making his grandsons by Elizabeth Moulton, Edward
and Samuel, his principal heirs. A
clause in the will of his son George Barrett had made legacies for the Moulton sons conditional on their taking and bearing ‘the surname of Barrett’ on
turning twenty-one. This they duly died.
George Barrett who
died in 1794 had never had a white wife, but had fathered six children by Eliza
Peters, a mulatto slave in one of the Barrett properties.
These children were brought to England by
their grandfather in 1795 but there were not given the Barrett name and there
was no likelihood that they might inherit the Barrett estates.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning herself believed she
had African blood through her grandfather Charles Moulton.
After abandoning his wife and children,
Moulton – a rather shadowy figure – is thought to have become a slave trader in New York. Certainly he had a string of mistresses and illegitimate children including his last, a Jamaican woman who bore him a son.
Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning. The Barrett family had come to London in 1835 from Sidmouth in Devon when Elizabeth was 29. They moved to Wimpole street three years later.
It was at Wimpole Street in May 1845 that she met the poet Robert Browning. Elizabeth was initially reluctant to meet, writing to him that she was ‘nothing but a root, fit for the ground & the dark.’ But Browning was not discouraged. According to his own detailed records, he visited Elizabeth ninety-one times until her father’s resolute refusal to sanction the couple’s engagement compelled the lovers to elope.
They were married in St. Marylebone Church in September 1846. Elizabeth was never reconciled with her father, who returned all her letters unopened, and she spent the rest of her life largely in Italy.
The 1934 film The Barretts of Wimpole Street starring Charles Laughton and Norma Shearer recounted this story.
The Barrett-Byram Homestead in Chelmsford, Massachusetts. In 1663 Thomas Barrett and his son, Thomas came to Chelmsford from Braintree, Massachusetts, buying a house and fifty-two acres of land there.
around a great central chimney, the house boasted a fireplace
in every room. The ceilings were low for
the purpose of conserving heat. The original fireplace structure was
taken down to the top of its foundation around 1800 to modernize the
fireplace in the Keeping Room was the place where the cooking was
done. It may be seen today with its iron
crane supporting heavy iron kettles hung on “S” hooks over the fire,
iron “spiders” and boiling racks, heavy tin roasting oven, reflector
oven, and flip toaster. The Historical
Society’s collection of earthenware, woodenware and tin is also
this room. To the left of the fireplace, is the “beehive oven”
much of the baking was done. It would originally have been located
larger walk-in fireplace and far more dangerous for women in their long
the early days of the old house, there was a “borning room”
opening off one end of the Keeping Room where the continuous heat from
fireplace kept the room fairly comfortable in times of illness or the
babies. This room was opened up and made a part of the Keeping Room by
owners of the property.
house was substantially put together with beams
fastened securely by wooden pegs or trunnels (tree nails).
Gunstocks posts are still visible. Evidence
of the long sloping room of the “saltbox” is seen in the attic where
plaster marks show against the chimney.
Reader Feedback – Dominick Barrett in Anson County, North Carolina. Dominick Barrett,
born in Cork in 1773, came to Anson county, North Carolina in 1790 as a very
young man. Somehow he was able to amass
2-3,000 acres in Anson county. His
brother’s name is Thomas. How can I find
out about him in Ireland?
Laura Barrett (lbarrettoliver”gmail.com)
Thomas Barrett, Engraver and Convict. In 1784 Thomas Barrett appeared at the Old Bailey in
London on a charge of being criminally at large. For three years he was
appalling conditions on a hulk in the Thames before being sent to
the first batch of convicts on board the Charlotte as a part of
When the fleet stopped to re-stock at Rio de Janeiro he was
involved in passing some forged quarter dollars at Rio de Janeiro,
made from some pewter spoons and old buttons and buckles belonging to
Dr White the surgeon on board the Charlotte
asked Barrett to make a memento of the trip out and Barrett fashioned a
out of a silver kidney dish. That medal still exists and was sold at
the National Maritime Museum in Australia in 2008 for a million dollars. It is known as the Charlotte medal.
Thomas Barrett himself had no luck in Australia. He
was accused of stealing food from the
Government storehouse and in February 1788 became the first man to be
the new colony.
Matthew Barrett, International Banker. Matthew Barrett was born and raised in Kerry in Ireland,
where his father struggled to make a living as a musician playing in local
dance halls in the 1950’s. Since the family was relatively poor,
encouraged by his father to enter the banking business.
In 1962, at the age of
18, he became a clerk at the London headquarters of the Bank of
Shortly afterward Barrett’s father died of a heart attack and Barrett
as the sole supporter of his mother and sister. Barrett recalled:
me overnight. I was the man of the family.
It changed me from being a young man having a good time into a
Over time Barrett steadily rose through the ranks at the
Bank of Montreal and was appointed its CEO in 1989.
Ten years later he retired but then accepted
the position as CEO at Barclays Bank.
- Riocard Bairéad aka
Richard Barrett was
a poet and United Irishman
at the time of the 1798 Uprising.
- Elizabeth Barrett Browning, born
Elizabeth Barrett, was one of the most prominent English poets of the Victorian era.
- Lawrie Barratt founded Barratt
Developments, one of the UK’s largest homebuilders, in the early 1960’s.
was a Canadian-Irish
banker who became CEO at the Bank of Montreal and Barclays Bank in the
1980’s and 1990’s.
Select Barrett Numbers Today
- 42,000 in the UK (most numerous
- 36,000 in America (most numerous in Florida)
- 36,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)
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