Bassett Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Bassett Surname Meaning

The Basset name was recorded among the Norman soldiers at the Battle of Hastings and the Bassett surname is thought to have come from a place-name in Normandy called Basset. It has also been suggested that the French basset. a diminutive of basse meaning “short” or “low,” was a nickname for someone short.

Basset was the early spelling, but later became Bassett.

Bassett Surname Resources on The Internet

Bassett Surname Ancestry

  • from England and Wales
  • to America and Australia

England. There were two early-established Bassett families in England:

Staffordshire.  The first, based in Staffordshire, was initially the more prominent. They held the title of Justiciar of England during the 12th century (as recounted in the Basset Charters). These Bassets lived first at Sapcote manor and castle and then, in the early 14th century, at Blore Hall.

William Bassett, the last of the male line, died there in 1601. His magnificent alabaster tomb, erected by his widow, can still be seen in Blore church. David and Martine Swincoe’s 1998 book Swincoe, Blore, and the Bassetts covers these times.

Cornwall. William Basset obtained Tehidy Manor in Cornwall near Redruth around 1150 by marrying into the de Dunstanville family.

The family was prominent at court in Tudor times (Anne Bassett being rumored to be a mistress of Henry VIII), became one of the largest landowners in Cornwall, and profited hugely from the tin mining on their lands in the early 19th century. Today there is a Bassett’s Cove near Redruth and the Bassett name is still to be found in the area.

Bassetts Elsewhere.  The 19th century surname distribution showed that Cornwall and Staffordshire were still important Bassett areas, plus London and the southeast.

One family history traces Bassetts in the Kent village of Speldhurst from the 1750’s. Another Kent family came from Edenbridge at about the same time. A local Bassett family of Quakers helped start a bank in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire in the 19th century and brought much prosperity to the town.

Wales. The Bassets were in Glamorgan from the 13th century and possibly earlier. Their home at Old Beaupre near Cowbridge probably dates from the 1300’s.

“Over the columns of the arched entrance can just be made out the capitals R.B. (Richard Bassett) and C.B. (Catherine Bassett), dated 1586. Above the doorway is a heraldic panel which includes the motto of the Bassett family: ‘Better death than dishonor.'”

The family was rich and powerful in Tudor times. But their fortunes declined after the Civil War. Another line of these Bassetts held Miskin manor. They like the Bassetts of Beaupre before them were sheriffs of Glamorgan. And the Bassett name had by this time extended west into Llanelli and Carmarthenshire.

America. William Bassett arrived at the Plymouth colony on the Fortune from Kent in 1621.

“He was a large landowner, with only four in Plymouth paying a higher tax in 1633, and had a large library of books. He settled first in Plymouth, then in Duxbury, and finally in Bridgewater where he was an original proprietor.”

Another William, this time from Dorking in Surrey, arrived on the Abigail in 1635 as a young boy and settled in Lynn, Massachusetts. His family later moved onto Salem.

“William’s wife Sarah, like so many of her neighbors, was accused of being a witch. She was tried at Salem and imprisoned for seven months in Boston until she was eventually freed. She named her next daughter Deliverance in honor of her freedom. In 1693 she was recompensed a whopping £9 for her experience.”

Bassetts in the South.  Another William Bassett left London on the Truelove in 1635 and came to York county, Virginia. A line of these Bassetts moved south to Georgia around 1750. Thomas Bassett later fled the American patriots there by moving to the Tombigbee settlements in present-day Alabama. However, in 1781 Thomas was murdered on Bassett’s Creek, just across the Tombigbee river from his plantation. Bassett descendants still live in this area.

A Bassett family came to Georgia from North Carolina in the early 1800’s. Sue Bassett Folawn’s 2001 book Homeplace: The Bassetts of Fort Valley, Georgia traced this line.

Australia. The tin mining slump in Cornwall in the mid 19th century prompted Cornish emigration. John Bassett and his family left their home in Madron in the 1850’s for Victoria.

“One of the family stories was that John Bassett was wealthy and brought over a lot of Cornish miners. Perhaps the story should have been that he went backwards and forwards between Australia and Cornwall bringing across different family members until the whole family had migrated to Australia.”

Samuel Bassett departed for Queensland in 1858. There at the small town of Roma he learnt the business of wine-growing and his sons continued the family enterprise.

Bassett Surname Miscellany

The Basset Charters.  William T. Reedy’s 1995 book The Basset Charters begins as follows:

“The Basset family probably produced more royal servants in England, from the reign of Henry I to 1250, than any other family.”

The book is an annotated collection of 288 charters (original language texts and modern English summaries) involving 25 of the 27 or more Bassets who served six Norman and Plantaganent kings.  There are brief biographies of these 25, as well as a three table descent chart showing the principal family branches.

Notable among those reviewed are:

  • colleagues Sir Ralph Basset (1076-1120) and Sir Geoffrey Ridel, both royal justices their children Sir Richard Basset (1090-1144) and Maud Ridel who married each other
  • early ancestors of the Basset English peerages
  • and Allan and Thomas Basset who were allies of the Crown named in the Magna Carta.

The Bassets at Tehidy Manor.  The Basset family acquired the manor of Tehidy in the middle of the 12th century when William Basset married Cecilia, the heiress of the de Dunstanville family.  Tehidiy was known as Tehidin at that time, being derived from the Cornish ti, meaning “house,” followed by the personal name hidin.

By 1330 a substantial building existed under William Basset.  It was dismantled during the Cornish Rebellion of 1497 by a group of rebels in revenge for John Basset’s loyalty to the Crown as the sheriff for Cornwall.

Sir Francis Basset lived there in the early 1600’s. He too was a sheriff for Cornwall.  He appears to have been a sportsman, much addicted to hawking and cock-fighting.  A fine painting of him by Vandyk was preserved at Tehidy.

In 1734 a larger mansion was built on the land. This remained in place until 1861 when John Francis Basset commenced a rebuild, using the large income he received from mining and land rents.  However, the family fortunes then declined and the Bassets vacated the property in 1915 and one year later it was sold.

Bassetts as Sheriffs of Glamorgan.  

1546 John Thomas Bassett of
1558 William Bassett of Beaupre
1597 Richard Bassett of Beaupre
1609 Richard Bassett of Beaupre
1622 William Bassett of Beaupre
1642 William Bassett of Miskin
1643 Richard Bassett of Aberdare
1655 William Bassett of Miskin
1703 William Bassett of Cowbridge
1734 William Bassett of Miskin
1779 Christopher Bassett of Pontyclun
1824 John Bassett of Bonvilston
1895 Ralph Thurston Bassett of
Crossways, Cowbridge

Samuel Bassett’s Vineyard in Queensland.  Samuel Bassett arrived in Queensland in 1858 and by 1863 he had established his vineyards in Roma.  Three years later he had sold his first wine.

By the turn of the century his marketing list included “burgundy, chablis, hock, claret, riesling, champagne and sauternes, port, muscat, sherry and madeira.”  Bassett also sold grapes to overseas markets by packing them in sawdust for safe transit.  Many thousands of cases of grapes from other Roma growers also found their way to eastern markets each year.

The present winery was built in 1878 and is a fine example of those large timber and corrugated iron buildings of yesteryear.  Romavilla has not missed a vintage since 1866, producing from 30,000 to 170,000 litres of wine per year.

The Bassett Furniture Company in Virginia.  If you want to know how it all began, we have to take you back to late 1800’s in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains to an area northwest of Martinsville, Virginia.  The Bassett family was running a sawmill that supplied rail ties for the new Norfolk & Western line that was being built through the family property.  In 1892, the rail line was completed and the family began looking for new markets for its lumber.

JD Bassett was making a good living traveling the countryside selling his goods for general stores when he began carrying lumber samples from the mill.   He quickly learned that the best markets for Appalachian oak was up north and he began to make inroads into those markets.  JD recalled:

“Here I was shipping raw lumber from Henry County in Virginia to Jamestown, New York, and Grand Rapids, Michigan, where factories converted that lumber into finished furniture to be shipped everywhere, including the South.  It seemed to me that furniture certainly could be made in Henry County at a tremendous advantage.”

Bassett and his brothers laid out a plan and in 1902 the Bassett Furniture Company was born.  Today the company has over a hundred retail outlets for its furniture throughout North America.

Bassett Names

  • Sir Richard Basset of Sapcote in Staffordshire and William Basset of Tehidy manor are the forebears of two long-standing Bassett families.
  • Sir Francis Bassett was a leading Cornish mine owner of the late 18th century.
  • Ebenezer Bassett, born to free blacks, was the first US African American diplomat, having been appointed US ambassador to Haiti in 1869.
  • John Bassett was a Canadian publisher and media baron. He was inducted into the Canadian Broadcast Hall of Fame in 2000.
  • Angela Bassett is an American actress who has become well-known for her biographical film roles of African Americans such as Tina Turner.

Bassett Numbers Today

  • 14,000 in the UK (most numerous in Hampshire)
  • 7,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 5,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Bassett and Like Surnames

The Norman Conquest brought new rulers to England and they brought their names and language, a form of French, with them.  Over time their names became less French and more English in character.  Thus Hamo became Hammond, Reinold Reynolds and Thierry Terry and so forth.  The names Allen, Brett, Everett, and Harvey were probably Breton in origin as Bretons also arrived, sometimes as mercenaries.

The new Norman lords often adopted new last names, sometimes from the lands they had acquired and sometimes from places back in Normandy.  Over time the name here also became more English.  Thus Saint Maur into Seymour, Saint Clair into Sinclair, Mohun into Moon, and Warenne into Warren.

Here are some of these Norman and Breton originating names that you can check out.



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Written by Colin Shelley

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