Bates Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Bates Surname Meaning

Bate was a pet form of the personal name Bartholomew and Bate emerged as a surname as well. The spelling later took the form of the patronymic form Bates, meaning “son of Bate.”

Some alternative origins of the Bates name – Viking in one case and German in another – have been suggested.

Bates Surname Resources on The Internet

Bates Surname Ancestry

  • from England
  • to Ireland, America, Canada and Australia

England.  The early spelling was Bate and was to be found in the north of England, in the Midlands, with an outpost (possibly of Viking origin) in the South.

North. Thomas del Bate was recorded in Yorkshire in 1279 and John Bate, who died in 1429, was a religious writer who had been brought up in a Carmelite monastery in York.

A Bate family was to be found in Northumberland by the 1300’s. As Bates they became a prominent landed family in Northumberland.

Midlands. John Bate was recorded as the Dean of the Collegiate Church in the parish of Tamworth in Warwickshire in 1448. There were Bates at nearby Newton Regis in the next century. Thomas Bates, the Gunpowder Plot conspirator in 1605, came from Lapworth.

However, the Bate spelling was more resistant here than in the North. It was, for instance, Mark Bate from Birmingham who emigrated to British Columbia in Canada in 1857. By then Bates numbers had shifted more towards the East Midlands.

South.  A Bate line began with John Bate at Lydd in Kent in the late 1300’s. They became Bates around 1550. Form Lydd came two early settlers to America – John Bates in Virginia in 1624 and Clement Bates in New England in 1635.

Ireland.  There were Bates in Ireland, of probable English extraction, in Ulster (Tyrone and Donegal) and in Wexford in SE Ireland.

Bates in Tyrone were to be found around Lough Leagh and in the Strabane area near Donegal. Bates at Donaghmore parish in Raphoe date from at least 1795. These Donegal Bates emigrated in the early 1900’s.

Bates were Protestant in county Wexford at the time of the 1798 Irish Uprising.  “Peter Bates, a farmer at Monart, swore that his house, offices, and property were consumed by the rebels. They murdered his two brothers, two brothers-in-law, and one uncle, all of Templeshambo.”  

Many Bates emigrated from the area to Canada in the first half of the 19th century. But Bates remained as fishermen at Kilmore Quay. Willie Bates did much to revive the fishing out of Kilmore Quay in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Bates of Kilmore Quay is a popular seafood store there today.  

America.  Early Bates came to both Virginia and New England.

Virginia.  John Isaac Bates arrived in Jamestown in 1624 as an indentured servant. His descendants based themselves at their Skimino plantation in York county, Virginia for the next six generations. It was John Bates, the grandson of the immigrant and known as the Quaker merchant, who made the family wealthy.

One line of this family made their home at the Belmont plantation in Goochland county. Thomas F. Bates, despite his Quaker upbringing, fought in the Revolutionary War. He had three well-known sons:

  • Frederick Bates who served as the second Governor of Missouri in 1824
  • James Bates who was an early settler and politician in what was then Arkansas territory
  • and Edward Bates who served as the first Attorney General of Missouri and was later US Attorney General under Abraham Lincoln.

Another Bates line moved south to Georgia in 1800. They witnessed the roundup of the Cherokee Indians that preceded the Trail of Tears before migrating west to Texas.

Other early Bates in Virginia have been:

  • William Bates who had acquired land in Essex county by 1670. His descendants have been civic leaders in King and Queen county until recently.
  • and Dr. James Bate, who had initially immigrated into Maryland but then moved to a new home at Berry Hill in Berkeley county, Virginia in 1778. However, he was to die a year later. His widow and children moved to another Berry Hill home in Kentucky in 1798.

New England. Two early Bates in New England were:

  • Clement Bates who came to Hingham, Massachusetts in 1635 and was instrumental in forming the community there. He has a large number of descendants in New England today. Included among them were Simeon Bates, the Scituate lighthouse keeper at the time of the War of 1812, and Elijah Bates, a furniture manufacturer in North Brookfield a few years later.
  • while Deacon Edward Bates from Buckinghamshire arrived in Weymouth, Massachusetts around 1637. Bates of this line were to be found in Connecticut and later in Ohio and Kansas.

Another line from Clement Bates led to Major Elkanah Bates, a cotton merchant and farmer in Marshfield, Massachusetts in the early 1800’s. His son Benjamin Bates raised money to build a new cotton mill in Lewiston, Maine. The project, a long time in the planning, was eventually completed in 1854. The plant was steadily expanded over the years and by 1940 Bates Mills was the largest employer in the state of Maine. The mills, however, closed in 1992.

Canada. Walter Bates was a Tory farmer on Long Island who accepted the King’s offer of land in New Brunswick and departed New York in 1783 on the Union. He wrote a narrative of his experiences entitled Kingston and the Loyalists of the Spring Fleet and later had some success as a writer.

Bates from Ireland started coming in the early 1800’s. Those from Wexford included:

  • Mark Bates who arrived in 1810, married in Newfoundland two years later, and settled in a small community of what became known as Bateston on Cape Breton. They raised six children there. There are over 500 descendants of Mark Bates in Nova Scotia today.
  • Thomas Bates who came to Hastings county, Ontario. in the 1820’s, after earlier separating from his two other immigrant brothers. Thomas and his descendants lived in the same farmhouse in Thurlow township from 1831 to 1977.
  • and Nathaniel Bates who came with four brothers and sisters in 1833 and settled in Prescott county, Ontario. He was the youngest of fourteen children of Peter and Hannah Bates in Wexford.

Some later Bates arrivals from England presented sadder cases . Three Bates children – Thomas, Albert and William, – were brought to Canada by Dr. Barnardo’s in 1920 after their father had died and their mother had remarried. They were the first Home Children orphans to come to Canada after the war.

Ted Bates had arrived on the Victorian in 1914 and made his way out west, first to Manitoba and then to Saskatchewan where he farmed. He was caught up in a terrible family tragedy during the Great Depression of the early 1930’s.

Australia.  Thomas Bates from Kent was convicted of stealing at the Old Bailey and transported as a convict to Australia on the Neptune in 1790. On getting his release, he joined the NSW Corps, married, and prospered as a boat builder. One of his sons Nathaniel went to New Zealand and became a whaler. He supposedly had three Maori wives and thirty children.

Meanwhile the Bates name has been long associated with Kangaroo Island off South Australia:

  • in 1824 Londoner George Bates, nicknamed the Fireball, arrived on the sealing ship Nereus. He was still there twelve years later when an official landing party came to the island and was appalled by his unconventional lifestyle there.
  • in 1858 Ephraim S. Bates (unrelated) from Sussex arrived on the Melbourne from England and started farming in the Penneshaw area. Three more generations of Bates followed, until the death of Bruce Bates there in 2014.

Bates Surname Miscellany

Alternative Bates Origins.  In the years of the Viking invasions of England, some people of Scandinavian descent by the name of Bati settled in the county that is now Kent.  The name Bati meant “those who came in boats.”  This name later became Bate and Bates.  Some of the original people with the name Bate changed it to Bateson and Bateman.

There was another group of people with the name Bates that originated from Germany, but those with this lineage were really Betz.  Their ancestors were Hessians brought to America by the British during the American Revolution to fight as mercenaries.  They changed their name to the English version of Bates so they would not face reprisals from the Americans after they had lost the war.

Bates in Northumberland.  There was a Bate family in the East Riding of Yorkshire in the 1200’s that was believed to have moved north into Northumberland in the next century to escape the overlordship of the Normans.  They were initially a family of minor gentry in Northumberland, based at Bedlington, and served as officers of the Bishop of Durham for several generations. Bate became Bates around the year 1500.

Thomas Bates, who was the MP for Morpeth in Tudor times, gave the family a higher standing. He was a supervisor of the Crown lands in Northumberland and the Queen wrote to him in 1557 commending “not only your goodwill and readiness to do our service in these borders, but also the good and valiant service and endeavor that you have done from time to time there.” Bates was also able to expand the family’s land holdings.

By the 1800’s the Bates family was a long established Northumbrian family based at Bedlington and Halliwell and one that enjoyed intermarriage with the other prominent landed families in the area.  They had been involved in local coal mining in the area for many generations.  Their numbers included:

  • Ralph Bates who was the High Sheriff for Northumberland in 1812 and built the family home at Mllbourne Hall in fine Georgian style.
  • Thomas Bates from Aydon castle near Corbridge who was a prominent breeder of short-horned cattle in the early 1800’s at his Kirklevington estate in north Yorkshire.
  • Cadwallader John Bates, a noted antiquarian and local historian who lived at Heddon Hall and was the High Sheriff for Northumberland in 1890.
  • and Sir Loftus Bates also from Aydon, a distinguished horseman who fought in the Boer and First World Wars.  He later became the Chairman of the Horse Race Course Owners Association and lived onto 1951.

Reader Feedback – Bates in Ireland.  My earliest known ancestor in Ireland is Patrick Bates who married Mary Lanigan in Kilkenny in 1843.   I found a possible baptism certificate for him as being born to John Bates and Catherine Sullivan in 1818.  Any ideas?

Emma Bates (

The Bate Berry Hill Home in Kentucky.  In 1798 Susanna Bate, the widow of Dr. James Bate, and her son James and daughter Catherine sold their property in Virginia and began their trip west to Kentucky.   The family held patent to 3,500 acres of land some four and a half miles away from present-day Louisville.  Tradition has it that another daughter Ann and her husband John Locke had been sent to Kentucky earlier and had a brick house built in the name of Susanna Bate.

As the story goes, the family brought with them furniture, servants, over eighty slaves, and other necessities. They came with pack mules over the Wilderness Road following the Ohio river which so many others from Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland had traveled on their way to Kentucky. James Bate also brought their doors and other custom furnishings from their home of Berry Hill in Virginia to be used on their new home of Berry Hill in Kentucky.

The new Berry Hill there followed the design of the first Bate houses in Maryland, as well as their Berry Hill in Virginia.  The floors, woodwork and carved mantles were made from the wood of the black walnut forest located to the side of the homestead. Zinc-white and mahogany was the finishing of the wainscoting and stairs. The exterior was built with penciled brick walls and large planked porches. A floral garden containing the family graveyard was in the midst of berry and lilac bushes.

A three story barn was built later with entrances from the ground to each floor. Here various phases of tobacco processing were practiced.

Simeon Bates, Lighthouse Keeper, and His Two Daughters.  Captain Simeon Bates became the first lighthouse keeper of the newly built Scituate Lighthouse in 1811.  The militia practiced daily nearby.  When they were not doing this, they stored the drums and fife in the lighthouse.

One day, while they were all gone hunting, Simeon’s two daughters Rebecca and Abigail spotted Redcoats sailing towards the light.  It was the British frigate La Hogue intent on pillaging the community as they were angry from being denied access to Boston Harbor.

The daughters sent a younger brother to find the militia.  After extinguishing the light, they took drum and fife out back in the woods and proceeded to play Yankee Doodle as loudly as they could in hopes of deterring the British who were about to make land.  Upon hearing the sounds of the militia, the British altered their course and all was safe on land.

The Bates Emigration from Donegal.  The Bates family in Donaghmore parish in Raphoe, Donegal dates back at least to 1795 when they were recorded in the flaxgrowers’ list.   They also appeared in the 1857 Griffith Valuation for Raphoe and John Bates was a landowner there in the 1880’s.  The family was a pew holder at the local Presbyterian church.

However, the next generation emigrated.  First it was a youngest brother William who left for Canada in 1912, then another brother Albert for Jamaica in 1918, and another brother John for New Zealand in 1926, leaving their older brother David with the family farm.

John Bates made his home in New Zealand in the Wanganui area.  In 2013, when his only surviving daughter Isobel was visiting from Canada, there was a grand family reunion. 

Reader Feedback – Mark Bates of Nova Scotia.  I am one of the 500 descendants of Mark Bates from Nova Scotia, him being my 4th great-grandfather. From what I can tell Nathaniel, the son of Peter and Hannah, was his youngest brother.

Jess Bates (

A Bates Tragedy During the Great Depression.  Ted Bates had arrived in Canada on the Victorian in 1914 and made his way out west, first to Manitoba and then to Saskatchewan where he farmed.

However, he and his family were one of the early casualties of the Great Depression which had a particularly devastating effect on rural Saskatchewan. Ted and Rose Bates had failed in business in Glidden in 1932 and again on the west coast of Canada the following year.  They were turned down for relief assistance twice, first in Vancouver and then in Saskatoon, because they did not meet local residency requirements.

The couple then decided to end their lives by carbon monoxide poisoning in their car in a remote rural schoolyard, taking their eight-year-old son Jackie with them.  They preferred this outcome, rather than the shame of returning home to Glidden as a relief case.  But it was only the child who died when the suicide plan went horribly wrong and the parents were charged with murder and brought to trial in the spring of 1934.

Local people understood their plight.  It was, as one observer at the trial said: “that stiff-back sense of pride that comes through again and again in the stories of those who were forced by circumstances to accept relief.”

Their former friends in Glidden rallied around the family in their time of distress and paid for Jackie’s funeral and started a legal defense fund.   Those who knew Ted and Rose Bates readily accepted their explanation for their actions without question. The alternative, that the pair had planned to murder their son in cold blood, was unthinkable.

In the end, the Bateses were found not guilty, a verdict that was applauded in the gallery.  They returned to obscurity.  Ted Bates lived on another twenty years, his wife Rose somewhat longer.

Bates Names

  • Benjamin Bates was a 19th century New England industrialist who started the Bates textile mill in Lewiston, Maine in 1854. His legacy is Bates College there. 
  • H. E. Bates was a 20th century English writer, best known for his novel The Darling Buds of May. 
  • Alan Bates was a prominent English actor of the 1960’s.

Bates Numbers Today

  • 38,000 in the UK (most numerous in East Midlands)
  • 35,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 19,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

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Written by Colin Shelley

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