Baxter Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Baxter Surname Meaning

The Baxter surname, a variant of Baker, derives from the occupation of baker.  Its root was the Old English baecestre meaning “female baker.”  The spelling later became bakstere and baxter and then generally applied to both male and female bakers.

Baxter is often considered as Scottish.  A 16th century Scottish prelate was vilified as being “ane baxter’s sone” (a baker’s son).  But Baxter has English origins as well.

Baxter Surname Resources on The Internet

Baxter Surname Ancestry

  • from Scotland and England
  • to America, Canada and New Zealand

ScotlandThe Baxter surname had appeared in Scotland by the 13th century.  Early Baxters were to be found primarily along the east coast.  Baxter was and is a common name in Angus as Forfar was at one time a royal residence and the first Baxters there may well have been the royal bakers.

A Baxter family came to the Dundee area as weavers in 1728.  John Baxter was the first of five generations of Baxters there in the flax and jute industry:

  • his son John was a merchant
  • his grandson William started a flax spinning mill at Glamis
  • and his great grandson David expanded Baxter Brothers & Co. to become the largest linen producer in Britain by the mid-19th century.  

Sir David Baxter and his sister Mary Ann were great benefactors to Dundee and the Baxter presence in Dundee continued well into the 20th century.

In more modern times a Baxter family at Fochabers on the river Spey in Morayshire has built a successful business creating quality soups and produce from local suppliers.  The forebear of this business was George Baxter who had opened a small grocery shop there in 1868.  Audrey Baxter, a fourth generation descendant, now runs the company.

Today the Baxter name is more prevalent around Glasgow and Edinburgh.  Jim Baxter, the Scottish footballer, played for Glasgow Rangers.

England.  The English census of the late 19th century would suggest that Baxter was primarily a northern English surname.  The name appeared in Northumberland in the 14th and 15th centuries.  More than a third of the Baxters came from the counties of Yorkshire and Lancashire in 1891.  However, some prominent Baxter families came from elsewhere.

Baxters have lived at Upper Bryn near Newtown in Montgomeryshire since the mid-17th century. It is thought that the Puritan divine Richard Baxter, born in Shropshire, came from this family. A 19th century descendant was George Baxter,a writer and campaigner against the Poor Laws.

William Baxter married Sarah Hull in Haslemere, Surrey in 1640.  There were three generations of prominent Baxter descendants from Lewes in Sussex during the 19th century:

  • John Baxter, a bookseller and printer who published Baxter’s Bible which sold well in America
  • his son George Baxter who invented a process of printing in oil colors
  • and his grandson Wynne Edwin Baxter who made his name as the coroner in London at the time of the Jack the Ripper murders and the Elephant Man.

Ireland.  Baxter was a Scottish implant in Ireland, mainly in Ulster. There is some suspicion that the early Baxters in Antrim may have been gallowglasses (i.e. mercenaries).  The Baxter name was also to be found in county Cavan, at Ballyconnell in Templeport parish.

America.  Early Baxter arrivals were English, later Scottish and Irish.

New England.  Some say that the early Baxter arrivals had come from Norfolk, others from Shropshire where the Puritan divine Richard Baxter had been born.

Gregory Baxter was there in 1630 with Winthop’s fleet and made his home in Braintree, Massachusetts.  His daughter Abigail married Joseph Adams in 1650 and they were the grandparents of John Adams, the second President of the United States.

George and Thomas Baxter were the forebears of the Baxters of Westchester county, New York.  “According to family tradition, Captain George Baxter came at the time of the English occupation of New Amsterdam in 1664.  For his services he received a grant of land at Throggs Neck in Westchester county.”  

Thomas had apparently arrived earlier.  He was recorded as pillaging Dutch vessels and towns in the area in 1653. Their lineage was described in Frances Baxter’s 1913 book The Baxter Family: Descendants of George and Thomas Baxter.

Baxters were to be found in colonial times in Norwich, Connecticut.  Elihu Baxter and his wife Tryphena moved to Gorham, Maine after the Revolutionary War was over.  Their son Elihu was a distinguished doctor in the town (his home Baxter House has been preserved) and the forebear of a notable Maine family:

  • his son James moved to Portland, Maine and made a fortune in the canning industry.  He was mayor of Portland no fewer than six times and lived onto the grand age of 90.  
  • his grandson Percival was the Governor of Maine from 1921 to 1925  
  • and his great grandson James was a distinguished historian, winner of the Pulitzer prize for History in 1947.  

Elsewhere.  The Baxter arrivals here were Scottish or more likely Scots Irish.

Arthur Baxter came to Georgetown, South Carolina from Ulster in the 1730’s. His descendants spread across the South.  The family history was traced in Lionel and John Baxter’s 1989 book A Baxter Family from South Carolina. 

William Baxter from county Down came in 1789 and made his home in Rutherford county, North Carolina.  He was described as a “thrifty and wealthy farmer.”  His eldest son William was murdered in 1838 at the age of 42 while on a trip to South Carolina.  But his son Elisha, a Union supporter during the Civil War, became a controversial Governor of Arkansas in 1872.

Canada.  Simon Baxter from Connecticut became the first Empire Loyalist, in 1782, to settle in New Brunswick.  His great great grandson John Baxter was Premier of New Brunswick from 1925 to 1931.

Two Baxter families from Cavan in Ireland – those of James and Thomas Baxter – were on McCabe’s list, enlisted in the late 1820’s to help build the Rideau canal connecting Ottawa with Kingston, Ontario.  When construction finished in 1832 James and his family settled in Marlborough township on a patch of land that came to be known as Baxter’s Corners. Thomas made his home in Nepean.  A descendant Monsignor Paul Baxter, born in 1934, gave his name to the elementary school in Nepean.

Jim Baxter, a diamond merchant with a checkered history, had been born to Irish immigrant parents in Ontario around 1840. He came to Montreal in the 1880’s and made his mark as a property developer.  In 1892 he built the Baxter Block in downtown Montreal, said to have been the first shopping mall in Canada.

However his reputation fell apart in 1900 when he was arrested, charged and convicted of embezzling $40,000 from his bank. He was jailed for five years and died at the end of the term in 1905. His widow Helene Baxter was a passenger on the Titanic in 1912 who survived.

New Zealand.  Samuel Baxter and his wife Margaret departed Antrim in 1840 and initially made their home in Melbourne.  Some fifteen years later they crossed the Tasman Sea to South Island, New Zealand and settled in Naseby, Otago.  Their story was told in Greg Aspinall’s 2002 book The Baxter Saga.  One of their grandchildren Kenneth became an activist New Zealand trade union leader.

Baxter Surname Miscellany

Early Baxters in Scotland.  George Fraser Black in his 1946 book The Surnames of Scotland gave the following early instances of the Baxter name in Scotland.

“Between 1200 and 1240 Reginald Baxtar witnessed the gift of the church of Wemys in Fife.  Geffrei le Baxtere of Lossithe in Forfar took an oath of fealty in 1290.  Thomas dictus Baxter, burgess of Irvine, made a grant in 1323 for support of a chaplain in the parish church of Irvine.  William Baxtare was a crossbowman at Edinburgh castle in 1312.  Robert Baxter was a town official in Aberdeen in 1398.  Baxter was and still is a common surname in Angus.  As Forfar was a royal residence the first Baxters there may have been the royal bakers.”

Sir David Baxter and Baxter Park.  By the 1850’s David Baxter of Dundee had become the owner of one of the largest linen industries in the world.  His company employed around 5,000 local people.  His philanthropic work began at that time.  He built tenement housing at low rent for his employees.

In 1861 David and his sisters Eleanor and Mary Ann purchased 36 acres of “pleasure ground” in Dundee.  They commissioned Sir Joseph Paxton, who was considered to be one of the best designers of the Victorian era, to design the park.

In 1863 David Baxter received a knighthood and in the same year Baxter Park was officially opened and handed over to the people of Dundee. The opening ceremony was on September 9th and was a huge event featuring a parade and a speech by Lord Russell.  It was attended by between 30,000 and 60,000 people and the day was set aside as a public holiday.

A statue of Sir David Baxter was placed inside the sandstone pavilion.  But it had to be removed due to vandalism in 1894.

George Baxter of the Upper Bryn in Montgomeryshire.  George Baxter the writer died on 17th January 17, 1854 in the 39th year of his age.  His obituary read as follows:

“George Robert Wythen Baxter of the Upper Bryn, Llanllwcliaiarn was the only son of George Trotman Baxter of Hereford and was born in the year 1815.

He was a member of an old family long settled in the neighborhood of Newtown and claimed among his ancestry the celebrated Nonconformist divine, Richard Baxter, and Hugh Baxter of Ystradfaelog (1687) and Richard Baxter (1690), the names of the two latter being recorded as benefactors to the poor of Trefeglwys and Llanwnog.

He was the author of The Book of the Bastiles, an attack upon the Poor Law, the Bastiles being the workhouses; Humor and Pathos; and several other works.

A handsome marble tablet was erected to his memory by his mother in Llanllwchaiarn Church.”

The Funeral of Wynne Edwin Baxter.  Wynne Edwin Baxter had been Coroner for London for 33 years and was known as the ‘father of the London coroners.”  Before that he was Coroner for Sussex for seven years. In all he conducted over 40,000 inquests, from the Brighton Railway murder of Isaac Gold to the victims of German air raids during the First World War.

He died in 1920 and his funeral took place on October 6.  The coffin was adorned with massive brass fittings and covered in floral tributes and was conveyed to the church on a wheeled hand-bier from 170 Stoke Newington Church Street, with mourners following on foot in silence.  Along the route, the blinds of private residences were drawn and the Public Library and many of the shops were shut and exhibited black shutters or boards.

The church bells of St Mary’s, the scene for the service, played Abide With Me as the procession approached. Some 52 years earlier Wynne had married his wife Kate at the same church. The service, opened to the playing of Angels ever Bright and Fair by Sister Ada on the organ, was conducted by Rev. Crombie and assisted by Rev. Le Couteur.  Baxter had been Churchwarden at St Mary’s for over 25 years.

The Mayor of Stoke Newington, local magistrates, the Acting Coroner for East London, Dr E K Houchin, and men from H Division were in attendance, along with many others.   Official bodies such as the Worshipful Body of Founders, the Hackney Board of Guardians, the War Pensions Committee and the Stoke Newington Conservative and Unionist Association were represented.

The only hymn was Thine for Ever, God of Love, with the church bells ringing out For ever with the Lord as the cortege left St Mary’s for Lewes. A simple inscription of “Wynne Edwin Baxter, died 1st October 1920, aged 76 years” adorned the polished oak.

Simon Baxter the Empire Loyalist.  In early 1778 Simon Baxter and his son Benjamin were together in New York for a time.  There is a family tradition that Simon fell into the hands of the Whigs and was ordered to be executed as a traitor.  When led out for execution he apparently broke loose and fled with the rope around his neck and succeeded in reaching General Burgoyne’s army in safety.

However that may be, he was certainly in a list of prisoners sent from Newport, Rhode Island in the prison-ship Lord Sandwich which came to Boston harbor in March 1778.  He was later released and returned to New York where he survived a smallpox scare.

By the end of 1781 it had become clear that as a Loyalist Simon had lost all rights of protection in America.  He thus petitioned and was granted his request to remove his family to New Brunswick in Canada.  They arrived at Fort Howe there in March 1782.

Simon received from the British Government a grant of 2,000 acres of land in New Brunswick and another 3,000 acres by a warrant in 1782 for his services in the French War.  His sons William and Joseph received 500 acres each.  Meanwhile he had been proscribed and banished and lost his estate in Alstead, New Hampshire under the Confiscation Act.

Helene Baxter on the Titanic.  In 1862 when Hélène was born, her family had social standing in Quebec but no money.  At the age of twenty she married Jim Baxter, a diamond broker with money but no social standing.

Diamond Jim ended up in jail.  But she was well provided for.   Her husband had investments in France, Switzerland and Belgium. She sold the family mansion in Montreal and later her husband’s investment in the Baker Block.  She then took her son Quigg and married daughter Zette on excursions to Europe.  She found it advantageous to escape Montreal each autumn and enjoy the social scene in Paris or Brussels before returning in the spring with a fresh supply of jewelry.

In 1912 they joined the Titanic at Cherbourg on her maiden voyage.  They were booked into the second most luxurious suites on the ship, right next to the managing director of the White Star Line.

Helene Baxter was ill with nausea during most of the voyage, but found the throb of the engines relaxing.  When the ship stopped in mid-ocean, she had an anxiety attack.  Her son Quigg carried her up the Grand Staircase and put her and his sister into lifeboat six.  As he kissed them goodbye he gave his mother a sterling silver brandy flask so she might keep warm on the open ocean; and she berated him for his drinking.  She never saw him again.

After the disaster she returned to Montreal but never recovered from the effects.  She died in her apartment in 1923 and was buried in the Baxter family plot in Notre Dame de Neiges cemetery.

Jim Baxter’s Short Footballing Career.  Jim Baxter is generally regarded as one of Scotland’s greatest ever footballers.  His peak playing years were in the early 1960s with the Glasgow club Rangers whom he helped to win ten trophies between 1960 and 1965 and where he became known as “Slim Jim.”

However, from his earliest days at Ibrox, he would be seen in the shower in the mornings sucking on peppermints – trying to rid himself of the effects of serious drinking before training had begun. Perhaps his background as a pit-boy in Fife lay at the core of this impulsive drinking behavior.

He started drinking really heavily during a four-month layoff caused by a leg fracture in December 1964.  His fitness suffered and he was transferred to the English club Sunderland in 1965.  In two and a half years at Sunderland he played 98 games and scored 12 goals, becoming known for drinking himself unconscious the night before a match and playing well the next day.  At the end of 1967 Sunderland transferred him to Nottingham Forest who gave him a free transfer back to Rangers in 1969 after 50 games.

After a further rather ignominious year with Rangers, Baxter retired from football in 1970 at the age of 31.  Following his retirement he applied for and was given a publican’s license. In 1994 he had two liver transplants.  He died seven years later.

Baxter Names

  • Richard Baxter was a prominent English Puritan church leader of the 17th century. 
  • Sir David Baxter was a linen manufacturer and benefactor to the town of Dundee in the mid-19th century. 
  • Jim Baxter was a Scottish footballer of the 1960’s generally regarded as one of the country’s finest players.

Baxter Numbers Today

  • 33,000 in the UK (most numerous in Glasgow)
  • 19,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 25,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Baxter and Like Surnames 

These are surnames from the Scottish Lowlands.  Some are clan names; some – like Gordon, Graham and Hamilton – have Anglo-Norman antecedents that crossed the border into Scotland; and some – like Douglas and Stewart – were very powerful in early Scottish history.  Stewart in fact became the royal Stuart line.


Written by Colin Shelley

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