Bennett Surname Meaning, History & Origin

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The English surname Bennett developed from Benet or Bennets, names that derived from the medieval name Benedict or from its Old French forms Beneit and Benoit which were popular among the Normans.  Benedict came from the Latin benedictus meaning “blessed” and the term benedicte, meaning “bless you,” was a common medieval expression.

Benedict never really caught on as a first name.  Perhaps its association with “oyle of Benedictine,” a laxative, acted as a deterrent. Instead, the Bennett surname seems to have started with the Benedictine monasteries in England.  Its earliest use appears to have been among the monks who lived at or near the Furness Abbey monastery in present day Cumbria.

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England.  The Bennett surname probably originated independently in different parts of England and was widely spread by the 14th century.

Berkshire and London  The Bennets of Clapcot near Wallingford in Berkshire date from the 1430’s.  Later Bennets made it in London and Thomas Bennet was its Lord Mayor in 1603.  Sir John Bennet, a judge, was convicted of extracting bribes in 1621 and his career ended in disgrace.  But Henry Bennet, a prominent courtier in Restoration England, was ennobled in 1663 and Charles Bennet made Earl of Tankerville in 1714.

West of England There were Benetts in Wiltshire in the west country at Norton Bavant (near Warminster) from the 1300’s and later at Pythouse (near Tisbury).  These Benetts were Royalists during the Civil War and lost out at that time.  Later, their fortunes were restored and Thomas Benett was able to consolidate the estates in 1715. They remained with the family until 1860.

There were also early Bennetts in Somerset:

  • in Wiveliscombe from the 1480’s (where three Bennett brothers set off for America in the 1640’s)
  • and in Winsham from the 1550’s (this family were wine merchants in London in the 1700’s and with the proceeds bought the North Cadbury estate in Somerset in 1790).

Another Bennett family in the west country can trace their roots back to Tortworth in south Gloucestershire in the 1650’s. They were at one time farmers and later clothiers.

Staffordshire  Further north, there was a Bennett line at Saughall Massey in Cheshire.  The first record here was that of a Piers Benet in 1369.   This family were merchants in Chester for many generations.  One branch moved to Dublin in Ireland.  Bishop William Bennet of Ireland left his name to Bishop Bennet Way, a hiking route which tracks the ancient Roman road in Cheshire.

Scotland.  Bennett also appears in Scotland, from the same Benedict root, but generally spelt Bennet.   An early family were the Bennets of Grubbet in Roxburgh.  The name became quite common in and around Edinburgh by the 17th century.  One family traces itself from Steven Bennet in Midlothian (Dalkieth) in the 1630’s.  Bennets were also to be found in Banffshire (Keith) and later in Ayrshire (Saltcoats).

More recently, the Bennett name has been associated with traditional Scottish folklore and song in Newfoundland, first from the writer and broadcaster Dr. Margaret Bennett and then from the performer Martyn Bennett.  Their root in each case has been the Isle of Skye in Scotland.

America.  Bennetts from Somerset were early settlers in Virginia.  Edward Bennett, a well-to-do merchant based in London, was granted land and set off with a hundred and twenty settlers on the Sea Flower in 1622. His nephew Richard was governor of the new colony in 1652.  Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general, was a descendant.

New England  More Bennetts came to New England during the colonial period than to Virginia.  Prominent among those into Massachusetts were:

  • Edward Bennett, who arrived in Weymouth in 1636
  • James Bennett, who came in 1639 and settled in Connecticut
  • Henry Bennett, who settled in Ipswich in 1650
  • and David Bennett, granted land in Rowley in 1671 (his descendants moved onto Sanford in Maine)

A Bennett family in Connecticut migrated to Nova Scotia in 1765.  R.B Bennett, the Canadian Prime Minister during the Depression years of the 1930’s, came from this family.

Willem Bennet built the first stone house in Brookyn in 1638 and was killed there during an Indian attack six years later.  New York was then still New Netherlands and he himself was probably Dutch.  His descendants were to be found on Long Island and in New Jersey and are said to include the Democrat politician, Howard Dean.

Gordon Bennett, who arrived in New York from Scotland in 1823, took over the New York Herald and made it one of the best-selling newspapers in 19th century America.  The phrase “Gordon Bennett,” denoting surprise or shock, reportedly derives from his playboy son who had a habit of outrageous behavior.  The expression Gordon Bennett also found its way into colloquial use in England.

AustraliaJames Bennett had been sentenced in London as a 13 year old to transportation for life to Tasmania.  He arrived there in 1823 and served twenty years of his prison sentence before receiving his conditional pardon.  He then married, settled in Victoria, developed a successful market gardening business, and died prosperous in South Brighton at the age of 82.

Meanwhile, Samuel Bennett was a Cornishman who had come to Sydney in 1841 as a bounty immigrant.  He started a newspaper business in the 1860’s around his Sydney Evening News and this made him very wealthy.  In 1858 James Bennett began a coach and wagon business in the St. Mary’s suburb of Sydney.  This business also prospered and continued to be family owned until 1954.

New Zealand.  George Bennett had arrived in Wellington in 1840 and was appointed the first keeper of the Pencarrow lighthouse in Wellington harbor in 1852.  He drowned in 1855.  His wife Mary Jane took over his lighthouse responsibilities for the next ten years.

Henry Bennett came to the Bay of Plenty from America in 1853.  He was an early settler in Tauranga where his descendants are still to be found.   Stuart Ward compiled an account of this family, The History of the Bennett Family, in 1993.

Two Bennett arrivals of the 1870’s were from Ireland:

  • Thomas Bennett, who became New Zealand’s first Registrar General
  • and Henry Bennett, whose son became a noted horticulturist in Dunedin.

Thomas’s son Frederick married twice, in each case to Maoris, and fathered 18 children overall.  Some of these children became
prominent in the Maori cause.

 

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Peter Benet of Saughall Massey in Cheshire.  In the early registers at Neston parish church in Cheshire, a large proportion of the entries related to persons of the name of Bennett, many of them of comparably humble positions in life.  This circumstance is probably due to the fact that, from a very early date the Benedictine monastery at St. Werburgh in Chester held considerable estates in that and neighboring parishes.

In his Notes on the Ancient Bennett Families of Saughall Massey and Barnston in 1889, Edward Hance wrote that the Bennett line started with Benedictus or Benet and his brother Hamo de Benet.  The former was the father of Henry Benet, “baly” or governor of Rhoddlan castle, and of Peter Benet.  This Peter Benet acquired the property of Saughall Massey in 1369 and was probably the grandfather of John Benet from whom the Saughall Massey pedigree began.  John Benet was born around 1428 and lived to around 1495.

The Benetts of Norton Bavant in Wiltshire.  The Benetts were said to have been profitable in the village since the late 14th century.  John Benett claimed to hold land there in 1390.  Another John, a clothier, died in 1460; and a third John, also a clothier, flourished in the late 15th century.  He had apparently been succeeded by his son John in 1509.  Thomas Benett of this family was a tax collector for Henry VIII.  He died in 1558 a relatively wealthy man.

Bishop Bennet Way.  The Bishop Bennet Way runs from below Beeston Castle west towards the Welsh border.  It passes by Tattenhall and Aldford before turning south and east past Farndon towards Malpas and Whitchurch. Altogether the route comprises some 27 kilometers of surfaced roads and 12 kilometers of “green lanes.”  It  is named after the eighteenth century traveller who once explored these tracks.

William Bennet was born in 1745 in the Tower of London.  He was educated at Harrow School and at Emmanuel College where he later became a fellow and tutor.  He was appointed Bishop of Cork and Ross in 1790 and four years later became Bishop of Cloyne, a post he kept until his death in 1820.  A member of the House of Lords, he found time during the summer to carry out some of the earliest detailed surveys of the old Roman roads of England, including those between the old Roman forts at Deva (Chester) and Mediolanvm (Whitchurch).

Early Bennetts in America

Birth Place Bennett
Name
Comments
1629 Mass (Ipswich) Henry
1697 Connecticut Nathan
1700 c. Mass (Ipswich) Benjamin Married Mary Lakin and died in
1757
1742 Connecticut Edward
1750 c. N. Carolina (Butte) Solomon Died in Tennessee around 1845
A Revolutionary War soldier
1760 Connecticut Jeremiah Married Phebe Lain and died in
1811
1760 Rhode Island Thaddeus Married Eunice Bentley and died
in Ohio in 1834
1766 NY (Long Island) Zebulon Married Sarah Cooper and died in
Illinois in 1860
His father Zebulon died in the
Revolutionary War
1767 Mass (Lancaster) Thomas Married Mary Pratt and died in
1841
1770 Aaron Died in Georgia around 1830
1770 New Jersey Daniel Married Peggy Herbert and died
in 1850
1777 Virginia (Botetourt co) Jacob Married Mary Persinger and died
in 1860
His parents were John and Sarah
Bennett
1787 New Jersey Benjamin
1799 New Jersey Jonathan Married Hannah Lippincott and
died in 1869

Reader Feedback – James Bennett of Massachusetts.  James Bennett, son of Nicholas Bennett of Glastonbury, emigrated to Massachusetts in 1639 as an indentured servant. After his seven years of service, he married and settled a farm in Connecticut and has many descendants in the US.

John Allan Bennett, Sequim, Washington (liberty4@olypen.com)

Reader Feedback – John Bennett from Portishead.  My paternal grandmother was a Bennett, descended from John Bennett, supposedly known as an “architect and builder.”  I am trying to get more information about him, but am at a standstill. My great-grandfather, William Morris Bennett, was born in Toronto in 1844, so that is where his father, John, first landed.  They eventually moved to New York state, settling in the Buffalo area, Erie county.

From what documents and information the family has gathered over the years, as well as a small watercolor of the family “manor,” this Bennett family was from Portishead in Gloucestershire.

Morris Clements (geniec@suddenlink.net)

Bennetts from Ayrshire.  Rose Bennett’s ancestors have been traced back to her grandfather Samuel Bennett, a master tailor in Saltcoats, Ayrshire.  Saltcoats was originally a sleepy little area on the coast of Ayr where salt was produced.  During the Napoleonic wars Saltcoats became something of a boom town, attracting people from all over for shipping and related kobs.  After 1815 the area gradually reverted back to being a peaceful little place again.

Samuel Bennett probably moved to Saltcoats during the war either as a tailor or as an apprentice.  Around 1806 he married Rosina Pollock and they raised a large family.  The eldest Robert continued the tailor business at first in Saltcoats and later in Glasgow.  The next son Samuel also started out as an apprentice tailor.  But he left early to seek his fortune elsewhere.  He eventually became the owner/publisher of The Dumbarton Herald and the Provost of Dumbarton.  William started as a master lithographer, but later became a Unitarian minister.  The
youngest, Thomas, was a journalist and poet.

The Trial and Conviction of James Bennett.  On November 9 1817, 13 year old James Bennett’s life on the streets of the East End of London was changed forever when he was indicted for:

“stealing at the parish of St. Catherine Cree Church, in the dwelling house of John Keys, one pocketbook of value two shillings, three guineas, two sovereigns, one half guinea, two half sovereigns, one seven shilling piece, five pound thirteen shillings in moneys numbered, and eleven one pound bank notes, Mr. Keys’ property.”

James Bennett was tried at the Old Bailey in London on January 14, 1818.   The transcript of the trial reads very much like the story of the urchin Fagin and his band in Oliver Twist.  In Bennett’s case, Seymour was the leader with his band of young boys, Bennett, Duproy and Munroe.

Bannett was the cocky one and seems to have played a large part in the actual theft, although there were conflicting stories from the testimonies of Duproy and Bennett (Bennett denying doing the thieving).  In any case the verdict was guilty and the sentence was death.  There was a recommendation for mercy that he should be transported to Van Dieman’s Land “for the term of his natural life.”  He was shipped there, after five years in a prison hulk, in 1823.

The Bennett Letters from St. Helena.  The Bennett family whose letters formed the guiding thread through The Bennett Letters by Colin Fox lived lives that spanned the whole of the 19th century.  These letters are not essays or dry official reports; they are full of gossip and good humor and tell of the ups and downs, joys and tragedies of family life during two long generations.  The Bennetts lived in England, St. Helena in the south Atlantic, and South Africa and from their letters come their many varied experiences during this period.

The father of the family was James Bennett.  He was born in London in 1773 and, at the age of 16, joined the army of the East India Company.  He spent most of his career in St. Helena.  During his time on the island he rose in rank from private to a senior captain in the St. Helena Foot Regiment.

His main claim to fame was a somewhat mysterious link to the Emperor Napoleon who was exiled to the island in 1815 after his defeat at Waterloo.  According to some histories, Napoleon was buried in a coffin manufactured from James Bennett’s mahogany dining table.

Alternative English Versions of “Gordon Bennett.”  “The Gordon Bennett Cup for motor racing was won by a British driver and car in 1902.  Under the rules of the competition, Britain would be the host for the race in 1903.  A circuit was laid out on closed public roads in county Kildare, Ireland.  Due to the sudden influx of wealthy foreign visitors to the area, the local cafe and bar owners took the opportunity to taise their prices and make a quick killing.  Locals reacted to the inflated prices by exclaiming ‘Gordon Bennett.'”

“I had always thought Gordon Bennett referred to General Gordon Bennett of the Australian Forces in Malaya prior to the fall of Singapore. He is chiefly remembered for having abandoned his forces to their fate, slipping back to Australia immediately prior to Singapore’s surrender.  Scathing comments can be found in various histories of the colonial forces involved in the Malaya campaign.”

“Perhaps there is a tennis connection.  The Stade Roland Garros in Paris is on Avenue Gordon Bennett.”

 

Select Bennett Names

William Bennett served Henry VIII in his unsuccessful attempt to get the Pope to grant his divorce from Catherine of Aragon.
Etheldred Benett from Norton Bavant in Wiltshire has been called the first woman geologist.
Elizabeth Bennet was the fictional heroine in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
Gordon Bennett from Keith in Banffshire crossed the Atlantic and founded The New York Herald in 1835.
Arnold Bennett, the Victorian novelist, grew up in the Potteries district of Stafforshire and based his novels around life in the six towns there.
R.B. Bennett was the Prime Minister of Canada in the 1930’s.
Tony Bennett, the American singer, was born Tony Benedetto.
Alan Bennett from Leeds is a popular British playwright and writer.

Select Bennett Numbers Today

  • 94,000 in the UK (most numerous in West Midlands)
  • 91,000 in America (most numerous in Florida)
  • 65,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada).

 

 

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