Bliss Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Bliss Meaning

Bliss as a surname in England has two known origins. Bliss in one form is descriptive, a nickname for a joyful person deriving from the Middle English blisse, meaning “gladness” or “joy.”  Richard “called Blisse,” a tenant at Parndon in Essex mentioned in a charter of the Knights Hospitaliers in the late 12th century, was probably a native Anglo-Saxon and an early representative of this Bliss name.

The other origin is Norman, from the Norman de Blez family which came to England in the 12th century.  A Hugo be Blez was recorded in the subsidy roll of Worcestershire in 1275.

As the Bliss Family History Society put it:

“We are free to choose the source of our particular branch of the Bliss name: a native stubbornly persistent Anglo-Saxon heritage or a venturesome hot-tempered Norman import.”

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England.  The ancient de Blez name was recorded in Herefordshire, Worcestershire, and Warwickshire during the 12th century.  The Bliss name has had a wider arc, stretching south to Gloucestershire and east into Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire.

Gloucestershire Blisses started from an early time and were being recorded in the parish registers of Avening, Bisley, and Painswick by the 16th century.  There was a Bliss family in Painswick, operating Salman’s mill, from the 1430’s.  Nathaniel Bliss, the son of a Bisley clothier, was the fourth Astronomer Royal in 1762.  And a Bliss family from Avening started the Bliss woollen mill in Chipping Norton in 1816.

The Bliss name was to be seen as well in Daventry, Northamptonshire.  In 1674 William Bliss endowed the Bliss Charity School in the Northamptonshire village of Nether Heyford where he was born.

Blisses also featured in the county of Essex from an early date.  Edward Bliss, born in Doddinghurst in the late 1700’s, prospered in Portugal and returned to England a wealthy man.  He acquired a number of estates, most notably Brandon Park House in Suffolk.  Descendant Baron Henry Bliss left his money to the people of Belize in Central America.

America.  The authoritative guide to Blisses in America is the three volume work by A. T. Bliss, Genealogy of the Bliss Family in America, produced in 1982.

Early Blisses in New England came from one family, two brothers and one cousin who arrived in the late 1630’s:

  • brother Thomas, settling in Rehoboth, Massachusetts
  • brother George, in Newport Rhode Island
  • and cousin Thomas, in Hartford, Connecticut.

These Blisses faced divided loyalties during the Revolutionary War, with families splitting between the Loyalist and the American cause.

William Bliss from Lebanon in New Hampshire fought in the Mexican War of 1846 but then died of yellow fever in New Orleans, aged just 38.  Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas is named after him.

The Bliss family in Savoy, Massachusetts produced that intrepid adventurer Duane Bliss.  He set off via Panama for San Francisco in 1849 after he had heard of the gold discoveries there.  He ended up starting a lumber company by Lake Tahoe and his family became early settlers in that area.  Their story is told in the 1992 book Tahoe Heritage: The Bliss Family of Glenbrook, Nevada by Sessions Wheeler and William Bliss.

Blisses in America did not just come from England.  Some 30 percent arrived from Germany or from German-speaking lands.  Bliss is a German surname of similar origin (from the German blide meaning “joyful”). German names such as Pluess also became Bliss.  Among these Blisses were:

  • a Bliss family who came in the 1830’s from Switzerland and moved to Kansas
  • Christian Bliss who arrived in the 1840’s from Bavaria and settled in Florida
  • and another Swiss Bliss family who came to Indiana in 1880.

Australia.   The first Bliss arrivals were convicts, starting with John Bliss in 1808.  He had been the former landlord of the Bullshead Inn in Stoke Goldington, Buckinghamshire and had been sentenced to transportation for passing forged banknotes.  Joseph Bliss from Northamptonshire was dispatched for the same offence in 1822.  George Bliss, transported to Australia for theft in 1838, lived onto 1915 and was one of the last living convicts from the convict era.

 

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From de Blez to Bliss.  English state and ecclesiastical documents recorded de Blezes in Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Warwickshire in the 12th century.  It is thought that the name originated from Blay, a village nine kilometers west of Bayeux in Normandy, recorded in 1077 in the form of Bleis.

The de Blezes came to the Welsh Marches in the service of Adam de Port, baron of Kington, circa 1115. Later they were knights in the service of the barony of Radnor, owing allegience first to the de Braose baronial family and then to the Mortimers of Wigmore who had inherited Radnor by marriage to the de Braose heiress.  One of the manors held by William de Blez in the 1160’s was Stok in Herefordshire, which became known as Stoke de Blez and then as Stoke Bliss – thus demonstrating the transition of Blez to Bliss.  The Bliss manor in Staunton on Wye was also named from the de Bleez or de Blees medieval landlords.

By the 15th century the de Blez name had completely disappeared from English records. 

The Bliss Mill in Chipping Norton.  The town of Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire has been considered as the gateway to the Cotswolds.  It has also been where the Bliss family began manufacturing woollens and tweeds in the 1750’s.  William Bliss mechanized the process in 1816 when he built his first mill there.  The mill proved profitable and the Blisses became the town’s leading benefactors.

A new Bliss mill was built in 1872 after the original mill had burned down.  William Bliss spent a fortune making it the grandest mill in England, complete with reading room, chapel, worker cottages etc.  It was described by one writer as “a stately home with a sink plunger on the top.”  The cloth produced was sold as “Silken Leather,” so famous as to inspire a folk song.

However, Bliss forgot to make allowances for this new spending in his will, so that, when he died, the only way to honor his many generous legacies was to sell the mill.  The family were legally bound.

The mill continued producing under various owners until its closure in 1980.  The building has now been converted into luxury apartments and leisure facilities.

Early Blisses in New England.  One Bliss family contributed three early settlers in New England, the brothers Thomas and George from the village of Preston Parva in Northamptonshire and their cousin Thomas from Gloucestershire.

Thomas and George were blacksmiths.  They came over together with their families, arriving in Boston around 1638.  Thomas was granted land in Braintree in 1639.  He took the freeman’s oath in Cambridge in 1642 and relocated to Rehoboth in 1643 where he was one of the early settlers.  He died there four years later. Brother George meanwhile had moved to Newport, Rhode Island where he practiced his trade as a blacksmith.  George was listed in the Colonial Records as a freeman in 1655 and as a land purchaser in Newport in 1660.  He died there in 1667.

Thomas may have emigrated with his cousins around 1638, for he owned land in Hartford on the Connecticut river by 1639.  By the time of his death in 1650 or 1651, he owned 58 acres of land and a house lot on a road west of Lafayette Street in Hartford.

Divided Bliss.  The Bliss brothers of Concord, Massachusetts were divided by the Revolutionary War, with Daniel and Samuel on the British side and Thomas and Joseph on the American.

Daniel Bliss

In 1775 two British officers came to Concord to reconnoiter the town and find out about the munitions being made and stored.  They used the Bliss home in the center of town from where they could observe all activity.  The population quickly became aware of their presence and threatened to kill Daniel Bliss and his visitors.  Late at night Daniel led his guests by an unwatched road and fled to Boston.  A few weeks later he sent his younger brother Samuel to Concord to get his family safely away.

Daniel’s estate was the only one in Concord that was confiscated in the revolution.  The family went to Quebec in 1781 and he fought with General Burgoyne’s army.  In 1786, the war being over, he resigned his commission and moved to Fredericton, the capital of the new colony of New Brunswick.  He built up a law practice there and later became a Chief Justice.

Judge Bliss was not allowed to settle again in the land of his birth and could not even claim the portraits of his parents which had been bequeathed to him.

Thomas Bliss

Thomas Theodore Bliss was a younger brother of Loyalist Daniel and he took the American side.  He had a commission as captain and the command of a company of artillery.  In the campaign against Quebec in 1775 (where his brother Daniel was among the defenders), he was captured and sent to New York.  Daniel used his considerable influence to prevent his brother’s release and he was not in fact released until the British forces evacuated New York after the peace.

Samuel Bliss

After Daniel had fled in 1775, Samuel led his older brother’s wife and children away to safety in Boston.  When the battle of Concord was fought, the people were suspicious of Samuel and believed that he had served as a guide to the British troops.  He was brought before the magistrates but later discharged.   He later was commissioned a lieutenant in the Royal Highland Emigrants.  After the war he received for his services an island in the Bay of Fundy and became a merchant in St. Andrew, New Brunswick.

Joseph Bliss

Meanwhle Joseph Bliss, the youngest son, had become a clerk in the bookstore of Henry Knox in Boston. When Knox became Washington’s chief of artillery, Joseph accompanied him and served in Knox’s regiment throughout the war.  He was present at the battle of Brandywine and achieved the rank of captain and paymaster.

George Bliss, a Convict and a Survivor.  It seemed that George Bliss of Sevenoaks in Kent just wanted to get transported.  In July 1838, at the age of 19, he stole “a frock, a jacket, a knife, a tobacco bar, and a half handkerchief, the property of Thomas Hunt.”  Six months later, he stole “a piece of meat, value of three shillings, the property of John Spencer.”  This time he was sentenced to death, a verdict that was later reduced to transportation for life.

George left England on the Parkfield in May 1839, arriving in Australia in September after a voyage of 109 days.  He was described at that time as follows:

“5’3” 3/4 tall, sallow/freckled complexion, black hair, brown eyes, nose inclining a little to the left side, several small moles on both arms; “G Bliss” in red ink on the lower part of right; scar on back of each finger of left hand, two scars on cap of left knee.”

The rest of his life appeared uneventful until the end.  He was granted a property named Spring Valley and was given a conditional pardon in 1854 (meaning that he was free to remain in Australia but could not return to England).  He lived on another fifty years before his death in 1915 at the age of ninety six – when he fell off a horse!

Baron Bliss Day in Belize.  Baron Bliss, the national benefactor of Belize (formerly known as British Honduras), never set foot in the country.  Born Henry Bliss and assuming the Baron name from the Portuguese Baron Barreto title which his family had received in the 1820’s, he was said to have been disinherited by his family after keeping a hansom cab waiting.  He then made a fortune from speculating in oil shares.  In 1911 he contracted polio and was paralyzed from the waist down.  So he decided to travel the world for the rest of his days on his luxury yacht.

In 1920 he left his wife and his native land for the Caribbean and spent the next six years of his life aboard his yacht Sea King II off the Bahamas and Trinidad.  After a bad bout of food poisoning in Trinidad, the baron took up an invitation from Belize’s Attorney General, Willoughby Bullock, and dropped anchor off Belize in early 1926.  But the baron’s health soon took a turn for the worse and doctors pronounced that the end was near.  He then signed a will on the Sea King II leaving most of his million pound fortune to Belize.

Over the decades the Baron Bliss Trust established by this will has funded the Bliss Center for the Performing Arts, the Fort George Lighthouse, the Bliss School of Nursing, and several health centers and libraries.  Baron Bliss Day, a national holiday in Belize, occurs on March 9, the anniversary of the baron’s death.

 

Select Bliss Names

Nathaniel Bliss, the son of a Gloucestershire clothier, was the fourth Astronomer Royal.
Cornelius Bliss, a New York financier and politician, declined an invitation to stand for the Vice Presidency in 1900 and so missed the chance of becoming President when McKinley was assassinated a year later.
Baron Henry Bliss left his fortune to the nation of Belize in Central America in 1926.  His name there is commemorated by Baron Bliss day.
Sir Arthur Bliss, composer and conductor, was Master of the Queen’s Musick from 1953 to 1975.


Select Bliss Numbers Today

  • 3,000 in the UK (most numerous in West Midlands)
  • 5,000 in America (most numerous in Texas).
  • 2,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia).

 

 

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