Booth Surname Meaning, History & Origin

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Booth comes from the Old English both, a cowhouse or a herdsman’s hut.  The name could refer either to the location or be an occupational name for a cowherd or a herdsman.  The word was originally of Scandinavian origin and tended to be found in areas where the Scandinavian influence was most marked. Booth occasionally appears in its travels with an “e” (i.e. Boothe).

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England.  Booth developed locally as a surname, in Lancashire and Cheshire and in the adjacent counties of Derbyshire and the West Ridings of Yorkshire.  This pattern was evident in the 14th century and continued in later centuries.  Even by the end of the 19th century, roughly 80 percent of the Booths in England were to be found within this region.

Cheshire  Booths from Dunham Massey in Cheshire have been traced back to Barrowford Booth in Lancashire in the 13th century.  This family married well and became part of local Cheshire gentry.  George Booth played a part in the national politics of his time, being a member of the delegation which invited Charles II back.  A generation later, Henry Booth was tried but acquitted of high treason after James II had lost his throne.  This Booth line petered out soon after.  However, Letitia Booth married Sir Nathaniel Gore in 1711 and these Gore Booths did become large landowners in Sligo in Ireland.

Another branch of this family held the barony of Barton in Eccles near Manchester until 1586.  A descendant was the 18th century actor Barton Booth.

Lancashire  The Booth name could also be found during the 18th century in villages to the north of Manchester, around Oldham and Bury.  One family history traces the Booths from Bury who fled industrial Lancashire for the American West.

“The father John Booth, a hatter, had died in 1845 by ‘hanging himself whilst under the influence of temporary insanity.’  It is possible that he went ‘insane’ from the mercury he used in making hats.  This experience was common enough for the phrase ‘mad as a hatter’ to develop.”

Edwin Booth was born in Bury and apprenticed in Preston.  In 1847, while still a teenager, he started a tea store in Blackpool which was to become the Booths chain of supermarkets in the north of England (now run by a fifth generation of Booths).

In 1767 Thomas Booth left his farm in Warrington and travelled to Liverpool to seek his fortune.  By the age of thirty he had become a successful corn merchant and by forty he owned his own trading vessels. However, his offspring did more.  His second son Henry helped George and Robert Stephenson develop the first railway locomotives.  Charles, like his father, became a corn merchant.  His son Charles built up the Booth Steamship Company, a business which made him a wealthy man.  But Charles Booth is most remembered today for his social work, as this memorial reveals:

“During many years he devoted the leisure of an arduous life to a study of the condition of the poor in London.  He diligently sought for a foundation for which remedies could be securely based and he lived to see the fulfillment of part of his hopes, in the lightening of the burden of old age and poverty.  To those who lived under his influence, he brought unfailing help and joy.  He leaves them a precious example.”

Derbyshire  William Booth had a less easy road.  His father, from Belper in Derbyshre, went bankrupt and William set off on his own to London.  There he became a Methodist preacher.  However, dissatisfied with its protocol, he decided to start his own mission.  In 1865, he and his wife Catherine opened their first Christian Revival Society in the East End of London.  This place, intended to be a gathering place for the poorest and neediest in society, grew to be the Salvation Army.  Although its early years were lean ones, the Salvation Army eventually flourished and Booth himself received widespread respect and admiration throughout the country.

Booth wrote in his book In Darkest England and The Way Out:

“My only hope for the permanent deliverance of mankind from misery either in this world or the next is the regeneration or remaking of the individual by the power of the Holy Ghost through Jesus Christ. But in providing for the relief of temporal misery I reckon that I am only making it easy where it is now difficult, and possible where it is now all but impossible, for men and women to find their way to the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Another Booth from Derbyshire, Abraham Booth, was a Baptist preacher and an anti-slavery campaigner in the late 1700’s.  A century later, the evangelical Joseph Booth from Derby set out for Africa as a missionary.  However, when there, he aroused the hostility of other missionaries and the colonial authorities by advocating higher wages and more political power for Africans.  They eventually banished him back to England.

London  A more exotic Booth line started with John Booth, a Jewish silversmith in London whose ancestors had been banished from Portugal because of their radical political views.  He mixed with the radical set in London, including John Wilkes a well-known agitator at the time.

His son, Junius Brutus Booth, from whom came the famous theatrical family, took off for America in 1821 with his mistress (who eventually bore him ten children) and toured the country as an actor.  He died aged 56 on board a steamboat on the Mississippi. One of his sons, Edwin Thomas Booth, founded Booth’s Theatre in New York; another, John Wilkes Booth, is forever known as the assassin of Abraham Lincoln.

Back in England, the Booth line has extended to the actor Tony Booth and his daughter Cherie, the wife of the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

America.  Family tradition has it that three Booth brothers from Cheshire came to America in the 1630’s; William to Barbados, John Booth who settled on Long Island, and Richard Booth who was one of the founding fathers of Stratford, Connecticut (Donald L. Jacobus’s 1952 book Genealogy of the Booth Line recounts this family line).

A 19th century Massachusetts descendant was Edmund Booth who was deafened and totally blinded in one eye by meningitis when he was four.  Nevertheless he lived a long and active life, first in California during the Gold Rush days and then in Iowa as a pioneer settler.

Also from Cheshire were Thomas Booth who came to Gloucester County, Virginia in the 1630’s and James Mather Booth who arrived a century later and became the first mayor of Marietta, Ohio in 1825.

John and Charity Booth moved from Virginia to Kentucky around 1805.  At the same time Charles Boothe was one of the first settlers in Wayne County, West Virginia.  James Booth and his wife Milliam departed Virginia for Georgia in 1821.  After James’s death in 1840, Milliam moved onto Kentucky.  Family legend has it that “she came in her carriage and brought her slaves from Georgia with her.”

Later, Richard and Elsie Booth were Mormons who made the long trek from Lancashire to Salt Lake valley in 1857.  Joseph Booth, also from Lancashire, arrived in Texas in 1859 and became a Texas ranger.

Canada.  Early arrivals into Upper Canada were Empire Loyalists such as Joshua Booth from upstate New York.  Though a soldier and a fighter, the sight of blood would overcome him.  During an engagement in 1813, he fell into a state of catalepsy and suddenly died.

Robert and Elizabeth Booth came to Canada from Kilkenny in Ireland around 1813.  JR Booth, born in Quebec in 1827, was the son of Irish immigrants.  He became a lumber baron, controlling logging rights for large tracts of forest land in central Ontario, and lived onto 1926.

Australia.  A Booth family from Yorkshire set out for the Victoria goldfields in the 1850’s.  However, the later family history was tinged with sadness.  The father John killed himself in 1887 and his son John died underground in a mining accident in 1903.

Another Booth family in Victoria had a happier outcome.  Esca Booth bought into the Taminick cellars in Glenrowan in 1904 and this winery has now been in Booth hands through four generations.

 

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The Booths of Dunham Massey.  The family of Booth at Dunham Massey were one of the most influential Cheshire families in English history because of the Booth rebellion and the subsequent role played by George Booth in the restoration of King Charles.

The Booths rose to prominence in the 16th and 17th centuries.  Old George Booth and his grandson, young George Booth, were two of the principal players in this advance.  Old George Booth lived to be eighty, dying in 1652.  He married heiresses and established the family on a firmer financial footing.  His marriage to Elizabeth Carrington brought land southwest of Manchester which linked Dunham to Boothstown.  He built the Elizabethan house at Dunham and made it the family seat.

Old George outlived his son, who died in 1632, and he was succeeded by his grandson.

Booth’s Gin.  Gin became popular in England after the Government allowed unlicensed gin and at the same time imposed a heavy duty on all imported spirits.  This created a market for poor-quality grain that was unfit for brewing beer.  Thousands of gin-shops sprung up throughout England.   By 1740 the production of gin had increased to six times that of beer and, because of its cheapness, it became popular with the poor.  Of the 15,000 drinking establishments in London at that time, over half were gin-shops.

By 1843 consumption had risen to the point where on average each man, woman and child in London were drinking more than a liter of gin a week.  Warnings of its evils were illustrated by William Hogarth’s famous Gin Lane engraving.  Finally, in 1751, new legislation began to effectively control the sale and production of cheap gin and paved the way for respectable men – such as Alexander Gordon, Charles Tanqueray, James Burrough, and Sir Felix Booth – to start producing quality spirit.

The Booth family of gin distillers were London-based (although they may have originated from Lincolnshire). Their distilleries were at Cow Cross near Smithfield and Brentford.  The latter premises occupied eleven acres of land; had a granary for 15,000 quarters of corn, a bullock-house capable of holding 300 head of cattle, and could produce 800,000 to one million gallons of gin each year.

Booth’s gin still uses the same recipe that was devised by Sir Felix Booth.

Charles Booth and Social Cartography.  Charles Booth was deeply concerned with the social problems facing those living on the poverty line in London.  He wanted to measure social poverty in three main areas: poverty, industry, and religious influences.

His Inquiry into Life and Labour in London (1886-1903) ensued.  He recorded the conditions of workers in the city, drawing maps of each area and classifying them with an eight-tiered color-coding system.  People in the black-shaded streets were “Class A,” th lowest; while “Class H” were shaded a sunny yellow to match their easy lives as upper-class, servant keeping.

Believing that the words “Give us this day our daily bread” held a separate meeting for those in extreme poverty, Booth would often take lodgings with working class families for weeks at a time in order to complete his work effectively.

Richard Booth, An Early Settler in Stratford, Connecticut.  Richard Booth was born around 1607 in England.  It is not quite clear where he was born and when he immigrated to America.  One line has linked him to Cheshire; another to Sandwich in Kent; and the county of Derbyshire has also been suggested as his brother-in-law, Joseph Hawley, had come from Parwick in Derbyshire.  Richard Booth married Elizabeth Hawley in Stratford, Connecticut sometime around 1640.

Richard and Elizabeth were one of the founding families of Stratford.   Their house was numbered 29, on Main Street.  Booth was one of those who received land in 1670 in the section known as Nichols’ farm (where one branch of his descendants lived for several generations).  Six of his eight children reached maturity, raising large families of their own.  These Booths became influential citizens throughout Connecticut.  Richard Booth himself died around 1688.

Edwin and John Wilkes Booth.  Edwin was considered a better actor than Wilkes.  Part was simply experience and part was style.  Edwin preferred the serious brooding roles; while Wilkes went in for the action roles, sometimes jumping from heights as high as ten feet above the stage.

The two brothers also usually travelled different roads. Wilkes performing in the South in cities like Richmond while Edwin acted mainly in the North.   It may have been his time below the Mason Dixon line that pushed Wilkes’s sympathies towards the South.

Lincoln, an avid theater-goer, had seen Wilkes perform at least once.  During this performance, one of Lincoln’s guests (who told the story) mentioned to Lincoln how, whenever Wilkes playing the villain delivered a particularly threatening line, it looked like he was directing his remarks to the President.

“He does look like he has it in for me, doesn’t it?” Lincoln commented.

The story goes that Lincoln asked to see Wilkes after the performance; but Wilkes gave him the snub.

A number of witnesses at Ford’s theater saw Wilkes walk up and hand his card to the guard who then admitted Wilkes to the President’s box.  For years, Wilkes had taken second stage to Edwin.  He was always “the brother of Edwin.”  Then, in an instant on April 14, 1865, Edwin was suddenly the brother of Wilkes.

JR Booth, Lumber Baron.  JR Booth started off as a relatively uneducated carpenter in Quebec who built bridges and a sawmill for someone else prior to setting up a shingle business which burned shortly thereafter.  He then took a lease on a small sawmill.

His first big break came when he got the contract to provide the
timber for the Canadian parliament buildings in Ottawa.  His second break came when he acquired, at a very reasonable price, 250 square miles of prime forest in Algonquin Park.  Booth harvested this Egan property for fifty years, often going there in his private rail car and working with his men during the day and on business most of the night.  He seldom slept for more than a few hours.

Booth was a remarkable man for many reasons, including his longevity, his wealth, his independence and his bold and innovative approach to business.  He had the largest business in
the British Commonwealth run by one man when he finally incorporated in 1921 at the age of ninety-four.  He died in 1925 in his ninety-ninth year.

 

Select Booth Names

George Booth started Booth’s rebellion and then was part of the delegation which invited Charles II back to the throne.
Barton Booth was one of the most famous dramatic actors of the first half of the 18th century.
Sir Felix Booth was the scion of Booth’s gin and the backer of several Arctic expeditions.
John Wilkes Booth, an actor, was the man who assassinated Abraham Lincoln.
Charles Booth, a Victorian philanthopist, spent the latter part of his life documenting and publicizing the plight of the urban poor in London.
William Booth was the founder of the Salvation Army.
Maud and Ballington Booth founded the Volunteers of America in 1896.  Ballington was the son of General Booth of the Salvation Army; but the two had had a falling-out and Ballington went his own way.
George Booth from Lancashire took the stage name Formby, as his music hall father had, and became hugely popular with his ukelele playing in the 1930’s.
Cherie Booth is the wife of the former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair.
Richard Booth is the self-proclaimed King of Hay on the Welsh border and the creator of the world’s first book town.

Select Booth Numbers Today

  • 63,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 19,000 in America (most numerous in Florida)
  • 18,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

 

 

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