Bradley Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Bradley Meaning
Bradley is a place-name, found in various places in
the north of England. The name is derived from the Old
English brad meaning “broad”
and leah meaning
“meadow.” The surname Bradley (and its variants Bradlee and
Broadley) originally meant someone from Bradley.
In Ireland, Bradley is the anglicization of the Gaelic O’Brolchain or O’Brollachain. They were an Irish
clan that started out in county Tyrone and spread across Ireland.
The word comes from the Gaelic brollach,
meaning “breast.”

Resources on

Bradley Ancestry

Early Bradley locations have been Durham, Yorkshire, Derbyshire and
Nottinghamshire, and Staffordshire.

Durham The
earliest mention of Bradley as a surname appears to have been in
Durham, from the Bradley lands near Wolsingham on Lanchester
Moor. Roger de Bradley was said to have held land there in 1183
in lieu of forestry work and William de Bradley in 1341. Bradley
descendants were resident at Bradley castle.

A branch of the
family migrated south to Gloucestershire and from them in the 18th
came the Astronomer Royal, James Bradley.

Yorkshire  The
Bradleys of Yorkshire were on both sides during the Civil

  • those in Ackworth near Pontefract were Royalist.
    Thomas Bradley had been chaplain to Charles I and is believed to have
    attended him to the scaffold in 1649.
  • on the other hand, Bingley
    near Bradford was a center for Puritan sympathizers. One such
    Puritan was
    William Bradley who later emigrated to America with his

A century or so later came the Yorkshire
, William Bradley, from Market Weighton in the East

Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire
One Derbyshire family may have originated in Bradley,
Derbyshire as their early records were from Ashbourne nearby.
Another began in the early 1600’s in Elkesley in Nottinghamshire.
These Bradleys were farmers who later moved to Derbyshire and
Their conclusion on the Bradleys:

“The fact that the 1881 distribution
of Bradleys in England also reflected the main English coalfields was

The Bradley name was also evident in south Staffordshire. Thomas
Bradley lived at Gornal Wood in Sedgley in the early 1600’s.
Later Bradleys in this area became prominent as iron-founders –
Richard Bradley in Tipton, Staffordshire
and, most famously, John Bradley in Stourbridge, Worcestershire.
His plant at Woolaston produced in 1829 the first locomotive to run on
rails in America.


O’Brolchain sept
had reached county Derry from Tyrone by the
12th century. Flaibhertach O’Brollachain was recorded as
rebuilding the Derry cathedral in 1164. The name in Derry
later anglicized to Bradley. There were Bradleys as well in
Donegal, in particular on the Inishowen Peninsular from the early
1700’s, and further south in county Cork, in addition to English

The early Bradley arrivals were English.

English Bradleys
William Bradley came in 1638 from Yorkshire with like-minded
enthusiasts to found a new colony. This colony was to be New
Haven in Connecticut. The construction took three years and
William spent the first winter with his companions huddled in holes in
the ground near the site.

Another Bradley, Isaac Bradley, moved to New
Haven in 1683. He was the patriarch of a great number of Bradley
descendants, as tracked in Leonard Bradley’s 1917 book Descendants of Isaac Bradley.

Meanwhile, Stephen Bradley was growing up in neaby Guilford. From
him came a succession of Abraham Bradleys, including the Abraham who
helped set up the national post office in Washington DC. And
George Bradley of Tolland, Connecticut was the forebear of the
Cleveland shipping Bradleys:

“Alva Bradley was one of the foremost
figures in the shipping industry of the Great Lakes. He began as
a sailor before the mast, was a vessel master many years, and built and
owned vessels until the Bradley fleet was one of the largest under
individual management on the lakes.”

Then there were the New England Bradlees. Sam Bradley of
Dorchester, Massachusetts changed his name to Bradlee in the 1750’s
because, he said, “there were too many Bradleys in the Boston
area.” His four sons and daughter Sarah Bradlee were reportedly
responsible for carrying out the Boston Tea Party in 1773. A
descendant is Ben Bradlee, editor of the Washington Post during the
Watergate scandal.

Irish Bradleys
Later Bradley arrivals were more Irish than English. Those in the
18th century included:

  • John Bradley and his wife
    Martha, who arrived in the 1760’s and stayed in Raleigh, North Carolina
    before moving onto Tennessee. In 1818 their Bradley children
    would become pioneer settlers in Arkansas.
  • a Bradley
    family from Antrim, who arrived in South Carolina in the 1770’s.
    A descendant Patrick Bradley was a planter in the White Hall section of
    Abbeville. The town of Bradley in Greenwood county grew up around
    the railroad depot built near his home.
  • and Charles Bradley, who arrived in the 1770’s, fought in the
    Revolutionary War, and settled in Cambria county, Pennsylvania.

Larger numbers would come in the 19th century. In this second
wave was a Hugh Bradley from Draperstown in Derry and his son, born in
America, the legendary Colonel Edward Riley Bradley.

Canada. The first
Bradleys in Canada were probably Empire Loyalists, William and Lewis
Bradley, both from Savannah in Georgia:

  • William Brown Bradley had
    first moved to New Brunswick and, after fighting in the War of 1812,
    was granted land in the Ottawa valley where he and his family
  • while Lewis and Elizabeth Bradley moved to a log cabin in
    Mississauga, Ontario. They built a small saltbox-style farmhouse
    there in 1830 to cope with their growing family, a farmhouse which has
    been restored as a museum to show how the early settlers lived.

George Bradley was an English immigrant to Vaughan township in York
county in the 1840’s. There were also a number of Irish Bradleys
who had arrived around that time in the Ottawa valley. These
included William Bradley in March township, William and Jane Bradley in
Huntley township, and John and Jane Bradley in Marlborough

There were two Bradleys on the First Fleet to
Australia in 1788, Lieutenant William who compiled a journal of the
voyage illustrated with water color drawings and convict James from
London whose sentence was seven years. Another Bradley convict,
William, was on the Matilda
three years later. Both these convicts married in Australia and
have living Bradley descendants. Another convict James Bradley, who
arrived in 1813, had no fewer than five marriages and liaisons during
his time in Australia.

However, the Bradley that made the most impression on early Australia
was the Jonas Bradley of the NSW Corp who came with the Third Fleet in
1791. Jonas Bradley was the first successful grower of tobacco in
Australia. His son William Bradley began the Goulburn brewery and
became an important political and social figure in the early days of
the NSW colony. Today these Bradleys are recognized as one of the
seventy pioneer Australian families.

New Zealand. William
Bradly of a naval family in Kent came to Auckland in 1842 and settled
down in the Helensville area. Franklin Bradley, a Presbyterian
minister from Down in northern Ireland, arrived there in 1863. He
was one of the pioneer farmers in Arapohue.

Meanwhile another minister, the Rev. Robert Bradley, arrived in
Christchurch, South Island in the 1850’s and bought land for farming in
Charteris Bay. Much of this land is now the Orton Bradley Park,
having been donated by his son Orton after his death in 1943.


Select Bradley Miscellany

Bradley Place Names.  The earliest mention of Bradley as a surname appears to have been in
Durham, from the Bradley lands near Wolsingham on Lanchester
Moor.  But the Bradley place name has also appeared in other

Yorkshire.  Bradley is
a village in North Yorkshire,
between Skipton and Keighley.  It is divided into two parts, High
Bradley and Low Bradley.  Bradley is also today a district of
Huddersfield in West Yorkshire.

Lincolnshire.  Bradley is a village in northeast Lincolnshire.  There is a
Bradley Woods as well.  They lie just outside of the western
boundary of Grimsby.

Derbyshire.  Bradley is a parish in Derbyshire just to the east of Ashbourne.
Its name can be found in the Domesday Book.

Staffordshire.  Bradley is also a south Staffordshire village near Bilston.  This
Bradley was home to John Wilkinson, first of the mighty ironmasters of
the area.

Cheshire.  Bradley Green was the name of a deserted medieval village in Cheshire.

Bradley as a surname followed in Yorkshire, Derbyshire, and

The Yorkshire Giant.  Standing almost eight feet tall and weighing 27
stone it goes without saying that William Bradley had some problems
finding somewhere to live.  If he wasn’t banging his head on the
ceilings his huge bulk was forever getting stuck in the doorways.
In the end the giant Mr Bradley, the tallest man to have lived in
Britain, had no choice but to have a house specially designed.

This house – Bradley House in Market Weighton – went on the market in
2006 for the first time in eighty years after its owners decided that
it was time to “downsize.”  The three-storey town house has extra
high ceilings and big wide doors as well as a bedroom named the Long
Room, where Mr Bradley, who was seven foot nine inches, slept.

Nicknamed “the Yorkshire Giant,” he was born in February 1787 and
weighed 14 pounds.  By his 19th birthday he tipped the scales at
27 stone and measured seven foot eight inches.  The following year
he grew another inch.  His father John was just five foot nine
inches while his mother Ann was of average height.  His twelve
brothers and sisters were also not exceptionally tall, although one
sister would have been almost as tall if she had not died at the age of

The house was built over two hundred years ago to accommodate his huge
bulk.  It had high wide doors and massive high ceilings to allow
him to move around freely.  Other features – including the high
ceilings, the Long Room, and the huge fire place with black and white
marble surrounding – also remain.  An imprint of Mr Bradley’s
foot, which was fifteen inches long and five and three quarter inches
wide, hangs outside on a plaque.  The giant used to hang his
walking sticks from hooks on the ceiling.

William Bradley made a small fortune as a fairground freak
before deciding the cramped caravan that he travelled in was bad for
his health.  He returned to live in his four-bedroomed
property.  When he died in 1820 at the age of 33 he was buried
inside a local church for fear that someone would steal his body.

The Brolchains of Ireland.  The Brolchains claimed descent from Neill “of the Nine Hostages” in their forebear Brollachan of the 11th century.  They were described in Keating’s History of Ireland as follows:

“The Brolchains, a name often changed to Bradley, were a
numerous clan near Derry, but originally of the Kinel Feradaigh in the
south of Tyrone and a branch of the Kinel Owen.  The sept was
adventurous and not only did they establish a branch in Cork, but a
number of them also moved to Scotland.  From them descend the
O’Brologhans of the Western Highlands whose name was subsequently
anglicized to Brodie.  A small group of the Derry sept also
settled in county Cavan in Ireland where, strangely, they adopted the
Norman name Brabazon.”

Reader Feedback – Isaac Bradley of New Haven.  My ancestor Isaac Bradley is mentioned as an early settler in New England in the colony of
New Haven.  True enough.

he is first recorded in the town of Brainford (now Branford in
Connecticut) on
the 20th of January 1667, he and others signing a church covenant.  He milled about in New Haven but finally
settled in the East Haven part of the colony of New Haven.   All three towns are in a row and East
Haven were
once called the East Farms – of New Haven as well as being a physical
part of
New Haven, hence the reference to New Haven.

It was
in 1683 that he finally sold out his land in Branford and was allowed
to settle
in East Haven, the colony of New Haven.

Leslie C. Bradley from Cebu, Philippines  (

Two Heroines in Wartime and One in Peacetime.  The wartime heroines were Sarah Bradlee in the Revolutionary War and
Amy Morris Bradley
in the Civil War and the peacetime heroine Lydia Moss Bradley.

Sarah Bradlee

On the eve of December 16, 1773 Sarah Bradlee was said to have helped
her four
brothers, Nathaniel, Josiah, David and Thomas, and their friend David
Fulton, to
disguise themselves as Indians and she saw them take part in throwing
tea overboard.

She was one of those who helped to dress the wounds of the soldiers who
were in the Battle of Bunker Hill. She was a true patriot; General
Washington honored her with a visit; and she married David Fulton.

Amy Morris Bradley

Amy came from a small farming community in Maine and served as a nurse
at the Sanitary Commission
convalescent camps during the Civil War.

After the war she set out from Boston to seek to establish a free
school for poor black and white children in Wilmington,
North Carolina.  That free school started up in early 1867 and,
despite initially much local opposition, the school became a
success.  Not for nothing was she called Saint Bradley.

Her simple headstone in Wilmington Oakdale cemetery reads: “Our School

Lydia Moss Bradley

Lydia grew up on a farm in Indiana where she met and married Tobias
Bradley.  They moved to Peoria, Illinois and Tobias prospered
there as a businessman.  But disaster then struck.  All six
of their children died of frontier diseases at young ages and in 1867
Tobias himself was killed in a freak horse-and-buggy accident. She was
left a childless widow.

When Tobias was alive she often talked about leaving a permanent
memorial for their children.  Thirty years later, having become
wealthy through her various business activities, she was able to
realize that dream. She founded the Bradley Polytechnic Institute in
Peoria.  It runs now as Bradley University.

The Bradleys in Arkansas.  The Bradleys had set out in flatboats in 1818 from
Tennessee along the Mississippi and its branches to Long Prairie in
what was then Arkansas territory.  Onboard was nine year old Polly
Bradley who would later marry Governor James Sevier Conway and become
the first “first lady” of Arkansas.

Bradley county in south Arkansas was named in 1840 after the Captain
Hugh Bradley who had led this expedition.  Popular belief is that
Warren, the county seat of Bradley county, was named after Bradley’s
most trusted slave who was called Warren.  It was true that
Pennington township, in which the city of Warren is located, was named
after Bradley’s son-in-law.

Bradley county has become known nationally as the prime
producing area for tomatoes.  The
Bradley Pink
, labelled “Arkansas’s gift to the nation,” is said
to set the standard for quality for the entire tomatio market in the
United States.  A Bradley county Pink Tomato Festival draws
thousands of visitors each year.

Colonel Edward Riley Bradley.  He was born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania and was the son of Captain Hugh
Bradley, an Irishman who had fought in the Civil War.   He
mysterious about his early years, but he was almost certainly not a
in the army.

Legend records him as a gold miner, cowboy, friend of Wyatt Earp and
Billy the Kid, and an Indian scout.  He got into bookmaking and
then in 1898 bought his first racehorse.  That was where he
discovered his true metier.  He was the pre-eminent owner and
breeder of thoroughbred racehorses in the southern United States during the first three decades of the 20th century.

Time magazine put
him on their cover in 1934 and said the following about him:

“A Derby would not be a Derby without
an entry by Colonel Edward Riley Bradley, whose green and white colors
have come out on top more than those of any other owner: four times,
and twice in succession.  The best of his possible entries this
year is a big brown filly named Bazaar.

Last week Colonel Bradley, an erect old gentleman with a tall hard
collar and high black shoes, was already on hand at Churchill Downs to
inspect his horses and, incidentally, to watch two of them. Barn Swallow and Tick On, come in second and third
in the Clark Handicap, the first day’s feature at the track and a race
as old as the Derby.

Only one filly had ever won the Derby, Regret in 1915.  And to all
who talked to him last week, Colonel Bradley repeated his axiom:
“Fillies are no good in the spring.”  But everyone around the
stables knew that, largely due to the successes of Bazaar, Mata Hari and Wise Daughter among the two year
olds, the year 1933 had been “a filly year.”  They also knew that
Kentucky’s foxiest and most renowned horseman was hell-bent on another
victorious drink out of the old Derby cup.”

In Senate hearings earlier that year, Bradley described himself as “a
speculator, raiser of racehorses and gambler.”  “I’d gamble on
anything,” he added.

James Bradley in Australia.  James Bradley, who was born and grew up in Derry in
Ireland, ended up as a convict in Australia.  His crime
was unusual:

“Imposter John Lindsay Crawfurd
appeared after the 1808 death of the 22nd Earl of Crawfurd and 6th Earl
of Lindsay, claiming that he was the legitimate heir with precedence
over the late Earl’s sister Lady Mary Crawfurd.  The pretender and
his accomplices forged documents to substantiate his claims.
Unfortunately a falling out saw members of the gang cash in by
revealing the truth to Lady Mary.John Lindsay Crawfurd and his accomplice James Bradley were sentenced
to fourteen years transportation, arriving at Botany Bay in 1813.”

James obtained his release in 1822 and went on to found a
school, the Springdale House Academy, in Parramatta.  He was also
involved for a while in the Female Orphans Home there.

He was, it would appear, a bit of a ladies’ man.
The record shows five marriages and liaisons:

  1. A first wife Margaret Morton, whom he married in Ireland around
    1811 (she and daughter Jane came to Australia sometime after James
    obtained his release but Margaret died soon after).
  2. A liaison with Charlotte a fellow convict, which produced a son,
    William Bradley, in 1815.
  3. A liaison with Maria Roberts of the Female Orphans Home, which
    produced a son, Thomas Bradley, in 1822.  Maria later married
    someone else.
  4. A second wife Dorothea Fenn nee Roberts, whom he married in
    1832.  This marriage produced one daughter Catherine.
    Dorothea died in 1848.
  5. A third wife Elizabeth Howell, a widow and fellow teacher, whom
    he married in 1849.

James Bradley died in 1857 at his home in Lane Cove at the
age of seventy five.

Reader Feedback – John and Jane Bradley in the Ottawa Valley.  John
and Jane Bradley in
Marlborough township might very well be my twice times great
grandparents – John Bradley
(1805-1891) and Jane Taylor (1813-1893) who settled in Marlborough
sometime in the late 1820’s.  We’re trying to determine where in
Ireland they
came from.  We think they might have come
to Canada from county Cork.

Harold Bradley (


Select Bradley Names

  • James Bradley was the astronomer
    who discovered the aberration of light mutation of the earth’s axis. He was appointed Astronomer Royal in 1742.
  • William Bradley, born in 1787,
    was said to have been the tallest man in England. He was measured
    at seven feet nine inches.
  • William Bradley was a pioneer
    sheep farmer in Australia and one of the leading social and political
    figures in Sydney during the 1840’s and 1850’s.
  • Omar Bradley was one of Eisenhower’s leading generals during World War Two.
  • Bill Bradley was a Rhodes
    scholar, professional basketball player, and Democrat Senator for New

Select Bradley Numbers Today

  • 53,000 in the UK (most numerous in Teesside)
  • 48,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 28,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada).


Select Bradley and Like Surnames

Many surnames have come from Yorkshire.  These are some of the noteworthy surnames that you can check out.




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