Butterfield Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Butterfield Meaning

The surname Butterfield is locational, from the
place of that name (derived from the Old English butere
as “butter” and feld
as “field” or “open country”).  There are
similar names found in Europe, like Botefeld in Germany and Bouteville
or Boterville
in France.  But Butterfield generally has
English roots.

Butterfield Resources on

Butterfield Ancestry

The main origin of Butterfields was a lost
hamlet of that name near Todmorden in the West Riding of Yorkshire,
near the
border with Lancashire.  Robert de
Butterfeld appeared at Slaidburn at the time of the 1379 poll tax.  It was in this area, in the Ribble valley
some thirty miles from Keighley, that Butterfields were thought to have
first come.  Butterfields from Keighley
were part of the
47 man Craven contingent which fought at the Battle of Flodden Field in

One Butterfield line in
Keighley became successful mill owners, accumulating sizeable wealth in
early 19th century and living at Cliffe
.  Henry Isaac Butterfield
the castle in the 1870’s and his son Frederick made it his permanent

By the
time of the 1881 census, most Butterfields were still to be
found in
Keighley and the surrounding areas of the West Ridings.
Later Butterfields included:

  • Herbert Butterfield the historian who
    attended Keighley grammar school   
  • and
    Jeff Butterfield the England rugby union player of the 1950’s, who was
    born at
    Heckmondwike near Leeds. 

Another lost
place-name gave rise to a much smaller Butterfield contingent in the
county of Hertfordshire. 
Butterfields in Hitchin
date from the 1600’s.  One family there
were later builders.  A Butterfield
family has owned and run the Redcoats Hotel near Hitchin since the
early 1900’s.  D
NA testing has shown that
these Butterfields are genetically different from their Yorkshire

Benjamin Butterfield was the forebear of many of
the Butterfields now living in America.
Family lore has it that he was one of eight brothers from
Yorkshire who
came to New England in the 1630’s. Benjamin
settled first in Woburn and later in Chelmsford,

  • Joseph Butterfield
    started the Tyngsboro line along the Merrimack river in 1711.  
  • while one branch in Utica, upstate New York,
    John Butterfield, the stagecoach operator, and his son Daniel, a Union
    during the Civil War.

Butterfield 8 was
a name on the old
telephone exchange in New York.

Heading West.
Butterfields from New England were among the early
who made the trek west to Utah.  Jacob
Butterfield and his brother Thomas arrived there from Maine in the late
while Josiah Butterfield, a more senior church official, made the
journey in
1853 and settled across the border in California.

Butterfield started the Butterfield
auction house in San Francisco in 1865.  Thomas
Butterfield is perhaps the most remembered today as Butterfield Canyon in
Utah was named after him.  Utah and
California have the largest number
of Butterfields in America today.

The Butterfields are a long-standing Bermuda
family.  Nathaniel Butterfield arrived in
1661.  He died in Paget parish twenty seven
years later.  A later Nathaniel
Butterfield founded in 1758 the family trading company, which became
first bank, N.T Butterfield and Son, a century later.
Some of
these Bermuda Butterfields settled in America.

Butterfields may have originated from Yorkshire,
Hertfordshire, or even from Germany:

  • Joseph
    Butterfield, a weaver from Leeds, who arrived in Sydney on the Champion in 1827, although as a
    convict.  He was sentenced for life for
    an unrecorded offence, but pardoned in Bathurst, NSW in 1843.  
  • Thomas Archer Butterfield from Royston in
    Hertfordshire, who came to Sydney with his family in 1854.
    His forebear was John Archer Butterfield, an
    18th century farmer in nearby Cambridgeshire.   
  • and Christian Bartefeld and his family who
    arrived in Queensland from Germany on the Johan
    in 1853.  These Bartefelds
    became Butterfields in Australia.


Select Butterfield Miscellany

Butterfields in the 1881 Census

County Numbers Percent
Yorkshire    2,190    55
London     390    10
Lancashire     360     9
Elsewhere    1.060    26
Total    4,000   100

The Butterfield name at that time was still concentrated
in the West Ridings of Yorkshire.  The
following towns and villages there had the largest number of
Butterfields – Keighley
(240), Leeds (150), Horton-in-Bradford (128), and Shipley (79).

The Butterfields of Cliffe Castle.  The Butterfields of Cliffe Castle were descendants
of John Butterfield, a weaver, and his wife Mary.  They
had married in 1760 and lived at Higher
Scholes near Keighley.

The line from
there went via son Isaac and grandsons Isaac and John.
Isaac became a maker of stuff pieces and John
a wool stapler.  John would go regularly
to the East Riding of Yorkshire and to Lincolnshire to purchase his
buying it principally from farmers in those districts.
The wool was brought in boats to the canal
warehouse at Stocksbridge on the outskirts of Keighley.
John died unmarried at the age of 35.  In
his will he left £25,000 mainly to his
brother Isaac who added John’s wool staple business to his own.  On the death of Isaac in 1833 the business
known as Butterfield Brothers.

Henry and
Frederick of the next generation went to New York to look after the
trade.  This involved not only selling
worsteds, but also acting as merchants for other manufacturers.  By the 1850’s the firm had premises in
Bradford, the centre of the worsted trade, as well as mills in
Haworth and Stanbury.

Henry and his wife
Mary eventually settled in France, buying a home in Paris and a villa
Nice.  However, he had also acquired
Cliffe Hall in Keighley.  He began a
massive building project and in 1878 changed its name to Cliffe Castle.  On Henry’s death his only son Frederick
succeeded to the estate and made it his principal home.
Cliffe Castle was sold to the local authority
when Frederick died in 1943.

Butterfields in America by Country of Origin

Country Numbers Percent
England    127    63
Bermuda     54    27
Elsewhere     20    10
Total    201   100

Butterfield Canyon.  Butterfield Canyon in Utah was named after Thomas Jefferson
Butterfield, an early settler in the region.
Born in Maine in 1811, he had arrived in Utah with his brother
Jacob and
other early Mormon settlers in 1848.  He
was one of the founders – with Henry Herriman, John Jay Stocking and
Petty – of the Herriman township in Utah.
Thomas built the road up from Herriman to the canyon which now
bears his
name.  He lived on in Herriman until 1890
and is buried in the local cemetery.

Butterfield 8.  The old New York telephone listing, which lasted from the 1920’s until the late 1960’s, had BUckminster 2, 4, and 7, but only
one Butterfield, BUtterfield 8.  This
BU-8 or 288 listing did cover some upmarket addresses on Manhattan’s
Upper East
Side.  Why Butterfield was used for this
location is not really known.

Market, on Lexington Avenue between 77th and 78th, took its name from
Butterfield exchange.  Founded in 1915
but under various owners since that time, it still offers high quality
products at that location.

But BUtterfield 8 was also the name of the
John O’Hara Depression-era novel.  A bestseller upon its publication in
1935, BUtterfield
was inspired by a
news account of the discovery of the body of a beautiful young woman
washed up
on a Long Island beach.  Was it an
accident, a murder, a suicide?  The
circumstances of her death were never resolved, yet O’Hara seized upon
tragedy to imagine the woman’s down-and-out life in New York City.

8 was adapted into a movie
in 1961.  Elizabeth Taylor played the lead
role and won
an Oscar as Best Actress.  This movie is
now Butterfield 8‘s main claim to fame.


Select Butterfield Names

  • Nathaniel Butterfield
    founded a trading company in Bermuda in 1758
    that as N.T. Butterfield became Bermuda’s first bank. 
  • John Butterfield was a prominent American stagecoach operator of the mid-19th
  • Herbert Butterfield was a distinguished 20th century English
    historian and philosopher of history. 
  • Frederick Butterfield at the age of 109
    became the world’s oldest man in 1973.
    He lived in Harrogate, Yorkshire.

Select Butterfield Numbers Today

  • 6,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Yorkshire)
  • 4,000 in America (most numerous in Utah)
  • 2,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


Select Butterfield 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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