Butterfield Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Butterfield Surname 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 Surname Resources on The Internet

Butterfield Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Yorkshire)
  • to America, Bermuda and Australia

England. 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 1513. 

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

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. 

Born in Stockton, George Butterfield was a runner for the Darlington Harriers.  He ran in 1906 what was believed at the time to have been the world’s fastest time for the mile – four minutes and 18.6 seconds.  He later became the landlord of the Hole in the Wall in Darlington.  However, he died fighting in the First World War in 1917.

Hertfordshire.  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.  DNA testing has shown that these Butterfields are genetically different from their Yorkshire cousins.

America.  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, Massachusetts.

  • Joseph Butterfield started the Tyngsboro line along the Merrimack river in 1711.  
  • while one branch in Utica, upstate New York, included John Butterfield, the stagecoach operator, and his son Daniel, a Union General 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 Mormons who made the trek west to Utah.  Jacob Butterfield and his brother Thomas arrived there from Maine in the late 1840’s; while Josiah Butterfield, a more senior church official, made the journey in 1853 and settled across the border in California.

William 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.

Bermuda. 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 Bermuda’s first bank, N.T Butterfield and Son, a century later. Some of these Bermuda Butterfields settled in America.

Australia.  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 Cesar in 1853.  These Bartefelds became Butterfields in Australia.

Butterfield Surname 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 wool, 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 became known as Butterfield Brothers.

Henry and Frederick of the next generation went to New York to look after the export 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 Keighley, Haworth and Stanbury.

Henry and his wife Mary eventually settled in France, buying a home in Paris and a villa in 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 Robert 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. Butterfield Market, on Lexington Avenue between 77th and 78th, took its name from the Butterfield exchange.  Founded in 1915 but under various owners since that time, it still offers high quality grocery 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 8 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 the tragedy to imagine the woman’s down-and-out life in New York City.

BUtterfield 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.

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 century. 
  • 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.

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)

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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Written by Colin Shelley

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