Chapman Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Chapman Surname Meaning

The name Chapman comes the Old English or Saxon ceap, meaning a bargain or cheap, and the suffix mann or man.  The German equivalent was Kaufman.

The name came to describe a merchant or trader who travelled from place to place selling small wares. An act of Edward VI spoke of “person or persons commonly called peddler, tinker, or petty chapman.”

A chapman, however, was not necessarily held in low regard. He would bring to isolated villages welcome news and gossip about the outside world.  In Yorkshire the chapman or itinerant peddler gave his name to the Chapman packhorses once prevalent in the Yorkshire dales.

Chapman Surname Resources on The Internet

Chapman Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Yorkshire)
  • to America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand

There is a folk tale in Norfolk about a peddler called John Chapman who suddenly became very wealthy and donated much of his money to refurbishing the church in Swaffham.

In 1454, according to legend, the peddler had a dream that he should go to London to meet a stranger on London Bridge. In due course the peddler set off for London and on the third day in the capital he did meet a stranger.

This stranger told him about a dream that he had had about finding a treasure in a garden in Swaffham. John Chapman swiftly returned home and discovered the treasure trove in his own garden.

England. The Chapman name appeared in various places around England in medieval times. But the early demographics indicate that the name was mainly to be found in Yorkshire, with a smattering across East Anglia and the southeast.

Although the name might suggest humble origins, there were some who made it into landed gentry. One well-to-do family from Cambridgeshire can be traced to Rainthorpe Hall in Norfolk until Elizabethan times. The Chapman name has continued in villages around King’s Lynn.

Yorkshire  The name Chapman appeared in Whitby records as early as 1216. They were one of the long-established families of this coastal town. Later generations were Quakers and prominent mariners and bankers in the town (the name of Abel Chapman is to be found on the plaque at the old entrance to Whitby harbor). In 1758, according to local newspaper reports, Captain William Chapman found fossil bones of an alligator off the Whitby coast.

Some of these Chapmans left the region:

  • Thomas Chapman, an English naval officer, moved to Sweden in 1715 and joined the Swedish navy. His son Fredric was a naval architect who rose to be vice-admiral of the Swedish navy in 1791.
  • and many Chapmans departed for America, including the Quakers Giles and Sarah Chapman who set off from Bridlington for Virginia in 1734. One of their most treasured possessions (which still exists today) was  a family Bible dating back to 1613.

Another Chapman base, from the early 1600’s, was Hawnby in north Yorkshire. The New Hall in Hawnby was home to generations of Chapmans until religious oppression drove many away.

William and Mary Chapman, Methodists who were unable to practice their faith, embarked with their nine children on the Albion in 1774 for New Brunswick in Canada. Their departure was commemorated in Michael Chapman’s anthem of loss and regret, In The Valley.

Leicestershire  A Chapman family in Hinckley near Leicester had family ties with the Elizabethan adventurer, Sir Walter Raleigh. Through these ties, Francis Chapman set sail for Virginia in 1608 as one of the early Jamestown settlers.

Later, Benjamin Chapman served in the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland and received as reward Killua castle in Westmeath. His family became part of the Anglo-Irish landowning class in succeeding generations. In the 1880’s, Thomas Chapman had an affair with his governess Sarah Lawrence. Their son, born illegitimately, was the T.E. Lawrence of Seven Pillars of Wisdom fame.

Cornwall   A cluster of Chapmans can be found as well in the southwest, in Cornwall. The Chapman name in St. Breward church records here dates from the 1550’s. During the Cornish exodus of the 19th century, William Chapman departed for Northampton County in Pennsylvania, John Chapman for Prince Edward Island in Canada, and Edward Chapman for Sydney in Australia.

America. Many of the Chapman immigrants to America came from Yorkshire. In fact, when William Chapman built his opulent family house in Rye, New York in the 1850’s, he named it Whitby castle after Whitby Abbey in Yorkshire (it is now part of the Rye Golf Club).

New England.  Early New England arrivals included Robert Chapman who arrived in 1635 and settled in Saybrook and Edward Chapman who arrived in 1644 and settled in Ipswich. From the latter family came the Rev. Eliphaz Chapman, an early settler in Bethel, Maine, and William Rogers Chapman, the director of the Maine musical festivals in the 1920’s.

Eminent 19th century Chapmans included:

  • Henry Chapman, a Boston merchant and abolitionist, and his wife Maria, an even more fervent anti-slavery advocate
  • Oliver Chapman, the railroad contractor who pioneered the use of steam shovels
  • and Josephine Wright Chapman, one of the first women architects.

Virginia.  Francis Chapman was described as one of the “ancient planters.” He lived through the Jamestown deprivations and was listed among the survivors in 1623. His family later moved to Northern Neck, Virginia where they became well-to-do and well-connected planters (including friendships with the Washingtons nearby).

In the 1740’s, Jonathan Chapman built Chapman’s Mill in the Thoroughfare Gap, a gristmill that fostered the agricultural development of the Shenandoah valley. The present-day Chapman Forest in Maryland exists on land that this family acquired in the 1750’s.

Many more Chapman immigrants came to Virginia in the 1740’s. Some stayed; others moved onto South Carolina, Georgia and elsewhere:

  • the descendants of John and Mary Chapman settled in Newton County, Mississippi in the early 1800’s.
  • one Virginian Chapman, William Chapman, moved further afield, to Portland in Oregon. He founded The Oregonian newspaper in the 1860’s.
  • while George Chapman arrived in California from Kentucky as early as 1843.
  • and William Chapman was in the 1880’s an early farmer in Glenwood, Colorado.

South Africa. John Chapman was a ship mate on the Consent who, in 1607, landed near Cape Town in search of safe anchorage.  He left his name to Chapman’s Peak overlooking Cape Town.

James Chapman was born in Cape Town in 1831. He was an early South African hunter, trader, and explorer. His brother Henry and son William followed in his footsteps. Another son Charles perished in the Titanic disaster of 1912.

Australia. William Chapman had been transported to Australia in 1791 for stripping lead off a church roof in Stepney. He was described as “very dressed, very smart, in long coat, clean shirt, and very tidy.”

He next appeared at the Theater in Sydney in 1796 where he played the part of a polished gentleman (possibly the right role for a well-dressed burglar). He subsequently lived with the formidable Ann Marsh and they developed a number of businesses together in the new colony.

Other Chapman arrivals in Australia were:

  • Thomas and Mary Ann Chapman from Kent were among the first free settlers.
  • Mathew Chapman from Yorkshire was an early settler in the Hunter valley.
  • and another Thomas Chapman also arrived in the 1830’s, an orphan who had been sent out by the short-lived Children’s Friends Society. He went to Western Australia where his descendants still reside.

New Zealand.  Thomas and Anne Chapman, Christian missionaries from Henley in Oxfordshire, came to New Zealand in 1830 and based themselves at Paihai and later at Rotorua.  Anne died in 1855, Thomas in 1876.  They had no children.  Philip Andrews’ 2001 book No Fear of Rusting covered Thomas’s life.  His name lives on in Rotorua with Chapman’s Restaurant and Bar.

Another Thomas Chapman, in this case a farm laborer from Kent, arrived with his family on the Prince of Wales on the last day of 1842.  They made their home in Nelson.  Theirs was a large family and there was a Chapman family reunion at Kaikoura in 1992 to celebrate 150 years in New Zealand.

Chapman Surname Miscellany

Chapman and Whitby.  As early as 1216 the name appeared in Whitby on the Yorkshire coastline, being recorded in the rolls of Whitby abbey. Roger and John Chapman lived there in 1381 and there are monuments to the Chapman family in St. Mary’s church.  Montgomery Seaver’s Chapman Family History, published in 1929, provided a detailed record of the Chapmans of Whitby Strand.

William and Mary Chapman from Hawnby.  Don Chapman made the following comments in his speech about his forebears during the re-dedication of the William Chapman monument at Point de Bute in New Brunswick in August 2000.

“In the spring of 1774 when the sea voyage actually took place, William, a yeoman farmer, was 44 years old, his wife Mary 41.  They had been married almost twenty years. One presumes that they had lived in the same location, certainly in the same rural community of Hawnby, for all the years of their married life.

But they lived in turbulent times. Religious adherence then was central to our ancestors’ lives.  Not long before their migration they had decided to take a new and unconventional religious path.  The Chapman family had taken up with the dissenting Wesleys in the cause of the new Methodism.  It was a popular movement but also involved the new adherents in some level of persecution and, no doubt, in periods of private questioning as well.  The existing Church would not allow the Wesleys to preach in their buildings.  So meetings would take place in the open.  Speakers and listeners were often pelted with stones.

And there were dangers in their journey.  Nathaniel Smith, one of the 180 fellow travellers on the Albion, wrote in a letter to a relative that, prior to embarking, the ship’s captain had indicated that his most optimistic estimate was that only one third of the passengers would likely survive the journey. Fortunately this prediction proved wide of the mark.

William and Mary were accompanied to this land of new opportunity by one of William’s older brothers Lancelot and his wife Frances and by six of their nine children.

In the face of circumstances, these ancestors of ours were either very sturdy folk or cne can presume that the social and economic prospects in England then must have been very difficult indeed.”

Reader Feedback – William Chapman from Hawnby.  I would like to suggest an adjustment to the comments I made back in 2000 and which you quoted.

At the time of my remarks, we did believe that Lancelot was the older brother of the original William Chapman who emigrated from Hawnby. However, subsequent investigations by researchers in Yorkshire determined that while Lancelot and his family might have been related to William — if only by surname — William and Lancelot were not brothers, as I claimed at the time. And in fact Lancelot and most of his family actually returned to Yorkshire shortly after their arrival in Canada, settling or resettling around Cold Kirby.

Don Chapman (

Chapman’s Mill.  Chapman’s Mill had been built in 1742 by Jonathan and Nathaniel Chapman.  Enlarged in 1758, the mill became a prosperous gristmill that fostered the development of the Shenandoah valley as a wheat and corn producing region for the next one hundred years.

Due to the mill’s location between the valley and the city of Alexandria, corn and wheat could be transported efficiently by wagon, ground into cornmeal and wheat, and then shipped from Alexandria to the ever-expanding markets of Europe and South America.

The prosperity of the mill was enhanced when, in 1852, the Manassas Gap Railroad was completed, passing beside the mill and reducing the travel time to Alexandria.  In 1858, the Chapmans enlarged the mill again, raising it to a total of seven stories and making it a model of agricultural technology.  During the Civil War, the Confederates turned the mill into a meat-curing warehouse and distribution center.  On leaving after the first battle of Manassas, they burnt the meat and the mill to keep them from the advancing troops.

Chapmans in Pennsylvania.  

Chapmans in Wrightstown.  Wrightstown’s first settler was John Chapman who arrived with his family in 1684 and settled on land which was part of the original William Penn grant.   According to legend they first lived in a cave or “sod hut.”  Although this dwelling no longer exists, there are several houses in the township which were the homes of second and third generation Chapmans.

Chapmans in Chapman.  The borough of Chapman, located on the west branch of the Monacacy creek in Northampton County, derives its name from William Chapman.  William was raised in Cornwall and, from the age of seven, worked in the slate quarries where his father had worked. He then found employment in Wales for seven years and this allowed him to accumulate some savings, enough to buy him a passage.

In 1842, he set sail for America on the Hindoo.  He arrived first in Easton, Pennsylvania and then settled in Northampton County where he started the Chapman Slate Company.  He married Emily Cary and they had seven daughters and four sons.  His company prospered and he became a stalwart of the community.

A Chapman Death in Hunter Valley.  Mathew Chapman had gone out to Australia in the 1830’s and was an early settler in Hunter Valley.  He worked hard there to establish a horse stud there on his Grange estate.

In 1844, while on the way home from a stock sale in Dungog, he was killed at “an awkward creek, cradled with solid rocks, slanting and edged like a mass of flag stones blown up by gunpowder.”  The following account of his death appeared in the Maitland Mercury of August 1844.

“A most melancholy accident took place at Dungog on Saturday evening last, at the close of our half yearly sale.

Mathew Chapman, Esq. of the Grange, well known in this part for his hospitality, was on his way home from the sale accompanied by Mr. Wilkinson.  They had only proceeded about two miles when, on coming to Stoney Creek which is one entire flag or rock, Mr. Chapman’s horse cantered down.  On reaching the bottom the girth broke and Mr. Chapman fell off on the left side, head foremost.

Mr. W. endeavored to raise him up but could not.  He returned to the township for medical aid.  Dr. McKinley hastened to the spot but on his arrival found that Mr. Chapman was insensible.  He had him removed back to the Dungog Inn where every attention was paid to him.  But it was of no avail.  At half past seven the next morning he expired.”

At the time of his death Mathew Chapman was said to be the largest proprietor of horse stock in the area and the best judge as well.

Thomas Chapman and Sarah Lawrence.  Sarah Lawrence was a beautiful young woman when she arrived in Ireland in 1879 to be the governess to Thomas Chapman’s four daughters.  Chapman was the grandson of a baronet and scion of seven generations of colonial English landlords.  He was also, when Sarah arrived from England to join his household as governess, an unhappy man, trapped in a marriage to a woman he had long ceased to care about.

Falling in love with Sarah, a girl very ambitious to better her circumstances, he had a serious choice to make when she became pregnant.  In those days it was a rare and unthinkable move for a gentleman to forsake his caste for a liaison with a servant.  But when Chapman asked his wife for a divorce and she refused, he did just that, eloping with Sarah to England, landing first in Wales in 1887 where T.E. Lawrence, their second son, was born one year later.

An astonishing name change defined his parents’ new life abroad.  He was known by Sarah’s assumed maiden name.  But they would henceforth live as Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Chapman.  Together for 34 years until Thomas’s death in 1919, they kept their secret inviolate; while the consequences within were particularly lethal.  Their second son, T.E. or Ned, would change his own natal surname a couple of times before he died in a motorcycle accident at 47.

Chapman Names

  • George Chapman, a contemporary of Shakespeare, was a poet and the translator of Homer’s Iliad, a work much admired by Keats.
  • John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, was a New England pioneer nurseryman who introduced the apple to large parts of the Midwest. He became an American legend in the early 1800’s because of his open and generous nature.
  • James Chapman, born in Cape Town of an English immigrant father and an Afrikaans mother, was an early Victorian explorer of southern Africa.
  • Herbert Chapman, born in Rotherham, was the great English club football manager of the 1920’s and 1930’s.
  • Colin Chapman was an influential British race car designer and developer in the 1960’s and 1970’s. His Team Lotus won seven Formula One World Championships during this period.
  • Tracy Chapman, born in Cleveland Ohio, is a singer-songwriter and four-time Grammy Award winner.

Chapman Numbers Today

  • 88,000 in the UK (most numerous in Kent)
  • 49,000 in America (most numerous in Texas).
  • 46,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada).

Chapman and Like Surnames   

The various medieval trades and occupations were a source of surnames as John the baker would over time would become known as John Baker.  Some skilled craftsmen – such as chandlers, fletchers and turners – were able to form guilds, protective organizations, and style themselves Worshipful Companies.  These are some of the occupational surnames that you can check out.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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