Chapman Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Chapman 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
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.

Resources on

Chapman Ancestry

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

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
with a smattering across East Anglia and the southeast.

the name might suggest humble origins, there were some who made it
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
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

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
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

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
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 early1800’s.
  • one Virginian Chapman, William Chapman, moved further
    afield, to Portland in Oregon. He founded The Oregonian newspaper in the
  • 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.

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

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.

Thomas and Mary Ann Chapman from Kent were among the first free
settlers to Australia. Mathew Chapman from Yorkshire
was an early settler in the Hunter valley. And another Thomas
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.


Chapman 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

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.”

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

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

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 foresake 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.



Select 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
    , better known as Johnny
    , 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.

Select 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).


Select 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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