Chase Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Chase Surname Meaning

The English Chase surname could be either locational or occupational.

If locational, it would describe someone who lived “at the chase,” an open piece of ground in a park or forest used for herding deer and other game.  Chases from Hampshire may reflect this meaning.

If occupational, the name, deriving from the Old French chaceur or chasseur meaning “hunter,” may have been given to someone who was a skilled huntsman or hunter.  Chases from Buckinghamshire may reflect this meaning (they were said to have been Norman in origin, the original name being LaChasse).

Chase as a surname, and also as a first name, became particularly common in America.

Chase Surname Resources on The Internet

Chase Surname Ancestry

  • from Southern England
  • to America, Canada, Caribs (Barbados) and New Zealand

England. Chase is not a common surname in England.  There were only 1,500 Chases recorded in the 1881 census, and they were mainly to be found in Hampshire, London, and Norfolk.

Hampshire.  The first Chase recorded here was William Chase, the mayor of Winchester in 1464.

Nicholas Chase was born in the village of East Meon near Petersfield in 1531.  The Chases were still in East Meon in the 19th century, although some had moved away to Norfolk in the late 1700’s.  Not too far away from East Meon was the village of Bramshott where William Chase was born in 1632.  Edward Chase from Bramshott emigrated with his family to South Australia in 1852.

There was some Chase spillover from Hampshire into west Sussex where a Chase family was recorded at Rogate near Chichester in the early 1600’s.

By the mid-19th century the main Chase numbers in Hampshire were along the coast at Titchfield and Portsea.

Buckinghamshire.  An earlier Chase presence, possibly Norman in origin, was evident at Chesham.  Sir Thomas Chase, Lord of Hundridge, was born there around 1330.  From his family in 1640 came two notable emigrants to America, Aquila and Thomas Chase.

There was a later Chase line from Chesham following the marriage of John Chase and Mary Carter in 1763.  Many of their descendants moved to London in the 1830’s.  Not many Chases have remained in Buckinghamshire. 

Elsewhere.  Chases were also to be found at King’s Lynn in Norfolk.  James Chase was born there in 1771.  The Chases were fishing families who lived in the North End of King’s Lynn for many generations.

America. Two brothers, Aquila and Thomas Chase, came to America in 1640 and received land grants at Hampton, now part of New Hampshire.  Subsequently Thomas’s descendants largely stayed in and around Essex county, Massachusetts; while Aquila’s descendants tended to scatter.

Most of the notable members of the family were in fact descendants of Aquila Chase.  By the early 1800’s these descendants, who had previously been wealthy but not particularly influential, began involving themselves in politics, the law, and religion.

  • Chase politicians included Dudley Chase, the Senator for Vermont between 1813 and 1831, and, more recently, Margaret Chase Smith, the Senator for Maine from 1949 to 1973.
  • pre-eminent among the lawyers was Salmon Portland Chase, Chief Justice of the United States from 1864 to 1973.  Champion S. Chase served as the first Attorney General of Nebraska around this time.
  • while Philander Chase was an Episcopal Church bishop and a pioneer of the American western frontier in the 1830’s.

Reuben Chase, who was a descendant of Thomas Chase, was an officer in the Continental Navy during the Revolutionary War.

New England.  William Chase and his. wife Mary – of uncertain origin – came to America in the company of Governor Winthrop in 1630 and settled in Yarmouth, Cape Cod.  His line was covered in George Chase’s 1886 book Genealogy of a Portion of the Descendants of William Chase. 

One line out of Cape Cod after the Revolutionary War led to the chemist Charles Denison Chase and to his two sons Edward and Frank Chase, painters who helped found the Woodstock artist colony in upstate New York in the early 1900’s.  Edward’s grandson is the comedian and actor Chevy Chase.

Other Chases.  Two related Chase clergymen came to Maryland from London in the 1730’s.  The Rev. Richard Chase arrived in 1734 as chaplain to Charles Calvert, Lord Baltimore; and the Rev. Thomas Chase came four years later to be the minister at a new Anglican church in Somerset county.

Thomas’s son Samuel trained as a lawyer at Annapolis.  He was a signer of the US Declaration of Independence and subsequently a US Supreme Court Justice.  A fiery character, he was impeached by the House of Representatives in 1801 for letting his partisan leanings affect his court decisions.  However, he was acquitted by the Senate and remained in office until his death in 1811.

Samuel’s cousin Jeremiah, descended from Richard, followed Samuel to Annapolis.  He also became a lawyer and had a political career.  In 1808 he was appointed the Chief Justice of the Maryland Court of Appeals.

Canada.  Stephen Chase – a descendant of William Chase of Cape Cod – was married four times and had fifteen children.  In 1764 he moved to Nova Scotia as part of the New England planter migration.  He and his two sons Jethro and Joseph received land grants in Cornwallis township.

Jethro’s descendant William Henry Chase, born in 1852, became known as “the apple king of Nova Scotia.”  His apple-producing business in the Annapolis valley was the largest supplier of barreled apples in the world.

Subsequent Chase arrivals into the Maritime Provinces were Loyalists departing America at the end of the Revolutionary War.  James P. Chase, for instance, left Freetown, Massachusetts in 1784 for Maugerville, New Brunswick after receiving a land grant there.

A later arrival was Whitfield Chase.  He left his home in upstate New York for the West Coast in the 1850’s and around 1860 ventured north into British Columbia in search of gold.  A few years later he became the first non-native settler to farm and raise a family in what was then called the Shuswap Prairie.  The town of Chase there was named after him.

Caribbean.  A Chase family was an early settler in Barbados.  Stephen Chase arrived around 1660 and was the father of seven children by his second wife Margaret.  He was recorded as possessing nine acres and six negroes in Christ Church parish in the 1680 census.

The family later owned the 320 acre Gibbons plantation which made them wealthy.  Thomas Chase who died in 1812, apparently by his own hand, was said to have been a cruel slave owner.  He had built the Chase burial vault for his family which became known for its “dancing coffins.”

Some Chases later left Barbados for Devon in England and for Perth in Western Australia.  William Chase, a colonel with the British army in India on the NW Frontier, was awarded the Victoria Cross for valor in 1880.  Chase meanwhile remains a surname in Barbados.

New Zealand.  James Shaw Chase was an American whaler who came to Hawkes Bay in 1842, married a local woman, and they had eighteen children.

Chase Surname Miscellany

The Chase View of Buckinghamshire from America.  The Chase family name has become as rare in England as it is numerous in America.

If Matthew and John, brothers of the grandfather of the Aquila Chase of 1580, had none or few descendants, and likewise Robert, Henry, Ezekiel and Jason, brothers of Aquila and Thomas, it may account for the fact and would lead to the presumption that the flower of the Chase family of the 16th century emigrated to America.

They were by nature enterprising and high-minded gentlemen. Released from the trammels of the aristocracy and conservatism of the old country, on entering into the breadth and freedom of the new circumstances that surrounded, they at once took the front rank in the progress of the New World.

From the disappearance of the name of Chase from the church register at Chesham soon after the birth of Aquila, it may be presumed that his father may have removed, possibly to Cornwall, and located in some parish that was afterwards abandoned and the records probably lost.  Hence the tradition of Aquila coming from Cornwall and the name of Cornish, New Hampshire being given by the first settler and proprietor, Samuel Chase.

Salmon Chase from Cornish, New Hampshire.  Salmon Chase’s great-grandfather Samuel had purchased large tracts of virgin wilderness in the 1760’s along the Connecticut river in New Hampshire.  He laid out a town which he called Cornish.  This name might have derived from the English county of Cornwall, thought to have been the ancestral home of the Chases; or maybe it came from Samuel Cornish, a distinguished admiral of the Royal Navy.

Chase’s father Ithamar married into wealth and built a substantial family homestead where Salmon and some of his eight sisters and brothers were born in the 1790’s.  Ithamar’s prosperity is evident in the architectural details of Chase House, with its formal entranceway, high ceilings and commodious rooms. Originally four rooms, he built an addition as more children arrived.

The home was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.  Now Chase House Bed & Breakfast, it is the only surviving childhood home of a U.S. Supreme Court Justice in the nation.

Autumnus S. Chase, Father and Son.  These Chases from Massachusetts came from the same ancestors that had produced the Supreme Court Justice Salmon Chase.  Their father Silas Chase had fought in the Revolutionary War and also in the War of 1812.

Autumnus S. Chase Sr. was an officer in the US Navy and was on duty during the Mexican war.  In 1848 he departed for California with a shipload of miners’ cabins, ready to be put up. He landed in California, went to Nevada City where he was stricken with the Chagres fever, and he died there. It was nine years before his fate was learned by his family back East.  The news was finally conveyed to them because of the strong ties that existed between fellow Masons.

After he had gone West, his wife and their son Autumnus S. Chase Jr, better known as Sidney, moved to Albany, New York.  In order to earn a living and to support his mother, Sidney turned to a trade and served an apprenticeship as a piano maker.

He took up arms on the Union side during the Civil War.  Afterwards, Sidney worked as a piano maker until 1877 when he left for Kansas and took up a soldier’s claim on farmland in Ellsworth county.  In 1892 he was elected to the office of probate judge there. Judge Chase served continuously in that office until 1916, a period of twenty-four years.

Chevy Chase in Maryland.  Chevy Chase, a suburb of Washington DC, has been called “the most educated town in America.”  The name has nothing to do with any Chase (although curiously the private chaplain of Maryland’s Lord Baltimore was named Chase).

Chevy Chase was in fact derived from Cheivy Chace, the land patented to Colonel Joseph Belt from Charles Calvert, Lord Baltimore in 1725. It has historic associations with a 1388 chevauchée (a French word describing a border raid) that was fought by Lord Percy of England and Earl Douglas of Scotland over the hunting grounds or chace in the Cheviot hills of Northumberland.  The battle was memorialized in The Ballad of Chevy Chase.

The Dancing Coffins of Barbados.   Colonel Thomas Chase was one of the most feared and hated men in the British colony of Barbados.  Known throughout the area as a strict father and cruel slave owner, he also paradoxically had a reputation as a pious man and a regular church goer.

In 1808 Chase purchased a stone crypt in the local cemetery of Christ Church parish, seven miles from Bridgetown, to serve as the final resting place for him and his family.  Located on a hill overlooking the rest of the Caribbean, the vault was chosen for its picturesque views and calming surroundings.

The mystery began on August 9th 1812 when the vault was opened for the interment of Colonel Thomas Chase. To the horror of onlookers the coffins already located in the vault, including two of Chase’s daughters, were found to have moved from their original locations and were now scattered in the small crypt!

That might have been the end of the tale but for the fact that this spectacle was repeated four years later and again the following year. This despite that fact that the coffins had been carefully arranged and the vault re-sealed on each occasion.

Inspection of the vault revealed no alternate entrances or secret passageways.  In 1819 the Governor of Barbados oversaw another burial in the vault and affixed his seal to the concrete sealing the entrance. However just a year later the vault was opened once again (with the seal found intact) and once again the coffins were found in disarray.

Having had enough of these “moving coffins,” the family and authorities decided to remove the coffins from the vault and bury them separately.  Finally the dead could truly rest in peace.  But the mystery remains.

David Chase and The SopranosDuring the 20th anniversary party for The Sopranos in 2019, Michael Imperioli told a story about his auditioning for the part of Christopher Moltisanti in the show. Initially, Imperioli believed he botched his audition because its creator David Chase made no reaction to his performance.

Leaving the audition, Imperioli considered the part gone and wrote it off as another day in the life of an actor. “I walked out of there and was like ‘Who cares? This guy, he’s not even Italian, what does he know?’”

Imperioli ended up landing the role and he quickly learned that Chase did indeed hail from an Italian-American family.  “My father’s name at birth was DeCesare,” Chase said, “but he had changed it long before I was born.”

Chase described being born in Mount Vernon, New York before moving to Clifton, New Jersey. Eventually his family settled in North Caldwell, a place which Chase used as a setting for his show that was “patterned after” some real-life Jersey mobsters.

Chase Names

  • William Chase was the mayor of Winchester in 1464.
  • Salmon Chase was an American politician and jurist who served as the sixth Chief Justice of the United States from 1864 to 1873.  The Chase Bank took its name from Salmon Chase.
  • Hal Chase played baseball in the early 1900’s.  He was widely considered as the best first baseman of his era, but had a reputation for throwing games.
  • Chevy Chase was an American comedian and actor who became well-known in the 1970’s after his TV appearances in Saturday Night Live. 
  • David Chase was the writer and producer for the Italian TV drama The Sopranos which ran from 1999 to 2007.

Chase Numbers Today

  • 4,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 28,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 6,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


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Written by Colin Shelley

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