Clark Surname Meaning, History & Origin
In most of England, the surname pronunciation has tended to be
“clark.” But in the northeast it has often been “clerk” (as it has been in America) and in Scotland sometimes “clack.”
Clark/Clarke Resources on
- The Family of Richard Clarke. Clarkes in Suffolk.
- Clark Family Archives. Clarks from Somerset.
- The Clark Family. Clarks and cotton in Paisley.
- The Clarks of Clark Road. Clarks from Yorkshire to
- William Clark. William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
- The Clark Family Website. Lafayette Oscar Clark from Illinois and descendants.
Select Clark/Clarke Ancestry
England. The earliest Clarkes seem to have come from Kent and from Kingsdown Hall there. These Clarkes later spread into other counties.
East Anglia. The Clarke name has been particularly strong in East Anglia:
- Clarkes appeared in the 1400’s in Norfolk and the Clarkes were an important family in 17th
century Norwich. Edward Clarke was an
alderman in the town and his sons, Samuel and John, distinguished religious thinkers and clergymen.
- John Clarke was a well-to-do yeoman in Finningham, Suffolk in the early 1500’s. From his
family came early Clarke settlers in Rhode Island. One Suffolk family history began with the marriage of John and Elizabeth Clarke in Henstead in the 1760’s.
SW England. The Clark name appeared in SW England.
A Quaker family of Clarks began in Somerset with
John Clark when he was imprisoned for his beliefs in Ilchester jail in 1662. Later Clarks made their home at Street in
Somerset. It was in this town in 1825 that two Clark brothers, Cyrus and James, started a business making sheepskin
rugs and slippers. Thus began Clark’s
Shoes which has continued to this day and is one of Britain’s largest private companies. The sixth generation descendants
from James Clark and his son William remain major shareholders.
Clarks or Clarkes were recorded at Honiton
in Devon from the 1640’s. A Clark family
was brewing beer there in the mid-1700’s and became well-to-do
landowners in the
county. William Clark acquired the
Buckland manor in 1793.
Scotland. The MacChleirich name (“son of the clerk”) was often
anglicized to Clark. The name was once prominent in
Caithness. It subsequently spread throughout Scotland.
There have been particularly prominent Clark families at
Edinburgh and Paisley near Glasgow:
- John Clark was a Montrose merchant who had prospered in the 17th century and bought the Penicuik lands near Edinburgh.
- while the Clark family of Paisley, originally farmers at Dykebar, were pioneers in the cotton industry and from them descended the art historian Sir Kenneth Clark and his wayward son the MP Alan Clark.
Ireland. Clarke is the Irish spelling,
derived from the Gaelic sept O’Clerigh (meaning
“clerk”) in Galway. Cleary appeared as the anglicized name in Derry and Donegal, Clarke in Cavan. Clarke was also brought
to Ireland by Scottish and English settlers. An early example was
the Clarks of Carrickfergus in county Antrim, many of whom were mayors of the town between 1620 and 1678.
The name is mainly to be found in Dublin and Donegal today.
America. Many of the early Clarks in New England originated from the English county of Suffolk:
- first, the brothers John and Joseph Clarke who arrived in Boston in 1637. A year later they moved south to Rhode Island. John founded a Baptist church there and was a co-founder of the colony.
- then Thomas Clark who came with his wife Jane around 1640. He also ended up in Rhode Island, dying in Newport in 1674.
- and finally Richard and Ann Clark who arrived in the 1650’s and were among the first English settlers on Long Island (at Southold).
Some notable early Clarks were to be found in Virginia and Kentucky. One Clark family, which was in Virginia by 1630, produced six sons who were officers in the Revolutionary War – including the eldest son George, a Revolutionary War hero who headed the Kentucky militia, and the youngest son William Clark, he of the famed 1805 Lewis and Clark expedition. James Clark, from another Virginia family, was Governor of Kentucky in the 1830’s.
Then there were Scots Irish Clarks. John Clark arrived in
Massachusetts from Ulster in 1720. These Clarks settled in Scots Irish communities in Massachusetts and later in New York and Vermont before venturing west to Indiana in 1815.
Another Clark family came to America in the late 1700’s and
settled in a Scots Irish community west of the Allegheny mountains in
Pennsylvania. John Clark moved his
family further west to Iowa in 1856. His
son William A. Clark made a fortune in copper mining in Montana. He was said to have been, after Rockefeller,
the second richest man of his day. He is
commemorated today in Clark county, Nevada which is where Las Vegas sits. His daughter Huguette Clark lived to be 104.
Canada. William Clark came to Flesherton
in southern Ontario in the 1860’s and, after working as a woodworker for
several years, saved up enough money to buy his own farm.
He was the forebear of a notable journalistic family:
- his son Joseph was editor first of the weekly Saturday
Night and then of the daily Toronto Star.
- Joseph’s sons Gregory and Joseph were both writers at
the Toronto Star.
- while the latter Joseph’s son Tom Clark has been a well-known Canadian broadcaster.
Clarks and Clarkes. The Clark spelling
generally outnumbers the Clarke spelling in the English-speaking world
today. The table below shows the current
estimates of these numbers.
Clarke is more common in East
Anglia and the Midlands, as well as in Ireland.
Clark is the Scottish spelling.
And the Clark spelling predominates in America.
Clark and Clarke as a Surname. Mark Lower
had the following to say about the surnames Clark and Clarke in his 1860 book Dictionary of Family Names in the United
“Clark and Clarke come from
the Latin clericus and the French le clerc
and means a learned person –
that is, one who could in old times read and write.
These were accomplishments not so rare as we
are sometimes inclined to think since this is among the commonest of surnames.
Clark stands 27th and Clarke 39th in the
Registrar General’s comparative list.
For 33,557 Smiths registered within a given period, there were
12,229 Clarks and Clarkes. Thus for every three
hammermen we have at least one ‘ready writer.’
As a surname, Clarke appears frequently to
have aliased some other appellative. For
instance the baronet family Clarke of Salford, originally Woodchurch from the
parish of that name in Kent, soon after the Conquest became Clarkes (Le Clerc)
in consequence of a marriage with an heiress and the family for some generations wrote themselves “Woodchurch alias Le Clerc,” and vice versa, until at length the territorial appellation succumbed to the professional one.”
The Clarkes of Norwich. Edward
Clarke was a successful cloth manufacturer in
Norwich in the late 17th century who was described by his son Samuel as follows:
“My father was a person of an
excellent natural capacity and of an untainted reputation for probity and all
virtue, one whose most excellent character recommended him so to the citizens
of Norwich that they chose him without, nay against, his own
inclination to represent them in Parliament.”
This statement may have been something of an exaggeration.
In fact Clarke was only elected in 1701 after
a stiff contest. After being defeated
in 1702 and at a by-election in 1703, Clarke withdrew from political life.
Edward and his wife Hannah raised two
distinguished sons, Samuel and John.
Samuel became a very influential theological writer of his time. John became Dean of Salisbury.
The Clarks of Paisley. The Clarks were said to
have been descended from old Covenanters in Scotland and were “devoutly pious and God-fearing.” The first record of
them was Allan Clark, a farmer at Dykebar in the early 1700’s. Son William died in 1752 and his wife Agnes,
unable to run their farm, moved with her six children to the new town of Paisley. All four of her sons became
involved in the thriving textile trade there.
These Clarks became mill owners and played an important role in developing Paisley’s thread manufacturing industry.
James Clark was the first in 1817 to build a factory for the
production of cotton thread. There were various
Clark enterprises over the next fifty years until James Clark’s sons consolidated the business as J & R Clark in 1867 under the leadership of John Clark.
John Clark built the Atlantic and Pacific
mills in the 1870’s. These mills
employed more than 3,000 people and had a combined capacity of 230,000 spindles. John’s brother Alexander
meanwhile had developed Clark mills in America.
Sailing was John Clark’s
relaxation. In 1889 he became the
Commodore of the Royal Clyde Yacht Club and remained in that position until his
death. His yachts, the Vanduara
and Mohican, were both used to compete in races. The steam yacht Mohican
carried him to America on business as well as on cruises to
the Mediterranean. He died unmarried in 1894.
Clarks from Ulster to Indiana. John Clark, Scots Irish
from Coleraine in Ulster, crossed the Atlantic to America with his wife Agnes
and their children sometime around 1720.
Shortly after their arrival, they came to Worcester, a Presbyterian-founded
town and center for the Scots Irish, in Massachusetts. Since they were probably
farmers, it is unlikely that they settled in the town itself. In fact
there is evidence that they settled northwest of the town of Worcester around the towns
of Rutland and Holden as later Clarks of the family were born in
Rutland. They remained part of a close-knit Scots-Irish
community whose center was the Presbyterian church.
In 1739 the family set out with other Scots
Irish and settled the town of Colerain, named after Coleraine in
Ireland (John’s birthplace) and located some fifty miles northwest of Worcester. John was apparently still alive
in 1786 and the family moved again to Washington county, New York. They moved a third time in 1803 to Windham
county, Vermont. In each case they
exchanged one Scots Irish community for another.
The next move occurred in 1815. The Clarks
then set out for Indiana which had
just been admitted as a state of the Union.
The promise was the rich farmlands which were said to be
available there. They were, however, leaving the
cosy familiarity of their Scots Irish neighbors.
Huguette Clark the Heiress. Her father W. A. Clark had been born in a log cabin,
discovered incredible riches in copper in Montana territory after the Civil War, was thought to be as rich as Rockefeller, founded Las Vegas, and was
pushed out of the U.S. Senate for bribery.
Huguette Clark, born in 1906, was the second daughter of Clark by his second wife. She held
a ticket on the Titanic in 1912 and was still alive in
New York City long after 9/11. She grew
up in the largest house in New York City, a remarkable dwelling on Fifth Avenue
with 121 rooms for a family of four. She
owned paintings by Degas and Renoir, a world-renowned Stradivarius violin, and
a vast collection of antique dolls.
of outsiders she became reclusive. The
last photograph of her to be published during her lifetime was taken in 1928. She in fact lived out her last
twenty years in a simple hospital room, devoting her wealth to her art and buying gifts for friends.
Meanwhile her fantastic homes in Santa Barbara and Connecticut and New
York City were unoccupied but still maintained by servants.
Upon her death at 104 in
2011, Huguette Clark left behind a fortune of more than $300 million, most of which was
donated to charity after a court fight with her distant relatives. Bill Dedman’s 2013 book Empty Mansions charted this
- Samuel Clarke who worked with Isaac Newton was considered the greatest metaphysician of his time.
- William Tierney Clark was a
British pioneer in the design and construction of suspension bridges.
- William Clark was the Clark of the famous Lewis and Clark expedition which crossed America overland for the first time to the West Coast.
- William A. Clark was an American copper baron of the late 19th century.
- Kenneth Clark was the British art historian and devisor of the TV series Civilization.
- Arthur C. Clarke was the renowned science fiction writer, most known for 2001: A Space Odyssey.
- Jim Clark was the pioneer internet entrepreneur and founder of Netscape.
- Helen Clark has been New Zealand’s Prime Minister.
Select Clark/Clarke Numbers Today
- 297,000 in the UK (most numerous
in West Midlands)
- 212,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
- 193,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)
Select Clark 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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