Coleman Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Coleman Meaning
surname Coleman has two distinctly different derivations, one English
and the other Irish:
In England, the
surnames Coleman, as well as Collier
, is occupational,
describing either
a burner of charcoal or a gatherer of coal (col was Old English for coal or
charcoal).  The German surname Kohlmann has the same roots.
A spelling variant
Colman crops up in East Anglia.
In Ireland, Coleman is
an anglicized name from the Gaelic Clumhain
or Colman:

  • the former (or O’Clumhain,
    descendant of Clumhain), a
    personal name, derived
    from the Gaelic clumh,
    meaning “down” or “feathers.”  The O’Culhains were originally a
    literary and bardic family in county Sligo.
  • the latter (or O’Colman,
    descendant of Colman) refers
    to a 6th century
    Irish missionary called St. Columban who enjoyed at one time a cult
    following in Europe.  There is a St. Colman’s Cathedral in Cork
    Harbor today.

Coleman can also be the Americanized form of the German Kohlmann or Kuhlmann.

Resources on

Coleman Ancestry

The Coleman name was mainly to be found in SE England and in East

SE England  The
name Colemans
Hatch in East Sussex is said to have derived its name from a
Coleman family of charcoal makers recorded in Hartfield in the late
1200’s.  Coleman appeared in the records of Fletching parish
nearby from the mid 1500’s.  A Coleman family was in Brede from
the mid 1600’s.  They were prosperous enough to purchase Chitcombe
Farm there in 1821 and to become benefactors to the village
(building a church and a local school).

The Coleman name mainly sprung up in the southeast of England, in Kent
and Essex as well as Sussex, with outposts in Northamptonshire and
in East Anglia (where the spelling has been and continues to be

East Anglia
There has been a Colman family recorded in Little Waldingfield (near
Sudbury in Suffolk) from the early 1400’s.  They prospered as
clothiers – as the brass in the local church reveals:

“A reminder of happier times in the
parish is the grandest brass of all, that of the clothier John Colman
in 1506.  His family may well have paid for the rebuilding of the
church at that time.  Beneath him, six sons and seven daughters
stand in pious grief.”

Edward Colman of this family later met a grisly end.  A
Catholic convert, he had become implicated in the Popish plots, was
tried for treason in 1678, and, on conviction, was executed by the
barbaric means of being hung, drawn, and quartered.

Colmans in Norfolk have produced the Colmans of Colman’s Mustard.

Ireland.  The
O’Clumhain name has cropped up in the Annals
of the Four Masters
, such as this entry in 1493:

“Mac Namee, the son of Conor Roe and
son of Eachmarcach, an eminent poet and a good scholar, was slain by a
laborer, one of his own people the O’Clumhain.”

Their original homeland was the barony of Tireragh in county
Sligo.  Coleman country today is south Sligo, in and around
Tobercurry and Gurteen.  This was where Mary Coleman lived
and where the famed Irish fiddler Michael Coleman grew up.  Over
time these Colemans have spilled over into the neighboring counties of
Mayo and Roscommon.

The Coleman numbers (from St. Colman, the 6th century
Irish missionary) have been larger further south, in county Cork.
Today Inishannon in Cork is the home of two well-known Coleman jump

America.  In terms of
recorded arrivals to America, Colemans came:

  • 60 percent from Ireland
  • 38 percent from England
  • and 2 percent from Germany.

New England  The
English arrived first.  Among the New England arrivals was
Thomas Coleman who came to Newbury in 1635.  He was the forebear
of a long line of Quaker Colemans, in Nantucket
(where Elihu Coleman was an early opponent of slavery), New Hampshire,
and in and around Philadelphia.  William Coleman was one of
Philadelphia’s first civic leaders, Nathaniel Coleman a well-known
silversmith in Burlington, New Jersey.

Virginia  More
came via Virginia, including four Robert Colemans – three of whose
family trees have been extensively documented:

  • Robert Coleman of the first doomed Virginia settlement.  He
    apparently died in the water in 1590 while attempting to rescue other
    members of a landing party.
  • Robert Coleman of Mobjack Bay Virginia, whose presence was first
    recorded there in 1638.  A descendant was the Texas adventurer,
    Robert Morris Coleman.  This family history was recorded in Sherry
    Nicoll’s 1998 book The Coleman
    Family of Mobjack Bay
  • Robert Coalman (later Coleman) was in Charles City county,
    Virginia by 1652.  His line went south to South Carolina,
    Mississippi, and Texas.  A descendant was the Mississippi
    Governor, JP Coleman, who in 1965 published The Robert Coleman Family – from Virginia
    to Texas.
  • and Robert Coleman of Nansemond
    county Virginia, first recorded there in 1684.  His sons settled
    in Edgecombe county, North Carolina and later descendants moved onto

Irish Colemans
One of the earliest Irish Colemans was a Robert Coleman from Donegal
had arrived in Philadelphia in 1764.  He started an ironworks,
built up a business making cannonballs, and became Pennsylvania’s first
millionaire.  However, two of his daughters would meet tragic ends.

The 19th and early 20th century saw a much larger influx of Irish
Colemans to America – including in 1914 the famed fiddle player Michael
Coleman (who made his home and recorded in New York City).

German and Jewish Colemans
Colemans of German origin are much larger in proportion than the
arrival data above would indicate – as many changed their names to
Coleman once in America and after their arrival, such as:

  • Sebastian
    (later Coleman) who came to Pennsylvania from Baden in Germany n 1738
  • Nicholas Kuhlmann and
    his family, Protestants, who brought their German religious books
    with them to Philadelphia from Strasburg in 1768.  Their
    descendants, as Colemans, migrated to
    North Carolina and the Wiregrass area of SE Alabama.
  • while other
    Kuhlmanns/Colemans arrived in Minnesota in the early 1800’s.

there were Jewish Kalmans who became Colemans and even a Kaufman (Cy
Coleman the jazz pianist and songwriter).

Central America.  William
and Cynthia Coleman were Confederate refugees who fled to Honduras
escape the Reconstruction era in Georgia after the Civil War.
William started up various businesses there which did well and his sons
William and John carried on.  The family became involved in
Honduras politics during the 1920’s.  John was killed in the 1932
revolution, William died in Honduras in 1944.

Africa.  Liberia
has been ruled for most of its history by a small group of
Americo-Liberian families from Clay-Ashland, including the
Colemans.  William
Coleman had arrived in Liberia, aged 11, in 1853 and rose to become
President of that country in 1896.  He was the father of ten –
including David Coleman who in 1955 was shot dead by security forces
after a failed attempt to assassinate the then President.

Australia and New Zealand.
  Henry Coleman was possibly the
first Coleman in Australia, a convict transported there from England on
the Barwell in 1798.  His descendants were in
Parramatta and nearby Smithfield.  Tom Coleman died there in 1955
at the ripe old age of ninety five.

A notable early settler was Benjamin Coleman, a farm worker from
Sussex.  He arrived in New Zealand in 1840 and was one of the
first white settlers in Otago, South Island.  He lived to see the
arrival of the Dunedin settlers in 1848 but died by drowning one year


Select Coleman Miscellany

Coleman and Collier Surname Distribution.  The surnames Coleman and Collier describe the same occupations in
England, both being either a burner of charcoal or a gatherer of
coal.  The table below shows their name distribution on the basis
of the 1891 census.

Numbers (000’s) Coleman Collier Total
Lancashire   1.0   2.2   3.2
London   3.0   1.4   4.4
Southeast   2.1   0.5   2,6
Elsewhere   8.8   5.5  14,3
Total  15.5   9.6  25.1

There are more Colemans than Colliers.  And Coleman appears more in the southeast, Collier more in the northwest.

Colmans of Colman’s Mustard.  On April 3, 1814 Jeremiah Colman leased the Stoke Holy Cross mill (on
the river Tas near Norwich) as a growing concern and paid Edward Ames
£51 for his stock of mustard.  The following notice then appeared
in the Norfolk Chronicle:

“Jeremiah Colman, having taken the stock and trade lately
carried on by Mr. Edward Ames, respectfully informs his customers and
the public in general that he will continue the manufacturing of
mustard and he begs leave to assure those who may be pleased to favor
him with their orders that they shall be supplied in such a manner as
cannot fail to secure their approbation.”

Sainsbury In 1823 Jeremiah took his adopted nephew James
into partnership in a firm now called J. & J. Colman.  The
partnership prospered and in 1836 a London branch was
established.  Following the deaths of Jeremiah in 1851 and father
James in 1854, the young son Jeremiah James Colman found himself the
head of a successful company that was employing over 200 people.

He developed the distinctive yellow packaging and bull’s
head logo for the mustard and was also responsible for the family’s
pioneering achievements in socail welfare.  A school was opened
for the employees’ children in 1857 and a nurse was recruited to help
with sick members of staff.

Colemans in England and America.  The American Genealogical Research Institute in their
booklet The Coleman Family
speculated as follows about the number of Colemans in America:

“In English history the Coleman family has been primarily
noted among such common people as yeomen, tradesmen, and farmers.
Only a handful entered the highest class of the gentry.  Noble
titles in the family did not occur at any time in English

The reason why there were so many Coleman immigrants is
that most of them were poor, in search of prospects in America.”

Ann Coleman, A Vagabond Quaker in New Hampshire.  In 1662 three young Quaker women from England came to
Dover, New Hampshire.  True to their faith, they preached against
professional ministers, restrictions on individual liberty, and the
established customs of the church-ruled establishment.

Their punishment was harsh:

“Take these vagabond Quakers – Ann Coleman, Mary
Tompkins, and Alice Ambrose – and make them fast to the cart’s tail
and, driving the cart through your several towns, to whip their naked
backs (not exceeding ten stripes apiece on each of them) in each town;
and so to convey them from constable to constable until they are out of
this jurisdiction.”

Eventually the Quaker women returned to Dover and
established a Meeting House.  In time one third of Dover’s
citizens became Quakers.

Two Coleman Daughters Who Took Their Own Lives.  The industrialist Robert Coleman had two daughters, Anne Caroline and
Sarah, who would both meet tragic ends.

Anne Caroline began dating future US President James Buchanan in 1818
when he was a lawyer in Lancaster county.  They soon became
engaged, much to Robert Coleman’s displeasure.  Coleman was
apparently unhappy with Buchanan’s reputation.  Rumors abounded
that Buchanan was seeing other women and was only marrying Anne for her
money.  After one incident of him visiting a friend’s wife, Anne
broke off the engagement and died soon afterwards, probably from an
overdose of laudanum.  It turned out that Buchanan was so
devastated by the broken engagement and suicide and he vowed never to
marry.  He became the only bachelor President in the history of
the United States.

Another daughter Sarah also committed suicide.  She loved a
William Muhlenberg who was co-rector of St. James Episcopal Church in
Lancaster.  Again Robert Coleman disapproved of the match and
would not agree to a marriage.  Sarah fled to Philadelphia and
killed herself there.

The Colemans in Honduras.  William and Cynthia Coleman were Confederate refugees who fled to Honduras in 1867.  Their son later wrote:

“My father and a group of friends went
to Honduras after the Civil War, in which he fought all four years in
the First Georgia Cavalry.  I have his sword.  After
Sherman’s march through Georgia, when he burned and destroyed
everything in our part of the state, things were very bad and this
group of young soldiers and their families decided to go to Honduras.

In those days, the trip across the Gulf had to be made by
schooner.  A storm wrecked the boat that Father was on, but he and
his wife and two little children (your father and Jack) made their way
to shore north of Puerto Cortez, saving only Father’s rifle and
violin.  Several others in the party were saved, but they did not
like the foreign country and went back to Georgia.

After many ups and downs, our family settled in a village which is now
San Pedro Sula and, by constant hard work and determination, Father
made a fortune.”

The Colemans in fact settled in a Confederate colony called Medina, now
part of the city of San Pedro Sula.  Branches of the family were
also in surrounding towns such as Olancho.  Most of the Coleman
descendants in Spanish Honduras owe their lineage to this family.

Mary Coleman from Coleman Country.  Coleman Country today describes the area of south
Sligo, north Roscommon, and NE Mayo where the legendary Irish fiddler
Michael Coleman was born and grew up.  It was also the home, a
generation earlier, of a relatve of his, Mary Coleman.

Mary Coleman was born just after the famine.   It was her
people that owned Lisbaleely in Gurteen for three hundred years.
She was was not versed in English.  When she had married her
hiusband John McDermott in 1885 at the time of the land wars, she could
only put her mark upon the marriage certificate.  However, with
her husband on the run, she had driven her cart all night to Lord
DeFreyne’s home to stop her family being evicted.  Eventually she
took title to the land in 1911.

When she talked about her family history, she would describe the famine
as a terrible struggle.  All her education was received at a hedge
school.  Her grandson remembered her great wisdom and her routine
as she returned to the old house to light a fire.  She would sit
by the fire and smoke a pipe, often reciting the rosary in Irish.
When he would fetch her for meals, she would talk of meeting people who
were long dead.

She was buried inside the gate of the old graveyard in Gurteen, fifteen
feet from the wall in the second row of graves.  She is there in
the arms of her son John and with her sister Agnes.

Tom Coleman of Smithfield, NSW.  Thomas Coleman, a convict descendant, died in Smithfield NSW on
December 6, 1955 at the ripe old age of ninety five.

“The son of a wheelwright, he for some
years followed the calling of his father, but later the call of the
country life appealed to him and he spent many years in various parts
of Australia assisting in the erection of telephone services, which he
often referred to as a healthy life in the rough and rugged
outback.  He continued this calling following his marriage in Parramatta
seventy three years ago to Miss Mercy Marks, the daughter of a Badgery
Creek dairyman.

On returning to Smithfield
the deceased, along with his wife, took up residence in Justin Street,
and later in Oxford Street,
where they cared for their seven children – four girls and three

After the death of his wife 23 years ago he had in turn
lived with his daughter at Canberra,
his son at Taree, and then, for the past 13 years, with his daughter at
Smithfield.  There are 26
surviving grandchildren and 56 great grandchildren.

It was said
of Tom Coleman, as he was always known, that his whole life had been
worthwhile.  Age did not deter him, he had been an inspiration to
others many years his junior and when the news of his death became
known, there was a feeling amongst the
residents that they were poorer for his passing.”


Select Coleman Names

  • Robert Morris Coleman organized the first Texas Rangers, helped defeat
    the Mexicans at the Battle of San Jacinto, but later fell out with Sam Houston and died young in mysterious circumstances.
  • Jeremiah Colman was the man who built up Colman’s of Norwich, the mustard-makers, in the second half of the 19th century.
  • William Coleman became
    President of Liberia in 1895.
  • Michael Coleman was
    the legendary fiddler from Sligo most responsible for the revival of
    Irish traditional music.
  • Ornette Coleman, the jazz
    saxophonist, was one of the major innovators of the “free jazz” movement of the 1960’s.

Select Coleman Numbers Today

  • 35,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Kent)
  • 70,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Texas)
  • 25,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia).


Select Coleman 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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