Davis/Davies Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Davis and Davies Surname Meaning

Davis and Davies are both patronymic names meaning “son of David.” Davies has been particularly popular in Wales as St. David is its patron saint. David is spelt Daffydd in Welsh and means well-beloved. 

Davies – because of the Welsh influence – predominates over Davis in the UK today, by around three to one. But in America it is the other way round. There are twenty times more Davis than Davies. 

Davis and Davies Surname Resources on The Internet

Davis and Davies Surname Ancestry

  • from Wales and Western England
  • to Ireland, America, Canada, West Africa and Australia

England. Davis first emerged as a surname in the early 14th century. A Richard Davys was recorded as a freeman of York in 1402. Davys was initially the more common spelling. It was found mainly in the west country.

Davies.  Davies developed as a spelling in Cornwall and in the border counties with Wales where the Welsh influence and language was strong.

The Davies family of Chisgrove near Tisbury in Wiltshire came about because of a Welshman settling there in the early 1500’s.  Also from Wales was William Davies who was known as the “Golden Farmer.”  He was a famous Gloucestershire highwayman until he was finally captured and executed in 1690.

And the Davies name had an early presence at St.  Erth in Cornwall.  In the 18th century Henry Davies and his descendants held the Tredrea farm there (from whom the writer and politician Davies Gilbert got his forename).

Davis.   An early English version was Davy or Davys.  John Davy was the MP for Dorchester in the 1550’s.  And Sir Humphry Davy was the Cornish inventor from Penzance who pioneered the Davy lamp in 1816.

In time Davis became the main spelling.  John Davis from Devon, one of the chief navigators for Queen Elizabeth, discovered the Falkland Isles in 1592.   One Davis family has traced itself back to John Davys or Davis of Acton Turville in Gloucestershire in the early 1500’s.  Thomas and James Davis of this family emigrated to New England in 1635.

A Davis family in the 18th century were Bristol merchants that traded with the West Indies in sugar and human cargoes.  They became Hart-Davis when Richard Davis married Marianna Hart in 1789.  He was the MP for Bristol from 1812 to 1831.  Rupert Hart-Davis of this family was a highly esteemed book publisher and editor.

Davis could also be a Jewish name.   Lewis Davis, born to a Jewish family in Woolwich near London in 1807, had a very busy and successful professional life.  From 1855 to 1857 he was a member of the Metropolitan Board of Works.

Today the main concentrations of the Davis name are in Gloucestershire and Worcestershire.

Wales. An early spelling was Daffydd, such as the Glamorgan bard Meurig Daffydd of the early 16th century. This spelling did persist in some areas until the 18th century.

Davies.  The first Davies sightings were mainly in north Wales:

  • the Davies family of Gwysaney in Flintshire claimed an ancient pedigree. John ap Davydd was the first in his family to adopt the Davies name sometime in the mid-1500’s. Their family base at Llanerch Park stayed with them into the late 18th century.
  • William Davies from Denbighshire who was a Catholic priest executed for his beliefs in 1593.
  • and Dr. John Davies, the rector at Mallwyd in Merionethshire in the early 1600’s, who was one of the leading Welsh scholars of his day.

The Davies population – as with much of the Welsh population – moved south during the 19th century and is now more to be found in Glamorgan and surrounding counties. 

One Davies family history began in the Rhondda valley with the birth in 1740 of William Davies alias Hopkin, the son of John Hopkin and Ann Davies.  He grew up in the Cwmsaerbren farm that had belonged to the David/Davies family for many generations.  Another family in that locality, from about 1840, was the Davies family of the Cae Isaf farm in Llanguick.  Both father Morgan and son William were engine drivers at the local coal works.

David Davies, born in humble circumstances at Llandinam in Montgomeryshire, became a coal magnate and was an important figure in the industrialization of the Rhondda valley in the late 19th century.

Ireland.  A Davys family from rural Kildare, dating back to the late 1500’s, rose to political prominence a century or so later.  Sir Paul and his son Sir John Davys both served as Secretary of State for Ireland.

The notable Davises of Cork were of Welsh origin.  This was true of the Rev. Rowland Davies who grew up in the Protestant enclave of Bandon and became the Anglican Dean of Cork in 1710.

It was also true of Thomas Davis, the Young Ireland poet and political writer.  His father James, a military surgeon from Wales, had taken a posting with the Royal Artillery in Ireland and then died when James was born while enroute to Spain.  Partly because Thomas died young (at thirty-one), he was considered an inspiration to later Irish nationalists.

Davises were also in Wexford in SE Ireland.  William Davis got caught up in the 1798 Rebellion and was expelled.  Others emigrated in the 19th century, to Australia and Canada.  On the plus side there was the grocery business that was started in Enniscorthy by Francis Davis in 1835.  It was continued by his son Samuel who later expanded with offices in Dublin and London.

America.  The early arrivals into New England were mostly English.

New England.  Thomas Davis from Acton Turville in Gloucestershire had arrived in Boston on the James in 1635 and was one of the founders of the town of Haverhill in 1646.  In 1719 Cornelius Davis moved the family to Stafford, Connecticut where Deacon Daniel Davis became a prominent citizen of the community in the early 19th century.  The Davises were farmers there during the 19th century.  Some of them moved to Ohio.

Thomas’s brother James was also an early settler in Haverhill.  His son John moved to Strafford along the Oyster river in New Hampshire in the 1650’s.  In 1694 many of his descendants were killed by Indians in what has been called the Oyster River Massacre.  From the survivors, ten generations later, came the actress Bette Davis.

Other Davis arrivals in New England were:

  • Fulke Davis, possibly related to Thomas Davis above, who was in Hartford, Connecticut by 1636 and later moved to Long Island.
  • Dolar Davis who came from Kent sometime in the 1630’s and settled in Cambridge. His descendants included John Davis, the Massachusetts Governor and Senator in the 1830’s and 1840’s and a central figure in the Davis political dynasty in Massachusetts that extended over two hundred years. 
  • and Barnabas Davis who came from Gloucestershire on the Blessing in 1635 and settled in Charlestown.  Samuel Davis migrated to Groton, but then had to return in the 1670’s because of the Indian attacks.  Captain Isaac Davis moved to New Hampshire., but died during the Revolutionary War.

Colonel John Davis was resident in Derby, New Haven in 1690.  He was the forebear of Davis Loyalists who departed for Nova Scotia after the Revolutionary War.  And another John Davis came to Long Island around 1690.  His line in America was covered in Albert Davis’ 1887 book History of the Davis Family.  

Pennsylvania.  Evan Davis came to Philadelphia from Wales in the 1720’s. His grandson, born in Kentucky in 1808, was the famous Confederate leader Jefferson Davis.  

“Jefferson Davis died in New Orleans in 1889 at the age of eighty one. His funeral was one of the largest ever staged in the South and ran a continuous march day and night from New Orleans to Richmond, Virginia where he was buried.”  

Other Welsh lines in Pennsylvania were:

  • Morgan Davis from Glamorgan who was in the Merion township as early as 1685.
  • Jenkin Davis from Cardigan who came to Radnor township in 1720. A branch of this family, which still holds annual reunions, moved to Maryland around 1800. 
  • Owen Davis from north Wales who first came to Maryland and then settled in Fayette county.
  • John Davis who had come to Lancaster county in the 1770’s and later moved to Kentucky (where he died at a reported age of 105).
  • and there was also a Davis family in North Providence by the late 1700’s.

Welsh Davies invariably became Davis in America; as did Davis arrivals from Ireland.  William Davis, for instance, came with his parents from county Tyrone to Bucks county in 1735.  His line in America was covered in Thomas Davis’ 1919 book The Davis Family.

Elsewhere.  James Davis from Gloucestershire was an early voyager to America.  He first arrived in Virginia around the year 1607.  He was called in Jamestown “an ancient planter,” but died in 1623.  The line through his son Thomas led to Somerset county, Maryland and sizeable land holdings there.  The various branches of the Davis family intermarried with other established families there, in particular in Anne Arundel county.

James and John Davis from London came to Westmoreland county, Virginia around 1700.  Many of their descendants later moved to Kentucky and Tennessee.  A later Irish arrival was James Davis and his family in 1746.  His sons James and Samuel moved onto Tennessee.

It was said that there were four Davis brothers – Jehu, John, William and Roger – who joined Maurice Moore’s new colony at Brunswick by Cape Fear in North Carolina in the 1730’s.  The line from one of them, Jehu, led to:

  • Thomas Davis, a plantation owner at Porters Neck in Wilmington, North Carolina
  • and to his sons Thomas, Bishop of South Carolina, and George, the attorney-general for the Confederacy and a well-known orator of his time.  A Confederate Monument to George Davis was erected in Wilmington in 1911.

Canada. John Davis had come to New Haven, Connecticut sometime around 1680. But his Loyalist descendant Ethel Davis left there for Nova Scotia in 1783. He settled on Brier Island where Ethel’s grandson Samuel saved shipwrecked men by believing in his “vision of the night.” Samuel’s two sons Ralph and Oscar established at Yarmouth in 1897 the paper and printing company R.H. Davis & Co. which still operates.

Other Davis Loyalists who came to Canada at this time were:

  • Thomas and John Davis from a North Carolina plantation who reached Canada in 1790 and settled in Wentworth county, Ontario.
  • and Lewis Davis from a Welsh family who crossed over from New York state to Hastings county, Ontario around 1802.

Many Davises from Wexford in Ireland also moved to Hastings county in the period between 1830 and 1850, contributing to a large Davis population there.

Africa. The Davis family was one of the original African American families of Sierra Leone (which the British had created as a haven for freed slaves in 1787).  Their family patriarch was Anthony Davis, a 29 year old freed slave from Delaware. His Davis descendants were also to be found in Nigeria.

Australia. Davises from Ireland came to Australia. The first was probably William Davis, known as the Wexford Pikemaker, who got caught up in the 1798 Irish Rebellion and was captured and transported to Australia.  He emerged from captivity to grow wealthy and to be a pillar of the Irish Catholic community in Sydney. John Davis joined him from Ireland in 1841. Other relatives from his hometown of Parsontown in Wexford came out in 1855.

Thomas Davies from Carmarthenshire was an early arrival in South Australia on the Amazon in  1832.  Thomas farmed there, but then was drawn by the mining opportunities in Victoria in the 1850’s.

William Davis left Kent with his family on the Babboo in 1848, also for South Australia. Born in 1795, he was a veteran of the Battle of Waterloo, having had half of his left foot shot off by a cannonball and having survived a bayonet thrust to the chest. Nevertheless, according to family lore, he had been married three times and fathered 22 children.  He lived to be 92.

Davis and Davies Surname Miscellany

Saint David.  Tradition states that David was born in the 6th century near where St. Davids stands today on St. Davids Peninsula in Pembrokeshire.  He founded there on the banks of the Alun river a monastery and church at Glyn Rhosyn (Rose Vale) in an area originally known in the Welsh language as Mynyw and by the Romans as Menevia.

The monastic brotherhood that David founded was very strict.  Besides praying and celebrating masses, they cultivated the land and carried out many crafts to feed themselves and the many pilgrims and travellers who needed lodgings. They also fed and clothed the poor and needy.

Saint David died in 589.  Between 645 and 1097 his monastic community was attacked many times by raiders.  However it was of such note as both a religious and intellectual centre that support was always there for its sustenance and maintenance. In 1090 the Welsh scholar Rhigyfarch wrote his Latin Life of David, highlighting David’s sanctity and thus beginning the almost cult-like status he achieved.  The present Cathedral at St. Davids was begun in 1181 and completed not long after.

The Davies Family of Gwysaney.  The Davies family of Gwysaney in Flintshire in north Wales claimed descent from Cynric Efell, the son of Madog ap Maredudd (Prince of Powys) in the 13th century.

The patronymic Davies name was first assumed by John ap Davydd in the 1550’s.  His son Robert Davies obtained from the College of Heralds a confirmation of his family arms in 1581; and his son Thomas was a lieutenant-colonel for Charles I and constable of Hawarden castle.  Thomas later fought on the Continent for the King of Denmark.

Later Davieses stayed at home in Flintshire.  Robert Davies married Anne Mutton in 1631 at the tender age of 15 and through her inherited the Llanerch Park estate.  The male line of this family ended in 1785.

William Davies the Golden Farmer.  William Davies was born in Wrexham in 1627, but removed himself in early life to Gloucestershire where he married the daughter of a wealthy innkeeper and had by her 18 children.

Later he and his family settled down in Bagshot on the Surrey-Berkshire border where he was, by all accounts, a successful farmer.  But he used this trade as a cloak.  For he had early taken to the road and robbed persons returning from cattle fairs or travelling to pay rent, mainly on Bagshot Heath.   He allegedly took only gold from his victims (and thereby paid in gold to avoid any identification of his plunder), while often leaving them intact with their jewels and other valuables.

His identity was discovered since he was the only local farmer who paid his taxes in gold.  A picture of him was painted and hung in the Golden Farmer pub along the London Road. One day it was remarked that the golden farmer looked more jolly than golden, so the pub changed its name and was henceforth known as the Jolly Farmer.

William Davies was apprehended in 1690, but he eluded his pursuers and shot a pursuing butcher.  He was caught again, tried for murder while his previous crimes became known.  The so-called Golden Farmer was hanged on a hill on Bagshot Heath now known as Gibbet Lane.

The Davis Family in Massachusetts and Connecticut.  The Davis family, as Davys, dates back to about 1500 in Acton Turville in Gloucestershire.

Thomas Davis left his home there in 1635 and made the dangerous journey across the Atlantic aboard the James to Boston and the Massachusetts Bay ColonyHe moved from Boston to Haverhill in 1642 and was one of the first selectmen of the town in 1646.  Thomas remained active in town affairs until his death in 1683 at the age of 80 years.

Grandson Cornelius migrated to Stafford in Connecticut in 1719 and his family became well established there.  They were renowned for their apple orchards from which they baked apple pies and in 1801 started a distillery to make apple cider and brandy.  The Davis distillery was only one of the Davis businesses. Daniel Davis and his sons operated a sawmill, a quarry, and a general store.

Daniel’s son Daniel built his farm at nearby Somers in 1829.  This would be home for five generations of the Davis family.

The Davis Political Dynasty in Massachusetts.  The first of these Davises was John Davis who rose to prominence as President Washington’s Comptroller of the US Treasury and later as his US Attorney covering Massachusetts.

There followed a different John Davis who was first Governor and then Senator for Massachusetts.  John’s sister married George Bancroft who as the US Secretary of the Navy established the US Naval Academy at Annapolis.  The two Davis’ sons were John Bancroft Davis a lawyer and diplomat, and Horace Davis, a Congressman from California and President of the University of California at Berkeley.

There were also the family connections with the Cabot Lodges, starting with Henry Cabot Lodge, US Senator for Massachusetts, followed by Henry Cabot Lodge Jr (also a Massachusetts Senator) and John Davis Lodge (Connecticut Governor).

The Davis Homestead in North Providence, Pennsylvania.  The Davis family settled in North Providence, Pennsylvania sometime in the mid-1700’s.  Benjamin Davis gave land on which the North Providence Baptist church was built.  Benjamin’s son Milton had married Frances, the daughter of John Umstad the local Baptist minister.

The Davis homestead, known as Umstad Manor, was built about 1785 and was visited by General Washington soon after.  The brothers Jesse and Nathan Davis were its first inhabitants and Hannah Eliza Davis later lived there her entire life.  The manor is believed to be one of the oldest houses in Pennsylvania still retained by descendants, in this case the Evansons, of the original builder. 

Ethel Davis, Loyalist in Nova Scotia.  Ethel Davis departed New York with his family and other Loyalists for Shelburne, Nova Scotia in 1783.  The year 1788 was the year that Ethel’s wife Margaret remembered that they settled on Brier Island.  They were the seventh family, all Loyalists, on the island.

The Davises raised sheep, milked cows, plowed the land with oxen, planted an orchard, and built log homes. They traveled by rowboat or by sailboat and learned to watch the strong tides and the weather.  They caught fish and tended their sheep in the summer and carded and spun sheared wool in the winter.

In early 1801 Ethel was injured at the launching of the first sailing vessel built at Westport.  He had fallen from a vessel’s mast and broken his leg.  The injuries proved serious and he died in May that year.

William Davis the Wexford Pikemaker.  During the Irish uprising in Wexford in 1798 William Davis was arrested because someone had said that he was a blacksmith making pikes for the rebels.  He said he was a publican with an inn at Enniscorthy, but he was not believed. He was sentenced to life transportation to Australia.

His initial treatment in New South Wales was brutal. William was flogged twice, once for being an Irishman and a blacksmith and a suspected rebel, and once for not being a Protestant.

However, he survived these ordeals and by 1814 he had been granted a pardon and was able to secure land in Campbelltown.  He prospered and became a well-respected figure in his community.  In 1817 some of his friends got together to present him with a statue, of Jesus with a crown of thorns, to commemorate what he had suffered as an Irishman and a Catholic on his first arrival in Australia.

William Davis died in 1843. He had over the years become a beacon for the Catholic community in Australia.  His memorial at Sydney’s old burial grounds reads:

“William Davis died on 17th August 1843 aged 78 years. He was one of the last survivors of those who were exiled without the formality of a trial for the Irish political movement of 1798.”

Davis and Davies Names

  • John Davies of Hereford, a contemporary of Shakespeare, was a writing master and a notable Anglo-Welsh poet of his time.
  • Jefferson Davis was the President of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War.
  • David Davies was a coal magnate and an important figure in the industrialization of the Rhondda valley in south Wales in the late 19th century.
  • Bette Davis was the acclaimed American actress in the 1930’s and 1940’s.
  • Sammy Davis Jr was a popular dancer, singer, and entertainer, one of the 1960’s Rat Pack.
  • Robertson Davies was one of Canada’s most well-known and popular novelists.
  • Miles Davis, a trumpeter, is one of the great names of jazz.

Davis and Davies Numbers Today

  • 317,000 in the UK (most numerous in Cardiff)
  • 398,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 133,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Davies is the #6 ranked surname in the UK, Davis the #7 ranked surname in America.

Davies and Like Surnames  

Hereditary surnames in Wales were a post-16th century development.   Prior to that time the prototype for the Welsh name was the patronymic, such as “Madog ap Jevan ap Jerwerth” (Madoc, son of Evan, son of Yorwerth).  The system worked well in what was still mainly an oral culture.

However, English rule decreed English-style surnames and the English patronymic “-s” for “son of” began first in the English border counties and then in Wales. Welsh “P” surnames came from the “ap” roots, such as Price from “ap Rhys.”

These are some of the present-day Welsh surnames that you can check out.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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