Dorsey/Darcy Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Dorsey Surname Meaning

Dorsey is the American version. The English and Irish spellings have been Darcy or D’Arcy.

Darcy is Norman in origin, deriving from the place-name Orsay village in Seine et Orme. In Ireland Darcy may be either Anglo-Norman (from Darcys coming from England) or Irish. In the latter case Darcy is an anglicized form of the Gaelic sept O’Dorchaidhe, which translates as “descendant of the dark one.

Dorsey Surname Resources on The Internet

Dorsey and Darcy Surname Ancestry

  • from England (East Coast) and Ireland (Galway)
  • to America (incl. African American), and Australia

England.  The forebear of the Darcys was thought to have accompanied William the Conqueror to England in 1066. He appeared in the Domesday Book of 1086 as the Norman de Areci, owner of many manors in Lincolnshire. The name became D’Arci and then Darcy.

The Lincolnshire line, originally based at Nocton, transposed itself into the Darcys of Knayth, but died out in 1418. Other lines continued:

  • one Darcy line seems to have established itself at Little Malden in Essex by the 13th century. Their numbers included Henry Darcy, a vintner who became Mayor of London in 1337, and Thomas Darcy, a royal courtier with Edward VI in the 1550’s. This line ended in 1640.
  • another line was to be found at Temple Hurst near Selby in Yorkshire in the mid-14th century. Thomas Darcy of this line distinguished himself in battle, but then fell foul of politics during the reign of Henry VIII and was beheaded in 1537. The direct line ended a hundred years later in 1637.

The Darcys reasserted themselves following the marriage of Thomas Darcy and Elizabeth Conyers in Yorkshire in 1569. Their son Conyers Darcy reactivated the baron titles of both Knayth and Conyers; and their grandson of the same name was created the Earl of Holderness.

The Scottish philosopher David Hume wrote in the 1760’s:  
“It is remarkable that this family of Darcy seems to be the only male descendant of any of the Conqueror’s barons now remaining among the Peers. Lord Holderness is the heir of that family.”  

Lord Holderness died in 1778 without male heirs. But he was thought to have had an illegitimate son named Francis who was killed fighting in the American Revolutionary War. Francis’s son Robert was a Major-General with the Royal Engineers.

Ireland. There have been two distinct Darcys lines in Ireland, one Anglo-Norman and the other Irish.

Anglo-Norman. The Anglo-Norman branch got its descent from Sir John D’Arcy of Knayth who was appointed Chief Justice of Ireland by Edward II in 1323. The main line, that of Plattyn, was based at Corbetstown in county Meath. Sir William D’Arcy was an influential Anglo-Irish statesman of the early 1500’s, holding the title of Vice-Treasurer of Ireland.

The D’Arcy lands were forfeited in 1641 as they were Catholic, returned to them as “innocent papists” in 1661, but forfeited again in 1690. A branch of the family held the Hyde Park estate in Westmeath from the 1770’s. Charles D’Arcy of that line was an eminent Anglican clergyman in Ireland in the early 1900’s.

Irish. The O’Dorchaidaidhe sept which gave rise to the Irish Darcy name had its origins in Connacht, perhaps dating back to the early 1300’s. There were records of the name in Leitrim, Mayo, and Galway. It was said that Walter Riabhac O’Dorchaidhe from the Partraige of Lough Carra in Mayo was “the first man of the Uí Dorchaidhe who came to Galway” in the late 1400’s. 

Galway has been the place where most Irish Darcys have come from. The Darcys in fact were one of the “fourteen tribes of Galway” that prospered as merchants in the town of Galway.  

James Riveagh D’Arcy had been bailiff of Galway in 1578 and served as its mayor in 1602. Despite some suggestion that he came from the Anglo-Norman D’Arcys, he was – as the DNA analysis has shown – of Irish origin.

James was the progenitor of the D’Arcys at Kiltullagh in Athenry parish. One of his sons Martin served as High Sheriff of Galway in 1635 but was then imprisoned and died the following year. Another son Patrick trained as a lawyer and wrote the constitution for a Catholic Confederacy of Ireland in the 1640’s. A later Patrick D’Arcy joined the Irish brigade in France in the 1750’s and married his cousin Jane D’Arcy, a lady-in-waiting to Marie Antoinette.

In Ireland there were other descendant lines at Newforest and Clifden in Galway and at Gorleen in county Mayo (where William Knox D’Arcy, the oil pioneer in Persia, was a descendant).

America. Maryland had the leading numbers of Darseys in 1840 and has so today.

Maryland. Edward Darcy was among the first settlers of Anne Arundel county in Maryland in 1649, having come there with other Puritans from Virginia. He drowned in an accident off the Isle of Kent in 1659. His ancestry has been the subject of much debate, the DNA analysis suggesting that he probably came from Ireland rather than from England.

Darcy became Dorsey with Edward’s sons and other Darcys that have come to America have tended to follow suit. Edward and John Dorsey were prosperous planters in Maryland. Among their descendants were:

  • on John’s side came Samuel Dorsey who moved south to Louisiana in the 1830’s where he became a wealthy plantation owner. He lost most of his land holdings during the Civil War. His wife Sarah was a well-known Southern writer.
  • while on Edward’s side came John Dorsey who settled in Fayetteville, Georgia in the early 1800’s. Two descendants were John Manson Dorsey, whose ghost was said to haunt the family home, and his brother Rufus Dorsey who became a county judge in Atlanta. Rufus’s son Hugh, also a lawyer, was a state prosecutor who served as Governor of Georgia from 1917 to 1921.
  • also on Edward’s side came much later, it is thought, the Big Band Dorsey brothers. Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey grew up in Pennsylvania in the early 1900’s.

The lineage of the family was covered in the 1947 book The Dorsey Family by Dorsey, Dorsey and Nimmo.

Elsewhere.  Another place for Dorseys was North Carolina. The name began to appear there in various counties in the mid/late 1700’s.

Andrew Dorsey, recorded there in Rowan county in 1766, was thought to have originated from Maryland. Joseph Dorsey, who fought with his five sons in the Revolutionary War, was also said to have moved from Maryland to North Carolina before finally settling in Georgia. Elisha Dorsey, born in 1773, was a founder member of the Gilboa Methodist church in Burke county. His line was traced in David Dorsey’s 1975 book Elisha Dorsey of Burke County, North Carolina.

John and Marie Dorsey were Irish immigrants who had come to Vermont in the 1830’s and later migrated westward to Ohio. Their son Stephen prospered after the Civil War and moved to Arkansas where he was elected its carpet-bagging Governor from 1873 to 1879. He got rich through corrupt mail contracts, narrowly escaping prosecution, and retreated to his Mountain Spring cattle ranch in New Mexico. The nearby town of Clayton was named after his son.

African American.  Dorsey can also be an African American name, found initially in Maryland and later, and more notably, in Georgia:

There were a number of Dorsey tobacco plantations in the Howard district of Anne Arundel county, Maryland. Family stories talk of an escaped slave named Dorsey who fled Maryland for Canada in the 1850’s and changed his name to Thomas. Other Dorseys remained in the state. Decatur Dorsey distinguished himself in fighting during the Civil War. One Dorcey family at Sykesville today holds a reunion every Labor Day.

Georgia provided D.A. Dorsey, the son of former slaves, who migrated to Florida in the 1890’s and made his fame and fortune in Miami. When he died in 1940, flags were lowered to half-mast all over Miami. Georgia also provided Tom Dorsey, known in his early years as Georgia Tom, who is widely regarded as the father of black gospel music.

Australia.  James and Mary Darcy immigrated from Tipperary in Ireland in the 1850’s and made their home in West Maitland, NSW. Their grandson Les Darcy, born there in 1895, became one of the greatest middleweights that ever fought. He died tragically at the young age of 21.

Dorsey and Darcy Surname Miscellany

O’Dorchaidhe/Darcy Origins in Connacht.  Edward MacLysaght in his 1957 book Irish Families said of the O’Dorchaidhe sept:

“There is no justification for the Darcys of Munster and Connacht (with very few exceptions) using the form D’Arcy, because they were of native Irish stock and their name is a corruption of the Gaelic O’Dorchaidhe which was first anglicized as O’Dorcey.

There were two minor septs so called: one in county Mayo was located around Partry near Lough Mask; the other in east Galway was a branch of the Ui Maine.  In the Annals of Loch Ce the name MacDarcy appeared as that of a county Leitrim chieftain in the years 1384 and 1403.

O’Donovan in his notes to Annals of the Four Masters under the date 1310 placed the MacDarcy sept in the parish of Oughteragh in county Leitrim.  This source alone suggested three possible origins of the Dorsey surname in Ireland – one in Galway, one in Mayo and one in Leitrim, all in the province of Connacht – though no one can say if they share unrecorded origins further back in time.“

The most prominent of these Darcys were the Darcys in Galway who formed one of the “fourteen tribes of Galway.”  DNA analysis has shown that these Darcys were not related to the Anglo-Norman Darcy family based in Meath.  Nor does the DNA connect to the Irish modal haplotype which goes all the way back to Niall of the Nine Hostages.

The Irish genealogist MacFerbis maintained that James Riabhach Darcy of Galway was descended from Walter Riabbach O’Dorchaidhe, the first man of the family who came to Galway. However, DNA analysis suggests that his origin might instead have been from a branch of the Ui Maine that was found in east Galway. 

Thomas Darcy of Temple Hurst and His Downfall.  The Darcys had held their estate at Temple Hurst near Selby in Yorkshire since the mid-14th century.  Born in 1467, Thomas Darcy rose to prominence during the reign of Henry VII, mainly because of his military prowess.  He was knighted in 1489 and was later appointed Warden of the Marches along the border with Scotland.  He remained active on the border with Scotland during the early years of Henry VIII.

However, as the King’s rift with the Catholic church widened and he embarked upon a policy of dissolving the monasteries, Darcy began to turn against him and become a rebel.  The dissolution policy had been particularly unpopular in Yorkshire.  A rebellion broke out  there in 1536, which became known as the Pilgrimage of Grace.

Darcy, who held Pontefract castle against the rebels, was caught in a bind.  He secretly sympathized with the rebels, but was required to hold the castle for the King.  In the end Darcy, on the pretense that his supplies were running out, yielded up the castle.

Initially the King seemed to have accepted Darcy’s explanation.  But in early 1537 Darcy was arrested, brought to London and lodged at the Tower of London, as were several of the leaders of the northern uprising.  Darcy was convicted of conspiring with these rebels and he was beheaded for treason on Tower Hill on June 30, 1537. 

The Ancestry of William Knox D’Arcy.  Around 1660 John D’Arcy, a grandson of James Riveagh D’Arcy, settled at Gorteen, a rural boggy townland west of Charlestown in northeast county Mayo.

Three generations later, Francis D’Arcy of this branch married Lucy Knox, daughter of William Knox of Cartron Rath in Roscommon.   Francis and Lucy were the great-grandparents of William Knox D’Arcy, who was born in Newton Abbot in England and grew up in Australia.  He was the man who discovered oil in Persia in 1908.

Darcys and Dorseys in America.  Passenger information on ship arrivals in America show that most arrived as Darcy:

Numbers from – Darcy Dorsey
Ireland    518    128
England    181     67
Elsewhere     25      3
Total    724    200

But they generally changed their name in America to Dorsey. Dorsey outnumbers Darcy in America today by seven to one.

Samuel and Sarah Dorsey.  Samuel Worthington Dorsey was forty two when he married the young Sarah Ellis in Mississippi in 1852.  Born into a distinguished Maryland jurist family, Dorsey had been a struggling Vicksburg attorney before he became the manager of the Dorsey plantation in Tensas parish, Louisiana.  He was no intellectual; instead a man of business, popular with his hunting and fishing neighbors.

Sarah Ellis, by contrast, was just twenty four at the time of her marriage. Her father Thomas was a member of an aristocratic southern Percy family who were not only wealthy planters but also contributed notable politicians, lawyers and writers in the South.  Sarah inherited much of that sparkle. But in the South of that era, she could scarcely have found a male with comparable talents to her own. Even so, her family was disappointed at her choice of husband.

In the years before the Civil War Samuel prospered as a plantation owner and had large land holdings. He was a Louisiana state senator for many years and a member of the State Convention that passed the ordinance of secession in 1861.Both he and his wife upheld the institution of slavery, although Sarah did devote much of her time and energy to the condition and education of the slaves at their plantation.

After the war Samuel lost his plantation and much of his land holdings. Grant’s Mississippi campaign had swept through the Dorsey lands and he and his wife were forced to leave for western Louisiana and later Texas, living often in tents. Samuel died in 1875.

Sarah blossomed as a writer at this time. Her first novel Agnes Graham derived much from her war experiences. Her later novels would provide a romanticized view of the antebellum South. After her husband died she befriended Jefferson Davis, the former Confederate leader, who had fallen on hard times. Their relationship developed into something of a scandal. Sarah herself died in 1878 and she bequeathed her property to Jefferson Davis. 

Les Darcy, Australia’s Greatest Boxer.  Generally regarded as Australia’s best ever boxer, Les Darcy was one of the finest middleweights ever to grace the sport.  The Maitland Wonder contested all of his fifty pro fights Down Under. Although he never fought outside of his homeland, this was not for the want of trying.

He left school at the age of 12 and worked hard to help support his parents and nine siblings.  He became apprenticed to a blacksmith. But it was in the boxing ring that Darcy made his name and his fortune.

His first fight was in 1910 in an illegal boxing match.  Darcy won fifteen shillings and attracted the attention of several promoters. In 1915 he moved to Sydney to focus on his boxing career. A few early losses under contentious circumstances did nothing to harm his reputation and, in 1915-16, he won 22 consecutive fights and earned enough money to pay out his apprenticeship and buy his parents a house. Darcy became a national hero.

The precocious Aussie’s emergence coincided with that of World War One. With his family to provide for, Darcy naively decided to evade his country’s military draft in order to secure lucrative bouts in the USA.  However, fights for Les were not forthcoming as promoters there looked disapprovingly upon his failure to enlist in the Australian army.

He never held the official world middleweight title (only the Australian version), but he was widely considered as the best in the division from around 1915-1916, with his innovative boxing style being well ahead of its time.

After suffering from blood poisoning and subsequently developing pneumonia, he died in the USA in 1917.  Australia mourned the loss of a native hero, who remains a national sporting icon to this day. A locket containing his photograph and a lock of his hair, the possession of Winnie O’Sullivan his first love, is now with the National Museum of Australia.

Dorsey and Darcy Names

  • Patrick Darcy was an Irish Catholic leader in the Confederacy wars of the 1640’s and wrote the constitution for a Confederate Ireland.    
  • Mr. Darcy is the famous fictional character in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. 
  • William Knox D’Arcy, an Englishman, struck oil in Persia (now Iran) in 1908 and was one of the founders of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company that became BP. 
  • Tommy Dorsey was a bandleader during the Big Band era of jazz. He was known as the “sentimental gentleman of swing” because of his smooth-toned trombone playing. 
  • Arnold Dorsey was the birth name of the singer who burst into stardom in the 1960’s as Engelbert Humperdinck.   
  • Jack Dorsey was the co-founder and CEO of the social media vehicle Twitter.

Dorsey and Darcy Numbers Today

  • 3,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 15,000 in America (most numerous in Maryland)
  • 9,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)

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Written by Colin Shelley

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