Edwards Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Edwards Surname Meaning

Edwards is a patronymic name meaning “son of Edward.” Eadweard was a Saxon name. It appeared in the Domesday book as Eaaduardus and Eduard. The name was in widespread use before the Norman invasion, because of two kings, Edward the Martyr and Edward the Confessor.

Edwards Surname Resources on The Internet

Edwards Surname Ancestry

  • from Wales and Western England
  • to America, Caribs (Antigua), Chile and New Zealand

Wales. There were old Welsh families in Denbighshire in north Wales who later assumed the Edwards name. These included the Edwards of Stansty near Wrexham which lasted until the 18th century and the Edwards of Chirkland which has lasted much longer. As Edwardes they migrated to Pembrokeshire in the 18th century, securing by marriage in 1762 the Kensington estates in London and later a peerage.

Also from Denbighshire, said to be descended from Einon Efell (the Lord of Cynlleath in the 12th century), was Robert Edwards of Lledrode. He was the son of Edward ap Thomas ap Llewellyn and, in the late 1500’s, was among the first in Wales to assume Edwards as a surname. His son John Edwards acquired the Ness Strange estate in Shropshire across the English border.  

South Wales. Edwards were also in south Wales. There were Edwards at Edwards Hall near Cardiff in Glamorgan from the 1560’s to the early 1700’s.  William Edwards, born in Glamorgan in 1719, was a Welsh Methodist minister who was also a bridge engineer, responsible for the building of the Old Bridge at Pontypridd. An Edwards family has been at Talgarth in Breconshire since 1708.

An Edwards family, originally from Llamphey in Pembrokeshire, moved to the Rhondda valley in the late 1800’s.  They were initially involved in construction there.  But in 1925 they started bus services in Pontypridd and expanded to be one of Wales’ leading tour operators.

By the time of the 1891 census there were more Edwards in south Wales than in north Wales and many more in England. 

England.  Edwards started out as a surname in England possibly as early as the 13th century. It was to be found mainly in the west country, notably in Somerset and Cornwall.

  • Richard Edwardes, the musical composer and playwright, was born in Somerset in 1523. Also of Somerset was John Edwards who at various times was bailiff, mayor, and MP for Bridgwater in the 1560’s.  
  • one Edwards family in Cornwall began with the birth of Henry Edwards in Lelant in 1513. Richard Edwards was recorded as marrying Grace Richards in Breage in 1728.

Shropshire. The Edwards in Shropshire may have represented some spillover from Wales.  In addition to the Edwards at Ness Strange, another Welsh family from Montgomeryshire was to be found at Lydham in Shropshire by the 1550’s. Hugh Edwards, a merchant, founded Shrewsbury School in 1551. Humphrey Edwards from Shrewsbury was one of the regicides of Charles I in 1648;

Then there were the descendants of churchwarden Richard Edwards, born at Bucknell in 1667; while Edward Edwards, the 18th century landscape painter, was born into an artisan family in Shrewsbury.

Ireland.  An Edwards family, possibly of Welsh origin, were prominent booksellers on Castle Street in Cork from 1770 to 1833.  They belonged to the Protestant business elite of the city and were loyal in their sympathies to the British crown.

There were Catholic Edwards also in county Cork, such as William and Peggy Edwards who lived in the Catholic parish of Cloyne.  Their son John departed for New York in 1880 and found work on a farm in Hartford, Connecticut.  John lived until 1925, his wife Kate until 1949.

America. The first Edwards in America was probably Alexander Edwards who had come to New England from Wales around 1630. He and his wife Sarah were among the early settlers of Northampton, Massachusetts. There followed six successive Samuel Edwards.

William Edwards from London crossed the Atlantic with his mother and step-father in 1635 and was one of the early settlers in Hartford, Connecticut.  He married Agnes Spencer in 1645.

Richard Edwards, a merchant in Hartford, married Elizabeth Tuttle (whom he later divorced) in 1668 and it was from this “union of the sane and insane” came:

  • the Rev. Timothy Edwards, a Congregational minister.
  • his son Jonathan Edwards, one of the foremost theologians of his day, a leader of the revivalist “First Great Awakening Movement.”
  • his grandson Pierpont a delegate at the Continental Congress in 1788 who, perhaps inheriting the Tuttle genes, was also “profligate, vicious, and licentious.”
  • and his great grandson Henry who was briefly Governor of Connecticut in 1833. Another line via his grand-daughter Esther produced Aaron Burr who famously dueled with Alexander Hamilton.

Thomas Nathaniel Edwards, believed to have been born at Edwards Hall in Cardiff, came to America in the early 1700’s, first to Virginia and then as a merchant to Maryland.  He lived to witness the Revolutionary War when, despite his age, he was active in supporting the British troops in New York. William Edwards, also from Wales, came to New York in the 1770’s.

The Edwards Claim.  However, the most newsworthy Edwards in America in those colonial times was probably another Welshman – Robert Edwards, a pirate of uncertain origins. Some say that he was born in Llanmynech on the border with Shropshire and came to New York in the 1690’s. It does appear that he was granted a claim to real estate in Manhattan in return for the services that he had rendered in disrupting Spanish sea lines.

In 1877, when this valuable estate in downtown Manhattan would have reverted to his heirs,  many so-called descendants emerged to stake a claim on the Edwards millions.  An “Association of Edwards’ Heirs” is still around. More than 5,000 people have said that they were descended from this Edwards.

Edwards in the South.  The Edwards family of Surry county, Virginia was part of the English gentry set there at that time.  The first mention of them was William Edwards as a merchant in 1644.  They held a number of tobacco plantations along the James river.  There were five generations of William Edwards before the last of them died in 1771 without issue.

A later Virginia line began with Thomas Edwards of Lunenburg county who died in 1751.  His descendants have held regular reunions.

John Edwards, born in Virginia in 1727, migrated to South Carolina where he died in 1801.  His descendants moved onto Tennessee.  Meanwhile West Edwards led his family around 1815 from their home in Greene county, North Carolina to pastures new in Sumner county, Tennessee.  His grandson Charles Edwards wrote an account of this journey and their time in Tennessee in A History of West Edwards and His Descendants.

Caribbean.  Two Edwards brothers – Nicholas and Henry from Monmouthshire – arrived in Barbados sometime in the 1720’s. Henry stayed there; Nicholas moved onto Antigua. Later Edwards in Antigua owned plantations at Comfort and Coconut Hall.

Chile. George Edwards Brown, an English sailor from London, was the founder and patriarch of the Edwards family in Chile. Family tradition has it that while his ship was at port in Chile in 1804 he fell in love with a Chilean lady and deserted his ship. He prospered in Chile and, because of his support for its independence, was granted citizenship there in 1818.

His Edwards descendants have played and still play a significant role in Chilean politics, especially as owners of its most influential newspaper chain, El Mercurio.

New Zealand.  There were two early John Edwards in New Zealand:

  • the first John Edwards from Essex arrived in 1835 and was apparently a storekeeper in Waikato on North Island. His two wives were Maori. There is a watercolor painting of him, done in 1850, that is in the Auckland Art Gallery.
  • the second John Edwards from Yorkshire, known as Totara Jack, arrived in Nelson on the Olympus in 1842. He moved his family to Taita after the Wairau massacre in 1849.

Edwards Surname Miscellany

The Edwards of Stansty.  The family had continuous occupation of the Stansty estate in Denbighshire from 1317, when David ap Meilir was said to have bought the manor of Stansty, to 1783 when his direct line died out.

The Edwards surname was first established around 1600 by John Edwards, the son of David ap Edward. John’s son David expanded the estate and built the family seat at Plas Isa.

David’s son John Edwards, described by a contemporary as “of an honest, harmless, and sweet disposition,” was a Royalist who survived the Civil War.  The last of the line was his great great grandson Peter Edwards who died in 1783.  The estate was later sold to the ironmaster Richard Thompson who in the 1830’s built his home, Stansty Hall, on the grounds.

Interestingly, Henry Gwylim Edwards – who served with the Royal Medical Corps during World War One and gave an account of trench life in his diary (which has recently been discovered) – showed his address in the diary as being The Rockeries in Stansty, Wrexham.

Richard Edwardes, Tudor Composer and Playwright.  It has been suggested in some documents, including David Dean Edwards in his 1992 book Edward’s Legacy, that it was whispered among Tudor researchers that Agnes Edwardes was the mistress to Henry VIII and that her son Richard was in fact fathered by King Henry and not by her husband William.  Agnes and William lived close by the King’s hunting lodge in Somerset.  Maybe Richard Edwardes was the bastard son of the King.

He was born in 1523 in Somerset and at a young age was made a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal and master of the singing boys.  He is remembered as a music composer and playwright. His five surviving songs, of which the most famous is In Going to my Naked Bed, show the influence of the Franco-Flemish style on English music at that time.  His musical drama Palamon and Arcite, written for Queen Elizabeth, unfortunately has been lost.

He married Helen Griffith in 1563, but died three years later at Edwards Hall near Cardiff.

Edwards in the 1891 Census

Region Numbers (000’s) Percent
North Wales     8    10
   12    15
England    63    75
Total    83   100

The largest numbers by that time were in Lancashire and Glamorgan.  Another 3,800 were to be found in Denbighshire.

Reader Feedback – Edwards from Cork in Ireland.  My grandfather Osborne Anthony George Edwards was born in Cork in 1861 and died in England 1942.

Prior to that, there was Anthony Edwards, a Cork bookseller, who is my two times great grandfather.  It’s further back in time in Wexford they’re giving me headaches.  As far as I can make out his ancestry in Ireland goes back to the 1640’s. The names Anthony, Osborne and Cadwallader Edwards repeat down the centuries. From the latter I deduce a Welsh connection.

Sue Ikin (s.ikin@supermail.co.nz).

The Six Samuel Edwards.  Alexander Edwards had arrived in Cambridge, Massachusetts from Wales around 1630.  He and his wife Sarah moved to Northampton in 1655 where they were among the first settlers.

The eldest son, born in 1643, was named Samuel and he was the start of six successive Samuel eldest sons.  The Samuel line ended when Samuel VI, who was born in 1815, died at the young age of twenty without issue.  Over this time the Samuel Edwards had moved to Southampton and then to Westhampton on Long Island.

Samuel III was a soldier who took part in the taking of Cape Breton in 1745.  Samuel IV was a corporal in the Continental army.

William Edwards Marrying Agnes Spencer.  Among early Connecticut pioneers more than half the adult men were single and most were young and property-less. Without enough women to go around, finding a mate was often a struggle. Young men, therefore, waited on average until the age of thirty to marry, nine years after reaching the age of legal majority.

Despite these obstacles, William Edwards made an unlikely match to a high-status Hartford widow in 1645.  He married widow Agnes Spencer in 1645 when he was twenty-seven years old and she was forty-one. Agnes’ husband had died five years previously and left her and their three children a respectable inheritance, which made her a woman of means.

The Edwards Millions.  The fortune is said to result from a lease in 1778 by a Welshman, Robert Edwards, of approximately 77 acres of land in New York forming what is now a significant part of Manhattan and on which stands not only Wall Street and Broadway but such valuable properties as the Stock Exchange.

The land was leased for 99 years with the condition that thereafter it would revert to the heirs of Robert Edwards.  This lease expired in 1877 and, ever since, families called Edwards have been trying to stake claim to the fortune on the basis that they were descended from one of Robert’s heirs.

The honest answer to the question “Who was Robert Edwards”? is: “No one really knows.”

If the legends are to be believed, Robert Edwards was a man of many parts being variously described as a captain in the army, an officer in the navy, a shipbuilder, a buccaneer who was granted the land for services to the British Crown, and the savior of an Indian princess whose father, the chief of the local tribe, awarded him the land for saving his daughter’s life!

That there was a Robert Edwards serving as an officer in the British navy at the relevant period can be verified by navy records. The other stories had no basis in fact.

Reader Feedback: I have hand-written letters dating from 1906 from attorneys regarding the Edwards estate.  My grandfather’s great grandmother was an Edwards.  Please contact me if you would like to read them.  Paula Crout (pcrout@schat.net)

William Edwards, New York Arrival in the 1770’s.  William Edwards was said to have come to America from Wales as a young lad aged around fifteen sometime in the early 1770’s.  He was first recorded in Ulster county, New York and later settled with his wife in Germantown.

Two stories have gone the rounds as to how he came to America.

One version had William getting up to mischief in Wales and being sent to the colonies as his punishment.  There was in fact a William Edwards who arrived in America as a bondage passenger in 1771.  Whether he was the William Edwards is not known.

The other version made out that William was a sailor and that while crossing the Atlantic he made a play for the captain’s daughter.  He either ended up in the water or was a deserter from the ship.  His descendants have seemed to prefer this second version. 

The Edwards Family in Chile.  According to the family legend, George Edwards Brown arrived in La Serena, Chile in 1804 as the surgeon on a pirate ship (although in truth it was a whaling ship). He espied a Spanish lady named Isabel Ossandon and fell in love with her. Deserting his ship, he hid in a jar of wine in the house of the girl’s father Diego de Ossandon.  He was, however, discovered and arrested by the Spanish authorities and imprisoned for two years.

Once released he reunited with Isabel and married her.  He and Isabel raised eight children.

Augustin Edwards, the sixth child, became a prominent politician and banker in Chile.  He acquired the El Mecuria newspaper in 1877, which was carried on by his son Augustin.   Mary Edwards of this family who settled in France was an active member of the French resistance during World War Two.

Edwards Names

  • Jonathan Edwards was a Puritan preacher and revivalist in 18th century colonial America.
  • George Edwards, an 18th century naturalist, is known as the father of English ornithology.
  • George Edwards was the first of the Edwards line in Chile.
  • Jonathan Edwards holds the world record for the triple jump.

Edwards Numbers Today

  • 148,000 in the UK (most numerous in Cardiff)
  • 120,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 84,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Edwards 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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