Ellis Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Ellis Meaning
Elis (from the Greek Elias and the biblical Elijah) was a popular
medieval name, having been adopted by some early saints. It
became in Old English Elys or Elis and then Ellis.
In Wales this surname seems to have absorbed forms derived from the Welsh personal name Elisedd, meaning one who is kindly and benevolent. Ellis developed from an early time as a surname in North Wales and in the West Ridings of Yorkshire.
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Select Ellis Ancestry

The Welsh patronymical style, such as Ellis ap
Griffith, first applied. Ellis as a surname dates from about 1600
at Ystumllyn near Criccieth in Carnarvon.

The name later was to be found more in
Merioneth (present
day Gwynedd). This rural part of Wales became a hotbed first of
nonconformity and then of nascent nationalism. The farmer Rowland
Ellis, a convert to Quakerism, left Dolgellau for
Pennsylvania with a
hundred like-minded enthusiasts in 1686. They settled in
Bryn Mawr, named after his farmhouse in Dolgellau and now a famous
women’s college. Other Quaker Ellises left for Pennsylvania in
1690 and 1707.

Land evictions were a problem in the 19th
century. Tom Ellis, the son of an evicted Bala tenant, was
elected MP in 1886 on a nationalist program at the tender age of
27. Sadly he died young before his promise could ever be

England. The Yorkshire
Ellises were equally as numerous.

Yorkshire Sir
John Ellis built Kiddal
near Barwick in the
late 14th century and it stayed with the family for nearly four
hundred years. There were clusters of Ellises in Halifax and
elsewhere in the West Ridings. Ellis was a common name around
Ossett. Joshua Ellis from Ossett bought into the Savile woollen
mill in Dewsbury in the 1820’s. The mill of Joshua Ellis and
Company, one of
the oldest in Yorkshire, lasted into the 21st century but was closed
down recently.

A Quaker Ellis community established itself in Rotherham and later,
further south and in a more substantial way, in Leicester.
Starting as farmers, branches of this family in Leicester moved into a
variety of merchant and banking businesses. John Ellis began the
Leicester and Swimmington railway in the 1840’s and became an MP
and mayor of the borough.

Less monetary-minded were a Quaker
couple from Bradford, James and Mary Ellis, who moved to the west coast
of Ireland at the time of the potato famine and embarked on a Quaker
relief program for the people of Letterfrack.

There was as well an early Quaker Ellis community in Cornwall near St.
Just. The Ellis name was to be found from the 1620’s in Penzance
and Redruth and in the Scilly Isles. And the Ellis name also
cropped in Dartmoor villages such as Modbury, Chagford and Belstone
in Devon.

An Ellis family in Cambridgeshire has been traced back to Bourn where
they held a manor around the year 1500. They were prominent landowners
at Meldreth in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Ireland. Ellis appeared
as Elys in Dublin in 1283 and has recurred frequently in Irish records
in subsequent
centuries in Dublin, Cork, and in various parts of Ulster.

Patrick Henry Ellis from Dublin was one of the first English settlers
South Africa, arriving there with British troops when they occupied the
Cape in 1795. An earlier rover was Henry Ellis, from an English
family in Monaghan County, who became a slave trader and was appointed
governor of the British American colony of Georgia in 1757.

Canada. Ellises from
Ireland were early immigrants into Newfoundland, from the 1790’s.
The town of Elliston is named after the Rev. William Ellis, a Methodist
missionary from county Down. William Ellis ran a construction
business in St. John’s and helped rebuild the town after a devastating
fire in 1892. He was appointed mayor of St. John’s in 1910.

Edward and Mary Ellis were early settlers in Puslinch township
southwest of Toronto. Edward donated the land for the Ellis
Methodist chapel that was built there in 1861.

There were a number of Ellises who headed west as the 19th
century proceeded; such as Robert and Eliza Ellis who homesteaded near
Walsh in Saskatchewan in 1885; and Thomas and Sarah Ellis who moved to
Calgary in 1886 and then onto Nanaimo in British Columbia in 1894.

America. Ellis Island
New York Harbor was the arrival point for immigrants to America in the
late nineteenth century. The name was nothing special. A
New York tradesman, Samuel Ellis, had bought the uninhabited island in
the 1770’s and gave it his name. But he resold the island thirty
years later.

There were Ellis arrivals there or elsewhere on the
East Coast from England, Wales, and Ireland:

  • the descendants of
    John Ellis were to be found in Sandwich, Massachusetts for many
    generations. A branch ended up in Maine.
  • Edward Ellis
    arrived in Virginia in 1636. Later Ellises settled in Tennessee
    and North Carolina. Daniel Ellis of Tennessee spun his Civil War
    stories into a popular book, The
    Thrilling Adventures of Daniel Ellis
    , that was published in
  • and Archibald
    was one of the pioneer farmers of Butler county,
    in the 1860’s.

Texas Other
Ellises moved onto
Texas. In
fact, by
the 20th century, the state of Texas had the largest number of
Ellises in the United States:

  • Richard Ellis had left Virginia for Texas in 1834 while it was
    part of Mexico. He set up his cotton plantation in Bowie County,
    attended the Texas convention in 1836, and was the one who signed the
    Texas Declaration of Independence.
  • William Ellis ran his sugar
    plantation in what is now Sugar Land before the Civil War on slave
    labor and after the war on convict labor.
  • while later arrivals included
    MG Ellis, who started a cattle business in north Fort Worth, and James
    Ellis, who was a property
    developer in south Dallas
    at the turn
    of the century.

Other Ellises.
Ellis is sometimes in America a Jewish surname, probably originating
from Lithuania. Abraham Ellis and his family were recorded
as arriving in New York from Lithuania in 1888.

The name could also be
Mediterranean. Toufic Kmeid was an immigrant in
the 1920’s from Lebanon who changed his name to Ellis (after his
grandfather Elias). He
started out as a travelling peddler and, after making some money, was
able to buy his own store in a small town in upstate New York. In
Kisses from a Distance, Raff
Ellis chronicled this family history, his parents’ marriage and
migration to America and their struggle to raise a family and make ends
meet during the Great Depression.

Caribbean. John Ellis was
an early settler in Jamaica, having arrived there from Wrexham in the
1670’s. The Ellises became one of Jamaica’s leading planter
families in Jamaica (as well as holding estates in Curacao) until the
19th century when their estates became saddled
with debts.

The Ellis name has lived on in Jamaica – with Alton
Ellis, the godfather of Rocksteady, and Hortense Ellis, who is
acclaimed as Jamaica’s First Lady of Songs.

South Africa. Patrick Henry Ellis arrived in the
Western Cape with British troops in 1795 and married a local Afrikaans
woman. They have many descendants in South Africa.

Australia. Elias and
Rebecca Ellis were early Jewish migrants to Australia. They
arrived from England in the 1820’s and made their home on Pitt Street
in Sydney. Louis Ellis became sheriff of Victoria and his
daughter Constance one of the first woman doctors in Australia.


Select Ellis Miscellany

Ellis at Kiddal Hall.  The road crosses Potterton Bridge and on top of the rise above
Potterton Beck stands Kiddal Hall, mentioned in the Domesday Book as
Chidale or cow valley.

In the late 14th century, Sir John Elys held Kiddal, whose family had
built the Hall and were to be associated with Kiddal for 400
years.  Later, John Ellis supported the King in the Civil
War.  It is thought that he was killed by Parliamentary forces on
the doorstep or in a small room in Kiddal Hall.   It has
often been said that those who live there can still hear the sound of
foot haunting the old hall.

On the south wall of the Ellis chapel in Elmet church in Barwick is a
stone tablet to William Ellis of Kiddal Hall who died in 1771.  He
had married Mary Bourne and was the last of the Ellis family to have
lived in the Hall. He was a surgeon in London who inherited the hall
from his brother in the 1740’s and proceeded to pay off the mortgage.

Reader Feedback – Nicholas Ellis of London.  I am a descendant of Nicholas Ellis (1520-1602) who was born in London. I am interested in
finding out
something about his religious history and wonder if he can be traced
from Spain
when the Jewish people were expelled.

Daryl P. Spindler (daryl-Splindersr@yahoo.com)

Some Early Ellis Emigrants to America

Birth Ellis Name From –
1593 John Wales (Llanycil)
1607 John, and Elizabeth England
1618 Morris, and Catherine Wales (Llanycil)
1628 John, and Elizabeth England
1647 Cadwalader, and Jane Wales (Llanycil)
1661 John, and Margaret England (Kent)
1683 Cadwalader, and Margaret Wales (Llanycil)
1704 Richard, and Jane Ireland (Dublin)

Cadwalader Ellis was apparently one of William Penn’s
colonists in Pennsylvania.  He married Margaret Edwards, also born
in Wales, in Goshen township in 1712.  He died in 1730.

Ellis Island.  Ellis Island was no more than a lot of sand in the Hudson river,
located just south of Manhattan.  The island was named Kiodhk
(Gull Island) by the Michegan Indians that lived on the nearby
shores.  Soon after the British took possession of the area from
the Dutch in 1664, the name of the island was changed to Gibbet Island
because men convicted of piracy were hanged there.

In the 1770’s, the island was sold to Samuel Ellis, a
local joiner made a freeman of New York.  He developed it as a
picnic spot.  Ellis then offered the island for sale and it was
eventually sold to the US War Department in 1808 for $10,000.  It
was not until 1892 that the well-known immigration station on the
island was opened.

The Ellises of Leicester.  The Quaker Ellises who lived in the county of Leicester were a large
and remarkable family, as a recent book, Ellis of Leicester – A Quaker Family
, recounts.

Starting as successful farmers, branches of the family were soon in
business, particularly in the extraction industries of lime, slate,
coal, and granite.   They were merchants for all these
commodities and many more products besides.  They were also
involved in banking, building societies and insurance.  From their
humble beginnings, many of their businesses have continued as part of
larger conglomerates.

Perhaps the best known member was John Ellis of Beaumont
Leys and Belgrave Hall, noted most of all for his involvement in the
Leicester & Swannington and Midland Railways, but there were many
other family members whose achievements are worthy and interesting to

From a strong commercial base and a strong adherence to
their Quaker beliefs, they were very concerned with social welfare and
committed in their work to support hospitals, schools, churches, and
the temperance movement.  Among them were writers, borough and
local councillors, and three members of Parliament.

William Ellis of Belstone.  William Ellis who died in 1936 lived all his
life in the small village of Belstone on the edge of Dartmoor in
Devon.   He was described by one writer in 1902 as “the most
versatile of living Englishmen.”  The Book of Belstone put it this

“Mr. Ellis’s skills
included photographer, Dartmoor guide, repairer of watches and clocks,
chemical manure and seed merchant, dog breeder (red setters a
speciality), dealer in game, Knight of Honor and the Warden of Primose
League, postman, organist, churchwarden, bell-ringer, lay reader, boot
and shoe maker, bicycle repairer, gardener, wireless operator and

A later Bill Ellis from this village was
well-known locally as a singer of old Devon folk songs.

Archibald Ellis – from Ireland to Kansas.  Archibald Ellis grew up in county Mayo in
Ireland but set out, at the age of 23, for America.  He met his
wife Ann on the voyage over and they settled first in New Jersey and
then in Lake county, Illinois where he pursued his trade as a chandler.

He had a zest for adventure.  When the news
first came through of the discovery of gold in California, he rushed
out there.  He was gone two years before returning to his family
in Illinois.  But the gold bug had gotten to him and he soon
returned for another stint, this time staying for seven years before
coming back via Cape Horn.

It was in 1859 that he set out from Illinois
with his family for Walnut valley in Kansas territory.  They
embarked on a boat at La Salle on the Illinois river, went down that
stream and into the Mississippi, and at St. Louis changed to a smaller
boat and turned against the current of the Missouri and finally
disembarked at Westport Landing (now Kansas City).  The family had
horses and wagons with them and they set off across the country to
Emporia, a budding new village on the Kansas prairies.  There
Archibald left his family and went in search of suitable
farmland.  He found it in what is now Butler county, Kansas.

Archibald and Ann had nine children, of whom the
sixth-born, John, became a prominent early Kansas stockman and
farmer.   He was old enough to remember when buffalo still
roamed the area.

The Ellis House in South Dallas.  Sitting at 2426 Pine Street, across the street from Charles Rice
Elementary, is the former home of James M. Ellis, an Englishman who was
among the earliest real estate developers involved with the
construction of modern-day Dallas.

It is the last vestige of a time when South Dallas was an
expanse of cotton fields and dirt roads that were paved over some eight
decades ago.  Certainly, it’s the last house in the area built in
the Classical Revival style, with wood shingles adorning the gables and
its wraparound front porch, steeply pitched roof, and once elegant
sunroom jutting from the side.

Researchers debate the house’s age.  Some insist it
was built in 1905, others say a few years later.  The name of the
architect is not known.

Reader Feedback – Patrick Henry Ellis in South Africa and His Descendants.  I am a 6th generation Ellis after Patrick Henry Ellis
who came to South Africa in 1795.  Patrick
married an Afrikaans lady, a descendant of Pierre Joubert, Margaretha
Joubert, in 1803.

  • they
    had nine
    children, the second being my great grandfather, Gideon Jacobus Ellis,
    after Magdalena’s father Gideon Joubert.
  • G.J.‘s
    son was named Gideon Jacobus Johannes Christiaan, the 3rd
    and 4th
    names coming from Patrick’s father John Christian.
  • G.J.J.C.’s
    son was Patrick Henry, sometimes
    known as Patrik, my grandfather.
  • my
    father was Gideon Jacobus
  • and
    I am
    G.J.  I was born in 1931 in Ladysmith,
    Western Cape province.

have a fairly
comprehensive list of all family members of my family tree. but I would
like to
know more about Patrick’s parents and further back.

Deon Ellis



Select Ellis Names

  • Sir John Ellis was the forebear of the Yotkshire Ellises in Kiddal Hall. 
  • Rowland Ellis led the Welsh Quaker migration to Pennsylvania in the 1680’s. 
  • Samuel Ellis (or Dutch Sam) is the boxer credited with
    having developed around 1800 the uppercut punch. 
  • Richard Ellis was the signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence in 1836. 
  • John Ellis was a prominent
    Quaker businessman in Leicester. 
  • William Webb Ellis was the Victorian clergyman often credited with the invention of the game of rugby football while a schoolboy at Rugby School. 
  • Dowel Ellis was the mayor of Johannesburg after whom Ellis Park, South Africa’s national rugby stadium, is named.
  • Ruth Ellis was in 1955 the last woman hanged in Britain.

Select Ellis Numbers Today

  • 85,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Essex)
  • 70,000 in America (most numerous
    in Texas).
  • 44,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


Select Ellis 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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