Epps Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Epps and Apps Surname Meaning

There are two English surnames, Epps and Apps, that appear to have common origins.  Their most likely root is the old English word aspe meaning an aspen tree or white poplar.  The name could be either a topographic name for someone who lived by an aspen tree or who resided at a place with that name.  Other origins for the name have also been suggested.

Apps is more common than Epps in England and Australia.  However, Epps is dominant in America and much more numerous than it is in the UK.  This partly reflects early Epps migration to America and partly others there adopting the Epps name.

Epp for instance was a Mennonite surname from German-speaking countries that could become Epps in America.  There was also the Dutch Van Eps, later Van Epps, that came to New York in the 17th century.

Epps and Apps Surname Resources on The Internet

Epps and Apps Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Kent)
  • to America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

England. The Epps and Apps names both originated in Kent and Kent has the largest numbers still today.  The Epps name has tended to stay within Kent.  However, Apps has spread a bit more widely.

Kent.  The earliest recorded Epps line began with Alan Epes who died in 1471 and was buried in Romney Marsh.  He and his descendants were gentry and lived in East Kent for the next two hundred years.

Francis Epes or Eppes of this family, born in Ashford in 1597, emigrated to Virginia around 1625 and started the prominent Eppes line there.  And Daniel Epes from Maidstone, possibly related, was brought to Massachusetts by his remarried mother some years later.

Another notable Epps line began with the yeoman John Epps who died at Elmsted in Kent in 1546. He is the earliest known ancestor of a large number of Epps families living today in England and overseas.

Among his descendants were John and James Epps, the sons of a wealthy provision merchant in London.  They founded Epps’s Cocoa in 1839 and the younger son James left a fortune upon his death in 1907.  Several relatives of theirs became prominent members of London society over the 19th century.

The Apps were somewhat fewer in Kent.  There were many Apps families in the area of Goudhurst in Kent extending across the border into Wadhurst in east Sussex.  And it is possible that east Sussex rather than Kent might have been the start of the Apps name.

Sussex.  William Aps was recorded at Wadhurst as early as 1441.  Among later Wadhurst Apps were:

  • Joseph Apps, born in 1688, who moved to Rotherfield nearby and was the landlord of the Kings Arms there
  • and William Apps, born in 1715, who married Elizabeth Brissenden in Wadhurst.

By the late 19th century the largest number of Apps was to be found in the seaside town of Hastings in east Sussex.

Apps appeared from an early time also in west Sussex.  Richard Apps, born in 1570, was a husbandman at Eastergate and Boxgrove near Chichester in west Sussex.

America.  Early Epps in America were from Kent and came to Virginia and Massachusetts.

Virginia.  Francis Eppes arrived in Virginia in 1625, possibly on the Hopewell.  That was the name he gave to his 1,700-acre plantation at the meeting of the James and Appomattox rivers granted to him ten years later.  The property was held by his descendants until the year 1978 when it was taken over by the National Park Service.

Francis’s Eppes descendants would belong to the planter class and be one of the First Families of Virginia.  John Dorman covered this family in his 1999 book Descendants of Francis Epes of Virginia. 

John Wayles Eppes was close to President Thomas Jefferson and married his daughter Maria at Monticello in 1797.  Like Jefferson he had a long-term liaison with a slave-girl.  His son Francis moved with his family to Florida in 1829 where he was a cotton planter, slave-owner, and a civic leader in Tallahassee.

Massachusetts.  Daniel Epps arrived in Ipswich, Massachusetts with his mother and stepfather around the year 1637.  Later Daniel Epps, some of them captains in the local militia, made their home in Salem.

Around 1790 Francis Epps left Salem for Lyndeborough, New Hampshire where he was one of the early settlers.  He and his wife Mary had five daughters but no sons.

Elsewhere.  By the 1800’s there were Epps movements from Virginia and North Carolina westwards and in some cases southwards.

Edwin Epps, born in North Carolina in 1808, moved to Louisiana in the 1840’s where he had a cotton farm and used slaves.  We know him today because one of his slaves was Solomon Northup who depicted him, not kindly, in his book Twelve Years A Slave.  Edwin had a violent temper, would get drunk, and enjoyed whipping his slaves.

Westward movements were evident to Tennessee, Missouri and Texas.

Both Daniel Epps and his wife Nancy were born in North Carolina around the year 1780.  Soon after their wedding in 1803, they moved to Rutherford county, Tennessee, bringing their slaves along with them.  But they were not to stay there long.  By 1820 they had headed further west to Butler county, Missouri where they lived out the remainder of their lives.

In 1850 their son Obadiah was an early settler in Epps township (as it became known) in Butler county.  But he – like others of his family caught up in the turmoil of the Civil War – later departed Missouri for Collin county in Texas.

Other Epps who made the journey to Texas around that time were Thomas Anderson Eppes and Joe Epps.

Thomas Anderson Eppes grew up in Tennessee in the 1830’s and migrated with his family to Kentucky, Ohio and Mississippi before making the long journey to Bell county, Texas in the 1850’s.  From his home there near Cedar Creek he had a large tanyard for preparing leather.

Joe Epps was the patriarch of an African American family that came to Linden in Cass county, Texas in the 1850’s.  He was reportedly born in Virginia in 1815, so he would have been over one hundred years old when he died in Linden in 1917.  Oliver and Reuben Epps were descendants of his who attended Texas College in Tyler in the 1930’s.

Canada.  Charles and William Apps left their home at Rye in east Sussex for Ontario in 1858, settling in Brant county.  That same year they bought a grist mill on Whitemans Creek.  That mill, Apps Mill, was to be run by the family until 1931 when it was washed away by flooding.  However, Charles’s son Ernest pursued a different line of work and became a pharmacist in Paris, Ontario.

From this improbable origin came the three generations of an Apps ice hockey family.  Ernest’s son Sy, born in 1915, was the first generation of these players and perhaps the best of them.  He was ever-present with the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1936 to 1948.  Then came Sy Junior.   The third generation included a daughter Gillian Apps and a son Syl Apps III.

Australia.  There are more Apps in Australia than in Canada today.

William Apps, a sheep shearer from Wittersham in Kent, arrived in Sydney with his family on the Maitland in 1838.  A William Apps descendant has pointed out the plethora of William Apps that immigrated to Sydney in the mid-1800’s and then made their way to Camden, NSW:

  • William Apps, a bounty immigrant from Kent who came on the Cornwall in 1839:
  • William Apps, also a bounty immigrant from Kent, who came with his parents on the Royal George in 1839
  • and William Apps, a shepherd from Kent who came on the Washington Irving in 1857.

New Zealand.  Thomas Epps, a gardener, was an early arrival to New Zealand, coming to Nelson with his family on the London in 1842.  By 1849 he had set up the Grove Nursery for the sale of fruit trees, vines and seeds.  He was recorded in the 1853 electoral roll as living in Hardy Street, Nelson.

Epps and Apps Surname Miscellany

Epps Alternative Meanings.  There have been other explanations given for these surnames.

Some reports have Epps being a nickname for a person who is timorous.   And Lou Poole in his Study of the Epes Family of Virginia suggested that the Epes or Eppes surname was of baptismal origin, meaning “son of Ebb.”  Ebb was apparently a popular nickname for Isabella in earlier times.

John and James Epps and Their Cocoa Business.  Dr. John Epps, one of the pioneers of homeopathy in England, was the brains behind the early development of a soluble cocoa powder that was both palatable and appetizing.  Epps’ cocoa was first sold in 1839, seven years after the heavy duty in England on imported cocoa had been reduced.

However, it was his younger brother James who was largely responsible for introducing this product to the mass market.  He heavily advertised Epps’ cocoa, coming up with a distinctive slogan “grateful and comforting” in 1855.  By 1879 his company claimed to be making five million pounds in weight of cocoa yearly.  James had started his own cocoa plantation in Jamaica and ships to transport the crop.

One group of sailors apparently owed their lives to drinking Epps’ cocoa morning, noon and night.

The cargo sailing ship Dunskeig had run ashore near Cape Horn. Most of the crew died and the remaining few made their way along the shore to find help. A second ship, the Colorado, also ran ashore and its crew marched for days until they met up with the Dunskeig survivors. The cargo from the Dunskeig had washed ashore and included a large quantity of Epps cocoa. The twenty-five men were said to have lived entirely on cocoa until they were rescued.

Epps’ cocoa business stayed with the family until its sale to Rowntree in 1925.

Ancestry Chart of Francis Eppes of Virginia 

  • Alan Epes, died in Lydd, Kent in 1471
  • John Epes, died in 1525
  • John Epes (1480-1527), died in Old Romney, Kent
  • Alan Eppes, died in 1551, married Alice
  • John Eppes (1566-1627), died in Ashford, Kent, married Agnes
  • Francis Eppes (1597-1656), died in Maryland.

Captain William Eppes in Virginia.  William Epes or Eppes, who arrived in Jamestown in 1618 on the William and Thomas, was the older brother of the Francis Eppes who founded a prominent Virginia family.  A year after his arrival William was involved in a quarrel with Captain Stallinge and killed him in a duel.

William and his family survived the Indian attack and in 1623 he was put in charge of the fifty or so settlers at Accomack.  That year it was recorded that he was required by the Governor to collect ten pounds of tobacco and one bushel of corn from every planter and tradesman above the age of sixteen who was alive at the gathering of the crops.  This was to pay the minister Mr. Bolton.

Ten years later, in 1633, William Eppes moved to Maryland and died there in 1640.

Epps in Missouri and Texas.  Daniel and Nancy Epps had arrived in Wayne (subsequently Butler) county, Missouri with their four children and a retinue of slaves in 1820.  This area lay in the SE Ozark region of the state.

The 1850 slave census showed Daniel owning fourteen slaves.  By that time slave-holding was becoming controversial in Missouri and he was thought to have hidden them away on Coon Island.  Daniel died a year later.

During the Civil War his eldest son Joshua enlisted in the 15th Regiment, Missouri Cavalry. But he was captured and taken prisoner by the Union militia.  He was then transported to St. Louis for trial on the charge of harboring guerillas. In his sworn testimony before the military tribunal in July 1864, he admitted to the ownership of five slaves which he had already (in 1862) sent away to Texas.  Six months later, he died in a Union POW camp in Illinois.

Meanwhile another Joshua, this one a nephew aged 21 and the son of his younger brother the clergyman Martin Epps, was also captured by Union soldiers.  He spent a year in military prison.  But he survived and lived onto 1928.

Martin and his brother Obadiah, as well as Joshua’s eldest son Joshua Daniel, were among those of his family hitting the trail for Texas.  They settled around Plano in Collin county.

Epps and Apps Numbers Today

  • 000’s                  Epps    Apps    Total
  • UK (Kent)             0.7     0.6       1.3
  • UK (elsewhere)     0.5     1.8       2.3
  • America              12.0     0.3     12.3
  • Canada                0.3     0.5       0.8
  • Australia              0.2     2.0       2.2
  • Elsewhere            0.1      0.2      0.3
  • Total                   13.8     5.4     19.2

Francis Eppes’s Reputation.  The reputation of Francis Eppes, who died in Florida in 1881, stood high for many years.  In 1995 Florida State University established the Jefferson–Eppes Trophy to honor Francis Eppes and his grandfather Thomas Jefferson. A statue of Francis Eppes was installed to commemorate him at the university.  It was unveiled in 2002.

In 2016 the Eppes statue was the subject of a non-binding removal referendum introduced by the FSU chapter of Students for a Democratic Society because Eppes owned slaves. The referendum failed.  However, in 2018 an FSU panel voted to recommend the removal of the statue as well as the Eppes designation at Eppes Hall.  This was duly done over the next two years.

Ray Epps and the January 6 Insurrection.  James Ray Epps had been born in Glendale, Arizona in either 1961 or 1962.  He served in the US Marine Corps before opening a wedding venue business in Queen Creek, Arizona, with his wife Robyn.

He was a Trump supporter, having voted for him in 2016 and 2020, and was present at the Trump rally in Washington DC on January 6, 2021.

He was one of only a handful of people who trespassed on the Capitol grounds that day.  Videos clearly depicted him as being among the first wave of rioters to move past a police barricade outside the Capitol building.  But he did not enter the building itself to be later prosecuted, as were those who did enter the building.

As such, he became an unlikely focus of the conspiracy theory that was later promoted by Tucker Carlson on Fox News and by other right-wing commentators. They held that in reality he had been a covert Government agent who had helped to instigate the riot as a way of discrediting Trump supporters.

Because of their conspiracy-fueled furore and the resulting threats on his life, Ray fled Arizona in May 2022, closing his business there, and relocated in hiding to a trailer in Utah.

Ironically he was belatedly charged by the Government in September 2023 for his role in the attack on the Capitol.  Ray Epps pleaded guilty.

Epps and Apps Names

  • Francis Eppes was the immigrant ancestor in the 1620’s of a planter family and one of the First Families of Virginia.
  • James Epps made a fortune from developing the market for cocoa in England during the mid/late 19th century.
  • Syl Apps was a Canadian ice hockey player for the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1936 to 1948.  He was rated among the best who have played the game

Epps and Apps Numbers Today

  • 4,000 in the UK (most numerous in Kent)
  • 12,000 in America (most numerous in Maryland)
  • 3,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Epps and Like Surnames  

Some surnames have come from SE England, in particular the counties of Kent, Surrey and Sussex.  These are some of the noteworthy surnames that you can check out.




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Written by Colin Shelley

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