Fletcher Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Fletcher Surname Meaning

The game of bowls was banned by Edward III and later by Henry VIII because it “distracted bowyers, fletchers, stringers, and arrowhead makers from their trades and diverted the nation’s bowmen from archery practice.”

Bowyers and fletchers were considered skilled jobs and they were generally paid at the same rate as archers. They would accompany the army on the march. Fletchers would have to maintain arrows and keep them usable and ready for battle at all times. And they had their own guild in London, the Worshipful Company of Fletchers.

All the medieval trades relating to archery ended up becoming surnames (Bowyer, Fletcher, Stringer, and Arrowsmith), none more so than Fletcher. The usually accepted origin of Fletcher is from the old French word fleche, meaning “arrow,” introduced into England at the time of the Norman Conquest.

However, Fletcher might have had other origins as well, either from the old German name Fulcher or from the occupational “flesher,” someone who cleaned animal skins in order to prepare the leather.

The words de la flechiere mean “archer” in French Swiss and this name could become Fletcher in English (as with the early Methodist preacher from Switzerland, John William Fletcher).

Fletcher Surname Resources on The Internet

Fletcher Surname Ancestry

  • from Wales, Western England and Scotland
  • to America, Canada, and New Zealand

Wales. It was the Welsh longbow archer who was instrumental in the English victories of Crecy and Agincourt and hence many fletchers at that time came from south Wales. There were references to Fletcher as a surname in Cardiff during the 16th century when surnames were beginning to take root in Wales.

One Fletcher family traces its history back to the late 18th century in Cardiff. Philip Fletcher was baptized at St. Fagans in 1795 and his descendants have begun to hold annual reunions.

England.  The first record of a notable Fletcher family in England was in Bishop Stortford, Hertfordshire where the clergyman Richard Fletcher lost his job in 1554 because he had married.

A later Richard was chaplain to Queen Elizabeth. One of his sons was the Jacobean playwright John Fletcher and two of his nephews, the poets Giles and Phineas Fletcher.  Meanwhile the Fletcher family of Chipping Barnet in Hertfordshire dates back to 1606.

However, Fletcher has been much more a northern English name.

Cheshire.  A Fletcher family has been prominent in Cheshire since the 16th century and probably from an earlier date. John Fletcher purchased the Chester Chronicle in 1783 and it stayed with his family until the 1960’s. Another John Fletcher was chief engineer for the Chester canal in the early 1800’s.

Cumbria.  Fletchers in Cumbria have been traced to William Fletcher of Cockermouth in the early 16th century. These Fletchers, well-to-do merchants of their time, lived at Cockermouth Hall. Fletcher Christian, who led the mutiny on the Bounty, grew up in this area, as did ancestors of one present family line.

Lancashire.  Larger numbers of Fletchers were and are to be found in the county of Lancashire, in particular in the Liverpool area. A Fletcher family lived in the West Derby district of Liverpool from the 1500’s and Fletchers were active in the slave trade out of Liverpool from the early 1700’s. Later Fletcher enterprises in Liverpool showed some successes and some failures:

  • Jacob Fletcher, a descendant of the Cockermouth Fletchers, arrived in Liverpool in 1760 and made a lot of money as a free-booting privateer. His son built Allerton House in south Liverpool in 1815 on the proceeds and this house stayed with the family until 1944.
  • Thomas Fletcher, born in 1767, came from a family of hatters in Liverpool. He was apprenticed to a Jamaica merchant and then joined a bank where he later became a principal. Unfortunately, he and the bank were declared bankrupt in 1834.
  • James Fletcher was a prosperous Liverpool merchant in the second half of the 19th century. He had arrived from Scotland as James Jack and legally changed his name to Fletcher in 1855.

Elsewhere in Lancashire, the Fletcher name appeared in Burnley records from the early 1600’s and in Rochdale and Bury records from the early-to-mid 1700’s. There were Fletchers in coal mining in Bolton (where their presence went back to the 16th century) and in Denton in south Lancashire (where they had been landowners).

Scotland. Fletcher was the anglicized form of the old Scottish clan Mac-an-Leister who came from Glenorchy in Argyllshire. The clan held this land with the MacGregors until the 17th century when it was taken from them by the Campbells. After that time a number of subsidiary Fletcher lines emerged in different places nearby:

  • the Fletchers of Dunans (the main line), who held property in the Cowal
  • the Fletchers of Bernice
  • the Fletchers of Inveroran
  • the Fletchers of Barran
  • the Fletchers of Tyndrum
  • and the Fletchers of Pubil (including Dickens’ friend Angus Fletcher)

A different line, originating probably from Yorkshire in England, were the Fletchers of Saltoun in East Lothian. They produced Andrew Fletcher, the noted Scottish patriot:

“Andrew Fletcher lived a life full of incident. Perhaps that is putting it too mildly for a man who fought in Monmouth’s Rebellion, was attainted for treason and sentenced in absentia to be executed, was imprisoned in Spain but escaped in mysterious circumstances, fought his way around most of Europe, was pardoned by William of Orange and restored to his Scottish estates and to his seat in the Scottish parliament. Today Fletcher is remembered for his unflagging opposition to the Treaty of Union in 1707.”

The history of the Fletcher clan in Scotland and its various branches is to be found in Margaret Mason’s 1973 book, An Ancient Scottish Clan: The Fletchers of Glenorchy.

There still remains a number of Fletchers in Argyllshire. But the 19th century saw a drift south to Glasgow and significant emigration.

America. Moses Fletcher was onboard the Mayflower. However, he died during the first winter and left no family in America.

Later came Benjamin Fletcher. But he didn’t stay. A freewheeling soldier of fortune, he had somehow been appointed Governor of New York in 1692. During his tenure he was in cahoots with the pirates of his time, Tew and Captain Kidd, until he was eventually ousted in 1698.

The Largest Fletcher Line.  By contrast Robert Fletcher did leave a family and a very large line. He had come to Concord, Massachusetts in 1635 and his descendants have spread across New England and elsewhere. A booklet, Historical Sketches of the Fletcher Family by Edward H. Fletcher, was published in 1878 at the time of their second family reunion (at which time there were an estimated 8,000 descendants recorded).

One line of these Fletchera went through Jesse Fletcher in Ludlow, Vermont.  His son Calvin brought the family to Indiana in 1821 and was one of its pioneer settlers. Calvin’s brother Stoughton started the Fletcher Bank there, which grew into an national bank by 1900. However, the next generation of Fletchers dissipated this inheritance.

Calvin’s brother was Elijah Fletcher, who bought the Sweet Briar plantation in Virginia in the early 1830’s. Prior to emancipation this plantation had between 80 and 100 slaves.  They included:

  • Isaiah Fletcher who, after emancipation, moved to Turkey Mountain where his descendants still live today.
  • and James and Lavinia Fletcher who were married at the plantation in 1855. The descendants of their son Patrick hold a reunion at the slave cemetery every year where they remember the enslaved relatives buried long ago.

Other Fletchers.  William Fletcher was born in 1646 in Virginia, of parents unknown.  It seems that he was a mariner as he left his compass and his boat to his son Thomas on his death in 1710.  His grandson William fought in the Revolutionary War and moved his family to Georgia in 1785.

Another Fletcher family of English origin made a similar journey, in their case from Virginia to North Carolina with Joseph Fletcher eventually settling in Irwin county, Georgia.

Canada. Early Fletchers in Canada were probably Loyalists or Loyalist sympathizers, such as John and Elizabeth Fletcher from New Hampshire who crossed the border into Ontario sometime in the 1790’s. John and Alexander Fletcher – originally from Scotland – crossed over a little later and were to be found in Elizabethtown, Ontario in 1801.

Subsequent Fletchers came from both England and Scotland:

  • three brothers from England – William, John, and Dickson – who arrived in Toronto around 1820 and then set out for Tecumseh township where they were among the first settlers. Fletcher House, built there in 1849, still stands.
  • and Francis Fletcher who came with his parents to Nassagaweya, Ontario in 1825 (he later was an Oregon pioneer).  and various Fletchers from Scotland settled in Dunvegan, Ontario.

South Africa. Patrick Fletcher was one of the many Jura Fletchers who emigrated from Scotland in the 19th century. He arrived in Cape colony in the 1850’s and later became a surveyor and mining commissioner in Naquamaland. Mount Fletcher on the Eastern Cape was named after him. Later Fletchers were to be found in Rhodesia as it was then called, as well as in South Africa.

New Zealand. James Fletcher came to Dunedin from Scotland in 1908 and started up a building business with his brother William. This business grew to be Fletcher Construction, one of New Zealand’s largest companies.

Fletcher Surname Miscellany

Reader Feedback – Early Fletchers. I am the Fletcher with links to Cumbria, Dunans. Normandy, and Vikings, i have mostly finished my tree, but I am stuck on Jean de la Fleche of 1040 from Normandy.  He started the name then changed his allegiance through marriage to De Warenne.

The Fletcher name seemed to have been dropped until Sir Ralph Fletcher in 1240 and this name then carried on until today.  i am wondering if you or anyone else has any info as to why there is this big gap.

Leslie Fletcher (les.fletcher@hotmail.co.uk).

The Worshipful Company of Fletchers.  The earliest mention of the Worshipful Company of Fletchers was in 1371 when the fletchers presented a petition to the Lord Mayor of London where they agreed that, for the common good, the two trades of fletcher (maker of arrows) and bowyer (maker of longbows) should be kept entirely separate and that no man of one trade should do the other (under a penalty of £4).

The longbow was primarily responsible for the English victories at Crecy in 1346 and at Agincourt in 1415 and fletchers were kept busy with the supply of arrows for the Hundred Years War in France and the Wars of the Roses in England.  By the time of Henry VIII the Fletchers Company had a hall in St. Mary Axe in London.

Fletchers in Cumbria.  Richard Fletcher moved from Cockermouth where his family had entertained Mary Queen of Scots and began to convert the Border Castle into a country house.

He was knighted by James I and his son Henry was made a baronet.  He built the Gallery, but was killed at the Battle of Rowton Heath in 1645 fighting for the Royalists in the Civil War.  He left a young son George who lived until 1700, was MP for Cumberland for forty years, and in the mid-1680’s built the dramatic East front of the House.

His eldest son Henry inherited the baronetcy and estate, but converted to Roman Catholicism and died at Douai in France in 1712.  The estate then passed to his nephew Henry Vane who took the name of Fletcher-Vane.

Reader Feedback – A Fletcher Family Line Back to Cumbria and Normandy.  I have been doing history on my Fletchers for some years now.

It started with recent history of areas the family lived in.  I am born in West Bromwich, my father in Newcastle-on-Tyne as his father was, then his father was in Bradford.  For the next four generations prior to that they came from Cumbria.  They were all living in Cockermouth and Castle for a lot of generations back to the 1500’s.

Then the connection follows onto the Boteller/Butler/Fletcher line from Normandy – Ralph Pincerno, le Boteller who was a brother to Richard 2nd “the good” 1001 to 1026, the Duke of Normandy.  Richard 2nd also had a son named Robert “The Magnificent,” the Duke of Normandy, born 1000 to 1035 who had an affair before marrying Harleva Fellaise.  She produced a child who became William the Conqueror, King from 1066 to 1087.  The line that moves beyond Ralph Pincerno goes right back to Rollo Thurston and his Viking journey to Normandy.

Leslie Fletcher (les.fletcher@hotmail.com)

Fletchers of Dunans.  It was Archibald Fletcher who purchased the property known as Dunans in Glendaruel in the early 1700’s and became one of the leading landowners of the Cowal in Argyllshire.  He was known among his contemporaries as Gillesp-na-Crannaich or simply as Gillesp.  He was good friends with Rob Roy with whom he had many adventures.

In 1745 Gillesp sent as substitute the poet Duncan Ban MacIntyre to fight on his behalf for Bonnie Prince Charlie.  He also entrusted with him his ancient claymore which was lost in the heat of battle.  Duncan later wrote his Gaelic Song to the Sword of Fletcher, which included the following (translated) verse:

  • “Then when I had homeward wended
  • To Gillespie of the Old Wood,
  • There he raged as savage-minded
  • As a gray brock in his hold would;
  • At that time he was right sorry
  • Weapon to draw he none at hand had,
  • At his loss great was the worry,
  • The heirloom claymore of his granddad.”

Angus, known as Aonghas Mor (Angus the great), was the eldest son of Archibald.

“He was a gentleman, one of the most hospitable in the West Highlands, and a man of great physical strength.  It was told that while branding cattle, which were semi-wild highland beasts, one of them broke loose.  Angus struggled to overcome the animal which he held for a while by the hind leg.  The steer, however, left Angus on the ground and jumped over the stone wall of the enclosure.  When his brother scorned him for releasing the animal, Angus simply replied by holding out the hoof of the beast.”

Aonghas Mor died in 1807 at the age of eighty eight.

Angus Fletcher – Mr. Kindheart.  Angus Fletcher had a short career as a sculptor in which he was moderately successful.  In the 1830’s he exhibited various works at the Royal Academy, including a bust of the writer Charles Dickens.  He and Dickens in fact struck up a friendship which was to last the rest of his life.

Angus acted as a guide and companion to Dickens on a tour of the Highlands in 1841.  Dickens wrote in one of his letters home:

“We are now in a bare white house on the banks of Loch Leven.  A most infernal piper is practicing under the window for a competition of pipers which is to come off shortly.  The store of anecdotes of Fletcher with which we shall return will last a long time.  It seems that the Fletchers are an extensive clan and that his father was a Highlander.  Accordingly, wherever he goes, he finds out some cotter or small farmer who is his cousin.”

The two also met in Italy three years later where Angus was helpful to Dickens again.  Dickens in his letters referred to him as “Mr. Kindheart” and expressed great sorrow when he heard of his friend’s death in Leeds in 1862 after he had collapsed at the railway station there.

Fletcher Christian’s Ancestry.  The line starts with William Fletcher of Cockermouth who died in 1540.  He it was who bought Cockermouth Hall.  It then continues as follows:

  • son Henry, who offered refuge to Mary Queen of Scots during her retreat into England.  He died in 1576.
  • son Thomas, who married Jane Bullen.  He died in 1603.
  • son Philip, who married Ellen Knipe.
  • son John, who was MP for Appleby in 1680.
  • son Richard, who was the last Fletcher at Cockermouth Hall.
  • son Major Philip Fletcher, who died in 1744.
  • son John Fletcher, who married Mary Christian and was the ancestor of Fletcher Christian.

Fletcher Christian was born in Cockermouth in 1764.  After his mother fell into debt they moved to her family’s home on the Isle of Man.  Fletcher left there at the age of sixteen to join the navy.

Caleb Fletcher Recruiting for Seamen.  Caleb Fletcher was a Liverpool slave trader and privateer.  In 1779 he was recruiting for seamen with the following poster:


Now fitting out to cruise for three months and then to proceed to Montego Bay in Jamaica where she will be immediately laden, The ship Jamaica Caleb Fletcher of Liverpool, Commander, mounts eighteen six-pounders, with cohorns and swivels; carries 120 men and is most completely fitted up for their accommodation, and has a safe protection.  All brave seamen and landmen, who are willing to enter, are desired to apply to Capt. Fletcher (at Mr. Joseph Fletcher’s in Whitehaven), who will give them the greatest encouragement.  One fourth part of all the prizes to be divided among the crew.  Gos save the King and success to the Jamaica!”

The Double-Jointed Fletchers.  In 1737 a baby named John Fletcher was christened in Burnley, Lancashire.  He married a local girl and they went on to have several children.  This John must have owned the genetic make-up for “double-jointedness” or hypermobility of the joints (whereby the range of joint movement can be nearly double that of a normal joint.  This trait is inherited in a direct line from parent to child.  And such has been the case with John Fletcher and his descendants.

Many of these double-jointed Fletchers have continued to live in and around the Burnley area.  One line did move to Manchester and another to the East End of London.  There are at least eight hypermobile Fletcher children in London that are direct descendants of the John Fletcher of Burnley.

Fletchers of Bolton.  A  greater contrast between grandfather and grandson would be hard to find.

Colonel Ralph Fletcher was a suppressor of civil rights movements and one of the magistrates whose decisions led to the Peterloo massacre in 1819.

Grandson Herbert was a mining engineer and colliery owner who was mourned by rich and poor alike after his premature death in 1895 at the age of fifty three.   A man of infinite charm, he enjoyed a reputation as an unusually considerate coalmine owner.  It was his zest for life, however, which led to his early death:

“Entering Ladyshore colliery yard one morning, he saw a bicycle leaning against a wall and said he would take a ride.  Before he had gone very far he was heard to say something about being short of breath.  He then fell to the ground and died soon afterwards.  Fletcher’s pet dog, a constant companion, stood by his master and would not leave the body.”

Reader Feedback – Fletchers from Gloucester County, Virginia.  My Fletchers were from Gloucester, Virginia. I can trace them as far back as 1800 but before that I’m not really sure where they were. My DNA results state my ethnicity is 39% Scotland. There was a family oral tradition passed down that our Fletchers had a Jamestown connection but, even after over 30 years of research, I’ve yet to find any link.

Lana Taylor Figgs (figgsfreelance@gmail.com)

The Fall of the House of Fletcher.  The Fletcher American National Bank had gone through a merger and as a result had become the largest national bank in Indiana.  This gave Stoughton Fletcher the financial wherewithal to build Laurel Hall.  The mansion was built upon 1,500 acres of farmland and woods outside Indianapolis and was named after his mother.  It was completed in 1916 at a cost of $2.1 million.

This opulent family home showcased his personal taste for the extravagant.  Undoubtedly it led to a great deal of gossip, some of it far-fetched.  With his hobby of horse breeding and reportedly using “a cement mixer to make martinis,” Fletcher had a wide reputation beyond the banking world, a reputation which contrasted with the staid legacy of his father and grandfather.

However, financial problems were around the corner.  During World War One, the Government needed turbine engines, to which Fletcher responded with his own assets.  Fletcher expected to turn a profit from his consolidation of two companies to facilitate the expedient production of the engines.  But the end of the war halted the need for his product.

By 1923, the Fletcher fortune had been decimated.  Stoughton resigned as President of the Fletcher American National Bank and relinquished all ties to the bank.  One year later, he declared bankruptcy, with assets of $481.39 to his name while owing $1,763,602.54.  Meanwhile, the Fletcher American National Bank took ownership of Laurel Hall, selling it in 1925 to the Sisters of Providence who opened Ladywood; a Catholic, all-girls boarding school.

Personal tragedy also hit the family.  Stoughton’s wife May took her own life in 1921.  The event was the banner headline of the Indianapolis News on March 23, 1921, a sad reminder of the enormous influence of the Fletchers in Indianapolis.  And his eldest son “Bruz,” a nightclub singer in Hollywood, also killed himself some twenty years later.  The man who built and lost Laurel Hall along with a banking fortune, Stoughton A. Fletcher, lived on and died of natural causes in 1957.

Reader Feedback – Angus Fletcher from Scotland to Canada.  I have been working on my genealogy since a few years now and know my one great great great grandfather came from Scotland in 1802 with the MacMillan delegation, apparently from Lochaber in Invernesshire to Canada.  I have his land grant information in Quebec.

I was wondering do you have any towns or locations that they have record of his coming to Canada.  I still haven’t found a Angus that left Scotland at this time on a ship called Friends.  He is not listed unless he was a worker on the ship or came under another family name.

I have information that a relative that he came to Canada via the USA, but maybe this is not my direct line.  All my cousins here are much older than me and I am trying to locate our Scotland location before everyone leaves us.  Best Regards

Faye Fletcher-Zsadany (fzsadany@icloud.com)

Annie Fletcher’s Journey to Bulawayo.  In 1894 Robert Fletcher moved to Bulawayo and with his elder brother Patrick founded the firm of Fletcher and Espin, government surveyors.  His wife Annie remained in Pretoria until 1895, when she made a nightmarish journey to join her husband with two of her sons, one of whom was a mere babe in arms.

The trip was made by mule coach and the passengers had to endure bumpy roads, terrific storms and floods, even having to travel on foot at times when the coach had to contend with especially difficult conditions. Annie had a small stock of condensed milk for the baby which proved invaluable, as no fresh milk was obtainable on the journey.

At one point the coach had to make a particularly hazardous river crossing and, to the consternation of the passengers, it became stuck in the swirling waters.  A boat had to be sent to rescue them.  With much difficulty they scrambled out of the coach windows and into the little craft which in turn stuck in the sand some little way from the river bank.   They were lifted out by natives and dumped in the sand to struggle up as best they might.

Miraculously almost, the trip to Bulawayo was eventually completed and Mrs. Annie Fletcher was deservedly acclaimed later in her life as having been one of the true pioneers of the country.

Fletcher Names

  • John Fletcher was the noted Jacobean playwright who followed Shakespeare as playwright for the King’s Men.
  • Andrew Fletcher was the Scottish patriot who fought the Treaty of Union with England in 1707.
  • John William Fletcher was a contemporary of Wesley and one of Methodism’s first great theologians.
  • John Gould Fletcher was a Pulitzer prize winning poet and author from Little Rock, Arkansas.
  • Harvey Fletcher was the American physicist credited with the invention of the hearing aid.
  • Sir James Fletcher was the founder of Fletcher Construction, one of New Zealand’s largest firms.

Fletcher Numbers Today

  • 60,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 31,000 in America (most numerous in Texas).
  • 30,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia).

Fletcher and Like Surnames   

The various medieval trades and occupations were a source of surnames as John the baker would over time would become known as John Baker.  Some skilled craftsmen – such as chandlers, fletchers and turners – were able to form guilds, protective organizations, and style themselves Worshipful Companies.  These are some of the occupational surnames that you can check out.



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Written by Colin Shelley

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