Fuller Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Fuller Surname Meaning

The name Fuller comes from the wool trade. The raw cloth had to be “fulled” – i.e. scoured and thickened by being in water – a process known as walking because it was originally done by men trampling in a trough.

Both Walker and Fuller appeared as surnames, Walker in Yorkshire and the northeast and Fuller in the southeast. The greater importance of the wool trade in the northeast has meant that Walker is now the much more common surname.

Fuller Surname Resources on The Internet

Fuller Surname Ancestry

  • from SE England
  • to America, Canada. South Africa and New Zealand

England. The Fuller surname first appeared in Kent and is mainly to be found in East Sussex, Kent, and East Anglia. Fuller emerged as a surname in the 1500’s in the wool trade around Tenterden in Kent and in the wool towns of south Suffolk.

East Sussex. A Fuller family can be traced back to the early 1500’s in East Sussex.  This Fuller family found another and more lucrative occupation than wool-making. The rich woodlands of the Weald provided a valuable if wasteful resource for iron-making.

From the 1690’s, John Fuller was the iron master at Heathfield where cannon was made for the Royal Navy. The family invested their profits in sugar plantations in Jamaica. However, they are probably best remembered for “Mad Jack” Fuller who blew most of his inheritance away in the early 1800’s by a series of follies that he built in Sussex around Brightling.

Elsewhere. The Fullers also produced Catholic-leaning clergymen. John Fuller was merciless in hounding out heretics in Norfolk during the bloody reign of Queen Mary. William Fuller, the Dean of Ely, and Thomas Fuller, the church historian, trod a more dangerous line during Civil War times.

However, we find another Fuller on the other side.  Nicholas Fuller was a radical Puritan lawyer of the early 1600’s who fought against the entrenched powers of the church courts in his day.

A Fuller family from Wiltshire invested in a new brewery venture in London in 1829. That brewery was and is still Fuller’s brewery, makers of London’s Pride.  The family home remains at Neston Park near Corsham where they recently opened an organic food shop. The estate itself has period charm and has been used in many TV productions.

America. Fullers came early to America.

New England  Samuel Fuller from Redenhall near Harleston in Norfolk was in fact on board the Mayflower.  His descendants seem noted through their many branches for their longevity and their large families (they included Melville Fuller who rose to become Chief Justice of the United States in 1888).

Other early Fuller immigrants were:

  • his brother Edward (also on the Mayflower)
  • John and Elizabeth Fuller (on the Abigail)
  • Robert Fuller who settled in Salem,
  • Thomas Fuller who arrived in 1638 and settled in Woburn.
  • and John Fuller who came to Newton in 1644.

The Rev. Timothy Fuller, born in 1707, was ordained as the first minister of Princeton, Massachusetts, but was later dismissed because of his anti-slavery views (although he was said to have owned slaves at one time). He and his wife had ten children.

They included Elizabeth Fuller, whose diary of rural life in Massachusetts at that time has been handed down, and Timothy Fuller who became a US Congressman in the early 1800’s. Timothy’s daughter Margaret was, in the 19th century, an early advocate of women’s rights. Also in this family line were:

  • that American genius, Buckminster Fuller
  • and the founder of the Seattle Art Museum, Richard Fuller.

Not all of these Fullers stayed in Massachusetts. Ferdinand Fuller from Worcester had led a pioneer group of abolitionists to Kansas in 1854 to try and keep this new state a free state. He was an architect and designed the first buildings for the University of Kansas. Another early settler was Perry Fuller, an Indian contractor who set up a profitable trading post at Quenemo.

Fullers in the South.  The first appears to be Ezekiel Fuller who was born in the Virginia tidewater region in 1675 (a book by Grady P. Fuller, Ezekiel Fuller and Some of His Descendants written in 1987, narrated the history of this line). Two brothers, Henry and Nehemiah Fuller, left Maryland for North Carolina in the 1740’s. Their descendants are to be found in North Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee.

One unusual Fuller ancestry was that of Solomon Fuller. His grandfather John Lewis Fuller, born a slave in Virginia, had been able to buy his freedom and move his family to Liberia. Solomon returned in 1895 for his medical studies. He was a professor at the Boston University School of Medicine for many years and became the first practicing African American psychiatrist.

Today, American Fullers outnumber English Fullers by some margin. They are probably augmented by Fullers from Germany and French Fourniers anglicized to Fuller.

Canada. A Fuller family in Nova Scotia dates back to the 1760’s and a merchant, William Fuller. One of his descendants was Alfred Fuller, the founder of the Fuller Brush Company. Thomas Fuller came to Toronto in the 1850’s and became the town’s leading architect.  His family-run business still thrives.

South Africa. Henry and Susannah Fuller from London were among the first band of English settlers to the Cape Colony in 1820. They were British loyalists during the Boer War. Kathleen Bell (nee Fuller), who lived to see a hundred, recorded her reminiscences of early Johannesburg at the turn of the century.

However, eighty years later when Alexandria Fuller was writing, southern Africa was very different.

New Zealand. John Fuller had arrived in Auckland from Kent in the 1850’s. A little later, Frederick Fuller, who had left his native Suffolk for Australia in 1849, reached Christchurch. There he discovered his true metier, taxidermy. As a taxidermist he delighted in all the new specimens that New Zealand had to offer.

The Fuller theatrical family moved from London to New Zealand in the 1890’s. Their eldest son Benjamin developed the Fuller theater circuit which, expanding as New Zealand’s cities grew, eventually spread to Australia.

Fuller Surname Miscellany

Early Fuller Wills

In Kent

Date Name Place
1558 John Fuller Deal
1558 Joan Fuller Westwell
1568 John Fuller Canterbury
1576 Guy Fuller Maidstone
1580 John Fuller Tenterden
1592 James Fuller Wittersham
1592 Beatrice Fuller Wittersham

in East Anglia

Date Name Place
1553 William Fuller Nedging (Suffolk)
1563 Hugh Fuller Nedging (Suffolk)
1575 William Fuller Redenhall (Norfolk)
1578 William Fuller Wetherden (Suffolk)
1587 Richard Fuller Nedging (Suffolk)
1591 William Fuller Bildeston (Suffolk)

Thomas Fuller, Church Writer.  Thomas Fuller was one of the first men to make a living by writing, no mean feat since he wrote during the tumultuous years of the English Civil War and the Restoration.

He would later remark, with some exaggeration: “All that time I could not live to study who did only study to live.”  In actuality, he got on well with men on both sides, loved by Charles I on the one hand and by some of the men who manoevred Charles’ death on the other.

A genuinely amiable man, Fuller took as his motto Paul’s words to Timothy: “Let your moderation be known to all men, the Lord is at hand.”  Because of his moderation, fellow Royalists accused him of lukewarmness. In reply he asked: “Why should Peter fall out with Thomas, both being disciples of the same Lord and Master?” Although the Puritans imprisoned and questioned him, his good humor and clever replies won him quick release.

Fuller’s fame rested chiefly on two books, A Church History of Britain and Worthies of England.  These and other books were larded with pithy sayings such as:

  • “Two things a man should never be angry at – what he can help and what he cannot help;”  and
  • “There are two kinds of people, those who do the work and those that take the credit.  Try to be in the first group.  There is less competition there.”

Mad Jack Fuller.  Mad Jack Fuller was the squire of Brightling Park in East Sussex.  At twenty two stone, he was a larger-than-life character.  He loved eating and drinking and talking loudly, and he had a heart of gold!  He put up a weird and wonderful collection of buildings.

The strangest of all was his 25-foot high pyramid tomb in Brightling churchyard.   Legend has it that in order to gain permission to erect his pyramid in the churchyard, the vicar asked that Jack Fuller move the local pub to a new location.  He was concerned that too many village folk, including the bell ringers, were spending part of their Sunday at the pub.

Jack Fuller died in 1834.  One tale handed down is that he was buried at a fully set dinner table with a bottle of claret in hand, dressed for dinner and wearing a top hat!

Reader Feedback – Fullers in East Sussex.  I am a descendant of the Fuller family. My great grandparents are in the historical photographs that come up – Eliza and Robert Fuller of Bleak House in the village of Brede.

They had a large family. The eldest child Ethel Alice Emily, born in 1886, was my grandmother. She married Augustus Frederick Baker.  He had a band and played jazz saxophone with two or three brothers. Their youngest surviving child Kate, known as Kit, was always full of stories about Jack Fuller the MP who was a grandfather’s brother. His visits home must have been stories handed down in the family.

Christine Oakes (ctoakes@hotmail.co.uk).

Samuel Fuller of the Mayflower.  In 1608, a band of Puritans left England for Protestant Holland and settled in Leyden.  They remained there until 1620 when they decided to emigrate to America.  Samuel Fuller, a doctor, formed part of the company that embarked from Southampton on the Mayflower.  He left behind his wife to care for their young child. But his brother Edward and wife Ann joined him.

Upon arrival at Plymouth Rock, Samuel was a signer of the Mayflower Compact, along with the other adult male settlers.  He did what he could to relieve those settlers stricken with scurvy and disease.  However, nearly half of the settlers died during that first disastrous winter.

Samuel’s brother Edward and his wife Ann were among the dead.  They were buried in an unmarked mound so that the militant natives would not know how many had died.  Edward was survived by his son Samuel whom Dr. Fuller took into his home.

In 1623 Bridget Fuller took passage on the Anne and came to Plymouth.  Four years later they had a son they named Samuel who later became the Rev. Samuel Fuller of Middleboro.

Fuller himself became ill and died during the epidemic that struck the Plymouth colony in 1633.  In his last will and testament he forgave the indigent of doctor’s fees yet owed, bought gloves for many of the colonists, and bequeathed the very cloak off his back to a needy person.

Some of his letters are preserved in a collection called William Bradford’s Letterbook.  He was survived by his wife and son, as well as several children entrusted to his care on the death of their parents.

Reader Feedback – John Fuller of Newton, Massachusetts.  I am a descendant of John Fuller of Newton, Massachusetts.  DNA has several matches in the Haplo group “I” which traces back to Scandinavia and the Vikings. We have traced our line back to James Fuller of Lavenham, Suffolk as the most likely ancestral line.

Wayne Fuller (fullerw2002@yahoo.ca).

Ezekiel Fuller.  Ezekiel Fuller of the Isle of Wight, Virginia was born around 1675.  While his origins are unknown, the earliest surviving document places him in Virginia in 1703.

A carpenter and prosperous farmer, he married Deborah Spivey and named her and his twelve children in his 1722 will.  From those twelve children, the Fuller surname spread out across the South.  Many families with southern Fuller lineage can be traced back to Ezekiel.

Some Sayings of Buckminster Fuller:

  • “Dare to be naive,” his motto in many of his speeches and writings.
  • “Don’t fight forces, use them.”
  • “Nature is trying very hard to make us succeed, but nature does not depend on us.  We are not the only experiment.”
  • “The most important thing to teach your children is that the sun does not rise and set.  It is the Earth that revolves around the sun.”
  • “God is a verb.”
  • “When I thought about steering the course of “Spaceship Earth” and of all humanity, I saw most people trying to turn the boat by pushing the bow around.  I saw that by being all the way at the tail of the ship, by just kicking my foot to one side or the other, I could create the low pressure which would turn the whole ship.”

Alexandria Fuller in Rhodesia.  Alexandria Fuller was the third of five children born to Tim and Nicola Fuller in England in 1969, during a brief attempt by her parents to live away from Africa.

“A bloody awful dreary place,” her mother called England afterwards.  So it was back to Africa in 1972, to Rhodesia where the Fullers became absorbed, more and more, in that country’s intensifying bloody struggle for independence.

They were not wealthy landowners, but hardscrabble tobacco and cattle farmers – although hardscrabble came with a cook, a gardener, a driver, and all you could possibly drink.  They were soldiers for white supremacy.  That was why they had moved from Kenya to Rhodesia.

In the comfort of their home, they were surrounded by barbed wire, thorn hedges, packs of dogs, and with loaded guns at bedside.  “We’d cheer when we heard the faint stomach-echoing thump of a mine detonating,” Alexandria Fuller writes.  “Either an African or a baboon had been killed or wounded.”

Gone to the Dogs is Alexandria Fuller’s story of a girlhood growing up in Africa.

Fuller Names

  • John Fuller was the ironmaster at Heathfield in Sussex. 
  • Thomas Fuller, the worthy master Fuller, was a high-regarded church historian of the 17th century.   
  • Alfred Fuller from Nova Scotia started the Fuller Brush Company in the early 1900’s.
  • Alvan Fuller, born in Boston, was an automobile pioneer who later became Governor of Massachusetts. 
  • Buckminster Fuller was an American visionary, designer, architect, poet, author, and inventor. 
  • Dr. Ray Fuller from Illinois was the co-discoverer of the drug Prozac in the 1970’s. 
  • Simon Fuller, born in Sussex, was the creator of the Pop Idol and American Idol television shows.

Fuller Numbers Today

  • 28,000 in the UK (most numerous in Norfolk)
  • 41,000 in America (most numerous in Texas).
  • 20,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Fuller 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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