Gage Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Gage Surname Meaning

The Gage surname has Norman French origins and is thought to have two possible meanings.  It was either:

  • the old French word gage or gauge meaning a gauge and being the occupational name for an assayer, one who is responsible for checking weights and measures 
  • an alternative meaning of gage as a pledge or security and thus an occupational name for a money-lender.

Gage Surname Resources on The Internet

Gage Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Sussex)
  • to Ireland, America and Canada

England.  The Gage name has cropped up in both the west of England and in southeast England.

One early family that straddled both sides was the Gage family from Cirencester in Gloucestershire, recorded there since the early 1400’s.  John Gage married Eleanor St. Clere in 1443 and through that marriage acquired substantial estates in Surrey and Sussex.  Later Gages were found at Burstow manor near Reigate in Surrey and then, and for a much much longer period and continuing, at Firle Place in Sussex.

The family’s association with Firle began in 1472 when William Gage married Agnes Bolney and their son John built a Tudor house there.  These Gages remained resolutely Catholic for the next 250 years.  Sir Edward Gage was even involved in the burning of the Lewes Protestant martyrs during the bloody reign of Queen Mary.

Notable later Gages were: 

  • Sir William Gage who, among other achievements, introduced a fruit into England which was named the greengage after him.  
  • and Sir Thomas Gage who commanded the British forces in North America at the onset of the American Revolutionary War.  He incurred a famous defeat at the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775.

A Gadge or Gage family held Shenfield manor in Essex in Elizabethan times.  The Gages of Hengrave Hall in Suffolk were descended from the Firle Gages.  There were Gages in the village of Chelsworth in Suffolk starting around 1700 and they were still to be found there 200 years later.

Ireland.  Gages from Northamptonshire, with possible links to the Firle Gages, secured estates from the British Government in Derry in 1635.  The Rev. John Gage of this family was chaplain to both Queen Anne and the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.  His son, also Rev. John Gage, acquired Rathlin island off the coast of county Antrim in 1746. These Gages remained resident there until 1975.  

America.  John Gage, thought to have come from Suffolk with Winthrop in 1630, may have been the forebear of the Gages in New England. There were three later Gage lines – Daniel Gage in Ipswich, Thomas Gage in Yarmouth, and William Gage in Freetown.

Daniel moved to Bradford, Massachusetts where his son established Gage’s ferry on the banks of the Merrimack river.  Later Gages were to be found at the Gage Hill Farm in Pelham, New Hampshire. David Gage started an ice company there in 1854 and was known as the “ice king of Lowell.”

Some other Gage lines went as follows:

  • via Thomas Gage in Bradford to James L. Gage, an Ohio lawyer, whose wife Frances became a campaigning abolitionist and leading feminist of her time.   
  • via Thomas Gage in Yarmouth to Henry Hill Gage in upstate New York, whose wife Matilda was even more of a firebrand abolitionist and feminist.  
  • and another line via Thomas Gage in Yarmouth to Dewitt Gage in upstate New York, who headed west to Saginaw, Michigan after the Civil War.  His son Henry became Governor of California in 1899.

The Gage families in Texas and Arkansas can trace themselves back to Nicholas Gage in London in the early 1700’s.  His son David departed for New York in the 1730’s and later settled in Rutherford county, North Carolina.  Reuben Gage migrated first to Kentucky and later to Missouri and Texas.  

“Reuben Gage was granted a league of land in the Milam grant on May 25, 1835.  This made him an original Anglo-American Texan. In his grant application he gave his age as sixty five and his place of birth as New York.”    

Canada.  James Gage had crossed over to Canada from upstate New York after the Revolutionary War.  His farmhouse near Hamilton lay on the road between Niagara and York (later Toronto) and became a convenient stopping point for travelers.  The house saw action in the War of 1812 as the Battle of Stony Creek occurred nearby, with the wounded being taken there and treated in the house. Now known as Battlefield House, it is a museum.

Robert R. Gage, related, was a well-known lawyer in Hamilton and Gage Park there was named after him.

Gage Surname Miscellany

The Gage Family of Cirencester.  This Gage family claimed, as many old families have done so, that they came over with William the Conqueror in 1066.  Known as de Gaga, they were granted large plots of land in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire. The seat of the first Gage was said to have been Clerenvell.  He later made his home in Cirencester where he died and was buried in the abbey.

An alternative origin suggested for these Gages has been a certain de Gaugy family that rose into favor at the time of King John.

The Gage name was first recorded at Cirencester as a witness to a deed in 1408.  This John Gage was father of the John Gage who married Joan Sudgrove and the grandfather of the John Gage who married Eleanor St. Clere with her estates in Surrey and Sussex.

Sir William Gage of Firle Place.  Sir William succeeded his father at Firle Place in 1713 and did much to regularize the Gage’s position as landed gentry.

First he chose to conform to the Anglican church so that he could become an MP in 1722. He ended his family’s long recusancy fines as Roman Catholics and thus ended their exclusion from political life. Secondly, starting in 1720, he developed Firle Place as a Georgian residence with his external cladding of the building with Caen stone from France.

But he is best remembered for two other matters, the greengage fruit and his patronage of cricket.

The greengage was named after Sir William who is credited with introducing the fruit to Britain when he obtained a supply from France in 1725.

His sponsorship of cricket began in its early days when organized matches were just beginning.  He was a close friend of the Duke of Richmond and they put together a number of matches between their two teams, as the following letter from 1725 suggests.

“My Lord Duke,

I received this moment your Grace’s letter and am extremely happy your Grace intends us the honor of making one a Tuesday and will without fail bring a gentleman with me to play against you, one that has played very seldom for these several years.

I am in great affliction with being shamefully beaten yesterday, the first match I have played this year. However I will muster up all my courage against Tuesday’s engagement.  I will trouble your Grace with nothing more than that I wish you success in everything except the cricket match.

William Gage”

Gambling at that time attended cricket matches and Sir William was known for his great love of gambling. As a gentleman visitor at the time wrote:

“I have spent the whole day at a cricket match at Lewes between the Gentlemen of Sussex and Kent. Sir William Gage and Lord John Sackville are the rivals of the bat. We have been at supper with them all and have left them at one o’clock in the morning, laying bets about the next match.”

Sir William died unmarried in 1744. The estate records show that he left £20 to his good servant John Shelley, my ancestor, and owed him £124 for wages and funds laid out.  Some of this money was not received as the records also show that, two years later, John had to sue to recover the balance.

Gage and Greengage.  The Rev. E.B. Ellman, vicar at the nearby Berwick church in the late 19th century, wrote the following about the Gages of Firle in his book Recollections of a Country Parson that was published in 1925.

“Gage first appeared at Mr. Rose’s school in a bright green suit.  He was immediately nicknamed “greengage” and the nickname stuck to him all the time he remained there.  Another thing that made the name appropriate was that some of the first greengages were cultivated at Firle Place, which was his home.

The greengage was introduced into England from France by Sir William Gage of Hengrave Hall near Bury who doubtless gave some of these trees to his relatives at Firle.”

The Gages on Rathlin Island.  The Rev. John Gage, the son of the Queen’s chaplain, had bought Rathlin Island off the coast of county Antrim in Northern Ireland in 1746 from Lord Antrim for the sum of £1,750.

It was to be the Gage home for the next two hundred years.  It was also a business proposition. Workrooms for weavers were built in the 1760’s. As the owners of the island the Gages were entitled to rent from the population who lived there. The gathering of seaweed was one of the ways that paid the rent.  Seaweed was collected and put into stone kilns and burned until it turned into a “boiling mass” of kelp.  There were up to 150 kilns in operation at one time and this industry continued until the 1930’s.

The Gages lived in a large Georgian house, the Manor House, which dominated Rathlin’s harbor. One of their more remarkable members was Dorothea Gage.   On a visit to Baden Baden in 1864, she attracted the attention of Prince Albrecht of Warbeck and Pyrmonte.  He pursued her to Rathlin and they married in Dublin Castle the same year.  She was made Countess von Roden in 1867 and lived the rest of her life in Germany.

The last member of the family to live at the Manor House was Brigadier Rex Gage who died in 1973. It lay derelict for a while before it was taken over by the National Trust.  Following his rescue off the coast of Rathlin on his hot-air balloon in 1987, Sir Richard Branson generously donated £25,000 to the Rathlin Island Trust towards its restoration.

Land Purchase by Thomas Gage in Massachusetts.  Data gleaned from land records and from the will of Thomas Gage’s first wife, Remember, gives light to the fact that Thomas Gage acquired a tract of land known as “Ye Freeman’s Purchase.”

The transaction occurred in 1659, transferred by deed from Wamsutta, the son of Chief Massasoit of the Wampanoag people, and his squaw Tattapanum to 26 purchasers in consideration of:

  • 20 coats, 2 rugs, 2 iron pots, 2 kettles, and 1 little kettle, 8 pairs of shoes, 6 pair of stockings, 1 dozen hoes, 1 dozen hatchets, 2 yards of broadcloth
  • and a debt satisfied to John Barnes which in all probability was “firewater.”

Gages from Bradford, Massachusetts to Kansas.  One line from William Gage in Bradford, Massachusetts ran to Joshua Gage, a corporal in Colonel Stark’s Regiment during the Revolutionary War and a signer of the Association Test which resolved:

“that it be recommended to the several Assemblies, Conventions, and Councils, or Committees of Safety of the United Colonies, immediately to cause all persons to be disarmed, within their respective Colonies, who are notoriously disaffected to the cause of America, or who have not associated, and refuse to associate, to defend by arms, the United Colonies, against the hostile attempts of the British fleets and armies.”

His son, known as Big Bill Gage, headed west and settled in Holly, Michigan.  His grandson William Monroe Gage was a private in the 8th Regiment of the Michigan Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War and was wounded in the right shoulder and left hand.    After the Civil War these Gages settled in Kansas.

Phineas Gage’s Accident.  Phineas Gage was a railroad construction foreman from Lebanon, New Hampshire who survived a rock-blasting accident on the line in 1848 when a large iron rod was driven completely through his head.  It destroyed much of his brain’s left frontal lobe.

The injury had an impact on his personality and behavior over the remaining twelve years of his life, an impact so profound that for a time at least, friends saw him as “no longer Gage.”

Unable to return to the railroad, he found work as a coach driver first in New Hampshire and then in Chile on the long-distance Valparaiso-to-Santiago route.  But his endeavors there proved too much, he was seized with epileptic fits, and he died in 1860 in San Francisco.

Eight years later, his skull was removed from his grave and, together with the iron bar which caused his accident, was exhibited at Harvard Medical School’s Warren Anatomical Museum.

Gage Names

  • Thomas Gage was a general who commanded the British forces rather unsuccessfully during the early days of the American Revolutionary War. 
  • Matilda Gage was a noted 19th century American suffragist, abolitionist, freethinker and writer.

Gage Numbers Today

  • 3,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 5,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 2,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)



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Written by Colin Shelley

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