Garrett Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Garrett Surname Meaning

The principal source of the Garrett surname in England and Ireland were the Gerard and Gerald personal names that the Normans brought with them in or after the invasion of England.  Gerard from the Germanic Gerhard was derived from the Germanic element ger meaning “spear” and hard meaning “brave” or “hard.”

There were about 18 Gerards recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086.  Early surname spellings in England were Gerard, Gerrard, and Garrard.  It was only around 1550-1600 that the Garrett spelling began to be preferred.

In Ireland, after the Anglo-Norman invasion, the main name was FitzGerald.  Garrett was often a synonym for FitzGerald, the name being mainly found in Ulster.  Garrett was also a Manx name; and Garrett cropped up as well in the Stranraer region of SW Scotland.

Garrett Surname Resources on The Internet

Garrett and Gerrard Surname Ancestry

  • from England, Ireland, Isle of Man and SW Scotland
  • to America and Australia

England.  Earlier versions of Garrett in England were Gerard and Gerrard in the north and Garrard in the south.  The Gerrard spelling has remained the main spelling in Lancashire.  Elsewhere, including London, Garrett has generally displaced Gerard, Gerrard, and Garrard.

Lancashire.  The Gerards, originally Fitzgerald, were from Carew castle in Pembrokeshire and moved north, first to Cheshire, and then, around 1340, to Lancashire where they were established for many centuries at Bryn near Chorley and became known as the Gerards of Bryn.

Sir Thomas de Bryn spent much of his life fighting the Scottish.  He was a hero for the English at Flodden Field in 1513, but he was killed at the Battle of Berwick ten years later.  The Gerards under Sir Gilbert Gerard grew rich during the reign of Elizabeth and became baronets under his son Sir Thomas.

Today in Ashton in Makerfield there is a Thomas Gerrard School, a Gerard street, a Gerard pub a Gerard farmer, and a Gerard car dealer.

SE England.  The Garrards of Sittingbourne in Kent have different origins, from earlier Attegare and de la Gare lines. They blossomed in trade during Elizabethan times and were made baronets in the next century. The family spelling started to change from Garrard to Garrett around the year 1600.

There were also early Garrard lines in Berkshire and Norfolk:

  • one Garrard line has been traced back in Berkshire to the 1450’s.  These Garrards were prominent in the village of Lambourn from 1530 to 1778.  William Garrard later owned a brewery in Reading.
  • while Garrards in Norfolk have been more numerous.  Garrard records date back to 1550 in Diss.  The most well-known  Garrards were the Garrards of Langford who prospered as merchants in London and were made baronets in 1662.

George Garrard, the 18th century landscape painter, is said to have had Dutch ancestry from Marcus Gheeraerts, a painter to Queen Elizabeth.

Garrard, Gerrard and Garrett had become closer in sound by the 16th century and Garrett was being adopted as a spelling.  For instance, the Protestant martyr was probably born Thomas Gerrard in Lincolnshire in 1498. But he was more frequently being described as Thomas Garrett by the time of his martyrdom in London in 1540.

SW England.  There were Garretts also in the west country, stretching from Somerset to Hampshire.  One Garrett family can be traced to 1539 and the parish records of Bradford Abbas on the Dorset/Somerset border.  Some of them moved to the nearby town of Yeovil, others emigrated to Newfoundland in the 19th century.  Garretts can be found in the villages of Horningsham and Stourton in the 17th century.  And Garretts also cropped up in the Andover area of Hampshire at that time.

Ireland.  The Anglo-Norman invasion under Strongbow brought the powerful Fitzgerald family to Ireland and they remained a force in the land for centuries.  The descendant in Kildare was called Earl Garrett Mor in the 16th century.  The Irish name for FitzGerald is MacGearailt.

Garrett itself has been predominantly an Ulster name, found in Down and Antrim as well as in Dublin.  Garrett here can be an anglicization of the Irish MacGearailt or McGarraty, particularly in the case of those who emigrated.

Garrett can also be an English implant.  Captain John Garrett, descended from the Sittingbourne Garrards, was one of five brothers who served with Cromwell in Ireland.  His son John established himself in 1700 at Kilgaran in county Carlow where his descendants lived until around 1870.

Isle of Man.  Garrett can be a Manx name.  Patrick Garrett was recorded at Andreas in 1727.  Another Patrick Garrett married Eliner Cremilt in Lezayre parish in 1794. Their son John emigrated to America in 1827 and made his home in Lake county in Ohio, joining other Manx settlers there.

Scotland.  The Garrett name has also cropped up in Stranraer in SW Scotland.  The Rev. James Garrett, a Presbyterian minister, was born at Inch near Stranraer in 1793.  He emigrated to Tasmania in 1828.  James Garrett, born in 1811, was a well-known local fisherman who lived to be 103 years of age.  

America.  The main point of entry for early Garretts was Virginia.

Virginia.  Some were reported in Virginia at the time of the Jamestown settlement.  But the main lines have come from a John Garrett who arrived in the 1630’s, after his first wife had died, as an indentured servant to his brother-in-law John Dunstan.  He then returned to England and married Lady Mary Bible.  

“John Garrett married Lady Mary Bible in 1632 when he was 37 years old.  According to Cathy Osborn’s publication Garrett Folklore & Fact, Lady Mary Bible was of royal blood but was disinherited because she had married a Quaker.”

His descendants in America included children of both his first and second wives.  Later lines were:

  • from his son John, by his first wife Ann, who had come to Virginia in the 1660’s – one line from here went via North Carolina to Georgia in 1798 and then to Chambers county, Alabama in 1835 where John Garrett prospered as a farmer.  One of his sons was Pat Garrett, the famous lawman of the Old West who shot down Billy the Kid.
  • from his son William the Quaker, by his second wife Mary, who came to Chester county, Pennsylvania in the 1680’s – a descendant here was Thomas Garrett, the famous abolitionist and a leader of the Underground Railroad for escaped slaves.
  • and from Thomas, thought to be John’s brother, who also came to Pennsylvania, settling near Brandywine Creek in Chester county – this line led to the Garrett snuff line in New Castle county, Delaware; it also led to John Garrett Jr. who headed west in 1804 and founded Garrettsville, Ohio.

Another line in Virginia began with William Garrett of Essex county in 1752.  One of his descendants was Richard Garrett who owned the farm where the John Wilkes Booth who assassinated Abraham Lincoln hid out and where he was captured and shot in 1865.  This line was covered in H.L. Garrett’s 1962 book Garrett History.

Then there was the Virginia line that began with Jacob Garrett, born there in 1730, and led first to Tennessee and then to Texas.  In the early 1830’s William Garrett was one of the first settlers on the Brazos river.  His plantation home at San Augustine, built by slave labor, was completed in 1864. It received a Texas historical marker in 1962.

Irish.  Garretts from county Down in Ireland began arriving in America in the 1790’s, settling mainly in Pennsylvania.

Among them was a Scots Irish family which included the seven year old Robert Garrett who later started up his own business in Baltimore.  His son John W. Garrett rose to become the President of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and a well-known business leader and philanthropist of his time.

Hugh Garrett was also from county Down.  He was Catholic and departed Ireland at the time of the potato famine.  He came to Cass county, Michigan in 1859 and was part of the early Irish community there.

Australia.  Jonathan Garrett arrived as a convict from England and lived through the Castle Hill and Rum Rebellions between 1804 and 1808.  He was the focal point of the Australian 1978 TV mini-series Against the Wind.

John and Sarah Garrett were bounty immigrants from Liverpool who came to Sydney in 1840. Their son Tom prospered as a newspaper proprietor, their grandson Tom was one of Australia’s early cricketers who played in the first-ever Test Match in 1877.

Meanwhile William and John Garrett had come from the Isle of Man to the Bendigo goldfields in the 1850’s and moved onto the Kapunda copper mine in South Australia.  They then tried their luck farming in the Flinders Ranges.  However, persistent drought in the 1880’s destroyed them financially and many family members died, often at a young age.  John Garrett’s tombstone on the Willochra Plain still stands as a somber reminder of the harshness of the country into which they had blundered.

Garrett Surname Miscellany

Gerards, Gerrards, Garrards, and Garrets in the UK.  The table below shows the numbers of Gerards, Gerrards, Garrards and Garretts in the 1881 UK census.  As can be seen in the table, Gerard has mainly given way to Gerrard which in turn has given way to Garrett.

Numbers (000’s) Gerard Gerrard Garrard Garrett Total
Lancashire    0.2    1.9    0.1    0.3    2.5
London    0.1    0.3    0.4    1.2    2.0
Elsewhere    0.2    1.6    0.7    5.3    7.8
Total    0.5    3.8    1.2    6.8   12.3

Gerrard has remained the spelling in Lancashire (only in the port city of Liverpool did Garrett get a look-in). The name is strongest on Merseyside.  Steve Gerrard, the former Liverpool and England footballer, is a present-day Gerrard from there.

But elsewhere Garrett has become the main spelling, even in London.  Garrard was the earlier spelling there. Garrards of London were the Crown Jewellers to Queen Victoria and Sir David Garrard, born in north London, was a successful property developer recently.  But by 1881 Garretts were outnumbering Garrards by three to one in the capital.

The Garrards of Sittingbourne.  The Garrards of Sittingbourne took their name from earlier de la Gares and Attegares in Kent. Allured de la Gare was mentioned in 1150, Stephen de la Gare in 1273, and Lucas atte Gare was documented around the year 1300.

Allured Attegare, had issue, Sir Simon Attegare of Buckland in Sittingbourne, who was the father of Stephen Attegare, alias Garrard.  In the church of Sittingbourne there is a monument of a knight of this family.  The Garrards were not yet in possession of the lands in Sittingbourne, which were the lands of Simon Attegare. So that it seems that this Stephen was the first who departed from the name of Attegare and assumed the name of Garrard instead.

These Garrards, originally small landowners in Kent, prospered in London on trade with Russia, promoting the first voyage there in 1553, and were granted a charter by Queen Elizabeth to develop further trade links.  Sir William Garrard aka Garrett was Lord Mayor of London in 1555, followed by his son Sir John in 1601, and they were later made the baronets of Lamer.

Reader Feedback:  The Garrards of Lamar were not Garretts.  I have traced their history and nowhere in all the hundreds of documents I have read does the name Garrett ever appear.  Bruce Plaice-Leary (

The Garretts of Bradford Abbas in Dorset.  One Garrett family originally came from Bradford Abbas, Dorset – a village on the Dorset/Somerset border. The Garretts were first mentioned in the parish records of Bradford Abbas in 1539. The last male Garrett in Bradford Abbas passed away in 2006.  Quite a number of the Garretts from Bradford Abbas moved to Yeovil in Somerset, only a few miles away.

Many of the male Garretts from Bradford Abbas were skilled thatchers; while others worked as agricultural laborers. In the 19th century many of the women of Bradford Abbas worked as glovers (sewing leather gloves).

William Garrett left Bradford Abbas for Newfoundland in the late 1820’s, marrying Diana Denty in Salvage. Many of his descendants moved to Port Blandford in the early 1900’s.  One branch moved to Everett, Massachusetts in the 1920’s.

Mark Garrett, related to William, left Bradford Abbas for Newfoundland in the 1850’s. Mark raised his family in Bonavista Bay. His son later moved to St. John’s.

Reader Feedback – Marcus Geeraerts and George Garrard.  Marcus Gheeraerts was the Flemish painter who came to England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth.  The Gheeraerts name did become anglicized into Garrard.  This may well have happened in the reign of James I.

There is another British born artist/sculptor – Florence Violette Garrard, who appears to have used the name Violet Garrard.  She attended the Slade School and was a friend to many including Turner.  She is also a grand niece of George Garrard.  Unfortunately I am having a difficult time finding any examples of her work on the internet, or any reference to gallery holdings.

I finally discovered a possible source for your claim for the family connection between the two men – Dictionary of National Biography Volume 21, published in 1890.  What is interesting is that although it states George’s birth and death no reference is made to his family, their connections, or any source material at all.   From family sources, I know considerably more but no reference ever made to the Gheeraert connection made in the DNB. This does, however, make interesting possibilities for continued genealogy research.

Valerie Tranfield (

James Garrett of Stranraer.  James Garrett claimed to be the oldest fisherman in Scotland.  He was born at Innermessan, near Stranraer in 1811 and in 1911 reached his 100th year.  His mother and father who were also natives of the district, were aged respectively 100 and 103 when they died.

James was a Lochryan fisherman all his life.  During his career he had many exciting experiences. Once, when fishing off the Ballantrae banks in a heavy sea, his boat was swamped and three of the crew were drowned. But he and his son William who was also in the boat survived.

Grandson William Garrett continued the family involvement in fishing after James’s death in 1914.

The Garrett Snuff Saga.  In 1749 John Garrett died and he bequeathed all the estates he held in New Castle county in Delaware, including some grist mills, to his son John.  After some time John the son found it difficult to compete as a miller and decided to diversify. In 1782 he established the first Garrett snuff mill on Red Clay Creek, below his existing grist mill.  He later converted the grist mill to a paper mill.

On his death in 1804 he left the snuff mill to his son Levi and the paper mill to another son Horatio.  Levi moved to Philadelphia and opened an establishment to sell tobacco products at wholesale and retail prices, including the snuff that was produced at the mill.

The snuff business boomed during the 19th century and the Garretts grew rich.  Levi Garrett died in 1833 and William Garrett became the principal entrepreneur.  In 1857 William brought his sons, Walter and William Jr, into the business and changed its name to W. E. Garrett and Sons.

However, neither of their sons showed any interest in the business and in 1895, after 113 years in the family, it was sold.  Eventually in 1930 the sole remaining Garrett of this line died without issue.  Cousins and second and third and fourth cousins spent decades fighting over the estate. It took twenty three years and by then most of the estate had been eaten up by lawyers’ fees.

C. A. Weslager’s 1965 book The Garrett Snuff Fortune has told the story. 

Against The Wind.  Against the Wind was a 1978 TV mini-series dealing with Australia’s convict past.  It was a true story depicting Jonathan Garrett, an Englishman who had been convicted and transported for highway robbery, and Mary Mulvane, an 18 year old Irish girl who had been transported for trying to rescue the family cow.

Jonathan served out his sentence, obtained his ticket of leave, and set himself up as a farmer on Castle Hill. He and Mary lived through the Castle Hill convict rebellion of 1804, with their Irish friend Dinny O’Byrne joining the rebels. By the time of the Rum Rebellion four years later, Jonathan and Mary were in Sydney running their own illicit still.  Jonathan was arrested for his failure to attend a muster called by the officers.

However, the story ended happily. Bligh was ousted and Macquarie arrived. He freed Jonathan and asked to meet him. Jonathan and Mary lived until 1855 and raised five children.

Garrett Names

  • Thomas Garrett was an American abolitionist and leader of the Underground Railroad movement before the Civil War.   
  • John W. Garrett was President of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O) from 1858 until his death in 1884, a position of much power and prestige at that time. 
  • Lesley Garrett is a well-known English soprano singer, broadcaster and media personality.  She is noted for being at home in both opera and crossover music.

Garrett Numbers Today

  • 13,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 36,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 20,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Garrett and Like Surnames

The Norman Conquest brought new rulers to England and they brought their names and language, a form of French, with them.  Over time their names became less French and more English in character.  Thus Hamo became Hammond, Reinold Reynolds and Thierry Terry and so forth.  The names Allen, Brett, Everett, and Harvey were probably Breton in origin as Bretons also arrived, sometimes as mercenaries.

The new Norman lords often adopted new last names, sometimes from the lands they had acquired and sometimes from places back in Normandy.  Over time the name here also became more English.  Thus Saint Maur into Seymour, Saint Clair into Sinclair, Mohun into Moon, and Warenne into Warren.

Here are some of these Norman and Breton originating names that you can check out.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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