Gates Surname Meaning, History & Origin
Gates and Yates are both surnames that derived from the Old English gatu, plural of geat, meaning “gate.” Since medieval gates were usually arranged in pairs, fastened in the center, the plural name came to be used. The surname described a gatekeeper or one who lived by the gates of a walled town.
The Gates and Yates spellings developed separately in different parts of the country and probably reflected earlier pronunciation differences. Gates in America is often an anglicization of the German name Goetz.
- The Gates Family. Thomas Gates in Massachusetts and descendants.
- Ancestry of Bill Gates
Bill Gates’ ancestry.
- Gates DNA Project Gates DNA.
England. The earliest appearances of the name were in East Anglia. Silvester atte Gates was rector of Brinton in Norfolk in 1354 and Thomas Gates, born in 1327, was the first of the Gates gentry family of Essex. This family purchased the Garnetts manor in High Easter (near present-day Chelmsford), which remained in their hands until 1582.
Sir John Gates prospered as a courtier under Henry VIII, but then lost his head when he backed the abortive attempt to put Lady Jane Grey on the English throne.
“On August 19, 1553 he was tried at the Tower and sentenced to death for treason. Three days later he was brought out to Tower Hill where at three blows his head was struck off.”
The Gates name spread around the southeast, from Essex to Kent, Sussex, and Hampshire. Gates may in some cases refer to the Sussex place-name of Eastergate, known as Gates in the 13th and 14th centuries. The Gates surname was recorded as early as 1480 in Horsham in Sussex; Henry Gates lived at the Kings Barn nearby in Cowfold in the 1660’s; and the Gates of Alton in Hampshire date from the time of the Civil War.
America. The Gates name appeared early in the history of America. Sir Thomas Gates sailed for Virginia as head of the rescue party for the original Jamestown inhabitants. He became
governor of Virginia briefly in 1611, but then returned to England.
The Puritan Stephen Gates stayed. He came in 1638 from Hingham near Norwich in England on the Diligent and settled with other Puritans from Hingham in Hingham, Massachusetts. Later Gates descendants were to be found in Worcester, Massachusetts. Jacob Gates was a Mormon and an early arrival in Salt Lake valley.
Charles Otis Gates’ work Stephen Gates of Hingham and His Descendants, published in 1898, is not now considered fully reliable and has been much corrected by more recent researchers. Robert Cady Gates’ 2000 book Records of the Gates Families in America is a more recent work.
One researcher went through Gates as a surname in the 1850 and 1860 US censuses and estimated that a majority of them had German rather than English roots. Many Goetz became Gates in America on arrival or a generation or so later.
Among the Goetz who came to America and became Gates then or later were:
- John Georg Goetz, along with his mother and siblings, who left Wurttemburg for America in 1750 and settled in Berks county, Pennsylvania.
- Johannes Gotz from the Rhine Palatinate arrived in 1754 and settled in Indiana county, Pennsylvania
- Adolph Goetz and his family from Wurttemburg who moved to Buffalo, New York in 1846 (another Goetz, George Goertz, settled in Rochester nearby and later moved onto Indiana and Ohio)
- Daniel Goetz and his family from Wurttemburg who arrived in Iowa in the early 1850’s to farm
- and a Goetz family from Nuremburg who started emigrating to America in 1853. They settled in Angola, Indiana.
There were two Bill Gates known to be in Alaska at the time of the Klondike gold rush of the 1890’s.
The first, the flamboyant Swiftwater Bill, was a small moon-faced wanderer from Idaho. He made and lost several fortunes. In one famous Klondike story he presented the Dawson dance hall girl Gussie Lamore with her weight in gold. A biography The True Life Story of Swiftwater Bill Gates was written in 1908 by his mother-in-law Iola Beebe.
The other Bill Gates, whose family had come from Rhode Island in the early 19th century, settled in Washington state and was the grandfather of Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
Canada. The descent from New England immigrant Stephen Gates came north into Canada a century or so later, through two different lines:
- One was via his son Simon. Simon’s grandson Captain Oldham Gates left Massachusetts in 1760 for what is now Annapolis county, Nova Scotia. His family founded Gates Breakwater, which became known as Port George in 1812, and were the builders of the first oceangoing vessel there.
- The other was via his son Isaac. There was a Joseph Abel
Gates, who was born in Kingston, Ontario in 1772 and married Mary Burtch in 1802, and a Henry Gates, born in Burford in Brant county, Ontario in 1777.
Gates and Yates. Gates and Yates are both surnames that derived from the Old English gatu, plural of geat, meaning “gate.” Gates might seem the more likely derivation. But it seems that in many parts of the country the original geat was pronounced with a “y” sound. Consequently, Yates or similar spellings developed. Early examples of Yates as a surname were:
- Hereward de Jette in the Gloucestershire piperolls of 1198
- Philip del Yate in the Cheshire piperolls of 1260
- Robert atte Yates in the Norfolk assize rolls of 1344
- and Johannes atte Yate in the Yorkshire poll tax of 1379.
The surname is most common in Lancashire but appears widely around the country. The spelling Yeats spread to Scotland and Ireland (and included the celebrated poet W.B. Yeats).
Gates has had a more limited geographical distribution (the Gates are outnumbered by the Yates in England by a factor of more than four to one). The earliest appearances were in East Anglia. Later, the Gates name spread around the southeast, from Essex to Kent, Sussex, and Hampshire.
The Rise and Fall of Sir John Gates. The Gates family were a family of some standing in Essex and John Gates’s father Sir Geoffrey had been a regular attendant at the court and upon the King until his death in 1526.
John himself, educated at Lincoln’s Inn in London, also became part of the royal household and soon became a trusted confidant of the King. This was the time of the dissolution of the monasteries and John, through his position, was able to obtain for himself a number of church properties, most notably Beeleigh abbey in Essex. When Henry VIII died, John Gates witnessed the King’s will and rode beside the King’s corpse in the funeral procession at Windsor.
Gates’s stock remained high during the reign of Edward VI, having allied himself with the powerful Duke of Northumberland. He was knighted and made Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
However, when Edward died, he made the disastrous mistake of supporting Northumberland in his doomed effort to put Lady Jane Grey on the throne. For this he paid with his life. His action might have been seen as a principled stand against the Catholic Queen Mary. But history has generally viewed him as being greedy, grasping, and opportunistic.
Nevertheless, for many years after, Beeleigh abbey was haunted by the headless ghost of Sir John Gates. The ghost was said to appear each year on August 23 on the anniversary of Sir John’s execution on Tower Hill.
The Gates of Alton in Hampshire. The Gates name has a long history in the town of Alton in Hampshire. The Crown Hotel in Alton was owned by a William Gates at the time of the Civil War. It was captured by Cromwell’s forces under General Waller. The Gates’ sympathies were probably on the Roundheads’ side as there were soon many Gates Quakers in the town. Nicholas Gates, a master builder, built the Friends’ Meeting House. Some Gates spent some time in Winchester prison because of their beliefs.
Later Gates in Alton were farmers. A number worked in the 19th century at the town’s paper mill. And many joined the army.
Stephen Gates’ English Ancestry. Recent research by Edward Harrison has indicated with reasonable certainty that Stephen Gates was the son of Eustace Gates and Rose Wright. Edward Harrison, a Stephen Gates descendant, began his family
history research in 1985.
It was originally thought that Stephen Gates was “of Hingham in England,” mainly because his marriage in 1628 and the 1636 baptism of his daughter Marie appeared in the Hingham, Norfolk parish registers.
But Harrison’s research in the parish registers for Coney Weston, Suffolk, a small parish about sixteen miles south of Hingham, found a baptism record there for Stephen Gates, son of Eustace, dated December 26, 1597, a marriage record for Stephen’s parents Eustace Gates and Rose Wright, dated March 4, 1592, and baptismal records for Stephen’s siblings (Thomas, Rose, William, Alice, Mary the elder, Bridgett, Simon, and Mary the younger) ranging from 1593 through 1609.
Stephen Gates married Ann Veare in Hingham in 1628 and he and Ann emigrated in 1638 to Massachusetts on the Diligent. They settled in Hingham, Massachusetts. Stephen died in Cambridge in 1662 and Ann remarried a year later. Stephen’s descendants are large in number. They include President George Bush through his mother’s line.
Gates and Goetz. The Germanic name Goetz is a diminutive form of Gottfried, a combination of gott (meaning “”god”) and fried (or “peace”). One early Goetz family descended from German knights in Franconia (Hesse) and the name later spread to Wurttenberg and also to France. Goetz was also adopted by some Jews in Galicia (which was part of the Austrian empire in the 19th century).
More Goetzes in total came to America than Gates.
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Not all of these Goetzes changed their names to Gates when they came to America. But a sufficient number did that Germany became more the country of origin for Gates than England.
Bill Gates’ Ancestry. Bill Gates’ ancestry had been traced back to Rhode Island and the early 19th century. The list below shows the progression.
Joseph Stanton Gates, born in West Greenwich, Rhode Island in 1806, married Martha Satterlee
– William Henry Gates, born in Warrenton, Pennsylvania in 1860, married Rebecca Eppinhauser
– William Henry Gates Sr, born in Bremerton, Washington in 1891, married Elizabeth Rice
– William Henry Gates Jr, born in Bremerton, Washington in 1926, married Mary Maxwell
Bill Gates (William Henry Gates III), the Microsoft founder, born in Seattle, Washington in 1955, married Melinda French in 1994.
William Gates Sr, Bill Gates’ grandfather, owned a furniture store in downtown Bremerton in the 1920’s. Bill’s father was a lawyer.
- Sir John Gates was a courtier under Henry VIII who was later executed for his role in trying to put Lady Jane Grey on the English throne.
- Horatio Gates served as an American general during the Revolutionary War. He was credited with the victory at Saratoga but plotted the replacement of George Washington.
- John W. Gates was a pioneer promoter of barbed wire and became a prominent American financier. He was also a big-time gambler, known as “bet-a-million” Gates.
- Bill Gates started and developed the computer software giant Microsoft and subsequently became, with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a major philanthropist.
Gates Numbers Today
- 11,000 in the UK (most numerous in Hampshire)
- 20,000 in America (most numerous in California)
- 7,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada).
Gates and Like Surnames.
From our selection, these are the surnames of those who have made their business mark in America – as pioneers, inventors, developers, or corporate leaders – over its long history from colonial to modern times.
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