Graves Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Graves Meaning
The surname Graves is an occupational name
– from the Middle English greyve and Low
German greve meaning “steward” or
“person in charge of property.”

“The
serfs in the English manors usually elected one of their number
annually to
oversee their work for the lord.  From
this official the surnames Reeve or Reaves were derived.  In
the north of England he was called a Grave,
a name related to the German Graff, but which did not attain the higher
status
that it did in Germany. Sometimes an “s”
was added for phonetic reasons to make it Graves.
The name has nothing to do with places of burial.”

Graves
is a north of England surname, as is the like-sounding Greaves.
Greaves, however, came from a different root, the Old English word graefe meaning “grove.”

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Graves Resources on
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Graves Ancestry

England.   It is thought
that the Graves name had its origin in the southern part of Yorkshire
and in the northern parts of Lincolnshire, Derbyshre, and
Nottinghamshire.  Lincolnshire and Yorkshire were leading counties
for Graves in
the 1881 census.

The
older Grave spelling was found in Yorkshire in the 15th and 16th
century and
persisted in Cumbria until the 19th.
Henry Grave was a husbandman of Buttercrambe in Yorkshire who
died in
1465.  Robert Grave was a baker in Keswick in 1841 and a pencil
maker there in 1851.
  But the name was John Woodcock Graves,
born in Cumbria in 1795, who
was the composer of the song D’ye Ken John Peel.


One Graves line began at Cleckheaton in west Yorkshire in the 1470’s (and possibly
earlier
).
John Graves moved to London and died there in 1616 at
the age of 103.

“There
is a portrait of him by Cornelis Janson on a panel in Mickleton House,
painted when he was in his I02nd year, and an engraving of him also at
102 in Nash’s History of Worcestershire.


It was his grandson Richard Graves who made a fortune in his law
practice and acquired Mickleton manor in
Gloucestershire in 1656.  His cousin Sir Edward later became
physician to Charles II.  By this time a branch of the family
had established themselves in Ireland.  Later, some of this
Anglo-Irish family were to return to England:

  • Thomas Graves, an Admiral in the British navy, who moved to
    Thanckes in Cornwall in the early 1700’s.  His son Thomas, another
    Admiral, saw action in the American Revolutionary War, his fleet being
    defeated by the French off Chesapeake Bay.  He was, however,
    elevated to the peerage as Baron Graves.
  • and Alfred Perceval Graves, a Dublin-born school inspector and
    Gaelic scholar, who moved to London in the 1890’s.  His son Robert
    Graves, the distinguished writer and poet, was born and grew up
    there.

The
Graves
name in Hornchurch, Lincolnshire dates back to the 1760’s.   John George
Graves was born there in 1866.  At the age
of 14 he moved to Sheffield and was apprenticed to a watchmaker.  He started his own practice seven years later
and set up one of Britain’s first mail order businesses, selling first
watches and
then a wide range of goods.  The company
employed at its peak 3,000 people in Sheffield.  He
became one of Sheffield’s great benefactors.

Ireland.  Graves
came to
Ireland at the time of Cromwell.  Colonel William
Graves of the Mickleton Graves was granted land there in 1647 and later
left
his
two sons Henry and James in charge of properties in Limerick and
Ulster.  Neither son had a great time of it.

“Henry never travelled without his long sword ‘for fear of
the hostility of the Irish papists.’  In 1689  John, then
paymaster for
William II, was robbed of his regiment’s wages and murdered in his bed.”


But these Graves would become a notable Anglo-Irish family.  John
Graves was the Sheriff of Limerick in 1720.  From Dublin in the
19th century came Robert Graves the medical
innovator
, his cousin
John Graves the lawyer and mathematician, and another cousin Charles
Graves the Anglican Bishop of Limerick.

America.  The
long-time reference book for Graves in America has been the three
volume tome
by General John Card Graves, Genealogy of
the Graves Family in America,
published in 1896.
He himself was a descendant of the John Graves
who had come to Concord, Massachusetts in 1635.
Like all works of that time, it can be prone to error as it
lacks the
research tools that are available today.

New England.
Early Graves arrivals in New England were:

  • Samuel
    Graves who came from Lincolnshire in
    1630 and settled in Lynn, Massachusetts.  Graves descendants were
    still in Lynn
    in the 19th century    
  • John
    Graves, who
    was in Concord, Massachusetts by 1635.  Among his descendants
    were General John Card Graves of Buffalo, New
    York and Henry
    Graves, the New York banker who made millions from railroad investments
    in the
    early 1900’s.  
  • Richard Graves, the pewterer,
    who arrived on the Abigail also in 1635 and settled in
    Salem, Massachusetts.   
  • and
    Thomas
    Graves, recorded in Hartford, Connecticut in 1645, who settled in
    Hatfield,
    Massachusetts in 1661.  Some of these
    Graves
    migrated to Rutland, Vermont in the early 1800’s.  The
    line was covered in Germont Graves’ 1911
    book Graves Genealogy.

Virginia.  Captain
Thomas Graves arrived in Jamestown,
Virginia as early as 1608.  He survived
the privations of the ensuing years and was recognized as one of the
“ancient
planters” until his death in 1636.  His
Graves descendants in Gloucester county are via his two sons John and
Thomas.

Francis Graves of Gloucester
county was not a descendant, according to DNA analysis.
Many more descendants are thought to have
come from him, including over the past hundred years Bibb Graves,
the Governor of Alabama in 1927, and Bill
Graves, the recent Governor of Kansas.

German Graves.
There have also been German Graves in America, from Graff or Greve
immigrants.   The earliest was
probably
Johann Sebastian Graff, a refugee from the German Palatinate who
arrived in
1730.  He was resident in Pennsylvania
for a while before moving with his family to South Carolina and later
Tennessee.  “Old John,” as John Sebastian Graves was then
called, lived to be
101.

Canada.  A
number of Graves Loyalists crossed the border into Canada after the
conclusion
of the Revolutionary War.  Their numbers
included:

  • Edward
    Graves who left his
    home in New Hampshire and was one of the first settlers in West
    Shefford,
    Quebec in 1796   
  • and George Graves who had
    suffered imprisonment in Maryland and deportation
    to England before his eventual arrival in Canada around 1797.

 

Select
Graves Miscellany

Possible Graves Origin.  According to volume one of John Card Graves’ Genealogy of the Graves Family in
America,
the Graves
family were among the most ancient in England.  They
were initially de
Grava
and arrived at the time of the Norman Conquest, settling in
Yorkshire.  John de Grevis
was
in the army of King John.  His great
grandson was Thomas de les Greves.
Their family seat was at
Beeley
in northern Derbyshire in the mid-13th century.A more identifiable forebear of the Graves family
of Yorkshire and Mickleton was John Graves of Cleckheaton in West
Yorkshire in the 1470’s.

Graves in the 1881 Census

County Numbers Percent
Lincolnshire    730    16
London    640    14
Yorkshire    420     9
Lancashire    310     7
Elsewhere   2,400    54
Total   4,500   100

Robert Graves, Medical Innovator.  Robert Graves was
a leader of the Dublin
school of diagnosis which emphasized clinical observation of patients.  Born in Dublin,
he came from the Limerick branch of the Graves family, his great
grandfather having
served as the High Sheriff of Limerick in 1720.
Later Graves of his line were distinguished clergymen and
scholars, from
the Rev. James Graves to Robert’s own father Dean Richard Graves, the
author of
Graves
on the Pentateuch
and one of the best
preachers of Dublin in his timeRobert was his eighth
born
child.

In
1821 he was appointed
physician to the Meath Hospital in Dublin. The work he undertook at the
hospital brought the Meath Hospital international renown.  He introduced at that time what he called
“bedsides teaching.”

“Mere walking the hospital
must go.  The Edinburgh system, in which the teacher interrogates
the patient in
a loud voice, the clerk repeats the patients’ answer in a similar
voice, the
crowd of students round the bed, most of whom cannot see the patient,
hears all
this and makes notes, is of no use. Students must examine patients for
themselves under the guidance of their teachers, they must make
suggestions as
to diagnosis, morbid anatomy and treatment to their teacher who will
discuss
the cases with them.”

Graves
showed the qualities which would make him a great teacher.  He was
tall,
somewhat swarthy with a vivacious manner, and, like other avant-garde
professors of his time, he gave his lectures in English rather than in
Latin.

Among the innovations he introduced
in his lectures was the timing of the pulse by watch.
But he failed to patent the invention of
having the hand denoting seconds fixed onto a watch. Instead a Dublin
firm of
watchmakers to whom he had casually prescribed this device for his own
personal
assistance made a fortune out of selling watches with second hands all
over the
world.

Robert
Graves died in 1853.  A
statue of him was erected in Dublin in 1878.

Richard Graves’s Troubles in Salem, Massachusetts.  Richard Graves,
aged 23, came to Massachusetts on the Abigail,
arriving in 1635.  He settled at Salem and was a proprietor there
in 1637.  However, he soon got into trouble
with the Puritan
authorities of the town.  The following
were some early escapades of his:

  • in
    December 1638 he was sentenced to sit in
    the stocks for beating Peter Busgutt in his own house.
  • in 1641 he was brought into court again.
    William Allen testified that “he had heard
    Rich Graves kissed Goody Gent twice.”  Richard confessed that it
    was true.  For this unseemly conduct was
    sentenced to be
    fined and whipped.
  • sometime
    in the late
    1640’s Richard Graves went to Boston and got drunk in Charlestown.  He was mulct by the quarterly court.
  • a month later, there was a complaint against
    him for playing shuffle-board, described as “a wicked game of chance,”
    at a
    tavern in Salem.  But this time he
    escaped the vengeance of the law as the case against him was not proved.

He
was a pewterer by trade, making pewter
lamps and candlesticks.  He was still
pursuing his trade in 1665. It was said
that “sometime between that date and 1669 he passed out of the reach of
the
courts to that bourne from which no pewterers ever return.”

The Gravestone of John Sebastian Graves.  The gravestone is inscribed as follows:

“John Sebastian
Graves, 1703-1804.

Born in Germany and
christened as Johann Sebastian Graff, sailing from Rotterdam on the Alexander and Ann, arriving at
Philadelphia September 5, 1730, he settled in Berks County,
Pennsylvania and
moved to Orange (now Almance) county, North Carolina about 1757.

Being a member
of the Regulators, he fought at the Battle of Alamance in 1771.
He moved to
what is now Union county, Tennessee about 1800.  His remains were
removed by the
TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) to this site in 1935.”

The reason the marker
was moved by the TVA was that the Norris Dam was built in 1935 and
flooded the valley.

George Graves, Loyalist in America.  Peter Coldham in his book American Migrations 1765-1799
mentioned a Captain Adam Graves and
his brother Lieutenant George Graves.
They were Loyalists from Maryland who were imprisoned and had
escaped to
New York.  George was supposed to have
crossed the border to Canada.  Peter’s
account read as follows:

“The
Graves brothers, Adam and George, were natives of Germany who had
emigrated to
America many years ago and were freeholders in Frederick county,
Maryland.   Adam was commissioned a
captain in 1779 and
appointed George as his lieutenant.
Together they went about making recruits to the British army on
a
promise of three guineas bounty, pay and clothing, and 150 acres each
on the
conclusion of the war.Being
Loyalist officers they were condemned to die for
enlisting men to the British cause.
After being in jail for seven weeks in irons, they were
reprieved on
condition of being transported to France aboard a French warship.  But then they were imprisoned in the hold of
the Romulus, a former English
man-of-war, on York river for three months before they managed to
escape to New
York. They were awarded a free passage to England and sailed on 10
September 1783.”

George Graves apparently did make it from there to Canada.
He was granted land in Pittsburgh township near Kingston in
eastern Ontario in 1797 and was recorded as living there in 1803.

 

 


Select
Graves Names

  • Robert Graves was an eminent 19th century Irish doctor and professor
    after whom
    Graves’ disease took its name.
  • Robert Graves was a celebrated
    English poet, writer and novelist of the first half of the 20th century.
  • Blind Roosevelt Graves was an American blues guitarist and singer of the 1920’s and 1930’s.

Select Graves Numbers Today

  • 9,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Yorkshire)
  • 29,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 4,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

 

 

 

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