Hancock Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Hancock Surname Meaning

Hancock derived from the personal name “Hann,” itself a form of the early Johan or John. The suffix “cock,” a nickname for a young lad, was an affectionate ending of French origin which began to appear in England in the 13th century.

Hancock Surname Resources on The Internet

Hancock Surname Ancestry

  • from Western England
  • to America, South Africa and Australia

England. Although there were early records of the name in Yorkshire, Hancock definitely has had a westward name distribution, in a line stretching from the southwest counties of Devon and Cornwall northwards into Staffordshire.

Devon.  There was a cluster of Hancocks in the South Molton area of north Devon. Many left for Canada in the 19th century, including Thomas Hancock, an itinerant preacher who took his family there in the 1870’s. A Hancock family that remained brews Devon cider.

Cornwall.  The Hancock name also crops up in Cornish tin mining towns – St. Agnes (where the Coulter Hancocks were landowners) and St. Austell (where Peter Hancock has written a nostalgic book of his home town, St. Austell: The Golden Years).  However, when the mining boom ended in the late 19th century, many Hancocks from these parts emigrated. Henry Hancock became a superintendent of the Moonta mine in South Australia.

Somerset.  A Hancock family from Somerset were well-known fair operators in the west country in the latter part of the 19th century. Their lives are recounted in Kevin Scrivens and Stephen Smith’s book, Hancocks of the West.  Another Hancock family were brewers in Wiveliscombe. These Hancocks were fanatical about the game of rugby. Seven of them played rugby for Somerset, one represented Wales, and another England.

Wiltshire.  Meanwhile, an earlier Hancock family from Marlborough in Wiltshire, furniture makers on the High Street, produced two remarkable sons, Thomas and Walter. Thomas’s invention of the masticator machine for rubber scraps helped found the British rubber industry. Walter pioneered steam-powered road vehicles.

Staffordshire.  One family history began with the birth of William Hancock in Newbolt in 1739. Benjamin and Margaret Hancock were living in Wolstanton in the early 1800’s. Their daughter Sophia was said to have been the great grandmother of the comedian Charlie Chaplin.

Hancocks here included the celebrated 18th century engraver Robert Hancock from Oldbury and the 19th century Wesleyan Sampson Hancock who founded a pottery company in Stoke. It continued until 1937. The present day comedian Nick Hancock hails from Stoke.

America.  Hancocks came from England to New England and to Virginia and Maryland.

New England.  Thomas Hancock was an early settler in Farmington, Connecticut. From this line came the merchant Hancocks of Boston. They built the first house (Hancock Manor) on Beacon Hill and adopted John Hancock who was the first Governor of Massachusetts and produced that famous signature on the Declaration of Independence.

Some of these Hancocks ended up in New Hampshire, including in recent times Mary Louise Hancock, the so-called “Grand Dame” of New Hampshire politics. The Hancock lumber company in Casco, Maine dates from 1848 and has remained family-run through six generations.

Virginia and Maryland.  William Hancock was the first Hancock in Virginia, arriving in Jamestown in 1619. However, he was killed by Indians in the general massacre which occurred in 1622.

Around 1630 three Hancock brothers from London came to America and became prominent planters in Virginia. They established a family line that today includes many thousands of their descendants in the South and the Midwest. The family line was covered in Mildred Gruner’s 2015 book Hancock Family History. 

Another line descends from Stephen Hancock who arrived in Maryland in 1663 as an indentured servant. Their stone farmhouse, built in 1785 at Hancock’s Resolution on Chesapeake Bay, stayed with the family until the 1960’s.

There were Hancocks in Brunswick county, Virginia by the 1760’s. Clement Hancock headed south to Alabama in the early 1800’s. One branch of his family moved west to Texas in the 1850’s.  But Richard Hancock returned to Virginia in the fighting during the Civil War, married and settled down there, and started to breed thoroughbred horses at his Ellerslie farm. His son Arthur established the famous Claiborne stud farm in Paris, Kentucky and the horse-breeding is now with the fourth generation of Hancocks.

Georgia and Texas.  Hancocks were to be found in numbers in Georgia and Texas as the 19th century proceeded. James and Jestern Hancock from North Carolina moved to Tattnall county, Georgia in the early 1800’s where they ran a tavern. Their descendants were later to be found in Worth county.

Another Hancock family homesteaded at what is now called Hancock Lake. A notice in the Sunland Tribune in 1881 read:  “Mr. Henry Hancock, resident of Hernando County for 30 years, has eleven children and eighteen grandchildren. He possesses one of the finest places in the county.”

The Texas influx included a pioneer African American family in the years after the Civil War. These Hancocks were sharecroppers for Judge John Hancock until 1880 and then became successful farmers in their own right in Travis county.

California.  The gold rush attracted Hancocks to California from all over, overland from Missouri and Virginia (Hancocks who bought up land in Placerville) and by sea from as far away as New Zealand. But the most successful Hancock was one who did not stay but headed south to what was to become Los Angeles.

Henry Hancock grew up in New Hampshire, but ran away at the age of 12. He shipped out on a mackerel schooner from Boston and eventually headed west. The land he acquired in Los Angeles is now Hollywood and the Wilshire district. It also contained valuable oil rights which made the family wealthy. Allan Hancock built Hancock Park in the 1920’s and also started the Hancock College of Aeronautics where thousands of pilots were trained for service during World War Two.

South Africa.
Hancock’s Drift, published in 1960, is a narrative account of the 1820 settlers who left England to seek a better life for themselves and their children on the wild untamed frontier of the eastern Cape Colony.

It was written from the perspective of Joseph Hancock, the eldest surviving son of James and Ann Hancock, and is derived from his father’s notebook and from later family research.

Australia. Most Hancock arrivals into Australia, such as Thomas and Emma Hancock in the 1860’s, came from the west country. A Hancock family became one of the oldest landowning families in Western Australia. This family produced Lang Hancock who discovered one of the richest iron ore deposits in the world in 1952 and was at that time Australia’s richest man.

Today the Hancock name is known for the custom guitars made by Kim Hancock and his two sons at their Tamborine Mountain workshop in Queensland.

Australia was tragically the location where the comedian Tony Hancock made his last TV appearance in 1968 before committing suicide.

Hancock Surname Miscellany

The Hancock Show Family.  The Hancock family was one of the most famous show families in the west country during the Victorian era. As the century moved to an end, they were quick to spot the potential of moving pictures in their business.

During 1898 they travelled initially with their exhibition under the name of “Edison’s Electric Biograph.”  By September, when they had reached Exeter, it had become “Hancock’s Electical Biograph of Living Pictures.” For many people, shows like these, when contained within a fair, were key to the development of cinema.

Hancock’s Devon Cider.  This Hancock family has been making traditional Devon cider for over a hundred years, with recipes and skills that have been handed down over five generations.  They have been producing cider at their Clapworthy mill three miles out of South Molton in north Devon for more than fifty years.  Each autumn local apples are squeezed in hydraulic presses to make cider and apple juice.  Originally old type presses with straw had been used.

The First Hancocks in America.  A descendant of Thomas Hancocke who had been born in London around 1525, William Hancock came to Jamestown in America in 1619 as a member of the Virginia Company of London.  He was part of a group that founded the Berkeley hundred.  In 1622 the settlement was attacked by Indians and William, along with many others, were massacred.

Shortly after 1630, three of William’s sons came to America. Augustine, Simon, and William became prominent planters in Virginia and established a family line that today includes many thousands of their descendants.

The Hancock Manor.  Hancock Manor, built between 1734 and 1737 for the merchant Thomas Hancock, was the first house to be erected in Boston at the top of Beacon Hill.

Eliza Gardner who lived in the Manor for many years described the interior and garden as follows:

“As you entered the governor’s mansion, to the right was the drawing or reception room with furniture of bird’s-eye maple covered with rich damask.  Out of this opened the dining hall in which Hancock gave the famous breakfast to Admiral D’Estaing and his officers.  Opposite was a smaller apartment, the usual dining hall of the family.  Next adjoining were the china room and offices, with coach house and barn behind.

At the left of the entrance was a second salon or family drawing room, the walls covered with crimson paper.  The upper and lower halls were hung with pictures of game, hunting scenes, and other subjects.  Passing through this hall, another flight of steps led through the garden to a small summer house close to Mount Vernon Street.  The grounds were laid out in ornamental flower beds bordered with box trees of large sizes.  A great variety of fruit, among which were several immense mulberry trees, dotted the garden.” 

Richard Hancock at Gettysburg and Ellerslie.  Richard Hancock had been born in Alabama and enlisted in the Confederate army in 1861 at the onset of the Civil War.  Two years later, he was wounded while serving with the Army of Northern Virginia at the battle of Gettysburg. He was taken to Charlottesville in a mule-drawn ambulance.

While recuperating, he met and fell in love with Thomasia Overton Harris, the daughter of the woman who had treated his wounds and housed him at the time. Hancock returned to his unit but was wounded again and captured by Union forces.  This time he managed to escape his captors and while on furlough married his sweetheart.

Thomasia’s father owned Ellerslie Farm in Virginia and the couple settled down there.  There Richard began to take an interest in horseracing, through a neighbor Major Doswell. He began purchasing thoroughbred mares and Ellerslie became the home of the first distinguished racers bred by the Hancocks.

George Hancock and the Invention of Softball.  The story of how the first softball game was created is well established in the history of American sport.  On the Thanksgiving weekend of 1887, a group of young men were gathered in the gymnasium of the Farragut Club in Chicago.  They were awaiting word, by way of telegraph, of the outcome of the Yale-Harvard football game being played that afternoon.  Many had placed a wager on the result, including George Hancock who worked as a reporter for the Chicago Board of Trade.

When the Yale victory was announced, a Yale supporter picked up a boxing glove lying nearby and threw it toward a Harvard supporter who struck it with a stick.  Hancock was so taken with the action of the two men that he declared that there should be a ball game played there and then.  Hancock bound the boxing glove tightly to create a soft oversized baseball.  Using a cut-down broom handle for a bat and foul lines marked with chalk on the gymnasium floor, the first ever game of softball was then played.

Hancock was so enthused by his invention and its potential for play as indoor baseball that he had a more symmetrical oversized ball constructed.  Permanent foul lines were painted on the gym floor and Hancock had a small rubber-tipped bat made for indoor use. Hancock also created a set of written rules to govern a baseball game played within the confines of a gymnasium.  These rules were formally published in 1888 as the new game gained popularity in the Chicago area.

Reader Feedback – Hancock’s Drift.  I must correct you on one thing in your precis of Hancock’s Drift. The story was written by my late father and I am the editor and current publisher of his work.  I also hold all copyrights to his works.

The story is indeed written from the perspective of Joseph Ebenezer Hancock; but he left no notebooks or records of any historical significance.  Some of the early information was gleaned from a ‘bare bones’ notebook kept by Joseph’s father, James, but most of the information came from the hard slog of research done by my father in the 1950’s.  James Hancock died in Port Elizabeth in 1837 and that’s where his notebook entries end.  The story of Hancock’s Drift concludes nearer to 1892.

As a matter of interest, James Hancock came from Staffordshire, but was married in London and left from there for South Africa in 1820 with his surviving family.  He was a china painter and gilder by trade.

Best wishes  John Powell (ctrhine@talktalk.net)

Tony Hancock in Australia, The Last Show.  The story began on board the ship on which Tony Hancock was emigrating to Australia.  He had with him an Australian valet, Mervyn, whom he had met in England.  After arriving in Australia, Hancock is told by the Customs Officer that a stuffed owl in his baggage must be put into quarantine for six months.  Hancock is then seen in the hotel foyer.  He has an altercation with a bored hotel clerk and goes into his room.

In flashback we see his last night in England.  He goes to a pub where he is obviously well known as a bore. But when he announces that he is leaving for Australia, he immediately has to buy a round of drinks.

Back in the hotel room, the maid advises him that the hotel overcharges migrants and recommends him to a flat owned by a Mrs Gilroy.  Mrs Gilroy proves only too willing to have Hancock as a tenant.  She becomes rather over-amorous and Hancock has some difficulty in persuading her to leave.

There followed three further episodes where Hancock is shown settling into Australia and rehearsals were proceeding for the fourth episode.  Then, on the morning of June 25th 1968, Hancock was found dead.  He had taken a large overdose of barbiturate tablets and a bottle of vodka.

Hancock Names

  • John Hancock was a Massachusetts merchant and prominent patriot of the American revolution. He is best remembered for his large flamboyant signature on the Declaration of Independence, so much so that his name has become an informal synonym in America for signature.
  • Thomas and Walter Hancock were brothers from Wiltshire in the early 19th century. Thomas was the founder of the British rubber industry, Walter the inventor of the first steam-powered road vehicle.
  • Winfield Scott Hancock was the Union general who was the victor at Gettysburg and later was a Democratic candidate for President.
  • Lang Hancock was a controversial 20th century iron ore magnate from Western Australia.
  • Tony Hancock was a very popular British radio and TV comedian of the 1950’s and 1960’s.
  • Sheila Hancock is a popular English actress.
  • Herbie Hancock is a well-known jazz pianist and composer.

Hancock Numbers Today

  • 24,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lincolnshire)
  • 19,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 17,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Hancock and Like Surnames

Many surnames originated from SW England, the principal counties there being Devon and Cornwall, Somerset and Gloucestershire.  These are some of the prominent and noteworthy surnames that you can check out.



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Written by Colin Shelley

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