Hart Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Hart  Surname Meaning

Hart meaning a “stag” was found as heorot in Old English, as well as in German and with variants in Dutch and Swedish. Its medieval development as a surname would seem to have been as a nickname, with the bearer having the speedy attributes of a stag.  The main surname spelling variant is Harte. 

Hart has also from an early time in England and America been Jewish, a convenient anglicized name for German Jewish immigrants. 

Hart Surname Resources on The Internet

Hart  and Harte Surname Ancestry

  • from England (East Anglia), Scotland, Ireland and from Jewish emigrants
  • to America, Canada, Caribs (Jamaica), South Africa and Australia

EnglandThere was a Harte family recorded at Westmill in Hertfordshire in the 13th century. Later came the Elizabethan knight Sir Percival Harte who died at Lullingstone near Eynsford in Kent in 1580; and later still the Harte-Dykes after Anne Harte married Sir Thomas Dyke in 1728. Lullingstone manor house, first begun in 1497, remains in Harte-Dyke hands.

Harts were also to be found in Northolt, Middlesex from possibly 1460 and later in Highgate village near London. Various Harts were recorded in parish records in Suffolk (near Ipswich) and in Essex in the 16th century. Stephen Hart the Puritan departed Braintree, Essex for New England in 1632.

The name Hart has been associated with witches in SE Essex – old witch Hart of Rochford swimming in the Crouch river in the 1740’s and Harriet Hart of Latchingdon, the last in a line of Hart witches a century later.

“Harriet Hart was notorious for having committed the commonplace crimes of witchcraft, causing storms, blighting crops in the field and bewitching pigs. Unlike others of her kind, however, she seemed to have been blessed with a sense of humor.”  Harriet ended up in the Maldon union workhouse in Essex where she died in 1897.  

Jewish. Hart is also a Jewish name. There could have been Jewish Harts in London at the time of Cromwell. History records the arrival of Moses and Aaron Hertz, later Hart, from Silesia around 1697. Moses Hart prospered and founded the first synagogue in London – with Aaron as its first rabbi.  

“The Hart family was first represented in Richmond by Moses Hart of Breslau, a Government agent under Queen Anne. In 1716 he moved across the river to Isleworth. He had a noble seat and offices in this village, with fine gardens inferior to few palaces.”  

His family intermarried with other prominent Jewish families in the tightly-knit Ashkenazi community in London at that time.

Sometime around 1720 Ezekiel and Judah Hirsch arrived from Bavaria, changing their name to Hart. Their son Aaron departed for Canada in 1760 at the time of the war with the French and was one of the first Jews to settle in Quebec.

Notable Harts of the 19th century in London were the painter Solomon Hart, the first Jewish member of the Royal Academy, and Henry Naphtali Hart who spent many years in Argentina and founded the first synagogue in Buenos Aires in 1852.

Scotland. The Hart name had extended into Scotland by the 14th century. A family of this name were burgesses in Edinburgh, with Edward sitting for Parliament in 1586 and his brother Andrew being the printer for the King. But the main numbers later were around Glasgow and Paisley in Lanarkshire.

Ireland.  Irish Harts came from O’hArt (descendant of Art) and originated, as one of the four tribes of Tara, from county Meath. The name later spread westward to Sligo. It was also to be found in Leitrim and Roscommon.

Sligo. The O’Harts of Newtown, Ardtarmon and Grange were extensive landowners in Sligo until the confiscations of the 17th century. They were dispossessed of the last of their Grange estates in 1833. The spelling in Sligo tended to become Harte. The 1901 census for Sligo revealed 13 Hartes and no Harts. Many Hartes still live in the Calry area there.  

Ulster. The Harts were at Ballynagard on the Derry/Donegal border since the time Captain Henry Hart was made the military governor of the Derry and Culmore forts in the early 1600’s. The present house was built around 1700. Ballynagard stayed in Hart hands until 1980 when the property was sold. The history was recounted in Henry Travers Hart’s 1907 book The Family History of Hart of Donegal.

The first of the Harts in county Armagh may have been a Dutchman, Captain Van Hardt, who fought for William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne and was said to have been granted an estate at Kilmoriarty in Armagh. The story goes that the captain turned out to be a hard drinker and ended up having to sell the estate to pay off the debtors.  Meanwhile other records indicate that there were earlier Harts in Lisburn nearby.

These Harts in the 19th century, strict Methodists, ran a small whiskey distillery.  Their son Robert departed for China in 1854 as a British consular official. Sir Robert Hart was to remain there until 1908 when he retired to Armagh amid much acclaim for his achievements in China.

America.  Early Hart arrivals to New England included:

  • the Puritan Deacon Stephen Hart from Essex who followed the Rev. Hooker to America in 1632 and settled in Hartford, Connecticut three years later.  Later Harts were found at Saybrook.  This line was covered in Alfred Andrews’ 1875 book Genealogical History of Stephen Hart.  Stephen Hart has a very large numbers of descendants in America today.
  • and John Hart who arrived in 1635 and who also settled in Connecticut.  His great grandson John Hart – resident in New Jersey and known as “honest John Hart” – was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Thomas and Mary Hart arrived in Hanover county, Virginia around the year 1690.  Theirs is a large family in America today. Among the descendants in Georgia was a Benjamin Hart who married a fiery woman, Nancy Hart, a heroine of the Revolutionary War.  Hart county in Georgia was named for her, as was a highway, a city and a state.

Scots Irish.  There were also Scots Irish Harts who came to America. One Scots Irish Hart family set off in 1735.  

“The vessel on which they sailed was more than four months on the voyage and during this period of time the husband died and his widow gave birth to a son, whom she named Thomas. The widow and child landed at Bordentown, New Jersey where the mother brought up her son until he reached the age of manhood.”  

Later Harts of this family were to be found in Virginia, Tennessee, and Indiana. The family history was narrated in the Rev. Charles Coffin Hart’s 1901 book Joseph Hart and His Descendants.

Jewish. Hart was a prominent name in the early Jewish communities in America:

  • Jewish Harts were in Charleston, South Carolina from 1745 and some, like Philip Hart, were active in the slave trade. Daniel Hart, who arrived in 1783, was a prominent Charleston citizen in the postwar period. Nathan Hart, who came in 1828, was a leader of the Charleston synagogue in the 1840’s.
  • Myer Hart was in the 1750’s one of the founders of Easton, Pennsylvania. Michael Hart, unrelated, became one of its wealthiest citizens.
  • Ephraim Hirz, later Hart, came to Philadelphia from Bavaria in 1780. After the War he became a successful merchant in New York and was one of the founders of what was to be the New York Stock Exchange. His son Joel was a well-known doctor and mason in the city. Bernard Hart came to New York in 1780 and was active as a merchant there. A descendant was the writer Bret Harte.  
  • Isaac Hart was, in 1750, one of the earliest Jewish settlers in Newport, Rhode Island. He sided with the British in the Revolutionary War, but met his death in 1780 by being “inhumanely fired upon and bayoneted” by American soldiers.

Barney Hart, a cigar-maker, was a later Jewish immigrant from England, arriving in New York in 1894. His son Moss Hart grew up to be a successful playwright and theater director. However, there were fewer immigrants who called themselves Hart by that time. John D. Hertz, for instance, came to America in 1884 but kept his Hertz name.  Thus we have Hertz Rental Cars, not Hart Rental Cars.

Canada.  Aaron Hart was an early Jewish settler in Lower Canada (Quebec). He invested in the fur trade, prospered, and made his estate around Trois-Rivieres.

His three sons – Moses, Ezekiel, and Benjamin – all became successful in business in their own right, with Ezekiel Hart an elected politician despite anti-Jewish prejudice which surfaced in 1807 in the Hart affair. A descendant Cece Hart was coach of the Montreal Canadiens ice hockey team in the 1920’s. The family history has been recounted in Denis Vaugeois’s 2012 book The First Jews in North America.

Samuel Hart, also Jewish, moved from London to Nova Scotia via Philadelphia in 1785. However, after some early success there as a merchant he encountered the same prejudice as Ezekiel Hart and died in 1810 almost penniless.

Caribbean. Many Harts in the Caribbean appear to have a Jewish origin.  One Hart family came to Montego Bay in Jamaica in the 1780’s. The businessman Tony Hart is the seventh generation of these Harts who attended Munro College. Another Hart family began with Daniel Hart who came to Trinidad in 1825.

South Africa. Robert Hart, born in Scotland, came to South Africa with the British Army first in 1795 and then returned ten years later to stay.  In 1817 he and his family trekked northwest of Grahamstown to farm in the wilderness there.  

“A great pioneer, a great farmer and a great gentleman, Robert Hart remained to the end of his days in the district which he himself had put on the map. In his later years this austere, God-fearing old man became a legend on the frontier which he had done as much as any single individual to establish and civilize.”  

He died at his frontier home of Glen Avon at the age of ninety in 1867.

Australia.  Charles Hart from Hertfordshire came to Victoria in the 1850’s and married Ellen Ryan there in 1861.  Not much is known about him except that he owned a sheep farm in later life in Menindee, NSW.

His great grandson Kevin, known as Pro Hart, was born there in 1928.  Pro worked at the nearby Broken Hill mine by day and taught himself to paint by night.  He is now considered as the father of the Australian Outback painting movement.

Hart Surname Miscellany

The Hart Witches of Latchingdon.  The Hart family were the most notorious witches to reside in the area.  As a witch Mistress Hart suffered from an allergy to church bells.  She was especially annoyed by the bells at Latchingdon church.

One night she removed the bells from the church tower and took them to Burnham where she attempted to take them to the opposite side of the river.  Instead of a boat she used a barrel and used a feather for an oar.  Not surprisingly neither she nor the bells made the crossing. Legend has it that on stormy nights the bells can be heard tolling from under the river Crouch.

Henry Hart, Governor of Culmore Fort.  Culmore Fort lies on Culmore Bay to the north of Derry City.  The fort guarded the entry to the Foyle river from Lough Foyle and seems to date from 1555. It was held by the O’Dohertys and then by the English.  In 1608 the O’Dohertys rebelled against English rule.

The rebellion began in a rather unusual way. On April 18, 1608 Cahir O’Doherty invited the Governor of Culmore Fort, Captain Henry Hart, and his wife to dinner in his new castle at Burt.  He enticed Hart upstairs, put a knife to his throat, and as the Captain’s wife screamed for mercy, O’Doherty threatened that if she or he did not take some present course for the delivery of Culmore into his hands, both they and their children should die. O’Doherty did take the fort and later sacked the city of Derry.  But his rebellion soon petered out.

Family tradition has it that Captain Henry Hart was one of three brothers who came to Ireland.  He settled in the north, another brother in the west, and a third in the south.   Apparently Henry was not blamed for the Culmore Fort loss as he was soon granted lands in the district where he built his house.

Deacon Stephen Hart in Hartford.  Deacon Stephen Hart and other hardy pioneers loaded their household goods on wagons, drove their livestock behind, and, with wives and children in tow, made the two-week long pilgrimage westward to the Connecticut river.

Here they set up camp until a way to cross the river was found.  Tradition has it that Deacon Stephen explored up and down the river until a shallow, narrow crossing was found.  It was also in a fertile valley, so they decided to build their town there. The crossing was “Hart’s Ford” and hence, according to some, came Hartford.

Deacon Stephen was very active in the government of Connecticut as an elected official.  He combined this with his occupation as farmer until his death in 1682 at the age of seventy seven.  Descendants of Deacon Stephen Hart living in America today number in the hundreds of thousands.

Nancy Hart, Revolutionary War Heroine.  Nancy Hart was about six feet tall and muscular, with smallpox scars on her face, flaming red hair and freckles, and eyes that crossed frequently. She also had a very salty vocabulary that she used like a whip. She called her skinny husband a “sorry old stick” and she towered over him by several inches.   Even the nearby Indians called her “The War Woman” out of respect and fear.

Her role during the Revolutionary War became the stuff of legend.  In a well-known incident, she detained five Tory soldiers at her log cabin under the guise of cooking them a meal. When she had won the soldiers’ confidence with food and liquor, she began to disarm them, passing their muskets stealthily to her daughter Sukey.  A soldier caught her stealing his musket.  Nancy shot him and then held the others captive until her husband’s band of militia could arrive.

Nancy urged the militia to hang the captives, claiming that these soldiers were responsible for the ambush and murder of John Dooly, a celebrated patriot and neighbor.  According to the legend, Nancy sang Yankee Doodle as she marched the soldiers out to be hanged.  Recent digs around her cabin reportedly uncovered five skeletons.

Nancy also spied on enemy troops.  In one case, she pretended she was deranged so that she could roam through the enemy ranks, picking up information.  She would dress and act like a half-witted man, engaging the soldiers in conversation and acting crazy.  They would carry on their own conversations around her, frequently divulging information she could take back to the militia.

The Hart Affair.  In 1807 Ezekiel Hart was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada.  He caused controversy when, being Jewish, he swore his oath on a Hebrew Bible, instead of on the Christian Bible.

The incident provoked a backlash against his Jewishness.  Le Canadien, the mouthpiece of the Canadian Party, even published a poem decrying the choice of a Jew for a seat as even more foolish than Caligula’s appointment of his horse as a Roman consul.  The Assembly then resolved by a vote of 35 to 5 that “Ezekiel Hart esquire professing the Jewish religion cannot take a seat, nor sit, nor vote in this House.”

In 1808, new elections were held and once again Trois-Rivières returned Hart as one of its two representatives.  This time, to avoid controversy, Hart took the oath in the same fashion as a Christian. When the assembly finally reconvened in 1809, Hart sat as a member for Trois-Rivières for a few days.  After ascertaining that Hart had been expelled the previous year, the Assembly voted to expel him again. 

Jacob Hart and the Slave Trade.  Among Jewish slave traders was Jacob Hart.  He came to New Orleans from New York in 1804 and traded in slave ships and African people.

In 1808 Hart advertised in Saint Domingues for the sale of three black people, including a cook, two fishermen, and a tailor who spoke English and French fluently.  In 1810 he bought two Africans in Florida. The 1820 census reports that he imprisoned seven African people as slaves.  He became the owner of a number of vessels, including the schooner Celestine, and he brokered the sale of four African citizens.  At the time of his bankruptcy in 1823, he held fourteen black hostages.

Reader Feedback – Jacob Hart in South Carolina.  My surname is Hart.  I’ve been told by a family member who has spent some time looking into our genealogy that he has managed to trace as far back as a Jacob Hart (not 100% sure if the spelling was Hart or a variation like Harte or O’Hart) who was born in Ireland (I wish I knew where), moved to the USA, and died in 1781 in Dorchester county, South Carolina.

My DNA breaks down to 70% British & Irish (Scotland, Ireland – 18 regions) and 27% French & German.  At this point, I’m pretty confused!  Any suggestions?

Richard Hart (hartsx5@ptd.net)

The O’Harts of North Grange, Sligo.  In 1833 the O’Hart family was evicted from their North Grange estate which stood in the ruins of the castle built in the early 17th century by Teige O’Hart.  Six O’Hart brothers and sisters emigrated to America.  One brother James remained.

James O’Hart was interviewed many years later in 1886 when he was 85 years of age.  “’Can you, sir, show me even one stone of the old castle of Grange which I came all the way from Dublin to see?’

‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘see’ (pointing to a stone embedded in the front wall of one of his houses) ‘where I have preserved a stone of the arch that was over the front entrance to the castle of my ancestors.’

And there sure enough, has James O’Hart preserved that to him precious relic, as a souvenir of his family castle which had once towered in North Grange, but was lately razed to supply the stones with which the spacious Catholic church which now stands on the site of the castle, the presbytery, and the walls around the church.

‘My sons,’ he said, ‘write their name Harte, but the correct name is O’Hart.

’‘We may observe that we, too, wrote our name Harte up to 1873 and omitted the prefix O’.  Because of our parents’ reduced circumstances, that prefix was omitted by my brother, to whom, as a Catholic clergyman, the family naturally looked for the mode of spelling the name in its transition from the Irish to the English language, and who from his boyhood variously wrote his name Hairtt, Hairtte, Hartte, and Harte.”

Sir Robert Hart’s Return to Lisburn.  Sir Robert Hart was a key figure in China’s 19th century history and its foreign relations with the West.  He was the only Westerner in the latter half of that century to occupy an official post in the metropolitan bureaucracy, a position which gave him daily access to China’s highest officials.

He returned to his home town of Lisburn in county Armagh in 1908 and was warmly welcomed at a dinner given in his honor by the Lisburn Town Council.  They recognized his early association with the town and took the opportunity of honoring this distinguished Ulsterman by presenting him with a finely engraved cylindrical silver casket.  The casket bore at one end Sir Robert Hart’s monogram and at the other extremity the arms of the town of Lisburn.

After many speeches the proceedings ended with the toast of: “the town and trade of Lisburn.”

Reader Feedback – Daniel Hart in Trinidad.  I am a descendant of Daniel Hart who came to Trinidad.  I am trying to trace him back to his roots (we thought it would be England).

Coleen Hart (coleen_hart@yahoo.com)

Hart Names

  • Aaron Hart is considered to be the founder of Canadian Jewry.
  • Francis Bret Harte was a 19th century American writer of short stories and humorous verse.
  • Sir Robert Hart was a British consular official in China from 1854 to 1908 who played an important role in China’s relations with the West at that time.  
  • Albert Hart was an American historian from Harvard who rose to prominence in the early 1900’s.  He has been called as “the Grand Old Man” of American history.
  • Sir Basil Liddell Hart was an English soldier and military historian of the mid 20th century.
  • Pro Hart who died in 2006 is considered as the father of the Australian Outback painting movement.
  • Stu Hart is the patriarch of the Hart wrestling family from Calgary in Canada.

Hart Numbers Today

  • 46,000 in the UK (most numerous in Surrey)
  • 51,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 24,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Hart and Like Surnames

Nicknames must have been an early feature of medieval life in a family or community as these nicknames later translated into surnames.  People then lived a more natural life than we do today and the surnames have reflected that.

They could be about color (Brown, Gray, Green etc), whether of hair or complexion or other factors; mood (Gay and Moody are two extremes); youth (Cox and Kidd); speed of foot (Swift and Lightfoot); and actions (such as Shakespeare and Wagstaff).  Then there were likenesses to animals (notably Fox and Wolfe but also Peacock) and to birds (Crowe and Wren for example).  And then there were some extraordinary nicknames such as Drinkwater and Wildgoose.

Here are some of these nickname surnames that you can check out.



Click here for return to front page

Written by Colin Shelley

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *