Hawkins Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Hawkins Surname Meaning

The root of Hawkins appears to be the Old English word hafoc meaning “hawk,” which was said to be still in use in the 13th century. The surname might be descriptive of a hawk-like person. More likely, it came from the place name Hawking (from hafocing or “hawk place”) near Folkestone in Kent.

Hawkins Surname Resources on The Internet

Hawkins Surname Ancestry

  • from SW England
  • to America, Canada and Australia

England.  Kent is believed to be the starting point for the Hawkins name. It then moved to the west country.

Kent.  The first Hawkins on record in Kent was Osbert de Hawking who was said to have acquired the Hawking manor in the late 12th century for his services as warden of Dover castle. By the 14th century, these Hawkins had acquired through marriage the Nash Court estate near Faversham where the family was to remain for the next five hundred years.

Cornwall.  It is thought that branches of this family brought the Hawkins name to the west country. The strongest connection was with the Hawkins of Cornwall who established themselves at Trewinnard and later at Trewithen. This line included Sir Christopher Hawkins, the Cornish mine-owner, and his younger brother John Hawkins, a writer and geologist who helped found the Royal Horticultural Society

Devon.  Some considered that the Hawkins of Devon were also a branch of the Kent family. But there is no direct evidence that this was so. The first of the Devon line was John Hawkins of Tavistock, who was born around 1475. His son William made his name as a sea captain.

“Old master William Hawkins of Plymouth, a man for his wisdom, valor, experience and skill at sea causes much esteemed and beloved of King Henry VIII, and being one of the principal sea captains in the west parts of England in his time, not contented with the short voyages commonly then made only to the known coasts of Europe, armed out a tall and goodly ship of his own of the burden of 250 tons called the Paul of Plymouth, wherewith he made three long and famous voyages unto the coast of Brazil, a thing in those days very rare especially to our nation.”

His son Sir John Hawkins, patriarch of the “Sea Dogs” under Queen Elizabeth, was even more famous. He is remembered for having built the English fleet which defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588.

He was also a pioneer of the English slave trade; while his son Sir Richard, another “Sea Dog,” was best known for his acts of piracy against the Spanish. Descendants of Sir John Hawkins the admiral are said to be numerous.

Dorset.  One Hawkins family in Dorset can trace their history back to Elizabethan times:

“The story of the Hawkins at Martinstown begins with William Hawkins, whom local and family tradition remembers as ‘Hawkins from over the hill.’ A feature of the family’s 500 year recorded history has been their extreme reluctance to stray more than a few miles from their ancestral roots.”

The Hawkins, together with the Savages, were clockmakers in Exeter in the 17th and early 18th centuries. The Hawkins of Kelston in Somerset were distinguished surgeons, Sir Caesar Hawkins being surgeon to both George II and George III. He built a new mansion for himself at Kelston Park in the 1760’s.

Elsewhere.  From Hertfordshire came that criminal judge of Victorian times, Sir Henry Hawkins, and his cousin the writer Anthony Hawkins (who wrote under the pen name of Anthony Hope). One of Sir Henry’s famous cases, that of the fraudster who claimed to be the missing heir Sir Roger Tichborne, was the inspiration behind Anthony’s best-selling novel of deception, The Prisoner of Zenda.

The late 19th century Hawkins surname distribution showed one concentration east around London and Kent and another larger concentration west in a line running from Devon through Somerset to Gloucestershire.

Ireland.  Hawkins in Ireland can be either of English or of Irish origin.

The English Hawkins may be found in county Down. The McGuinness castle at Rathfriland passed to William Hawkins of London in 1641. The Hawkins family stamped their authority on the town and the Hawkins name still lives on there today. There were also English Hawkins in Loughrea, Galway by 1649.

Meanwhile, the Irish Haughan from the Gaelic O’hEachaidhin, a fairly common name in Antrim, has sometimes transposed to Hawkins.

America. Three early immigrants to America claimed descent from Sir John Hawkins, the admiral:

  • Robert Hawkins who arrived on the Elizabeth and Ann in 1635 with his wife Mary and settled in Charleston, Massachusetts. Some of these Hawkins were later in Derby, Connecticut. Descendants of Samuel Whitman Hawkins were pioneer settlers in Kankakee county, Illinois in the 1830’s.
  • William Hawkins who emigrated to York county, Virginia in 1637 and began a plantation along the New Poquoson river. Joshua Hawkins of this family headed south to Greenville, South Carolina. There were other lines to Tennessee and Kentucky.
  • and John Hawkins who came to Essex county, Virginia with his sisters in 1705. John was a lawyer and his name cropped up often in Essex county records.

North Carolina. Philemon Hawkins arrived there with his family from Devon around 1715 and ran a plantation in what was then Granville county.

Benjamin Hawkins was a member of George Washington’s staff during the Revolutionary War and was later appointed as Indian agent for all tribes south of the Ohio river. His family then were prosperous North Carolina planters and they ran other businesses as well, including sawmills, banks, and, after the Civil War, phosphate manufacturing. They were also politically influential, with Ben’s nephew William becoming Governor of the state in 1811.

Texas. There was Indian blood in the Hawkins that headed east to Texas – first in Ben’s son Benjamin Hawkins and his wife Rebecca who got there as early as 1833 and then in a female line that went via Ben’s daughter Cherokee to Georgia Lawshe Woods (the subject of Janice Woods Windle’s family saga True Women). Both Rebecca and Georgia ended up in charge of plantations at the time of the Civil War.

Another Hawkins who made the trek from North Carolina to Texas was James Boyd Hawkins. He came in 1846 with his wife Ella and a retinue of slaves to lower Caney Creek in Matagorda county. There he built himself a large colonial-style plantation house out of cypress and embarked on large-scale sugar cultivation. These Hawkins survived the Civil War and ran their plantation afterwards on convict labor.

Hawkins in the African American vernacular is a word for a cold malevolent wind.

Canada. Hawkins in Canada may be of American, English, or even of Irish origin.

There were Protestant Hawkins from Ireland who settled in the Irish community of Lanark county, Ontario. Hawkins from Wexford came in 1819,  Hawkins from Wicklow some twenty-to-thirty years later. Samuel Hawkins from Wicklow headed west in 1889 and opened up a harness-making shop in Roundthwaite, Manitoba.

Australia. Thomas Hawkins had captained the Berwick during the Napoleonic Wars but, after his ship was decommissioned, he sought a new start in Australia. He arrived in 1822 and received a land grant and a position in the interior in Bathurst, NSW. He and his family were soon firmly established there as gentry settler householders.

Another early Hawkins settler was William Hawkins who arrived with his wife Ann from Sussex in 1848. They headed out to farm at Wollombi in the Hunter valley.

Hawkins Surname Miscellany

The Hawkins of Nash Court.  In the reign of Edward III Andrew Hawkins married an heiress, Joan de Nash, and the Hawkins came into possession of Nash Court near Faversham in Kent.  His line continued down to Thomas Hawkins of Nash who, dying in 1588, was buried with his wife in the north chancel of Boughton church.  On a tomb of Bethersden marble lay his figure in brass with the following inscription:

“He served King Henry VIII, which won him same, who was a gracious prince to him, and made well to spend his aged days; that he was high of stature, his body long and strong, excelling all that lived in his age.”

The Hawkins family was and remained a Catholic family.  In 1715, during the ferment at the time of the rebellion in Scotland, Nash Court was plundered by the locals.

“Every part of the furniture, family pictures, writings of the estate and family, were burnt by them, with an excellent library of books; and the family plate was carried off and never heard of afterwards.”

The Hawkins of Trewithen.  John Hawkins was the first member of the Hawkins family to move to Cornwall.  Originally a courier to Henry VIII, he decided to leave Nash Court in 1554 to escape the turmoil of a rebellion against the Catholic Queen Mary.  He settled at Trewinnard near St. Erth, married and established a maritime trading business through Mevagissey which thrived for many years.

It was Phillip Hawkins who established the Hawkins dynasty at Trewithen.  He was a wealthy attorney and landowner when he bought Trewithen in 1715.  He commissioned the London architect Thomas Edwards to rebuild the house and lay out the park.  When he died childless, the estate passed to his nephew Thomas Hawkins (whose parents lived at Trewinnard), thereby uniting the two branches of the Hawkins family in Cornwall.

Thomas fell in love with Anne Heywood, the daughter of a wealthy cloth merchant and banker in London. She agreed that they could marry on the proviso that his architect, Sir Robert Taylor, was commissioned to re-design and embellish Trewithen House.  The work was carried out and, in addition, Thomas had plans drawn up for landscaping the gardens.  Unfortunately Thomas died after having inoculated himself against smallpox and the estate passed to his eldest son Christopher.

Although Christopher never married, he did an enormous amount for both Trewithen and Cornwall during his lifetime.  He opened new tin and copper mines in the area, became involved in clay mining near St. Austell, and rebuilt the harbor at Pentewan and the breakwater at St. Ives.  Politically, he was Father of the House of Commons by virtue of the number of “rotten boroughs” that he controlled.

Sir John Hawkins and His Descendants.  It is a truth universally acknowledged that all Hawkins believe they are descended from the Admiral.  And this applies to Hawkins on both sides of the Atlantic.  One Hawkins wrote in as follows:

“I have a photocopy of Sir John Hawkins and one of my maternal great grandfather John P. Hawkins. The resemblance is amazing, down to moustache and beard.  I cannot – at present anyway – claim descendancy from the famous admiral, but contemplation is very interesting!”

Mary Hawkins in her 1888 book Plymouth Armada Heroes provided the first published tree of Hawkins descendants.

More recent works on the Plymouth Hawkins have been:

  • James Williamson’s 1949 book Hawkins of Plymouth, sub-titled “a new history of Sir John Hawkins and of the other members of his family prominent in Tudor England.”
  • and Michael Lewis’s 1969 book The Hawkins Dynasty: Three Generations of a Tudor Family.

In addition, Alexander Mitton published privately in 1960 Pedigree of the Family of Hawkins of County Devon.  Harvey Coney from Harlow in Essex also produced Hawkins lineages at about the same time.  And there are many Hawkins family trees on the internet.

Reader Feedback: American Descendant of Elizabethan Sir John Hawkins.  My grandfather’s name was Floyd LeRoy Hawkins. The family mythology says that he was a direct descendent of Sir John Hawkins, Queen Elizabeth I’s business partner in the 16th century.

Floyd was born in Ohio around 1890, had family in Wilmington, Ohio, and went to Ohio State University.  He was a civil engineer for the State of West Virginia and last lived in Martinsburg, West Virginia. Can you tell me anything about him?

Pete Heuberger (heubergerp@gmail.com)

Reader Feedback: Hawkins in Bedfordshire.  In family ancestry, I find my ancestor Robert Kempton Jr of Walkern in Hertfordshire marrying Joan Hawkins in Sandy, near Houghton Regis, Bedfordshire.  Robert is b 1540ish and Joan is b 1540ish with a 1560s-70 tidy list of children born in Walkern.

From the Beds parish records it is believed that Joan is the daughter of Thomas Hawkins (b <1519).  From the Beds visitations, there are no landed gentry et al for a Hawkins nobility listing, Albeit the parish records of 1534 onwards have a large and procreative colony of Hawkins in this Houghton Regis area who were not poor dirt farmers.  We are not dirt farmers as we have now found De Kympton entries of 1189, 1250, 1260, 1280 1307 Herts land purchases.

So I am wondering how this Hawkins branch in (Sandy) Houghton Regis, Beds trace back into your main Kent family tree.  There are many Thomases that are mentioned with the Devon branch of the Sir Admiral Hawkins genealogies – but I (almost) seriously doubt that a Devon line would branch back eastwards into Beds.  It would make more sense to branch westward from Kent into Beds.

John Lord  (johnlord9@gmail.com)

Thomas Hawkins’ Windmill at Bathurst.  Thomas Hawkins, his wife and their large family had arrived in Australia in January 1822 and by April had received, as free settlers, a grant at Bathurst.  And for good measure Thomas was appointed Commissariat storekeeper.

He immediately set off there.  He crossed the Blue Mountains to Bathurst with his wife Elizabeth, his seventy year old mother-in-law, and their eight children.  The trek took eighteen days and they were the first family of settlers to make the crossing.  Elizabeth’s account of the journey has been preserved.

As early settlers left the coastal plains and moved inland to settle the dry inland areas they quickly became aware of the lack of surface water and were dependent on water which collected in rock holes and soaks.

Thomas Hawkins planned a windmill.  Construction on this mill, probably utilizing convict labor, started in mid-1823, when it was reported that:

“Mr. Hawkins of Bathurst is about erecting a wind-mill, upon quite new principles to any heretofore in this colony, in the newly-discovered country of Bathurst.  The machinery of this expensive undertaking is several tons in weight and will afford no small difficulty in being conveyed over the mountain.”

By 1824 the brick tower windmill, the first on the western side of the Great Dividing Range, had been completed.

Benjamin and Rebecca Hawkins.  Benjamin Hawkins was the half-Indian son of a Creek woman and the Indian agent Colonel Benjamin Hawkins.  In 1831 he married Rebecca McIntosh, the daughter of the half-Scottish chief of the Creeks.

Benjamin then became acquainted with Sam Houston and, two years later, he and Rebecca migrated to East Texas where Hawkins engaged in a number of land transactions and other dealings with Houston.  Hawkins was reportedly involved in an attempt to purchase land for the settlement of “a large body in Indians from the United States,” the rumor of which raised fear and anger in the Anglo-American citizenry.

Hawkins may have been present with Houston at the Battle of San Jacinto, but did not live to see the new Republic of Texas flourish.  Sometime in 1836 he was murdered, perhaps as a result of the ongoing conflict between the Indians and the other settlers.  Rebecca and their two daughters inherited his property.

Rebecca married Spire Hagerty soon after but the marriage was not successful.  From the date of her final separation from Hagerty, probably in 1848, Rebecca managed two plantations, Refuge in Marion county and Phoenix in Harrison county, as well as her own household.  The principal cash crop was cotton.  Shipped down the Red river to the Mississippi, the cotton and cattle hides were sold in New Orleans.  Sometimes Rebecca herself would make the trip.  She was the only woman in Texas owning more than 100 slaves in 1860.

Reader Feedback – Hawkins in Mississippi.  My maiden name was Hawkins. My Grandpa’s name was Henry Hawkins. He married Bessie Hill and had twelve children and were from Mississippi before moving to Texas.

My Pappa Hawkins was supposedly told to leave Mississippi because he had seen a black man beating a mule after it had plowed all day. My grandpa hit him with a board and killed him so they were told to leave Mississippi.  Not sure if that story was true.

Shelley Rose (rose.shelley9@gmail.com).

True Women by Janice Woods Windle.  Author Windle started out with the intention of compiling family recipes as a wedding gift for her son and bride-to-be in 1985.

But as she pored over piles of recipes, letters, and diaries, she pieced together a fascinating story.  Not long after presenting her son with the recipe book, she borrowed it from him so that she could use it while writing True Women, her novel chronicling the lives of three generations of her family in Texas.

The novel tells the story of two dynastic families in Texas, the Kings and the Woodses.  Georgia Lawshe Woods was in fact the grand-daughter of Benjamin Hawkins, the Indian agent of George Washington and after whom Fort Hawkins in Macon, Georgia is named.  His daughter Cherokee Hawkins had married the well-known Indian fighter Lewis Lawshe.

Georgia Lawshe, a victim of prejudice because she was rumored to be part Creek Indian, married the physician Peter Woods.  She it was who risked her plantation by running the Yankee cotton blockade during the Civil War.  She had to defend herself and kill a vicious Yankee soldier who had entered her home.

True Women was made into a TV mini-series in 1997 starring Angelica Jolie.  One critic described the offering as Gone With The Wind, Texas-style.

Reader Feedback – Hawkins in South Carolina.  My great grandmother was Margaret Belinda Hawkins.  She married into the Hanks family of Anderson county, South Carolina.  My mother, Ruby Hanks, suspected that Margaret Belinda and her family were part Native American.  She had no proof, only observation of their dress and way of life.  If anyone know of this family, please contact me.

Anita Hawkins (RubatoATM@gmail.com).

Hawkins is Coming.  Chicago is called “The Windy City” and its wind is often called “Hawkins” or “The Hawk.”  This term has long been popular in African American vernacular English.  Its earliest recorded written citation was in the Chicago Defender of October 20, 1936: “And these cold mornings are on us – in other words ‘Hawkins’ has got us.”

The Baltimore Sun sought to found out the origin of the term.

This was one reader’s comment:

“I have a very faint gleam of light to throw on the darkness of the saying “Hawkins is outside” when the wind is biting cold.  My young colored cook says that her old father always used the expression when he was alive and that her mother thinks he meant that there was a mean old man going by.”

Another elaborated more:

“I remember as a small child hearing adult members of my family – of Virginia stock for many generations say on a day when the wind was particularly high and cold, “Hawkins is certainly out today.”  I have heard similar expressions from Negroes, but I have never had the impression that Hawkins was of African origin.  It was my idea that the blacks had borrowed him from the whites.

This idea is strengthened by what my wife tells me.  She is English and spent her early years in Devon and South Wales and she says that Hawkins was frequently mentioned when the wind was particularly nippy.”

The next contributor also gave an English explanation:

“In the long, long ago when I was an apprentice to an East Indiaman in the 1880’s, I used to hear great yarns about a famous Pirate Hawkins, a native of Cornwall, from our old sailmaker who also said that Hawkins was an ancestor of his. Hawkins always chose the worst of weather to make his raids in the English Channel and about the Cornish coast.”

The Baltimore Sun concluded: “The origin of the name is a mystery, but one thing is certain: it didn’t originate in Chicago.”

Hawkins Names

  • Admiral Sir John Hawkins was a buccaneering naval commander, privateer, and slaver trader of the Elizabethan era.
  • Benjamin Hawkins was an Indian agent from North Carolina and a delegate to the Continental Congress.
  • Sir Henry Hawkins was a distinguished Victorian criminal judge.
  • Coleman Hawkins was a highly acclaimed jazz tenor saxophonist. He was best known for his rendition of Body and Soul in the 1930’s.
  • Jack Hawkins was a well-known English film actor of the 1950’s and 1960’s.
  • Jeffrey Hawkins was the inventor of the Palm Pilot and the founder of Palm Computing.

Hawkins Numbers Today

  • 40,000 in the UK (most numerous in Hampshire)
  • 49,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 26,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada).

Hawkins and Like Surnames

Some surnames have come from SE England, in particular the counties of Kent, Surrey and Sussex.  These are some of the noteworthy surnames that you can check out.


Click here for return to front page

Written by Colin Shelley

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *