Higgins

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Higgins Surname Genealogy

Higgins or O’Higgins is an Irish clan name originating from the Gaelic uigan, meaning Norse seaman or
Viking. However, the clan or sept
is thought to be of native Irish origin. The name first appeared
in Sligo records on the west coast of Ireland around 1100.There is also a separate English derivation; from the medieval Higgin,
a diminutive of Hick which was a pet-name for Richard.
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Higgins Ancestry

Ireland. The O’Higgins as
lords of Ballynary held sway in Sligo until the 17th
century. They were renowned throughout Ireland as bards and poets.

However, their Gaelic
order was crushed by Oliver Cromwell and his armies. Lands
were confiscated and families driven into exile. The clan did
secure some land at Summerhill in county Meath where they suffered under
the English yoke
. O’Higgins also migrated
landless to Galway and Mayo. And many anglicized their names from
O’Higgins to Higgins as the English penal laws took effect.
Others sought refuge overseas, across
the Atlantic and even in Spain and its Spanish colonies in South
America.

In 1725, two Higgins brothers from Dublin went to Trim in county Meath
and built their Higginsbrook estate by the Boyne river. The
little house there still stands (it was used as the setting for the
2007 Jane Austen film).

Although many Higgins have moved away,
F.R. Higgins, a friend of Yeats, had a special love for the area and
was known as one of the Boyne valley poets. Contemporary with him
was Brian O’Higgins, also from Meath, who was an active promoter of the
Irish language and played a prominent part in the 1916 Easter Rising.

South America. Among the
descendants of the Spanish exiles was Amrosio O’Higgins. He was
made viceroy of Peru in 1796 in recognition for his services in the
Spanish army. No one expected his red-haired illegitimate son to
make much of his life. But he did. Bernardo O’Higgins is
famed today as the liberator of Chile for his leadership in driving
Spanish rule out of that country.

England. Most Higgins in
England are likely to be of Irish origin.

But home-grown Higgins
do appear in the west country:

  • Higgins in
    Herefordshire date from the early 1500’s. Richard Higgins from
    Herefordshire appears to be the first Higgins to have stepped foot in
    America. He arrived in Salem, Massachusetts and his descendants
    settled in Maine (including one, Paul Higgins, who took up Indian
    ways).
  • two more adventurous Higgins left rural Wiltshire in the 1780’s;
    Robert who joined the NSW Corps and served in Australia in its
    formative years; and John who settled in what is now called
    Higginsville in Nova Scotia.

Higgins were to be found at Weston
Underwood in Buckinghamshire from the 1620’s.
Charles Higgins of this family prospered in London as a grocer
and was
Sheriff of London in 1786. He
subsequently acquired Turvey Abbey in Bedfordshire.
A
later Charles
Higgins made major improvements to Turvey village in the mid-19th
century.

Meanwhile
another Charles Higgins, distantly related, moved to Bedford in the
1820’s. He foundied a brewery on Castle Lane and built his family
home next to
it. The family business proved very
successful
and they were important and influential figures in the town for over a
hundred
years. The brewery remained in the
Higgins family until the late 1920’s when Cecil Higgins, then over
seventy,
decided to sell it in order to focus on his ambition to found a museum
.

Canada. For later Higgins
emigrants across the Atlantic, Newfoundland was an early port of call,
if this refrain from The Banks of
Newfoundland
is anything to go by:

“We had on board an Irish girl, Cassie
Higgins was her name
To her, I’d promised marriage, on me she had a claim
She tore her flannel petticoat to make mittens for my hands
Before she’d see her true love freeze on the banks of Newfoundland.”

Higgins also settled in Quebec and Ontario. In the 1830’s,
William Higgins was the first chief of Toronto police at a time of
strife between the Protestant and Catholic immigrants. He himself
was set up for murder but later exonerated of the crime. In the
twentieth century, Newfoundland’s favorite son Jack Higgins fought
valiantly but in the end unsuccessfully against federation with
Canada.

America. The English
Higgins arrived first, followed by the Irish.

Maine There was
a
sizeable Higgins presence in the state of Maine, dating back to the
1750’s. Many were descendants of Richard Higgins who had arrived
at Plymouth Rock in 1633. Joseph Higgins moved to Gorham in Maine
from Massachusetts in 1804. He was a sea captain later
unfortunately lost at sea. However, his offspring were numerous.
When his wife Mercy died in 1843, there were said to be 128
descendants. Saul Higgins lived to see a hundred.

These Higgins were active in a range of businesses in Maine and
elsewhere; early shipbuilding in Portland (Eleazor Higgins); carpet
making in New York (E.S. Higgins & Co); and pressed steel
manufacturing in Massachusetts (Worcester Pressed Steel Co). John
Woodman Higgins’ fascination with arms and armory led him to establish
the art deco Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester in 1927.

Irish Higgins
The Higgins name had become relatively well-established in America when
the Irish Higgins began to arrive in large numbers. It is thought
that some Hagens changed their name to Higgins on arrival.

These
Higgins contributed to the immigrant melting pot of places like New
York. Some did move onwards, such as David and
Bridget Higgins who formed a new life for themselves in Iowa. But
most stayed in the Irish communities that they had formed. Vannie
Higgins, active in bootlegging during the prohibition years, has been
called the last of the New York Irish bosses.

Australia. Australia
started out as a penal colony and the Irish particularly suffered
here. The records show Mary Higgins receiving a flogging of 26
lashes in 1791. James Higgins, who took part in the Vinegar Hill
uprising in 1804, escaped execution but was exiled to the Coal river
near Newcastle.

More than a hundred Higgins were transported
there as
convicts between 1790 and the 1850’s. John Higgins, transported
on the Phoebe Dunbar in 1853,
can be founded listed on the welcome wall of the Western Australian
museum at Albany. Bu only a few records of these lives
survive.

Gold fever brought settlers in the 1850’s, including one
Sligo farmer, Patrick Higgins, who did very well for himself. He
worked hard and became the leading public works contractor in Victoria.

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Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:


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Names


Tading Mor O’Hiligin
, who died in 1315, was the first in the line of
celebrated Higgins bards.

Father Peter Higgins was a
Dominican priest martyred by the English in Dublin in 1642 at the time
of the penal laws.
Bernardo O’Higgins
is commemmorated
in Chile as the man who gave the country its independence from Spain.
Kevin O’Higgins was one of the
Sinn Fein leaders who supported the 1922 Anglo-Irish treaty. He
was later assassinated by the IRA.
Jack Higgins was a leading
Newfoundland politician during the 1920’s and 1930’s.
Terence Higgins was the
first UK publicly identified AIDS victim in 1982. The Terence
Higgins Trust is named after him.

Select Higgins Today

  • 32,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in London)
  • 31,000 in America (most numerous
    in California).
  • 38,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

 

 

 

 

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