Hill Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Hill Surname Meaning

Hill is mainly a locational surname, from the Old English hyll and describing one who lives by the hill. An alternative origin, the medieval personal name Hille (short for Hilary or Hildebrand), has also been suggested. This may be true in a few cases. The patronymic Hills surname (son of) also exists.

Hill Surname Resources on The Internet

Hill Surname Ancestry

  • from Western England
  • to Ireland (Ulster), America, Canada and Australia

England.  Hill has been a west country name, in a line from the southwest running north to Lancashire. The name is less to be found in areas where there are few hills (such as East Anglia) or where hills are called by different names (such as the downs in Sussex and Kent).

West of England.  The first record of Hill as a surname was a Simon Hille in Worcestershire in 1273.  These Hills claimed a Norman origin back to 1100 and became an important medieval family. Droitwich records in Worcestershire showed a William atte Hille in 1379. Early Hills were also in Shropshire and Staffordshire.

Another old Hill family, dating from the early 1300’s, came from Kilminton near Axminster in Devon. Sir Robert Hill of Shilston was appointed Justice of the Common Pleas in 1409. He was in possession of Shilston Manor by that time, which his descendants held until 1614. The family was described as follows in a 1540 document:  “Hill, a gentleman, lives in Modbury parish – this name by a lawyer and judge that left unto his heirs 300 marks of land.”

From this family are thought to have come:

  • Thomas Hill, a grocer who was Lord Mayor of London in 1484
  • Sir Moyses Hill, who ventured to Ireland in the 1590’s
  • and Richard Hill, a London merchant in the 1640’s.

The Hill (originally Hull) family at Burford in Shropshire may date from the 14th century.  Rowland Hill found fame and fortune in London in the early 16th century and became the first Protestant Lord Mayor of London in 1549. 

From him came the Hill family of Hawkstone Hall near Market Drayton in Shropshire.  Richard Hill, having profited from his various diplomatic ventures before he inherited Hawkstone Hall in 1700, established his family as one of the pre-eminent families of Shropshire of his time.  His grandson Rowland Hill, born in 1745, was a popular evangelical preacher at the Surrey Chapel in London.  Sir Rowland Hill of postage fame was said to have been named after him. 

John Hill, who was born at Kidderminster in Worcestershire in 1702, was the forebear of Sir Rowland Hill, born there in 1795, who was famous for starting the first modern postal system in 1840.

Waldron and Thomas Hill were successful glassmakers in Stourbridge, Worcestershire.  During the 1780’s Waldron’s son Thomas was instrumental in setting up a new ironworks at Blaenavon in south Wales, at the time the largest iron-producing plant in the world. Around the same time John Hill moved to Ireland where he established the world-renowned Waterford glassworks.

Elsewhere.  The Hill name did crop up elsewhere.  One family line began with the birth of William Hill in the village of Crich in Derbyshire around the year 1520.  His descendants remained in this village until the late 1800’s.  The Rev. George Hill of this family did leave to be a Congregational minister in Michigan in the early 1900’s.

Another William Hill, born in 1829 in nearby Alfreton, started life with tragedy a year later.  His father Samuel was killed during a thunderstorm when his horse bolted and he died under the wheels of the stone cart.  But William grew up to be a postmaster and lived to be ninety five.

James Hill from Derbyshire’s Peak District had migrated to Cheshire in 1825 in search of work.  Thirty years later he moved to Ashton-under-Lyne in Lancashire and began a grocery shop. Hill’s Bakery was started there in 1912 and is still going strong under the fifth generation of Hills.

Ireland. The surname Hill was brought to Ireland by Sir Moyses Hill.  He was a landless second son of an English west country family who served under the Earl of Essex in suppressing Irish revolts in the 1590’s.  The town of Hillsborough in county Down was named after his family.  Hillsborough castle, considered the grandest house in county Down, remained with the family until 1925.

John Hill in county Antrim, the son of a Presbyterian minister, was one of the first of the Larne linen merchants to start a bleaching plant.  His home at Hillmount near Ballymena was built sometime in the mid-1700’s.  The business boomed in the early 1800’s, but then went bust in 1825 and the family home was sold.

The most common counties in Ireland for Hill in the 19th century were Down and Antrim.

America. Two early arrivals to New England were:

  • William Hill from Devon who reached Boston harbor on the William & Francis in 1632;
  • and William Hills from Essex who came in the same year on the Lion.

Both later settled in Connecticut, William Hill in Fairfield and William Hills being one of the founders of Hartford.  The lines of William Hills and of Joseph Hills (who came to New England in 1638) were covered in William Hills’ 1906 book The Hills Family in America. 

Virginia and Maryland.  There were early Hills from Somerset at Jamestown in Virginia. Edward and William Hill arrived there in 1621 and survived the Indian massacre two years later. Edward Hill was living at Basse’s Choice at that time. The fourth Edward Hill built his home Shirley on the northern shore of the James river above Williamsburg.  It still stands today.

Captain Thomas Hill from Wiltshire came to York county, Virginia around the year 1630.  His descendants were notable in Culpeper and Madison counties as planters, clergymen, and military men:

  • Colonel Henry Hill, born in 1743, who owned the large Millwood tobacco plantation near present-day Novum.
  • Alexander Hill, born in 1817, who was a physician and Baptist minister at Glendalough in Madison county.
  • and General AP (Powell) Hill, born in 1825, who was a Confederate general killed in the Civil War.

One Hill family from the west country in England was Catholic and sought refuge in Lord Baltimore’s Maryland. Clement Hill settled there in St. Mary’s county, Maryland in 1662.  A line of this family under Isaac Hill moved to northern Georgia and the town of Hilsboro, named after him. From his brother John came Senator Benjamin Harvey Hill, a silver-tongued orator who was one of the leaders of the Confederacy during the Civil War.

Robert Hill from London came to Maryland in 1678 and the family settled in Frederick county.  Many of the Hills there were Methodist ministers.  A later Robert Hill departed Maryland for Kentucky around the year 1800.  He made his home in Mason county and was instrumental in building the Salem Methodist church there.

Irish.  Hills from Ireland produced some American Hill politicians and military men:

  • Nathaniel Hill came from Ulster around 1725 and settled in New York state. His house in Orange county, the Brick House, remained with the family until 1975 and is now a museum. A great grandson, also named Nathaniel, migrated to Colorado in 1865 and became its Senator in 1879. 
  • John and Rachel Hill departed Ulster for Pennsylvania in the late 1740’s.  Their son William migrated south to York district in South Carolina in 1768.  There he became an ironmaster for the Continental army, as well as fighting against the British as a militia commander.   His grandson DH Hill was a Confederate general in the Civil War.
  • while Abram Hill from Derry headed also for New York, around 1764. From his line came David Hill, Governor of New York in 1885.

Canada.  James Hill had been born in Wellington county, Ontario in 1838, the poor son of Irish immigrant parents from Armagh who had arrived nine years earlier.

After his father died when he was fourteen, James started out in Minnesota in the railroad business.  He became the driving force for the Great Northern Railway, pushing the line north into Canada and then across the Rockies to the Pacific coast.  He died in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1916, one of the wealthiest men of America’s Gilded Age.

Australia. William Hill was transported to Australia on the Ganges as a convict in 1797 on a life sentence. He was, however, the first of what became a very prominent Victorian family in NSW:

  • one son George, who started out like his father as a butcher, later entered politics and became a horseracing patron.
  • while another son Richard also began as a butcher and later succeeded as a farmer and horticulturist.

Hill Surname Miscellany

Early Hills in England.  Mark Lower in his 1860 Dictionary of the Family Names of the United Kingdom had the following to say about the Hill surname.

“Its medieval form is Atte-Hill.  The London directory has more than two hundred traders of this name, besides about one-eighth of that number in the pluralized form of Hills.

The most distinguished family of this name, the Hills of Hawkstone (Viscount Hill), are descended from Hugh de la Hulle (‘of the Hill’) who held the estate of Court of Hill in the parish of Burford in Shropshire.  The Hills of Stallington in Staffordshire are descended from the family of De Monte of Castle Morton in Worcestershire and they bore that name until the 15th century when it was anglicized to Hyll.”

Sir Robert Hill of Shilston and Sir Robert Hill of Spaxton.  There may have been some genealogical confusion because there were two Sir Robert Hills in Devon at the same time, Sir Robert of Shilston and Sir Robert of Spaxton.  They could have been kinsmen, but they were different persons because they had different coats of arms:

“Hill of Shilston: Argent, on a chevron between three water-bougets Sable a mullet Or; Hill of Spaxton: Gules, a saltire vair between four mullets Or.“

Sir Robert Hill of Shilston, sometimes spelled Hylle and sometimes Hulle, was appointed Justice of the Common Pleas in 1409.  He was married to Isabel Wadham who predeceased him.  His son and heir Robert was twenty one at the time of his death in 1423.  Robert was MP for Devon in 1447.

This Hill family was said to have been descended from an older Devon family of De la Hill who had come from a place called Hill in the manor of Kilminton near Axminster.   Sir Robert himself may have been born at Kilminton.

Rowland Hill and the Postage Stamp.  By chance Rowland witnessed a touching scene as a postman brought a letter from London addressed to a young village girl.

This young girl examined the letter, but because the postage on it was so great she refused to accept it.  Rowland intervened but the girl was clearly embarrassed by his action.  Patiently he questioned her and she finally confessed that the letter was from her fiancé working in London, but as she was too poor to afford letters from him and they had devised a neat stratagem.  By various ingenious signs and marks drawn on the covering of the letter the young man was able to let her know that he was keeping well and that he still loved her.

Rowland was profoundly disturbed by this story and he pondered on the problem.  He began to lobby for a national postal service and in 1839 a bill to that effect passed Parliament.

On January 10, 1840, the postal rate was reduced to 1d per 1/2 oz. and the Penny Black postage stamp, used to affix to the front of envelopes, was introduced.  A huge increase in letter posting resulted from the massive cut in postal charges, with post offices being swamped on the first day.  The penny post and the adhesive stamp proved to be an overwhelming economic and social success.

John Hill in Waterford.  In 1783 the Penrose family had petitioned Parliament to establish the manufacture of flint glass in their Waterford Glass House.  They were successful in their petition but they knew nothing about the making of glass.

John Hill of Stourbridge in Worcestershire did.  In 1785 it was reported that “Mr. John Hill, a great glass manufacturer of Stourbridge, had gone to Waterford and taken with him the best set of workmen he could get in the county of Worcester.”  John Hill was brought in as a compounder, the only man who knew the secret of mixing the glass materials.  It was also Hill’s decision to polish the glass after cutting, therefore removing the “frosted” appearance, which was later to become one of Waterford’s key signatures.

John Hill did not stay long in Waterford.  Three years after coming to Ireland he was falsely accused of some act by one of the Penrose family and took the affair so much to heart that he left Waterford forever.  Before he left he passed on his formula for glass compounding to the clerk Jonathan Gatchell in gratitude for his sympathy and understanding in the crisis.  So Jonathan left his clerk’s desk and became the compounder.

Internal troubles notwithstanding, the renown of Waterford cut glass grew and by 1788 the glass had entered the export market to much acclaim.

The Hill Bleachworks in Antrim.  R.M. Sibbett’s 1928 book The Shining Bann had the following to say about the Hill family of bleachers in county Antrim:

“The Rev. John Hill, a Presbyterian minister, was the first of his name to reside in the manor of Cashel.  His son, John Hill, a linen merchant, founded the Hillmount Bleachworks at Cullybackey in Antrim, now among the largest and best-equipped of their kind in the world.  Elizabeth, the eldest daughter of John Hill of Hillmount, married William Adams of Portglenone in 1789.  The two youngest members of the large family by this union – a son and a daughter – went to Australia.”

The Rev. John Hill was in fact a minister in the Drumra townland of county Antrim.  He had three sons – John, Charles and James – the latter two of whom remained in Drumra although they had shareholdings in the bleachworks.  John was still living at Drumra when he married Anne Berry in 1768.

The Hill bleachworks were in operation in 1775, as the following notice in the Belfast Newsletter in that year reported:

“On Sunday night last, being the 29th of October, the bleach-yard of John Hill of Hillsmount near Ballymena in the county of Antrim was audaciously entered into by some villains unknown who feloniously lifted and carried off said bleach-yard nine pieces of 3-4th and 8-8th wide linen.”

The bleachworks went bankrupt in 1825 and were taken over by the Young family of Ballymena.  John Hill was imprisoned for debt in Carrickfergus jail.

Early Hills in Virginia.  The Virginia Company had voted a patent in November 1621 to Nathaniel Basse and his associates to send 100 settlers to Virginia.  By October 1622 Basse was in Virginia with his party.  They located in the Warriscoyak area on the south side of the James river.

The settlement was named Basse’s Choice and was populated by a small number of families. In the Census of the Living taken in February 1623, the following Hills were listed there:  John Hill, Edward Hill and his wife Hannah, Elizabeth Hill, William Hill and his wife Elizabeth, and Thomas Hill and his wife Frances.

Edward Hill was living at Basse’s Choice at the time of the Good Friday Massacre in 1623.  He survived and escaped with William and Thomas Hill to Elizabeth City and is known to have held a land grant of one hundred acres there.  He may have been wounded on that day, as he was listed as dying in Elizabeth City in May 1624.  However, his line continued.   Edward II settled in the Shirley hundred; and Edward IV built his home Shirley (which still stands) on the northern shore of the James river above Williamsburg.

The other Hills may or may not have been related. William Hill was recorded as also surviving the Indian Massacre and living in Elizabeth City in 1623.  There has been some speculation of a connection between these early Hills and Edward Bennett of Somerset who was instrumental in early colonies in Virginia.  If so, this would suggest that the Hills hailed from Somerset.

A Hill Family in Maryland.  Five Hills were listed in the first U.S. census of 1790 in St. Mary’s county, Maryland:

  • William Hill (married, four sons, one daughter),
  • Ignatius Hill (married, three sons, six daughters),
  • Thomas Hill (married, three sons, one daughter),
  • Richard Hill (married, two sons, three daughters),
  • Henry Hill (married, one son),
  • and George Hill (married, one son, three daughters).

George was the father of George D. (who was born around 1805). He was a farmer and his wife Catherine was a spinner.

William Giles Hill was born on their family farm of Bushwood. When he died, the family farm in St. Mary’s went to his son, Mortimer.

According to the family accounts, Mortimer considered himself to be the “Lord of the Manor” and too good to work any longer. He made his younger siblings work the fields along with the “colored” farmhand that lived with his family on the farm.

William, disgusted with his brother’s attitude, felt that if he was going to be treated like hired help then he wouldn’t spend any of his time with the “Lord of the Manor.”  When he reached legal age he left the farm and moved to Washington D.C. where he found work. 

Reader Feedback – Isaac Hill in Georgia.  Very informative.  I am descended from the Isaac Hill who went to Georgia and later to Tennessee.  I was glad to see who he was descended from.  Willard Hill.

The Nathaniel Hill Brick House.  The Brick House was built in 1768 in the town of Montgomery in Orange county, New York by Nathaniel Hill, one of the earliest settlers in that part of the Hudson valley.  Nathaniel had emigrated from Ireland around 1725 and was listed in New York in Captain Bayard’s militia of 1738.  He died in the house in 1780.

Hill had originally built his home in the nearby town of Crawford.  But he only lived there for two years before leaving it to his son James who made Applejack brandy there.

The Brick House was passed down through seven generations. From Nathaniel Hill to:

  • Captain Peter Hill (1752-1795)
  • Nathaniel Peter Hill (1781-1841)
  • Augustus Hill (1838-1903)
  • Charles Borland Hill (1868–1959)
  • C.B. Hill, Jr. (born in 1901)
  • and C.B. Hill III (born in 1931).

The house was donated by C.B. Hill, Jr. to Orange county in 1975 by C.B. Hill Jr. and was opened as a museum three years later. Much of the original design and appointments, including some Chippendale furniture pieces, remain.

Reader Feedback – Hills from Devon/Cornwall to Canada.  My family – William Hill with his wife and first children – came to Bowmanville, Ontario from Devon/Cornwall around 1850. I am having difficulty tracing the roots in England.

Jack Hill (jackehill@me.com).

Hill Names

  • Sir Rowland Hill was the first Protestant Lord Mayor of London.
  • Fanny Hill was the first erotic novel, written by John Cleland in 1748.
  • Rowland Hill was the Victorian postal reformer who pioneered the postage stamp.
  • James Hill was a 19th century Canadian-born railroad tycoon, known as the “Empire Builder.”
  • William Hill founded William Hill, one of the UK’s largest firms of bookmakers, in 1934. 
  • Benny Hill was a popular British TV comic.
  • Faith Hill is an American country singer.

Hill Numbers Today

  • 146,000 in the UK (most numerous in Hampshire)
  • 156,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 89,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Hill and Like Surnames

These names are locational, describing someone who lived in those medieval times by the side of a bank, or by a barn or a lane or a shaw (which means a wood) or a wood and so forth.  Both the oak tree and the ash tree have in fact provided locational surnames – Oakes and Nash (from atten Ash).  Here are some of these locational surnames that you can check out.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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