Horton Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Horton Surname Meaning

The English surname Horton came from a place-name that was found in three places in Yorkshire and in a number of other counties in England.  

Horton itself derived from the Old English horh meaning “mud” or “slime” and tun meaning “settlement” or “enclosure.” Hence Horton would literally translate as a mud dwelling. However, other meanings for Horton have been suggested.

Horton Surname Resources on The Internet

Horton Surname Ancestry

  • from England
  • to America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

England. Early sightings were in Yorkshire. Alan de Horton was born there around 1160, taking his name probably from the place-name. His descendants moved south, first to Northamptonshire and then, one branch to London and another to Mowsley in Leicestershire where they were to remain until the 1980’s.

Yorkshire.  There were still Hortons in Yorkshire. Indeed three manors belonging to Hortons were to be found in the vicinity of Halifax:

  • William Horton had built Howroyd Hall in 1642 (shown on the house next to the initials of WH and EH for William and Elizabeth Horton).
  • the Hortons also held Barkisland Hall at that time.
  • while in 1654 William Horton acquired Coley Hall which the family held until 1775.

A fourth and grander manor, Chadderton Hall near Oldham in Lancashire, was acquired by Joshua Horton of Howroyd in 1690. The hall was rebuilt by Sir William Horton, the High Sheriff for Lancashire, in 1748 and enlarged and improved by Thomas Horton in the 1800’s.

There were some other separate early Hortons, such as the Hartford Hortons from Northumberland and the Hortons from Shropshire.

West Midlands.  On the basis of the 1881 census, the main focus for Hortons was in the West Midlands. Some 45% of the Hortons in England were to be found in a line running from Lancashire to Cheshire and Staffordshire and onto Warwickshire and Worcestershire (with the most concentration being in Staffordshire and Warwickshire).

The Hortons were an old landowning family at Bushbury near Wolverhampton in Staffordshire. Two Hortons who joined the army in the early 1800’s – Captain William and Captain John Horton – had different stories, one sad and the other strange. The family moved to Worcester around the year 1820.

Benjamin Horton, born in 1796, started a pig farm in Lichfield, Staffordshire. His son Isaac moved to Birmingham where he invested in property. He acquired the Midland Hotel in 1871 and four years later built the Grand Hotel. He left what came to be Horton Estates, a substantial family-owned property company now run by Peter Horton.

A Horton family had a long history of the Birmingham gun trade, going back to the 1750’s with Joshua James Horton. William and his son Oliver carried on the Horton gun-making craft into the 20th century.  

“Oliver had two daughters and sadly it was not the done thing in the 1920’s to pass on a gun-making company to a daughter! Their company was sold.”  

Elsewhere.  The Horton name had come to London by the 1300’s. One early presence was William Horton, described as a resident of Southwark in 1394. He later served as its MP.

The Horton family occupied Westwood manor in Wiltshire in Tudor times. Thomas Horton who died in 1530 was one of the most successful clothiers of his time. Cloth manufacturing at Iford flourished under his management. Sir John Horton, born in 1593, expanded the family fortunes still further and made his home at Great Chalfield. The English actress Christiana Horton, born in 1699, was said to have come from a good family in Wiltshire.

America. Early Hortons came to New England and Virginia.

New England.  Barnabas Horton from Leicestershire arrived with his family on the Swallow in 1635 and, five years later, settled at Southold on the eastern end of Long Island.

“Barnabas was one of the thirteen founding members of Southold. In 1640 a small band of Puritans who just a few years before had crossed the Atlantic in search of religious freedom and a better life, became dissatisfied with conditions in New England and secured for themselves a parcel of land across the waters of the Long Island Sound on which to organize their church.”  

Barnabas’s house in Southold, built in 1659, survived until 1870. Barnabas’s life was covered in Jacqueline Dinan’s 2015 book In Search of Barnabas Horton.

The Rev. Ezra Horton left Southold for Union, Connecticut in the 1760’s. A descendant Alonzo Horton, born there in 1813, headed West and became a successful real estate developer in San Diego.

Captain Nathan Horton served in the Revolutionary War and moved to New Jersey. His son Nathan made the long trek from New Jersey to North Carolina in 1785 and was among the first settlers of Watauga county. A descendant Henry Walter Horton built the historic Horton Hotel in downtown Boone in the 1920’s.

Thomas Horton from Leicestershire, related to Barnabas, arrived with his family on the Mary and John in 1638 and settled in Springfield, Massachusetts (although not for long as he died three years later). Carl Fischer’s 1965 book was entitled Descendants of Thomas Horton of Springfield.

The line through his son Jeremiah remained in Springfield although Abraham Horton, a Quaker, departed for Pennsylvania in the 1740’s and then moved with other Quaker families to Tom’s Creek in North Carolina in 1768. His son John married a Cherokee woman and was banned from the Quaker meetinghouse. John moved with other evicted Cherokees from North Carolina to Arkansas in 1817.

Virginia.  There were three notable early Horton lines in Virginia.

One was from William Horton from Gloucestershire who came in 1652 and settled in Westmoreland county. Later Hortons of this line were to be found in North Carolina and in Troup county, Georgia.

Another was from Daniel Horton from Middlesex who was first recorded in Surry county in 1678. Among his descendants were:

  • Amos Horton who moved from South Carolina to Tennessee around 1810 and later died of typhoid fever. A descendant was Henry Hollis Horton who served as the Governor of Tennessee from 1927 to 1933.
  • and William Horton, born in North Carolina in 1812, who headed for Blount county, Alabama at an early age and became a wealthy planter there.

Robert Horton meanwhile came involuntarily to Culpepper county, having been transported there on the Justitia in 1769. He fought on the American side in the Revolutionary War and lived until 1820.  

“Robert enlisted in the 3rd Virginia Militia in February 1776. He served in the Battles of Kings Bridge, York Island, White Plains, Brandywine and Germantown. He was with Washington at Valley Forge where he was discharged in February 1778.”  

Some of his descendants, including his widow Jaley, migrated to Ohio; others to Tennessee.  

Canada.  Captain Isaiah Horton – a descendant of Thomas Horton who had come to America in 1638 – left his home in Rhode Island for Pictou, Nova Scotia in 1768. At the time of the Revolutionary War he was accused of American sympathies as he would not swear an oath of allegiance.  “He had his house burned down and his young cattle killed. His older sons were obliged several times to hide him in the woods.”  

After the war he moved to the Cooks Cove area of Guysborough county. There he was prepared to swear an oath of allegiance in order to receive a land grant. He died around 1827. His descendants have remained in Nova Scotia.

Henry Horton from Kent brought his family to Ontario in 1831 and settled in Huron county. One of his sons Horace served as the mayor of Goderich and a Canadian MP during the 1870’s. Horace’s home of Donnelly House in Goderich, built in the 1880’s, is still standing.

Australia. David Horton was a convict in the Third Fleet, transported from Yorkshire to Sydney on the William and Ann in 1791. There he was married three times to convict women and was the father of fifteen children.

His first wife Elizabeth, whom he married in 1796, left him for an army captain in 1801 and later made her home in Tasmania. The next year David received at land grant at Pitt Town in the Hawkesbury area. He then met another Elizabeth, whom he eventually married in 1825, by whom he had eleven children. After Elizabeth’s death in 1830 he married for a third time in the following year. He died in 1842.

Two William Hortons, both aged around sixteen, were transported to Sydney in 1832. The first William Horton remained in NSW. He married in 1847, raised six children, and died in 1907 at the grand age of ninety-two. The second William Horton had a much shorter lifespan (he died in 1864) but a more successful one, moving to Queensland and running the Bull’s Head Inn at Drayton.

New Zealand. Alfred Horton had an early experience in printing and journalism in Lincolnshire before his emigration to New Zealand in 1861. There he pursued these interests further and became a major shareholder in the New Zealand Herald in 1876. His descendants remained active in the newspaper, through their company Wilson & Horton, until its sale in 1996.  

Horton Surname Miscellany

Horton Meanings.  The main explanation of Horton was that it derived from the Old English words horh (mud or slime) or horn (dirt) and tun (settlement or enclosure).  Hence it would literally translate as a mud dwelling.

One place in Gloucestershire was said to have derived from the Old English word heorot (hart or deer) and dun (hill).

Mark Antony Lower in his 1860 book Patronymica Britannica stated that the name derived from the Anglo-Saxon word ort or wort, meaning “vegetables” or “herbs” and hence referred to an enclosed garden.  Another theory, espoused by William Arthur in his 1857 book An Etmyological Dictionary of Family and Christian Names, averred that the name meant the horrible town or the town in the ravine, from the word horr meaning “ravine.”

Horton as a place-name was to be found three times in Yorkshire – near Bradford, near Gisburn, and Horton-in-Ribblesdale near Settle.  The name also occurred in Northumberland, Cheshire, Staffordshire, Shropshire, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Buckinghamshire and Kent.

One source gave the name as being first found at Thornton in the West Riding of Yorkshire near Bradford.  In Samuel Lewis’ book A Topographical Dictionary of England appeared the following: “Thornton Hall was granted in the reign of Henry II by Robert de Lacy to the ancestors of the Hortons.” 

Hortons at Mowsley in Leicestershire.  Hortons, originally from Yorkshire, came to the village of Mowsley, south of Leicester and near the border with Northamptonshire, in the mid-13th century and they were still there in the late 20th century.

The first recorded was Henry de Horton who was initially a tenant of the rector of Knoptoft and served as his bailiff. Henry or his son Hugh eventually owned their land free and clear.

John de Horton was the first in the family to settle in the village of Mowsley. His house in 1345 lay on the north side of the churchyard.  In 1761 a house on this site, still belonging to the Hortons, was demolished and a new one built on the opposite side. There were still Hortons living there in 1909.

John Horton, born in 1381, was an archer at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 and was listed on the Agincourt Battle Roll.  Sir Roger Horton, born in 1399, was a Justice on the King’s Bench.  Thomas Horton, born in 1480, was a clergyman who fled to the Continent during the dangerous time of Queen Mary’s reign.  Richard Horton held Crown lands in 1551 which had formerly belonged to Leicester Abbey.

Barnabas Horton, born in 1600, emigrated to Long Island in 1640. Thomas Horton from nearby Gurnley fought in the Civil War under Cromwell and was one of the regicides of Charles I in 1648. He died in Ireland the following year.  His son Thomas departed to Massachusetts.

The Hortons were a substantial yeoman farming family in Mowsley and in nearby villages throughout the 17th and early 18th centuries. However, between 1761 and 1768 Joseph Horton cut his sons out of their future estate with a shilling each and left all his money to a nephew who then squandered it.

The last of the Hortons left Mowsley in the 1980’s.

Captain William and Captain John Horton.  The Hortons were an old landowning family at Bushbury near Wolverhampton in Staffordshire. Two sons from Moseley Hall there who joined the army in the early 1800’s had different stories – one being sad and the other strange.

Captain William Horton

William Horton, the heir of the family, was commissioned in the Staffordshire Militia in 1799.  He was appointed Captain in the 2nd Battalion in 1803. In August 1805 he joined the 1st Battalion at Portsmouth.  Presumably he went with his battalion.  But subsequent muster rolls of the Militia mark him “Dead.”

He did not die however, until 1850 at the Hopton and Coton Lunatic Asylum near Stafford, certified as “Mania, 40 years.”

Clearly mental illness was hardly understood at that time and was not received kindly.  His death went unrecorded in the local press.  He was not brought back to Bushbury to be buried with his forebears. Instead he was buried at St. Chad’s in Stafford.

Captain John Horton

John Horton, a younger brother, had purchased a commission in the Queen’s Bays and went on the continent under the Duke of Wellington. He was not present at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, but was in the army of reserve, not far from the scene of action.  After the battle he went to Paris with the Duke and the Allies and stayed sometime there. Then he proceeded to Picardy where he remained for about three years.  When the army returned to England he accompanied it and sold out in the year 1827.

John never married and he died in 1856.  His obituary in the Worcester Herald remarked on some of his oddities:

“During his residence in this city he was personally noticeable from the well-worn appearance of his wardrobe, it being an ascertained fact that ever since he left the army – a period of twenty-nine years – he continued to wear, and had not worn out when he died, his stock of regimental waistcoats and trousers, and as to his coat, even that vestment could boast of almost as venerable age.

This partiality for an old acquaintance, added to a few other little whims publicly indulged in, led to the supposition that he was a man of miserly habits.”

Yet he was supposed to have left a fortune of £60,000 to his cousin and heir at law, Colonel Horton, who lived near Stafford.

Hortons in the 1881 Census

County Numbers (000’s) Percent
Yorkshire    0.8     7
Lancashire    0.8     7
West Midlands
Cheshire    0.4     4
Staffordshire    1.9    17
Warwickshire    1.3    12
Worcestershire    0.6     5
SE England
London    0.9     8
Kent    1.0     9
Surrey    0.5     5
Elsewhere    2.9    26
Total   11.1 100

Nathan and Elizabeth Horton – from New Jersey to North Carolina.  At the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, Nathan Horton decided to seek his fortune in the South.  But before his big adventure he met and fell in love with Elizabeth Eagles, a charismatic actress known as “The Belle of Broadway” for her work in musical theatre. The couple married in 1783 in New Jersey and, together with their first-born baby Hannah, set off two years later.

With furniture and clothes packed on a four-horse wagon, Nathan and Elizabeth departed New Jersey. Tragically Hannah died not too far from New Jersey as they passed through Hagerstown, Maryland.

They continued their travels on an unpaved yet well-traveled route along the Great Wagon Road, stopping in lodges on the way.  The journey took them through 553 miles of forests, mountains, and rivers. All this way they hauled Nathan’s grandfather clock, a beautiful seven-foot tall clock crafted in mahogany.

After a year of arduous traveling, they finally arrived as some of the first settlers at Cook’s Gap near the Watauga river.  While Nathan held their new-born son William in his arms, born shortly after their arrival, they stumbled upon an empty hunter’s lodge and settled in the area.

Nathan and Elizabeth are believed to be amongst the earliest European inhabitants of modern-day Watauga county in North Carolina. 

Alonzo Horton in San Diego.  In 1851 Alonzo Horton decided to join many others in seeking his fortune in the gold fields of California.  Here he became a success not so much through gold, but through trading ice in the mining towns.  Six years later he returned to his home in Wisconsin.   During an Indian attack he lost a bag of gold dust worth $10,000, but kept the money he had made trading ice.

In 1862 he returned to California. There he heard about growing settlement and interest in a small town called San Diego located in southern California.  It was acclaimed for its dry, warm, healthy climate, very welcome to many cold-weary Easterners.

Upon visiting there, he noticed that while the small town was built around the old Spanish presidio well inland near the mouth of the San Diego river, no large settlements had been made along the large San Diego Bay just a few miles south, even though all ships sailing to the town docked in the bay.

He bought 960 acres of land on San Diego Bay at a very cheap price. This became known as “Horton’s Addition” or “New Town.”  At first there was much opposition from the residents of the former site of the town, which became known as “Old Town” and still is to this day.  But new businesses began to flood into the new tract due to its greater convenience for ships arriving from the Far East. Eventually the new addition began to eclipse Old Town in importance as the heart of the growing city.

Horton grew rich as the city expanded and he helped to establish San Diego’s Chamber of Commerce. However, when the US Congress withdrew its proposed aid to bring the Texas Pacific Railroad into San Diego, the progress of the city froze.

Real estate proved a roller-coaster ride in San Diego.  Land values crashed again in the late 1880’s, devastating much of Horton’s fortune.  By the time he died in 1909, he had lost much of his former wealth.

William Horton and the Bull’s Head Inn in Queensland.  In 1832 William Horton was convicted of theft in England and transported to Australia for seven years. He was sixteen when he arrived in Sydney.  During his life he transformed himself from a convict into a successful businessman. His transportation to Australia had been the making of him.

After serving out his sentence he worked as a stockman and became renowned as an experienced bushman.  He was energetic, enthusiastic and determined to make the best of his situation.  These were all good qualities for an ex-convict to start out a new life in Australia.

In the early 1840’s he moved to Queensland and worked at the Queen’s Arms Hotel in Ipswich.  There he met his wife Sarah Campbell. She was one of only three women living in Ipswich.

William and Sarah moved in 1848 to Drayton to run the Bull’s Head Inn in Drayton.  They made it into a very comfortable place to stay overnight or to sit and have a drink and a meal. The inn contained a fine parlor and high-quality meals were offered. There was a butcher’s shop on site, enabling a good supply of fresh and salted meat, a blacksmith and a saddler for repairs. Stabling and hay were available for travelers to rest their horses.

In 1858 William decided to build a large extension to the inn which survives until today (it is now a museum and people visit it to see what it was like to live 150 years ago). In 1860 the Governor of Queensland stayed the night and this was a very special occasion.

As well as running the Inn, William helped to establish a racecourse at Drayton.  He donated a handsome trophy for the winner and a generous sum of prize money.  He was a keen gambler himself and was known by the nickname ‘Bill the Fiver’ or ‘The Lucky Fiver’ from the time when he won a hand in a bush card game.  He died in 1864.

Horton Names

  • Christiana Horton was a leading English actress in London in the early 1700’s. 
  • George Moses Horton was an enslaved black in North Carolina whose 1829 book of poetry, The Hope of Liberty, was the first book to be published by an African American in the South.
  • Alonzo Horton was a real estate developer in the American West during the mid/late 19th century. The Horton Plaza in San Diego was named after him. 
  • Isaac Horton was a Birmingham property developer in the 1870’s who left a company, Horton Estates, which is now one of the largest family-owned businesses in the Midlands. 
  • Admiral Sir Max Horton was a British submariner in World War One and commander-in-chief during the Battle of the Atlantic in World War Two.

Horton Numbers Today

  • 20,000 in the UK (most numerous in West Midlands)
  • 31,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 11,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Horton and Like Surnames

The Anglo-Saxon word tun meaning “settlement” gave rise to many place-names with the suffix “-ton.”  And the place-name could become a surname describing someone who came from that place.  Sometimes the name was specific to just one location; but often the place-name could be found in various places and the surname would also crop up in a number of locations.  These are some of these place-name surnames that you can check out here.



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Written by Colin Shelley

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