Howe Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Howe Meaning
Howe derives from the Viking haugr
or the Old English hoh, words
for a man-made mound or burial barrow. The surname could come from the
place-name Howe, found near Norwich in Norfolk and in north Yorkshire,
or it could describe someone who lived by such a
Its first recording as a surname was possibly that of
William de Ho in Essex feudal documents of 1121. How was an early
spelling of the name.

Select Howe Resources on The Internet

Howe Ancestry

The 19th century distribution of the Howe name suggests that there
were three main clusters:

  • one in the southwest, around Somerset and Devon
  • the second in the southeast, covering London, Essex and Suffolk
  • and the third in the northeast, notably in Yorkshire and

SW England. John
Howe from a west country family married well in the early 1600’s
and was given estates in Wiltshire by his wife’s family. Later
John Howes were MP’s for Gloucestershire. John Howe married
Annabella Scrope
of Langar in Nottinghamshire. Their
son Scrope Howe was made a Viscount and established his family
there. His son Emanuel Scrope Howe was Governor of
Barbados, but died of disease. However, Emanuel’s wife was in the
bloodline of King George I and she was able to
promote the careers of their three sons:

  • George Howe, General in the British army who was killed in
    America in 1758 during the Seven Years’ War.
  • Richard Howe, Admiral of the Fleet who was in command of the
    British fleet during the American War of Independence
  • and William Howe, the British army officer who
    rose to become Commander-in-Chief of the British land forces in the
    same war.

None of these three brothers left any male heirs.

SE England Essex
had Howes from an early date. The Howes at Buckhurst Hill
in Epping Forest may go back as far as 1357. Howe women
featured in the Essex witch trials of the late 1500’s. Thomas
Howe who made a name for himself in London in the 1640’s came from
South Ockendon in Essex.

Further north in Suffolk, one family
history began with the marriage of John How and Dorothy Hunton in
Rougham near Bury St. Edmonds in 1700, another with the marriage of
Henry Howe and Elizabeth Fuller in Buxhall in 1757.

America. Three early
Howes lines in
New England were:

  • John Howe from Warwickshire who arrived in 1630 and settled in
    Sudbury, Massachusetts. One branch of the family established the
    the Red Horse tavern (made
    famous by Longfellow in his Tales of
    the Wayside Inn
    ). Granddaughter Elizabeth survived three
    years of captivity in Canada where she had been taken by Indians who
    had raided her home. Elias Howe, the inventor of the
    machine, was a 19th century descendant. This
    family was traced in Daniel Wait Howe’s 1929 book Howe Genealogies.
  • Edward Howe, who came on the Truelove
    in 1635 and settled in Lynn. His son Jeremiah moved onto New
    Haven, Connecticut. A branch of the family migrated west to Ohio
    in the 1830’s. Horatio Howe grew up in
    Pennsylvania and moved with his family to Iowa in the 1850’s.
  • and James and Abraham Howe, two brothers from Essex, who came to
    Roxbury, Massachusetts in 1638. James’s daughter-in-law Elizabeth Howe
    got caught up in the Salem witch trials. Meanwhile the family
    line via Abraham Howe went to Joseph Neals Howe, a
    Boston shipowner, and his son Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, an abolitionist
    campaigner. His wife
    Julia composed the words of The
    Battle Hymn of the Republic
    , a song which became popular during
    the Civil War.

The descendants of these three family branches met in 1871 for a
reunion celebration at Harmony Grove near

Descended from John Howe of Sudbury was a later
John Howe who became passionately converted to the British cause and
departed New York for Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1780. He was
appointed there the King’s Printer and started the Halifax Journal. His son
Joseph Howe
became one of Nova Scotia’s greatest and best-loved
politicians. C.D. Howe, a powerful Canadian Cabinet minister from
1935 to 1957 who grew up in Massachusetts, was a distant relative of
this family.

and Australia.
The first Howe who came to St. Kitts in the
Caribbean was said to be John Howe from Ireland in 1747.
These Howes became government printers,
starting the St. Christopher Gazette
and Caribbean
. Thomas
Howe was apparently
related to the famous Howe brothers.

His grandson George
was sent to London for training as a printer, but was
tried and
convicted of shoplifting there (rumor has it that he was framed) and
was transported
to Australia. There he started Australia’s first newspaper, The
, in 1803.

early convict in Australia was Michael Howe, transported to
Tasmania in 1812. He escaped and became a famous bushranger, at
large for six years before he was finally cornered and killed in 1818.


Howe Miscellany

The Howe and Scrope Families at Langar.  The Scrope
family had held the Langar manor in Nottinghamshire since the late 14th
century.  But the last Lord Scrope,
Emanuel, died in 1630 and was buried at Langar church.
He died without issue by his wife Elizabeth,
although he had sired four illegitimate daughters by his servant,

third of his daughters,
Annabella, married John Grubham Howe, the second son of Sir John Howe
Compton in Gloucestershire, in 1677.  Annabella
had previously been legitimized by an act of Charles II in 1663,
granted Langar
and all its privileges, and obtained the rank and precedence of an
daughter.  John and Annabella had a son,
Sir Scrope Howe, who was created Viscount Howe in 1701.

Emanuel Howe’s Wife Sophia and Her Connections.  The Howe
family was said to have been the illegitimate offspring of King George I.  There were complications however.  The King had locked up his wife in a castle
and had several mistresses, one of whom he had brought with him from
and married off to an impoverished Irish nobleman, Emanuel Howe.  Sophia Kielmansegge, the mother of Admiral
Richard Howe, was believed to have been the King’s illegitimate
daughter and she
herself was the mistress of royalty to become Countess Howe.

One of her children, Thomas, broke the family mold
and married a black plantation owner’s daughter Ann Risdon in St Kitts
in the
West Indies.  This African connection was
apparently a closely guarded secret. Descendants
were told that their swarthy complexion was due to a Spanish
great grandmother.

George Howe and His Printer Sons in Australia.  George Howe travelled to Australia as a convict under the alias Happy George in
order to
avoid disgracing the aristocratic Howe name.
He arrived in Sydney in 1800, weakened by typhus (his wife had
died of the
disease during the voyage), and it took him about a year to recover.

Two years later he was the government printer,
the first in the new colony, even though he did not officially receive
freedom until 1806.  He published
Australia’s first newspaper, The Sydney
but with some difficulty
as his patrons would often fall behind with their subscriptions.  He tried various expedients to keep his
household going, at one time keeping a school and at another time
becoming a
professional debt collector.  Eventually
he began to do well and he died a prosperous man in 1821.

His eldest son Robert helped his father as a
boy, but rebelled as a teenager, enjoying drink and fathering a bastard
before getting religion and returning to the business.
As publisher of the Gazette, Howe survived
several libel suits, was horsewhipped and
another time assaulted with a bayonet and seriously wounded.  He died in a boating accident in Sydney
Harbor when he got entangled with his fishing lines after a sudden
squall.  He was 34 years old.

The printing business continued through his
younger half brother George Terry Howe who had started as a printer in
but then returned home to Sydney.  He continued publishing the Gazette
until 1842.  He was
married and had six daughters and a son.
He also had a son as a result of a liaison with a daughter of a
Maori chieftain during a
trip to New Zealand to visit his sister there.

All three Howes were of swarthy complexion that had come down in the
family from their Caribbean heritage.
Another curious fact was that George, Robert and George Terry
all married
Birds, two of them Sarah Bird. 

Elizabeth Howe and the Salem Witch Trials.  Elizabeth
Howe got caught up in the Salem witch trials.

1692 Elizabeth Howe, about fifty-three, lived with her blind
husband, James Howe, Jr., and their children, in Topsfield.  James
been without his sight for about seven years and Elizabeth had assumed
burden of managing the farm.  She was arrested that year and
accused of

husband’s father, James
Howe, Sr., about ninety-four, stated that Elizabeth was ‘very dutiful,
loving, obedient, and kind, tenderly leading her husband about by the
hand in
his want of eyesight.’  However the court preferred to listen to
Elizabeth’s brother-in-law John Howe who said that when he had asked
her if she
were a witch, she had become very angry.”

was found guilty and hanged as a witch.

Elias Howe, The Inventor of the Sewing Machine.  Elias Howe was born in Spencer, Massachusetts in 1819, the
son of a farmer and local doctor.  This Howe
family were prolific
inventers.  William Howe invented the
wooden truss bridge that is still named after him. Tyler Howe patented
ingenious bed springs to give you a better night’s sleep than straw.  However, it would be Elias Howe who would
invent something that would change the world.

Elias Howe had been playing with his sewing machine ideas
for years and
finally in 1846, after eight years of experimentation, he made his
first fully
working machine.  He patented his
invention but then found that no one would buy it.
It was just too expensive.

However, others in the next few years later
entered the business, making sewing machines that were more affordable.  None
of the machines on the market
looked exactly like
Elias’s machine.  But they had all
infringed on his patents.  Isaac Singer, for instance, had his needle
and his machine using a two-thread lock stitch shuttle for which
Elias had patents.

Elias battled in the courts, claiming patent
infringement.  Finally, after eight long
years, he won.  Isaac
Singer had to fork
out over fifteen thousand dollars in back payments;
as did several other infringers.  And every
sewing machine made in America that
used Elias
patents had to pay
him royalties, five dollars for each machine sold.
Elias Howe soon became one of the wealthiest men
in America.

The Howes at Harmony Grove.  In 1871 the descendants of the three Howe family branches were invited to meet
for a family celebration.  They duly met at the Harmony Grove in South
Framingham near Boston.  Their meeting
was described as follows:

this beautiful Harmony Grove every person bearing the name of Howe, or
How, as
well as everyone connected by ties of marriage with this family, or
from this family, is most cordially invited for the purpose of spending
the day
above mentioned ‘in union sweet and dear esteem,’ of calling to mind
the days
of ‘Auld Lang Syne,’ and of telling one another how we love the good
old family
name of Howe.”

Joseph Howe of Nova Scotia.  The most
lasting influence upon Howe was exercised by his father, loyalist John
whom he once described as “my only instructor, my play-fellow, almost
my daily

The one member of his family
who sided with Britain in revolutionary times, John Howe had a
reverent, almost
mystical, attitude towards the British connection and he passed this
on to his son.  Indeed it was one of two
qualities which, more than any others, determined the son’s conduct and
his career.

The second quality was “a
restless, agitating uncertainty” which made an ordinary, humdrum
intolerable.  “If I could be content,”
Joseph Howe wrote, “to go along quietly and peaceably like my neighbors
and at
the end of some fifty or sixty years tumble into my grave and be dust,
I should
be happy – very happy.”  But that
was not to be.

In 1827, at the age of
23, Joseph Howe purchased the Nova
, soon making it into a popular and influential newspaper.  Nine years later he was elected to the Nova
Scotia Assembly, thereby beginning his long and influential political
career.  He was instrumental in helping
Nova Scotia become the first British colony to win responsible
government in
1848 and he served as premier of Nova Scotia from 1860 to 1863.  He later joined the Canadian Federal Cabinet.


Howe Names

  • William Howe was the Commander-in-Chief of the British forces during the American War of Independence.
  • Elias Howe was the inventor of the sewing machine in 1846.
  • Jackie Howe was Australia’s legendary sheep shearer, famous for shearing 321 sheep in seven hours
    and forty minutes.
  • Gordie Howe, often referred to
    as “Mr. Hockey,” was a Canadian ice hockey player generally regarded as
    one of the best to have played the game.
  • Geoffrey Howe was Chancellor
    of the Exchequer and Foreign Secretary in Britain in the 1980’s under Margaret Thatcher’s Government.

Select Howe Numbers Today

  • 25,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Northamptonshire)
  • 16,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 14,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)



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