Hughes Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Hughes Surname Meaning

Hughes is a patronymic surname from the Anglo-Norman Hugo which developed in the vernacular as Hue and Hugh.  St. Hugh of Lincoln established the first Carthusian monastery in England in the 12th century.

Hughes Surname Resources on The Internet

Hughes Surname Ancestry

  • from North Wales and England (Lancashire)
  • to Ireland (Ulster), America, Canada and Australia

Wales. The name became prevalent in Wales, being first found there in Carmarthenshire. This may seem surprising as Hugh was Anglo-Norman in origin rather than Welsh.

But Hugh (and subsequently Hughes) became a Welsh name simply because it bore a resemblance to the common Welsh name of Hywel or Howell. Hughes gradually replaced Hywel in the 15th and 16th centuries.  The Welsh ap Hugh meanwhile took on the form of Pugh.

North Wales. The Hughes name in Wales today is mainly to be found in north Wales, in present day Clwyd and Gwynedd. Among early Hughes in this area were:

  • Daffyd Llwyd ap Hugh, who set up his family home at Plas Coch in Anglesey in the 16th century. A descendant William Bulkeley Hughes was instrumental in developing Llandudno as a holiday resort in the 19th century.
  • David Hughes, a native of Beaumaris in Anglesey, who funded the free Grammar School there in 1603.
  • the Rev. William Hughes who became Bishop of St. Asaph in Flintshire in 1573. A descendant the Rev. Edward Hughes bought the Kinmel estates in Flintshire in the 1780’s. He had owned land on Parys mountain in Anglesey where copper was discovered and had grown rich on its proceeds.
  • and John ap Hugh, a Quaker from Merionethshire, who emigrated to Pennsylvania on the Robert and Elizabeth in 1698. His descendants there became Hughes.

William ap Huw was born in Flintshire around 1570 and his descendants, who held land at Llewerllyd, became Hughes. They apparently had to fight for the right to a seat and burial plot at their local church at Dyserth. But their family tomb is there and can be seen beneath a gnarled yew tree.

A 17th century Hughes line from Gelle Faulor in Flintshire descended to the Rev. Thomas Hughes, headmaster of Ruthin School in Denbighshire, and to:

  • five generations of Hughes who were vicars of Uffington in Berkshire over the course of the 18th century. The last of them, Thomas Hughes, was canon at St. Paul’s Cathedral.
  • and to Thomas’s grandson Thomas Hughes, famous for his book about Rugby school, Tom Brown’s Schooldays, which came out in 1857.

There were Hughes also in the Aberystwyth area of north Wales.  John Hughes, born in 1764, was a farmer at Llanbadarn Fawr.  His funeral in 1842 was described in The Welshman as being an example of true Welsh tradition, with the eight sons carrying the coffin down the hill to the church and the youngest son inheriting the farm.

England. There have been Hughes recorded across the border, in Lancashire, Cheshire and Staffordshire.

One notable Hughes family was involved in the papermaking industry from the 1760’s in the Manchester and Bolton area.  Michael Hughes was a successful industrialist in St. Helens who became a major landowner at Sutton.  He had acquired the Sherdley Hall estate in 1798 and it was to remain in the Hughes family until 1970.

Some of the English Hughes had originally come from Wales. Quentin Hughes who did much to preserve Liverpool’s Victorian architectural heritage had Welsh parents.  In 1912 T.J. Hughes founded the shopping emporium in Liverpool which bore his name.  He was the son of James Hughes from the Corwen district of north Wales.  Sadly TJ shot himself in 1934 while on a steamer to Ireland.

Ireland. Hughes came to Ireland from Wales; or it can also be Irish – from the Gaelic O’Haodha, meaning “fire.” The name crops up principally in Armagh (where it is the second most common surname), but is also in Fermanagh and Tyrone, as well as in Mayo on the west coast.

A Welsh Hughes family came over with Cromwell in 1649 and settled first in Monaghan and then in Tyrone. Hughes from this family emigrated to Tennessee and Canada in the early 1800’s.  Pierce Hughes was the first of the Hughes gentry family in Wexford.

America. The early Hughes to America came to Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Virginia.  An old Virginia account talked of a Trader Hughes, of unknown origins, who established a trading post with his Indian wife on the north side of the James river. Jesse Hughes, whose father had been killed by Indians in 1778, later became one of the most famous frontier scouts of his time.  Some suspect he had Huguenot origins.

Three Hughes brothers from Wales – Orlando, Leander and William – were said, perhaps dubiously, to have arrived in Virginia around 1700.  Orlando and Leander had land grants in Powhatan county near Richmond in 1740.  Their descendants moved in the late 1700’s through the Cumberland Gap to Tennessee, Kentucky and thence to Missouri.    

Rees Hughes, Welsh-sounding if not Welsh-proven, came to New Kent county, Virginia around 1650.  He lived on Black Creek near a Quaker meeting house.  His son Robert was a Quaker.

Lastly here there was William Hughes, born of uncertain origins in Virginia around 1780.  He was the forebear of Howard Hughes senior, who made his fortune in oil drilling equipment, and of his much more famous son Howard Hughes junior, the aviator pioneer and film producer.

Pennsylvania.  John Hughes, who as John ap Hugh came to Pennsylvania in 1698, was the forebear of the Quaker Hughes in Berks county. His son Ellis moved from Gwynedd to Olney in 1731 and was a leader at the Exeter Meeting.  Ellis’s son John married Daniel Boone’s daughter Hannah in 1742 and they had two children before Hannah died at the age of 27.   

Another Ellis Hughes of this family, a public surveyor, was among the first settlers of the Catawissa area in Columbia county in the 1770’s. William Hughes, his cousin, laid out the township in 1786 and Job Hughes, his brother, was a Quaker minister there.  The complete family line was covered in David Hughes’ 1998 book Our Hughes Family: Three Centuries in America.

Edward Hughes, son of Morgan Hugh, acquired land in 1703 at Radnor in what was part of the Welsh tract.  He and his family was closely connected to the Welsh St. David’s church there.  His son Isaac, a Quaker, moved with his family to Winchester, Virginia around 1760, but he died there in 1776 at the young age of thirty-eight.

Other Hughes came to Montgomery county where they established their home, Walnut Grove, in the early 1700’s.  John Hughes of this family was appointed the stamp officer for Pennsylvania by Benjamin Franklin in 1765. Isaac Hughes was in residence at Walnut Grove during the Revolutionary War and General Washington visited him frequently there during his time at Valley Forge.

Irish.  Thomas Hughes, from a wealthy Irish family in Donegal, came to Virginia in 1739 because of religious problems. His family became large landowners, first in Virginia and then in Pennsylvania, retaining the house servants that they had brought with them from Ireland. Later Hughes migrated west to Indiana and Ohio. Thomas Hughes’s 1880 book Memoirs of My Family described their line.

John Hughes from a Hughes sept in Tyrone emigrated to America in 1817. He became a Catholic priest there and was regarded as “the best known if not exactly the best loved Catholic bishop in the country.” In 1842 he became the first Archbishop of New York.  He was also a founder of Fordham University.

Canada. In 1804 Job Hughes, the Quaker minister at Catawissa in Pennsylvania, moved to the new Quaker settlement at Newmarket in Ontario. His son Samuel became a president of Canada’s first farm cooperative, the Farmers’ Storehouse Company, and was a reform politician.

Sam Hughes, the Canadian munitions minister in World War One, had Irish blood in him. His father John Hughes worked at Tyrone, Ontario and then at Solina nearby, which was where Sam was born.

AustraliaThomas Hughes came with his family as bounty immigrants to Sydney from Ireland in 1840.  His son John prospered as a merchant and importer in Sydney, so much so that he could build an elegant home for himself and his family and be a major benefactor to Catholic causes. 

Billy Hughes, born and raised in London, was the son of Welsh-speaking parents. He came to Australia in 1884 at the age of 22 and involved himself in politics, first with the Socialist League and then with the newly-formed Labor party. He was Labor Prime Minister of Australia from 1915 to 1923 and proved to be an effective and popular war leader.

However, growing more conservative as he grew older, he had conflicts with his son Bill, a Labor agitator during the Depression years of the 1930’s.

Hughes Surname Miscellany

Daffydd Llwyd ap Hugh at Plas Coch.  Daffydd Llwyd ap Hugh began the construction of his home at Plas Coch in Anglesey in 1569.  He was the first of his family to take the English surname of Hughes.

He married into the Montagu family (the Dukes of Manchester) which brought him many contacts in the English legal and political establishment of the time.  He was Anglesey’s MP in 1597 and then Attorney-General for North Wales.   In 1609 James I appointed him Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, but he died before being able to take up the post.  The Plas Coch manor house and grounds were recently restored into a luxury holiday home park.

The Rev. Thomas Hughes of Ruthin School.  Ruthin School is one of the oldest private schools in the country.  The Rev. Thomas Hughes, previously a master at Hanmer School in Flintshire, was appointed its headmaster in 1739.  It was said that “he carried the School to a degree of celebrity it had not before obtained.”  He held the position until 1768.  He was also the rector at Llanfwrog until his death in 1776.

The Rev. Thomas, born in 1713, had been the son of Captain Myndic Hughes of Liverpool and the grandson of a Hughes from Gelle Faulor in Flintshire.  He apparently bore the arms of his uncle Thomas Wood of Hillingdon in Middlesex whose estate he inherited in 1748.

The children of the Rev. Thomas and his wife Elizabeth (nee Salusbury) included Robert Hughes of Holborn in London and the Rev. Thomas Hughes of Kew in Surrey.  This Rev. Thomas was the grandfather of Thomas Hughes, the author of Tom Brown’s Schooldays, and of his sister, Jane Hughes, described by Florence Nightingale as ‘a noble army of one’ on account of her work for pauper children. 

The Hughes of Kinmel.  The Kinmel estate in Flintshire, which had been around since the 16th century, was acquired in 1786 by the Rev. Edward Hughes.

The family money had come when Edward, a young curate in Anglesey, had fallen in love with Mary Lewis, the daughter of his employer, the rector of Trefdraeth.  She had been left on the death of her uncle the house of Llysdulas on Anglesey, along with a “barren hill” nearby.

This hill was what is now known as Parys Mountain, the great copper mine that was to be owned by Edward Hughes and his partner Sir Nicholas Bayly.  At its peak the mine employed 1,500 miners and Hughes and Bayly divided upwards of £300,000 a year, a huge amount of money at the turn of the 19th century. Through this windfall Edward Hughes had built up a prodigious estate, the jewel of which was Kinmel.

In 1860 Kinmel passed to a nephew of the family, Hugh Robert Hughes, affectionately known as HRH. This was a reflection not just of his initials, but of his grand lifestyle and affectations. HRH embarked upon a massive construction program for the estate.  Kinmel Hall was built with 52 main bedrooms and quarters for 60 live-in servants and a room used only for ironing the newspapers. The flamboyance of HRH proved the old adage of: “It takes one generation to start an estate, one to consolidate it, and a third to lose it.”

Although the family ceased to live there in 1929, it still occupies a prominent situation in the park and serves as a reminder of Victorian splendor and excess.

The Hughes Name Distribution in 1881.  There were approximately 84,000 Hughes in the UK census of 1881.  Some 25,000 or 30% were in north Wales and 35,000 or 42% in Wales as a whole.

County Numbers (000’s) Percent
Caernarvon    8.1    23
Denbighshire    5.5    16
Anglesey    5.4    15
Flintshire    4.3    12
Merioneth    2.2     6
Elsewhere in Wales   10.1    28
Total   35.3   100

The Hughes name had extended principally into the English counties that were neighboring to north Wales.

County Numbers (000’s) Percent
Lancashire   12.5    26
Staffordshire    3.9     8
Cheshire    3.6     7
Shropshire    2.3     5
Elsewhere   26.3    54
Total in
  48.6   100

The largest numbers in Lancashire were to be found in Liverpool, notably in Toxteth Park and Everton.

Trader Hughes in Virginia.  Most histories of Amherst county, Virginia recount the first settler in the area to be an Indian trader known as “Trader Hughes.”

He had established a trading post on the James River about a half-mile west of the mouth of Otter Creek.  He had the first stone chimney in the area, which qualified him as the first permanent settler.  This location was where several Indian paths intersected and near the river access to the Valley of Virginia, apparently a busy intersection in the mid/late 1600’s.

Hughes’ Indian wife was said to be Princess Nicketti Powhatan, the niece of the famous Pocahontas.  Hughes and Nicketti had one daughter Elizabeth, born around 1654.  She married Nathaniel Davis, a Welshman and an early settler in the region.  He made a large fortune by having choice river-bottom lands and trading with the Indians.

But who was Trader Hughes?

Some historical references described him as a Scotsman, others said that he was an English cavalier, and others again that he may have been Welsh.  His first name could have been John; or Rees or Rice.  There is no known connection with any other Hughes in Amherst county. 

John Hughes, Archbishop of New York.  John Hughes was the first Catholic Archbishop of New York, serving from 1842 to 1864, and much acclaimed for his service.

He became known as “Dagger John,” both for his following the Catholic practice wherein a bishop precedes his signature with a cross, as well as because of his aggressive personality.  However, he did much for the Catholic community in New York, as well as taking on wider diplomatic responsibilities.

“He was one of the greatest prelates of the Church in America. He succeeded in having the existing school system modified in favor of Catholics and he afterward laid the permanent foundation of the parochial-school system. He was the recognized exponent of Catholic thought in his day and the organization and extension of the Church, not only in New York, but throughout the United States, was largely due to his energy and statesmanlike ability.

By his firmness and decision during the Know-Nothing outbreak, he saved New York from murder and arson, and later he materially assisted in quelling the draft riots.

At the outbreak of the Mexican War he was requested by the United States Government to accept a diplomatic appointment with a view of bringing about a restoration of peace.  During the Civil War he was sent to Europe by the Government on a diplomatic mission to counteract the unfriendly feelings that had been excited by Confederate emissaries in certain European cabinets, especially that of France.”

The Howard Hughes Line.  Howard Hughes Jr – the aviator, film maker and latter day eccentric – has captured all the headlines.  But it was his father, Howard Hughes Sr, who was the source of the family fortunes.

He had been a classic entrepreneur, trying and failing at many endeavors before eventually finding success.  This came in the form of the two-cone roller bit which he patented. It allowed rotary drilling for petroleum in places previously inaccessible.  He then made the shrewd and lucrative decision to commercialize the invention by leasing the bits instead of selling them, and founded the Hughes Tool Company in 1909.

The traceable Hughes line is five generations long:

  • William Hughes (born 1780), born in Virginia (of possible English origin).
  • Joshua Hughes (1808-1901), a farmer and blacksmith who migrated west to Illinois.
  • Felix Hughes (1837-1926), born in Illinois.  He fought in the Civil War and later settled in Missouri.
  • Howard Hughes Sr. (1869 – 1924), born in Missouri.  The entrepreneur.
  • and Howard Hughes Jr. (1905 – 1976), born in Texas.  The famous son.

John and Sam Hughes in Canada.  The following were some recollections about John Hughes and his son Sam by a man who knew them both:

“John Hughes was a man of rare and varied ability, a typical Irish gentleman endowed with all the Irish man’s wit and humor.  Possibly his most marked characteristic was a marvellously tenacious memory. The writer recalls hearing him one night in John Gray’s store, at the time of the 66 Fenian raid, repeat a humorous parody of over two hundred, four line stanzas, descriptive of the Fenian trouble in Ireland some years previous.  At its conclusion he stated that he had not repeated this poem for twenty years.

Of his sons we all know Sir Sam, first in prominence, as Minister of Militia in the country’s most critical period.  He achieved a success not surpassed by any incident of the Great War, not even over-shadowed by immortal Verdun. In a non-military country just emerging from colonial status, he raised, trained, equipped and transported to Great Britain an army of 33,000 men in the inconceivable limited period of six months and two months.

Later that band of heroes faced and held and defeated the onslaught of the army outnumbering them ten to one, part of the most highly trained and perfectly equipped fighting machine that ever took the field in the world’s history. The place of Sir Sam in Canadian history is assured.”

Hughes Names

  • Thomas Hughes was the Victorian author of Tom Brown’s Schooldays.
  • John Hughes was the first Catholic Archbishop of New York, serving from 1842 to 1864.
  • Billy Hughes, of Welsh parentage, was the Prime Minister of Australia from 1915 to 1923.
  • Charles Hughes, a Republican politician from New York, was the Chief Justice of the United States from 1930 to 1941.
  • Langston Hughes was an African American poet who flourished during the Harlem Renaissance.
  • Howard Hughes was an American aviator, industrialist, and film maker. He was one of the wealthiest men of the world in the 1930’s but ended his life as a recluse.
  • Emlyn Hughes was England’s football captain in the mid-1970’s.
  • Ted Hughes was the English Poet Laureate from 1984 to 1998.

Hughes Numbers Today

  • 148,000 in the UK (most numerous in Gwynedd)
  • 90,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 69,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

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Written by Colin Shelley

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