Jefferson Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Jefferson Meaning
Jefferson comes from son of Geoffrey, a forename meaning peaceful place.  The surname is not that common in England.
Jefferson is more common in America, thanks to Thomas Jefferson, the third American President.  He was recently discovered to have a Y chromosome belonging to the haplogroup known as K2.
Genetic studies show that this Y-haplogroup is extremely rare in Europe and is more likely to have come from northeast Africa or the Middle East.  Two unrelated Jeffersons in England were also found to have the same Y-haplogroup.  This led The New York Times to speculate that the Jeffersons were Jewish..
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Jefferson Ancestry

England.  The first
reference to a Jefferson appears to be a John Geffreesume, otherwise
as John fitz Geoffrey, as a signature to the 1258 Provisions of Oxford
document.  However, the fitz Geoffrey name was still patronymical
(his son was called fitz John), rather than a surname as we would know

Jeaffresons were yeoman farmers in Suffolk for many generations.
In the early 17th century, John Jeaffreson left his home for a
life of adventure at sea.   He was fortunate in his
connections and was able, in 1625, to secure rights to a plantation in
the West Indies.

His son Samuel established this plantation, the
Red House plantation, in St. Kitts.  Although the Jeaffresons
later returned to England with their profits and bought Dullingham
House in Cambridgeshire, it is believed that one of these Jeaffresons
migrated from Antigua to Virginia and was the forebear of the American
President, Thomas Jefferson.

Yorkshire  The
name John
Jeffrason appeared in Yorkshire in the 1528 York register.
subsequently were to be found in the East Ridings:

  • a Jefferson
    family were landowners in Hook and Howden,
    dating back to Robert Jefferson in the 1680’s.  There were and
    still are clusters of Jeffersons in and
    around Driffield nearby.
  • and the name still means something in
    Thorganby where the family had been benefactors.  Locals protested
    when the name of their pub, The
    Jefferson Arms
    , was changed to The
    Indian Elephant.

The actor Thomas Jefferson was born in Ripon in
1732.  The family later emigrated to Philadelphia.  His son
and grandson also became actors, the latter, Joseph, achieving public
renown in America for his portrayal of Rip Van Winkle.   He
put on a show in Washington, Our
Japanese Embassy,
when the first ever Japanese delegation came
to America in 1860.

Jeffersons can also be traced from the early 1600’s across the Pennines
in what is now Cumbria.  A Jefferson family owned the Bulmer Hill
farm near Wigton.  From Wigton came Robert Jefferson who founded
the family
rum business in Whitehaven
that bore his name.  This
business, which involved ships, plantations in Antigua and warehouses
in Whitehaven, lasted until 1997.  The warehouses, first built in
1785, now function as a museum.

Also from Cumbria came Stan
Jefferson who crossed the Atlantic, like the Yorskshire Jeffersons, to
tread the boards in America.  He is better known by his stage-name
Stan Laurel of Laurel and Hardy fame.

America.  The Jeffersons
appear to have arrived in Virginia in the 1650’s.  Thomas’s father
Peter claimed land in Albemarle County where he built a 5,000 acre
plantation.  Thomas Jefferson himself served as Governor of
Virginia, was a member of the Continental Congress, and, in 1800,
became the third President of the United States.  He retired to
his estate in Monticello in 1809.

While President, Jefferson concluded in 1803 the Louisiana purchase
which secured for the United States the North American French
possessions in the south.  As such, his name is particularly
commemorated there.

Jeffersons themselves are still to be found
foremost in Virginia, and then in Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, and
Georgia.   Richard Jefferson was granted land in Delaware in
the 1740’s.  John Jefferson was one of those who moved south to
Mississippi in the 1830’s and later went onto Seguin in Texas where he
ran a tavern and operated several stage lines.  Another Jefferson
family from Virginia, the descendants of Colonel Field Jefferson,
migrated to Tennessee and Texas.

Thomas Jefferson has been called the “negro
president.”  He was throughout his life a slaveowner.  His
relationship with his slave Sally Hemings caused much
comment at the
time and still does.  Did Jefferson father any of her six
children, including her son Eston who subsequently moved to Wisconsin
and took the Jefferson name?  Eston’s descendants thought so and
tried to gatecrash the annual Jefferson reunion.

African Americans  It is a noteworthy fact
that 75% of the Jeffersons in America today are black. African Americans
choose their name after Emancipation and many of them obviously chose
as a well-known early President.  There are more than a thousand
descendants of Jefferson by his slaves.  We have post-bellum slave
recollections by
Isaac Jefferson at Monticello, by
Sophronia Jefferson in Kentucky, and by Lewis and Hattie Jefferson in

In more recent times, the popularity of Jefferson as an African
American name is evident from The Jeffersons, the first black
sitcom to be aired on national TV.  Blind Lemon Jefferson
the father of the Texas blues; while Bill Jefferson was in 1990
first black congressman since Reconstruction.


Select Jefferson Miscellany

The Jeffersons of Whitehaven.  The Jeffersons of Whitehaven is a concise and long overdue history of the Jeffersons.

Richard Jefferson, the patriarch of the family, was born in Wigton, but
the fortunes of the family were founded in Whitehaven, once a port of
great importance in England.   The author was born and bred
in West Cumberland and, as a boy, well remembers the Jefferson family
business, with huge barrels of wines and spirits being delivered to
their cellars in Chapel Street by railway wagons drawn by huge
Clydesdale or Percheron horses and the occasional dire result when they

In the 18th century, the Jefferson family were mariners and
shipbuilders.  They acquired estates in Antigua and opened up the
United Kingdom rum trade.  The
Story of Rum
exhibition occupies the Jefferson family’s original
buildings, constructed in 1785.  The Jefferson family was in
business until the two last surviving family members, finding it
difficult to cope with the demands of a disparate group of 18th century buildings, decided to retire.

Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings.  Members of Hemings’ family have passed down the paternity
claim through generations.   Hemings’ children were lightly
skinned.  Several of them “passed” into white society.  A DNA
study concluded that Jefferson was likely the father of at least one of
Hemings six children, Eston Hemings born six years after the accusation
surfaced during President Jefferson’s second term.

There was much comment at the time and even some ditties
written by contemporaries, such as the following:

“Dear Thomas, deem it no disgrace
With slaves to mend thy breed
Nor let the wench’s smutty face
Deter thee from the deed.”

Truscott IV, a white member of the Monticello
Association who invited the black descendants to the Jefferson reunion,
blamed racism for the group’s refusal to let Jefferson’s black
descendants join the association and have the right to be buried in the
Monticello graveyard.

However, the association believed that the Monticello
report was mistaken in many of their evaluations and that there was no
proof that Thomas Jefferson fathered any Hemings child.  They thus
voted not to accept any applications from Hemings family members for
membership in their association.

Isaac Jefferson at Monticello.  In 1847, a writer came across Isaac Jefferson, a man who had served for
many years as one of Thomas Jefferson’s slaves at Monticello.
Isaac was then living in quiet retirement in Petersburgh,
Virginia.  The writer took down Isaac’s life story, as well as a
vivid account of domestic life at Monticello including perhaps the most
detailed first-person description of Sally Hemings ever recorded.

The manuscript was not published.  For more than a
century, Isaac Jefferson’s words lay unread.  In 1951 they were
rediscovered and published under the title Memoirs of a Monticello Slave, an
invaluable insight into everyday life at Jefferson’s home and

Only three other accounts from Thomas Jefferson’s slaves
survive: Madison Hemings’ and Israel Jefferson’s interviews in an Ohio
newspaper in 1873 and Joseph Fossett’s interview in the New York World in 1898.

Geoffrey Jefferson on the Eastern Front.  During World War 1, Geoffrey Jefferson served in the Anglo-Russian
hospital in Petrograd, Russia, where he gained experience in gun wounds
on soldiers wounded on the eatern front.  The hospital, a gift
from the British Empire to its Russian allies, consisted of a basic
clinic with three mobile field hospitals at the front. Patients were
hardly in short supply.  During a single week during the summer of
1916, Jefferson in one of the three field hospitals treated 340 wounded
soldiers and conducted 33 major surgical operations.

Following the March revolution in Russia, chaos prevailed
on the eastern front during the spring of 1917 and the Anglo-Russian
hospital faced almost insurmountable tasks.

Jefferson wrote to his wife in England:

“There are plenty of rumors about an eccentric socialist
named Lenin, which is said to have arrived here via Germany and is now
causing nothing but trouble and misery.  The majority of our
wounded from the war think that he ought to be arrested immediately,
something I hope will be a fait accompli in a few days.”

A few days later Jefferson communicated:

“I have just treated a man who had been shot in the foot
by one of the terrorists of Lenin’s gang.  I don’t think we shall
have any more trouble with these Lenin types.  They are in
majority, and even if they should succeed in assuming power in
Petrograd, the rest of Russia will not act in accordance with their

Thomas Jefferson, the Son of a Famous Actor.  Thomas Jefferson, born in 1857, was the son of Joseph Jefferson, well
remembered by a generation of theater addicts in the role of Rip Van
Winkle which he acted for forty years in the US, Australia, and England.

Thomas grew up to be an actor, though an actor less famed than his
father.  He played with his father in Rip Van Winkle, then
replaced him in the title part, married and had three daughters.
Many years ago, he left the legitimate stage and went into the
movies.  Five years ago he came back to the stage and took over
Frank Bacon’s part in Lightin’.

Last week, divorced from his first wife because he had made too
realistic love to his cinematic heroines, the 71 year old Thomas
Jefferson announced his intention of marrying the latest one of these,
Daisy Robinson aged 32.  Prophets were busy commenting on the
imminent nuptials.

Wesley Jefferson from Mississippi.  Bassist, vocalist, and bandleader Wesley Jefferson has been a stalwart
of the Clarksdale blues scene since the mid 1960’s.  He was born
in Roundaway in Coahoma County in 1944, the oldest boy of thirteen
children. As a youth he picked and chopped cotton, plowed with mules
and later with a tractor, and lived in extreme poverty.

He recalls being influenced by his grandfather, Claude
Jefferson, who played guitar at his home in Clarksdale. He also
furtively listened to records by “deep blues” artists at a juke joint
run by his mother out in the field where they sold catfish and
moonshine made by his stepfather.  Local musicians who he saw
playing at small venues in the country included the one man band
Popeye, guitarist Ernest Roy (the best guitarist I ever saw) and the
band led by Tutwiler’s Lee Kizart, who hauled his piano from gig to gig.



Select Jefferson

  • John Jeaffreson established his family fortunes as a plantation owner in St. Kitts in the West Indies.
  • Henry Jefferson started the Jefferson rum business in Whitehaven in the 1780’s. 
  • Thomas Jefferson was the third American President. 
  • Joseph Jefferson was a nineteenth century actor known for
    his portrayal of Rip Van Winkle. 
  • Blind Lemon Jefferson from
    Texas was one of the first African American blues singers to achieve popular success. 
  • Wallace Jefferson in 2004 became the first African American to be Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court.

Select Jefferson Numbers Today

  • 3,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Warwickshire)
  • 16,000 in America (most numerous
    in Texas).
  • 3,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


Select Jefferson and Like Surnames

The surnames found here cover most of the US Presidential surnames since the first President, George Washington.  Click on the surname below if you wish to know more of that particular President and his name.

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