Jefferson Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Jefferson Surname 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.

Jefferson Surname Resources on The Internet

Jefferson Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Suffolk and Northern England)
  • to America (incl. African Americans) and to New Zealand

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

Suffolk.  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. Jeffersons 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.

Cumbria.  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 slave-owner.  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 could choose their name after Emancipation and many of them obviously chose Jefferson as a well-known early President.  There are more than a thousand living 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 Mississippi.

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

New Zealand.  Thomas Jefferson, a blacksmith from Durham, brought his family out to New Zealand in 1913.  They settled in the mining town of Pukemiro.  However, his son John died in a mining accident in 1917 and he himself passed away two years later.  He was survived by a widow, three sons and two daughters.

Jefferson Surname 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 bolted.

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.”

Lucian 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.

Jefferson’s example was followed by others in his entourage.  His protégé John Wayles Eppes, who married his daughter Maria at Monticello in 1797, also had a long-term liaison with a slave-girl.  Her name was Betsy Hemmings and she was the mixed-race daughter of Mary Hemings.  She bore his two children and outlived him by more than thirty years.  When she died in 1857 she was buried next to Eppes in his family cemetery.

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 plantation.

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 premises.”

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.

Jefferson Names

  • 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.

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)

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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Written by Colin Shelley

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