Jeffries Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Jeffries Surname Meaning

The Old French personal names of “Jeufroi,” “Jefroi,” or “Geuffroi,” meaning “peaceful place,” were brought to England by the Normans. They became Jeffrey or Geoffrey in Middle English.

Jeffries is the patronymic (“son of”) from Jeffrey.  Modern variants of the surname are Jeffries, Jefferies, Jefferis and Jeffreys.

Jeffries Surname Resources on The Internet

Jeffries, Jefferies and Jeffreys Surname Ancestry

  • from Wales and Western England
  • to America, Australia and New Zealand

Wales.  There was a family who later became Jeffreys who had owned lands in Llywel parish in Brecon since the early 1500’s and possibly earlier.  Their home was Ynys Clydach.

John Jeffreys of this family moved to London in the 1650’s and became a wealthy tobacco merchant.  On his death, his business was carried on by his nephew Sir Jeffrey Jeffreys, described as “a merchant of great fortune” (he was in fact a slave trader).

Another line of Jeffreys in Brecon began with Jeffrey Jeffreys, a prosperous mercer, who had purchased the Abercynrig estate in 1621.  His descendants later established themselves in Swansea.

John Jeffreys, chief justice of the Anglesey court in north Wales, was the first of his family in the late 1500’s to adopt the Jeffreys name.  His son John, also a judge, lived at Acton Hall, the largest house in Wrexham at that time.

It was there that his grandson Judge George Jeffreys, later to be known as the “Hanging Judge,” was born.  The Judge was married twice and had thirteen children, but no surviving grandchildren. The Jeffreys line continued through his younger brother James.

England.  The Jeffries name in England was most prominent in the west country.

West Country.  Early Jeffries were in Worcestershire.  Henry Jeffreys was recorded as leasing Ham manor near Clifton in 1505 and the Jeffreys were there for the next two centuries.  Joyce Jeffreys of this family was an enterprising businesswoman who lived through the Civil War.  Meanwhile William Jefferies, who had been a cofferer at the court of Henry VIII, had been able to acquire Earls Croome Court in Worcestershire in the 1560’s.

Samuel and Elizabeth Jeffreys were married at Langley Burrell in Wiltshire around the year 1720.  Later Jeffreys of this line were to be found in London by 1800.  Another Jeffries family history began with a Henry Jeffries who was born in Wiltshire in 1775 and then moved to Berkshire as a young man.

A Jeffries family in Herefordshire in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s was one of the first developers of the Hereford breed of cattle.  Thomas Jeffries bred the famous Hereford bull Cutmore in 1836.  Richard Jefferies, born near Swindon in Wiltshire, was a Victorian writer on nature and rural life.  His birthplace and home there is now a museum open to the public.

Generally, Jeffries and its variants were names to be found in the west country, either side of the English/Welsh border.  By the 19th century:

  • the Jeffries spelling appeared most often in a line running south from Staffordshire into Gloucestershire
  • Jefferies was more to be seen in the southwest, in the counties of Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Somerset
  • whilst Jeffreys, the earliest spelling but by that time the least used of the three spellings, was a name then mainly of south Wales.

Elsewhere.  There were Jeffries or Jefferies elsewhere.  One family line started with the birth of Jonathan Jefferies at Sible Hedingham in Essex in 1782.  He later migrated with his family to Streatham in south London.  Many of his descendants moved to Florida in the 1890’s where they became involved in the growing of citrus fruits.

America.  Jeffries were first found in New England.

New England.  Meanwhile in New England David Jeffries had arrived from Wiltshire in 1677 and become a merchant in Boston. From his line came two notable physicians:

  • Dr. John Jeffries, a young surgeon in Boston at the time of the Revolutionary War.  He was, however, also a Loyalist and he left for London where he gained some fame as an early balloonist.  He returned to Boston in 1789.
  • and a later John Jeffries who founded the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston in 1824.

Virginia.  Sir Jeffrey Jeffreys the slave trader had owned large tracts of land in Virginia and Edward Jeffreys of his family moved there from Barbados in the 1680’s.  He settled in Richmond county where he died in 1715.  His descendant Achilles Jeffries left Virginia for Missouri in 1819, settling in Franklin county.

Other notables were:

  • Moses Jeffries who was born in Fauquier county, Virginia in 1771.  His family was followed in Marie Jeffries Capps’ 1973 book The Moses Jeffries Family of Northern Virginia.
  • while the family of Jim Jeffries the boxer had come originally from Virginia.  He himself was born in Ohio and his family moved to California when he was a young man.

Australia.  Two Jefferys who came to Australia in the 19th century may have had family connections with Judge Jeffreys:

  • Arthur Jeffreys, the youngest son of the Rev. John Jeffreys of Barnes in London, who came to Australia in 1839.  He prospered as a cattle and sheep rancher, naming his home Acton after the Jeffreys home in north Wales, but he died relatively young.   His son became an MP back in England and his grandson a baronet.
  • and George Jeffery who emigrated to South Australia in 1847.  Later George Jefferys served on a cruiser ship during the Boxer rebellion in China (his diary of those times has been preserved) and as a Western Australian MP in the 1950’s.

New Zealand.  Henry Jeffreys, born to an English family in India, immigrated to Otago, New Zealand in 1850.  He died young and his son Henry was committed to the Dunedin lunatic asylum while suffering from religious mania.  But his wife Ellen lived on.  Her paintings survive in the Otago Early Settlers Museum and the Hocken Library.

Jeffries Surname Miscellany

Jeffries, Jefferies, and Jeffreys.  Modern variants of the surname are Jeffries, Jefferies and Jeffreys.  The table below shows their approximate numbers today.

Numbers (000’s) Jeffries Jefferies Jeffreys
UK    7    7    2
America    7    2    1
Elsewhere    5    3    1

John Jeffreys, Tobacco Merchant.  John Jeffreys prospered in the mid 1600’s as a London merchant dealing with newly developed tobacco in the Virginia colonies.  He was to suffer some financial reverses from the Great Fire in London in 1666.

On the morning of September 2, a fire broke out in the baker’s house and quickly spread.  It soon also burned down Thames Street where all the tobacco warehouses. W.G. Bell’s book The Great Fire of London recorded:

“Alderman John Jeffries of Bread St. ward and a former M.P. for Brecknockshire in Wales had tobacco burned at a value of 20,000 pounds sterling in the fire.”

Although he was hurt financially by the loss of his tobacco and warehouses, he had become so wealthy by this time that he was soon able to rebuild and continue his profitable business.

Judge Jeffreys, the Hanging Judge.  After Monmouth’s rebellion failed in 1685, Jeffreys dealt with the rebels with great severity, earning himself the nickname of ‘Bloody Jeffreys.’  Not only did he sentence 320 people to death but he also sentenced about 850 to transportation to the West Indies as slaves and ridiculed them in his court whilst passing sentence. There was one reported case where he brought up four large horses and had the man’s arms and legs tied to the horses and then had the horses beaten until the man was quartered.

Such was the storm of protest afterwards that Judge Jeffreys was taken to the Tower of London and locked up.  He died there four years later.

Dr. John Jeffries, Surgeon, Loyalist, Astronaut.  John Jeffries was an American by birth, having been born in Boston in 1745 where his father was town treasurer.  By 1784 he was a British subject living in England, a Loyalist who had served in British military posts during the Revolutionary War. A year later he and a Frenchman were the first to fly a hot air balloon across the English Channel.  But he returned to Boston in 1789 to resume his illustrious surgery practice there.  And he died an American in Boston in 1819.

In June 1783 the Montgolfier brothers had launched their first large balloon in Paris. Soon a Frenchman named Jean Pierre Blanchard started to imagine ways that such balloons could be steered in flight.  He thought he would find more patrons outside France, so he went to England.  That patron turned out to be Dr. John Jeffries. In November 1784 they undertook their first flight together in Blanchard’s hydrogen balloon.

Then, two months later, the two men undertook something infinitely more daring, the first balloon crossing of the English Channel. Half way across the Channel, the balloon started to descend and they started to jettison things to keep them airborne.  Jeffries recalled:

“We had not now anything left to cast away as ballast in future, excepting the wings, apparatus, and ornaments of the car, with our clothes, and a few little articles.  But as a counterpart to such a situation, we here had a most enchanting and alluring view of the French coast, from Blackness and Cape Blanez to Calais, and on to Gravelines.”

They even jettisoned their own clothes before finally managing to make it to the French coastline.

Jeffries returned to England and published his account of the trip.  But he never quite got the adulation he expected in London from his accomplishment.  So when he received letters from his father David Jeffries, who had never left Boston, to return, he did so and departed England in 1789.

Thomas Jeffries and His Herefords.  In 1836 the Hereford bull Cotmore was calved.  It had been bred by Thomas Jeffries and was acknowledged to be the greatest bull ever produced to that day.  Its weight at nine years was 3,920 pounds.

Thomas Jeffries was recognized by his contemporaries.  A subscription list, prefaced by the following notice, appeared in the Hereford papers in 1839:

“Many admirers as well as breeders of Hereford cattle having viewed with feelings of pride the success of Mr. Thomas. Jeffries of The Grove in obtaining at the first meeting of the English Agricultural Society, held at Oxford on July 17, 1839, a prize for exhibiting the best Hereford bull, desire to present him with a piece of plate, as an expression of the highest estimation in which his services are held as a breeder of Herefords.”

Mr. Jeffries was presented at a dinner with a magnificent service of plate.  The service, along with a large number of cups, has later in the possession of his son Henry who treasured them not only as evidence of the skill of his father and other members of the family in breeding Herefords, but also as a testimony of the esteem in which Mr. Jeffries was held by a wide circle of friends.

Charles Jeffries and His Concertina.  Charles Jeffries was born near Paddington in London in 1841. According to legend, he was a tinker – someone who mends pots and pans, sharpens knives, and deals in various scrap metal objects.  His descendants have adamantly contended that he was, like his father, a brushmaker in his younger days.  Still, brushmaking could be an itinerant occupation, with the brushes being made during the winter and hawked through the summer. And hence Charles in his wandering days might have been mistaken for a tinker.

Charles probably acquired his first concertina in the early 1860’s. One legend of his early life has him traveling with his barrow and playing his concertina to attract the attention of people in the surrounding houses or busking for pennies when business was quiet.  When people became interested in his concertina, he would offer to sell them one.  If the story has any truth, most of his early customers would have been ordinary folks.

Somehow his skills eventually led him to the concertina as a trade, apparently first as an aspiring concertina player, then as a repairer, and finally as a maker.  In the 1866 birth certificate for his child, his occupation was given as “musical instrument maker,” but the “maker” was then struck out and corrected to “mender.”  By 1969, his occupation was given as “musical instrument maker.”  This is good evidence that Charles Jeffries went into the concertina trade in earnest in the mid-to-late 1860’s.

Reader Feedback – Jeffries from Cornwall to Australia.  My ancestor Samuel Jeffries as a family of ten migrated to Sydney from the UK, I believe from Polperro in Cornwall, in 1838 on the Layton. Hopefully one day I may be able to trace my ancestors in the UK.

Aaron Jeffries (

Jeffries Names

  • George Jeffreys was known as the “Hanging Judge” because of how he dealt with the ringleaders of Monmouth’s rebellion in 1685.
  • Richard Jefferies was an English writer about nature and rural life in Victorian times.
  • Jim Jeffries became boxing heavyweight champion of the world when he defeated Bob Fitzsimmons in Brooklyn in 1899.
  • Boyd Jefferies founded the global investment bank of Jefferies & Company in 1962.

Jeffries Numbers Today

  • 16,000 in the UK (most numerous in West Midlands)
  • 10,000 in America (most numerous in Ohio)
  • 9,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Jeffries and Like Surnames   

Patronymic surnames can be with either the “-son” or the shorter “s” suffix to the first name.  The “s” suffix is more common in southern England and in Wales.  Here are some of these surnames that you can check out.



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Written by Colin Shelley

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