Jennings Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Jennings Meaning
Jennings is a patronymic surname, deriving from the
early medieval names of Janyn and Jenyn which themselves came from the
diminutive “little John” of John.
It was a Captain Jennens who was said to have had the honor of bringing
the body of Richard the Lionheart back to England in 1200.  Early
spellings of the surname were Walter
Jannes and Richard Janyns, both being recorded in the subsidy rolls of
Worcestershire in

Jennings Resources on

Jennings Ancestry

One theory is that the Jennings came from Yorkshire and that they were
originally Saxons before the Conquest; while some have given Jennings a Danish origin.
Whether these origins were true or
not, the Jennings name had become quite widespread in England by the
16th century.  It could be found in Yorkshire, Derbyshire,
Warwickshire, Hertfordshire, Surrey, and Somerset in the west

One of Henry VIII”s favorites was a Robert Jennings of Shettle in
Derbyshire.  He presented Robert with a sword and belt in 1545
which have been preserved by his descendants.

A Jennings family had inherited the Sandridge estate in Hertfordshire
from the Rowlatts in the 1570’s.  John Jennings, knighted in 1603,
died a lunatic in 1609.  But his son Sir John Jennings was High
Sheriff for
Hertfordshire and the MP for St. Albans.  And his granddaughter
Sarah married the Duke of Marlborough and, through her close friendship
with Queen Anne, was one of the most influential persons of her

Then there the British admiral Sir John Jennings, descended from a
Shropshire family that had suffered for its adherence to the Royalist
cause during the Civil War.  He was at the capture of Gibraltar in
1704 and was knighted for his gallant conduct at that time.

Another John Jennings had been a quartermaster under Cromwell and
owned nearly all of the land on which Birmingham now stands.  He
established the iron works there which were the basis of the city’s
later wealth.  One of his grandsons was William Jennens or Jennings who
left a huge unclaimed fortune on his death in 1798.

Ireland.  Jennings is an
Irish surname of Anglo-Norman origin, from MacSheoinin or MacJonin
meaning “son of little Sean.” They were a subset of the Burke sept
which settled in Mayo and Galway.
These Jennings tended to be strongly attached to the Catholic
faith.  John Jennings of Ballymurphy forfeited his Irish estates
in 1633 rather than change his Catholic religion.  A descendant of
was the Sir Patrick Jennings who became Premier of New South Wales in

Jennings from
Dr. Theobald Jennings who left his native Ireland In 1738 at the time
of the
Penal laws to practice as a physician for SW France:

  • his
    Charles Edward Jennings – better known as Kilmaine, his homeland in
    county Mayo – was one of the greatest Irish soldiers to serve France in
    the 18th century.  He was committed both to the cause of Irish
    independence and to that of the French Revolution.
  • Kilmaine’s
    cousin John Jennings, a doctor back in Ireland, died young
    from a fever he contracted while
    attending a patient in his native Galway.  His death
    occasioned the lament known as Doctúir Jennings.

America.   Many early
Jennings came to New England.

New England.
Early settlers included
Nicholas Jennings who arrived in 1634 on the Francis from Ipswich.  He
settled first in Hartford and later in New Haven and Saybrook where he
suffered various misadventures.  Joshua Jennings, believed to
have been
his brother, was one of the first settlers of Fairfield, Connecticut
in the early 1650’s.

In 1677 Stephen Jennings of Hatfield,
Massachusetts achieved legendary
status for his daring rescue expedition in tracking an Indian raiding
party that had kidnapped his wife and daughters and taken them to
Canada.  He was able to arrange for their
ransom and negotiate their safe return to Massachusetts.  After
this escapade he moved his family to Brookfield.  The farm that he
established there was to remain with the Jennings family into the 20th

Elsewhere.  John
Jennings was an early settler in Southampton, Long Island.
When the British ordered his descendant Israel Jennings to swear
allegiance to the Crown or to give up his home, he elected to
relinquish his property.  He migrated to Kentucky and then to
Ohio.  He was the maternal great-grandfather of William Jennings
Bryan, the Great Commoner.

Another Jennings of this line had moved to New Jersey by the time of
the Revolutionary War.  Dr. Jacob Jennings was a surgeon and
officer from Hunterdon county at that time.  According to Jennings
lore, he was one of those wounded with Washington at Trenton.  He
recovered and later became a pastor in Readington.  His sons
west to Ohio and Indiana.  Jonathan Jennings was the first
Governor of Indiana in 1816.

William Jennings of uncertain origins was to
be found in Virginia – first in Hanover county and then in Nottoway
county – in
the mid/late 1700’s.
  Later Jennings in America were as
likely to be
of Irish origin as of English origin. There were also some German
who became Jennings in America.

Richard Jennings, born in 1600, first appeared
in Bermuda records when he was involved in 1622 in the salvaging of a
shipwreck.  He prospered there.  When he died in 1669 he divided his
considerable land holdings and eleven slaves to his sons Richard and
John who
built upon this wealth, in large part through smuggling.

A Rev. Henry Jennings,
following Richard Jennings, came to Bermuda in 1635.
He was probably the forebear of Captain
Henry Jennings, the Jamaican-based pirate.

Canada.  A
Jennings Quaker family from Vermont crossed
the border into Canada and settled in Norwich township in SW Ontario in
early 1800’s.  Solomon Jennings, a farmer
there, was the father of a remarkable woman – Emily Stowe nee Jennings.  She was the first female public school
principal in Ontario, the first Canadian woman to openly practice
medicine, and
a founding member of the Canadian Women’s Suffrage Association.

South Africa.  A Jennings family was among the 1820 Settlers to
the Eastern CapeThe
young James, who grew
up near Grahamstown, later moved to Transvaal and became a famous
hunter.  He would make expeditions with his
sons into
Matabeleland and even as far away as the Zambezi valley.

.  George and Margaret
Jennings departed West
Cork for New Zealand in 1875.  They made
their home in Otara, a small community near Invercargill on South
Island.  Their descendants celebrated the
of their arrival there in 1977.  Gregg
Jennings’ 1985 book
The Jennings Family: West Cork to New Worlds covered the family history.


Jennings Miscellany

Jennings of Dutch Origin?  Jennings seem to have settled in England before the Norman Conquest.  They were said to have
been of Danish extraction.  Apparently
the first to settle was a Danish captain Jennens brought to England by
Canute.  He was baptized into the
Christian faith and had manors given to him along the east coast near

A descendent of this
Jennens, also a sea captain, was said to have brought the body of
Richard Cour de
Lion from Palestine.  In commendation of
this event he was granted three plummets and shells as a coat of arms.

Jennings in Hertfordshire.  Sir John
Jennings succeeded his father in 1609 and was the High Sheriff for
Hertfordshire and MP for St. Albans.  It
was said of him and his family:

Jennings family were true friends of the first King James and the first
Charles of England; and they spent their large estate in supporting
them.  In later years when these two Kings’
and grand-children came to the throne and tried to pay back the debt by
position at court to Sir Richard’s children, some disparagingly said:
“They are only the daughters of a poor Hertfordshire squire.”  But their beauty, purity and loveliness with
true thankfulness for favors, bestowed upon father and grandfather of
reigning families held them firm, and carried those “poor daughters”
to the highest place next to the throne of England.”

Sir John and his wife had twenty one
children, the eldest of whom, Richard, succeeded him on his death in
1642.  Richard fought on the Royalist side
the Civil War and was captured by the Roundheads.

William Jennens and His Misplaced Spectacles.  One
of the grandsons of Oliver Cromwell’s quartermaster was a certain
William Jennens
(or Jennings), a “crusty old bachelor” and miser who had amassed a
fortune that some called the largest of any commoner in Britain.
He died
in 1798, aged ninety seven, unmarried without any direct heirs and
without a
valid will.

destroyed all
previous wills, he wrote a new one and went to consult his solicitor
signing the document.  He forgot to take his spectacles and, as
solicitor’s pair did not fit him, he put his will in his pocket and
home.  In a few days he died and his unsigned will was found still
in his

death touched off a
feeding frenzy among lawyers that lasted into the 20th century.
Vast sums
have been spent in searching church records, public documents,
libraries, and
even tombstones, with the object of establishing a line of descent for
claimant or another from the Jennings line.

The Mysterious William Jennings in Virginia.  It was claimed that William Jennings was born in
1676, the son of Humphrey and Mary Jennens of Nether Whitacre in
that he had come to America in the early part of the 18th century to
fight in
the Indian wars, settled in Hanover county in Virginia, and died in
county in 1775.

This was then the William Jennings who apparently died at
the age of 99 and was buried with his full military
uniform and sword at the old Jennings cemetery in Hanover county.  When his grave was opened in 1875 the
military buttons and sword were found rusted but intact.
Years after his death, he was pointed out as
the rightful heir of the great Jennens estate in England.

However, his genealogy came from a great
grand-daughter who was one of the fortune seekers of the estate, a 1873
affidavit from
William Jennings below supporting her claim:

“I, William Jennings of Nottoway
county, do hereby certify that I was born in October 1789 and am now 84
lacking two months.  I was married in
1815 to Nancy Robertson of Nottoway county.
My father was John Jennings.  He
was a son of William Jennings Jr. and he a son of William Jennings Sr.
in 1775.  He was a son of Humphrey
Jennings Sr. of 1690 and he was a son of John Jennings of 1651, this
latter from
family tradition.”

A more likely version was that this William
Jennings was born in 1702 in Virginia, the son of Robert and Jane
Jennings of
New Kent and later Hanover county.

Some of the $40 million Jennens estate money
did make its way across the Atlantic – to a young society matron in San
Francisco named Mrs. Franklin P. Bull.
She was the grand-daughter of Mrs. Mary Hurley, the
niece and sole heir of Colonel Berriman Jennings.

Joshua Jennings of Fairfield, Connecticut.  The family
tradition was that Joshua Jennings came from Norfolk and sailed to New
with his two brothers sometime in the 1630’s.
It is thought that these two brothers were Nicholas who moved
Saybrook and John who was present at Hartford.

Joshua Jennings’ name appeared at Hartford in 1648.  But he departed Hartford two years later
after a run-in with the authorities over some trivial offence.

‘Joshua Jennings, for not watching one night
and other ill carriage to the Constable, is to pay to the watchman in
his room
and is fined 2s 6d.”

was a stiff-necked Puritan who could not be coerced and would rather
leave his
home than submit to a fine to which he objected.

settled at Barlow’s Plain in Fairfield and
died there, leaving a good estate.  His
son Joshua settled at Green’s Farms.

Early Jennings of the American West.  Edmond Jennings
who migrated from Virginia to North Carolina and into Tennessee had
become a
veteran Indian fighter by the time of the American Revolution.   In
1784 after his father Jonathan was killed by Indians near Nashville,
Edmond moved
westwards on river waterways, trapping and seeking his fortune and
arriving in SW Missouri where he lived with the Osage Indians for
fifteen years
in modern day Jasper county.  When he
finally returned to Tennessee, he operated a ferry service along the
river at Jennings Creek and regaled his passengers and neighbors with
his colorful
stories, triggering an unintended land-rush of settlers into Missouri.

Berryman Jennings traveled from his boyhood
home in Kentucky in the late 1820’s to SE Iowa and became the first
school master in that territory.  Later,
he migrated west to Oregon, set up a steamboat service on the
Willamette river,
traded dry goods with San Francisco, and became elected to the Oregon
legislature.  The town of Jennings Lodge
Portland is named for him.

Jennings of Mayo.  The Jennings were descended
from the Norman family of de Burgo or Bourke.  They
were the McSeonins, or “sons of John,” later
anglicized to Jonine and then to Jennings. The Jennings family held
lands in the barony of Kilmaine in county Mayo before the land
upheavals of the
17th century when they were deprived of most of their estates.

George Jenings, a lawyer and agent, acquired
lands from various proprietors in Kilmaine in the mid-18th century.  His nephew, George Jenings, was the first to
reside at Mount Jenings at Hollymount in Kilcommon parish.  The estate stayed with the family until

Many Jennings emigrated from Mayo during bleak
times in the 19th century, including:

  • Martin
    Jennings, who left in the late
    1840’s for Coventry in England
  • John
    Jennings from Ballintubber who left in the
    1850’s for Warwickshire in England
  • Tobias
    and Margaret Jennings from Westport
    who departed for Glasgow in the 1860’s
  • Anthony
    Jennings who married Mary Noone
    in Claremorris in 1861 and departed for Massachusetts
  • and
    Hubert Jennings of
    Knocknadrimna, many of whose children departed for  America.

The Jennings Family Among the 1820 Settlers.  James Jennings from Wiltshire was
28 and his wife Mary 30 when they decided to join the 1820 Settlers to
Africa with their one year old son. They boarded the Weymouth,
a sailing vessel of about 400 tons, at Portsmouth on
December 21, 1819.

Some days later, when the ship had put out to Spithead, James
was taken seriously ill and it was decided to put the family
ashore.  He was
taken off by longboat and admitted to Haslar hospital.
Before Mary and the baby could follow, a gale
blew up which made landing impossible.

The Weymouth
sailed for the Cape with them still on board. It was only on her
arrival in
South Africa that Mary learned her husband had died the day after
entering the

Reader Feedback – Jennings and Jordan DNA in America.  I just had my ethnic DNA test results from
23 and me. My haplogroup came back for R-M222.  My surname is Jennings.

I have been told it may not be Jennings by family tradition. The story
goes that
Jasper Jennings went to fight in the American Civil War and died.
My 2nd great
grandmother Rachael Jennings gave birth two years after Jasper’s death
to my my
great grandfather Jeptha Jennings.  Because of shame, the family
moved from Iowa
to Kansas.

ago my grandmother snooped and ask one of Jeptha’s older
brothers who the father might be. He told her that he believed the
man’s name
might have been Jordan.  Would the
haplogroup R-M222 fit into people who have the surname Jordan?

Shane Jennings (

Janning and Jennings.  One Janning
family were small farmers some 35 miles outside of Hamburg in Germany
the 19th century.  Peter Janning was born
there in 1834.  He married Adelheid
Appeln and they were to have four children – Ann, John, Henry and
Frederick.  Peter, however, died in 1877
at the young age of 43 and his widow and their three sons decided to
to America.

The youngest son Frederick
remembered the voyage vividly, although being only six at the time:

told of the
assassination of President Garfield while enroute made a deep and
impression on my mind.  Both mother and I deplored such a
dastardly act to
assassinate such a good and great man.  We
landed in the port of Baltimore after fourteen days at sea on the good
ship Braunsweig.  We
boarded an emigrant train to Chicago via
the Baltimore and Ohio R.R. arriving safely in Janesville, Wisconsin,
our final

It should be noted that the
family name changed from Janning to Jennings.  However,
the name Jennings should be considered corrupt. The correct
pronunciation in
German is as though spelled J-o-h-n-i-n-g.
In America Janning was commonly pronounced with a long “A.”  Therefore the letter “E” was substituted for
the letter “A,” the suffix letter “S” being also assumed.
Hence the name Jennings.  Jennings
was the name used by all three of
the sons in America.

Frederick Jennings returned
to the land of his birth in 1928 and made the following observations as
to how
the world had changed in the intervening years.

“From tallow candle, oil lamp, to electric light.

From lumber wagon to carriage and automobile.

From walking to riding bicycles.

From harvesting grain with sickle and scythe
to the machine grain binder.

From the sound of the human voice heard within its own limitations to its reproduction
on records and heard around the world by radio.

From poverty to plenty.

From an average standard of living to the highest standard in the world.

From riding in automobiles to flying in aeroplanes.

From tintypes, photography to television.

From farming by man power in Europe to tractor machine power in America.

From business depression to an era of prosperity the
world has never seen before and may never see again.”

With the Great Depression just around the corner, he was wrong about the last observation.


Jennings Names

  • Henry Jennings was a
    successful pirate who operated out of Jamaica against the Spanish in the early 18th century.
  • Sir Patrick Jennings was an
    Irish-Australian politician who became Premier of New South Wales in 1886.
  • Pat Jennings was a Northern
    Ireland footballer who played for his country as goalkeeper no fewer
    than 119 times between 1964 and 1986.
  • Waylon Jennings, born in Texas, was a popular country music singer of the 1970’s and 80’s.
  • Peter Jennings of ABC was one
    of the “Big Three” news anchors who dominated the American TV network news from the early 1980’s to the early 2000’s.  He was born in Toronto, Canada.

Select Jennings Numbers Today

  • 26,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Edinburgh)
  • 32,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 17,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)


Select Jennings and Like Surnames

The English came to Ireland as early as 1170 with Strongbow’s invasion.  The invaders – largely Anglo-Norman – stayed and many became large landowners and public officials.

Over time their Norman French names changed to fit the local landscape – le Gras to Grace, de Burgh to Burke, de Leon to Dillon, and de Lench to Lynch for instance.  They became more Irish, often Catholic.  When the English came again, in the 16th and 17th centuries, some sided with the English and were rewarded.  But others resisted and had lands confiscated.

Here are some of these Anglo-Irish surnames that you can check out.




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