Jewell Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Jewell Surname Meaning

Jewell is an English surname of French Breton or Celtic Cornish origin. The root is the Old Breton Iudicael or the Celtic Jud and hael, composed of elements meaning “lord” and “generous” or “bountiful.”

The name was borne by a 7th century saint, a king of Brittany who abdicated and then spent the last part of his life in a monastery.  As Jule, Jewel, Jewell, or even Jekyll, it was a name found mainly in Devon and Cornwall.

Jewell Surname Resources on The Internet

Jewell Surname Ancestry

  • from SW England and from Jewish emigrants
  • to America and Australia

EnglandJudhael de Totnes from Brittany, a prominent supporter of William the Conqueror, was granted a large landholding in Devon after the invasion. He may have been the origin of many of the Jewell names in that county.

Devon and Cornwall.  Jewell has been mainly a name of Devon and Cornwall (which together accounted for just under half of the Jewells in the 1881 census). Early reported Jewells from these counties were:

  • the name Warinfilius (son of) Juelis, which was recorded in Devon in 1273.
  • John Jewel, a freelance English captain who fought in Brittany in the 14th century. His troops were defeated by a Breton army under Bertrand du Guesclin in 1364.
  • and another John Jewell, born in Buden (Devon) in 1522, who became a priest. He was persecuted by the Catholics because of his strong Protestant beliefs. He was mainly known from his writings on ecclesiastical subjects which were later collected and published as a book.

Georgious Jule aka George Jewell was born in the village of Poughill near Bude in Cornwall, close by the Devon border, in 1567.  Thomas Jewell of this family emigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1630’s; and Mathias Jewell moved to the Wendron area of Cornwall in the early 1700’s.  Much later, John Bryant Jewell was a yeoman farmer who died at Poughill in 1844.  Another John Bryant Jewell joined the Royal Marines in 1918.

A Jewell line from Clovelly in north Devon began with Jonathan Jewell, born there around 1710. Clovelly church records contain nineteen references to different members of this family over time. They tended to be either farmers or seamen. Jonathan Jewell was drowned in the great storm of 1821. A number of these Jewells emigrated to Australia and Canada in the mid-19th century. But there were still ten Jewell families left in the village by the time of the 1871 census.

Archie Jewell, from nearby Bude in Cornwall, was a lookout on the Titanic on its fateful voyage in 1912. He was one of the few to survive. Later he served on and survived the sinking of the Britannic.

Jewish.  Jewell can be a Jewish name. A Jewish family fled Poland at the time of Napoleon’s invasion and ended up in Jersey in the Channel Islands. Some of these Jewells remained there, others came to London. Joel Jewell, a furniture dealer in Paddington, died in 1892 and was buried in Balls Pond Jewish cemetery.

America.  Early Jewells came to New England.

New England.  Thomas Jewell from Cornwall came on the Planter at the age of 27 to New England in 1635. He was a miller but died in Braintree at a relatively young age in 1654.

His wife Grissell was to marry a further four times before her death in 1669 and two of her husbands provided financial support for her five children by Thomas. These Jewells later established themselves at Marlboro in Middlesex county, Massachusetts. Their lineage was covered in Pliny Jewell’s 1860 book The Jewell Register.

This Pliny Jewell, born in 1797, was the founder in Hartford, Connecticut of the largest maker of industrial leather belting in the world at the time.

His son Marshall Jewell was twice Governor of Connecticut before making his name on the national stage, first as US Minister to Russia and then as US Postmaster General. He looked the part. He was distinguished by his fine “china” skin, grey eyes, and white eyebrows, and was popularly known as the ‘Porcelain Man.’”

Another line from Thomas Jewell via his son Joshua led to Eliphalet Jewell, an earlier settler in Oneida county, NY in 1814, and after whom the Jewell hamlet was named.

Maryland.  The Maryland Jewells started with George Jewell who was born there in 1710. A later George Jewell migrated to Virginia, Kentucky, and then to Missouri where he started the first Baptist church at Columbia in 1820.

It was his son William – a church minister, educator, physician, and surveyor – who was to leave his mark on the town, serving as its mayor and later as a state legislator. His legacy is the William Jewell College. Inside the Jewell cemetery, his tombstone reads: “His work is done, he did it well and faithfully.”

Elsewhere.  There were Jewells as well in New Jersey. Moses Jewell was born in Elizabethtown, New Jersey in the 1760’s. He moved to Greene county, Pennsylvania and his descendants were to be found in Ohio, Wisconsin, Tennessee and Kansas. Donavene Brian Liggett’s 1998 book A Jewell Family History covered this line.

Another Jewell line began with Thomas Jewell, orphaned at a young age, who was born in Montgomery county, Virginia in 1765.

Australia.  The collapse of the mining industry in Cornwall in the 19th century caused many Jewells to emigrate to Australia:

  • Thomas Jewell and his family from Crowen, for instance, departed Cornwall for Australia in 1852 and settled in Geelong, Victoria.
  • a few years later Joseph Jewell and his brother Edwin left their home in Clovelly, Devon to seek their fortunes in the Victoria goldfields. Joseph survived the wreck of the General Grant off the coast of New Zealand in 1866.
  • while John and Elizabeth Jewell left Cornwall for the Victorian goldfields on the Caduceus in 1869. John became a mine manager in Bendigo and prospered.

Richard Jewell had emigrated to Western Australia from Devon in 1852 to seek a better climate for his frail wife. Trained as an architect, he designed many of the public buildings put up in Perth during the latter half of the 19th century.

Jewell Surname Miscellany

Judhael de Totnes.  Judhael de Totnes from Brittany was a prominent supporter of William the Conqueror.  His recording in the Domesday Book suggests that Judhael took the title “de Totnes” when he was granted authority over this region in Devon.  After Baldwin the sheriff, Judhael was the largest landowner in Devon and Totnes was the seat of his power.

Notes in the Devon Domesday Book suggest that Judhael was expelled from Totnes in 1087 and that the barony was granted to another.  However, he secured the barony of Barnstaple sometime between 1095 and 1100.  As such, he witnessed a charter of Henry 1 in 1123.  But he was dead by 1130.  At that time his son Alfred appears as if he was paying relief on his father’s lands.

Reader Feedback – Bryant Jewells from Poughill in Devon/Cornwall.  My father was a Jewell from the Poughill, Devon line.

He apparently had no siblings and inherited a farm and a sum of money in the mid-1930’s. He was a Bryant Jewell. He said almost nothing about his family to my brother and myself and left the Bryant name off our birth certificates. He died in 1980 at the age of 66. He was a kind, patient and lovely man, but told us very little about himself.

We do know that his father died at 38 and that his widow and son moved to London when she made a second marriage to someone in Battersea. His childhood was apparently quite unhappy, this we learned from our mother. She was not happy at home either and the two of them left their homes early and eventually married when 21 and did not require a parent’s signature to do so.

Any information about earlier lives in the family would be interesting.  Valerie Jewell (

Joseph Jewell and the Wreck of the General Grant.  On May 6, 1866 the American clipper General Grant left Melbourne bound for England via Cape Horn.  On board were 83 passengers and crew, and a cargo of wool, hides, wood, and 2,500 ounces of gold.

After ten days at sea the ship was wrecked on the west coast of the Auckland islands.  Thinking it unwise to abandon ship in darkness the captain waited until morning before launching the longboats.  By this time the swell was high with hazardous backwashes.  Only two partially loaded boats were able to clear the wreck and all but 13 men and one woman were lost.

There were no living inhabitants on the island and the survivors were there for 18 months before they were rescued by a passing whaler.  Two of these survivors were Joseph Harvey Jewell from Clovelly in Devon and his wife Mary Ann.

The couple returned to Australia.  Joseph wrote to his father Captain John Jewell back in Clovelly of his experience:  “Such a night of terror I think was never experienced by human beings.”  His wife Mary Ann was quite successful in her lecture tours, traveling round giving accounts of their shipwreck and survival.  She dressed up in her sealskin outfit to add impact to her story.

Jewells in the 1881 Census

County Numbers Percent
Devon    680    22
Cornwall    610    20
London    460    15
Elsewhere   1,400    43
Total   3,150   100

Reader Feedback – Jewells from London.  Very interesting.  My father Clifford Jewell was born in London. He married my mother Erda from South Africa.  We emigrated from South Africa to Florida in 1994.

Avi Jewell (

Early Jewells in America.  Pliny Jewell’s 1860 book The Jewell Register traced the descendants of Thomas Jewell who came to New England in 1635 and settled in Braintree.  The book had the following things to say about other early Jewells.

“Our lists contain over eighteen hundred Jewells and there may be as many more that we cannot trace to our progenitor.  George Jewell was at Saco in Maine in 1637 and Samuel at Boston in 1655.  They may have been brethren or kinsmen of Thomas. Nathaniel in Boston in 1694 and George sen. of Elizabethtown, New Jersey, were brothers, and probably related to the above.

We find some Jewells in Maine, some in New Hampshire (which descend from Mark), some along the Hudson river, in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and in the South and West which have Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Harmonand Robert to their fathers.  Some are the children of Richard Jewell who came from Devon in 1774.”

A Jewell Orphan in Virginia.  The family story is that Thomas’s father was killed as he returned from Norfolk where he had gone to collect some money from property there.  He was said to have stopped at the home of his brother John, who kept a tavern, and to have said that it was time he was getting home as he was paying for his dinner with the last of his money.  He was then shot and killed as he was nearly home.  The murderer was never discovered.  Thomas’s mother did not live much longer.

The young Thomas was bound out when he was around 14 years old to John McFarling by a Loudoun county court order in 1779.

Jewell in Upstate New York.  Jewell is a hamlet on the north shore of Oneida Lake in Oneida county, New York.  At present it consists of a church, a cemetery, and year-round and summer residences.  In the past it was a thriving community with a store, hotel, mills, boat-building and lumber industries.

The first settler was said to have been Eliphalet Jewell from Connecticut, a soldier in the Revolutionary War, who owned land there in 1814 and soon installed a gristmill. Eliphalet died in 1826.  Another Jewell, Silas a distant cousin, also lived there for a while. The place was known as West Vienna until 1921 when the name was changed to Jewell in honor of the Jewell family.

Elmira Jewell, Pioneer Woman.  In 1856 Harrison Jewell from New Hampshire married Elmira Sawyer in Iowa.  They had two children, Viola and Clarence.  Then in 1860 Harrison disappeared.  Family lore has him going West during the Gold Rush.  Or was there another reason?

Elmira became Granny Jewell to her family.  Both her children subsequently married, but both then died.  It was Granny Jewell who came to look after the various grandchildren. She remained active into her nineties, quilting and crocheting many projects.

At the Central City home of her granddaughter Julia in 1930, at the age of ninety six, Elmira’s long life came to an end. Her five grandchildren and countless great and great-great grandchildren survived her.

Jewell Names

  • Judhael de Totnes, an early landowner in Devon, was probably the main source of the Jewell name in Devon. 
  • John Jewell, the Bishop of Salisbury during Elizabethan times, was a prolific writer on ecclesiastical matters. 
  • Marshall Jewell was a prominent US politician of the late 19th century, serving twice as Governor of Connecticut and later serving as US Postmaster General.
  • Archie Jewell was a lookout (and a survivor) on the Titanic on its fateful voyage in 1912.

Jewell Numbers Today

  • 5,000 in the UK (most numerous in Devon)
  • 8,000 in America (most numerous in Kentucky)
  • 5,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Jewell and Like Surnames

Many surnames originated from SW England, the principal counties there being Devon and Cornwall, Somerset and Gloucestershire.  These are some of the prominent and noteworthy surnames that you can check out.


Click here for return to front page

Written by Colin Shelley

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *