Knight Surname Genealogy

The root of the name knight is the Old English criht, meaning “youth” or “serving
lad.” Originally it may have been an occupational name for s
domestic servant. But in the feudal system introduced by the
Normans, a knight came to describe a tenant bound to serve his master
as a mounted soldier. This would describe a man of some substance
since the maintenance of horses and armor was an expensive
In time the term knight became an honorary title
conferred in a ceremony called knighting by a king or a man of noble
birth on someone who had served
him well.
The surname Knight, however, is more likely to have applied to a
servant in
a knightly house or to someone who had played the part of a knight in a
pageant or had won the title in some contest of skill. Its first
appearance as a surname was Godefridus Niht in the Norfolk pipe rolls
of 1166. Walter le Knit was recorded in Oxfordshire in 1200 and
William Knight in Worcestershire in 1221.
Knight Resources on

Knight Ancestry

England. Knight has been
a surname mainly to be found in southeast England, from Hampshire
through Surrey and Sussex into Kent, London, and Essex.

SE England. A
Knight family was recorded from the 13th century at Chawton in
Hampshire where they were tenant farmers. John Knight was a
clothier in Elizabethan times and his family became prosperous enough
to acquire the medieval Chawton manor house and rebuild it along Tudor

“The Knight family contributed £50 to
Elizabeth”s fighting fund for the battle of the Armada for which they
were rewarded with a commemorative fireback which was displayed at the
Great Hall in Chawton.”

Chawton House
was later to become associated with the writer Jane
Austen. Her brother Edward had been adopted by the childless
Knight family and had taken the Knight name. The Chawton estate
remained with the Knight family until the 1990’s.

Knights from
in Hampshire date from about 1500. John
Knight was described as one of the “guardians of the church of
Romsey.” He helped save Romsey Abbey from the greed of
Henry VIII at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries.
Another Knight at that time was Thomas Knight who owned lands in what
is now West Norwood in south London. These lands are still known as
Knights Hill.

West Midlands.
The Knight name also cropped up in the West Midlands. It was to
be found as Knyght in Worcestershire in the 14th century. A
family held the Barrells estate in Warwickshire from 1554 to
1856. Richard Knight, born in Madeley in Shropshire, was one of
the great names among the early English ironmasters, owning furnaces in
Shropshire, Staffordshire, and Worcestershire.

“Richard Knight was a great character
of his time and widely known in the West Midlands. He liked to
ride a fine horse and in that way covered many miles of the wild
country between Leintwardine and the Worcestershire Stour, collecting
and carrying large sums of money in his saddle bags. It was said
that he loved to entertain his friends and hold convivial parties round
his great punch bowl. This silver bowl, made in London in 1708,
is still in use by his descendants.”

He established his family at Downton castle in Herefordshire.
Later Knights of this family were Richard Payne Knight, the
scholar, and his brother Thomas, the horticulturist. Richard and
his wife Elizabeth had fifteen children, of whom nine married and five
have lines traced to the present day.

Another early Knight sighting was at Banbury in Oxfordshire. John
Knight was probably the Banbury baker who first set up the Knight
fortunes in that town in Elizabethan times. These Knights owned
the Reindeer Inn
during the 17th century. Later Knights were
involved in the Oxford canal traffic when the canal came to Banbury in
the early 1800’s.

Scotland and Ireland. The
Scottish variation McKnight – originally McNaughton – may have
originated with the Strathclyde Britons of Lowland
Scotland. The earliest sightings were in Ayrshire and
Galloway. Many of these McKnights dispersed to northern Ireland
in the 17th century and subsequently, sometimes becoming Knights, to
America. The Irish McKnight is also a part translation of Mac an Ridire, meaning “son of the
rider or knight.”

America. There
were many early Knights into New England.

New England.
was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire around 1643. His wife
Eleanor, whom he married in 1665, was apparently a very racy woman.

“Eleanor was accused of adultery by the
Puritan authorities around 1665, the same year she married George
Knight and became the mother to their son Nathan. Within months
of George’s untimely death in 1671, she married Henry Brookings.”

Nathan Knight moved to Scarborough, Maine around 1720 and ran the
Blackpoint ferry there. Robert Knight, a merchant from the west
of England, predated him in Maine by some seventy years.

Richard Knight came to Providence, Rhode Island around 1640.
Later Knights here were members and deacons of the local Baptist
church, although a certain Richard Knight did earn himself a scolding
in 1785:

“Brother Richard Knight should be
suspended from communing with this Church at present by reason of
having kept a house of merriment and friendship with the vain and
worldly people – allowing them in fiddling and dancing and some kind of
gaming frequently for a long time and having then been absent from the

From Rhode Island later came the brothers Robert and Benjamin Knight
created in New England what was to become – by the late 19th century –
one of the largest cotton manufactures in the world. Their legacy
is that well-known American brand, Fruit
of the Loom

Another Knight line was to be found in Charlestown, Massachusetts from
the 1650’s. A descendant Joseph Knight befriended and employed a
young Joseph Smith who went on to found the Mormon movement.
Joseph Knight himself headed west with the church in 1846, but died
enroute at the age of seventy four before he could reach Utah. A
later Knight, Jesse Knight, was one of the few Mormons to involve
himself in mining in the West.

Abel Knight was one of the passengers on the Welcome which brought William Penn
in 1682 to what was to be Pennsylvania. His brother Thomas
arrived at the same time and settled in New Jersey. Johann Knecht
came from Germany to the Whitemarsh township in Pennsylvania in the
early 1700’s. He and his family later became Knights.

Virginia and the South.
Knights also entered via Virginia and there were many early Knight
families in
and Missouri. Peter Knight appeared in land
grants in Virginia from 1638. John Knight and his family had
moved from Virginia to Georgia by 1803. Charles Knight, born in
Virginia, was in Louisiana by 1810.

A descendant from Peter
Knight, it is thought, was the Miles Knight who fought with the 2nd
Carolina Regiment in the Revolutionary War.
His son John “Jackie” Knight
was the patriarch of
the Knight family that migrated to Jones county, Mississippi around
1820. One of
the county’s largest slaveholders, Jackie was the grandfather of Newton Knight who would lead a
(or infamous) rebellion against the Confederate cause during the Civil

Canada. James Knight was
an early name in Canadian history. He had joined the Hudson Bay
Company from England as a carpenter in 1676, grew rich as a factor at
the company’s main trading post, but died in a vain attempt to discover
the Northwest Passage through Canada to Asia.

New Zealand. William and
Mary Ann Knight left Cornwall with other Cornish families in 1839 to
seek a new life in New Zealand. Their journey on the Duke of Roxburgh was rough, as were
their early years at the Lower Hutt settlement near Wellington (the
Knight family were to live there until 1952). Elaine Bolitho’s
2011 book
Knights from Cornwall recounts
this history and the subsequent tales of the following six generations

Knight Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:

Knight Names

Richard Knight was one
of the early English ironmasters.
Frank Knight pioneered
the Chicago school of economics in the 1930’s.
Bob Knight was the
long-time coach of the Indiana Hoosiers, winning more college
basketball games than any other coach.
Phil Knight was co-founder and
later chairman of Nike, the sportswear company.
Gladys Knight is the American lead singer of Gladys Knight and
the Pips, often known as the “Empress of Soul.”

Select Knights Today

  • 64,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Kent)
  • 50,000 in America (most numerous in Florida)
  • 32,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)



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