Lawrence Surname Meaning, History & Origin

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Lawrence
derives from the male name Laurentius, which itself originates
from Laurentium, the “city of laurels,” in Italy. The idea of the
laurel as a symbol of victory was probably one factor behind the
popularity of the name.
In addition Lawrence was the
name borne by a
saint martyred at Rome
in the 3rd century AD
who enjoyed a considerable cult following throughout Europe in
medieval times. In England Laurence, the second Archbishop of
Canterbury, was revered as a saint after his death in AD 619.
The main spellings in English have been Lawrence and Laurence, together
with the abbreviated forms of Laurie and Lowrie. Elsewhere
Laurent is a common name in French, Lorenzo in Italian and Spanish,
Lourenco in Portuguese, and Laurenz in German.

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Lawrence Ancestry

England.
The founder of the first Lawrence line in England
was
said to have been Robert Laurens. The story about him runs as
follows:

“During the Third Crusade in 1191
Robert Laurens
was knighted by Richard the Lionheart. King Phillip of France had sworn to have his men reach
the battlements ahead of the English at the great walled city of Acre. Both
he and King Richard came down with a bad case of the ague and could not
fight. But Robert Laurens ran and climbed and affixed the banner
of St George on the highest tower.”


Lancashire. The
Lawrence family established themselves
at Ashton
Hall
near Lancaster. Edmund
Lawrence
married
Agnes de Wessington in 1390 and thus began the entwining
of the Lawrence and Washington families. Lawrence Washington
bought
Sulgrave manor in Oxfordshire in the 17th century, the home
from which George Washington’s great-grandfather departed for
Virginia in 1656. Meanwhile the Lawrence family – now based in
St. Albans in Hertfordshire – were Royalists during the English Civil
War. They later became landowners in New York.

Elsehwere. Early
Lawrence lines
from the 16th century show a wide
distribution around the country, from Lancashire to Gloucestershire and
Dorset in the southwest and from Durham and Yorkshire down the east
coast as far as Suffolk and London.

The Lawrences of Suffolk have been traced back to Thomas Lawrence of
Rumburgh who died in 1471. John Lawrence emigrated to
America in 1630. Another Lawrence line extended to
Chelsea in
Middlesex in the 16th century. Their numbers included Sir Thomas
Lawrence, goldsmith and merchant adventurer in the City of
London. He was the grandfather of the Robert Lawrence who
emigrated
to Virginia in 1638.

Henry Lawrence, a Huntingdonshire landowner, was a Puritan who came
to prominence with Cromwell. He served as President of the
Council of State during the Protectorate. His younger son John
emigrated first to Barbados and then in 1676 to Jamaica where he
founded a
wealthy dynasty of plantation owners.

William Lawrence had been born in Burford, Oxfordshire in 1753 but
moved to Cirencester in Gloucestershire where he became the town’s
chief surgeon and physician. His son William became an even more
famous surgeon, recognized as one of the best in the land and the
recipient of a baronetcy from Queen Victoria. His son and
grandson were both noted horticulturists.

Ireland.
The St Lawrence family in Ireland descended from Christopher St
Lawrence who was elevated to the peerage as Baron Howth around 1425.
This Anglo-Irish family held Howth castle near Dublin. The third
and fourth barons both served as Lord Chancellor of Ireland.

From the Lawrences of Lancashire, it was said,
came John Lawrence and his brother Walter in 1584 as Irish
administrators
serving Queen Elizabeth. John settled at
Ballymore in Clonfert parish in east Galway where he built himself a
castle. Being Catholic and Royalist, they
suffered
during the Cromwellian years.

Lawrence
descendants moved to Lisreaghan
in
the early 1700’s and made their home at Belview. The
Prince of Wales, later George IV, visited
Belview in the 1780’s.

“According to family tradition, the visit
allowed the Prince to tide himself over some domestic difficulties he
was
having with his father. His stay was
said to have coincided with the arrival from Italy of a bust of the
Goddess
Minerva.”

The Lawrence estate fell into decay in the late 19th
century and by
1908 there were no longer any Lawrences left living at Lisreaghan.

America. Initially, the
Lawrence name was to be found in New England and New York.

New England.
Three Lawrences
came to New England in the 1630’s and were the forebears of illustrious
Lawrence families in America:

  • John Lawrence arrived on the Arbella
    in 1630 and settled in Groton, Massachusetts where he died in
    1663. His descendants were to be found there for a number of
    generations. In the early 1800’s
    four brothers – William, Amos, Abbot, and Samuel –
    made names for themselves in Boston as merchants, manufacturers and
    philanthropists.
    Amos’s son, Amos
    Adams Lawrence
    , was a key figure in the abolitionist
    movement
    in America in the years leading up to the Civil War.
  • William Lawrence came on the Planter
    in 1635 and ten years later received a grant
    from the Dutch for land in Flushing in present-day Brooklyn. He
    resided at what became known as Lawrence Neck and died there in
    1680. Joseph, his second son, had his mansion on Long Island
    Sound and entertained lavishly, his home being frequently crowded with
    society people from New York and Brooklyn.
  • and
    Thomas
    Lawrence came some years later. He obtained possession of a tract
    of land
    in Newtown,
    Long Island in 1655 and afterwards
    purchased the whole of Hell-Gate Neck, from Hell-Gate Cove to Bowery
    Bay. He died in Newtown in 1703.

    Jonathan Lawrence, his great grandson, made two fortunes – one before
    the Revolutionary War and one after.

New York
and New Jersey
. The Lawrence family in New York
remained
rich and powerful through colonial times and well into the 19th
century. Meanwhile the
Lawrences
of Hertfordshire were also large landowners in New York by this
time. T
he
last of this Lawrence line, Emma Lawrence, brought her land in the Bronx
and
on Long Island to her marriage to Leonard Jacob in the 1860’s.

In
Elmira in upstate New York in 1842 was born William Van Duzer
Lawrence. He became a millionaire real-estate
and pharmaceutical mogul who is best known for having founded Sarah
Lawrence College in 1926.

Another Lawrence family was prominent in the early history of New
Jersey. John Lawrence created the “Lawrence Line”
when he surveyed the boundary between East and West Jersey in
1743. Lawrence’s great grandson,
Captain James Lawrence, achieved lasting
fame in the War of 1812.

“Captain Lawrence of
the Chesapeake, with a green
and mutinous crew, unwisely
accepted a challenge from the British Captain Broke of the Shannon. He
sortied from Boston to defeat and glorious death on June 1, 1813.
As he lay mortally wounded, he
uttered the immortal phrase, ‘Don’t give up the ship.'”

Ironically, his Loyalist father had fled to Canada during the
Revolutionary War, leaving a half-sister to raise him.

German Lawrences.
Johann Philipp Lorentz departed the Rhineland
Palatine for America in 1748, settling first in the Shenandoah valley
and then
moving to Beaver county, Pennsylvania.
The spelling by this time had changed to Lawrence.
Isaac Lawrence headed west to Dearborn county,
Indiana in 1818 with several of his brothers and they founded the small
hamlet of Lawrenceville
there.

Australia. A line of Lawrences went from the Lawrences of
Newtown, New York to Effingham Lawrence, a merchant in Trinity House,
London after America was lost, to William Effingham Lawrence, who
travelled independently to Australia on his own boat in 1822. He
received large land grants in Tasmania and became one of the largest
landowners in the colony.

 

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Lawrence Miscellany

Saint Lawrence.  Lawrence was
one of the seven deacons of Rome who were martyred during the
persecution of
Valerian in 258.

The story goes that the
prefect of Rome demanded that Lawrence turn over the riches of the
Church. Lawrence, it was said, asked for three
days
to gather together the wealth and during that time worked swiftly to
distribute
as much Church property to the poor as he could.  On
the third day, he appeared before the
prefect, presented the poor, the crippled, the blind and the suffering,
and
said that these were the true treasures of the Church.
By tradition, Lawrence was sentenced at San
Lorenzo in Miranda, imprisoned at San Lorenzo in Fonte, and martyred at
San
Lorenzo in Panipema.

Lawrence is one of
the most widely venerated saints of the Catholic Church.
French explorer Jacques Cartier gave the name
of Saint Lawrence to the river running through Canada.
Also in Canada are the Laurentian mountains
north of Montreal and Saint Lawrence Boulevard running through
Montreal. 

The Lawrences of Ashton Hall.  There are
two conflicting genealogies for the ancestry of the Lawrences of Ashton
Hall.  The first is the most commonly
published ancestry by H. G. Somberby and others.  A
Visitation may have been the source for
this pedigree.  According to this genealogy, the Lawrences of
Ashton Hall were
descended from the Robert Lawrence, born about 1150 in the vicinity of
Lancaster who distinguished himself in the Third Crusade.
One source indicates that his father was also
named Robert and worked as a silversmith for the Lord of Lancaster
castle.

The
second genealogy is based on manuscripts written by
Schuyler Lawrence in the mid-1930’s concerning the Lawrences of
Lancashire.  He stated there that Ashton
Hall did not come
into the possession of the Lawrences until about a hundred years after
the
Third Crusade.  There was a lawsuit at
that time brought by Lawrence de Lancaster, son of Thomas de Lancaster
and grandson of Roger de Lancaster.  These
de Lancasters were Barons of Kendal.

John, the
son of Lawrence de Lancaster, was the first
to use the Lawrence surname.  And he was
the first in 1324 to be connected to Ashton Hall.

Early Lawrence Lines in England.  The following are Lawrence lines in England traced back to the 16th and 17th centuries:

  • Richard Lawrence married Margaret Ryves in
    Winterbourne, Dorset in 1559
  • Robert Lawrence born in Bonby, Lincolnshire in 1561
  • John Lawrence married Elizabeth Bull in St. Albans,
    Hertfordshire in 1579
  • Thomas
    Lawrence married Alice Sutton in Croston, Lancashire in 1584
  • John Lawrence
    married Agnes Burns in Billingham, Durham in 1598
  • Thomas Laurence married Unica
    Skinner in Ickingham, Suffolk in 1634
  • Mungo Lawrence married Anna Thornehill in
    Harewood, Yorkshire in 1672
  • Thomas Lawrence married Martha Mendlove in Wem,
    Shropshire in 1668
  • John Lawrence married Ann Beard in Randwick,
    Gloucestershire
    in 1669.

In addition to these lines,
there were the earlier Lawrences of Ashton Hall in Lancashire and
Lawrences from
Rumburgh in Suffolk.

The Lawrences of New York.  This was how the Lawrences
were described in Famous Families of New York, published in 1917.

“The
Lawrences have been remarkable for their activity, energy, and
industry.  Few
families of which there are any records can begin to compare with them
either
in regard to these qualities, or what is equally important so far as
the state
is concerned, in regard to their numbers and vitality.  Though
they marry as a
class later in life than does the average citizen, they nevertheless
have much
larger families than the normal and a larger number of sons.
This is shown in many ways.  The records of the Register’s and
County Clerk’s
offices, the civil list of the United States, the triennial catalogues
of
Columbia, Harvard, and other institutions of learning, the red book of
New York
State, the records of the Exchanges, and The Old Merchants of New York
fairly
bristle with the name.  More than two hundred are chronicled in
the Lives of the
Old Merchants alone, and more than fifty are inscribed in the red book.

On
account of their numbers, their connections by marriage would fill an entire
volume.”

Amos Adams Lawrence of Boston.  Amos Adams Lawrence, the son of Boston
philanthropist Amos Lawrence, was a mill owner, a devout member of the
Episcopal
Church in Boston, and – more importantly – a leading campaigner against
slavery
in the years up to the Civil War.

He played
a major role in the battle over the crucial border state of Kansas,
contributing
personally for the Sharp rifles, which, packed as “books” and
“primers,” were
shipped to Kansas and intended for the free settlers.
Lawrence financed the founding of the
University of Kansas in 1849 at Lawrence, a town named after him.

Back in Boston, Amos Adams Lawrence is often credited
with founding an Episcopalian dynasty there, having encouraged many of
the Boston
Brahmins to convert from Unitarianism.
His son William took an even more avid interest in the
Episcopalian Church
and became the long-time Bishop of Massachusetts.

The Lawrence Family Album at Lisreaghan.  The last-but-one landholder of the family at
Lisreaghan, the Rev. Charles Lawrence, had a volume of photographs and
documents relating to his family history compiled in the late 19th
century.  It was known as the Lawrence Family
Album.

The Album included biographical
notes on various members of the family.
But not all members of the wider family appear to have been
recorded.  No
reference was made to Thomas Lawrence of Belview who converted to
Protestantism
in 1788.  Similarly no mention was made
of William Lawrence, originally of Ballymore, who served as a sergeant
in the
Irish Regiment of Dillon in the French army and who died in 1730.

Unlike several
other families who served the Elizabethan administration and settled
about east
Galway in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, such as the Moores of
Cloghan
Castle, minor branches of the wider family descended from junior sons
of the
main line were not established about county Galway.
The expiration of the main line in the early 20th century
thus witnessed the disappearance of the Lawrence family in the county.

Bellview,
the family mansion at Lisreaghan shorn of its works of art, was
demolished
following the sale of lands in the 1920’s, leaving just the ruins of
its walled
garden.

T.E. Lawrence’s Illegitimacy.  Sarah Lawrence was a beautiful young woman when she
arrived in Ireland in 1879 to be the governess to Thomas Chapman’s four
daughters.  Chapman was the grandson of a baronet and scion of
seven
generations of colonial English landlords.  He was also, when
Sarah
arrived from England to join his household as governess, an unhappy
man,
trapped in a marriage to a woman he had long ceased to care about.

Falling in love with Sarah, a girl very
ambitious to better her circumstances, he had a serious choice to make
when she
became pregnant.  In those days it was a rare and unthinkable move
for a
gentleman to forsake his caste for a liaison with a servant.  But
when
Chapman asked his wife for a divorce and she refused, he did just that,
eloping
with Sarah to England, landing first in Wales in 1887 where T.E.
Lawrence,
their second son, was born one year later.

An astonishing name change defined his parents’ new life abroad.
He was known by Sarah’s assumed maiden name.  But they would
henceforth
live as Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Chapman.  Together for 34 years until
Thomas’s
death in 1919, they kept their secret inviolate; while the consequences
within
were particularly lethal.  Their second son, T.E. or Ned, would
change his
own natal surname a couple of times before he died in a motorcycle
accident at 47.

 

Select
Lawrence Names

  • Sir Thomas Lawrence was a leading English portrait
    painter of the early 1800’s.
  • Amos Lawrence of Boston was a key
    figure in the abolition movement in America in the years leading up to
    the Civil War.
  • D.H Lawrence was an acclaimed
    but controversial English writer, author of such novels as Women in Love and Lady Chattersley’s Lover.
  • T. E Lawrence, the “Lawrence of
    Arabia,” fought for Arab independence during the First World War and wrote his account in Seven Pillars
    of Wisdom
    .
  • David Lawrence founded in 1933 the weekly newspaper that became US News & World Report.

Select Lawrence Numbers Today

  • 51,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Surrey)
  • 48,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 28,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

 

 

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