Marsh Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Marsh Surname Meaning

The root of the Marsh surname is the Old English word mersc meaning “marsh.”  It would describe someone who lived by a marsh or fen.  Early spellings of the surname were Merse, Marsch and Marsh.

In some cases there may have been a Norman origin of the name, the Norman de Marisco becoming Marsh.

Marsh Surname Resources on The Internet

Marsh Surname Ancestry

  • from England
  • to Ireland, America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

England.  Early sightings of the Marsh name linked to the de Marisco name in Bath and Somerset and in Cambridgeshire might suggest a Norman origin of the name.

However, there were early non-Norman Marshes as well.  Sir Edward Marsh lived in Lancashire in the early/mid 1200’s and was reputed to be Saxon in origin.  

The Marsh family at East Langdon near Dover in Kent was also said to have been Saxon.  William atte Mershe of Marston in East Langdon was born around 1380 and was still living in 1440. The vast expanse of Romney Marsh lay just twenty miles away to the west from his home.

This Marsh family reappeared in East Langdon records in the 1600’s.  One line led to Hannington in Wiltshire and to Ireland; another to George Marsh, Commissioner of the Navy in the late 1700’s, and to John Milbourne Marsh, Postmaster of Jamaica in the early 1800’s.  Joseph Green’s 1903 book was entitled History of the Ancient Family of Marsh.

Kent.  The Marsh name in Kent was also to be found along the coast at Ringwould near Dover and at Folkestone in the 17th century, as well as in villages around Canterbury.  There were 126 Marshes recorded in Folkestone in the 1881 census.

In Womenswold church near Canterbury, the following monument was erected for Thomas Marsh who died in 1659:  “To the memory of Thomas Marsh esq, Lt. Colonel of the militia of the Cinque ports, captain of Sandown castle and Lt. of Dover castle.”  He was the forebear of John Marsh the gentleman composer, born in 1752, whose journals were recently discovered and published in 1998.

Captain Richard Marsh founded the Shepherd Neame brewery at Faversham in 1678.  Another Richard Marsh was the vicar at Faversham in the 1750’s.  His son Herbert Marsh studied on the Continent and was later a bishop.

East Anglia.  There were early Marshes recorded in Cambridgeshire and its environs.   Bu the most notable Marsh came from outside the region.  Thomas Marsh from Stanmore in Middlesex had been a notary at Queen Elizabeth’s Star Chamber.  He acquired Pampisford Hall in Cambridgeshire in 1580.  His family remained there until 1701. 

Marsh in the North.  There were marshes in the north and the Marsh name has been common in Yorkshire and Lancashire:

  • the Marsh family of Dairy House at Darton in south Yorkshire (near Barnsley) probably dates from the marriage of Edward Marsh and Isabel Saville in 1498.  Their son Thomas lived at Dairy House until his death in 1573.   
  • while George Marsh, the son of a yeoman farmer at Dean in central Lancashire, was a Protestant martyr at the time of Queen Mary in 1555.  
  • and a Marsh family was to be found at Wigan in Lancashire in the 1570’s.  Peter Marsh was a mercer and alderman in the town. One line of this family moved south to London.   

Lancashire did account for 20% of the Marshes in the 1881 UK census. The main location of these Marshes was in the towns and villages around and to the north of Manchester.

One family line traced itself back to Peter Marsh who was born in St. Helens in 1765. They were leading drapers in the town in the 19th century.  A Marsh family came to Westleigh Old Hall through marriage in the late 1700’s. They made money in the silk and textile industries and became major benefactors of the town.

Ireland.  The de Marisco family appeared in Ireland from the time of Strongbow’s invasion in 1170, sometimes as Marsh.  Geoffrey de Marisco, a man it was said of some villainy, was the justiciar or viceroy of Ireland from 1215 to 1228.   He did not appear to leave any descendants.

Later Marsh arrivals were in the 1600’s and from Wiltshire (and originally from Kent with a Saxon ancestry). Epaphroditus Marsh moved to Fethard in Tipperary, his younger brother Narcissus to Dublin where he was the Anglican Archbishop.  Marsh’s Library in Dublin is his legacy.

America.  The Genealogy of the Marsh Family published by the Marsh Family Association in 1886 looked at the family lines of six early immigrants:

  • John Marsh of Salem, Massachusetts in 1633
  • John Marsh of Hartford, Connecticut in 1635
  • Samuel Marsh of New Haven, Connecticut (with his brother Jonathan) in 1643
  • Alexander Marsh of Braintree, Massachusetts in  1654
  • John Marsh of Boston in 1669
  • and William Marsh of Plainfield, Connecticut in 1675.

New England.  The first three Connecticut Marshes were probably related as they all came from Braintree, Essex in England.  Samuel later moved to New Jersey, Jonathan to Norwalk, Connecticut.  Dwight Marsh’s 1895 book Marsh Genealogy covered the line of John Marsh from Hartford.

One line from Hartford led to Joseph Marsh who moved north in 1772 to what became Vermont at the time of the Revolutionary War.  He was a prominent farmer, landowner and politician who served as the state’s first Lieutenant Governor in 1778.  His son Charles and grandsons James and George were also prominent in Vermont affairs.

There were Marshes in Vermont at that time from two of the other Marsh lines:

  • Mathias Marsh from the Plainfield line came to Dorset, Vermont in the 1770’s.  His son William took the British side in the Revolutionary War and fled to Canada.  
  • while Moses Marsh from the Braintree line was in Rockingham by 1779.  He joined its Universalist church in 1791. Today one of the pews has a brass plate on it for the Marsh family, put there by descendants.

John Marsh of the Salem line, who had studied medicine at Harvard, migrated west in 1836 via the Santa Fe Trail to southern California.  He is credited as having been the first person to practice western medicine in what was still Mexican territory.  He later became one of the wealthiest ranchers in California and one of the most influential men in the establishment of Californian statehood under the American flag.

Elsewhere.  Among other early Marshes in America were:

  • Gilbert Marsh who was born in Maryland in 1694.   His descendants were farmers in Baltimore county through the 18th and 19th centuries.
  • Richard Marsh who was born in Spotsylvania county, Virginia around the year 1730.  He later settled in Chatham county, North Carolina. His son William, who held the rank of captain in the Revolutionary War, died in 1860 at the remarkable age of 103.  Later Marshes of this family made their home in Georgia.
  • and a Marsh Quaker family which had settled in Armagh in northern Ireland in the late 1600’s due to the religious turmoil in England. Joshua Marsh and his family made the move to Chester county, Pennsylvania in 1736.  His son William migrated to Baltimore and later to Ohio in the early 1800’s.

Canada.  Samuel Marsh from the Braintree line moved with his family to Nova Scotia in the 1760’s. They settled in Economy, Colchester county and were to remain there through five generations.  Charles Marsh built a mill at Carr’s Brook in 1827.

Another Loyalist was Colonel William Marsh in Vermont who undertook intelligence work for the British during the Revolutionary War.  He and his family departed for Canada in 1788.  William later returned.  But his children remained to start new lives in Hastings county, Ontario.  Matthias Marsh attended the first town meeting in Sidney, Hastings county in 1790.  Their story was recounted in Jennifer Brown’s 2013 book Colonel William Marsh.

Australia.  The story of Ann Marsh is well-known in Australia, the convict woman who arrived with the Second Fleet in 1789, survived a tough regime and prospered in her way.

The Rev. Matthew Marsh, Canon of Salisbury Cathedral, had two sons who came out to Australia.  Matthew and Charles arrived in Sydney in 1840.   Matthew prospered as a sheep farmer and NSW politician, but returned to live in England in 1855. Charles remained to look after his brother’s properties and lived on at Armidale until 1871.

New Zealand.  James Marsh, a bootmaker, and his family from Dorset were among the early New Zealand settlers, arriving there on the Timandra in 1842 and settling in New Plymouth district, Taranaki. Esau, aged five on the voyage across, died there at the age of 93 in 1929.  He was the last survivor of those who had come over on the Timandra.

Marsh Surname Miscellany

De Marisco and Marsh.  It was said that the de Mariscos were a Norman family that had come to England with William the Conqueror in 1066. Their name became a presence in Gloucestershire, Somerset and Ireland, as well as in Cambridgeshire and Norfolk in East Anglia.

By the late 12th and early 13th century de Marisco was in certain places being used interchangeably with Marsh, suggesting that perhaps the de Marisco Norman name was a precursor to the Marsh English name.   De Marisco did mean in Norman French “of the marsh.”

Richard de Marisco or Marsh held the office of Sheriff of Somerset in 1212 and was later appointed Bishop of Durham.  His nephew Adam de Marisco or Marsh, based in Bath, inherited his estate.  He was a notable Franciscan scholar and theologian of his time.

Sir Stephen de Marisco or Marsh and his son Jeffrey of Newton Manor were prominent figures at Walsoken and Ely in East Anglia in the late 1100’s.  In 1240 Jeffrey’s daughter Desiderata married Sir Roger de Coleville, the lord of the manor at Weston Colville.  Many of the Marsh estates then passed into the de Coleville family. 

The Marshes of Pampisford Hall.  Thomas Marsh from Stanmore in Middlesex, north of London, was a notary in the Star Chamber during the reign of Queen Elizabeth.  He acquired Waresley manor in Huntingdonshire from Dorothy Burgoyne in 1572 and, a few years later, Pampisford Hall in Cambridgeshire from Eustace Cloville.

The curious fact, perhaps recognized by the participants themselves, was that in 1240 the Newton Manor held by Marsh in Cambridgeshire was ceded to Coleville by marriage; while in 1580 Pampisford Hall held by Cloville (undoubtedly a descendant) in Cambridgeshire was ceded to Marsh by money.

Thomas died in 1587 and his tombstone at Waresley read as follows:

“Here lies interred the body of Thomas Marsh esq. who died in Stanmore in the county of Middlesex, being of the age of 59 years, where he was buried the 17th of September 1587; and seven years afterwards his bones were taken up and removed hither.  He was Clark of the Council of the Star Chamber for the space of twenty years together.  His care and providence in raising up his posterity ought not be buried in oblivion.”

His son Thomas, sheriff of Cambridgeshire in 1594, held it until his death in 1624 and was then succeeded by his son Thomas, sheriff in 1648.  The third Thomas died in 1657, leaving Pampisford (Waresley had been sold by this time) to his grandson Thomas.  Thomas was knighted by Charles II in 1661 and died in 1677.  When Sir Thomas’s son Edward died in 1701, Pampisford went to the Parker family through their marriage to the Marsh heiress.

Herbert Marsh of Faversham.  Herbert Marsh, bishop and bête noire of Napoleon Bonaparte, was born in 1757, the son of Richard Marsh, Vicar of Faversham.  He was a pupil at Faversham Grammar School, where in 1767 he carved his name and the date on paneling.  His handiwork can still be seen in the Old Grammar School.

Marsh studied and wrote at Leipzig. The influence of his political texts in support of Britain during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars led Bonaparte to proscribe him.  To avoid arrest at Leipzig, Marsh lay hidden for several months in a merchant’s house.  After being elected in 1807 Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, he married his Leipzig protector’s daughter.

Marsh was made Bishop of Llandaff in 1816 and later served as Bishop of Peterborough.

Reader Feedback – Marsh from Wigan in Lancashire.  I have gone back to 1564 and Wigan in Lancashire and onto Cassop in Durham in 1852 and then to Wood Green London in 1928 and now to Hertfordshire.

John Marsh (

Marsh’s Library in Dublin.  Marsh’s Library was built for Narcissus Marsh, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin and formerly Provost of Trinity College. St. Patrick’s Cathedral had agreed in 1701 to provide a plot of land for a library at St. Patrick’s Close adjacent to the Cathedral.

Building commenced in 1703.  The First Gallery and the Old Reading Room seem to have been completed in 1705.  The Library was formally established by Act of Parliament in 1707 and the Second Gallery was added during the course of 1708 or 1709.

It was built to the order of Archbishop Marsh and has a collection of over 25,000 books and 300 manuscripts.  Marsh himself donated his own library composed largely of Oriental works, regarded as one of the finest in England, of over 10,000 volumes. When it was opened in 1707 it was the first public library in Ireland.

Narcissus Marsh lived to see the Library completed.  He died in 1713 and was buried just beyond the Library, in the grounds of the Cathedral.

John Marsh of Hartford and Hadley.  John Marsh came with the Rev. Thomas Hooker to Hartford, Connecticut and was one of the town’s founders in 1639.  The next year he married Ann Webster who was the daughter of Governor John Webster, the forebear of Noah Webster of spelling book and dictionary fame.

In 1659 he moved with his wife and seven children to Hadley, Massachusetts with the “withdrawers” under the lead of his father-in-law John Webster.  There he was to experience two shocks.

First came the death of John Webster in April 1661. It turned out that two of his sons in Hadley were not thrifty and John Marsh had to step in as a father figure for them.   And a wife to one of the sons was abused in the town and accused of witchcraft.

Then came the death of his wife Ann in June 1662. A flock of motherless children was about him and after two years he married again, to the widow Hepzibah Lyman. 

The Story of Ann Marsh.  Ann Marsh, born in Devon, was 21 when she was convicted of stealing a bushel of wheat and sentenced to seven years “beyond the seas” to the new penal colony at Botany Bay.  In 1789 she joined 229 other women and six of their children on the infamous Lady Juliana.  The steward on the ship observed: “When we were fairly out to sea, every man on board took a ‘wife’ from among the convicts, they nothing loath.”

Ann’s partner and protector was the ship’s surgeon who fathered a child by her. But the child died and the ship’s surgeon had returned to England and Ann was in need of another protector.  For a time she found him in John Irving.  He died in 1795 and she turned next to Richard Flannagan and then (after he had absconded) to William Chapman.  After these various liaisons she had nine children in tow.

Apart from bearing this large family, she managed a small goods and passenger boat service from Sydney to Parramatta, employing men to handle the boat. She also assisted Chapman in his various business activities.  After his death in 1810 she held a wine and spirit license for the King’s Head Tavern, a replica of which has been built as part of Old Sydney Town.

An adventurous and busy life came to an end when Ann died in 1823 at the age of 54.   Her final resting place has not been identified. But oral family history says that her eldest son John Irving caused her to be buried with his father in the old St. John’s graveyard in Parramatta.

Marsh Names

  • Narcissus Marsh was the Archbishop of Dublin in the early 1700’s and established Marsh’s Library there.   
  • John Marsh was the most prolific English composer of the late 1700’s.  His own catalog of compositions amounted to over 350 works.   
  • Ngaio Marsh was a New Zealand crime writer considered as one of the four Queens of crime during the 1920’s and 1930’s. 
  • Terry Marsh was an English world boxing champion in the light welterweight division who retired undefeated in 1987.

Marsh Numbers Today

  • 41,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 26,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 20,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

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Written by Colin Shelley

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