Marshall Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Marshall Surname Meaning

Marshall is an occupational name, coming from the Old French mareschal meaning “marshal” but originally from the Old German marah for “horse” or “mare” and schal for “servant.”  Marshall therefore described someone who looked after the horses, an important although rather low-level responsibility in medieval times.

In the royal household, the term Lord Marshal originally related to the keeping of the King’s horses.  But by the 13th century the Lord Marshal in England had come to describe a high-status person, one who was the head of the King’s household troops.  A similar elevation in status occurred in Scotland, in France, and in various other places in Europe.  It is from the military connotation that the term Field Marshal developed.

Marshall Surname Resources on The Internet

Marshall Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Lancashire and Yorkshire), Scotland and Germany
  • to Ireland, America (incl.African Americans), Canada and Australia

England. John FitzGilbert had been given the hereditary title of Lord Marshal from King Stephen in the 1140’s.  In 1194 the title then passed to his younger son William Marshal, the first Earl of Pembroke,

William lived through four monarchs, became one of the most powerful men in the country, and made the Marshal name famous.  On his death he had large land holdings.  However, his sons died without issue and these Marshal estates were scattered.

Lancashire.  William Marshal had founded the Cartmell priory in north Lancashire in 1189.  The Cartmell Marshalls claimed, perhaps wrongly, descent from him; while the Marshalls of nearby Urswick said that they were cousins.

William Marshall made his money from the dissolution of Furness Abbey at the time of Henry VIII.  He founded a free school in Urswick and died in 1579 a rich man.  His grandson Nicholas, rector of Urswick, was said to be the second wealthiest vicar in the land.  But the Marshall fortunes took a dive in the 18th century when Ann Marshall was tried and convicted of theft.

Yorkshire and Environs.  A Marshall family have been long-standing in Pickering in north Yorkshire, ever since they had married into the Buys estate in the 15th century.  William Marshall of this family started England’s first agricultural institute in the early 1800’s.  By that time, a branch of the family had moved to Theddlethorpe in Lincolnshire where they were customs officials.

William and Alice Marshall were recorded in Humberston near Grimsby in the early 1700’s; William Marshall from Scartho in north Lincolnshire started flour milling in Grimsby in the early 1800’s; Robert Marshall grew up at that time in Scotton near Gainsborough; and William Marshall began his engineering works in Gainsborough in 1848 (they became famous for their tractors).

The Marshalls of Yeadon near Leeds in the East Ridings of Yorkshire dated from the 1500’s.  Jeremiah Marshall was a linen draper in Leeds in the 18th century.  His son John started out as a flax spinner who purchased the rights for a new flax spinning machine. He then built a huge Egyptian-style mill at Holbeck in Leeds.

This enterprise made him wealthy and his family, perhaps seduced by Wordsworth, bought up land in the Lake District.  In 1850 the poet Tennyson quipped: “We found the seat of a Marshall on almost every lake we came to.”

Margaret Armstrong’s 2002 book Linen and Liturgy described the story of the Marshall family in the Lake District in relation to the parish church of Keswick St. John.

Elsewhere.   There were pockets of Marshalls elsewhere, such as in Little Tew in Oxfordshire and in villages around Longborough in Gloucestershire.  But the 19th century surname distribution showed that Marshall was very much a northern name, centered around Yorkshire and Lancashire.

Scotland.  The Marshall name came to Scotland through the title of Earl Marshal given to the Keith family (although the Keiths never adopted Marshall as a surname).  But several of that name appeared in the Scottish rolls of those swearing fealty to Edward of England in 1296 and Marshall subsequently spread as a surname, although not necessarily describing anyone of status.

The two best known Marshalls of the 18th century were in fact of humble stock:

  • Billy Marshall the so-called “king of the gypsies” in Galloway
  • and William Marshall the butler, clockmaker and composer of fiddle music from Morayshire.

There was a cluster of Marshalls in the late 18th century in Kilmaurs in Ayrshire.  The late 19th century distribution showed the largest concentration in and around Glasgow.

Ireland.  The Marshalls in Ulster are mainly a Scottish implant, originating at the time of the Scottish plantations of the 17th century.  It seems that they generally came from two places, Glasgow and Kelso on the Scottish borders.

John Marshall was recorded in the sectarian violence in Antrim as early as 1641.  Sir Gilbert Marshall was born on Belfast in 1680 and lived to be 103, dying in Carnmoney, Antrim in 1783.  The Rev. W.F Marshall, born in Omagh in 1888, wrote in the local Tyrone dialect and was known as “the bard of Tyrone.”  His words adorn the monument in Larne’s Curran Park which commemorates the Ulster Scots who emigrated to America.

America.  Early Marshalls appeared in Virginia.

Virginia.  John Marshall had been a captain of cavalry under Charles I and had left England in 1650 after the Civil War defeat.  He settled in Virginia and was the forebear of the Marshall plantation-owning families of Virginia and Kentucky.

The main line passed through “John of the Forest” Marshall to his son Thomas, who moved his family to Kentucky in 1785, and then to John Marshall, the famous jurist of the early days of the United States, and to his cousin Humphrey, the Kentucky Senator in 1801.  William Paxton’s 1885 book The Marshall Family covered this family history.  Charles Marshall was an emancipated slave from their Kentucky plantation near Greensburg.

Another line from “John of the Forest” was through his younger son in Kentucky, the Rev. William Marshall.  This line led to George C. Marshall, the Chief of Staff of the US Army during World War Two and the US Secretary of Defense under President Truman.

Levin Marshall was a large plantation owner from Virginia.  He became a successful banker in Natchez, Mississippi, and the owner of a hotel, a steamboat and five cotton plantations.  He was one of the richest men in the antebellum South.  His son George ran the Lansdowne plantation in Natchez which is still in Marshall hands today.

Other Marshalls in or from Virginia were:

  • John Marshall who arrived from England sometime in the 1720’s.  From his line came Riley Marshall, a farmer who moved to Indiana in 1817 and struck lucky when oil and gas was discovered on his land.  His grandson Thomas was Governor of Indiana and Vice President of the United States under Woodrow Wilson.
  • Gilbert and Martha Marshall who arrived from Antrim in 1751 and later moved onto Tennessee.   His sons fought in the Revolutionary War.  John Marshall built a palatial house for himself in Franklin, Kentucky.

Pennsylvania.  John Marshall, a Quaker from Derbyshire, came to Pennsylvania in 1684, settling in Delaware county.  In 1765 a subsequent John Marshall, two generations later, moved to Kennett township where he ran his Marshallvalle grist and saw milling operation.  Some of his descendents then started a sheet iron rolling mill, others a paper mill in Wooddale, Delaware.  The paper mill lasted until 1918 when it burnt down.

Scots Irish.  Early Scots Irish Marshalls who came to America were:

  • William and Rebecca Marshall, Quakers, who were married in New Castle county, Delaware  in 1746. They soon moved onto North Carolina where they were joined by William’s brother John.
  • and William and Elizabeth Marshall who came to Adams county, Pennsylvania in 1748.  They later moved onto Indiana county after having experienced problems with the local Indians.  Thomas H. Marshall of this line was a prominent farmer in Dayton, Pennsylvania.

African American.  Thorney Good (Thoroughgood) Marshall was born into slavery in Virginia in 1849.  After emancipation, he was for a time a Buffalo soldier in Texas before ill-heath caused his discharge and he worked as a waiter in Baltimore.  His son William worked as a porter on trains, his grandson Thoroughgood (shortened to Thurgood) Marshall became the first African American Supreme Court Justice in 1967.

Other Marshalls.  Some Marshalls in America have come from other places.  One family history begins with a George Marschall and his family who came to America from Bavaria in 1833 and settled in Barry county, Michigan. Another Marschall family who arrived at this time from Bavaria were Jewish.  Their son Louis became a well-known Jewish community leader and civil rights lawyer.  In both cases the Marschall name changed to Marshall.

Anthony Marshall, the father of the actors Garry and Penny Marshall, had changed his name from Masciarelli to Marshall sometime in the 1930’s.

Canada.  Robert Marshall, a weaver, left his native Galloway in Scotland in 1775 to seek a better life for himself in Canada.  He ended up in the Highland colony in Pictou county, Nova Scotia.

The early years were hard.  But his descendants later prospered. David, his grandson, was a local merchant.  Another grandson Robert migrated to New Brunswick and went into politics.  Some Marshalls later headed West, in a number of cases to the American West. The family story is narrated in Bryce Marshall’s 1975 book The Marshall Family of Pictou County.

Other early Marshall arrivals in Canada were:

  • Solomon Marshall, a Loyalist from Massachusetts who came with his family to Annapolis, Nova Scotia in the 1780’s.
  • John Marshall, who came to Burin county, Newfoundland in 1815 to build the Catholic church there.  He stayed and became one of the settlement’s leading merchants.  His home at Bell’s Cove remains with the Marshall family.
  • Thomas Marshall, a weaver from Lanarkshire, who arrived in Quebec with his wife Janet on the Alexander in 1820.  Later, his descendants headed west to Castor, Alberta in 1909.

Australia.  The first Marshall to Australia was a sea captain, John Marshall from Kent, in charge of the Scarborough in the First and Second Fleet of convicts.

He had an unhappy time, a threatened mutiny on the first voyage and a high convict death rate (one out of every 3.5 convicts who boarded) on the second voyage – for which he was blamed.  He kept a low profile thereafter.  His name, however, was attached to the Marshall Islands in the Pacific which he charted.

Marshall Surname Miscellany

Lord Marshals, Earl Marshals, and the Like.  A marshal originally meant a person who looked after the horses.  Its meaning progressed at one level to describe a farrier, blacksmith, or horse-doctor.  At another level, its meaning was elevated and the name came to portray a very important personage within a royal or noble household, one with either military or ceremonial responsibilities.

In England, William Marshal, the Earl of Pembroke, was one of the most powerful men in the land and went by the name of Lord Marshal. The title of Earl Marshal has continued into modern times, albeit in a more ceremonial sense, with the Dukes of Norfolk.  In Scotland it has been the Keith family which has held the ceremonial title of Earl Marischal or Earl Marshal.

Marshals also grew in reputation elsewhere in Europe as they became trusted members of the courts.  In France the Marshal, first created in 1185, was one of the great offices of the Crown.  Some rulers have used the “Marshal” title to reward military leaders. Most famous of these were the Marshals of France that were created by Napoleon.  Mussolini followed this practice in Italy in the 1920’s.  Marshal of the Russian Federation is the highest military rank in Russia today. In the United States, the term marshal is used for various kinds of law enforcement officers. 

Ann Marshall’s Crime.  The Marshalls of Urswick were part of a small group of interlocking families among the landed gentry of north Lancashire, the Stanleys, Sawneys, Sandys and Harringtons.  When John Marshall should look for a wife, it was natural that he look no further than this circle.  In 1726 he married Margaret Sawney.  It was an arranged marriage, the sole purpose being to produce an heir.

This did not happen and Margaret died childless in 1740.  Within a year John had married Margaret’s unmarried cousin Ann from Hawkshead.  This union soon produced two children and Ann was expecting a third.

All was going well until 1746 when Ann was charged and convicted of theft.  Just why Ann should steal is a mystery, given the comfortable nature of their lives.  But the law was merciless in those days.  Ann was sentenced to death.  She would have to endure the spectacle of a head shaving and a public hanging. It was only through the intercession of the two families that Ann’s sentence was transmuted to life transportation to the Virginia colonies.

The family’s shame was visited upon Ann’s husband John.  He was cast adrift from the family, disgraced, and forced to join the aimless laborers seeking work around Lancashire.  He and his three sons were ejected from the bosom of the family, never to return.

William Marshall of Scartho and Grimsby.  William Marshall was a farmer, shipowner, and he established a milling business, the Cartergate mill, in Grimsby in 1817.

He was athletically built and used to walk most of his journeys, frequently walking from Scartho to Gainsborough, from Gainsborough to Cockerington, from Cockerington to Louth and back to Scartho where he lived.

He was rather eccentric in some points of his character.  He had his own tombstone placed in the churchyard over thirty years before it was required.  Here he set forth the virtues of his wife who preceded him.  He also had engraved some emblematic representations of his work and progress in life.

Billy Marshall, King of the Gypsies.  Billy Marshall was born in Ayrshire in 1672 of Romany stock and claimed to be King of the Gypsies in southeast Scotland for most of the 1700s.  He became famous as a boxer – and as a bandit.  He was the so-called ‘King of the Randies,’ running a gang of gypsy tinkers in Galloway and terrorizing much of the countryside.

His legendary exploits included deserting from the army no less than seven times and from the navy three times.  He was reputed to have married on 17 occasions, had countless children (both in and out of wedlock), and fathered at least four children after the age of 100.  He was alleged to have lived to the age of 120, dying in 1792 and being buried in St Cuthbert’s churchyard in Kircudbright.  His grave can be visited and a coin left for the next gypsy who passes.

Reader Feedback – Thomas H. Marshall of Dayton, Pennsylvania.  Thomas Hindman Marshall was my great great grandfather and he lived in the town of Dayton, PA. There is a museum in our little town of Dayton, PA with the house built by Thomas Hindman Marshall and it has much history recorded.

The museum can be seen online at along with a family history of Thomas H Marshall.

Joyce Jamsion (

Robert Marshall, An Early Settler in Pictou County, Nova Scotia.  Robert Marshall was part of the Dumfries contingent who came to the Highland colony of Pictou in 1776.  The early times were harsh for him.  Robert initially neither the tools nor the knowledge to farm, fish or hunt.   His wife Elizabeth died and he had young children to raise.

He was known as “the deacon” and was a man of strong religious beliefs.  Stories of his strong convictions have survived in the many books and histories about the Pictou county settlers.  Before the arrival of a permanent minister, he would conduct Sabbath services in English and counsel neighbors whenever they had problems.

When the Rev. James MacGregor arrived in 1786, he described his meeting with Marshall as follows:

“Robert Marshall and his family suffered everything but death in Prince Edward Island by hunger and nakedness; for though they had plenty of clothes of all kinds when they came he had to part with every article of them that could be spared for provisions.

Soon after he came to Pictou he lost a most amiable consort and for some time had a great struggle in bringing up his family.  But he was filled with the joy and peace of believing and abounded in hope not only of everlasting happiness, but of hearing the joyful sound of the gospel in Pictou.

He was afterward an elder and a great comfort for me, but for many a day he had to go to hear the sermon in an old red coat which an old soldier had given him and a weaver’s apron to hide the holes and rags of his trousers.”

George Marshall and the Mississippi Lansdowne Plantation.  Both George Marshall and his wife Charlotte Hunt came from prominent Natchez planter families.  George Marshall’s father Levin was a millionaire, among the top ten wealthiest individuals in Natchez district and one of the only thirty five millionaires in the country at the time.

Beginning in 1852, their Lansdowne plantation was part suburban Natchez estate and part cotton plantation.  They replaced the original house with a finer one.  Many of the twenty two slaves there would have worked to support the house, a butler, a cook, house maid, nurse for the children, someone to wash the clothes, someone to care for the yard and garden, etc.  The rest would have worked on the limited cotton operation on the plantation.

George went to fight in the Civil War and was quickly wounded in Tennessee in the Battle of Shilo.  He paid someone to finish fighting the war in his place.  After the war George and Charlotte were much less well off than before.  They worked hard to make Lansdowne as productive as it could be, even selling butter and eggs in town themselves.  As a result, they were able to keep Lansdowne and pass it on to their descendants.

Pilgrimage house tours have finally brought in money to preserve Natchez big planter homes such as Lansdowne.  The story goes that there were pots on the floors to catch the rain water at the time of the first tours.

The big house and 120 acres of the original 600 acres of Landsowne are still with the Marshall family today.

“Time has almost stood still at Lansdowne since the 1850’s.  For example, the drawing room is decorated as it was back then with the original Zuber wallpaper, the double set of Rococo Revival rosewood furniture covered in rose brocade, the Aubusson carpet, the gilded cornices and copies of the first brocaded damask lambrequins.  The imported white marble mantel is decorated with an unusual carved calla lily design.  The house also contains black Egyptian marble mantels in the bedrooms and rosewood bedroom furniture, original glass and silver and many antique objets d’art.”

It is a private residence, but open during the spring pilgrimage tours in Natchez each year when descendants of the original owners will host a dinner for invited guests.

Charles Marshall, Emancipated Slave.  Charles Marshall was born into slavery in 1841 on the Marshall plantation near Greensburg, Kentucky.  He served as a volunteer soldier in the Union forces during the Civil War.  After the war he was one of the many slaves to be given his freedom along with several acres of land near Greensburg.

In subsequent years racial tensions ran high in this area. Spiteful white neighbors would set fire to the barns on his farm because he was a black landowner.  He and his wife Hariette endeavored to stay but finally, fearing for their safety, they sold up in 1898 and moved to Indianapolis, Indiana.  Charles was able to purchase land north of the city limits and they raised a family of eight there.

In the 1980’s Charles Marshall was honored postumously at Crown Hill cemetery at the African American Civil War soldier tribute in Indianapolis.  Members of the Marshall family conducted the ceremony, descendants who still lived in the Indianapolis area.

Marshall Names

  • William Marshal, the 1st Earl of Pembroke, was a legendary figure in medieval lore, one of the most powerful men in England in the early 13th century.
  • John Marshall served as Chief Justice of the United States from 1801 to 1835.  He helped to shape American constitutional law and establish the position of the Supreme Court.
  • Alfred Marshall was the Victorian economist whose 1890 book Principles of Economics defined the classical theory of economics.
  • George Marshall was the American general who led the allies to victory in World War Two.  As Secretary of State, his name was given to the Marshall Plan for rebuilding Europe after the war.
  • Thurgood Marshall was the first African American sitting on the US Supreme Court, from 1967 to 1991.

Marshall Numbers Today

  • 95,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 68,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 50,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia).

Marshall and Like Surnames

These were status positions within the feudal position of that time – usually positions serving noble families, lords of the manor, or in the church.  Here are some of these status position surnames that you can check out.




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Written by Colin Shelley

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