Massey Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Massey Surname Meaning

The surname Massey and its variants were a Norman import, coming to England with William the Conqueror in 1066.  It was probably from one or more of a number of villages in Normandy which sounded similar.

The Normans who settled in Cheshire came from Masci near Mont St. Michel in Normandy and this over time became the surname Massey.  Maci appeared in Gloucestershire in the Domesday Book and Macey and Macy established themselves as surnames in the south of England.

Meanwhile the surname Massie – sometimes thought to be derived from the Matheson clan – was to be found in Scotland, mainly in Aberdeenshire.

Massey Surname Resources on The Internet

Massey, Massie and Macy Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Cheshire and Lancashire) and Scotland
  • to America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

England.  The early location of the Massey name was Cheshire

Cheshire  Hamon Mascy, who was granted lands in Cheshire, is considered as the forebear of the Massey line in England.   The seat of his holdings was the village of Dunham where he built his castle.  Five Hamons followed and they held sway at Dunham Massey Hall until around 1460.

There were by that time a number of subsidiary Massey branches, notably those of de Tatton and Puddington.  As an old Cheshire saying had it: “There were masses of Masseys, groves of Grosvenors, and Leghs like flies.”

The Puddington Masseys, who had received lands in Ely at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries, died out in the early 18th century; but a related family, who called themselves Massies, were firmly established at Coddington.

By the 19th century, the Massey name had spread well beyond Cheshire.  The 1891 census showed the following distribution in England:

  • Cheshire – 14 percent
  • Lancashire – 32 percent
  • Staffordshire – 12 percent
  • and elsewhere – 42 percent.

Lancashire.  Masseys spread early to Lancashire, to areas around Leigh and Warrington; and later to the growing industrial cities of Liverpool and Manchester.  The name became most closely associated with the town of Burnley, where the Masseys ran the local brewery.

Elsewhere   The surname Macey (or Macy) appears to have had similar roots in England as Massey, but this name originated instead in the southwest.  The earliest references were in the Wiltshire village of Chilmark, from whence came Thomas Macy the emigrant to America (one family history tracks some Maceys who stayed). Later Maceys were to be seen in and around Bristol and Taunton and as far west as Maker in Cornwall.

Scotland.  The Scottish Massie could either be a variant of Massey or a contraction of Matheson, the name of a minor Highland clan.

It is mainly to be found in the northeast of Scotland, in Aberdeenshire.  One family history traces itself back to William Massie, a farmer in Logie Buchan in the late 1700’s, another to John Massie, a fish curer in Fraserburgh in the early 1800’s.

Ireland.   There was a Massey presence in both Limerick and Wicklow from the 1600’s. John Massey had been given land at Duntryleague in Limerick for his role in suppressing the 1641 rebellion.  His family were (mainly) absentee landlords for the next 250 years.  There were more Masseys in Wicklow, many of whom emigrated in the 19th century.

America.  America received Macys, more Masseys, and then some Massies.

An early arrival in the late 1630’s was Thomas Macy, from Chilmark in Wiltshire.  He was the first settler of Nantucket island in 1659 and helped establish its long Quaker tradition. Later Macys were Obed Macy, the author of The History of Nantucket in 1835, and, more famously, R.H. Macy, the founder of the Macy department store in New York City.

Early Masseys came from Cheshire or Cheshire-related families:

  • John Massey and his brothers came to Nansemond county, Virginia in 1635.  Hezekiah Massey of this line moved to North Carolina in 1736.
  • Nicholas Massey arrived in Dorchester county, Maryland in 1658.  Some of his descendants also moved to North Carolina.
  • Peter Massie came to New Kent county, Virginia around 1675.  His line was covered in Evelyn Massie’s 1972 book A Massie Family History.
  • Thomas Massey, a young Quaker, came to Pennsylvania in 1683 as an indentured servant.  He was to prosper as a farmer in the Lehigh valley (his farmhouse there still stands).  There are many descendants still in the vicinity; and many more in North Carolina where his grandson James settled in the 1760’s.
  • and a Richard Massey arrived in Virginia in 1684.  His descendants later migrated to South Carolina and Alabama.

Masseys spread across the South.  By the late 19th century, the largest number were in Texas.  The Massey Genealogy, which covered Massey families in both England and America, was published by Judge Frank A. Massey of Fort Worth, Texas in 1979.

Canada.  Daniel Massey arrived from Vermont with his parents in the early 1800’s and they settled to farm on the north shore of Lake Ontario.  It was he who started the family farm equipment and machinery business.  But it was his son Hart Massey, who took over in 1856, who really developed the company and helped make it the worldwide force that it is today.  Hart and his sons were to run Massey-Harris, the forerunner of Massey-Ferguson, until 1926.

The Massey family established themselves, through their public works, as the foremost family of Toronto.  Their legacy includes Massey Hall (opened in 1894), the Massey Foundation, and the Massey Commission. From the Massey mansion home on Jarvis Street, their interests ranged wide – from music and the arts to, in the case of Raymond Massey and his family, the acting profession.  In 1978 the Massey family was subject to a two-part CBS-TV documentary, The Masseys: Chronicles of a Canadian Family.

Australia and New Zealand.  Two Massey arrivals down under had very contrasting life experiences.

Thomas Massey from Cheshire had arrived in chains in Australia in 1791, having been transported there for desertion and burglary. Although pardoned ten years later, his abrasive attitude would lead him into repeated difficulties with the authorities.  In 1830 he was committed to trial for attempting to kill one of his servants. The case was probably withdrawn as he lived on at his farm on the South Esk until the ripe old age of ninety nine.

Bill Massey, having grown up in a farming family in Derry, Ireland, emigrated with his parents to New Zealand in 1870.   He too started his own farm.  But his true interest soon emerged as politics.  Representing rural interests, he rose through the political ranks and became Prime Minister in 1912, a position he was to hold for thirteen years.  Burdened by the cares of office, he died at the age of sixty nine and is remembered today by the Massey memorial in Wellington.

Massey Surname Miscellany

Hamon Mascy of Dunham Massey.  According to The History of Cheshire by Sir Peter Leycester, Hamon Massey is seen as the founder of the Massey (Masci) family.

His title was Baron de Dunham and the seat of his holdings was the village of Dunham in Cheshire.  He accompanied King William Rufus in 1087 on a hunting trip in the Wirrall peninsula. During that time, apparently because of his proficiency as an archer, he secured from the King a generous grant of land, as the following document records:

“I William King of England do give unto Mascy all my right, interest and title to the hop and hopland (valley land) from me and mine with bow and arrow, which I shoot upon yerrow (the place), and in witness to the sooth (action or statement) I seal with my wang tooth.”

In Hamon’s time Dunham Massey Hall was a three-winged manor in the shape of a “U,” surrounded by a moat.  The extensive grounds outside the moat contained a deer park, orchards, a river, and several fishing ponds.

Hamon’s descendants would continue to live there until around 1460 (when it came into the possession of the Booths through marriage).  The story goes that the third wife of the sixth Hamon was very extravagant and she forced him to sell land.  When he died leaving no heirs, Dunham Massey Hall passed out of the family’s hands.

The Last Massey of Puddington.  William Massey, the last of his family, was a zealous Roman Catholic attached to the cause of the Pretender.  He is said to have fled home in 1716 after the battle of Preston; and to have escaped to the Wirrall by swimming his horse over the Mersey.  The brace horse then dropped dead as it reached the stable door.

The  William was seized at Puddington Hall and imprisoned in Chester castle where he died soon after.  He left his estates to his godson Thomas Stanley who assumed the name of Massey.

Masseys in Burnley

In 1818

Much of the land then was farmed by the Masseys.  The Masseys were then, with the Holgates and Crooks, the most influential people in Burnley.  Joseph Massey, father of Alderman John Massey, lived at the turn of the road to the Massey dye house.  His garden came to the edge of the road and the choice strawberry beds made many a Burnley lass’s mouth water.

Massey’s woollen factory was nearby and this was flanked by two or three cottages.  The public house bearing the singular title The Hole-in-the-Wall, with its equally singular sign, dispensed its ale to thirsty souls then as now, though neither Massey’s nor Keirby’s brewery had yet seen the light.

In 1904

In 1904 the mayor of Burnley received a very unusual letter from Edward Stocks Massey JP.  The brewery had made a considerable profit for the owners over the proceeding years and now Edward was prepared to see most of his fortune, estimated to be about £125,000 after death duties, go to the town of Burnley.

There was a catch, however.  If the police or magistrates should close any of Massey’s pubs in the borough of Burnley, then the full value of the property would be deducted from the town’s inheritance.  The letter made pointed reference to the recent refusal of a license for the Wheatsheaf Inn.  “This loss might have been avoided if the frequenters of the house, who came from Burnley, had been more careful as to their conduct.”

Thomas Macy and the Founding of Nantucket.  Thomas Macy had arrived in New England with his wife Sarah in the late 1630’s and was one of the first settlers of Newbury, Massachusetts (the Macy-Colby house in nearby Amesbury, which Thomas built, still stands).   But Thomas was brought before court there for “entertaining Quakers.”  Four men, reportedly Quakers, had stopped at the Macy home to ask directions on a rainy morning and stayed about three-quarters of an hour.  Thomas was fined.

Macy was one of the original purchasers of Nantucket in 1659.  Tradition states that he fled to Nantucket from persecution as a result of the case against him concerning the Quakers.

“In the late fall of 1659, the Macy family, with several neighbors and friends, twelve people in all, sailed in a small boat bound for Nantucket, rounding the hook of Cape Cod and at last coming ashore at the west end of the island. Fortunately for the settlers, the Wampanoag Indians there were friendly, and had it not been for their hospitable succour during the long cold winter at Madaket the newcomers might have starved or frozen to death.”

John Greenleaf Whittier wrote a romanticized version of the story in his poem, The Exiles.

On 10 May 1661, Thomas was one of the men chosen to lay out and measure the land on Nantucket.   He moved to Nantucket permanently in 1664 and died there in 1682.

The Massey Family.  Hart Massey (1823-1896), the developer of the Massey business empire, was the son of Daniel Massey (1798-1856), a blacksmith who began producing farm implements in Canada.  Daniel had been born in Vermont in America and his family could trace themselves back to the early immigrant George Massy of the 1630’s.

Hart’s children were:

  • Charles A. Massey (1848-1884).  He died early of typhoid fever and his son Bert was famously murdered in 1915.
  • Chester D. Massey (1850-1926).  He and his first wife Anna Vincent raised their sons in the family home on Jarvis Street. Elder son Vincent (1887-1967) became the first Canadian-born Governor General of Canada.  Younger son Raymond (1896-1983) was a famous actor and the father of two famous actors as well, Daniel and Anna Massey.
  • Edward H. Massey (1864-1901).  He was the first President of Massey-Harris after Hart Massey.  His son Denton was an Anglican priest and politician.
  • and Frederick V. Massey (1867-1890).

Massey’s Ghosts.  It is known as Haunted Keg Mansion in Toronto.   Hart Massey had acquired the mansion in the late 1800’s and it was the place where dignitaries and royal family members such King George VI and Queen Mary were entertained.  The ghosts in the house are not one but many.

The Ghost in the Washroom

Hart Massey’s daughter Lillian passed away on the second floor.  Her ghost is seen wandering around that area and her presence has been particularly felt in the second floor washroom where people have sensed that they were being watched.

There have been occasions when patrons have locked the bathroom door when using the facilities, only to hear the door being unlocked and sometimes open slightly.  Visitors have reported toilets that spontaneously flushed when nobody else was in the bathroom.  In addition, toilet paper dispensers sometimes rattle.

The Ghost on the Upper Floors

Sounds of laughter have been heard from the upper floors when they are unoccupied.  In addition, many people have heard the sounds of children playing.  The ghost of a little boy has been seen running up and down the staircase.  He sometimes stops on the stairs and looks out over the crowd of diners.

The Ghost in the Main Foyer

The most famous ghost is that of a maid of the Massey family who hung herself from the second floor oval opening in the main foyer.  She can be seen with a noose hanging around her neck.

It is believed she was an employee of Lillian Massey and committed suicide when she heard the news of her employer’s death.  It is rumored that she had an affair with one of the Massey men and she was forced to hang herself in order to keep her pregnancy a secret.

Isaac Massie of Lawrence Township, Ohio.  The following article appeared in the Ironton Register of March 17, 1892.

“Mr. Isaac Massie of Lawrence township was in town Friday, seeing the Commissioners in regard to some “sheep claims.”  Mr. Massie is turning his attention to sheep raising and has rearranged his farm, erected new wire fences, and had, a few days ago, one of the finest flocks of sheep in the county.

But within the past week the dogs of the neighborhood made a raid on his flock and killed a dozen or more of his finest and injured a number of others.  He found a number of his neighbors’ dogs in his field and killed them then and there.

We think Mr. Massie pursued the right course in introducing  his gun into the argument and think the results will tell in the future as well as they were felt on the occasion of the shooting.  We think sheep raising one of the most profitable enterprises farmers can engage in and Mr. Massie should be encouraged in his undertaking.”

George Massey’s Tunnel Vision.  The tenacity and vision of a man named George Massey was the driving force behind the construction of the 12 mile Deas Island Tunnel in the metro Vancouver region.  His dream to build an immersed tube tunnel under the south arm of the Fraser river began in 1936, several decades before the bridge was eventually opened. His vision had been inspired by his childhood  experience as a seaman in Europe and his knowledge about the Maas Tunnel in Rotterdam.

“In 1936, my father sold his auto mechanics business in Regina and brought his family, a wrecker (tow truck), and a speed boat he built to B.C,” said his son Doug.  “When he got to the ferry in Ladner, he said ‘why isn’t there a tunnel here?’ These were the very first words he said.”

After many years of trying to convincing the B.C. Government of the need for a tunnel, Massey formed the Lower Fraser River Improvement Crossing Association in the late 1940’s.

“Dad, with his layman’s knowledge and an understanding of navigation was able to draw up maps,” explained Doug.  “He had all the statistics to prove that this thing should be there.  He  spoke to Chambers of Commerce all over and proved this was the way to go.  The lower crossing would fit better with the design of the Oak Street Bridge and Highway 99.”

The tunnel eventually opened for traffic in 1959 and was called the George Massey Tunnel in his honor.

Reader Feedback – Bill Massey Arriving in New Zealand.  My great great grandparents, John and Elizabeth Macnaughtan, travelled to New Zealand together with John and Marianne Massey aboard the Indian Empire in 1862.  William Massey, their son, remained behind to finish his studies and arrived in 1870.

John Macnaughtan, New Zealand.

Massey Names

  • Hamon Mascy is considered the forebear of the Cheshire Masseys.
  • R.H. Macy was the founder of the Macy department store.  He opened his first store in New York City in 1858.
  • Hart Massey was the man who developed the Massey farm machinery business, what is now the Massey-Ferguson Company.
  • Farmer Bill Massey served as Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1912 to 1925.
  • Louise Massey, the country and western singer from Texas, was dubbed  “the original rhinestone cowgirl.”
  • Raymond Massey, grandson of Hart Massey, was a well-known American actor.

Massey Numbers Today

  • 10,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 16,000 in America (most numerous in Texas).
  • 7,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada).




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Written by Colin Shelley

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