Matthews Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Matthews Surname Meaning

Matthew was one of Jesus’s disciples and Mattathiah a Hebrew given name, meaning “gift of the Lord.”  The use of the name was stimulated in England by Crusaders returning from the Holy Land in the 12th century. Matthews started to appear as a surname in the late 14th century.

English surname variants are Matthew and Mathews.  In Germany the name is Mathis, France Matheu, Spain Mateo, Portugal Mateus, and Italy Matteo. 

Matthews Surname Resources on The Internet

Matthews and Mathews Surname Ancestry

  • from Wales and Western England
  • to Ireland, America, Canada and Australia

Wales.  Mathew was a popular first name in medieval Wales.

David ap Mathew was a 15th century Welsh knight, the son of Mathew ap Evan.  He was said to have been one of the ten great barons of Glamorgan. His claim to fame was that he saved the life of the English King Edward IV at the barbaric Battle of Towton in 1461.  For this he was made the King’s Grand Standard-bearer.  He adopted Mathew as his hereditary name and, following his murder, was entombed as Sir David Mathew at Llandaff cathedral.

By the 16th century there were three branches of the Mathew family in Glamorgan – at Llandaff, Radyr, and Castell y Mynach.  Thomas Mathews of the Llandaff branch was a British naval officer who rose to become admiral of the Mediterranean fleet in the 1740’s.  However, the failure of his command at the Battle of Toulon resulted in his dismissal from the Navy and he returned to his estates in Llandaff to lick his wounds.

England.  From the Castell y Mynach branch came one line of Herefordshire Matthews:

  • Tobie Matthew who was Archbishop of York in 1606
  • and his son Sir Tobie, an English courtier who converted to Roman Catholicism.

From the Radyr line (also Catholic in its inclinations) came another Herefordshire line:

  • John Matthews, the country squire who was also a physician and poet.  He built his home at Belmont on the banks of the Wye river in 1790
  • and his grandson Henry who was a Conservative politician and Home Secretary from 1886 to 1892.

A Matthews family have been dairy farmers in Herefordshire since 1869.   Paul Matthews of Bartonsham Dairies is the fifth generation of the family to be involved in the dairy business.

By the time of the 1891 census the distribution of the Matthews name shows that it was clearly a west country name.  But by that time the Herefordshire Matthews were considerably outnumbered by the Matthews in the southwest (Devon and Cornwall), the Matthews in Gloucestershire and the West Midlands, and the Matthews in Lancashire.  In the 20th century there seem to have been a shift east in the distribution of the Matthews name.

Charles Mathews, born in London in 1776, begat an acting family which continued with his son Charles, who achieved success in both France and America, and he was the stepfather of Willie Mathews, a lawyer who mixed in court circles and was created a baronet in 1917.

Ireland.  The Mathews name appeared in Ireland, in greatest numbers in county Louth (including many in Dundalk).  Tobias Mathew of the Welsh Radyr family was granted the Thurles estate in Tipperary in the 17th century.  A descendant, Father Theobald Mathew, was an early advocate of teetotalism.  Some of the Irish McMahons anglicized their names to Mathews.

America.   In America the spelling has been sometimes Mathews and sometimes Matthews and they have sometimes absorbed Germanic names such as Mathis and Matthaus.

There were early Matthews in Virginia.  The first Matthews to set foot in America may well have been Captain Samuel Mathews of the Virginia Company in 1622, shortly after the founding of the Jamestown colony.

Thomas Matthews arrived in Virginia sometime in the 1690’s from Somerset.  His grandson Moses was the gunsmith who supplied George Washington’s Continental Army.  He grew wealthy from this enterprise and retired to Wilkes county, Georgia a very rich man.

Another Mathews also migrated from Virginia to Wilkes county, Georgia after the Revolutionary War.  This Mathews, George, was the son of Irish immigrant parents.  He served twice as Governor of Georgia and at the end of his life led a filibuster expedition to try and capture Florida for the United States.

Later Irish American Matthews have been Francis Matthews, US Secretary of the Navy under Truman, and Chris Matthews, a TV news anchor with NBC.

Canada.  Early Matthews in Canada were Loyalists:

  • David Mathews, who had been mayor of New York and fled to Nova Scotia where he was unable to find a new role for himself
  • and Thomas Matthews who crossed over to Pickering, Ontario after the war.  His son Peter participated in the Upper Canada rebellion of 1837 and was afterwards executed by the authorities.

Another American – this time Abner Matthews from New Hampshire –  crossed the border to Burford, Ontario around the year 1800.  His son Wheeler built up a business supplying barley to Canadian and American brewers and his son Wilmot had expanded that business by the early 1900’s into a major Toronto-based industrial and financial empire.

Australia.  Thomas Matthews was one of the earliest settlers of the Coromandel valley in South Australia in 1839.

“His house and property there were called Hurds Hill, after the Hurds Hill in the village of Pitney in Somerset where the Matthews family came from.  It still stands today.”

Another Thomas Matthews, also from Somerset, had been transported to Australia as a convict in 1835. After having been granted a conditional pardon in 1850 he married and settled down in Maitland, NSW. Meanwhile John and Emma Matthews had left Cornwall on the Bussorah Merchant in 1848 bound for South Australia.  They raised a family there but John himself died in Gawler thirteen years later in 1861.

In 1859 Thomas Mathews, an Irish immigrant from Louth, built a pub to serve the passing trade along the then busy Darling River in NSW. What started as a pub is now the small town of Louth.  Another Irishman, John Matthews, founded a jeweller’s shop in Latrobe, Tasmania in 1872.  The business has now been passed down through five generations of Matthews.

Matthews Surname Miscellany

Mathew Branches – Llandaff, Radyr and Castell y Mynach.  Descended from the Yorkist warrior Sir David Mathew and his brother Robert were the three Mathew branches, Llandaff, Radyr and Castell y Mynach.  The influence of these families, often inter-connected by marriage, increased after the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 under the protection of Rhys ap Thomas who had married Janet Mathew.  It declined after the death of Sir George Mathew of Radyr in 1557.

Llandaff Mathew became Mathews in the 17th century.  They were quietly Royalist during this volatile period.  The Radyr branch was more openly Catholic.  They held lands in Wales and in Ireland in the 18th century.  The Castell y Mynach branch at Pentyrch was descended from Sir David’s brother Robert.

James Tilly Matthews.  James Tilly Matthews was a London tea broker originally from Wales.  In 1797 at the age of twenty seven he was committed to the Bedlam psychiatric hospital.  He is considered to be the first fully documented case of paranoid schizophrenia.  He lived on for many years; but died at the age of forty four in the London private hospital in Hackney in 1814. 

The Matthews of Belmont.  At Clehonger parish church in Herefordshire, there is a monument on the south aisle to the memory of John Matthews, proprietor of Belmont, who was one of the representatives of the county of Hereford in Parliament in 1802 and 1806 and for nearly twenty years the chairman of the quarter sessions.

He was father of the talented author of Diary of an Invalid, Henry Matthews of Ceylon.  His eldest daughter, Elizabeth Matthews, in conjunction with Thomas Andrew Knight of Downton castle, brought out a book entitled Pomona or The Apple Trees of Herefordshire. The fruit was painted by Miss Matthews.

The burial place of this family is on the north side of the churchyard, in the boundary wall.

Father Theobald Mathew in Ardmore.  The organization and conduct of Father Mathew’s temperance meeting at Ardmore on September 25, 1842 began like so many others he had been holding around the country for the past three years.  A crowd of 20,000, including temperance bands from Knockmahon, Dungarvon, Cappoquin, Cloyne, Midleton and Killeagh, had assembled on the Sunday night when the picturesque local landscape, in the words of the Waterford Chronicle, “shone responsive to the sunlight whose glories it reflected.”

Father Mathew began with a speech defending the holding of temperance meetings on Sundays, warned against cordials as being a device to get people to take alcohol again, and stressed the need for the sober to take the pledge again as an example for others.  As the church could only hold a proportion of the crowd at any one time, he spent several hours giving the pledge to large batches at a time, pausing at times to address those waiting their turn.

However, the drunkenness in the village that night was a very disrupting factor.  Father Mathew believed that the disturbances were probably organized by the publicans in order to counter the good effects of tolerance.  The revellers may even have been bribed to act as they did.

These publicans did not show the same degree of good humored resignation as the brewer in Waterford who asked for his blessing, saying that the least Father Mathew could do, as he was ruining his trade, was to give him his blessing!

Early Mathews in Virginia.  The first Mathews to set foot in North America may have been Captain Samuel Mathews of the Virginia Company in 1622, shortly after the founding of Jamestown.  From then until 1666 there were, according to Cavaliers and Pioneers, quite a number of Mathews settlers in Virginia, possibly as many as fifty.

James Mathews and his wife Jane appeared as early as 1688 in a Charles City county court order record. They had at least five children.  By the 1740’s James and several of his children had moved to that part of North Carolina which would become Halifax county in the area of Little Fishing Creek.  However, James’ son Charles remained in Virginia and died there in 1780.

Thomas Matthews in Coromandel Valley.  Thomas Matthews arrived in South Australia in 1839 on the Robert Moffatt, found his way to the Coromandel valley, bought some land and became involved in grazing.  However, before really settling down, he took his family to several different areas of South Australia including the Barossa valley, and then returned to Coromandel.

His son John died there in 1849 and was the first of the settlers to be buried at Coromandel.  By that time Thomas had completed the building of his house and it was to remain in the family until 1946.  One daughter Harriet married William Morgan who was later to become Premier of South Australia, another daughter Bessie a Mr. James Cossins of South Rhine, South Australia.

Matthews Names

  • Sir David Mathew, murdered in 1484 and buried at Llandaff cathedral, was the forebear of a number of Matthews families in Glamorgan and Herefordshire.
  • Father Theobald Mathews of Tipperary was an early advocate in the 1840’s of teetotalism.
  • Bernard Matthews was the founder of Bernard Matthews Farms, the British turkey farmers.
  • Sir Stanley Matthews played football from 1932 to 1960 and is considered one of the greatest footballers of his age.
  • Terry Matthews is a Welsh-born Canadian high-tech entrepreneur and Wales’s first billionaire.

Matthews Numbers Today

  • 68,000 in the UK (most numerous in Kent)
  • 55,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 46,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Matthews and Like Surnames   

Patronymic surnames can be with either the “-son” or the shorter “s” suffix to the first name.  The “s” suffix is more common in southern England and in Wales.  Here are some of these surnames that you can check out.




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Written by Colin Shelley

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