Mills Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Mills Meaning
was locational and described someone who lived near a mill.  In time it also came to mean someone who
worked at a mill.  The mill was an
important center in every medieval settlement, normally operated by an
agent of
the local landowner.
The root of the word is the Old English mylen, from
the Latin molere meaning “to grind.”
Surname variants of Mills in Scotland are
Milne and Mill.

Mills Resources on

Mills Ancestry

first recorded spelling of Mills as a surname was Richard de la Melle
in the Sussex rolls of 1200.  Over time
the surname spread across England.  By
the 19th century, it was most common in SE England, in the West
Midlands, and
in Lancashire.

The Mills in Southampton date from the early 16th
century when John Mill was a successful merchant there.
By 1613 the family was well enough
established to afford an impressive memorial in Nursling church.

“Sir Richard Mill and his wife Mary, plump
and colourful in painted alabaster, lie propped up on their elbows,
their one-time domain.” 

By the 18th
century the family had inherited Mottisfont Abbey and later became the
Barker-Mill.  A Mills line from
Mottisfont started with Thomas Mills, born there in 1799, and continued
Lyndhirst.  William Mills from
Warwickshire acquired the ancient Bisterne house in the New Forest in
1792 and
it has remained in his family since that time.

Thomas Mills was born in Lingfield, Surrey around 1540; while Henry
Mills was baptized at Coldwaltham near Pulborough in Sussex in
1609.  George
Mills was born in Coventry, Warwickshire also in 1609.
Rev. John Mills became rector of the
village of Barford
in Warwickshire in 1745 and his family
were later
the principal landowners
there.  John Mills, born in Oldham in
1584, was an early Lancashire name.
Later Mills of this family were Quakers who settled in America.

Two Mills
families did well for themselves in the 18th century.
One Mills family, thought originally to be
Huguenot silk weavers, made their money from textiles and property in
London and
made enough to buy country estates in Hertfordshire and Norfolk.  William Mills was a linen draper in Coventry
and also prospered, buying into the banking house of Glyn’s.

“William Mills, who married the heiress of Sir John
Salter, the Lord
Mayor of London and an East India proprietor, saved the Glyn’s bank in
the panic
of 1772 with £10,000, stipulating that he become a partner with his

generations of Mills
were partners in Glyn’s, England’s foremost private banking house,
until its takeover by the Royal Bank of Scotland in

Wales.  The
Mills name appeared
in mid-Wales, perhaps initially in villages such as Trefeglwys and
Llandnwog in
Montgomeryshire in the 16th century.  The
Mills family of Llanidloes
was a family of composers,
printers and writers.  The first of the
family was Henry
Mills, a pioneer in Welsh congregational singing.

born in Montgomeryshire in 1799, was the forebear of a Mills family
that settled in Liverpool in the 1830’s (a branch of the family later
emigrating to New Zealand


The Scottish name is
Milne, found initially in Aberdeenshire.
A family by the name of Milne were farmers at the mill of
Boyndie for
generations.  Milne
often pronounced Mill in Scotland.  James
Mill, the Scottish economist, was born in Angus.

Ireland.  The Mills name was
brought across from either England or Scotland.
It could also come from the Gaelic an
meaning “of the mill.”  One English Mills
family was based at Knockall in Roscommon from the 1740’s and possibly
earlier.  John Mills was an
Ulster Scot who emigrated
to America in 1682 and settled in North Carolina.

America.   The first
Mills in America may have been Simon Mills
who was said to have come to the Plymouth colony in Massachusetts on
the Mary and John in 1630.   He and his family
established themselves in Connecticut, first in Windsor and then in
Simsbury.  Their family genealogy was undertaken most recently by
Ralph Mills in his 1984 book The History of the Simon Mills Family.

Many Mills in
America descend from George Mills.  It is
believed that he came from Yorkshire and arrived in New England also
1630.  More certain is the fact that he
was one of the co-founders of the town of Jamaica on Long Island in
1656.  His son Samuel lived to be ninety
five.  When he died in 1726 he left behind
nine children, eighty grandchildren, and fifty four great grandchildren.  Hence the large number of descendants of his
line in New England, New York, and, after the Revolutionary War, in
Kentucky (Thomas
) and in Canada (Loyalists).

Dutchess county in New York came James Mills who served as the
supervisor of
North Salem in Westchester county in the early 1800’s.
His son Darius joined the California Gold
Rush in 1848.  He made his money in
railroads and in banking, not in gold.
For a time he was California’s wealthiest citizen.
Later Mills of this family were prominent in
business, politics, and in racehorse ownership and breeding.

Caribbean.  Matthew Mills from London
had arrived in St.
Kitts in 1688.  He was shot in a
duel and his nephew Thomas started up a
plantation on St. Kitts
1720.  This plantation stayed in family
hands for
four generations for about a hundred years.
George Mills of this line, overcome by debts, shot himself to
death in 1828.

Jesse Mills and his family from Westchester county, New
York – descendants of George Mills – were Loyalists who made the
journey across
the border into Canada in 1784.  They
settled in Cumberland county, Nova Scotia.
David Mills, a Liberal politician in Canada in the late 1800’s,
from these Loyalist roots.  Also arriving
in Canada, this time near Niagara, was John Mills and his family from
New Jersey.

James Mills came to Canada in 1800 from America and was a
farmer in the Hamilton area of Ontario.
His son Samuel was a businessman who did well, described at one
time as
“one of the three wealthiest men in Hamilton.”
Stanley Mills’ 1926 book Genealogical
and Historical Records of the Mills and Gage Families
tracked the
family history.

and New Zealand
Peter Mills had a short and eventful
life in Tasmania, arriving there in 1806 as a protégé of Captain Bligh
but disappearing ten years later.

Mills was an early arrival in New Zealand, coming to Wellington from
Scotland in 1842 and later settling in Dunedin where he was collector
of customs.  His son James Mills involved himself in coastal
shipping and built up the United Steam Ship Company to be the largest
shipping line in the southern hemisphere.  His company was also
then New Zealand’s largest private sector


Mills Miscellany

The Mills at Barford.  The Rev. John Mills acquired the right to the living at
Barford in Warwickshire and in 1745 was installed there as rector.  He had two sons, Francis and Charles, and by 1812
about two thirds of the lands in Barford was in their hands.  Francis succeeded his father as rector,
holding this position for 56 years.
Charles became the MP for Warwick.

If the squire was also the parson he
would be known as the “Squarson.”  This
was true of the Rev. John and Francis Mills and was also true later of
the Rev.
Cecil Mills.  He lived in the Rectory,
now the Glebe Hotel, and died there in 1902. As Squireson he had the
right to own a dovecote to provide much needed fresh meat in winter.

The Mills Family and Congregational Singing in Wales.  Henry Mills was a pioneer in
Welsh congregational singing.  As
a young man his voice attracted the attention of Thomas Charles of Bala
when he
was on a visit to Bethel,
the Methodist
Llanidloes.  On the recommendation of Charles the Monthly
gave Mills
of the singing of the Methodists in the
although the novelty of
the idea and Mills’
youth and ability to play
several instruments
were obstacles in the eyes of elders of the severer sort.
However, he overcome their objections and did
much to improve
the congregational
singing in the district.

Henry’s work was carried on by his son James,
whose abilities as a conductor
found scope in the musical society founded at Bethel
1834 with the objective of raising the standard of congregational
singing.  They would meet on Sundays, plus
a week-night
class of instruction in the rudiments of music, that was attended by
sixty to
seventy young people.  Mills
several anthems and hymn tunes,
of which, Hosannah, retained its
place in later collections.

brother Richard was an active member of the Bethel Musical Society.   He was also a composer and took prizes
the hymn tunes that he wrote.  His
collections in fact greatly influenced congregational singing in Wales
and were seen at
the time as landmarks in the story of its improvement.

The Mills Plantation in the Caribbean.  The Mills family connection with the West Indies dated
back to 1688 when Matthew Mills went into partnership with the planter
Woodley on St Kitts.  Matthew was
murdered in a duel with a man named Barbott who was subsequently hanged
for the
crime.  By 1720 Matthew’s nephew Thomas
had arrived in St Kitts and he started life there as a planter.

His letter
books, which have been preserved, give an interesting picture of
life in the 18th century.  Much of
Thomas’s time was spent overseeing the cultivation of sugar cane, and
processing once the harvest was underway.
The success of sugar cultivation was heavily dependent on the
climate. The fickle nature of the weather was a
constant worry for planters.  A long, dry
spell could force an early harvest and a poor crop.

Because family connections
were so important to mercantile success, there were many opportunities
family rivalry and feuds.  Nothing quite
illustrates this as well as Thomas Mills’ manoeuvrings when he was
ready to
return to London in 1753.  Now aged about
48 he had to plan for the future and the obvious move was to join his
John in his business in London.

When he learned, however, that John had promised
a partnership to his young nephew Matthew Gallwey, Thomas began
against the younger man.  He spread
stories undermining his character and position and threatened to set
himself up
in London in competition against John.  The result was a vicious
family feud and
the withdrawal of the partnership offer.

Simon Mills and His Family in America.  Family tradition has it that Simon and John Mills were youngsters on the John
and Mary
that set forth for Plymouth Rock in 1630.  John was
said to have died in a storm at sea.  But Simon, aged 18, did
reach his destination.

is no record for Simon Mills at the Plymouth colony.  In 1635 or
so Simon moved his family to Windsor, Connecticut.  His son Simon
was born there two years later.  According to the Windsor land
records, Simon became a prominent landowner as the years passed.
However, in 1661, he was killed in an Indian raid on his house, along
with two of his baby grandchildren.  He was about forty nine years
of age at the time.

1667 a section of land along the Farmington river was set aside by the
Windsor officials for use by selected settlers.  The area
comprised about 10 square miles and was very quickly taken up by forty
settlers, including Simon the son.  The name of the resulting
settlement was Simsbury.  Simon and his wife Mary were the first
of four generations of Mills in Simsbury. 

Mills Loyalist Petitions.  Loyalists who left the American colonies after the Revolutionary War were honored
by the British because of their loyalty to the King.
They were generally granted tracts of land in
their new home in Canada.

In 1794 John
Mills filed a petition for land, stating:

“He was formerly an inhabitant of
Sussex county, state of New Jersey, and by reason of his attachment to
the King
and Constitution of Great Britain lost nearly all what he was possessed
of, and
in the year 1780 or 1781 on that account was long imprisoned, indicted
and sat
in a pillory for a long time in an extreme cold season that it nearly
cost him
his life and for a long time rendered him incapable of supporting his
and obliged him to remain in the States in a miserable way.”

His character
as an honest, industrious man was attested and in 1796 he was
recommended for
200 acres in Grimsby township near Niagara.

Meanwhile, the following was the petition made by Jesse
Mills for
additional land in Cumberland county, Nova Scotia in 1814:

“The petition of Jesse Mills, most
humbly showeth:

that your petitioner is a native of the state of New York,
that he
served his
Majesty during the late American War,

that he was wounded and lost the
use of
his left hand in the service,

that at the conclusion of the war he was
to seek refuge in Nova Scotia,

that he settled in the county of
where he has ever since resided,
that he has a wife and a numerous
family of children,

that under the administration of his late Excellency Sir John Wentworth
petitioner obtained an order of survey for one thousand acres of land
as a
compensation for his services and sufferings,
that five hundred acres
only was
located to him,

that upon his applying lately for a grant of it he was
that no minutes could be found in the offices to authorize the giving
of the
grant of it.

Your petitioner therefore humbly prays that he may be
allowed a
grant of the said five hundred acres of land.”

Thomas Mills, Revolutionary War Veteran.  Thomas Mills may have been over a hundred years of age
when he died and was
buried in the Sandrun churchyard in Hebron, Kentucky on February 26,
1864.  The headstone shows that he was born
September 29, 1763 and that he had fought in the Revolutionary War.

He was in
fact born in 1763 at the family home on Long Island.
He moved at a young age to South Carolina
with his father and signed up for Marion’s Swamp Fox Soldiers during
Revolutionary War when he was just 12 or 13 years old.
He later travelled to Kentucky and Ohio where
he was a scout and Indian fighter and met up with Daniel Boone.  He served in the Corn Stalk Militia between
1791 and 1799 and also fought in the War of 1812.

had time as well to marry twice and raise
thirteen children.  He settled down,
appropriately enough, in Boone county, Kentucky.

The Brief Life and Career of Peter Mills.  Peter’s father was a businessman in the silk trade in Dublin, his brother a
doctor of medicine.  But Peter chose a naval career and in 1805
sailed to Australia under Captain Bligh of “Mutiny on the Bounty”
fame.  He was for a while deputy surveyor in Tasmania.  There
he married Jennifer Brabyn in the second wedding ever sanctioned in the

However, he soon fell badly into debt.  To escape his creditors,
he went bush in 1814 and briefly led a bushranging gang.  Mills and his companions found little
opportunity to “support themselves by rapine and violence” and soon
tired of the discomforts of “woods and retired places.”  The
promise of a pardon led him to surrender.  He was brought to trial
at Launceston, but later released for lack of evidence.
He was then able to return to his family.

Two years later Peter Mills set sail from Hobart on the Adamant
and was never seen again.



Mills Names

  • James Mill was a Scottish
    economist of the early 19th century, one of the founders of classical economic theory. 
  • John Stuart Mill, the son of James Mill, was an influential philosopher and political economist of the
    mid-19th century. 
  • Darius Mills was a prominent American banker and
    philanthropist.  For a time, he was
    California’s wealthiest citizen. 
  • Bertram Mills was a British circus owner who ran the Bertram Mills Circus. 
  • John Mills was a well-known 20th century English actor whose career spanned seven decades.

Select Mills Numbers Today

  • 70,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in London)
  • 54,000 in America (most numerous in Florida)
  • 41,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)




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