Mitchell Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Mitchell Surname Meaning

The root of Mitchell is the Christian name Michael, of Hebrew origin (meaning “with the likeness of God”). Medieval clerks would inscribe Michael in its learned Latinate form.  But its early pronunciation appears to have been Michel, in the French style.               

The “t” was introduced into the spelling to signify that “ch” was a hard sound “tch,” rather than the soft “sh” French pronunciation.  This hard “tch” was particularly prevalent in Scotland.     

Mitchell Surname Resources on The Internet

Mitchell Surname Ancestry

  • from NE Scotland, England (Yorkshire) and Ireland
  • to America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

Scotland.  It was said that a Mitchell family from Mitcham in Surrey brought the Mitchell name to Scotland. The Mitchell name took root there and evolved in many parts of the country.  It appeared in 1354 on the Treaty of Berwick.  A John Mitchell was rewarded in 1489 for holding Dumbarton castle.  And Mitchells became landowners in Ayrshire and Stirlingshire.

The largest numbers of Mitchells were later to be found in the northeast of Scotland, in Angus and Aberdeenshire where the diminutive Mitchie name was also to be found.

Some of these Mitchells left the area in the 19th century to join the British army or to emigrate.   But many stayed.  One third of the Scottish Mitchells were to be found in this part of Scotland at the end of the 19th century.  A Mitchell family in Letham, Angus has been producing quality Scottish-raised chickens since 1904.

England.  While the Mitchell name may have originated in Surrey, there was a larger concentration in the north of England, particularly in Yorkshire.

Yorkshire.  Early sightings of the name, in Elizabethan times, were to be found in and around Halifax in the West Ridings.  Nonconformist Mitchells from this area were among the early emigrants to America.  There was the rather gruesome story of Anthony Mitchell being beheaded on the Halifax gibbet in 1650 for the crime of horse theft.  In the 1840’s, William Mitchell started Mitchell’s brewery in Pontefract.

SW England.  There were also Mitchells in the southwest of England from early times.  The Devon Rawkerayne family dates from about 1410.  Later Mitchell families were to be found at Colyton, Gittisham, and Plymstock.  Philip Mitchell was a local 19th century landscape painter of the area.

Ireland.  In Ireland, the surname Mitchell derived in its anglicized form from the Gaelic Ui’Mhaoilmhichil, meaning followers of St. Michael the Archangel:

  • the Mitchells of Sligo can be traced to Hugh O’Maoilmhichil (Owen Mitchell) in the late 17th century.
  • another Mitchell line there has been traced to Barnabrach farm in Sligo.

Other Mitchells in Ireland were of Scots descent.

America.  The early arrivals into New England were from England.

New England.  Experience Mitchell was one of the early New England settlers, arriving on the Anne in 1623 and later settling in Duxbury.

Matthew Mitchell from Halifax in Yorkshire arrived with his family on the James in 1635.  He moved from Charlestown, Massachusetts to Wethersfield and then to Stamford, Connecticut where he died after many trials and tribulations in 1646.  However, his son Jonathan, who graduated from Harvard College in 1647, became a prominent minister at Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Mitchells in the South.  Henry Mitchell came to Virginia from Halifax in Yorkshire around the year 1652.  His descendants remained in Virginia until Thomas Mitchell, a colonel in the Revolutionary War, was an early settler of Thomas county in southern Georgia.  Thomas’s grandson Richard, badly wounded during the Civil War, later became a state senator and judge in Georgia.

Dr. Abraham Mitchell, of Scots-Irish extraction, was the forebear of the Mitchell family of Cecil County, Maryland.  Their home, originally built in 1764, is being restored to its original condition by the Elk Creeks Preservation Society.

The name of Elisha Mitchell, an early university professor, has been remembered with some affection in North Carolina.  Dr. Mitchell was the first scientist to argue that the peak in the Black Mountains was the highest point in the United States east of the Mississippi.  In 1857 he fell to his death on a waterfall on the side of this mountain.  The mountain was subsequently named Mount Mitchell in his honor.

Thomas Mitchell from Aberdeen came to Wilkes county, Georgia in 1777 and fought in the Revolutionary War.  He was the forebear of a prominent Southern family in Georgia, their numbers including:

  • Russell Mitchell who fought on the Confederate side during the Civil War and afterwards made a fortune supplying lumber for the rebuilding of Atlanta.  He was married twice and had thirteen children.
  • and his eldest son Eugene Mitchell who was a distinguished Atlanta lawyer, politician and historian.

Eugene’s daughter Margaret Mitchell became famous in 1936 as the author of Gone With the Wind, the best-selling novel about Atlanta and the Old South.  Tragically she was killed in 1949 when she was run down in Atlanta by a drunk driver.

Heading West.  Mitchell pioneers who headed inland included James Mitchell to Cole County, Tennessee in the 1830’s and William Mitchell to Dade County, Missouri in the 1840’s.   Asa and Eli Mitchell were early settlers and soldiers during the Texas Revolution.

Alexander Mitchell from Aberdeen in Scotland immigrated to America in 1839.  He pursued a career of banking in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and ended up as one of the wealthiest men in the state.  Mitchell Park in Milwaukee is named after him.  His son John Mitchell became the US senator for Wisconsin and his grandson General Billy Mitchell is considered the father of the US Air Force.

San Francisco.  A Mitchell family moved to San Francisco from New York in 1865 and started a small dairy farm in the hills above what is now Noe Valley. Edward Mitchell ran the farm until his untimely death in the late 1890’s, leaving his wife with eight young children to raise on her own. 

She leased out the land to another farmer and in 1913 had the apartment building that now houses Mitchell’s Ice Cream built on the corner of 29th Street and San Jose Avenue.  It was in 1952 that two Mitchell brothers Jack and Larry turned this space into their famed ice cream parlor.

John Mitchell had arrived in San Francisco from Illinois also around 1865.  His son Edward was one of the earliest and one of the most prolific postcard publishers in the United States during the golden age of postcards at the turn of the century.

Canada.  Most Mitchell immigrants were of Scots or Scots-Irish origin:

  • Allen Mitchell came from county Armagh on the Miltiades in 1846 and settled in Maryborough township, Ontario.
  • William and Catherine Mitchell from county Cavan farmed in Quebec near Ottawa.  Their sons later homesteaded in Saskatchewan.
  • another Mitchell family from Dublin ended up in Victoria, British Columbia.
  • and Dorothea Mitchell, of Anglo-Indian roots, achieved some local fame in the early 20th century as a lady lumberjack.

Mitchells in Saskatchewan.  It was a Mendel not a Mitchell family that started a meat packing business in Saskatoon in 1940.  However, this business was rebranded Mitchell’s Gourmet Foods in 1970 when Fred Mendel’s daughter, Johanna Mitchell, became President.

What happened next might have come from Shakespeare’s King Lear.  Her son Fred battled and won control from an alliance involving his mother, a brother and sister.  Complicating the matter was Fred’s marriage to a former local beauty queen.  Never accepted by members of the Mitchell family, LuAnn Mitchell nevertheless managed to take over the company following her husband’s death.

Australia.  Sir Thomas Mitchell from Craigend in Stirlingshire was the surveyor who made four expeditions into the unknown interior of Australia in its early years.

David Mitchell arrived from Forfar in 1852 and made his name in the construction of many of the public buildings in Melbourne.  His daughter Helen Mitchell is better known as the Australian opera singer Dame Nellie Melba.

New Zealand.  Among the Mitchells who came to New Zealand were:

  • John Mitchell, who came with the British army in 1845 and ended up settling there
  • Janet, John, and Elizabeth Mitchell who came from Dumfries on the Scottish borders in the 1860’s
  • and Henry Mitchell from Yorkshire who founded Mitchelltown, a suburb of Wellington.  He had built small cottages there for workers in the 1870’s.

Mitchell Surname Miscellany

Mitchells of Craigend.  Of the Strirlingshire family of Mitchell of Craigend, John, who died in 1711, left a son Alexander who was recorded arms in 1719 as “Mitchell of Mitchell.”  His son by the heiress of Livingstone of Parkhall took her name and followed in her inheritance.

But John Mitchell of Craigend had a son Thomas, born in 1792, who was educated at Edinburgh University. The poverty of this family after his father’s death led him to join the Army in 1811.  They sent him to Australia.  He gained distinction there as a surveyor and explorer and was knighted for his services in 1839.

The Sentencing and Execution of Anthony Mitchell in Halifax.  “By the ancient custom and liberty of Halifax, the said Anthony Mitchell and Abraham Wilkinson are to suffer death by having their heads severed and cut from their bodies at Halifax Gibbet.

April 13, 1650.”

After this, the said Anthony Mitchell and Abraham Wilkinson were on the same day conducted to the gibbet and there executed in the usual form.  Their executions were the last to occur on the Halifax engine. Whatever the reason, the gibbet engine was allowed to rot where it stood, on the scaffold of Gibbet Lane, upon the stone dressed platform and stone steps where so many had lost their heads.

Owen Mitchell in Ireland.  Hugh O’Maoilmhichil (Owen Mitchell) had, like his ancestors, managed cattle herds for the O’Donnells and served as a leader in the local O’Donnell militia.  He was also related to the O’Donnells through marriage. Owen’s ancestors had acquired land for their services.  But this land was confiscated by the English.

Owen had six sons and several daughters.  They left Ulster for Connacht.  Their slogan was “onward to Connacht or hell,” because the land in Connacht was rocky and not good.

Reader Feedback – Mitchells from Barnabrach Farm in Sligo.  Our Mitchells go back to the twins John and Jane Mitchell who were living, by 1800 at least, at Barnabrach farm near Beltra P.O. north of Sligo town in county Sligo.

Jane Mitchell married about 1820 to John Black of the nearby Larkhill farm.  One baby Mary Black was buried in the nearby Church of Ireland.  The Blacks were Protestants and were said to have come from Scotland about 1792 to work training the horses at Larkhill.

The Mitchells were still at Barnabrach in 1962.  Jane Mitchell and John Black had emigrated to Washington town in Litchfield county, Connecticut in 1849 with their nine children.

Norma Jane Gilbertson (

The Hardships of Matthew Mitchell in New England.  Cotton Mather wrote about some of Matthew Mitchell’s tribulations in his book about Matthew’s son, the Rev. Jonathan Mitchell.

In it, Mather stated that the first winter after the families arrival at Charlestown, this Godly man (Matthew Mitchell) and his family had much sickness and scarcity of provisions. After moving to Concord the following spring, his buildings burned down.

When he lived In Wethersfield he lost additional possessions and they lived in fear of the Pequot Indians who tragically killed his son-in-law and also destroyed his cattle. And he had a shallop (a two-masted small open sailboat with oars that was used for coastal fishing) that was burned by the Pequots.  Three men in the vessel were killed.

Additionally at Weathersfield, he had conflicts with important people, namely Deacon Clement Chaplin who had the court censure Matthew Mitchell. He acknowledged his fault to the court and the censure was removed.  From these conflicts his esteem suffered greatly since he had previously been well known as a person who lived quietly and peaceably with all people.

In Stamford his house and barn were tragically consumed by fire, along with his other earthly goods.

Reader Feedback – John Mitchell in Hartford, Connecticut.  Looking for John Mitchell who apprenticed under Elizabeth Marriott according to the Barber/Surgeons Guild in London. He was the first barber in Hartford, Connecticut in the 1600’s. He was a Congregationalist and made Freeman in 1655. I cannot find information as to his origins.

Elaine Pavone (

Mitchells in Maryland.  The Mitchells of Cecil County were of Scotch-Irish extraction and were the descendants of Dr. Abraham Mitchell, a celebrated physician who had settled at or near the head of Elk some time prior to 1767.  Little was known of his early history except that he was a cousin of the Rev. Alexander Mitchell, a Presbyterian minister.

Dr. Mitchell was about 25 years of age when he came to this country.  There was a tradition in the family that, having completed his medical studies, his father presented him with a horse, saddle and saddle bags, and $500 in cash, and he started out to seek a favorable location to practice his location.  He lost the money; but, being of robust constitution and possessed of great energy, he set out to repair the loss.

A Mitchell Medley of Songs.  To the tune of Battle Hymn of the Republic:

  • “In England, Wales, and Scotland, and the Emerald Isle as well,
  • In USA and Canada, in city, plain, and dell,
  • Where English tongue is spoken – that is where the Mitchells dwell.
  • The clan goes marching on!
  • Glory to the name of Mitchell!
  • Glory to the tribe of Mitchell!
  • Sapiens asideus!
  • The clan goes marching on!”

To the tune of Annie Laurie:

  • “Christopher, Dave, and Sir Andrew
  • Were fathers of our clan;
  • Andrew was the King’s Scotch chaplain;
  • Nathan was a minute man;
  • David was a Governor;
  • Many Mitchells died at sea;
  • Stephen was US Chief Justice
  • Mitchells, they were proud to be!”

Dorothea Mitchell, Lady Lumberjack.  Born in England in 1877, Dorothea Mitchell is one of Canada’s least known, but significant early 20th century women.  In 1904, realizing her limited options in England, Mitchell immigrated to Canada – influenced by the promises made by the Canadian government for free land and a better life awaiting.

In 1910 Dorothea was running a general store in Silver Mountain, Ontario.  She soon found that her store was not very profitable as most patrons bartered for goods.  The most common currency was lumber and Dorothea consequently purchased a sawmill, hired some workers, and became known as the “lady lumberjack.”

On receiving news that her mother, sister, and “an old family retainer” were coming to Canada, Mitchell took the unprecedented step of petitioning the Ontario government for land under the Homestead Act.  After a year of frustration and lies and deceit on the part of the Ministry of Lands and Forests, Mitchell was finally granted a homestead.  However, while men were typically granted 160 acres, Mitchell received only 79.

The Deputy Minister wrote: “While the Department has located you under the Free Grant and Homestead Act for R 140, it is not strictly in accordance with the Act.  Not being a married woman you are not strictly entitled to a free grant.”

Mitchell Names

  • Sir Thomas Mitchell was a Scots surveyor and explorer in Australia in its early years, after whom a number of places in Australia are named.
  • John Mitchel, the son of a Scots Presbyterian minister in Ireland, became a strident activist for Irish nationalism in the 1850’s and 1860’s.
  • Helen Mitchell is better known as the Australian opera singer Dame Nellie Melba.
  • General Billy Mitchell is considered the father of the US Air Force.
  • Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone With the Wind, the famous novel about the Old South that was made into a famous movie in 1939.
  • Joni Mitchell, born Joan Anderson, is a highly acclaimed singer/songwriter from Canada.
  • George Mitchell is considered the father of the US fracking industry.  He was the grandson of Greek immigrants who had adopted the Mitchell name.

Mitchell Numbers Today

  • 121,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 134,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 79,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

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Written by Colin Shelley

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