Oakes Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Oakes Surname Meaning

Both the ash tree and the oak tree have provided locational surnames (i.e. one who lived by the ash or by the oak):

  • from Ash has come Ash and Nash
  • and from Oak has come Oakes and Noakes – Noakes being a shortening of the Middle English atten okes.

Nash is more common than Ash. But there are more Oakes than Noakes. Oakes has predominated in the northwest, Noakes in the southeast.

Oakes Surname Resources on The Internet

Oakes Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Cheshire)
  • to America, Canada, South Africa and Australia

England.  Early records of the name are Adam at ye Ock in Shropshire in 1273 and Henricus atte Ok in the Yorkshire poll tax of 1379. Subsequent spellings could be Oake, Oaks, or Oakes. Oakes as a surname was not that evident in English life until the 1700’s.

Cheshire.  An Oakes line can be traced from the 1720’s in Middlewich, Cheshire. This family owned Sproston Hall for several generations and produced the Victorian landscape painter John Wright Oakes. Other Oakes were to be found at Over nearby. Some Oakes from this area later moved across to Liverpool.

Suffolk  James Oakes was the son of a well-to-do linen draper from Ardwick in Lancashire who had moved to Bury St. Edmonds in Suffolk in the 1720’s. James’s fame rests on the diaries that he wrote between 1778 and 1827 which were subsequently published. This Oakes family became local gentry from their Newton Court estate nearby. Their second son James was the rector of Tostock from 1796 to 1861.

Elsewhere.  Another James Oakes, from Somershall in Derbyshire, made his name and his money from the ironworks he acquired in the village of Riddings near Alfreton in 1818. For the next hundred years, the Oakes family dominated the village, owning not just the ironworks but several local colleries as well. Their home, Riddings House, is now a residential home for the elderly.

By the late 19th century, the northwest (Lancashire, Cheshire, and Staffordshire), accounted for, as per census data, just over half of the Oakes population in England. There was some spillover into Yorkshire and East Anglia. But, apart from London, few Oakeses elsewhere.

America. Oakes arrived from England into New England and Virginia.

New England  Two Oakes brothers, Thomas and Edward, came to New England in the 1630’s. Edward’s son, Rev. Urian, was an early President of Harvard College. Descendants later moved onto Maine. William Oakes headed west in the 1880’s to homestead in north Washington state.

Nathaniel Oak arrived in the 1660’s and was one of the first settlers of Marlborough, Massachusetts. This surname Oak became Oaks and later Oakes. Jonathan Oaks moved his family to Maine in 1771 and there was a later migration to California in 1866. The family history Oak/Oaks/Oakes was published by H.L. Oak in 1900.

Virginia  John Oakes, a tobacco planter, came to Virginia in the 1670’s, his son John and wife Rachel in 1702. Their descendants are to be found across the South. Thomas Oakes was hired by the Federal government to build houses in Indian Territory (Oklahoma) at the time of their removal from Mississippi. From The History of Oklahoma:

“Thomas Oakes was a carpenter and among his activities was the erection of the first council house of the Choctaw Nation at Tuskahoma. The building was constructed on large pine logs around 1850. He built the Goodwater mission school which was one of the earliest small schools of the Nation. A white man himself, he gained Choctaw citizenship by marriage into a prominent Choctaw family.”

Thomas was the founder of the “red Oakes” family branch, to distinguish itself from his brothers’ lines, the “black Oakes” which had settled in Missouri and the “white Oakes” which had gone north.

Meanwhile John Oakes, a free man of color, and his wife Mary left South Carolina for Yazoo City in Mississippi in 1860. Their son A.J. Oakes, known as Mississippi’s black lumber king, started the Oakes Academy in Yazoo. His home has been restored as the Oakes African American Culture Center.

Later Oakes.  Thomas Oakes had immigrated to New Jersey from England in 1802.  In 1830 his son David started a thriving textile business in Bloomfield which remained in family hands for the next hundred years. David’s home, the Oakside on Bellevue Avenue, has been maintained by the town.

The journalist George Washington Ochs (related to the New York Times Ochs) legally changed his name to Oakes because of the outrage at the sinking of the Lusitania by a German U-boat in 1915. Another anglicization to Oakes occurred during World War Two with the Axe family of German origin in the Philadelphia area.

Canada. Jesse Oakes had been a Loyalist from Long Island who resettled in Digby, Nova Scotia in 1783. Later, a number of Oakes from Maine lived across the border in Connors, New Brunswick. Garret Oakes, who had been born in New Brunswick, was one of the pioneer settlers of Yarmouth township in western Ontario in 1810.

Harry Oakes had been born in Maine in 1874, but made his home and money (from mining) in Ontario. He lived at Oak Hall near Niagara Falls and later in the Bahamas. Sir Harry Oakes’ murder in Nassau in 1943 was never solved. Twenty three years later, his son Sir Sidney was also killed in Nassau when he crashed his sports car.

The Oakes surname has been prominent amongst the Akwesasne Mohawks of Snye, Quebec near the US border.  Richard Oakes became a Native American activist, led the Indian storming of Alcatraz island off San Francisco in 1969, but was then murdered for his militancy three years later.

South Africa.  Walter and Herbert Oakes, descendants of James Oakes of Oakes Diaries in Suffolk, emigrated to South Africa in 1857 and settled in Natal. Oakford Priory, a Catholic school and church, derived its name from these Oakes brothers who farmed where the priory stands today. There was a ford over the stream where the settlers crossed and that was how it came to be known as Oakford.

Australia. Francis Oakes had set off from England as a missionary to the South Seas in 1796, but ended up in the new colony of New South Wales as its first police officer. His wife Rebecca (nee Small) had been a convict on the First Fleet. They had fourteen children, two of whom became parliamentary members. The family were early settlers in the Bathurst area.

A later convict arrival was George Oakes, transported from Cheshire on the Speke in 1826.  John Oakes came from London in the 1850’s and settled in Melbourne.

Oakes Surname Miscellany

Oakes and Noakes.  Oakes have predominated in the northwest, Noakes in the southeast.  The table below shows the incidence of these two surnames in the 1891 UK census.


  Lancashire   1,100       50
  Cheshire      660       10
  Staffordshire      460      130
Yorkshire      470        20
London      310       470
Southeast      170    1,140
Elsewhere    1,330       530
TOTAL    4,500    2,350

The Oakes Diaries.  James Oakes was active in local politics, and knew, or was related to, most of the businessmen, clergy and parish gentry in and around Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk.  He was a banker himself, as well as an alderman of the town, school governor, and Justice of the Peace.

In 1778 he began to write the diaries which he kept faithfully for the next 49 years.  Their span – half a century covering the American Revolution and the great wars with revolutionary and Napoleonic France – makes them a unique reflection and measure of the industry and trade, banking and politics of a small East Anglian town, a microcosm of English provincial society.

George Oakes from Cheshire to Australia.  George Oakes came to Australia as a convict on the Speke in 1826 after having been convicted in Cheshire.  It seems that he had been involved in a poaching incident where John Eadley had shot at a Thomas Jackson. The trial transcript showed:

“That John Eadley of Somerford Booths in the county of Chester with a certain gun loaded with gunpowder did unlawfully shoot at one Thomas Jackson with the intent to kill and murder him; and that George Oakes of the same Somerford Booths did counsel and abet John Eadley in the said felony.

The defendants pleaded not guilty.  The jury found the men guilty on the third count of the charge.  The death sentence was pronounced against both, but the sentence was commuted.  John Eadley was transported for the term of his natural life and George Oakes for a term of seven years.”

In Australia George Oakes was able to obtain his ticket of leave, marry a young girl from Limerick and have his first child, only to be convicted again in 1834 in Burrowa for stealing a bullock.  He was sent to Norfolk Island and then to Tasmania.  He obtained his release again and died in the Murringo area of New South Wales.

Nathaniel Oak on His Arrival in America.  Of Nathaniel Oak’s coming to America, there is the following record – doubtless his own statement – handed down to his grandchildren and by the son of one of them (John Conant) inscribed in the family Bible:

“The grandfather of my mother was a cabin-boy on an English vessel bound to Boston.  Nine miles from land the vessel foundered.  All the ship’s crew, except the boy whose name was Oaks, were lost.  He, being a good swimmer, swam ashore.

In his distress he solemnly promised the Lord if He would preserve him to get to land he would never go onto the water again. This promise he sacredly kept.  His wife, my great-grandmother, could never persuade him even to cross Charles River in a boat to Boston.  He would always go around upon the neck.

Thus he reached his new home, poor and penniless, without even clothes to cover him; and, as was then the custom, having no friends in America he was bound out to earn his living.  His master set him to work in a pitch-pine forest to pick up pine knots.  In this employ he was attacked by a catamount or wildcat which he slew with a large pine knot.

The above account I have often heard my mother and my uncles relate.”

Thomas W. Oakes – Indian Blood in Oklahoma.  Indian Pioneer History Project Interview with Lem W. Oakes in Hugo, Oklahoma on April 12, 1937.

  • Name: Lem W. Oakes
  • Date of Birth: December 31, 1857
  • Place of Birth: Goodwater, OK
  • Father: Thomas W. Oakes (born in North Carolina)
  • Mother: Harriet N. Everidge (born in the Choctaw nation, Mississippi)

My father’s name was Thomas W. Oakes.  He was a white man. His birth place was North Carolina, but he left there young and went to Mississippi from there to come to the Indian Territory about 1837 – to a place on Red River called Pine Bluff Ferry, about twenty miles from what is now Hugo.  Pine Bluff ferry was a landing place for the steamboats which came up Red River.

He met and married my mother, Harriet N. Everidge soon after they had both come here.  They settled on a farm that they cleared about four miles northeast of what is now Frogville.  There was a school called Goodwater which Presbyterian missionaries from up north had built.  There were several buildings at Goodwater.  But at the time of the war the Confederate soldiers were stationed in them and just tore them up and destroyed them.  The buildings they put up after that were never too good.

There were nine of us children, four of whom are still living. Doc Oakes lives three miles east of Hugo, George Oakes lives in Oklahoma City, and our sister, Mrs. Jeter, lives near Fort Worth with some of her children.

We got to go to school about two or three months in the year. We hadn’t much time to go to school.  We all had to work. Big, little, old and young.  We had hogs, cattle and horses, chickens etc., and had these to attend to because we raised everything we had to eat and almost everything we had to wear.  We raised cotton for our cotton clothes, and wool for our wool ones. Mother spun, wove and corded and made our clothes.  For years we had only corn bread, cooked of course different ways. Then we got to raising wheat. Father put in a little grist mill and we would ground wheat and eat the whole wheat flour.

Father died a long time, many years, before Mother did.  He was 75 when he died.  Mother lived to be nearly 81.  She was younger than he was.  They are both buried at Goodwater in the Oakes graveyard. I was married in 1879 to Lucy Smith, a girl from Arkansas.  We settled two miles east of what is now Hugo and raised our family there.  Seven children were born to us, all of them living in and near Hugo.

The Murder of Sir Harry Oakes.  Shortly before midnight on Wednesday, July 7 1943, Sir Harry Oakes was murdered at his Nassau estate in the Bahamas where he was living.

At the time of his murder his wife Eunice and their three sons were at the family residence in Bar Harbor, Maine.  His 18-year old newly married daughter Nancy was spending the summer in Vermont while her husband Alfred Fouquereaux de Marigny remained in Nassau.  Marigny was thought to be a gold-digger and was disliked by many of the family members.

Harry Oakes had been struck in the head with a triangular shaped object that had pierced is skull in four places.  His body had then been placed on a bed, soaked with gasoline, and set ablaze.  A severe storm ironically saved the Oakes estate from being completely destroyed by putting out the fire before it could spread.  Harold Christie, a family friend who had been staying overnight, discovered his body the next morning.  Christie claimed not to have heard or seen anything.  Marigny, questioned by the police, had also been in the area of the estate that night and appeared to have singed hair on his arms.

The killing of Sir Harry Oakes presented the Governor of the Bahamas, the Duke of Windsor, with a problem. He believed that the local police lacked the expertise to investigate the crime and, it being wartime and difficult to bring detectives across the Atlantic from London, he turned instead to two US policemen he knew in the Miami force. Within two days of their arrival, Melchen and Barker arrested Oakes’ son-in-law Marigny and charged him with the murder.

Alfred Fouquereaux de Marigny had admitted to being near Oakes’s house on the night of the murder, was known to be on bad terms with the multimillionaire, and was said to be short of money.  He said that he had been attending a party nearby and had driven a female companion home past the estate.  But he denied any knowledge or responsibility for the murder.  Even so, all Nassau was convinced of his guilt.  He was committed to trial and a rope ordered for his hanging.

At the trial, the primary piece of evidence against Marigny was a fingerprint of his which Barker claimed to have found on a screen near the bed where Oakes had been killed.  Since Marigny had not been to the house for many months and prints deteriorated quickly in Nassau’s humidity, this promised to be conclusive evidence against him.

In cross-examination, Marigny’s counsel gradually broke apart the crown’s case that his client had killed to get his hands on Nancy’s vast inheritance.  It transpired that the fingerprint produced in court had been lifted clean off the screen so that no trace of the powdered original remained.  Nor could Barker show convincingly where on the screen it might have been.

This lent force to the defense suggestion that Barker had framed Marigny with a print of his taken from a glass.  Though Marigny’s alibi and witnesses proved shaky, his wife Nancy did not.  As the last person to be called, Nancy made a considerable impact on the jury.  With a finely honed sense of the dramatic, she appeared to almost faint while giving evidence and later walked out during the crown attorney statement, claiming that she could not bear to hear “such filthy things” said against her husband.

Within two hours of being sent out, the jury returned their verdict, a sensational one which acquitted Alfred Fouquereaux de Marigny on a majority count.  There were wild celebrations outside the courthouse and he was chaired aloft by the largely black crowd. However, the all-white jury did attach a rider that Marigny and a friend of his, the Marquis de Visdelou, should be deported from the Bahamas.  Marigny had alienated the colony’s officials and mercantile class with his contempt for their conventionality.

Sir Harry Oakes’ death remains a mystery and has been the subject of much speculation over the years.  A number of books, a movie, and a mini series have been made about his life and the unsolved murder.

The Oakes of Akwesasne in Snye, Quebec.  Richard Oakes (1880-1963) and his wife Margaret Brown Oakes (1883-1964) lived on the St. Regis Akwesasne reservation in Snye, Quebec. Their son Alex, born in 1925, was chief of the Akwesasne Mohawks in the 1960’s.  Daughter Mabel raised two children, Lawrence and Richard.  Richard Oakes became a Native American activist until his murder in California in 1972.  Today Annabelle Oakes makes baskets in the traditional way her grandmother did.

Oakes Names

  • James Oakes was a Suffolk banker in the late 18th and early 19th centuries whose diaries provide a window on provincial England at that time. 
  • Hildebrand Oakes had a lengthy and distinguished career in the British Army and was created a baronet in 1813. 
  • John Wright Oakes was a Victorian landscape painter. 
  • Sir Harry Oakes was a Canadian mining magnate of the first half of the 20th century. 
  • Richard Oakes was a Native Indian activist who led the Indian storming of Alcatraz island in 1969. 
  • John Oakes, the son of George Washington Ochs, was an influential journalist on the New York Times during the time of civil rights and the Vietnam war.

Oakes Numbers Today

  • 8,000 in the UK (most numerous in Norfolk)
  • 6,000 in America (most numerous in New York).
  • 8,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)




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Written by Colin Shelley

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