Palmer Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Palmer Meaning
In the Middle Ages, when people came back from a pilgrimage to the Holy
Land, they carried palm fronds to show where they had been. The
wearing of a badge with palms denoted the sign for people who had made
that journey. These pilgrims became known as “palmers.” However, not all “palmers” had really been to the Holy Land.
There was a very active trade in false souvenirs and the name also came
to be applied to a cleric who sold indulgencies.

Palmer Resources on

Palmer Ancestry

The first records of the Palmer name were Manfred Palmes living in
Taunton, Somerset in 1141 and Wiger le Palmer in the 1191 Lincolnshire
These two areas of England – the southwest and East Anglia – remained
the main two areas where Palmers were to be found in subsequent

SW England
Palmers were recorded as early as the 13th century in Gloucestershire,
in villages such as Tetbury, Tytherington and Upton St. Leonards.
Their presence in Bitton St. Mary was evident from the 1500’s and was
more long-lasting.

were also Palmers in Somerset. A
Palmer family built Fairfield Hall near Stogursey. They had
been Elizabethan adventurers, sailing with Drake and Hawkins in their
ecapades against the Spanish. In 1693, Nathaniel Palmer acquired the Alfred Jewel,
which had been discovered near his land, and bequeathed it to Oxford

A later Palmer family came from Wood Court, Ashill in Somerset. A
Palmer family of farm workers, dating from the 1720’s,
has traced their history from Wiltshire to Gloucestershire and then

East Anglia
Palmers could also be found in East Anglia, notably in
Cambridgeshire and Norfolk:

  • Palmers in Soham in
    Cambridgeshire date from the 14th century. One family accounts
    tells of a Palmer who was a soldier in the Peninsular War and brought
    back a Portuguese bride to his home in Burwell, Cambridgeshire.
  • while William
    and Mary Palmer’s marriage was recorded in Ranworth, Norfolk in
    1606. They were among the early settlers in New England.
    Another Palmer family in Norfolk traces itself to Old Buckenham.
    Palmer’s department store was started by Garwood Burton Palmer in Great
    Yarmouth in 1837 and has remained a Norfolk family-run institution
    until this day.

SE England
Palmers in the 15th and 16th centuries
were from:

  • Sussex – Angmering
    and Parham
  • and Kent – Snodland
    near Rochester and Owlets in Bekesborne.

One Palmer family,
originally from Angmering, were landed gentry at Wingham and sheriffs
of Kent
in Elizabethan times. In 1607 they inherited through marriage the
manor of
Dorney Court
near Windsor in Buckinghamshire. At that time these Palmers were
royalist supporters and Roger Palmer, who had married one of Charles
II’s mistresses, was a Catholic recusant. The family is still in
residence at Dorney Court, the property having passed from father to
son through thirteen generations.

Elsewhere There
were also Palmers recorded from an early time in Northamptonshire
and across the border in Leicestershire. The Palmers of Carlton
date from the 1400’s. They extended their landholdings under
Palmer, Charles II’s Attorney General.

Another Palmer family, originally from Staffordshire, made their money
in London and acquired the Wanlip estate in Leicestershire in
1626. These Palmers owned sugar plantations in the Caribbean but
later befriended William Wilberforce and supported his abolitionist
cause. They ran Wanlip Hall and the surrounding village on
semi-feudal lines until the death of the last Palmer, Lady Augusta
Palmer, in 1933. The Hall was demolished and the estate was then
taken over by the Palmer-Tomkinson family.

Wales. The Palmer
family of Llangwm in south Pembrokeshire may trace itself back to the
marriage of John Palmer and Anne Jones in 1765. Its best
known member was Dolly Palmer the fisherwoman.

Ireland. Palmers
came to Ireland as part of the English occupation. Two Palmer
brothers were said to have arrived in county Down from England in

A Palmer family
took extensive estates in Mayo through the royal land grants they
received in 1684. Later, Roger Palmer of this family married
Eleanor Ambrose,
one of the leading beauties of Dublin in her day, and was created a
baronet in 1777. Their Mayo family home was Castle Lacken and, in
more recent times, Keenagh Lodge.

Many Palmers were also to be
found in county Antrim and elsewhere in Ulster.

America. Walter Palmer
arrived in Salem, Massachusetts from Dorset in England in 1629.
He helped
found the settlements of Charlestown and Rehoboth in Masachusetts and
New London in Connecticut. The Stonington chronicle described
Palmer as:

“the patriarch of the early Stonington
settlers, a vigorous giant – 6 feet 5 inches tall. When he
settled at Stonington he was 68 years old, older than most of the other

Descendants have included:

  • William Palmer, Governor of Vermont
  • Nathaniel

    the whaler and seal hunter
  • Thomas Palmer, a Senator
    from Michigan
  • and Ulysses S. Grant, the Civil War General and later
    American President.

Another Palmer,
William Palmer, arrived in New England in the 1630’s
and settled in Weatherfield, Connecticut. His descendants moved
first to upstate New York and then headed West, to Illinois. Two
grandchildren went onto Kansas, eventually arriving in Oklahoma
territory during the great Indian land rush of the 1890’s.

Also from original Connecticut stock via Canada came Daniel Palmer,
the chiropractic
pioneer. He started his practice in Davenport, Iowa in the 1880’s.

Palmers in the
. Captain Thomas Palmer,
from west country roots, came with his familyon the Tyger
to the Jamestown settlement in 1621. His
descendants later settled in Richmond and
Halifax counties, Virginia.

Among other Palmers to be found in the South were:

  • Elias
    Palmer, born in Virginia in 1725, who was the patriarch of a Palmer
    family that
    migrated southward to South Carolina and then, in 1818, to Georgia.
  • Paul Palmer,
    first recorded as being married in Virginia in 1717, who is considered
    founding father of Baptists in Virginia and North Carolina.
  • Joshua Palmer who
    came to South Carolina from England sometime in the 1760’s. He became a farmer there and later an
    itinerant Baptist minister. He moved to
    Indiana in 1807 where he continued his ministry. After
    his death in 1845, his widow and
    children resettled in Missouri.
  • and William Palmer who came to Charleston in
    1845 and was prominent there as a merchant and ship-owner in the years
    prior to
    the Civil War. A slave owner, he fought
    on the Confederate side in the Civil War but died in the fighting in
    1862. Curiously, his father John was an
    abolitionist whose farm in Ohio served as a station on the underground

Canada. Early Palmer
arrivals were Loyalists from America, leaving Boston in one case for
New Brunswick and New Jersey in another for Grimsby, Ontario. The
former family headed West to Calgary later in the 19th century, the
latter returned to America and Kansas and Florida.

Another Palmer
family which straddled both Canada and America were the descendants of
William and Barbara Palmer from Prince Edward Island. This family
ended up in the early 20th century on the West Coast in Winoma,

Charles Palmer arrived from England to homestead in the Marriott area
of Saskatchewan in 1906. His youngest daughter, Agnes M. Weicker,
has recorded her recollections of prairie life in the early 20th
century in her recently published book, A Walk Down Memory Lane.

Caribbean. The Palmers
were well-to-do sugar planters in Jamaica who had, however, become
overextended by debt by the end of the 18th century. Their
plantation house, the Rose Hill Great House, was destroyed during the
slave rebellion of 1831, but not before it had become the stuff of
legend (as the home of Annie Palmer, the white witch of Jamaica).

Australia and New Zealand.
The Palmer name appeared early in Australia’s history. John
Palmer arrived with the First Fleet in 1788 and soon became the
commissary of the new colony. He built Woolloomooloo Farm, one of
the colony’s first permanent residences where the Palmers entertained
lavishly. Another early settler was Charles Palmer who arrived in
Sydney in 1802 and received a generous land grant.

Charles Palmer ran away from his home in Suffolk
in the 1830’s and went to sea. He was one of the earliest
settlers in New Zealand, arriving at New Plymouth in 1841. The
1975 book Palmer Family History
by Ivan Skipworth records this family history.


Palmer Miscellany

Thomas Palmer’s Epitaph at Snodland in Kent.  A number of Palmers had been buried in the church of Snodland, near Rochester in Kent, including Thomas Palmer who had married the daughter
of Fitz Simon and died in 1407.   The following epitaph was
recorded there:

“Palmers all our faders were.
A Palmer lived here
And travelled still, til wud age
I ended this world’s pilgrimage
On the blest Ascension day
In the cheerful month of May
A thousand with four hundred seven
I took my journey to heaven.”

From this Thomas were descended the Palmers of Tottington in Aylesford
and the Palmers of Owlet in Bekesborne.

The Palmers of Angmering.  Sir Edward Palmer’s main claim to fame
was the
siring of triplets by his wife Alice in the most unusual
circumstances.  It is alleged that Alice was in labor for a
fortnight producing John, Henry and Thomas on three Sundays in
succession.  The medical profession today are aware of such a
phenomenon.  But of course it is extremely rare.

The eldest, John, was probably the
Palmer who
bought the Angmering manors and lands from Henry VIII.  He
may not have been the most popular of landlords.

“People who
happened to be passing through Angmering on their way to market one
morning, probably early in 1545, were astonished to find this
undistinguished village in an uproar.  In the midst of it could be
seen John Palmer, the local landlord, backed up by seven or more of his
servants, doing their utmost to smash down the doors of about half a
dozen cottages.

When asked why he
was so asking, he responded: ‘Do ye not know that the King’s grace hath
put down all the houses of monks, friars, and nuns?  Therefore now
is the time that we gentlemen will pull down the houses of such poor
knaves as ye be.'”

Other documents described him as “a man
addicted, inclined, and given to cruelty and mischief.” Troubles had
been brewing with his tenants for about fifteen years principally over
grazing rights.
Following John’s actions, a number were evicted from
their homes and thrown off the “commons” on which they had been grazing
their cattle.

The next son
Henry went on to found the Wingham
branch of the family in Kent.  The youngest son Thomas was a
Gentleman of the Privy Chamber to Henry VIII.  He was beheaded in
1554 for taking part in Lady Jane Grey’s bid for the Crown.

Nathaniel Palmer and The Alfred Jewel.  The Alfred Jewel is one of the most famous objects surviving from
Anglo-Saxon England.  Found in 1693 at North Petherton, it
immediately attracted the attention of scholars.  Shortly after
its discovery the jewel was acquired by Colonel Nathaniel Palmer of
Fairfield, Stogursey.  He bequeathed it to the University of
Oxford.  It is now in the Ashmolean Museum.  A perfect
replica can be seen in the church at North Petherton.

The jewel consists of a gold frame around an enamel design which is
covered by rock crystal.  Around the edge of the jewel are the
words in Mercian dialect AELFRED MEC HEHT GEWWYRCAN (Alfred ordered me
to be made).  It is generally assumed that the individual was King
Alfred.  Identifications of the enamelled figure have ranged from
Christ, St. Cuthbert and St. Neot, to Alfred himself.

Dolly Palmer the Fisherwoman.  Dolly Palmer was nicknamed “Dolly the Bridge” after her cottage by the
Guilford bridge in Llangwm.  She was quite a village beauty in her
younger days.  But she was best known in many parts of south
Pembrokeshire as the quintessential Llangwm fisherwoman.

These fisherwomen were very distinctive.  They wore flat
black-brimmed felt hats with white scarves tied under their chins,
heavy dark shirts, and red flannel petticoats.  Other serviceable
items of clothing were warm jackets, striped flannel aprons, three
cornered shawls, and strong boots.  They were a unique breed of
hard-working women.  It was even said that they chose their own
husbands.  Because of their quaint costumes and customs, newspaper
articles started to appear about them.

Dolly had married a local boy, William Palmer, in 1863 and they were
eventually to raise ten children in their Guilford cottage.  Her
own fine features started to capture the imagination of artists and
photographers.  In 1880 William Powell Frith painted a Llangwm
fisherwoman, reputedly Dolly, selling fish to his wife and
daughters.  A sepia postcard of Dolly Palmer the Llangwm
fisherwoman was in circulation by 1903 and colored versions were
available by 1906.

Dolly lived onto 1932.  She died at the age of ninety, survived by
five children, 26 grandchildren, and 13 great grandchildren.  She
is still remembered in Llangwm. 

William Palmer the Norfolk Poisoner.  On June
14, 1856 William Palmer was executed in public before 30,000 people at
Stafford for the murder of John Cook in Rugeley.  He became known
as “the Rugeley poisoner” and “the prince of poisoners.”  Hie
effigy stood in Madame Tussaud’s Chamber of Horrors for 127 years.

at the time printed every rumor and accusation that reporters could
extract from local gossip.  If the gossips were to be believed,
then Palmer was also guilty of poisoning at least a dozen other people.
Among his alleged victims were his outrageous mother-in-law, four of
his five children, his lovely wife, and his drunken brother to name but
a few.  That he was a rogue, heavily in debt, guilty of attempted
bribery, fraud, forgery, and overly fond of the ladies and of gambling
on the horses was beyond doubt.

But he
was only actually tried for one murder, although a coroner’s jury had
found him guilty of the murders by poison of his wife Ann and his
brother Walter.  He was convicted from circumstantial evidence in
the absence of any concrete facts.  Efforts were made until the
very end to get him to confess to the murder of John Cook.  But he
refused, maintaining that Cook did not die from strychnine.  In a
botched post-mortem no strychnine was found in the body of Cook.
Yet it was claimed that Cook had died of symptoms that could have been
caused by strychnine.

Palmer was reviled at the time, some think he may have been

Nathaniel Palmer from Stonington, Connecticut.  As a skilled and fearless seal hunter, Nathaniel Palmer achieved his
first command at the early age of 21.  His vessel, a diminutive
sloop named the Hero, was only 47 feet in length.  Palmer
steered southward in the Hero at the beginning of the Antarctic
summer of 1820–1821.  Aggressively searching for new seal
south of Cape Horn, young “Captain Nat” and his men became the first
Americans to discover the Antarctic Peninsula.

After concluding a successful sealing career, Palmer, still in the
prime of life, switched his attention to the captaining of fast sailing
ships for the transportation of express freight.  In this new
role, the Connecticut captain traveled many of the world’s principal
sailing routes.  Observing the strengths and weaknesses of the
ocean-going sailing ships of his time, Palmer suggested and designed
improvements to their hulls and rigging. The improvements made Palmer a
co-developer of the mid-1800’s clipper ship.

Palmer closed his sailing career and established himself in his
hometown of Stonington as a successful owner of clipper ships sailed by
others.  He died in 1877, aged 78.  His Stonington home, the
Capt. Nathaniel B. Palmer House, was declared a National Historic
Landmark in 1996.

Daniel Palmer, Chiropractic Pioneer.  Chiropractic inventor Daniel Palmer was born in 1845 in Toronto,
Ontario.  He was one of five siblings, the children of a shoemaker
and his wife.  Daniel and his older brother fell victim to
wanderlust and left Canada with a tiny cash reserve in 1865.  They
immigrated to the United States on foot, walking for thirty days before
arriving in Buffalo, New York.  They travelled by boat through the
St. Lawrence Seaway to Detroit, Michigan.  There they survived by
working odd jobs and sleeping on the dock.  Daniel settled in What
Cheer, Iowa, where he supported himself and his first wife as a grocer
and fish peddler in the early 1880s.  He later moved to Davenport,
Iowa where he raised three daughters and one son.

Palmer was a man of high curiosity.  He investigated a variety of
disciplines of medical science during his lifetime, many of which were
in their infancy. He was intrigued by phrenology and assorted spiritual
cults and for nine years he investigated the relationship between
magnetism and disease.  Palmer felt that there was one thing that
caused disease.  He was intent upon discovering this one thing, or
as he called it, the great secret.

In September 1895, Palmer purported to have cured a deaf man by
placing pressure on the man’s displaced vertebra.  Shortly
afterward Palmer claimed to cure another patient of heart trouble,
again by adjusting a displaced vertebra.  The double coincidence
led Palmer to theorize that human disease might be the result of
dislocated or luxated bones, as Palmer called them. That same year he
established the Palmer School of Chiropractic where he taught a
three-month course in the simple fundamentals of medicine and spinal

Palmer, who was married six times during his life, died in
California in 1913.  He was destitute.  His son Bartlett
Joshua Palmer successfully commercialized the practice of chiropractic.

Annie Palmer, the White Witch of Jamaica.  Rose Hill Great House is the most famous house in the parish of St.
James and perhaps in all of Jamaica.  It was built on a hill, two
miles east of Ironshore, by John Palmer, the Custos of St. James, and
named after his wife Rose.

The house attracts over 100,000 visitors each year.  The
attraction of the house is the legend of its white witchl, Annie
The old John Palmer had died and his grand nephew, John Rose Palmer,
had come out from England in 1818 to manage the property.  Two
years later, he had met and married the beautiful and notorious Annie

The stories about Annie are legion.  She is said to have
practiced voodoo magic; to have tortured her slaves and to have
conducted human sacrifices; and to have gruesomely murdered all three
of her husbands.  It was one of her slaves who eventually
strangled her.  However, her ghost is still believed to haunt the
property.  Visitors to the Great House claim that they have seen
Annie riding her horse at night on the plantation grounds looking for
runaway slaves.

Rose Hill Great House was destroyed during the slave rebellion of
1831 and left in ruins for over a century. John Rollins, a wealthy
American, bought the property in 1966 and restored the house to its
former glory. 

Reader Feedback – Palmers in Jamaica.  My maternal grandfather is a Palmer and I am researching my ancestry in Jamaica but only got as far back as his
father, Henry Alexander
Palmer. That’s as far as I got via internet research.  I am
curious as to
when they came into Jamaica.  There is a record of a Palmer
arriving in
Kingston, from Sierra Leone in May 1842.

Hope McQueen (


Palmer Names

  • Barbara Palmer was a royal courtesan and a mistress of Charles II.
  • Nathaniel Palmer was a 19th century whaler, said to be the first American to see Antarctica.
  • Charles Palmer started Palmer’s shipbuilding company in Newcastle in the 1860’s.
  • Daniel Palmer in Iowa was a
    pioneer of chiropractics in the 1880’s.
  • Vera Jane Palmer was the original name of the actress Jayne Mansfield.
  • Arnold Palmer from Pennsylvania was the great American golfer of the 1950’s and early 1960’s.

Select Palmer Numbers Today

  • 76,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Nottinghamshire)
  • 58,000 in America (most numerous in Florida)
  • 32,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)


Select Palmer and Like Surnames

Many surnames originated from SW England, the principal counties there being Devon and Cornwall, Somerset and Gloucestershire.  These are some of the prominent and noteworthy surnames that you can check out.




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