Parsons Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Parsons Meaning
The Parsons name could
have dated back in England to the time of the 12th century Crusades.  
It is
thought to have derived the Middle English persone
or persoun meaning a parson or
priest. Parsons might have been an
occupational name for the parson’s servant, a patronymic form denoting
child of a parson, or it might also have been a locational name, as
with Ralph
del Persones recorded in 1323, denoting residence at the parson’s house.

Parsons Resources on

Parsons Ancestry

There was an early story of a Richard Persons in
1192 at the time of the Third

The next references were in Norfolk. Clemens
Persone appeared in the county rolls
of 1273; Sir Richard Parson was resident at Antingham in 1344; and John
was rector at Yaxham in 1425. Three
Parsons brothers from Norfolk migrated to Ireland in Tudor times.

SW England. However, there were larger
numbers in SW
England. Kirby’s Quest
recorded William Parson and Isabel Parsones as living
in Somerset in the 14th century. Robert
Parsons, the Tudor composer of church music, was born in Exeter in the

Parsons have been
particularly numerous in Somerset and the Bristol area:

  • Robert Parsons, born at
    Nether Stowey in Somerset in 1546, was a prominent Jesuit missionary of
  • the Parsons of
    Kington Magna
    across the border in north Dorset originated in
    the mid-1600’s from Wincanton
    in Somerset.
  • the Parsons at Horsington in
    Somerset date from the 1750’s and from Moses Parsons of Kington
    Magna. William
    Parsons of this family emigrated to Brisbane, Australia in 1888.
  • Thomas Parsons from Middlezoy in Somerset had been imprisoned in 1685 for having
    attended a Quaker
    meeting at
    Ilchester. Immediately upon his release he
    departed with his wife for Philadelphia.
  • Parsons in Bristol is the oldest jewelry store in Britain. It was established in 1710 and was run by ten
    generations of the family until its recent closure.
  • while Joseph Parsons was a maltster at
    Laverton near Frome in the early 1800’s. His
    son Joshua was a practicing doctor at Beckington from
    1845 to 1862.

Elsewhere. Parsons
have also extended to London and SE
The Parsons brewery at East Smithfield in London,
established in the mid-1600’s,
brought much fame and fortune to Sir John Parsons later in the century. His son Humphrey
became the proprietor of the Red Lion brewery and Lord
Mayor of
London in 1730.

Meanwhile the Parsons of Langley Hall
in Buckinghamshire also dated from the mid-1600’s, although this line
died out
in the early 1800’s. Thomas Parsons was
a china, glass, and tea merchant in Oxford in the 1750’s.
Both his son John and nephew Herbert became
mayors of Oxford. A later Herbert, a
banker, made his home in the 1850’s outside of Oxford at Elsfield Manor.

Ireland. William Parsons from
Leicestershire, but of
probable Norfolk ancestry, came to Ireland around 1600 with his
Laurence and Fenton. As a young man
grasped land in Ireland, dubiously acquiring land titles that had been
held by Gaelic
clans; and as an older man grasped power – notably with his suppression
the Irish Rebellion of 1641. He
continued in power for another two years before he was removed from
charged with treason
, and briefly committed to

Despite his fall from grace, the Parsons remained an important
Anglo-Irish family, based on their home of Birr castle at Parsonstown
Offaly. They were ennobled as the Earls
of Rosse in 1718. Their line

  • William Parsons, the 3rd Earl
    of Rosse, who became famous as an astronomer, building his Leviathan of Parsonstown in
    the 1840’s.
  • and his son Sir Charles Parsons, the inventor
    of the steam turbine engine in 1884.

According to Griffith’s Valuation
of the mid-19th century, there were 86 Parsons households recorded in
widely spread around the country. The
largest numbers were in Leitrim, Mayo, and Meath, followed by Offaly

America. There were early Parsons in New England.

New England. Benjamin
from Torrington in Devon arrived in 1635 and settled
Springfield, Massachusetts. Samuel
Holden Parsons, a Major General during the Revolutionary War, was a

Cornet Joseph Parsons from Dorset arrived one year later in 1636 and
also initially settled in Springfield before moving to Northampton,
Massachusetts. His son Daniel, however,
at Springfield as an inn-keeper and Parsons Tavern remained a feature
of the
town, as the following tablet inscription revealed:

“Here stood the Parsons
Tavern where Washington was entertained in 1775, traveling in the
saddle from
Philadelphia to Cambridge to take command of the American forces.”

Joseph’s line
of descent was covered in Henry Parsons’ 1912 book Parsons

Meanwhile Jeffrey Parsons from Lodiswell in Devon
came via Barbados and arrived in New England sometime in the 1650’s. He settled in Gloucester, Massachusetts. His line led to the Rev. Moses Parsons, a
at Byfield, and his son Theophilus Parsons, whose judicial knowledge
and legal
acumen won for him the title of “Giant of the Law.”
He served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts from 1806 until his death
in Boston in 1813. His son Theophilus
was the author of Parsons on Contacts
at Harvard.

Elsewhere. Joseph Parsons died young in
Charles City, Virginia in 1656 and Edward Mosby became guardian to his
Judith. Joseph’s line is thought to have
extended through his son Joseph to Gustavus
, born in 1801, who served Thomas Jefferson for much of
President’s life. After Jefferson’s
death Gustavus moved to Jefferson City, Missouri. His
son Mosby fought in the Mexican War and
Civil War, but died soon after in Mexico

Peter Parsons arrived in Somerset county, Maryland in
1672, either from
Virginia or from England. He was a
planter there. Early Somerset records
have three Parsons brothers – Peter, John and Amos – as part of the
militia combating the Nanticoke Indians.

Thomas Parsons, a Quaker from Somerset, came to Philadelphia in
1686. His line led to the eastern shore
of Maryland in 1725 and then to Hampshire county, Virginia (now West
in the 1740’s. Isaac Parsons, born there
in 1752, was a militia officer during the Revolutionary War and a
owner at Wappacomo. His son Isaac who
inherited his estate was killed in 1862 during the Civil War.

There were railroad towns named Parsons in
Kansas and Tennessee. The first was
named after Levi Parsons, a wealthy New York lawyer and President of
Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad. The
Parsons of Parsons, Tennessee

Canada. Parsons in Newfoundland, mainly
appeared at an early time.
Joseph Parsons arrived at Carbonear with his wife and children
in 1677;
while Edward Parsons was listed in 1801 on property at Parsons Cove
that dated back
to 1745. Parsons were to be found at
Harbour Grace from 1765

William Parsons and his wife came
to Shelburne, Nova Scotia from the Isle of Wight in 1783.
Their descendants have generally remained in
Nova Scotia, mainly in Hants county.

Australia. Thomas and Mary Parsons
came to Western
Australia on the Rockingham in
1830. Their son Thomas purchased the
Greenhills estate in the hills behind Victor Harbor in
South Australia after his marriage in 1865.
His grandson Allenby was mayor of Victor Harbor in the 1980’s.

Matthew Parsons, his
wife Puah and their two children left Chalford, Gloucestershire on the Leyton in 1838 for Sydney. One
child died during the 133 day voyage,
another child was born. The couple ended
up settling south of Sydney in Wollongong, NSW.
They celebrated their platinum (70th) wedding anniversary there
in 1900;
and their son Henry celebrated his golden (50th) anniversary there in


Parsons Miscellany

Richard Persons at the Third Crusade.  In 1192 during the Third Crusade Richard Persons or
Parsons was said to have been one of King Richard’s body of battle-axe guards.

Legend has it that he saved the life of the
King at Ascalon when he killed two of the enemy with a single blow of
battle-axe.  He was knighted on the field
by King Richard and was granted three tigers’ heads for his arms and a
battle-axe for his crest.

Parsons of Kington Magna.  Richard Parsons was a
weaver and flax-dresser from Wincanton in Somerset who in later years
was a
farmer in Kington Magna, just across the county border from Somerset in
Dorset.  He died there in 1682.
Generations of the Parsons family continued to live at Kington
until the 19th century.

William Parsons was an inn-keeper and land-owner at
Kingston Magna and at Holton in Somerset where he died in 1835; while
Parsons was a prosperous farmer at Marston Magna in Somerset.  Three of Charles’s children decided to move
to Southampton.  John Parsons, born in
1845, was one of them and he became a well-known Southampton publican.

Meanwhile Parsons continued at
Holton where a
later William Parsons served as churchwarden.
Freeborn Parsons emigrated to New Zealand in the 1870’s.  The Freeborn name was handed down to his son
and then to his grandson who died at the Battle of Alamein in 1941.

Humphrey Parsons’ Fame.  Humphrey Parsons is said to have been brought under the
notice of King George II during hunting, a sport to which he was
addicted.  His spirited English courser outstripped the rest and,
contravention of the usual etiquette, brought him in at the
death.  At an
interview which followed, Parsons offered his horse which had attracted
the King’s
admiration for his Majesty’s acceptance.  The horse was accepted,
and the king,
who showed him every mark of favor, presented him in 1731 with his
portrait set
in diamonds.

A broadside of 1741 entitled A
Hymn to Alderman Parsons, our Lord Mayor
described him as a
churchman, an
incorruptible Tory, and being proof against the bribery and wiles of
the Whigs.
It then proceeded:

“In France he is
The French King does
That he should bring his
Over there duty free.”

The Leviathan of Parsonstown.  The Leviathan of Parsonstown was the unofficial
name for the Rosse six-foot
telescope.  It is a historic reflecting telescope of 72
inch aperture
and was the largest telescope in the world from 1845 until the
completion of
the 100 inch Hooker telescope in Los Angeles in 1917.

The Rosse six-foot
telescope was built by William Parsons, the 3rd Earl of Rosse, on
estate of Birr castle at Parsonstown in county Offaly, Ireland.

In its
construction Parsons improved upon the techniques of casting, grinding
polishing large telescope mirrors from speculum metal and he
steam-powered grinding machines for the parabolic mirrors.  In
1842 he cast his
first six foot mirror.  But it took
another five casts and three years before he had two ground and
mirrors.  Speculum mirrors tarnish rapidly.
With two mirrors, one could be used in the telescope while the
other was
being re-polished.

After the 3rd Earl died in 1867, his son Laurence continued
to operate the telescope until 1890.
When he died in 1908, the telescope was no longer used and was
partially dismantled.  But interest
revived in the 1990’s and a reconstructed version of the telescope was
completed in 1999.

Benjamin Parsons’ Descendants in New England.  Charles Nickey’s 1913 book Parsons’ Family
History and Record
began as follows:

Parsons came from England in 1635 and settled at Springfield,
Massachusetts.  Of his children I have
been able to learn but little.  His
grandson Ebenezer Parsons was deacon of the church at Springfield and
had a numerous
family, of whom I can name five sons – Jonathan, Moses, Solomon, David

Jonathan Parsons, born in 1705, was a man of pre-eminent
talent and a
very celebrated preacher of the New Light
or Revival Class.  It was
said that he had a passion for fine
clothes, for gold and silver lace and ruffled shirt fronts, which
some of the good Puritans of his church.

He had thirteen children, one of whom
was Samuel Holden Parsons who settled as a lawyer in Middleton,
Connecticut.  He was a Major General in
the Revolutionary War and afterwards was appointed by George Washington
Governor of the Northwest Territory.  He
drowned in the Ohio river near Pittsburgh in 1789.”

Gustavus Parsons and Thomas Jefferson.  Gustavus Adolphus Parsons had been
born at Charlottesville, Virginia in 1801, close by Thomas Jefferson’s
home at
Monticello.  He worked there as a young
man and he served as the last personal secretary to Thomas Jefferson
President.  After Jefferson’s death he
moved with his family in 1837 to Jefferson City in Missouri.

A few years after
their arrival, a young nephew of Thomas Jefferson came to live there.  He married one of Captain Gustavus’s
daughters.  But soon afterwards Merriwether Lewis Jefferson was
stricken with
illness and he died at his father-in-law’s home.
He was buried in an unmarked grave in the
Parsons lot next to his wife Mary Ann who had already passed away at
the young
age of twenty one.

Gustavus himself lived into his eighties and died at
Jefferson City in 1882.

John Parsons and Parsons, Tennessee.  Clarence Parsons in his book A History of
the Parsons Family


“Dr. John Parsons settled in Decatur county in western
Tennessee, living
in what is now known as Parsons, Tennessee.
He practiced medicine here in this area for about 50
years.  Dr. Parsons
owned several pieces of land at one time or another and, according to
records in the state archives in Nashville, owned 300 acres north of
track in Parsons. This railroad, built in the 1880’s, ran from Memphis
to Perryville. The officials of this, the Tennessee Midland Railroad,
honored Dr.
Parsons by naming the town of Parsons, Tennessee for him.”

Some of these
facts may not be right.  Dr. John died in
1879 and was buried at the New Beech
Grove cemetery west of Lexington.  He was
probably not an M.D. but rather a D.D.
(Doctor of Divinity) as his tombstone described him as Rev. John

John died in 1879.  So he was not the
Parsons Flats land owner when the railroad was built 10 years later.  There was indeed another John Parsons.
In an
article about Parsons in Decatur County,
Tennessee Families and History
, Edwin C. Townsend wrote:

Buckner Street about two blocks north of Main Street was a stagecoach
operated by John Parsons. Parsons owned a considerable amount of land
known as
Parsons Flat. The survey crew for the Tennessee Midland Railway stayed
at the
Parsons Inn while they were surveying the right-of-way for the railway.”

Reader Feedback – Parsons in Newfoundland.  I can trace my Parsons family back with sources to Harbour Grace (Bears
Cove), Newfoundland to the mid-1700’s.  William Parsons died there in
1775.  I was wondering if you could share with me where the
Parsons in Harbour Grace (Bears Cove) came from in SW England.  I have
been trying to find this out, with no success.

Timothy Marcoe (


Parsons Names

  • Robert Parsons was an English composer of the Tudor period, noted for his compositions of church music. 
  • Sir Charles Parsons was an Anglo-Irish engineer, the inventor of the steam turbine engine in 1884. 
  • Talcott Parsons was an American sociologist, considered one of the most influential figures in the development of sociology during the 20th century. 
  • Nicholas Parsons is an English radio and TV presenter, best known for the radio panel show Just a Minute which he has hosted since 1967.
  • Jim Parsons has been the star of the long-running American TV series The Big Bang Theory.

Select Parsons Numbers Today

  • 35,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in London)
  • 28,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 31,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


Select Parsons 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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