Pearce Surname Meaning, History & Origin
The surnames Pearce and Pierce have the Biblical Peter (from the Greek Petros meaning “a rock”) as their
origin, although this name usually arrived in medieval England through
the French form Piers. Piers
Plowman was a narrative
poem written in England by William Langland in the late 14th century.
There were many different early
spellings of the surname. The first recorded was Gilbert Perse in
pipe rolls of 1198. But two spellings emerged and stayed, Pearce and Pierce,
while an earlier spelling Pearse continued in some places.
Pearce/Pierce Resources on
- Pearce Family of Polperro
Pearces in Cornwall.
- The Pierce Family Pierces
in New England.
- Three Pioneer Rapides Families
Early Pearces in Louisiana.
There is a north/south divide between Pearce and Pearson, with Pearson
stronger in the north and Pearce stronger in the south. Each have
their alternative spellings, Pearson with Pierson and Pearce with
Pierce. Pearce has outnumbered Pierce in England by about
one. Pierce has mainly cropped up in the southeast and in
SW England. Pearce
been a common name in SW England. It
ranked as the sixth most common surname in Cornwall in 1861. Early spellings were Pears and Pearse.
One Pearse family traces back to Plympton in
Devon in the 1550’s and another to Heddington near Devizes in Wiltshire
the year 1600. The latter Pearses were
clothiers in Wiltshire for several generations before moving to London.
John Pearse was a wealthy yeoman on his death
in Roche, Cornwall in 1732. Generations of
Pearces lived at
Polperro on the Cornish coast from the 17th century
onwards. The Pearces of
border in Devon date from John Pearce, surgeon there in the
1650’s. Tom Pearce
featured in the Devon folk
song Widecombe Fair.
SE England. Pierce,
on the other hand,
been more a name of SE England. Adam
Pierce was recorded in the Sussex subsidy rolls of 1327. Pierces
have been at Newick in
Sussex from the 1650’s; and John Pierce was born at Jevington in the
county sometime in the 1630’s. The
Pierces of Mayflower fame who came to
New England at that time were from Higham in Kent. There has
that some Pierces may have derived from the ancient Percy family of
Yorkshire. But there is no real evidence
to that effect.
Wales. Pierce in Wales
the patronymic ap Piers (or Pirs or Pyrs) and was principally to be
found in north Wales. The early Pierces in America were
said to have had Welsh blood in them. Dr. Evan Pierce, mayor of
Denbigh in the 1860’s, is remembered in the
town by the memorial gardens which bear his name.
Ireland. From an English
Pearce family from Glynde in Sussex came General Edward Pearce who
settled late in his life in Dublin with his two sons – Thomas, Governor
of Limerick in 1715, and Edward, an architect whose vision lies behind
the face of Georgian Dublin today.
nationalist Patrick Pearse, executed after the Easter Uprising of 1916,
born in Dublin on what is now Pearse Street.
He was the son of an Englishman who had moved there in 1850.
outnumber Pearces by four to one in America. John Pierce, the
‘patentee’ of the Mayflower,
Pierce, his brother and its captain, may have helped set
the spelling. Other Pierces of this family settled in New
Michael Pierce, who was said to have built at Scituate the
first saw-mill of the new colony, died fighting the Indians in
1676. Subsequent Pierces
of this family were well-to-do landowners in Scituate.
A descendant was the writer and
jack-of-all-trades John Harwood Pierce.
He fought as a young man in the Civil War and settled in later
life in California.
Thomas Pierce, related to these Pierces, settled in Woburn. From
his line came US President Franklin Pierce and, later, First Lady
Barbara Bush (born Pierce).
Pearces as well in America. Edward
Pearce, Scots Irish, came to Pennsylvania in 1737.
His grandson Cromwell was a colonel in the
War of 1812. The Pearce Company, one of the nation’s oldest
makers, was begun in Harmony, Pennsylvania during the 1830’s by
an immigrant from Wiltshire in England.
Pearce Company, which remained family-owned until Joseph Pearce sold it
the 1960’s, produced blankets during the Civil War, carpeting for early
automobile manufacturers, and blankets again at the time of the Korean
line of Pearces began in Virginia with Stephen Pearce in the late
1600’s. He was followed by descendants who settled in North
Carolina and by William Pearce, an early pioneer in Rapides parish,
Louisiana in 1808. There
they were to remain for the next hundred years.
Pierce, an Anglo-Irishman who had fought at Waterloo in 1815, came to
where he had been given a free grant of land.
He settled in 1822 with his wife Catherine in Goulbourn
A later arrival was the Pearce
family from Gloucestershire. They
arrived in New York in 1852 and then made their way by land to Aymer,
Ontario. Their family correspondence was
re-discovered in the 1960’s and published by David J. Porter in the
book From Almondsbury to Aymer: The Pearce
Pearce was convicted of housebreaking in Dorset and transported to
1817. Ten years later he was a free man
and set off for virgin land in the valley along Cox’s river in the
Goulbourn, NSW. He started off as a
cattle duffer and later began to farm.
He left his name to Pearce’s Creek and Pearce’s Mountain in the
Pearce, a London laborer who emigrated to Australia in 1858, was the
a remarkable Pearce rowing family
that was to compete over three generations in sculling at world
and Olympic levels.
Pearces of Holsworthy in Devon. The first record of this family was in 1652 when John Pearce, surgeon, married Jane Palmer at Holsworthy. Son Edward was
also a surgeon, as was grandson Parmenas.
Edward and his wife Grace signed the Devon loyalty oath in 1723. Parmenas was survived by his widow Martha and
his two daughters Susannah and Grace.
Later Pearces via Parmenas’s brother Edward included Thomas
banker and his son Edward who was the mayor of Bodmin in Cornwall in 1836.
The Pearces of Polperro. Generations of
the Pearce family lived on the Lansallos side of Polperro in Cornwall
17th century onwards, some later settling at Crumplehorn, the hamlet
inland from the harbor. One of these was Joseph Pearce, born in 1754,
many other seafaring young men at the time, played an active part in
privateering and smuggling activity that went on. He was among
crew of the Good Intent, a three-masted sloop fitted out for
privateering voyages, when she captured a valuable Spanish prize vessel
The Pearces remained at
Crumplehorn until the 1850’s when Joseph Pearce enlisted in the army
off to fight in the Crimean War. When he returned, he and his wife
emigrated to Australia, sailing from Liverpool aboard the Arabian
377 other emigrants. Three months later they arrived in Melbourne where
Nathaniel Pearce, London Goldsmith. Nathaniel Pearce
came to London from Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire in 1699 as a young
man. He took an apprentice there as a goldsmith.
He obviously prospered
in this profession as, in 1720, a grant of armorial bearings was made
and his descendants – “he being a person of good reputation, loyalty
affection for His Majesty and Government and having a sufficient estate
support the condition of a gentleman.” He
had in fact raised
a regiment of foot to defend London “against the advances of the old
1723 his banking business failed, shortly after the collapse of the
Bubble which had undermined business confidence at the time. He and
then moved from Lombard Street to Brampton in Northamptonshire where
up residence in Brampton House. He and
his descendants were to remain there for the next hundred years.
later descendant, Colonel Edward Pearce,
emigrated to New Zealand in 1861. He became a prominent
merchant and politician in Wellington.
Tom Pearce of Widecombe Fair. The first verse of the Devon folk song Widecombe Fair goes as follows:
“Tom Pearce, Tom Pearce, lend me your grey mare.
All along, down along, out along lea.
For I want for to go to Widecombe Fair,
With Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,
Peter Davy, Daniel Whiddon, Harry Hawke,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all.”
Whether Tom Pearce or Tom Cobley ever existed is uncertain. Local historians have attempted to trace them
in and around Dartmoor in Devon. The
main claimant has been the village of Spreyton where a Pearse family
local mill in the mid-19th century.
Pearces and Pierces Today. The table below shows the approximate number of Pearces and Pierces around today.
Pierce’s Welsh Ancestry and American Lines. The Pierce
brothers who arrived in New England in the early 17th century may have had Welsh
blood in them. This Welsh line began
sometime before 1500 when a young Welsh woman of the Pierce family
Ithell and their son was called Pierce Ithell.
His grandson married a Huguenot refugee daughter named Meirbe
Lascelle. From this line came several
generations of daughters called Anteress, one of whom married a Pierce
in Higham, Kent sometime in the 1570’s.
had five sons – Azikam, Ebenezer, Thomas,
Michael, and Edward.
the owner ‘patentee’ of the Mayflower
that first came to New England in 1620
its captain on its second voyage to New England (William
was said to have sailed the Atlantic Ocean more than any other man of
and Michael, settlers in Massachusetts
(from the next generation) John of Watertown, Daniel of Watertown and
Newbury, and Richard of Rhode Island.
Pierce, an early settler in Woburn, came US President Franklin Pierce
and, later, Marvin Pierce, President of the McCall publishing company
and his daughter Barbara Pierce who subsequently became First Lady
William Pierce, Mayflower Captain. William Pierce,
sea captain, brought many colonists to Plymouth Rock, including those
on the Mayflower on its second voyage to the
New World. For a while Captain Pierce lived in Jamestown,
Virginia. He is listed there in their
census of 1624 as
having over 30 servants. But he returned
to New England and was later instrumental in the celebration of the
winter of 1630-31 was severe, game was scarce, the corn supply was
even acorns and ground nuts were concealed by heavy snows. Women
of the colony
were set to digging clams and a ration of five kernels of corn a day
person was ordered. The colonists were on the verge of starvation and
designated February 22, 1631, as a fast day of prayer.”
However, Captain Pierce arrived on February 5
on the Lyon with supplies and
a public thanksgiving was substituted for the
The same captain
authored Pierces’ Almanak in 1639,
the first printed book in the colonies, and he brought cotton and sweet
potatoes to the colonists from the West Indies. He died in 1641
on a voyage to
Captain Michael Pierce’s Death. Captain Michael Pierce met his death in 1676 in conflict with the
Narragansett Indians during
King Phillip’s War. His death was recorded at the time as follows:
the 26th of March, 1676 was sadly
remarkable to us for the tidings of a very deplorable disaster brought
Boston about five o’clock that afternoon. Captain
Pierce of Scituate in Plymouth Colony,
having intelligence that a party of the enemy lay nearby, had set forth
English and 20 Cape Indians and, upon their march, discovered rambling
obscure woody place four or five Indians. Our
men had pursued them but a little way into
the woods before they found them to be only decoys to draw them into an
of a sudden, they discovered about 500
Indians who furiously attacked them. Then
a fresh company of about 400 Indians arrived and the English and their
Indian friends were surrounded and beset on every side. Captain
Pierce cast his 63 English and 20
Indians into a ring for the fight. However,
overpowered by the numbers, Captain Pierce and 55 of his English and 10
their Indian friends were slain upon the place.”
Nine of Pierce’s men were captured and taken to a place in
Cumberland, Rhode Island, now known as Nine Men’s Misery, where they
were tortured to death. Arriving too late, a relief force found
and buried the bodies of the nine.
There is a Captain Michael Pierce monument and a Captain
Pierce Road in Scituate today.
The Pearce Skullers. James and
Ann Pearce had come to Sydney from London with their young son Harry on
the Herald of the Morning in 1858.
They settled in Double Bay in Sydney’s harborside district
where James worked as a fisherman and ran a boatshed.
Young Harry Pearce was the
first to show the Pearce family’s rowing prowess. Successful
in light skiffs and heavy
watermen’s boats, the wiry, close-knit Pearce began to attract notice
possible champion sculler. He sculled
against Ed Trickett and had beaten William Beach before Beach went on
the world championship in 1885. After he retired from
competition, Harry was one
of the leading fishermen and boat-owners in Sydney harbor.
Harry had five sons and seven daughters. Eldest
was a sculling champion during his
father’s lifetime, while Sandy was a national rugby league representative who toured
with the 1908 Kangaroos and was inducted into rugby league’s Hall of
Fame. Daughters Alice and Lily rowed successfully
against a visiting Maori team in 1911.
The line from Sandy included Cecil, a sculler, who represented Australia at the 1936 Olympics,
and Sidney who played rugby league for
Australia. Cecil’s son Gary would row in
three Olympic games from 1964 to 1972.
But it was Harry’s son Bobby who was the
star of the show. He won the gold medal
in the single sculls both at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam and the
Olympics in Los Angeles. A year later he
won the professional world sculling championship, a feat he repeated in
and 1938. He was also a winner of the
Diamond Sculls at Henley Royal Regatta.
particularly endeared him to the sporting public. In
quarterfinal of the men’s single sculls at
the Amsterdam Olympics, the 22-year-old Bobby Pearce was leading
Victor Saurin in a two-boat race. Pearce
heard shouts from the bank and looked back to see a duck and her
crossing the race course just ahead of him.
Pearce stopped his boat and waited for the ducks to cross. Saurin meanwhile took the lead, but not for
long. Pearce soon passed the Frenchman
and moved away to set a new course record.
- William Pierce was the sea captain who brought the Mayflower to New England in 1620.
- Edward Lovett Pearce was an early 18th century Irish architect, called the father of Irish Palladian architecture and Georgian Dublin.
- Franklin Pierce was the 14th President of the United States, serving from 1853 to 1857.
- Sir William Pearce was the British shipbuilder who made Govan on the Clyde the largest
shipbuilding place in the world in the 1880’s.
Select Pearce/Pierce Numbers Today
- 60,000 in the UK (most numerous
- 55,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
- 39,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)
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