Penn Surname Genealogy

The Penn surname is most likely to be locational in origin. The
old Celtic word pen meant
“hill” and gave rise to Penn place-names in Staffordshire,
Berkshire, and Buckinghamshire.

Penn Resources on

Penn Ancestry

The Penns of
took their name from the village of the
same name. James Penn was recorded as early as 1222 as having
taken possession of the Seagrave manor. It stayed with the Penn
family until the death of the last Penn there, Roger Penn, in

From John Penn, a mercer in London who died in 1450, came the Penns of
Codicote in Hertfordshire. There were also early Penns in
Worcestershire and Shropshire.

But the best-known Penns originated in Wiltshire, at Minety on the road
between Swindon and Malmesbury. William Penn lived there in
times. His line produced:

  • Giles Penn, a Bristol merchant and sea
  • George Penn
    and his younger brother Sir William Penn, the English admiral;
  • and William Penn, the
    founder of Pennsylvania.

What has tended to be forgotten is that
William Penn returned to England in later life and died there penniless
1718. Penn’s grandson John, enriched at a later date from his
time in America, acquired the Stoke Poges manor in Buckinghamshire and
held it from 1775 to 1834.

Later distribution of the Penn name in England showed it in the West
Midlands and stretching down into London and the southeast. Onr
family history started with a shoemaker Phillip Penn, born around 1740
in Canterbury, another with the marriage of John and Elizabeth Penn in
Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire in 1742.

In 1800 John Penn started a company in Blackheath which under his son
John was to become one of the leading builders of marine engines of the
Victorian age. John Penn Street in Greenwich commemorates him.

America. Because of his
father’s service to the crown, William Penn the younger received a
grant of a vast tract of land in America that formerly had been part
of New Netherland.

William Penn arrived in this new territory in
1682 and
he and his family were to retain control of what became Pennsylvania
until the time of the American Revolution.

The Penns in fact owned much of this land themselves. Their
agreement with the Native Americans had stated that no man could claim
or buy more land from Native Americans than he could walk in a day and
a half.

“In 1737 William’s son Thomas chose the
three fastest runners in the province and had them run for the alloted
time over the clearest and best lying land that he could find.
The runners had pacemakers on horseback to ensure that the maximum
amount of land was acquired. One of the runners gave up, another
drowned in a river. The third runner kept going over the thirty
six hours – thus ensuring that half a million acres of cornfields and
hunting grounds came into the Penn family estate.”

Although William married twice and had fourteen children, only two of
his sons, William and Thomas, had living descendants. The Penn direct
male line ended
in fact with the death of the Rev. Thomas
Penn in 1869.

Other Penns.
William Penn was not the first Penn in America. Christian Penn
was recorded in Jamestown as early as 1621. John Penn, born
in Virginia around 1680, died in Caroline county in 1741. He had
four sons – John, George, Joseph and Moses – and many
descendants. Another John Penn from Caroline county, the son of
Moses and Catherine Penn, was a signer of the Declaration of
Independence for North Carolina in 1776.

Abram Penn was one of the most prominent citizens of Patrick county,
Virginia at the time of the American Revolution. His descendants
became active and successful in tobacco manufacture. Thomas
Jefferson (Jeff) Penn was born into this family.

Black Mammy
, published in 2010, is a story told in Thomas
Jefferson Penn’s own words and was his way of honoring a woman that he
cared for deeply. The story took place in the 1880’s when
Jefferson Penn was a child growing up in North Carolina.”

Penn sold the family tobacco business to American Tobacco in the 1910’s
and built the
Chinqua Penn plantation house
near Greensboro, North
Carolina on the proceeds.

Jewish Penns.
Not all Penns in America are of English origin. Some Penns were
German from Bavaria, arriving at different times in the 19th

One Russian Jewish immigrant family in Massachusetts in
the early 1900’s changed their name from Pinon to Penn. Their son
was Leo Penn, an actor and director blacklisted during the McCarthy
era. He had three sons, the most well-known being the actor Sean
Penn. Also from Russian Jewish parents, but this time in
Philadelphia, was the film director Arthur Penn.

South Africa. The
youngest son of an immigrant Jewish cabinet maker, Jack Penn, born in
1908. grew up to be the doyen of plastic surgery of his time, as well
as a highly acclaimed sculptor:

“A bust of General Smuts was
commissioned for the Jan Smuts airport in Johannesburg. His bust
of Albert Schweitzer was presented to Strasbourg; while those of David
Ben-Gurion and Moshe Dayan are in Israel.”

His son John followed in his footsteps as a plastic surgeon.

Penn Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:

Penn Names

William Penn, arriving in 1682, founded and gave his name to the
state of Pennsylvania.
John Penn of John Penn &
Sons was one of the leading marine engine builders of the 19th century.
Jack Penn was accclaimed
in South Africa as being the doyen of plastic surgery, as well as a
notable sculptor.
Arthur Penn was the American
film director best known for his 1968 classic Bonnie and Clyde.
Sean Penn is a well-known
American actor.

Select Penns Today

  • 5,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Essex)
  • 6,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 2,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)



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