Pennington Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Pennington Surname Meaning

The Pennington surname derives from the place-name Pennington found near Ulverston in Cumbria and in the parish of Leigh in Lancashire. The root of the name is the Old English word penny and tun meaning “enclosure” or  “settlement.”

The Cumbrian family who took the name dates from the late 12th century. The spelling was first Penington (a form which recurred), but Pennington began to come into use in the 14th century.

Pennington Surname Resources on The Internet

Pennington Surname Ancestry

  • from NW England
  • to America, Canada and Australia

England. The Pennington family pedigree in Cumbria went back to Gamel de Peninton in the late 12th century. His family became High Sheriffs of Cumberland, a title and position that was handed down from father to son for centuries. The home and stronghold of Sir John de Penington and later descendants was Muncaster castle on the mouth of the Esk river.

Lancashire.  Their Pennington descendants spread through the Furness section of north Lancashire towards Preston and Wigan and towards the populous areas of Manchester and Liverpool.

Another Pennington line in Lancashire came from the Pennington (originally Pininton) place-name near Leigh. The forebear of these Penningtons was said to have been Adam de Pennington who died there in the early 1300’s. Penningtons of Aston-by-Sutton in Cheshire, some 15 miles from Leigh, have been traced back to 1585. Sometimes the name here was Pinnington.

At the time of the 1891 census, Lancashire accounted for over 60 percent of the Penningtons in England.

London.  A Pennington line from Muncaster reached London, via Henham in Essex:

  • from William Penington came Sir John Pennington, the Royalist Lord High Admiral, and the Philadelphia Peningtons in America
  • and from his brother Robert, a wealthy fishmonger and merchant in London, came Isaac Penington, the Lord Mayor of London in 1642 and a prominent Puritan member of Oliver Cromwell’s Government.

However, Isaac Penington lost out after the Restoration and died a prisoner in the Tower of London. His son Isaac was an early and influential Quaker. Step-daughter Gulielma became the first wife of WIlliam Penn.

America. It was Edward Penington, born in Buckinghamshire and the youngest of the six children, who came to Philadelphia in 1698 as a Quaker and established his family name in the land of his relative William Penn. His grandsons Isaac and later Edward Pennington were prominent sugar refiners and merchants in Philadelphia for forty years after the Revolutionary War.

New Jersey.  There was another Pennington line that had arrived earlier in America, with Ephraim Pennington coming to New Haven, Connecticut around 1643. His son Ephraim was one of the first settlers of Newark, New Jersey in 1667 and later Penningtons became a politically influential family there. William S. Pennington was Governor of New Jersey in 1813 and a subsequent William was Governor in 1837. Another line went via Nathan Pennington to Atlantic county, New Jersey.

Also descended from Ephraim was Elijah Pennington, a Revolutionary War veteran who received land in Virginia as compensation. His eldest son Elias headed west:  “It was said that Elijah equipped Elias with a horse, saddle, rifle, and dog and a patrimony of $2,100 to begin his adult life.”

He and his family migrated first to Tennessee and then to Texas and Arizona. Larcena Pennington was in fact a member of the first American family to set foot in Arizona, surviving many hair-raising moments:

“She was abducted by Tonto Apaches in 1860. Unable to keep up with her captors, she was stabbed 18 times and left for dead in Madera Canyon. Larcena then crawled through the desert for more than 16 days before finding help and being rescued. The first thing she asked for was a chew of tobacco.”

Pennington Street in Tucson, Arizona was named after her. However, her father and brother both later died at the hands of the Apaches.

Elsewhere. Other Penningtons migrated west and south:

  • Edward Pennington had moved to the frontier in Kentucky in 1773 and become friends there with Henry Clay. He then headed further west in 1802 to what was at that time Indiana territory, His son Dennis was one of the founders of Indiana as a state.
  • while Thomas Pennington of North Carolina had received a land grant in Georgia as a result of his service in the Revolutionary War. His son Samuel built his home there in Morgan county. The house is still owned by the Pennington family and is used as a conference and training center for Pennington Seed Inc. and Pennington Enterprises.

Canada. James Pennington from Liverpool was a British soldier taken prisoner during the American Revolutionary War. On release after the war, he was granted land in New Brunswick and settled there. One son William, a Baptist minister, made his home in Maine; another son James, a farmer, moved to Minnesota in the 1850’s.

Australia. Captain Rowland Pennington from Westmorland fought with the British army during the Napoleonic wars and was afterwards stationed in Canada.

His son John, born there, emigrated to Australia in 1850 and settled with his family in Adelaide. Ten years later John was unfortunately drowned when his boat Unique capsized at the annual port regatta. His son John, known as Rowley, was a surveyor and the Adelaide suburb of Pennington appears to have been named after him.

Pennington Surname Miscellany

Gamel de Penitone.  Gamel de Penitone, who lived during the reign of Henry II (1154-1189), took his name from the place-name Penington in Cumbria where he had his manor.  His bore an Old Norse first name, suggesting Viking ancestry.

He was described as a great benefactor to Conishead Priory, to which he gave the churches (with all their appurtenances) of Penington and of Muncaster twenty miles to the west, together with the chapels of Aldeburg, Whitebeck and Skeroveton in Lancashire and Cumberland.

Gamel had four sons, Benedict, Meldred, Gamel and Joslyn.

Sir John de Penington and the Luck of Muncaster.  During the War of the Roses, King Henry VI became lost after the Battle of Towton in 1464.  Sir John de Penington rescued him near Muncaster.  In gratitude the King presented Sir John with a fragile glass cup called the “Luck of Muncaster” and a blessing that the family would never run out of male heirs so long as the cup remained unbroken.

Though the cup still survives, the last male Pennington of this line died in 1917.

The Penningtons of Aston-by-Sutton in Cheshire.  These Penningtons, sometimes Pinningtons, were yeomen farmers of Aston from 1635 to about 1850.

At the time of the restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, John Pennington of Aston, yeoman, was indiscreet in voicing his opinion that he hoped the young king’s head would come to the block as well as his father’s. There were consequences for opening his mouth at such a time.  John was put in the stocks and whipped until the blood ran.  He was then chased out of town and put in Chester jail until his fine could be paid.

Isaac Penington in Good Times and Bad.  Isaac Penington represented the City in the Long Parliament and proved to be the Rothschild of the Roundheads.  When money was wanted in the early years of the Civil War, application was generally made to the city through Alderman Penington.

If the Houses were showing courage and faithfulness to the cause, the Alderman promised money and once offered a guard of 300 citizens.  But when compromise about Stafford was in the air, the money was withheld.  Isaac later sat on the tribunal which convicted Charles I of treason and executed him.

Those were the good times.

The bad times came at the time of the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660. Isaac was thrust as a prisoner into the Tower where he had once been its governor.  He was tried and sentenced to death, but died of his infirmities before the day of his execution came around.  His estates were confiscated.  These included Chalfont Grange, the home of the younger Isaac Penington, which was given to the Duke of Grafton, the illegitimate son of the King.

Young Isaac Penington had by this time become a Quaker and was to suffer six imprisonments for his faith between 1661 and 1672. Upon one occasion he was arrested while in attendance at meeting; once while walking upon the street in a funeral procession; at another time when in bed; and again upon the occasion of the birth of one of his children.  It was while he was in prison that his family was turned out of Chalfont Grange.

Nathaniel Pennington of Atlantic County, New Jersey.  The first of the Penningtons to come to Atlantic County was Nathan Pennington, great grandson of the Ephraim Pennington who had first settled in New Jersey.  Nathan was a soldier in the Revolutionary Army who had volunteered at the age of 19.

During the Revolution he was taken prisoner and sent to Quebec in Canada where he suffered very much, nearly dying of starvation.  He managed to escape with some of his comrades, one of their number mounting to the top of the wall by standing on the shoulders of the others, and the others being pulled up by means of their bed clothing, which being tied together, then lowered to the opposite side.

Nathan was stationed in Atlantic county later, being in charge of property captured from the enemy.  He and his wife Margaret resided in Mays Landing, in a part called Pennington’s Point where was located the shipyard in which he carried out his business as shipbuilder.  Nathan died in 1810.  His son John was born in 1791, lived at Mays Landing and was a sea captain, vessel owner, and for a time sheriff of the county.

Pennington Deaths at the Hands of the Apaches.  Larcena Pennington had survived a murderous attack on her by Apache Indians in Arizona in 1860.  Nine years later her father Elias Sr. and brother Elias Jr. were not so fortunate.

Both men were killed by Apaches while working on their farm fourteen miles south of Fort Crittenden.  Elias the father was plowing, with his rifle slung to his plow handles, while Elias the son was repairing an irrigated ditch some distance away.  Just after the father had turned his back on his land, Apache Indians in ambush shot him down from behind.

His son remained to fight off the Indians.  In so doing he was mortally hurt, but finally managed to reach the ranch house.  There he remained until rescued by cavalry from the fort.  Eight days later the young man died.

This account appeared in Robert Forbes’ 1919 book The Penningtons: Pioneers of Arizona.

Pennington and Sitting Pretty.  The Pennington name has a long history in New Jersey.  It was given a new lease of life in 1924 when the musical Sitting Pretty, the sixth and last collaboration of Jerome Kern, P. G. Wodehouse, and Guy Bolton, came out.  Sitting Pretty not only introduced many song hits, but it was also said to have done much to lay a foundation for modern musical comedy.

Act One of Sitting Pretty started with the friends of Bill Pennington convening for a coaching party and picnic at the summer home of uncle William Pennington in Far Hills, New Jersey. Bill’s chorus girl friend, Babe, questioned young Bill about his prospects.  But Bill was later to be disinherited by his uncle.

Act Two began six months later, at Mr. Pennington’s winter estate in Florida. A lavish costume ball was in progress, celebrating May’s “coming out.”  The guests, dressed in the period of the 1850’s, danced polkas, lancers, and waltzes.  Bill sought out May and proposed and they lived happily ever afterwards.

Pennington Names

  • Gamel de Peninton who lived in the 12th century was the forebear of the Cumbrian Penningtons.
  • Sir John Pennington was Lord High Admiral of King Charles’s fleet in the 1630’s.
  • James Pennington, born James Pembroke in Maryland, was a fugitive slave who became a leading African American orator and abolitionist in the years prior to the Civil War.
  • Basil Pennington was an American Trappist monk whose best-selling 1980 work Centering Prayer sold more than a million copies.
  • Michael Pennington, a comedian from Lancashire, is better known by his stage name Johnny Vegas.

Pennington Numbers Today

  • 7,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 14,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 1,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Pennington and Like Surnames

Many surnames have come from Lancashire.  These are some of the noteworthy surnames that you can check out.



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Written by Colin Shelley

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