Peters Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Peters Meaning
Peter and the patronymic Peters
derived from the Greek word petros,
meaning “a rock,” and became well-established names because of St.
Peter, the
apostle of the New Testament.
Petrie is a Scottish variant. The Dutch
and north German version was Pieters which often became Peters in
America. The Dutch Pieterse is a
Afrikaans name in South Africa. Peters
is also widely found as a surname in Nigeria.

Peters Resources on

Peters Ancestry

Peters from Pieters is a fairly common name in northern
and Holland today. The German numbers
are estimated at 90,000. The name is mainly to be found in
Schleswig-Holstein, further east in Mecklenburg, and further west in
Hamburg. The Dutch numbers are about
25,000, mainly in
Gelderland and Limburg

There was an early history of the name, as Petre
(pronounced Peter) or Peter in Devon in SW England.

Petre and
The Petres were yeoman farmers at Torbryan in
Devon, going back to the late 1300’s. John Petre was “a rich
of Torbryan” in the early 1500’s. His son John was a founder
of the Exeter merchant adventurers in the 1560’s.

A younger son Sir William Petre
made it to London and the Tudor court, serving as Secretary of State
for four
monarchs from Henry VIII to Queen Elizabeth. He
acquired Ingatestone Hall in Essex at the time of the dissolution
of the
monasteries. Afterwards the Petres
became a high-profile recusant family:

  • William, the fourth Baron Petre,
    suffered under the Commonwealth as a Catholic and suspected Royalist,
    time in the Tower of London.
  • while Sir
    Edward Petre, a Jesuit, was a highly unpopular privy councillor and
    advisor to
    James II in the 1680’s.

Hall in Essex was
established as a Catholic refuge which it has remained under the Petre
until the present day.

The Petre spelling became Peter
with Thomas Peter who had married Elizabeth Mitchell, the heiress of
Harlyn in
north Cornwall, in 1632. Their son Gregory
grandson Henry both served as the
High Sheriff of

Peter was for a long time
imprisoned by Oliver Cromwell, but procured his release in 1653 through
assistance of his (so-called) maternal kinsman Hugh Peter.”

Another Peter
line established itself at Porthcothan on the north coast in Cornwall. And there was also a Peter family from the
17th century onwards at Poole Farm at Sheviock on the south coast near
the Devon

Meanwhile William Dykeveldt
or Dickwood had arrived as a child in Devon during the 1540’s, “driven
thither from
Antwerp because of religion.” He and his
brother Thomas established themselves as merchants and changed their
name to
Peter, perhaps because of some relationship they had with the prominent
family of Devon.

This family was fiercely Protestant. Thomas’s
son Hugh Peter, a committed Puritan,
spent some time in America in the 1630’s before returning to England at
time of the Civil War. For his role in
the king’s regicide, he was executed in the ancient barbaric fashion at
time of the Restoration in 1660.

The Peters name was to be found in
Cornwall, but later than Peter. One family
began with the marriage of Joseph Peters and Elizabeth Ford at
Menhenoit in
Another west country Peters was James Peters who was born
Bradford-on-Avon in Wiltshire in 1800.
His son Ebenezer became a coal miner in south Wales.

Peters as a surname
has generally been more widely spread in England than Peter was.

Some early Peters in SE England were:

  • Peter
    Peters (originally de la Pierre), a Huguenot surgeon who came to
    England in 1658 and purchased the Blackfriars at Canterbury in Kent. He and his
    descendants were physicians there.
  • Charles Peters, born in London in 1695, who
    became physician to George II in 1733.
  • and Robert Peters who was married to
    Elizabeth Fuller at Hastings in Sussex in 1716.

There were Peters also in
Lancashire, notably in Southport during the 19th century.
Peters, father and son, had been Town Clerks of Liverpool in the 1700’s. Later Peters were successful merchants and
made their home first at Platt Bridge near Wigan and then at Southport. Another Peters family were lifeboatmen at
Southport. Ralph Peters, then aged
sixty, and his son Ben died in the Mexico
lifeboat disaster of 1886

America. Among the
early Peters of New England
was Andrew Peters, a distiller in
Boston who in
his later years made his home in Andover, Massachusetts.
That was not a safe settlement in his time as
his two oldest sons – John and Andrew – were both killed during an
Indian raid
in 1689.

Among later lines were:

  • from John Peters, who was born in 1695 and
    later moved to Hebron, Connecticut, came Colonel John Peters and his
    Colonel John and General Absalom. These
    sons fought, one on the British side and the other on the American
    side, in
    the Revolutionary War. A different line
    led to John Samuel Peters who was the Governor of Connecticut in 1831. The Governor never married and left no
  • from another John Peters
    who departed Andover in 1765 came the Peters of Maine.
    Fifty years later this John built the John
    Peters House at Blue Hill which is now listed on the National Register
    Historic Places. John Andrew Peters and
    his nephew of the same name were both US Congressmen for the area in
    the late
    19th and early 20th centuries.

Pennsylvania. Richard
and William Peters, two sons of Ralph
Peters the Town Clerk of Liverpool, emigrated to Pennsylvania in the
1730’s. Richard was a contemporary
Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia and worked with him in setting up the
University of Pennsylvania. His nephew
and William’s son Richard – who held the family’s Belmont estate
Philadelphia – was a delegate to the Continental Congress and later a
Pennsylvania judge.

This Richard’s grandson Richard
, an early railroad developer, migrated to the South
where in
the 1840’s he was instrumental in founding the city of Atlanta, Georgia. And that Richard’s son, Edward C. Peters,
bought and then sold off for development the land that is now the
southern half
of midtown Atlanta.

German. There are more German than English Peters
in America on the basis of the
origin of the Peters who came to America.
There were two early Jacob Peters who settled in Virginia:

  • the first from Bavaria arrived sometime in
    the 1730’s and made his home in Rockingham county.
    His son Christian was the founder of
  • the second was the father of three sons – Henry, John and
    Jacob –
    who settled in Scott county in the late 1700’s.
    James Peters’ 1986 book Peters Family of Scott
    covered their lines.

Among those who arrived in the 19th century were:

  • Christian Peters from Hesse who came to Ottawa,
    Illinois with his family in 1868. After he
    died, his wife Gertrude settled in

    in 1884.
  • and Charles Peters who left his
    home in Prussia at the age of eighteen after the death of his parents. He came to Ashton, Illinois also in 1868 and
    married and farmed there. He too moved to
    Iowa in 1884.

Canada. Prince
Edward Island on the
Atlantic coastline has a concentration of the Peters name.
There appear to be two reasons for this – one
being a French settler family of the 17th century and the other a
family that had arrived after the Revolutionary War.

The forebears of the French family were Jean and
Marie Pitre who had come to French Acadia sometime in the 1660’s. After the British had dispersed the French
Acadia, the Pitres settled in Rustico township in Prince Edward Island. By the 19th century some Pitres
began to call themselves Peters.

second source was the Peters family from Hempstead, Long Island. James Peters, a Loyalist leader,
departed in 1783 for Nova Scotia. The
would remain influential in the Maritime provinces for several
generations. Frederick Peters, a great grandson,
served as
the sixth Premier of Prince Edward Island in 1891.
His son Fritz fought in both World Wars and was awarded the
Victoria Cross in 1942.

Australia. Wilhelm Peters had received theological training
in Pomerania in northern Germany before being sent out to Australia as
Lutheran pastor in 1877. His initial
assignment was to minister to the Chinese people working at the
goldfields in
Victoria. He based himself at Murtoa in
western Victoria where he founded Concordia College.
His son Albrecht became a doctor in Melbourne


Peters Miscellany

Sir William Petre’s Rise to Power.  William Petre came of a family of Devon yeomen, his father being a farmer and tanner assessed at £40 in goods in
the subsidy of 1523.  William was
probably the second son of John Petre.  The older son John was a Customer of the ports
of Dartmouth and Exeter and became the MP for Dartmouth in 1554.

William was perhaps
fortunate to be sent to Oxford where he distinguished himself by his
learning.  Educated as a lawyer, he became a public servant
in London – probably through the influence of the Boleyn family, one of whom, George Boleyn, he had
tutored at Oxford and another of whom was Anne Boleyn, the second wife to Henry VIII.

He rose rapidly in
the royal service and was knighted in 1543.
He went on to hold the confidential post
of Secretary of State through the revolutionary changes of Henry VIII,
VI, Mary, and Elizabeth.

In 1538 he had taken
from the convent of Barking in Essex a lease of the manor of Ging
Abbess, which
became the nucleus of the Petre large estate there that became
Ingatestone.  It is perhaps ironic that the fortunes of the Petre family, who subsequently
became staunchly
Catholic, were built up on the ruins of Catholic monasteries.

Early Peters of New England.  Edmond Peters began his 1903 book Peters of
New England
with the following statement:

“A tradition causes our history to begin in
Boston in 1634 with one William Peters, a merchant educated in Leyden
who was a
brother of the Rev. Hugh Peters of Salem and of the Rev. Thomas Peters
Saybrook.  He removed to Andover where he
built a church and was buried under the pulpit.”

This tradition, as he goes on
to say, is not correct.

Hugh and Thomas Peters were not related to William.  Hugh Peter (not Peters) was descended from
Flemish ancestors who had fled Antwerp for Devon because of religious
in the 1540’s.  Thomas Peters arrived in
America with Winthrop in 1639.  But he was only to stay there three years.

William Peters of the Petre
family is thought to have been the father of Andrew Peters, the
forebear of
the main Peters line in New England.
Andrew made his home in later life in Andover, Massachusetts.

Richard Peters and Atlanta.  In 1834 young Richard Peters was offered him a job
as chief engineer for $1,000 a year to help with construction of the
Georgia Railroad.  Peters paid $100 for a
rough paddle-wheeler trip into camp near Charleston, South
Carolina in the
brutally cold February of 1835.  He worked on the state railroad
for the eight
years it took to complete it from Augusta to the new town of

When the railroad was completed, Peters was hired as
superintendent.  In that position he
heard many complaints about the name of Marthasville.
When someone suggested Atlanta instead,
Peters began printing up thousands of circulars to distribute from
to Tennessee advertising the new
name.  It was officially changed in
December 1845.

He built a home in Atlanta, married there, founded
first steam factory, and also operated a stage coach line between
Atlanta and
Montgomery, Alabama.

The Civil War
brought destruction, with Peters and his family removing themselves to
Augusta.  After the war Atlanta boomed and Richard Peters, having
returned, left a
million-dollar estate.  Of his two sons
Edward stayed on the estate and built Ivy Hall; while Ralph moved to
York and became President of the Long Island Railroad.

Peters Arrivals in America.  The following passenger data from ship arrivals track the origin of Peters arrivals in America.

Country Numbers Percent
Germany    3,441    77
England      564    13
Ireland      299     7
Russia      127     3
Total    4,431   100

Most Peters in America have German roots.

Peters from Germany to Iowa.  The Peters family ancestral home had been at Schwarzenborn in Hesse, Germany.  The first traceable ancestral record was that of Johann Henrich Peter who
was born there in 1720.

A descendant Christian Peter married in Hesse and come to
America with
his family in 1868.  They settled in
Ottawa, Illinois.  Christian died there
six years later.  In 1884 his widow Gertrude moved to
Buena Vista county in Iowa with
her five children – Conrad, John, Jacob, Margaretha, and Gertrude.

Christian Peter descendant was said to have deserted the army in
Germany and to
have fled to America.  He ended up
marrying his second cousin, the above Margaretha Peter.
This Christian had added the ‘s’ to his name
shortly after arriving in America in the late 1860’s.

Margaretha’s older brother
John married late in life.
He was in his mid-40’s
when he married an 18-year old German girl Anna who had been visiting
her aunt
in Iowa.  They raised twelve
children.  After John passed away, Anna
lost their property during the Depression due to her inability to pay
property taxes.

Jim Peters’ Last Marathon.  The English runner Jim Peters from London had broken the world record
for the marathon four times in the 1950’s.  At
the 1954 Vancouver Commonwealth Games he reached the stadium in first
place, 17
minutes ahead of the next runner and 10 minutes ahead of the record.

But he then
collapsed repeatedly and failed to finish.  After
covering just 200 metres in 11 minutes, he was stretchered away
and never raced again.  “I was lucky not to have died that day,”
later said.

His games kit, including his running shoes and
the special
medal which the Duke of Edinburgh had sent to Jim (inscribed “to a most
gallant marathon runner”), were given to the Sports Hall of Fame,
Vancouver in 1967 for exhibition.


Peters Names

  • Sir William Petre was an English Secretary of State in
    Tudor times, from Henry VIII to Queen Elizabeth. 
  • Thomas Peters, ex-slave and a Black Loyalist during the
    Revolutionary War, was a founding father of the West African country of Sierra Leone
    in 1792.
  • Richard Peters, an American railroad developer,
    was the founder of the city of Atlanta in Georgia in the 1840’s. 
  • Jim Peters was an English runner who four times broke the
    world record marathon time in the 1950’s. 
  • Tom Peters is an American writer on business management practices, best known for his book In Search of Excellence.

Select Peters Numbers Today

  • 25,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in London)
  • 56,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 33,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


Select Peters and Like Surnames   

Patronymic surnames can be with either the “-son” or the shorter “s” suffix to the first name.  The “s” suffix is more common in southern England and in Wales.  Here are some of these surnames that you can check out.



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