Pitt Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Pitt Surname Meaning
Pitt derives from the Old English word pytt, meaning a pit or hollow. The name is usually thought to be topographical, describing someone who lived near a pit or hollow.  However, an alternative occupational origin has been suggested.  Before 1500, the surname spelling was generally Pytt. After 1500, both Pitt and Pitts emerged as surnames. Pitt is more common in England today, Pitts in America.

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Pitt and Pitts Surname Ancestry

England.  Pitt has been mainly a west country name, to be found on a line running south from Staffordshire through Worcestershire and Gloucestershire to Dorset and Hampshire on the coast. Pitts has cropped up in Devon (the Pitts of South Allington) and in Yorkshire.

The best-known of these Pitts have been the Pitts from Blandford in Dorset. The line there traces back to Nicholas Pitt in the early 1500’s.

Thomas Pitt, the son of a vicar, was a merchant in India known as “Diamond” Pitt for his purchase of and profit from an extraordinary diamond. Stratfield Saye House in Hampshire was built on its proceeds. Pitt was the grandfather and great grandfather of two British Prime Ministers:

  • William Pitt the Elder
  • and William Pitt the Younger.

Their family history was covered in Sir Tresham Lever’s 1947 book The House of Pitt.

The direct line ended at that time as William Pitt the Younger died without legitimate issue. The line through his cousin Thomas Pitt of Camelford in Cornwall also did not continue.

“During a short but adventurous life, Lord Camelford ran away from school to join the Navy at the age of fourteen, was shipwrecked, flogged, and court-martialled. He travelled secretly to France planning to assassinate Napoleon and was finally killed in a duel at the age of twenty nine.”

But there were earlier branches of the family which established themselves via Thomas Pitt on the Isle of Wight and via Christopher Pitt in Bermuda.

Other west country Pitts have been:

  • Henry Pitt, a wool merchant from Bushbury Hill in Staffordshire who built the Moseley Old Hall (with its hiding places for Catholics) in the 1580’s
  • John Pitt, a Dorset merchant and alderman of Melcombe Regis in the early 1600’s
  • Laurence Pitts, born in 1660, the forebear of the Pitts of Stokenham in south Devon
  • John Pitt, a clockmaker in Tetbury, Gloucestershire in the early 1800’s. He was born in Brokenborough in 1776.
  • and Joseph Pitt, a developer from Cheltenham who built the Pittville estate there in the 1820’s. The Pump Room and the gardens are his main legacies.

Bermuda. Christopher Pitt came to Bermuda in the 1650’s and the Pitts have remained on the island since that time. Pitt’s Bay near Hamilton is named after them and the Pitts have been supplying Bermuda residents with tobacco for the past five generations. A branch of the family under William Pitt moved to Charleston, South Carolina in the 1780’s.


America. William Pitt was onboard the second ship (after the Mayflower) to arrive at the Plymouth colony, the Fortune one year later in 1621. He was an armorer by trade. However, there is no record of him after 1627. He had either died or departed by that time.

One Pitt who stayed was Richard Pitt, convicted of coining in England and transported to the American colonies for life in 1774. He was stationed in Rockland county, New York during the Revolutionary War. His descendants are to be found in the Ramapo mountains. William Pitt, meanwhile, was a British deserter of the War of 1812. He married and settled down to farm in Canton, New York.

Pitts in the South. The surname Pitt is outnumbered approximately six to one by Pitts in America. Pitts has been particularly strong in the South, notably in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Texas. Sometimes the name changed from Pitt to Pitts.  For instance, the son of Philip Pitt of Dorchester county, Maryland who died in 1698 was the sea captain John Pitts.

William Pitts came to North Carolina in the early 1700’s. A descendant Captain John Pitts was a soldier in the Revolutionary War who was then murdered by Tories along the Ogachee river. His son Hardy Pitts migrated to Georgia.

A later Hardy Pitts, born there in 1821, was married three times and was the father or adopted father of 26 children. His son William was married four times but had fewer children. He moved his plantation to Texas in 1854.  The town that grew up around the plantation came to be known at Pittsburg.

Other 19th century Pitts in the South were:

  • Hiram Pitts who departed South Carolina for Pontotoc county, Mississippi in 1823
  • and Philip Pitts who left Virginia to grow cotton in Alabama in 1835 (his son Philip became a prominent Selma lawyer).

William Irby Hudson Pitts was born in Waverly Hall, Georgia in 1862. He turned his father’s small general store there, along with an astute early investment in Coca Cola stock, into a multi-million dollar fortune.

South Africa.  Robert Pitt, a shoemaker from London, and his wife Lucy and son Robert were among the original 1820 British settlers to the Cape colony, part of Sephton’s party on the Aurora. George Pitt was a plasterer who came to Port Elizabeth as a single young man in 1856. He soon found a wife and they settled in Grahamstown, Cape colony. Descendants of this family today are numerous.


Australia.
 Richard Pitt was one of the first free settlers in Tasmania. He had come out from Tiverton in Devon on the Ocean in 1803. He farmed and later became chief constable of Hobart Town. His tombstone in St. David’s burial ground was among those preserved to mark the jubilee of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1951.

William Pitt and his wife Jane arrived in Melbourne in 1855 and ran various hotels and cafes in town, including the Cafe de Paris at the Theatre Royal which William decorated with his own paintings. Their son William, known as Billie, grew up to be a well-known Australian architect.

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Pitt Surname Miscellany

Pitt as an Occupational Name.  Pitt is normally considered as a locational surname, i.e. a name coming from where a person lived (by a pit or hollow).  But one writer, J.R. Dolan, has suggested an alternative occupational origin.  In his English Ancestral Names, he states:

“There are fourteen names beginning with ‘saer’ and all come from the action of sawing wood.  A tree would be cut down.  If one wanted to make boards out of it, a ditch would be dug five to six feet deep and the log to be sawed would be placed across the ‘pit. ‘The ‘sawyer’ would stand on top of the log, holding one end of the long saw.  His assistant would be down in the ‘pit’ holding the other end.  He of course would be called ‘pittman,’ or ‘pitt,’ or ‘pitts.’  The name can also be found with ‘carpenter.'”

Pitt and Pitts Names.  Both the Pitt and Pitts surnames come from the same pytt root.  Today Pitt is more common in England, Pitts in America.  The table below shows the current approximate numbers.

Numbers (000’s) Pitt Pitts
UK    12     5
America     2    12
Canada     3     2
Australia     4     2
Total    21    21

Thomas Pitt, His Diamond and His Character.  Thomas Pitt was one of the first Englishmen to return from India with a fortune in his pocket.  He had sold his extraordinary diamond to
the Regent of France for the unheard-of sum of £135,000.  He became at once a nabob, one who, while not springing from a family of any political importance, died in 1726 as one of the richest men in England.

Forty years earlier, he had been an ambitious British merchant in India whose activities had brought him into conflict with the British East India Company.  They got him arrested and fined for engaging in trade without their permission.   Pitt then embarked on another trading venture and the Company, unable to check his activities, took him into its service.

He had always been a hard man in business.  He gave his son, on going up to Oxford, some characteristic advice:

“Let it ever be a rule never to lend any money but where you have unquestionable security.  For generally by asking for it you lose your friend and that too.”

And he was also a quarrelsome and parsimonious individual who was fundamentally estranged from his family.  The quarrels in the Thomas Pitt household were almost continuous.  In particular, he pursued his cousin John Pitt with the utmost rancor until his death in 1703, denouncing him time and again as crack-brained and inexperienced.

Douglas Pitt and the British Prime Minister.  The Pitts of the Torres Straits of Australia are apparently related to William Pitt the Younger, the Prime Minister of England from 1783 to 1804.  It all happened during the time of the slave trade when a Pitt had children with one of his slaves in Kingston, Jamaica.  From this union came Douglas Pitt, the great great grandfather of the present generation of Pitts.

A later Douglas Pitt had to leave Jamaica and he made his way via the French colony of New Caledonia to the islands off Queensland in Australia in 1870.  He was known there as “the black pirate.”  It was with Pitt and his sons that the early generations of colonized Islanders cut their teeth in the watery deeps and on the canefields of Queensland.  A Pitt family member recalled:

“He was said to wear a flowing beard.  He did wear two revolvers.  He was six foor four, maybe six foot six. Did you ever hear Paul Robeson?  He had that kind of voice and he sang more when he got blind.

The reason he left Jamaica was that he shot his sister’s fiance.  He settled in New Caledonia where he married Chopa, the daughter of Chief Kalimo from Lifu.  Then he had to leave because he fought in a duel and killed the man.

His island was Halfway Island.  He took his workers there and he bred his own workers.  He got wives for his men because he had to.  He only married strong women to his men and there was no fooling around with another’s wife on his island because he ruled them with his revolver.”

Pitt’s descendants are to be found today on Erub Island.

Richard Pitt, a Free Settler in Tasmania.  Richard Pitt was born in Tiverton in Devon in 1765.  He married Jane Tanner, also of Tiverton, and they had four children.  In 1803 Pitt boarded the Ocean in Portsmouth which was carrying both free settlers (as he was) and convicts to Australia.  He set off with one daughter, Salome, and two of his sons, Philip and Francis, while Pitt’s wife and eldest son stayed in England.

The Ocean left Portsmouth for Rio de Janeiro and then sailed through the southern Atlantic and into the Indian Ocean.  She experienced frightening weather conditions.  A passenger recalled:

“For many days we could not sit at table but were obliged to hold fast by boxes and on the floor. All our crockery was almost broken to pieces, besides many seas into the cabin and living in a state of darkness from the cabin windows being stopped up by the headlights.  I was never so melancholy in my life before.”

The Ocean first made ground at Port Philip Bay where a number of convicts escaped.  The vessel then sailed onto Van Dieman’s Land where Pitt and his three children disembarked.

Pitt was granted 100 acres of land at Stainsforth’s Cove (New Town).  He grew wheat and barley, built up herds of sheep and pigs, and by 1809 he and his children were no longer relying on the government for support.  He leased grazing land at the Green Ponds (Kempton) district where his children also located grants.

Pitt retained his farming interests, but gave increasing attention to official duties as district constable at New Town.  In 1818 he was appointed chief constable for Hobart Town.  Pitt seized the opportunity of his new standing to ask for a free passage to the colony for his wife.  Governor Macquarie sent the request to London, but Mrs. Pitt declined the opportunity.

Richard Pitt remained chief constable until his death at Hobart in 1826.

Pitts, Georgia.  The community in Georgia which later became Pitts began as a settlement in the area of the home of L.C. Peebles two miles east of the Alapaha River.  Brock Owens and Ashley J. Pitts operated the first store there in the mid 1880’s.  The town was called Kings’ Crossing at the time.

When application was made for a post office, the Postmaster General preferred a shorter name.  J.A. King suggested the name Pitts, in honor of his son-in-law, Ashley J. Pitts. The name was accepted, and the post office was established in 1888 with Ashley J. Pitts as postmaster.

The Pitts Family Cemetery in Pittsburg, Texas.  The Pitts family cemetery in Pittsburg was established by William Harrison Pitts, founder of Pittsburg. According to family history, the earliest burial on this site was that of Sarah Richardson Harvey Pitts, the third wife of W.H. Pitts and mother of their daughter Ella, in 1862.  Confederate Corporal Joseph H. Pitts was buried here in 1863.  Others interred include W.H. Pitts’ mother, Drucilla Neal Pitts, and five of his eight siblings.

These members of the large Pitts family left their Georgia plantations and reestablished their households here on the Texas frontier in the mid 19th century.  They shaped early Camp county and saw Pittsburg grow into a thriving village.  The cemetery remains a chronicle of early Camp county history and culture.

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Pitt Names
  • William Pitt the Elder was the British Prime Minister who led the country to victory over France in the Seven Years’ War from 1756 to 1763. He was known as the Great Commoner because of his long-standing refusal to accept a title. The city of Pittsburgh is named after him.
  • William Pitt the Younger was at twenty four Britain’s youngest Prime Minister. He held office from 1783 to 1801 and again from 1804 until his death in 1806.
  • David Pitt came to Britain from the Caribbean island of Grenada in 1933. He became a British civil rights campaigner and Labor politician and was ennobled as Baron Pitt of Hampstead.
  • Brad Pitt, brought up in Missouri, is one of the most popular actors around today.

Pitt Numbers Today
  • 17,000 in the UK (most numerous in Gloucestershire)
  • 17,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 11,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia).

 

Pitt and Like Surnames

From our surname selection here, these are the names of those who have risen in British politics to become Prime Minister from the time the office was first established in the 1730’s (although missing here are noteworthies such as Palmerston, Gladstone, Disraeli, Attlee, and Thatcher).

BaldwinChurchillMayPitt
BlairJohnsonNorthWalpole
ChamberlainMacmillanPeelWilson

 

 

 

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