Pitt Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Pitt 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 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.
  • 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 in America. For instance, the son
of Phlilip 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 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.

 

Select 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.


Select 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).

 

Select 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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