Powell Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Powell Meaning
The Powell name can be either Welsh or English in origin.
Welsh OriginThe
Welsh patronymic form of “Hywel” was rendered as as Howell or Hywel,
a male personal name popular since the Middle Ages in honor of Howel
Dda (Howel the good), the
great 10th century law-giving Welsh king.In time the two
elements contracted to produce the name “Powell.” This was first
recorded in its modern form as Roger ap Howell, alias Powell, named in
a lawsuit in 1563. He was the grandson of Howell ap John. Powell
has become more numerous as a surname than either Howell or
English OriginPowell also has separate English origins. The most significant non-Welsh derivation was from the personal name Paul.  Paul was spelt “Powel” in Langland’s poem Piers Plowman in 1367.  The pronunciation here could be “Pole.” The scouter Robert Baden Powell said it this way: “For Baden let it be maiden, for Powell let it be pole.” This “sound of Pole” was picked up by the novelist Anthony Powell and by the diplomat Charles Powell, even though both had Welsh blood in their veins.
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Select Powell Ancestry 

Wales.  Powell first appeared as “ap Howell” or ap “Hywel” and later in the 16th century as Powell. Thus Griffith Powell, the principal of Jesus College in Oxford, was described as “the third son of John ap Hywel ap John.”

South Wales. The
Powell name was mostly to be found in south Wales, in Brecon and

  • the
    Powells of Castle Madog in Brecon date from an
    early time; while
    Powells in Penkelly can be traced to the 1620’s.
  • and a
    family in Glamorgan followed its history back to the parish of
    Llanwit-juxta-Neath in the Neath valley in the early 1700’s.
    farmers, they settled in Baglan and Margam and later in Pyle. A
    of them emigrated to Australia in the 1860’s.

The name also crops up in Carmarthen, a Powell family there being
squires of the Maesgwynne estate. Another Powell family of
established themselves in the 1650’s further north at Nanteos in
A third Powell line has been traced
to Horsley
in Denbighshire.

Welsh Borders. The
English counties bordering on Wales – Shropshire, Herefordshire, and
Gloucestershire – also had many Powells. Thomas Powell from
Montgomery resided at Bank House near Shrewsbury in the 1670’s.
Further south, Styles Powell was an early
breeder of Hereford cattle. And a Powell family dating back to
the 1780’s were stonemasons at Brilley in Herefordshire.

and the
Black Country attracted Powell immigrants as well.
The English politician Enoch Powell, born in Birmingham, had Welsh
heritage. The
Powell family which includes the brothers Charles and
Jonathan Powell
has descent from a Welsh hill farmer.

. The Powell name first surfaced in England in East

East Anglia. The
earliest recording was a Radulphus Powel, a landowner at Carleton in
Suffolk around 1200. The name had become fairly common in that
county by the end of the 15th century. Some were called Powell,
others Powle (such as the landowners at Great Waldingfield).

Clement Powell, born in Mildenhall in 1576, settled in Saffron Walden
in Essex. A later Powell family migrated the other way, from
Wivenhoe in Essex to Great Yarmouth in the 1820’s. They ran local
pubs and hotels there for the next hundred years.

David Powell moved from Hawstead in Suffolk to London in 1712, was
apprenticed to a Mr. Baden, and became a successful merchant in the
City of London. From this Powell came the noted Baden Powell
family, including Robert Baden Powell the founder of the boy scout movement.

Ireland.  There were Irish Powells as well, mainly of Welsh origin. The Powells at Templederry in north Tipperary date from a Robert Powell who was granted land there by Cromwell in 1650. Many of his descendants were called Caleb. Powells were also found at Banlahan in Cork from 1683. They traced back to the Powell Penkelly family in Wales.

Powell in Ireland could also be an anglicization of the Gaelic Mac Giolla Phoil or Guilfoyle sept in Offaly. The name here meant “son of the servant of St. Paul.”

America.   The early Powell arrivals in America, whether they were from England or from Wales, came mainly into Virginia. Anthony Powell had been the military commander of Sir Walter Raleigh’s colonists who had landed at Roanake island in 1583.

Following him were Nathaniel and William Powell, two brothers who were prominent at Jamestown but were killed during an Indian raid.  Nathaniel had been governor of the colony in 1618. William was described as “a man of character and wealth, a gentleman of great name and fortune.”  is descendants became well-to-do plantation owners who, however, lost out during the Civil War. They now trace through nine generations.

A later arrival arrival into Maryland from Wales was Walter Powell. He too was well connected. His great grandson Leven was a neighbor of George Washington’s, fought in the Revolutionary War, and was an early developer of the Kentucky settlement.

Moving West or South.  A number of Powells moved on from Virginia, to North Carolina or west to Kentucky and Tennessee or south to Georgia and other states:

  • Wiley Powell for instance, who was born in Virginia in 1791,
    first to North Carolina and then to Alabama before settling in Rankin
    county, Mississippi.
  • Daniel
    who had fought in
    the Battle of New Orleans migrated from Kentucky to White county,
    Illinois in the 1820’s.
  • while a later family account by O.B. Powell
    narrated the story of the Powell journey from Arkansas to Squaw Creek
    in Hood county, Texas in the 1850’s.

Heading Further West.
Many Powells headed further West. The Rev. Joab Powell made it to
from Tennessee in 1851; as did the Christian church missionaries John
and Alfred Powell from
Ohio at about the same time.

William Powell is
commemorated at the Great Plains Welsh Heritage
Center in Wymore, Nebraska. He pioneered hundreds of immigrants
into South Dakota and the other Plains states in the 1860’s. He
his family settled in Milwaukee. Other Welsh Powells, starting in
Pennsylvania and spreading across the West, ended up in
Comanche county, Kansas.

Another Western pioneer, in this case from
the English/Welsh borders, was John Wesley Powell. He is famous
for the 1869 Powell geographic expedition, a three month trip down the
Green and Colorado rivers which included the first passage through the
Grand Canyon. Lake Powell on the Colorado river was named after

Canada. The first
settlers in Newfoundland were Welsh, led by Captain Daniel Powell in
1622. The Welsh character of the colony was then gradually
overwhelmed by the arrival of English settlers. There were
reports of Powells, once rock miners in Wales, who arrived a century or
so later.

The next Powells were Empire Loyalists who had come from America.
William Dummer Powell was the grandson of John Powell, a Boston
merchant. He arrived in 1779 and rose to become Chief Justice of
Upper Canada (Ontario) in 1816. The Powells at that time were one
of the elite families of the colony. Their country home was
called Caer Howell, reflecting the Welsh origins of the

Caribbean. The Powell
name was first attached to Barbados. John Powell made landfall on
this island in 1625 and claimed it for Britain. His brother Henry
arrived with eighty colonists two years later.

Powell has
also been a Jamaica name and, more recently, an Afro-Caribbean Jamaican
name. Luther
grew up in Top Hill, Jamaica, before
emigrating to New York in the 1920’s. His son Colin Powell rose
to become US Secretary of State under President Bush. He has a
mix of African, Scottish and Irish ancestry.

Another Jamaican immigrant
to the US is the author Patricia Powell. The Jamaican runner
Asafa Powell was for a short time the world 100 meter record

Australia. Edward Powell
had first come to Australia with the First Fleet as a guard looking
after convicts. He returned, in 1792, as one of the first settlers to
that country. His descendants were pioneers of the Hawkesbury
district in New South Wales.

James Powell was probably the first Powell settler in South
Australia. He was in fact a seaman who had jumped ship in 1837
and joined the early settlers of Coromandel valley. Other
settlers, such as William and Caroline Powell from London, arrived in
the 1850’s.


Select Powell Miscellany

Powell’s English Origins.  In 1895 an eminent authority on surnames stated that probably half
the number of families called Powell had any connection with
Wales.  This can be confirmed from the biographical dictionary in
which just six of the dozen entries under Powell are clearly shown to
be of Welsh extraction.

The most significant non-Welsh derivation is the personal name Paul,
from which came Powell as well as Poole, Pole, and Pawle.  The
records for London in 1279 name a certain John as both “Paul” and
Powel.”  Two places in Essex, Wickham St. Pauls and Belchamp St.
Pauls, used the form “Powel” in the 12th century.  And a Surrey
landowner whose name was John Paul used a seal in 1295 as “Johanis

The name can also have been derived from locations.  Families
with Cumberland associations might possibly owe their name to Powhill,
a small settlement west of Carlisle.  And the name could also
signify a proximity to a pool (which was once spent powl).  There are certainly
old records to support this derivation, such as Jordan de Powella
(Warwick in 1184), Ralph atte Powel (Huntingdon in 1288), and John de
Powel (Oxford in 1339).

The Powells of Nanteos.  Nant Eos means “spring or
brook of the nightingale.”   There has been a house on the
site in Cardiganshire near Aberystwyth for centuries.  The present
one was begun in 1739.  Parts of the house are much older than the
Georgian period, the cellars dating back to the 11th century.

The Powells had come to Nanteos by the time of the English Civil
War.  In the early days the estate covered some 30,000
acres.  Over the years some of the acreage was sold to pay off
debts (the Powells certainly enjoyed life to the full and lived up to
their position).

These Powells were descended from Philip ap Howell.  In the late
17th century Sir Thomas Powell had enjoyed a very successful legal
career, thereby ensuring the rise to local eminence of the Powell
family. They later profited from the operation of the nearby Llywernog
silver and lead mine.

Several stories of hauntings surround Nanteos Mansion, with the tales
often involving ghosts.  The most famous story of all is the
legend of the Holy Grail or Nanteos Cup.  Legend has it that the
grail was brought to Britain by Joseph of Arimethea who settled in a
Glastonbury monastery.  At the time of the dissolution of the
monasteries, the cup was said to have left Glastonbury and been passed
into the family who then owned Nanteos.

Through a series of misfortunes, Nanteos Mansion went out of Powell
hands in 1957 and, ten years later, was sold to a scrap dealer.
The house was in sad condition at that time.  Mrs. Edwina Powell
Colgate heard of the situation and after a hard struggle managed to
save the house and the Powell paintings and fixtures.

Early Powells in America

Thomas Powell born circa 1607 in England
died 1687 in Virginia (isle of
Nicholas Powell born circa 1630 in England
died 1670 in Virginia
Powell senior born 1635 in Virginia (Lancaster
died 1701 in Virginia (Essex co)
Thomas Powell born 1640 in Wales
died 1714 in Pennsylvania
Thomas Powell born 1641 in Wales
died 1721 in New York (Nassau)
Thomas Powell died 1658 in Virginia (Lancaster
Thomas Powell died 1701 in Virginia (Essex co)
John Powell born 1720 in Virginia (Old
Rappahannock co)
died 1780 in North Carolina
(Burke co)
Isaac Powell born 1720 in North Carolina
(Chowan co)
died 1762 in North Carolina
(Johnson co)
Charles Powell born 1721 in Virginia or North
died 1772 in North Carolina
(Bladen co)
Charles Powell died 1744 in Virginia (Stafford
Ambrose Powell born 1754 in North Carolina
(Burke co)
died 1827 in Tennessee (Maury co)
Willoughby Powell born circa 1754 in North Carolina
died 1830 in Kentucky (Henderson

John Powell and Anne Dummer.  John Powell was born in Shropshire around 1682, the son of Thomas
Powell of Bank House near Shrewsbury. Being the younger son, he sought
his fortune in the New World and came out from England as Secretary to
Lieutenant-Governor William Dummer of Massachusetts.

There he met Anne Dummer.  His grandson William Dummer Powell
the following about their marriage:

“An anecdote was handed down about the
town of Boston.  Soon after his arrival in Boston, John Powell
heard that this lady was a good match, but a proud Presbyterian who had
disdained many offers.  He laid a bet at his club that, if he
could effect an introduction to the family, then he would marry
her.  He effected his purpose by a compromise arrangement that all
of the children after the first son should be brought up in the
Independent Church.

My grandfather was an adventurer of the Cavalier stock, a man of gaiety
and pleasure.  From pure gaiete
de coeur
he married my grandmother Anne Dummer.  She was a
little woman of very dignified presence and manner and sober
conversation.  She survived her husband, whose habits were too
dissipated to secure him happiness.”

John Powell died in 1740, Anne in 1763.

Daniel Powell in Illinois.  According to Silas Wright Heard, the Powells came from
Virginia.  Other sources say the Powells came from South
Carolina.  Some sources say Daniel and his family moved from South
Carolina to Tennessee when Daniel was twelve.  They did live in
Kentucky before moving to Illinois.

Daniel ran for State Senator in Illinois on the Democratic ticket in
1840 and was defeated.  A
History of White County
recalled the following incident:

“All the candidates of both parties made
a canvas through the county and had a joint discussion.  At their
meeting at Phillipstown, while Major Powell was speaking, a very
zealous Whig thought he would send a prosser between the Major’s
eyes.  It was thus: ‘Well, old Powell, you want to step on another
butcher knife and cut your foot so you can draw a pension.’

Powell, as quick as powder, replied:
‘You are a dirty liar and I can whip you like a dog,’ and down he
stepped from the stand and at it they went.  Each of the men
weighed over 200 pounds and each was very fleshy.  Major Powell
rode the bald horse in that fight.”

In 1939 his granddaughter Florence Powell Caton wrote the following
about Daniel and his home in Duncanton:

“I believe it was one of the Bryant men
who told me the foundation of the old Powell home was of hickory.
It might have been oak, I wouldn’t want to go on record that it was
hickory.  At any rate it stands there imposing, homey and as
staunch as the people who built it were.

Two years ago when I visited it last they
told me that long ago, there were great granaries, a blacksmith shop, a
store, all kinds of stock, mules, stallions, bulls, rams – everything
to improve the farm.

Daniel had built a church with doors too
narrow for women with hoops to crowd in.  He did not permit his
women folk to wear those ‘contraptions,’ cousin Rebecca told me.
He built the school house and mostly paid the preachers who came now
and then, also the teachers.  They said he had a voice that would
reach from one end of the county to the other when he called his hogs
(of which he had hundreds fattening on the native nuts in the forests).

The Bryants told me during my last visit
that the house had eleven rooms.  I did not suspect it of being so
large, but I’ve no doubt it was always pretty well filled.  I have
an old portrait of grandfather hanging up here near my desk and a large
photo of his old home.”

Charles and Jonathan Powell.  There was something about the Powell family dynamic that drove all
four brothers to overachieve.  Their father, Air Vice Marshal John
Powell, was the son of a Welsh hill farmer who once campaigned for Keir
Hardie, the first leader of the Labor party.  John went to
Cambridge University on a choral scholarship.  There he met and
married Geraldine Moylan, a classical scholar from an aristocratic
family.  Their four sons – Charles, Chris, Roderick, and Jonathan
– all went to private schools.  They have been called “the most
powerful political family in Britain.”

The eldest Charles became one of Prime Minister Thatcher’s most
trusted foreign policy aides.  He was routinely depicted as an
“eminence grise,” gliding by her side as she met foreign dignitaries on
overseas visits.

He generally cut an establishment figure.  An odd feature
though has been that he has always pronounced his name “Pole,” while
his wife, the Italian-born party-loving Carla, and his brother both use

“Carla and I once got announced at a Guildhall banquet as Sir
Charles Pole and Lady Powell.  They obviously didn’t think we were
married,” he said.

Charles with typical condescension once expressed surprise at his
youngest brother’s claim to be a “lifelong supporter” of the Labor
party.  But Jonathan was always on the left, declaring himself a
Maoist at the age of fourteen.  After a series of short-term jobs,
he followed Charles into the Foreign Office.  His great break came
in 1991 when at 35 he became political secretary at the British Embassy
in Washington.  He progressed to becoming Prime Minister Blair’s
Chief of Staff.

Powell in America.  In his autobiography My American Journey, Colin Powell recalled his father, a Jamaican immigrant.

“I was born on April 5, 1937, at a time
when my family was living on Morningside Avenue in Harlem.

The dominant figure of my youth was a small man, 5 ft. 2 in. tall.  In my mind’s eye, I am leaning out the window of our apartment, and I spot
him coming down the street from the subway station.  He wears a coat and tie, and a small fedora is perched on his head.  He has a
newspaper tucked under his arm.  His overcoat is unbuttoned, and
it flaps at his sides as he approaches with a brisk, toes-out
stride.  He is whistling and stops to greet the druggist, the
baker, our building super, almost everybody he passes.  To some kids on the block he is a faintly comical figure.  Not to me.  This jaunty, confident little man is Luther Powell, my father.

He emigrated from Jamaica in his early
20s, 17 years before I was born.  He never discussed his life in
Jamaica, but I do know that he was the second of nine children born to
poor folk in Top Hill.  He literally came to America on a banana
boat, a United Fruit Co. steamer that docked in Philadelphia.  He
went to work for Ginsburg’s (later named the Gaines Co.), manufacturers
of women’s suits and coats at 500 Seventh Avenue in Manhattan’s garment
district.  He started out working in the stock room, moved up to
become a shipping clerk, and eventually became foreman of the shipping

Luther Powell never let his race or
station affect his sense of self.  West Indians like him had come
to this country with nothing.  Every morning they got on that
subway, worked like dogs all day, got home at 8 at night, supported
their families and educated their children.  If they could do
that, how dare anyone think they were less than anybody’s equal?
That was Pop’s attitude.”

Reader Feedback – Samuel Powell from Shropshire to India.  My mother’s maiden name was Gladys Powell.  She married Branson Edwards in India.  She was born
in India. Her father’s name was Samuel
Powell who came to India from Shropshire in the 1800’s and married
Indian woman – hence the Anglo-Indian connection.

worked as a jailer in India and had five
sons and three daughters.  He left the
family home when my mother was eight years old and married again.  He died in India.

Would be nice if there is anyone out
there who had connections with Samuel Powell who came to India.  My mother was born in 1904 and she was the
youngest in the family.  So I guess he
came to India around 1870 or thereabouts.  I
believe there are many Powells in Shropshire.  It
would be nice to see if I have relatives
still there who we can trace back.

Thanks, Brian Edwards (brianpated@hotmail.com)



Select Powell Names

  • Vavasor Powell was a fiery Puritan preacher from Wales who was imprisoned by both Cromwell and by the
    King’s party.
  • William Dummer Powell was Chief Justice of Upper Canada (Ontario) from 1816 to 1825.
  • Robert Baden Powell was the founder
    of the worldwide Scout movement.
  • Anthony Powell was a 20th century English novelist best known for his A Dance to the Music of Time
  • Adam Clayton Powell was a
    charismatic African American politician who represented Harlem from 1945 to 1971.
  • Enoch Powell was a controversial
    British Conservative politician who created a storm in 1968 with his
    anti-immigration “Rivers of Blood” speech.
  • Bud Powell was a bop jazz
    pianist of the 1940’s and 1950’s.
  • Colin Powell, born to Jamaican
    immigrant parents, was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the
    first Gulf War and later US Secretary of State.
  • Asafa Powell from Jamaica broke
    the world 100 meter running record in 2005.

Select Powell Numbers Today

  • 77,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in West Midlands)
  • 70,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 35,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


Select Powell and Like Surnames  

Hereditary surnames in Wales were a post-16th century development.   Prior to that time the prototype for the Welsh name was the patronymic, such as “Madog ap Jevan ap Jerwerth” (Madoc, son of Evan, son of Yorwerth).  The system worked well in what was still mainly an oral culture.

However, English rule decreed English-style surnames and the English patronymic “-s” for “son of” began first in the English border counties and then in Wales. Welsh “P” surnames came from the “ap” roots, such as Price from “ap Rhys.”

These are some of the present-day Welsh surnames that you can check out.



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