Powell Surname Genealogy

Powell name can be either Welsh or English in origin.
Welsh Origin.
Welsh patronymical 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 Origin.  Powell 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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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
Pennsylania 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

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:

Select Powell Names

Vavasor Powell was a fiery Puritan
preacher from Wales who was imprisoned by both Cromwell and by the
William Dummer Powell was
Justice of Upper Canada (Ontario) from 1816 to 1825.
Robert Baden Powell was the
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 Powells 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)



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