Pugh Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Pugh Surname Meaning

Pugh is Welsh and derived from the Welsh patronymic ap Hugh (son of Hugh), Hugh being a male personal name that had been introduced by the Normans. As Welsh patronymics faded in the 17th century, ap Hugh contracted to Puw and Pugh of an English-style surname.

Pugh Surname Resources on The Internet

Pugh and Pew Surname Ancestry

  • from North Wales, Western England and Ireland
  • to America, Canada, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand

Wales. The Welsh patronymic ap Hugh often led to the Hughes surname. For instance William ap Hugh in Anglesey left legacies in his will of 1665 to his son Hugh and Henry Hughes. But the resulting surname in north Wales and in Welsh counties bordering England, could also be Puw or Pugh.

North Wales.  The Puw family was a Catholic recusant family at Penrhyn Hall of Creuddyn in Caernarfonshire dating from the 1500’s and probably earlier. Robert Puw, born in the mid-1500’s, was the son of Huw ap Reinallt ap Ieuan of Penrhyn Creuddyn.

“When the Earl of Pembroke began his onslaught on the Welsh Roman Catholics in 1586, Robert Puw and his family were in hiding in the Rhiwledyn cave in the Little Orme headland for three quarters of a year. There they operated a printing press and were engaged in printing the Roman Catholic tract Y Drych Cristianogawl.”  

After years of wandering Robert Puw was thrown into prison, but was allowed to return to his home at Creuddyn in 1607. His son Philip was also Catholic, as were his many grandsons. Fearing renewed persecution Gruffydd departed for Ireland, Herbert to France and Ifan to Spain. Gwilym fought on the Royalist side in the Civil War, afterwards joined the Benedictine Order in France, and later settled in Monmouthshire.

Another line began with Evan Pugh, born near Aberystwyth in 1678 and the builder of the Devils Bridge over the Rheidol Gorge. His line extended to Humphrey Pugh of Penygraig at Llanbadarn Fawr and his grandson Lewis Pugh who made a fortune after he had purchased the nearby Copa Hill copper mine in 1834. Granny Pugh’s Journal, produced by Christopher Evans in 2003, was the journal kept by Lewis’s wife Veronica.

Mid Wales.  The Pugh family at Mathafarn in Montgomeryshire dated back to the 15th century and perhaps earlier. Rowland Pugh was a Royalist at the time of the Civil War and had his home burned down. The male line here died out in 1752. One branch of the family adopted the Pughe spelling. Richard Pughe was an apothecary at Machynlleth in the 1780’s.

The Pughs at Llanerchyol Hall near Welshpool were unrelated. Charles Pugh built the house in 1776 and it remained in the family until 1912. His son David was a wealthy tea trader.

Later Pughs.  Welsh Pughs in the 1881 census were spread between North and Mid Wales, with a number also in South Wales as the Welsh population shifted southward. Pugh concentrations were to be found at Dolgellau in Merionethshire and Bedwellty in Monmouthshire.

England. The Pugh name extended across the border into England. The largest numbers in the 1881 census were in Shropshire. One early line there began with the birth of John Pugh in Shrewsbury in 1616. Walter Pugh was born at Bishop’s Castle on the Welsh border in 1767; while Thomas Pugh was born at Stottesdon near Cleobury Mortimer around 1790.

Other Pughs living in western England at this time were:

  • Edward Pugh from Radnorshire who married and settled down in Birley, Herefordshire in the 1740’s
  • Joseph Pugh, born around 1774, who married Esther Wilding in Wolverhampton in 1803
  • and John Pugh, born around 1785, who married Sarah Munslow in Worcester in 1809.

Ireland. Pughs were in county Mayo, at Straheen and Lissadrone, possibly by the late 1600’s. According to family lore they were Huguenots from France, originally DuPuy, who adopted the Pugh spelling. Arthur Pugh of Lissadrone died in 1845, aged 57, without male heirs. However, other Pughs of this family were to be found in Mayo and Sligo.  

America.  Pughs came first to Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Pennsylvania.  The early Pughs in Pennsylvania, from Merionethshire in Wales, arrived in the 1680’s and 1690’s. The most prominent of these arrivals was Ellis Pugh, a Quaker minister who came in 1688 with strong recommendations from Friends back in Wales:

“He is a man whom we dearly love and esteem and is greatly beloved by all honest, good, rational people in his neighborhood. Though young in years he is yet grown in the truth so far that we have been wonderfully refreshed by his sweet declarations in our British tongue.”

The Pugh line via his son James migrated to North Carolina in the 1750’s and then in the 1810’s to Fleming county, Kentucky where they were early settlers.  Ellis’s life and ancestry were recorded in George Griffiths’ 1975 book Ellis Pugh, Quaker in Wales and Pennsylvania.

James and Joan Pugh, Quakers from Monmouthshire, arrived in Chester county around 1692.  They raised seven children there, three of whom were later disowned for marrying non-Quakers or for having a child born out of wedlock.  One line from their youngest son Thomas went via North Carolina to Georgia and then to Alabama where Elijah Pugh and his family made their home at Grove Hill in Clarke county.

“According to family tradition, Elijah Pugh and family came to what is now Clarke county, Alabama in 1812. Elijah’s son, Isaac, who had lived there for a year, returned to Georgia and brought his parents, brothers and sisters there back with him.”

There was a family tradition that sometime in the 1750’s Lieutenant Jonathan, son of Evan Pugh of the Welsh settlement in Pennsylvania, helped to build the first Episcopal church in Capon Valley (now part of Hampshire county in West Virginia). There were seven male Pughs recorded at Capon in the 1790 census. The story of this settlement was recounted in Maud Pugh’s two-volume book Capon Valley: Its Pioneers and Descendants published in 1948.

John Pugh from Capon Valley was said to have departed for North Carolina around 1760 to escape the Indian wars which were devastating the area. It is thought that the Pughs of Burke county, Georgia were descended from him.  Some Pughs from Burke county migrated to Ohio in the early 1800’s.

James L. Pugh, born in Burke county in 1820, moved to Barbour county in Alabama when he was a little boy, but lost both his parents there by the time he was ten. Nevertheless he survived the Civil War and rose to become the US Senator for Alabama from 1880 to 1897. His son James, who died in 1938, was a Pennsylvania court judge.

Virginia. Francis Pugh was said to have grown up in Glendower Hall in Caernarfonshire and to have come with two brothers, Thomas and Daniel, to Virginia in 1666. His son Francis married Pheribee Savage and moved to North Carolina – first to Chowan district and then to Bertie county – before his death in 1733.

In 1818 three Pugh brothers – William, Alexander and Thomas – left Bertie county for Louisiana where they started sugar plantations. The Madewood plantation house, now a National Historic Landmark, was the manor house for the group of plantations owned by the family in the 1830’s and 1840’s. At the onset of the Civil War they owned 18 plantations and 1,500 slaves in the vicinity of Napoleonville.

“The Pughs were considered leaders of their group in the whole state. They were millionaires for their day, a lot of them. They were into sugar farming. They had sugar houses and that’s the way they made their money. There was not too much debate about slavery until perhaps just before the Civil War, because it was just an accepted fact.”

Joseph Pugh, born in Bedord county in 1763, fought in the Revolutionary War and afterwards came with his wife Elizabeth to Kentucky, first to Fayette county and then to Bourbon county.  His log cabin in Bourbon county, built around 1792, still stands.

And Pew?  The Pew name was not that common in either England or Wales. It might have been a corruption of the Pugh name in America.  It could also have come from the French Huguenot DuPuy name. 

Francois Dupuy had arrived in New York sometime around 1660 and his son Francis Pew was born in New Jersey.  John Pew of this line married Susanna Whitlock in Monmouth county around the year 1700; while William Pew lived in Roxbury township in the mid-1700’s. His son Dan was a spy in Washington’s army during the Revolutionary War.

Another early citing of the name was Henry Pew who married Jane Milner in Henrico county, Virginia in 1660.  There were Pews also in Pennsylvania. 

“On the first day of May 1797, John Pew with his wife and four children arrived on the ground where Mercer now stands and built his log cabin near the present McDonald Spring. They came from Washington county, Pennsylvania.” 

These Pews of Mercer county were the forebears of Joseph Newton Pew, the man who struck it rich in the 1880’s oil boom and founded the Sun Oil Company

Canada.  Thomas Pugh from Wales arrived in Nova Scotia sometime in the 1840’s and settled to farm at Westport on Brier Island at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy. Pughs have remained there. 

Among the early settlers in Pickering near Toronto were Hugh and Elizabeth Pugh from Radnor who arrived in 1842. Pughs are still living in the Claremont community there. Thomas Pugh from Llanbadarn Fawr near Radnorshire came in the 1850’s. 

Argentina.  Hugh Pugh, a carpenter from Dolgellau, departed with his family for the Welsh colony in Patagonia in 1881. He ran a hotel in Gaiman. 

Australia. Edward Pugh, born in Shropshire, was a First Fleeter, a convict transported to Australia on the Friendship in 1788. He died a pauper in 1837. Thomas Pugh, also from Shropshire, arrived with his family as assisted immigrants on the Corona in 1877. They settled in Glen Innes, NSW where Thomas died in 1927 at the age of 86.

New Zealand.  William Pugh, another from Shropshire, came to New Zealand in the 1850’s, later detouring to the Victorian goldfields before returning to Picton on South Island where he and his sons were engaged in the building trade.

Pugh Surname Miscellany

The Pugh Family at Mathafarn in Montgomeryshire.  The Pugh family was traced by the bards back to Einion ap Sesyll, lord of Merioneth who held Mathafarn in the 12th century.  Its first prominent member was probably Dafydd Llwyd ap Llywelyn, a poet who flourished about 1480 and wrote some verse commemorating Henry Tudor who became Henry VII. He apparently possessed an extensive estate on both sides of the river Dyfi above Machynlleth.

John ap Hugh served as the county magistrate between 1553 and 1566. His son Rowland Pugh was the MP for Montgomery in the late 1500’s.  A later Rowland Pugh was Royalist during the Civil War.  Parliamentary forces burned down his home in 1644.  When the male line became extinct in 1752, the Mathafarn estate was sold.  However, it was bought back by a descendant, Edward Hughes, in 1918.

Evan Pugh and the Devils Bridge.  According to legend, the original bridge at the Rheidol Gorge was built after an old woman lost her cow and saw it grazing on the other side of the river. The Devil appeared and agreed to build a bridge in return for the soul of the first living thing to cross it.  When the bridge was finished, the old woman threw a crust of bread over the river, which her dog crossed the bridge to retrieve, thus becoming the first living thing to cross it.

The bridge is at a point where the Mynach river drops ninety meters in five steps down a steep and narrow ravine before it meets the Rheidol river. The set of stone steps leading down to the lowest bridge at the waterfall is known as Jacob’s Ladder.

There are three bridges there today. The first – the Devils Bridge – was built possibly in the 12th century.  The second was built in the 18th century by Evan Pugh.  It was set at a slight angle to the earlier bridge and consists of a flat segmented masonry arch, spanning 10 meters between wide rectilinear abutment walls that splay out from parapet to base. The abutments were taken down to bedrock by excavating behind the approaches of the original bridge.

The Songs of Hugh Pugh.  One of the best known children’s rhymes in Wales has been Fflat Huw Puw or The Songs of Hugh Pugh.  Did such a person ever exist, or was he a figment of the imagination?

The truth is that there was such a person and he was larger than life.  His family hailed from the Dolgellau area, but Hugh Pugh himself was born in Liverpool.  At one time in his career he became master of the small flat Ann. Flats were shallow boats that were used to sail up rivers and along the coast.  For the most part she traded between Caernarfon and Liverpool.  Coal, wood and slate were her main cargoes.

In 1858 the Ann was wrecked off Barmouth.  The North Wales Chronicle reported: “The Flat Ann Pugh ran ashore during the gale on October 18 at St. Tudwells Islands and went to pieces.”

Pugh managed to survive and retired to Caernarfon.

Welsh Pughs in the 1881 Census

County 000’s
North Wales
Merionethshire    0.7
Denbighshire    0.3
Elsewhere    0.2
SubTotal    1.1
Mid Wales
Montgomeryshire    0.8
Monmouthshire    0.4
Brecknockshire    0.4
Radnorshire    0.3
Elsewhere    0.3
SubTotal    2.1
South Wales
Glamorgan    0.6
Elsewhere    0.2
SubTotal    0.8
Total    4.0

The Early Pughs in Pennsylvania.  These Pughs came from Merionethshire in Wales and can be divided into two groups.

First there were the Quakers from Dolgellau. Foremost here was Ellis Pugh, a Quaker minister who arrived with his wife Sinah in 1687.  He settled in Radnor township in Chester county.  William Pugh, a yeoman farmer, came a year later.

Then there were Church of England Pughs originating from the Bala area:

  • Robert Pugh came to Gwynnedd in 1698. His son Evan later migrated to Virginia and was the forebear of the Capon Valley Pughs.
  • William Pugh came to Radnor township sometime before 1700; while David Pugh arrived there a year or so later.

Another group headed by Lewis Pugh made for the Lancaster and Richmond counties in Virginia in 1695.  Lewis married Ann in 1704.  Their seven children were all born in Richmond county.  In 1731 Lewis and his eldest son John traveled back to Wales to collect an inheritance due to Lewis.  John left a family in Virginia.  A number of years later, word was sent to Ann that Lewis had died in Wales.

David Pugh of Grayson County, Virginia and His Mistress.  David Pugh and his wife Sarah had been living at their homestead on Wilson Creek in Grayson county, Virginia from 1792.  They were the parents of eight children by 1801.  Five years later David had fathered a child with his mistress Nancy Minton in Ashe county, North Carolina.  In fact he had probably fathered more than one child with her and she was actually living in a cabin on the Pugh property.

Sarah did not take this situation lightly.  She got a local landowner to put pressure on David to take his mistress and illegitimate children and leave the county.  David and Sarah then separated, although they apparently never divorced.  His last act before his departure in 1806 was to settle his affairs as follows:

“Whereas David Pugh is about to travel to remote parts and has adjudged it expedient to dispose of his estate before he sets out, therefore in consideration of love and affection for his children, he grants to them and to Gaines, as trustee for his wife, all his estate, real and personal except for a negro man, his riding horse, a saddle, gun and wearing apparel which he reserves to his own use.”

David left Grayson county and moved to Claiborne county, Tennessee with Nancy Minton and their children. He did return.  On his death in 1822 he was reported to have been buried with his wife Sarah in the Mitchell Pugh cemetery at Volney in Grayson county.  His mistress Nancy continued to live in Claiborne county, recorded as Nancy Pugh in 1830 and Nancy Minton in 1840.

Thomas Pugh and the Madewood Sugar Plantation.  Thomas Pugh’s Madewood plantation was among Louisiana’s premier sugar plantations.  One report showed 251 enslaved black people at Madewood in 1852, including many old people and children.  For much of the year slaves worked a six-day week.  But during the sugar grinding season in late fall, slaves operated the sugar mill every day, 24 hours a day.

The success of the plantation allowed Pugh to build the Madewood home, a sprawling 23-room structure with massive front columns evoking a Greek temple.  Completed in 1848, the building is cited as an architectural gem and today draws a stream of visitors.

His half-brother William remarked in his 1881 book Reminiscences of an Ole Fogy:

“Thomas Pugh was one of the few men I ever knew who strictly carried out the old axiom that whatever you do should be well done.  Madewood, on which every tree was planted under his supervision, in all of its fixtures and appointments gives the strongest evidence in behalf of this truth.

This rule was carried out in the most trifling details – the care of his stock, fences, buildings, levee and roads.

When he commenced sugar planting, about the year 1828, his force of workers was small.  He had been making cotton and barely realized money enough from his crops to make a small annual payment to Pierre Aubert from whom he had purchased his plantation.  His worker choice were negro men who could be bought in New Orleans on a year’s credit for six hundred dollars each.”

William said that Thomas was kind to his slaves.  However, one former slave recalled in her old age that Thomas and his son Richard were mean men and they used to whip the unruly slaves.

Reader Feedback – Pughs from Alabama.  I would like to know more about my Pugh lineage.  I understand is that my grandmother was married to George Pugh in some part of South Carolina but was sold into slavery.  She never had any children for George but all of her children was from a slave master.  It was said that his last name was Stetson and that he was Irish.

I want to find out what is the validity of the story.  My father was named Hillery his father’s name was Hillery and his father was named John Pugh, all from Alabama.  John had a uncle name Ike Pugh also from Alabama.

Charles Pugh (apostlecpugh@gmail.com).

The Death of James Pugh in Kentucky.   The Public Ledger of Maysville, Kentucky had the following account in June 1908:

“James Pugh, an aged farmer and one of the pioneers of Fleming county, was found hanging head downward from a wire fence in which his feet had become enmeshed when he attempted to climb it.

Although Pugh was a wealthy and influential farmer in former days, poverty had overtaken him in his old age and he with his family lived in straightened circumstances in the mountains.

The old man had left his humble mountain home to spend the day and night with his daughter.  Failing to arrive, an investigation was made and parties dispatched to search the mountains for him.  He was semi-conscious when found but died half an hour later.”

Pugh Names

  • Gwilym Puw, sometimes anglicized as William Pugh, was a Welsh poet from a Catholic family and a Royalist officer during the English Civil War. 
  • Ellis Pugh, the Quaker minister who emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1688, had published the first Welsh book printed in America in 1721. 
  • James Pugh served as the US Senator for Alabama from 1880 to 1897. 
  • Virginia Pugh, better known as Tammy Wynette, was considered the first lady of country music during the height of her fame in the 1970’s.

Pugh Numbers Today 

  • 23,000 in the UK (most numerous in Glamorgan)
  • 15,000 in America (most numerous in Pennsylvania)
  • 7,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Pugh 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.


Written by Colin Shelley

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