Reed/Reid/Read Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Reed/Reid/Read Meaning
Reed has more than one spelling – Reed, Reid, Read, and Reade
more than one explanation.   One is descriptive, from the
Old Scots and Old English reid
“red” and describing someone with red hair or a ruddy
complexion.   The other is locational, from the Old English ried meaning a clearing and
describing someone who lived in a woodland clearing.  There are
also various place-names called Reed, Read or Rede with different

The Reid spelling is mainly Scottish.  Reid numbers are
also high in Northern Ireland and in Canada, reflecting
probable Scottish immigration there.  Read is the main spelling in

Reed/Reid/Read Resources on

Select Reed/Reid/Read Ancestry

England.  The Reed name, common in various parts of England,
is in particular a Northumberland name, probably derived from Redesdale.  Brianus de Rede was recorded as living in
Morpeth in 1139 and from him came descendants in Morpeth (Thomas Rede
recorded there in 1384) as well as possibly elsewhere in England

The Border Reeds
of Troughend in Redesdale were one of
the reiver families and date from the 1400’s and possibly
Parcy Reed, commemorated in song, was the last of these Reeds in the
late 1590’s
(although the name did continue in the area).
After his murder his ghost was said to haunt Redesdale.  Later, the following ballad appeared on a
Selkirkshire gravestone:

“Here lies Tam Reid, who was chokit to died, wi’
taking a feed, o’ butter and breed, wi’ ovremuckle speed, when he had
nae need,
but just for greed.”

The Read and Reade names, meanwhile, seem to
have been strongest in south and eastern England.

Berkshire were probably related to an earlier John
Rede, born in Buckinghamshire in 1331, and the Redes who held the
manor of
Boarstall there in the next century
Found in Berkshire from
1450’s, the Reades acquired Barton Court
at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries and held it until the
War when the manor was destroyed by Parliamentary forces.
They were later to be found at Brocket
Hall in Hertfordshire. 
Charles Reade the Victorian writer was a descendant of
these Reades and narrated the family history in his memoirs.

Reades, while less
numerous than Reads, were concentrated more in the county of Cheshire.  The Reades of Blackwood Hill in Horton parish
date from the 17th century.  From the
Reades of Baddiley came George Reade, the cotton and silk manufacturer
Congleton in the early 1800’s.

Reid is the main spelling in Scotland.

Some of the early Reids came from
Aberdeenshire.  “Red” was found as a surname there as early as
1317. Among these Reids have been:

  • a long-established Reid legal family in Aberdeen who bought
    castle in the early 1700’s.
  • the Rev. Lewis Reid who was the minister
    Strachan from 1704 to 1762.  His son Thomas Reid was a well-known
  • a Reid family which started with William Reid, born in
    in 1727.
  • and Sir
    , Queen Victoria’s physician, who was the son of a
    village doctor in Aberdeenshire

Reids who migrated to Ulster often became Reeds.

America.  Early Reads in New England were William Read from
Kent and Thomas Read from Hertfordshire, both of whom came with
Winthrop’s party in
1630.  Many of their descendants ended up
in Maine, those of William at Windham and those of Thomas at Freeport.  William Reade of the Reades of Brocket Hall
settled in Woburn, Massachusetts in 1635.

from Cornwall was a Parliamentary officer
during the Civil War who, after the Restoration of the King, decided to
England for America.  He settled first in
Rhode Island and later in Norwalk, Connecticut.
He died on his homestead there in 1730 at the grand old age of
97.  A descendant, Moses Read of Salisbury,
was a
Loyalist who took his family across the border into Ontario in 1784.

John Reid meanwhile departed Aberdeen for New
Jersey in 1683, prospered as a surveyor, and was an early settler in
Monmouth county.  His son John was a
tavern keeper there and his descendants have
lived at the Reid Homestead near
Englishtown since the Revolutionary War.
Tabitha Reid’s diary
of daily life in Monmouth county in
the years
after the Civil War has recently been discovered.  The
Reid sod farm can be found in
Freehold today.

Read family of Delaware was a prominent political family in the 18th
and 19th
century in Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  The first of
this line
was Colonel John Read from a
well-to-do Berkshire family who came to America in the 1720’s and was
one of
the founders of Charlestown, Maryland.  His son George was a
signer of the
Declaration of Independence and US Senator for Delaware.

Reed, however, is the
most common variant of the name in America. The Reed name was adopted
by some
Pennsylvanian German families in the 1700’s, most notably John Reed
(Johannes Ried),
a Hessian mercenary and British army deserter who in 1799 made the
first gold
discovery in America.  The Reed Gold Mine
is today an historic site in Cabamus county, North Carolina

Frederick Read

was a merchant who settled in Tasmania in 1818
and took an active role in the development of the young colony.  His son George was sent by his father to
Victoria where he became a sheep rancher.
His daughter Sarah married Lieutenant Smith of the Royal Navy in
and they also moved to Victoria.


Reed/Reid/Read Miscellany

Reed, Reid, and Read.  The incidence of these names has varied in the UK, America and elsewhere (the table below shows the approximate numbers today).

Numbers (000’s) UK America Elsewhere (1)
Reid   68   34   78
Reed   40   84   14
Read (2)   34    7   15

(1)  Ireland, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
(2)  Including Reade.

The Reid spelling is mainly Scottish.  Reid numbers are also high in Northern Ireland and in Canada, reflecting probable Scottish immigration there.

The Border Reeds.  Mark Lower in his 1860 Dictionary of the Family Names of the United Kingdom had the following to say about the Border Reeds:

“The Reeds of Cragg in Northumberland probably took their name from Redesdale, in which they have been immemorially located, or rather from the river which gives name to that dale.

On a mural monument in Elsdon church, erected in the year 1758 to the memory of Elrington Reed, the family is stated to have been resident in Redesdale for more than nine hundred years. This Sir Walter Scott calls an “incredible space” of time, and so it is – though the high antiquity of the family is unquestionable.”

The Reades of Barton Court.  The Reades in Berkshire date from the 15th century and they were prominent citizens of Abingdon in the following century.  Thomas Reade inherited Barton Court at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries and he rebuilt the manor house with stone from the tower of the demolished abbey, a Norman building whose ruins had spread over five acres.

The Reades were strong Royalists and Thomas Reade’s grandson, Sir Thomas, entertained Charles I and Henrietta Maria at Barton on several occasions. In 1644 the King and his pregnant Queen had a tearful parting at Barton before she took the road to Exeter and thence to France.  They were never to meet ever again.

During the Civil War, when Abingdon was occupied by Parliamentary troops, Barton still held for the King.  The house was finally burned down, despite the valiant efforts of Sir Thomas’s twenty-year-old grandson Compton Reade, probably in the course of an ambush in 1646.  Sir Thomas Reade died four years later and his wife moved to Brocket Hall.  Compton Reade was made a baronet after the Restoration.

The Thomas Reade name survives in Abingdon with the Thomas Reade Primary School.

Colonel John Read of Maryland and Delaware.  Colonel John Read, born in Dublin in 1687, was related to the Berkshire Reades at Barton Court.  As a young man he had fallen in love and was engaged to marry his cousin.  Unfortunately she died.  In his grief he departed Ireland and set off for America.  He settled in Cecil county, Maryland where he was a planter and slave owner.  He served in the Colonial legislature and was one of the founders of the city of Charleston at the head of Chesapeake Bay.

In later life he moved to New Castle county, Delaware where his son George, later a signer of the Declaration of Independence and US Senator for Delaware, grew up.

The World of Sarah Tabitha Reid.  Sarah Tabitha Reid, who was born in 1818 and died in 1888, lived in Monmouth county, New Jersey and was a wife, mother, farmer and homemaker there.   She is remembered because of a journal she kept from May 1869 to December 1872 which was left with a Midwest family who had befriended one of Sarah’s descendants.

Sarah and her husband William had four daughters and a son.  At the time of the journal the two youngest girls were still living on a farm near Freehold, rather than at the family farm.

Much of the work of running their farm fell to Sarah because her husband commuted to New York City by train to work as a bricklayer to supplement the family income.  William often returned home only one or two weekends a month for most of the year.  It appears he harvested the wheat, but Sarah took care of the potatoes and other vegetables and raised livestock in addition to running the household.  Like many Monmouth county housewives of that era, she also churned butter to sell to neighbors and local stores. Although Sarah could hire help for harvesting and running the house, her journal entries often say only that she was too tired to write that night.

Except for Sundays, her week was filled with work. ”I do not think I ever had such a hard time to get a big day’s work done,” she wrote at the end of a Saturday in June 1869.  ”I baked bread and custard pies and two kinds of cake and dinner to get and churning and the kitchen to clean and strawberry jelly to make besides a great many things too numerous to mention.”

Sir James Reid the Queen’s Physician.  The great turning-point of James Reid’s life occurred in 1881.  Queen Victoria required a resident medical attendant.  It was essential that he should be a Scotsman and preferably a native of her beloved Aberdeenshire.   On 8 June 8 he had an interview with the Queen at Balmoral and few days later, at the age of 31, this Scot of humble origin was catapulted into the position of the Queen’s physician.   James Reid had been born in the village of Ellon in Aberdeenshire, the elder son of the village doctor.

His position was unique in the Queen’s medical household as he was the first physician to remain constantly at the Queen’s beck and call and to travel with her wherever she went at home or abroad. For 20 years until her death he was a permanent member of the household.  His life with Queen Victoria was recorded minutely in his numerous diaries and scrapbooks.

He attended Queen Victoria’s death in 1901 and he also attended her son Edward VII’s death in 1910.  He remained a medical advisor to the Royal Family until his death in 1923.  His Scottishness never left him and to the end of his days he spoke with a distinct accent.

George Frederick Read.  Family legend has it that GF Read was the son of George IV, when Prince of Wales, and Mrs. Maria Fitzherbert.  However, no proof has ever been found and it does appear unlikely.   Before meeting Mrs. Fitzherbert, the Prince did have several mistresses.  It is credible that Sarah Read could have had a dalliance with him and then been left holding the baby.  George Frederick Read was born in Soho, London in 1788 of parents unknown.

He went to sea at the age of eleven and was probably engaged in the East India Company’s maritime service until 1808.  After that time he began to have his own ships and trade himself.  He is thought to have brought the first merchant vessel through Torres Strait and to have been active in the trade between India, China, and Australia.

In 1818 he settled in Tasmania and owned a three-storied stone tea warehouse on Salamanca Place in Hobart and other town properties.   He was the founder and Governor of the Bank of Tasmania (or, as it was then called, Van Diemen’s Land).   He died in 1852 in his two-storey stone house in New Town which still stands.


Reed/Reid/Read Names

  • Parcy Reed, commemorated in song, was the last of the Border Reeds in the late 1500’s.
  • Thomas Reid was an influential philosopher in the Scottish Enlightenment of the 18th century.
  • Charles Reade was the Victorian novelist who wrote The
    Cloister and the Hearth
  • Joseph Reid invented the Reid oil burner.
  • George Reid, born in Scotland, became Prime Minister of Australia in 1904.
  • Walter Reade was the founder of the Walter Reade Organization which owned and operated a chain of
    theaters in New York and Boston.
  • Carol Reed was an English film director.  His best-known work was probably The Third Man, released in 1949.

Select Reed/Reid/Read Numbers Today

  • 142,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in London)
  • 150,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 107,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

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