Rivers Surname Genealogy

The Rivers surname has French origins, from the French riviere meaning “river.” The
village of La Riviere in Normandy gave rise to a de la Riviere family
name which was brought to England at or after the time of the Norman
Conquest. The French name for river also
began to displace Old English river names such as ea
or broc

Rivers Resources on

  • Thomas Rivers
    Thomas Rivers, nurseryman at Sawbridgeworth.
  • Our Story
    Isaac Rivers, a slave in South Carolina who prospered in Virginia.

Rivers Ancestry

England. An early arrival from Revieres in Normandy,
possibly at the time of the Norman Conquest, was Richard de Redvers. After
1100 he became a senior advisor to Henry I and was granted the feudal
barony of
Plympton in Devon.

His son Baldwin was made the Earl of Devon. The
last of this family was Isabel who died
in 1293. Afterwards the Earls of Devon
continued under the Courtenay name. But
the title of Earl Rivers was later taken up by two other lines:

  • the
    first was with Richard Woodville of Maidstone who was
    made Earl Rivers in 1448. This title
    became extinct on the death of the third earl in 1491.
  • the
    second was with
    Baron Thomas Darcy of Essex who became Earl Rivers in 1626.
    This earldom died out in
    1737 after the death of the fifth earl. A
    new Rivers barony was then created in 1776 for the Pitt
    family that
    was related by marriage to the fifth earl. This
    barony, held by the Pitt-Rivers, was in existence until

There was an early de la River family at Tormarton in
Gloucestershire. But these Rivers seem
to have ended at around the time of the Black Death in the 14th century. There was also an early Rivers family in
Somerset which gave its name to the village of Stoke Rivers near

. Rivers
as a surname, as evidenced in the
1891 census
, was found mainly in SE England where the Norman
influence was strong.

An early version was de Rivers. John
de Rivers of Ongar in Essex was present
at the Battle of Falkirk in 1298 and was knighted at the siege of
Calais in
1299. Another John de Rivers was granted
a market at Worminghall in Buckinghamshire in 1304.

John of Ongar is thought to have
been related to a subsequent Kentish line which included Sir
Rivers, a Yorkist protagonist during the Wars of the Roses, and Sir
Rivers, who prospered as a grocer in London and served as its Lord
Mayor in
1573. His descendants were the Rivers of Chafford Park in

was a later naval family of Rivers from Kent as well.
Two William Rivers, father and son, were
onboard the Victory at the Battle of
Trafalgar in 1805.

“William Rivers was upwards of forty years a gunner in
Royal Navy, twenty-two years of which he served on the Victory. In the memorable
Battle of Trafalgar he witnessed at the same moment the fall of the
Admiral Nelson and the loss of his own son’s leg.”

A subsequent Rivers of this
family, also named William, was a neurologist and psychiatrist,
best known for his
work treating First World War officers who were suffering from shell

Rivers from Berkshire had established the Rivers family nurseries at
Sawbridgeworth in Hertfordshire in 1725.
The business continued until 1987.
Thomas Rivers was known in the mid-19th century for his
development of
new varieties of roses and fruits.
Elizabeth Waugh’s 2009 book Rivers
Nursery of Sawbridgeworth
covered their history.

America. The main Rivers
immigrant arrivals have been into Virginia and the Carolinas. The largest number of Rivers today are
fact in South Carolina.

. The John
Rivers who married Ann Newman in Bermuda in 1636 was from the Chafford
family in Kent. Joseph Rivers’ 2006 book
Descendants of John Rivers and Ann Newman
of Bermuda
covered their subsequent line.
A number of their grandsons
to James Island off Charleston in South Carolina – William in 1681 and
and George by 1690.

Descended from George were cotton plantation owners Joseph
Rivers and, in the early 1800’s, John Elijah Rivers on James Island and
on John’s Island in Colleton county.
Another line from George settled on the mainland at Hampton
(then called
Pondtown) and then moved to Florida.

Some African American slaves on Rivers plantations took on the Rivers
after emancipation. One such was Isaac
Rivers who was able to purchase his freedom and move to Sussex county,
Virginia. Isaac bought a mill and
fishing pond there which he and then his son Buddy ran until the late

William Rivers meanwhile had arrived from England in 1760 and made his
home near Chesterfield. His son
Frederick fought in the Revolutionary War and was held prisoner by the
at Charleston at its end. Charles
Purvis’s 1999 book Descendants of William
covered the family line.

It is thought that one of his descendants
was Mendel Rivers, the powerful US Congressman from South Carolina
between 1941 and 1970 who was a
segregation advocate and war hawk. A
Rivers cousin of his started the first TV station in Charleston in 1953.

have tried to connect John David Rivers with the Chafford Rivers,
there is no evidence of any connection.
He was born in England but arrived in Charleston from Prussia in
1805 on
a Prussian passport. He lived in some
on Queen Street and then lost his everything and finally his life in
calamitous year in 1831.

His son William
James Rivers
, placed in an orphanage, emerged in the 1850’s as
an important
writer and educator in Charleston.

“Rivers was an eyewitness to the burning of Columbia
by Sherman’s army in the Civil War and this provided the background for
his novel Eunice: A Tale of Reconstruction Times in
South Carolina

His nickname was “the
Earl of Rivers.”

Virginia. Pierre
Rivers was a Huguenot who arrived with his wife Jeanne in Virginia in
1698. They made their home at the
Huguenot settlement of Manakin along the James river.
They were said to have had a large family,
including at least three sons – Claud, Thomas, and Robert.

One line established
itself in Brunswick county, Virginia. Joel Rivers, born there in
migrated to Alabama in the early 1800’s.
Another line appears to have been in Johnston county, North
Carolina and
led, via another Joel Rivers, to Wilkinson county, Georgia.

Rivers as An Adopted Name. The Rivers numbers in
America have been
boosted by many who were not born with the Rivers name but adopted it

This may have started at an early time. It
was said that Pierre Hiuert, a Huguenot
who came to America on the Peter and
in 1698, took the name of Pierre Rivers.
The Rivard family
from Quebec became Rivers after they crossed the border into Vermont in

Some examples from the 20th century have been:

  • Karl Joenunu from Finland
    who was Carl Rivers by the time of his arrival in Alaska in 1920. He was an early Anchorage pioneer.
  • Loiza
    Grossberg, born to Jewish immigrant parents in New York, who changed
    his name
    to Larry Rivers after performing at a jazz club in 1940.
    Larry was an artist and is considered by
    many to have been the godfather of the pop art movement.
  • Joan Molinsky, born
    also to Jewish parents in New York, who changed her name to Joan Rivers
    in the
    1950’s. She was a comedienne and
    actress, well known for her outspoken and controversial language.
  • and Johnny
    Ramistella of Italian parentage, who became Johnny Rivers in the late
    1950’s. He had a string of rock and roll
    hits in the 1960’s.

Rivers Miscellany

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

Rivers Names

Sir John Rivers prospered as a
grocer in London and served as its Lord Mayor in 1573.
He was the forebear of the Rivers of Chafford
Park in Kent.
William James Rivers

from Charleston was an influential Southern educator in the years
after the Civil War.
Larry Rivers, born
Loiza Grossberg, was an American artist considered by many to be the
godfather of the pop art movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s.
Joan Rivers
, born Joan Molinsky, was an American comedienne known
her acerbic and often controversial characterizations of public

Select Rivers Today

  • 4,500 in the UK (most numerous
    in London)
  • 14,000 in America (most numerous in South Carolina)
  • 2,500 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)




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