Roberts Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Roberts Surname Meaning
Roberts is a patronymic name from the personal name Robert that was introduced to England by the Normans.  It appeared as Rodbertus, Rotbert, and Robert in the 1086 Domesday Book.

Roberts emerged as a surname in the latter part of the 13th century.  An early record was Richard Roberdes in the 1327 Worcestershire subsidy rolls.  The Roberts name is to be found in both England and Wales.

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Roberts Surname Ancestry

Wales.  The name became particularly common in Denbighshire in
NW Wales (now Clwyd) – where the pronunciation tended to be “Robaits” – and then in Lancashire where there was a strong connection through trade and the movement of people. 

Denbighshire.  John Wyn Roberts, the son of Hywel ap Dafydd and Margaret Verch ap Robert, was born in 1516.  He owned a small estate at Hafod-y-Bwch in Denbighshire.  A descendant John Roberts prospered under the patronage of the Myddletons of Chirk castle and served as Sheriff and MP for the county in the early 1700’s.

Another John Roberts moved from Llanwrst in Denbighshire to Liverpool in the 1850’s to build up a timber business there.  He returned to Wales to be an MP.  His descendants became Baron Clwyd. 

Anglesey.  There were Roberts also in Anglesey

Gabriel Roberts, the son of Lewis ap Rhisiart, was a Welsh trader in Beaumaris in the late 1500’s who bought produce in Chester for the local populace in Anglesey.  His son Lewis and grandson Gabriel expanded their trading activities to the Orient with the Levant Company and the East India Company.

A Methodist family from Anglesey produced John Roberts who prospered in Manchester as a merchant and was its Mayor in 1896.

Mid Wales. William Roberts was a shoemaker at Llanymynech in Montgomeryshire (now Powys) in the late 1700’s.  His son Richard moved to Lancashire around 1805 and did well for a while as an engineer and inventor.  However, he died in London in 1864 almost destitute.

John Roberts was born in Newtown, Montgomeryshire in 1816.  A Romani gypsy, he became famous as the country’s leading performer of the Welsh triple harp.  John and his wife Eleanor fathered nine children in Newtown.  They nearly all grew up to be musicians and performed with their father all over Wales, winning countless Eisteddfod prizes and gold medals.

England.  There were Roberts also over in Lancashire.  John Roberts, shown as a “gentleman,” in various records between 1670 and 1700, was the town clerk of Preston.  One family line began with William Roberts who was born in Burnley in 1806.  Charles William Roberts of this family, an engineer and architect, lived at Netherfield House in Nelson in the early/mid 1900’s.   

Roberts lines existed as well elsewhere in England.

SW England.  John Roberts, a Bristol draper, married well and purchased Sayes Manor at Westerleigh in Gloucestershire in 1578. But later Roberts of this family ran into debt and were forced to sell.  John’s brother Henry was a sea captain with a keenness for dueling.  His descendants were to be found at Kingswood in Gloucestershire. John Roberts, the 17th century Quaker at Siddington in Gloucestershire, may have been related to this family.

Another Gloucestershire family dates from the early 1500’s at Woolstone on the Worcestershire border.  George Roberts moved to London in 1617 as a draper’s apprentice.  Thomas, most likely his brother, also moved to London and later emigrated to New England.

The Roberts name extended as well into Cornwall:

  • one Roberts line in Cornwall began with Robert Roberts aka Jenken at Gwithian in the mid-1500’s. 
  • William Roberts was born near Helston in 1577, but died young.  His son Samuel emigrated to America in 1638.
  • a Roberts (sometimes Robertes) family of Truro became wealthy money-lenders in the early 1600’s and built their family estate in 1630 at Lanihydrock.
  • while Richard Roberts was born in Penzance in 1691 and Arthur Roberts in Sennen in 1713.  Both had descendants who were emigrants to Australia in the mid-1800’s.

SE England.  The Roberts in Kent were said to have originated in Scotland.  In the 12th century William Rookherst alias Roberts appeared at Goodhurst in Kent and he is thought to have been the forebear of the Roberts of Glassenbury Manor in Cranbook.

The Roberts line there began in the 1430’s and their manor house was built in 1473.  Sir Walter Roberts rebuilt this manor as a Georgian mansion in 1730 and it remained with the Roberts family until recently.

Ireland.  There was one well-known Roberts family in Waterford.  Thomas Roberts was “a Welshman of property” who had settled there in 1680.  His grandson John Roberts was an architect responsible for many of Waterford’s structures today, including its Cathedral.  Field Marshal Earl Roberts came from this family.


Francis Roberts was granted Britfieldstown in county Cork in 1667.  The estate remained in Roberts hands until debts forced its sale in 1851.  These Roberts claimed a descent from the Roberts of Glassenbury in Kent and, although they secured a baronetage out of it, the case may not be proven.

A Roberts family was first recorded in Stradibally in what is now Laois county in 1740.   Many of these Roberts emigrated to Canada in the 1840’s.


America. 
Thomas Roberts from Woolstone in Gloucestershire moved to New Hampshire and established a farm at Dover Neck in 1628.  Thomas became the Governor of New Hampshire in 1640.  His line was covered in Thomas Jacobsen’s 1995 book The Robertses of Northern New England.

Also coming to New England were:

  • Samuel Roberts from Cornwall who arrived in Middletown, Connecticut in 1638.
  • and Peter Roberts from Gloucestershire who was in Providence, Rhode Island by 1685.  Later Roberts of this line migrated to Bennington county, Vermont and fought in the Revolutionary War.

Welsh.  In 1683 the Welshman John Roberts acquired land from William Penn as part of the Welsh tract in Merion township, Pennsylvania.  He named his stone house there Pencoyd after his family home back in Wales.  The property stayed with his descendants until 1964.

Another Quaker, Robert Cadwalader from Bala in Merionethshire, arrived in the Welsh tract in 1698.  His sons in the Welsh manner all took the surname Robert which then became Roberts.  One of his descendants, Squire John Roberts,  was probably the most important merchant in the Welsh tract in the years following the Revolutionary War.

Margaret Roberts left her home in Montgomeryshire to join her brother George in Ohio in 1801.  On the voyage across her husband died.  But when she arrived in Ohio she met an old sweetheart Edward Bebb and they married a year later.  Their eldest son William became Governor of Ohio in 1846.

Scots Irish.  Some Roberts, originally MacRoberts, were of Scots Irish origin.  William MacRoberts came to Hartford, Connecticut from Ulster sometime in the 1770’s.  His grandson Jonathan Roberts moved to New Jersey where he was in later life President of the Morristown Institute for Savings.

Huguenot.  Robert was a Huguenot name and Protestant Huguenots by the name of Robert were in South Carolina as early as 1700 in an area known as the English Santee.  Their name soon became anglicized to Roberts.  Later migration saw these Roberts in Alabama and the Wiregrass region of Georgia.

Jewish.  Roberts in America may be Jewish.  Ralph Roberts, the co-founder of Comcast Corporation in 1963, grew up in a Jewish family in New Rochelle; while Doris Roberts, one of the TV stars of Everyone Loves Raymond, is also Jewish.

Canada.  George Roberts emigrated to New Brunswick from England around the year 1830:

  • his son George Goodridge, ordained a priest, became the rector at Christ Church parish church in Fredericton.
  • his grandson Charles G.D. Roberts was a distinguished poet and prose writer who was knighted for his services to Canadian literature.
  • while Charles’s brother Theodore was also a noted writer and he was the father of the painter Goodridge Roberts.

William Roberts from rural Essex travelled solo, aged just seventeen, from London to Quebec on the Cleopatra in 1869.  He settled in Cobourg, found work and married.  He and his wife Jemima raised five children there.

Africa.  The Roberts family, freed slaves from Virginia, were important in the early history of Liberia as an American colony and as a republic.  They arrived in 1829.  Joseph was its first African American governor before ascending to the presidency when Liberia became a republic in 1847.  His brother John was a Methodist bishop there, another brother Henry a doctor.

Australia.  Cornish Roberts miners came to Australia after the mining depression in Cornwall:

  • Thomas Roberts came from Penzance with his family to South Australia in 1839.  He went to work at the Burra Burra copper mine.  
  • while Abraham Roberts made it with his family to Bendigo in the Victorian goldfields in 1853.  He set up an iron foundry business there which continued with his son Abraham until 1918.

Albert Roberts was a coachbuilder in Swansea who emigrated to Queensland in 1881.  He started a coach-building business in Ipswich which was expanded into railway carriages and motor car bodies by his sons and grandsons.

New Zealand.  John Roberts, the son of a tweed manufacturer on the Scottish borders, came to Otago in 1868 and started up a wool merchant business there.  This soon expanded into Murray, Roberts & Co with its offices across New Zealand.  John and his wife Louisa lived at their palatial home Littlebourne House in Dunedin, built in 1890, where they would entertain lavishly.  John and his sons John and Alex were all knighted for their public services.

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Roberts Surname Miscellany.

Gabriel Roberts of Beaumaris.  The trading town of Beaumaris on the isle of Anglesey was a Welsh town inhabited by English traders.  Gabriel Roberts represented Welsh infiltration into this English outpost.

By the 1530’s the English monopoly had disappeared and Gabriel had emerged as one of the chief merchants. Unlike the English, he took no part in overseas trading but confined himself to purchasing wares at Chester and distributing them in Anglesey. He amassed great wealth and then took the next step, so common among prosperous merchants of his day, of becoming a landed man.

The Roberts Methodists from Anglesey.  The origins of this Roberts family were in Llanddeusant parish near Holyhead in Anglesey.  By the 1830’s David Roberts had become the Methodist elder of Anglesey, representing the rather stern and dour Methodism of that island.  He and his wife Sarah had ten children, including eight sons who rose to maturity.

Three of these sons had quite remarkable livesJohn Roberts prospered in Manchester as a merchant and was its Mayor in 1896.  He was a zealous promoter of higher education in Wales and was instrumental in the founding of University College in Aberystwyth.  Frederick Roberts was a medical missionary who went out to China where he died in 1894.  The youngest son William became a famous doctor and was much honored by the medical profession.

Another son Robert wrote History of a Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Family, privately published in 1905, which was part autobiography, part family history, and an interesting perspective of Anglesey Methodism and Welsh life in Manchester at that time.

Roberts from Scotland to Kent.  The Roberts family of Kent are said to have originated in the Highlands of Scotland.

During the reign of Malcolm in the 12th century a member of the Roberts family caused offence to a member of Malcolm’s family.  This resulted in that part of the Roberts family leaving Scotland and settling in Kent.  They flourished there for several years around the existing town of Robertsbridge.

The Roberts family then split three ways. One part stayed in the Kent area, a second part moved to East Anglia and the third part moved to Wales.  An example of the Roberts in East Anglia is the former Prime Minister of the UK, Margaret Thatcher, whose maiden name was Roberts.

Roberts in England and Wales.  The Roberts name is to be found in both England and Wales, plus a few in Scotland.  The table below shows the numbers in 1891.

1891 UK Census Numbers (000’s) Percent
England    78   68
Wales    34   30
Scotland     2    2
Total   114  100

Reader Feedback – Elizabeth Roberts/Helliwell from Lancashire to Canada.   Elizabeth Roberts was born in Halifax, Yorkshire to the Boyle family.

From what we believe she married William Roberts and together they had five children – Martha Jane, John William, Charles, Eliza Jane and Joseph.  Mr. Roberts we believe passed away.  She then met Mr. John Farrer Helliwell and married him.  They lived at Mill House Farm in Cadley, Fulwood near Preston in Lancashire.  They had one son Frederick Jellicoe Helliwell who was born in 1915.   Her name shown on Frederick’s birth certificate was Elizabeth Helliwell, formerly Roberts.  The birth certificate also showed John Farrer Helliwell as the father.  He was a stonemason.

In 1920 when Frederick was five years old, he and his mother Elizabeth (just the two of them) immigrated to Kingston, Ontario in Canada.  The reason for the move was because her other children had already immigrated there.  When she came for some reason she used the last name as Roberts and not Helliwell.  It is a mystery to all of us.  We are trying to find information on all three families, Boyle, Roberts and Helliwell.

J. Harleen Acton (jacton4@cogeco.ca)

John Roberts of Waterford.  John Roberts, born in 1712, was the son of a local builder and the grandson of a Welsh businessman who had settled in the town.

When he was working as an apprentice architect in London he eloped with Mary Susanna Sautell when he was only seventeen years old.  Her father, a Huguenot, disinherited her because he disapproved of the match.  The couple returned to Waterford and went on to have 24 children, among them being the landscape painters Thomas Roberts and Thomas Sautelle Roberts.

After some years in Waterford, John obtained a commission to complete the building of a new residence for the Bishop of Waterford.  The resulting building, the Bishop’s Palace on the Mall, made his name as an architect.

He continued to be active in Waterford until his death in 1796 while working on the construction of the Catholic cathedral in Waterford.

“In the early part of 1796, getting up one morning at three o’clock instead of six – having mistaken the hour – to inspect the workmen, he sat down in the unfinished building, fell asleep, and awakened so thoroughly chilled that death shortly after ensued.”

He is remembered to this day.  John Roberts Square is a pedestrianized area that is one of the main focal points of Waterford’s modern day commercial center.  The first John Roberts festival was held in 2000 to celebrate the buildings of Waterford’s celebrated Georgian architect.

The Roberts Farm at Dover Neck, New Hampshire.  Thomas Roberts acquired the land for his farm at Dover Neck in 1628.  Three centuries later, part of that land was still in the hands of his eighth generation descendant Fred Roberts.

Thomas built his home on the high bank of the Piscataqua river and this passed to his younger son Thomas. The cellar excavation is still well defined.  The site has been marked with a granite stone bearing a bronze tablet, placed there by the New Hampshire Society of Colonial Wars.

However, the main Roberts line passed through his elder son Sergeant John who served as marshal of New Hampshire in 1679.  His descendant Joseph built the present colonial house on the property in 1775.

From the earliest times the Roberts family were intimately associated with the progress of Dover. It was Thomas Roberts who was the first to turn the soil of New Hampshire with the plow. He was taught by the Indians how to raise Indian corn and fertilize the hills with alewives, which swarmed up river in the spring. A tannery on the Roberts farm was one of the first established here. Brick-making, which came later, was conducted by Roberts descendants.

The Roberts at Pencoyd in Merion Township.  John Roberts came to the area of Pennsylvania called Merion in November 1683.   Two months later he married Gaynor Roberts, a fellow passenger on the sailing ship on which he had crossed the Atlantic.  Their marriage was the first such ceremony performed at Merion Quaker Meeting House.  Of the three men named John Roberts who had come to America on the same voyage, this John Roberts was called “The Maltster” for the crop he raised, barley for malt.

Family tradition has it that John Roberts commenced the construction of his stone house in Merion township, Pennsylvania in the spring of 1684. But the consensus of architects and historians is that it is unlikely that such a structure could have been initiated so soon after Roberts’ arrival.  The more likely start date was 1690.  John Roberts named the house Pencoyd after his family home back in Wales.  It sat on the top of a rise of land overlooking the Schuylkill river.

The house stood until 1964 when it sold for demolition by land developers.  The family ownership over that period has been (showing the years of ownership):

  • John Roberts, 1683-1724
  • Robert Roberts, 1724-1768
  • John Roberts II, 1768-1776
  • Algernon Roberts, 1776-1815
  • Isaac Warner Roberts, 1815-1859
  • George Brooke Roberts, 1859-1897
  • and T. Williams Roberts, 1897-1962.

George Brooke Roberts became President of the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1880; and two earlier related Roberts – Algernon and Percival – started the Pencoyd Iron Works along the Schuylkill river in the 1850’s.  It has continued, albeit with different owners, until today.

Edward Bebb and Margaret Roberts.  In 1795 a young man in Montgomeryshire named Edward Bebb decided to emigrate to America.  With that in view he asked Miss Roberts, the sister of the Rev. John Roberts, to go with him.  But she refused.

“It was a very serious thing at that time. They took about two months to get across with their own packed up food and many ships were wrecked on the way and the passengers never heard of again. So Miss Roberts refused to go and he went by himself.”

Following Edward Bebb’s departure for America, Margaret Roberts was urged by her family to marry the Rev. Owens.  She did marry him and in 1801 the young couple decided to do what had seemed too frightening to young Margaret just six years earlier – emigrate to America. They were accompanied by Margaret’s older sister, Grace, and Grace’s husband and two children. They had a difficult passage and the husbands of the two women and Grace’s two children all died on the voyage over. One story has the officers of the ship poisoning the men and children because they wanted the women for themselves.

The women left the ship in Philadelphia by sliding down a rope at the bow and fled to the house of their brother George Roberts.  Two days later – could it be believed – Edward Bebb came from Ohio to the Roberts home in his quest for a bride.  Edward Bebb and Margaret Roberts Owens were married there on February 2, 1802.

The wedding was witnessed by her two brothers, John and George.  Edward and Margaret returned together to Ohio and their son William was born later that year.  He was the first white child born in Butler county west of the Great Miami river.

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Roberts Names
  • Bartholomew Roberts, known as Black Bart, was the Welsh pirate who raided shipping in the Americas in the early 1700’s.
  • Frederick Roberts, later Earl Roberts, was one of the most successful British Army generals during the Victorian era.  He was of Anglo-Irish stock.
  • Elizabeth Anne Roberts was one of the first female missionaries (in the 1880’s) of the Presbyterian Church in Wales.
  • Charles G.D. Roberts was a Canadian poet and prose writer, sometimes called the father of Canadian poetry.
  • Andrew Roberts is a British historian and conservative commentator.
  • John G. Roberts is the 17th and current Chief Justice of the United States.
  • Julia Roberts is a well-known American actress.

Roberts  Numbers Today
  • 220,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 142,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 71,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Roberts is the #10 ranked surname in the UK.

 

Roberts and Like Surnames   

Patronymic surnames can be with either the “-son” or the shorter “s” suffix to the first name.  The “s” suffix is more common in southern England and in Wales.  Here are some of these surnames that you can check out.

AdamsHarrisNicholsStevens
AndrewsHicksRichardsWalters
DanielsMatthewsRobbinsWilliams
GibbsMorrisSimmonsWillis


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