Rowe Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Rowe Meaning
The surname Rowe has at least two derivations and possibly more.  One root is the Old English word raw meaning “row.”  Rowe here would be locational, describing someone who lived by a hedgerow or by a row of houses.
In Cornwall and Devon, however, where the name is prevalent, Rowe is thought to have come from Rollo, the name of the first Duke of Normandy.  Over time, the “ll’s” became increasingly silent and Roe or Rowe emerged.
Select Rowe Resources on The Internet

Rowe Ancestry

Rowe is a common name in Devon and Cornwall.

Devon  The first
of this name is
believed to have been Sir Everard de Rowe who fought in the Crusades in
the 13th century and received as reward the Lamerton estate in south
Devon.   The family contributed John Rowe, an early settler
in New
England, and Nicholas Rowe, a biographer of Shakespeare who was
appointed Poet Laureate in 1715.  These Rowes built an imposing
home for themselves in 1735, Kingston House near Staverton, which still

The Rowe name has also appeared in Bere Ferrers and Princetown
and, in north Devon, in Hartland and Great Torrington.

Cornwall  There
were records of Rowes
at Camborne from the late
1500’s and
at St. Just in Penrith
from the
One Rowe family of miners traces itself back
to the mid 1700’s and a step-father named William Rowe in the village
of Madron near Penzance.  A Rowe family was for many
generations shoemakers in Constantine, a small village between Falmouth
and Helston.

Many Rowes became miners in the 18th and early 19th
century.  When the Cornish mining industry collapsed in the mid
19th century, Rowes emigrated in search of work – to America, Canada,
Australia, and even to places like Mexico and
Argentina where there were mining jobs and they could use their
hard-rock mining expertise.

Elsewhere  The
Rowe name is not just associated with the southwest.  It
in Cheshire from an early time. William del Rowe was the Black Prince’s
bondsman of the forest of
Macclesfield.  Several Rowes were mayors of Macclesfield during
the 14th century and Stephen Rowe was one of the early silk button
workers of the town.  The Rowe name was later to be found in
Cheshire and Manchester.

Then there were the Rowes of Penshurst in Kent from the early 1500’s
and possibly earlier.  They made their money in trade (as
ironmongers) and prospered in London.  Father and son were Lord
Mayors of London during Elizabethan times.  The Rowe family of
nonconformist ministers active in London a century later came
originally from Devon.

America.   Two John
Rowes from Devon came to Massachusetts during the early days of the
colony.  The first, the son of an old established family, arrived
in the 1640’s.  He settled in a desolate part of Gloucester
known as the Farms.  One of his descendants, also
called John, fought for Washington in the Revolutionary War.

Meanwhile, another John Rowe had become a prominent merchant and
property developer in Boston.  As a merchant, John Rowe’s most
famous cargo was the tea that played a starring role in the Boston Tea
Party. As a developer, his name is remembered for Rowe’s Wharf, a
modern development on the site of his original wharf.

German Rowes
Rowe in America may be of German origin.  George Rau, for
instance, arrived in Philadelphia on the Phoenix from the Rhine Palatinate
in 1734.  His family were Rows or Rowes by the time of the
Revolutionary War. They gave land for the Lutheran church in Salem,
Pennsylvania.  The bicentennial of the church was observed in
1975 and many Rowe descendants from all over the United States

Another Rau/Rowe was Johannes Rau who had arrived in
Milan in upstate New York in 1760.  In 1800 he too helped to build
a church, now the Rowe United Methodist Church.

Later Arrivals
The first Cornish miner exodus to America occurred in 1840.  Rowes
from Cornwall were to be found later in mining communities such as
Reading, Pennsylvania and Flint, Michigan.

Canada.  Edward Rowe came to Trinity,
from Somerset sometime in
the mid 1700’s.  His family were shipbuilders in the area for many
generations.  Another early Rowe family were Empire Loyalists who
came to Canada after the War of 1812.  A descendant Earl Rowe was
Lieutenant Governor of Ontario in the 1960’s.

Caribbean.   Rowes
from Devon were Jamaican plantation owners, running the Bagdale and
Fullowswood estates in St. Elizabeth.  Their Rowe name was passed
onto the Maroons, black slaves who had escaped captivity and set up
their own communities in Jamaica.  According to one Rowe

“When I was eight years old, my father
told me that my great grandfather, a Maroon in Jamaica, received the
name either from a slavemaster or from a plantation owner who favored
him enough to give him hiis last name.”

Ira Rowe, born in St.
Elizabeth, rose to be a leading jurist in post-independence

South AfricaWilliam Rowe from Cornwall came to South Africa in the 1890’s at the time of the diamond discoveries.  He ended up running a general store with his brother James in the western Transvaal.

Australia.  The first two Rowes in Australia were
convicts, John and William from Cornwall, who came on the First
Fleet.   James Rowe was an early settler in Adelaide,
arriving there in
1836.   He and his family ran Ingle Farm in the suburbs until
1959 when the land
was acquired by the South Australian Housing Trust.

Cornish Miners.
Then came the Rowe miners from Cornwall.  John Rowe was a
developer of the
Mochatoona mine in South Australia in the 1840’s.

Other Rowes
headed for the goldfields of Victoria.  James Rowe and his
brothers Phillip, John, Edward, and Hannibal from Camborne arrived in
Melbourne in 1859.  These Rowe Brothers became well-known as gold
mining pioneers in the region south of Castlemaine.  Their story
was covered in Richard Rowe’s 1998 book From Miners and Blacksmiths We Come.
Two Rowe brothers even owned a gold mine there, the Cornwall
mine.  However, they had bought it
cheap in 1873 after its best years were behind it.

Some Rowes in this area were
part of the Ranters Gully settlement and eventually started their own
farm at Eden Park in the early 1900’s.


Rowe Miscellany

Rowes in Cornwall.  Rowe has been a very common surname in Devon and Cornwall.  The table following shows the top five surnames in Cornwall in the 1881 census.

1881 census Surname Number
1. Rowe   4,541
2. Stephens   3,864
3. Martin   3,205
4. Mitchell   2,967
5. Hosking   2,210

The Rowe Family Manuscript.  William Rowe, born in 1660, lived at Boyejovan in the hundred of St.
Just in Penwith and farmed at Lower Hendra and Drift in the parish of
Sancreed.  Also known as Wella Rowe and Willow Kerewe, he was part
of a group of language enthusiasts who were seeking to preserve the
Cornish language.  Various chapters of the Bible translated by him
into Cornish have survived.

These chapters, compiled from the original manuscript,
were included by a descendant William Rowe of Torleven in his document,
the Rowe Family Manuscript,
written in 1830.  The Rowe Family Manuscript was a family history of the Rowes up to that time.

Reader Feedback – Rowes from Camborne in Cornwall.  Rowe was the maiden name of my
grandmother Annie Eunice Rowe who was born at Nanaimo in British
Columbia in
1912.   Her father Philip Rowe was
born in Camborne, Cornwall.  He left
there in 1884 and, with at least one working stop in San Francisco,
made his
way to Vancouver Island.

Research on the Rowe family tree began in 1973.  Since
1984 it has been continued in close
collaboration with Jeannette C. Merritt of Camborne. We are still attempting to find what happened to
one sibling in our ancestry, a John Rowe, christened on 11 August 1810
Camborne, who witnessed his brother’s wedding in 1854 and is referenced
in his
mother’s 1861 will, but otherwise cannot be found.

Our research includes
details about several Rowe family branches researched as we were
attempting to
confirm our own ancestry. The link below – Thomas and Margaret (Bayley)
Rowe – relates to our direct ancestry.

  • Descendants of John Rowe (1574-1664), Rector
    from 1617 to 1664 of Camborne Parish Church in Cornwall, and his wife
    (died in 1679)
  • Descendants of John Rowe and Josuan Cater (died in 1671)
    were married in 1636 at Camborne, Cornwall.
  • Descendants of Thomas Rowe (ca.
    1680s-1754) and Margaret Bayley (ca. 1685-1752) who married in 1709 at
    Camborne, Cornwall
  • Descendants of Mahershalalhashbaz Rowe (1702-1777) and
    Margaret Bate who married in 1734 at Camborne, Cornwall, but also
    resided at Crowan.
  • Descendants of John Roo and UlaliaBlande of Werrington,
    Cornwall who married in 1597 at St. Stephen by Launceston and whose
    son Degory Rowe (dd. 1668) paid the rates on Tuckingmill, situated on
    outskirts of Camborne.

Walter Meyer zu Erpen(

John Rowe’s Irritation with His Lot in Gloucester.  John Rowe, upon arriving in Gloucester, took possession of several
acres of land in the Farms section of East Gloucester now known as Good
Harbor Beach.  The area, surrounded by a thick forest, was
isolated and desolate.  John was not very happy with his lot and
complained bitterly.  In April 1656 he was charged with profanity
and presented to the Essex Quarterly Court, Massachusetts for

“John Rowe of Gloucester, being
presented for saying if his wife were of his mind, he would set his
house on fire and run away by the light and the devil should take the
farms.  Speaking of the same a second time he added that he would
live no longer among such a company of hell hounds.

Sentence of Court is that he shall pay a fine of 20s.  Also to
make confession at the next town meeting in Gloucester of the words
spoken by him.  If he refuses, he shall appear at the next Court
in Salem and pay the 2s 6d fees of Court.”

He continued living in this remote area until “death relieved him from
his earthly trouble” in 1662.

The Legend of Lazarus Rowe.  Lazarus and Molly Rowe were married for 86 years, until Molly’s death on June
20, 1829, in Limington, Maine, “in the 104th year of her age.”
Her husband hung on for another few months, according to his obituary
in the Connecticut Courant of September 29, 1829:

“Mr. Lazarus Rowe, aged 104
years!  Mr. Rowe was a native of Greenland, New Hampshire and was
one of the first settlers of Baldwin, Maine where he lived till within
about two years since.  His wife, Molly Rowe, who died last
spring, was born the same year as her husband in 1725.  They
were married at the age of 18 and consequently lived together
eighty six years. It is presumed that the United States do not contain another man and
wife, who have lived so long in the conjugal state.  They reared a
numerous family and saw their descendants into the fifth
generation.  Their youngest son is now a pensioner of the
Revolutionary War.”

Their story is described in Mary Palmer’s
1992 book The Legend of Lazarus Rowe.

Rowes in Newfoundland.  The first appearance of the name Rowe occurs at
Trinity in the mid-1700’s.  A 1753 census listed Edward Rowe with
wife, four sons and two daughters.

Of those sons, only James has left a reasonably traceable trail.
He fathered at least five sons who survived to maturity and had large
families of their own.  In 1783 he is said to have relocated from
Trinity to Heart’s Content and founded a family ship-building
enterprise that lasted nearly a hundred years.  Virtually all of
the Trinity Bay (Green’s Harbour, Whiteway, Chance Cove) and Seldom
Rowes trace their roots back to him.

The first Rowes:
– in Carbonear were a Benjamin, born in 1786, and a Henry, possibly
– in Bonavista/Catalina, a Henry of Bird Island Cove who married there
in 1823;
– in Pointe Verde, a William, born in 1828;
– in Cupids, a William, born in 1808
– in Old Pelican, a William who baptized a son in 1826.

Any or all of these could have had a connection to the Rowes of Trinity
and Heart’s Content.

The Rowes of the Duchy Hotel in Princetown.  In 2009, descendants of the Rowe family who used
to own the Duchy Hotel in Princetown visited the village in Devon for a
special reunion and to trace their family history.  Around 14
cousins and their partners came together from all over England, Spain
and Australia for their first ever reunion.  Four of them had a
common great-great grandparent – Sarah Elizabeth Rowe who had married
George Moore in 1833.

James Rowe was born
in Bere Ferrers.  At some point before he had married Elizabeth
Colman, he moved to Princetown where he built a successful
business.  He bought the Railway Inn in 1815 which the family
continued to run until some point in the 1880s.  One of his sons,
James Julian, bought the prison officers’ quarters in Princetown and
converted them into the Duchy Hotel (now the High Moorland Visitor
Centre).  The hotel remained in the Rowe family well into the 20th

One funny story
recollected during the reunion was of two ladies who had called in at
the Duchy Hotel sometime in the 1860s.  They reported that they
had been sold bad bread, stale cheese, and even worse beer, and that
they had been served by a vile lady (which could have been James
Julian’s wife!).

Rowe Miners in Mexico.  When the Cornish mining industry collapsed, Cornish miners, including
Rowes, went far and wide in search of mining jobs.  Some ended up
at the Pachuca mine in Mexico.  The following Rowes are to be
found in the English cemetery there:

1875 William Rowe of Camborne, aged 30
1880 his father Edward Rowe, aged 57
1879 Charles Rowe, aged 2, drowned
1907 Joseph Rowe, aged 57
1913 his wife Rosina Rowe, aged 62
1938 Juan Hosking Rowe
1941 Eduardo Rowe

Jennifer Rowe, an Australian Writer.  Jennifer Rowe is an Australian writer of children’s fiction and of crime and fantasy stories.  She has written:

“It’s the Australian landscape and
situation that has always been at the forefront of my mind.
Still, the fact that my family came from Cornwall has in fact affected
my writing quite profoundly – in a more indirect way.  When I
visited Cornwall in my twenties I had a powreful instant feeling of
being at home – not in the towns, but in the countryside.”

Rowe said that this experience gave her a strong belief that people and
places have links, ties in the blood over generations, and that this
idea has come out in particular in her fantasy books.

Reader Feedback – William Rowe from Cornwall in South Africa.  William Rowe, originally from Goldsithney in Cornwall, had been indentured as a draper with Cooks of London.  He set out for South Africa in the 1890’s and joined Hill and Patten (H&P) of Kimberley shortly after the discovery of diamonds.  H&P then sent William to Schweizer-Reneke in Western Transvaal, to resuscitate their store there.  Shortly afterwards he bought the store from H&P and changed the name to Schweizer-Reneke Supply Stores – trading in everything from needles to grain.

Brother James, a draper from Cooks of London, joined William after having recuperated from mustard gassing and shell injury (he had been in the Royal Gloucestershire Regiment in World War 1).

The brothers sold the thriving business in 1943 and moved to East London, Cape Province.  There they established a Masonic Lodge in the town and were primarily responsible for the erection of the town’s hospital.



Select Rowe Names

  • Sir Everard de Rowe who fought in
    the Crusades may have been the forebear of the Rowes in Devon and Cornwall.
  • Nicholas Rowe was an early biographer of Shakespeare and the Poet Laureate in 1715.
  • Jimmy Rowe was a pioneer in the development of radar during World War Two.
  • John Rowe was the historian of
    Cornwall in its industrial revolution.

Select Rowe Numbers Today

  • 30,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Cambridgeshire)
  • 28,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in California)
  • 21,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia).


Select Rowe and Like Surnames

Many surnames originated from SW England, the principal counties there being Devon and Cornwall, Somerset and Gloucestershire.  These are some of the prominent and noteworthy surnames that you can check out.




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