Rowe Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Rowe Surname 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.

Rowe Surname Resources on The Internet

Rowe Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Devon and Cornwall) and from Germany
  • to America, Canada, Caribs (Jamaica), South Africa and Australia

England.  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 a reward the Lamerton estate near Tavistock 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 stands.

The Rowe name has also appeared in Bere Ferrers and Princetown and, in north Devon, in Hartland and Great Torrington.  The Rowes of Torrington, a junior branch of the Rowes of Lamerton, dated back to the 1500’s, according to the Visitation of 1620.

Cornwall  There were records of Rowes at Camborne from the late 1500’s and at St. Just in Penrith from the mid-1600’s.  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 appeared 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.  Early Rowes were found in New England.

New England.  Two John Rowes from Devon came to Massachusetts during the early days of the colony.  The first John Rowe, 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.

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.

Elsewhere.  Meanwhile Rowes from Nottingham have been recorded in New Bern, North Carolina since the 1720’s.

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 attended.

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, Newfoundland 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 Torrington in Devon were Jamaican plantation owners, running the Bagdale and Fullowswood estates at St. Elizabeth from the late 1700’s.

The Rowe name could have been passed along to black slaves who worked at these plantations.  Indeed, Charles and William Rowe from the plantation family both had black mistresses (“free quadroons”) who bore them children.

The Rowe name appeared in the Maroon community which had escaped captivity and set up their own community at Accompong in the Blue Mountains nearby.  Maroons with the last name of Rowe have made up about 35% of the Accompong community.

A notable descendant of these Rowes was Ira Rowe.  He was born in 1928 in St. Elizabeth and rose to become a leading jurist in post-independence Jamaica.  Lawrence Rowe was a Jamaican cricketer who played for the West Indies in the 1970’s.

South Africa.  William 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 Surname 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 at 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 Kathryn (died in 1679)
  • Descendants of John Rowe and Josuan Cater (died in 1671) who 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 Ulalia Blande 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 the 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 punishment.

“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.

Reader Feedback – John Rowe Descendant.  Nicholas Rowe (1553–1609) was my 10th great-grandfather. John Rowe, formerly of Tavistock in Devon (1607–1661) and who died in Gloucester, Essex county, Massachusetts was my 8th great-grandfather. I descended through his son, Hugh Rowe, who was a 2nd generation settler of Gloucester.

Anyone who states how they connect to the Rowe Line may join Facebook’s Rowe Descendants, a depository of files, stories, photograph, etc. or chat with other members may do so.

Denise Penta (

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.

Reader Feedback – Rowe in New Bern, North Carolina.  I had a fellow to do research on my surname and thru research find we left the Nottingham area around 1720 and by ship sailed to Norfolk, Virginia.  After leaving Norfolk we traveled to a place called New Bern, North Carolina where we have been since 1720. There are a lot of Rowes in the area.

Harvey McCoy Rowe (

Reader Feedback – German Rowes in Wisconsin.  My family emigrated from Germany to the United States in the mid-1800’s. They came from the Pomerania area and settled in Dunn county, Wisconsin. Frank William Rowe was a founding council member of Menomonie, Wisconsin.

Carl 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 a 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 brothers;
– 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.

Reader Feedback – Rowe from Cornwall to Canada.  My late mom’s great grandfather was Frederick Rawe/Rowe from Mevagissey in Cornwall.  He immigrated to Canada around 1851.  Laurel Tir (

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 century.

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

Reader Feedback – Cornish Rowes to Mexico.  I am looking for information on my mom’s family. My great grandfather James Rowe and his brother William came to Mexico in the 1900’s. All I know is that they were from Cornwall. There are so many Rowes, it is impossible to do tracing, even through ancestry sites. Their parents’ names were James and Jessie.  They were part of a group of Cornish people who left Cornwall for mining and electrical jobs at the turn of the century.

Ivonne Sahagun Rowe (

Alfred G. Rowe – from the Texas Panhandle to the Titanic.  Alfred Rowe came from an old Rowe family from Torrington in Devon that had gone out to Jamaica in the late 1700’s and became rich as plantation owners.

His father James was a successful merchant who divided his time between Liverpool in England and Lima in Peru where he had offices.  Although he was considered to be a person of color in Jamaica (his mother having been black), he grew up in relatively affluent circumstances and assimilated well into the white upper class society of his time.

Alfred, born in Lima, first came to Texas in 1878 and started a ranch there with his brothers Vincent and Bernard.  He planned and helped lay out the town of McLean in the Texas Panhandle in the early 1900’s.  He was a recognizable personality there, riding on his horse and with his famous black bag at his side.

Returning from England in 1912, he had booked first-class tickets for him and his family on the Titanic on its maiden voyage.  When the ship began to sink after hitting an iceberg, Alfred was said to have refused a place on the life-raft, declaring himself to be a strong swimmer.  Accounts at the time suggested that after the sinking he swam to an piece of ice where he was later found frozen to death.

This was more fiction than fact.  His body was later picked up, like so many others, by the cable ship which had arrived on the scene.

His found effects included “one gold signet ring, a card case containing two photos, cards, three Bank of England £5 notes, newspaper cuttings and memos in pencil;” but not his famous black bag.  However, a black bag was recovered, without any identity of ownership, which contained money and expensive jewelry.  Many believed that it was his.

His heartbroken wife Constance gave birth to their fourth surviving child five months afterwards and named him Alfred after him.  She stayed in England and eventually sold his RO Ranch in Texas in 1917 to one of his hired cowboys.  Meanwhile Alfred’s last letter to Constance, written when the Titanic had stopped off in Ireland four days before the sinking, was sold in auction for £100,000 in 2007.  In it he complained about the ship’s shortcomings.

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 powerful 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.

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.
  • Lawrence Rowe from Jamaica was one of the best batsmen of the West Indies cricket team in the 1970’s.

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).

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.


Click here for return to front page

Written by Colin Shelley

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *