Sawyer Surname Genealogy

The Old English saghen, meaning “to saw,” was the root of the occupational name Sawyer, one who made his living by sawing wood. Sometimes Sawyer was abbreviated to Sayer. In America, Jewish names like Seger were often anglicized to Sawyer.
Select Sawyer Resources on The Internet

Sawyer Ancestry

Some early surname forms were Sagher. But Sawyer had started to
appear by the 14th century. The name crops up mainly along the East
Coast of England, to some extent in Yorkshire but much more so in East
Anglia and in Kent.

Norfolk One
Sawyer line traces itself to Cawston in Norfolk in the 1500’s
possibly earlier. Sir Edmund Sawyer was auditor for the city of
London. He purchased Heywood near Maidenhead in Berkshire in 1627
and this manor stayed with the family for the next two hundred
years. Two Sawyers became Royal Navy admirals in
the 18th century. Other branches of this family were to be found
in Cambridge and in Kettering in Northamptonshire.

Kent A Sawyer
family in Kent were, appropriately enough, carpenters.
Based in Dover, Willard Sawyer was a carpenter who became
internationally known as the first professional maker of a man-powered
vehicle. He set up his business in 1838, the year after Queen
Victoria came to the throne. The four-wheeled velocipede on which
he cycled from London to Brighton is now an exhibit in the London
Science Museum.

. The early Sawyers in New England have been
traced in Eleanor Sawyer’s 1995 book Sawyer
Families of New England, 1636-1900

New England.
Among the first
New England arrivals were:

  • Edward, William, and
    Thomas Sawyer
    , three brothers in Ipswich, Mass in 1636 (one
    line of descendants were to become merchants and ship-owners in
    Gloucester, Mass).
  • William Sawyer, one of the founders of Newbury, Mass, in 1640
  • Thomas
    and Mary Sawyer
    who settled in
    Lancaster, Mass. in the 1640’s.

Mary Elizabeth Sawyer was the little girl in Sterling, Mass about whom
the children’s poem, Mary Had a
Little Lamb
, was written in the early 19th century.

Sawyer from Marlborough, Mass started Sawyer’s Woollen Mills in Dover,
New Hampshire in 1824. His grandson Charles became Governor of
New Hampshire in 1886. Thomas Sawyer, born of a poor family in
Vermont, became a prominent Universalist minister and educator.
And Sawyers were also to be found from an
early time at Greene, Saco, and Elliotsville in Maine.

Other notable Sawyers were:

  • Moses Sawyer who was an early settler on Shelter Island on Long
    Sound in the 1760’s.
  • a pioneer Sawyer family of
    upstate New York, who transferred from Dutchess to Schuyler county in
  • and Philetus Sawyer who moved from upstate New York in Wisconsin
    1847 where he worked in the lumber industry. He ended up serving two
    terms as the Senator for Wisconsin. The family home on Algoma
    in Oshkosh is now the Oshkosh Public Museum.

Sawyers in the South
Sawyers were also in Virginia and the Carolinas by the
1700’s, the most prominent of these being the Sawyers along the
Pasquotank river in Camden, North Carolina. Enoch Sawyer grew
wealthy there by managing the port. Brother Lemuel Sawyer was a
local congressman and a writer of some repute, although his 1844
autobiography did not go down well. This was one reviewer’s

“”This book – a frank disclosure of his
gambling, wastefulness, dissipation, chicanery, and tawdry love affairs
– must be one of the most self-condemning documents in all American

He blew his wife’s money and died in poverty. Family accounts
showed later migrations of these Sawyers south to Alabama,
Arkansas, and Texas.

Hannibal, Missouri is known as Tom Sawyer’s town,
being the childhood home of his creator Mark Twain. John Sawyer, born in Virginia, settled with his
wife Maria in Schuyler county, Missouri in the 1820’s.
His granddaughter Millie Mariah died in
Kansas in 1938 at the grand old age of 87.
She left 109 living descendants to mourn her passing.

Canada. The first Sawyer
in Canada was probably James Sawyer, born in New Carlisle, Quebec in
1764. His descendants were to be found there and in New Brunswick
and Maine as well.

Sawyer was born in Canada in 1786. It was
thought that his father had been a
Scotsman who had come out to Canada as a young lad, but was then
captured by
Mohawk Indians. He was raised by the
tribe at the St. Regis Indian reservation in upstate New York. Son Lewis, who was born there in 1824, could
remember both his mother Mary and his grandmother Ann who lived to be

John Sawyer left his home in Lancaster,
Massachusetts in the 1780’s either during or after the turmoil of the
Revolutionary War. He settled in Three
Rivers, Quebec. There he married a
French girl, accepted the Catholic faith, and became Jean.
One of his descendants Avila did return to
Massachusetts in the 1890’s. Another
Sawyer family in Quebec, also in the Three Rivers area, came from the
immigrant Johannes Sauer, a Hessian soldier.

Other Sawyers
from America were:

  • Noadiah Sawyer from Vermont, a
    Loyalist, who settled in Hamilton township, Ontario around 1810
  • and the
    Rev. Joseph
    , a Methodist missionary from upstate New York who
    preached across the border on the Niagara circuit. One of
    his converts was a young Ojibwe Indian who took the name of Joseph
    Sawyer on his baptism. He and his son David Sawyer were to become
    chiefs of the Ojibwe Indians and to lead them to their new reservation
    in Tuscarora township.

Africa. The Sawyers have
been a prominent Americo-Liberian family in Liberia. Amos Sawyer
from this family served as an interim President in the early
1990’s. Violence in the country has meant that many of
these Sawyers now live in the US.

Select Sawyer Miscellany

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

Sawyer Names

Sir Edmund Sawyer was
auditor to the Exchequer Court in London in the early 1600’s.
Willard Sawyer was the bicycle
pioneer from Kent with his development of “velocipedes” in the
Tom Sawyer was the lead
character in Mark Twain’s The
Adventures of Tom Sawyer,
which first appeared in 1876.
Philetus Sawyer was the
Senator for Wisconsin from 1881 to 1893.
Diane Sawyer from Louisville,
Kentucky is a well-known TV newscaster.

Select Sawyers Today

  • 19,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Kent)
  • 18,000 in America (most numerous in North Carolina)
  • 4,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)




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