Silver Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Silver Surname Meaning

Silver as a surname has English, German or Jewish roots. 

The English surname, derived from the Old English seolfar meaning “silver,” would describe either a silversmith or someone who was rich (having a lot of silver). The German and Jewish root is silber.  

Early surname appearances were Lucas Siluer in Lincolnshire in 1205 and Radolfus Silberer in Upper Schwabia in Germany in 1249.

Silver Surname Resources on The Internet

Silver Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Hampshire), NE Scotland and from Germany and Jewish emigrants
  • to America and Canada

England.  One early Silver line is said to have run from Bartholomew Silver, knighted by Edward II in the early 1300’s, to the Elizabethan George Silver, a writer on swordplay (he wrote Paradoxes of Defence in 1599).  

But little is known about either man.   Sir Bartholomew may or may not have existed (there is no proof that he did).  George, the eldest of four brothers, married Mary Haydon in London is 1580 and was described as a gentleman.

The Silver name was mainly concentrated in the 17th and 18th centuries, outside of London, in villages in the eastern part of Hampshire – places like Ropley near Winchester and, further north, Odiham and Winchfield.

Nicholas Silver was a yeoman at Overton near Winchfield in 1718.  John and Hannah Silver were married in Odiham All Saints’ church in 1783.  A family line began with the birth of John Silver in Winchfield in 1773. 

Scotland. Silver was also a Scottish name.  The Silver name, or variants of it, had appeared there by the 16th century.  It was mostly to be found in the Aberdeenshire area of NE Scotland.  One Silver family were farmers at Maryculter in the Deeside area.  Another line has been traced back to Robert Silver who was born around 1792 at Old Machar.

America.  Silver arrivals into America came in two stages: first some Silvers from England, Scotland and Germany; and then a larger number of Jewish immigrants, primarily from the Russian empire.

Thomas Silver, probably from Hampshire, came to Ipswich, Massachusetts in 1634.  He died in Newbury in 1682.  Mary Silver of this family, then living in Haverhill, was abducted by Indian raiders in 1708 and never returned. This line was covered in Henry A. Silver’s 1980 book Thomas Silver of Ipswich, Massachusetts.

Three Silver brothers from Scotland – Archibald, John and James – came to Burlington county, New Jersey on the Lamb in 1682.  Their descendants headed west after the Revolutionary War.  Some ended up in Ohio (Hamilton county), others in Indiana (Marion county).

Georg Wendel Silber arrived in Pennsylvania in 1749 and settled in Frederick county, Maryland. His son George Silver Jr. migrated to North Carolina.  

Later notable Silvers have been:

  • George Silver who was born in Yancey county, North Carolina and served in the Revolutionary War.  His lineage extended to a number of Silvers who enlisted in the Civil War in Yancey and Mitchell counties, North Carolina.
  • Frankie Silver, famously hanged for the murder of her husband in North Carolina in 1833
  • and the Silvers from Washington county, Maryland who worked on the Chesapeake and Ohio canal as boatmen in the mid/late 1800’s.

Silver Jewish immigrants into New York have included:

  • Abba Hillel Silver who arrived from Lithuania as a young man with his parents in 1902 and grew up to be a powerful orator in his leadership of the Zionist movement in America.
  • Harold Silver who came from Russia with his parents in 1913 and served the Jewish cause as director of the Jewish Society Service Bureau.
  • while Saul Silver had arrived from Russia in the early 1900’s and found employment as a sheet metal worker helping to build New York’s skyscrapers.  His eighth and youngest child Phil Silvers made it big on American TV in the 1950’s with The Phil Silvers Show.

Raphael, the son of Abba Hillel Silver, married Joan Micklin who went on to direct Hester Street and other evocative films of Jewish New York.

Canada.  William Silver, the son of an Anglican clergyman in Hampshire, came to Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1805 and started a small retail business there.  It was greatly expanded by his son William who developed the company in the 1840’s into Halifax’s leading wholesaler.  The son prospered and left a large estate on his death in 1903.

Silver Surname Miscellany

Silver as a Surname in Scotland.  George Black had the following about the incidence of the Silver surname in Scotland in his 1946 book The Surnames of Scotland:

“This surname is not uncommon in the M’earns and is an old one in the parish of Fetteresso.  John Syllar was a tenant of the garden of the Hospital of Dundee in 1464; James Silvir, “succentor Glasguensi,” appeared as a witness in 1497 may have been James Siluer, the rector of Durisdere in 1504; William Silver de Stobo was a charter witness in 1506; and another William Siluer or Silwer was a cleric in Aberdeen in 1540, and chaplain of Folaroull in 1546.  The name Silver on a tomb in the Calton cemetery in Edinburgh, near the Stevenson lair, probably suggested to Robert Louis Stevenson the surname of his Long John Silver in Treasure Island.”

Mary Silver Who Stayed in Canada.  Mary Silver, aged 14 in 1708 and then living in Haverhill, was abducted to Canada by French and Indian raiders.  Two years later her New England friends discovered that she had abjured her Protestant faith and had entered the convent of Soeurs de Hotel-Dieu in Montreal where she learnt nursing.

In 1713 it was possible that she could have returned to her home in Massachusetts. Her mother beseeched her to return. But she chose to remain in Canada. And she stayed at the Soeurs de Hotel-Dieu until her death in 1740.

Georg Silber from Germany to America.  Georg Wendel Silber was born in 1731 in Wuerttemburg some 20 kilometers south of Stuttgart.  He was the descendant of well known metal workers. The Silber men were considered masters of the art of wrought iron designing and blacksmithing.

Georg arrived at the port of Philadelphia on September 26, 1749 on the Speedwell which had sailed from Rotterdam.  He made his way to Montgomery county, Pennsylvania where he married Elisabeth Schmieden in the old Lutheran church there in 1752.  He patented land in what was called the Littleworth tract in Frederick county, Maryland in 1774 where he died eleven years later.

The Ballad of Frankie Silver.  One of the few certainties about Frankie Silver is that she was hanged for the murder of her husband Charlie in Morganton, North Carolina on July 12, 1833.  Many of the other facts surrounding their married life, the murder in 1831, the reasons for the crime, and the drama leading up to Frankie’s death are shrouded in myth and folklore.  The story has been told in ballads, “true-crime” magazine articles, plays, ballets, books, essays, documentaries, and countless newspaper articles.

According to the most common version of the story:

“Frankie killed Charlie in a fit of jealous rage three days before Christmas 1831. She suspected him of infidelity with another man’s wife and decided to exact her revenge as he lay sleeping on the floor.

She struck his head with an axe.  The first blow did not immediately kill him and he thrashed around the house mortally wounded. Frankie hid under the covers of their bed, eventually coming out when she heard his body hit the floor.  She then took another swing with the axe, this time completely severing his head. Frankie attempted to conceal the evidence of the murder by chopping the body into pieces and burning them in the cabin’s fireplace.

A thorough investigation of the home and surrounding area revealed bits and pieces of charred bone, a heel iron from Charlie’s shoe, and a pool of dried blood under the puncheon floor. Frankie was immediately arrested.

Frankie was tried, convicted, and sentenced to die by hanging. After a failed appeal to the North Carolina Supreme Court, she broke out of jail with the help of her family.  The sheriff and his posse eventually caught up to Frankie who was disguised as a man and walking behind her uncle’s wagon. She was returned to prison and her execution was set for July 12, 1833.

When the day arrived, she was led to the scaffold.  The sheriff asked if she had anything she wanted to say.  She told the sheriff that she did have something to say, but she wanted to sing it instead.  After she finished her lonely ballad, the noose was placed around her neck, and she became the first woman to be hanged in North Carolina.”

Silver Civil War Enlistees.  The following Silvers enlisted in Mitchell and Yancey counties, North Carolina in the Civil War.

Name Date of Birth Rank Place of Enlistment
David R. Silver  1832 captain Mitchell co.
Samuel M. Silver  1833 lieut. colonel Mitchell co.
Levi D. Silver  1837 second lieut. Mitchell co.
Edmund D. Silver  1838 first sergeant Mitchell co.
David H. Silver  1838 first sergeant Yancey co.
Tilman B. Silver  1839 corporal Mitchell co.
Alexander Silver  1846 private Mitchell co.

Silver Names

  • George Silver was known in the late 16th and early 17th centuries for his writings on swordplay. 
  • Long John Silver is the popular fictional pirate in the novel Treasure Island by R.L. Stevenson. 
  • Phil Silvers, born Phllip Silver to New York Jewish immigrants, was the 1950’s TV sitcom star who introduced the world to Sergeant Bilko. 
  • Nate Silver is an American statistician and writer who analyzes baseball and election results.

Silver Numbers Today

  • 4,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 9,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 6,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

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Written by Colin Shelley

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