Smith Surname Genealogy

Smith is an occupational name for a
worker in metal, deriving from the Anglo-Saxon smitan to strike.  This term
led to the occupational name because the smith had to strike the metal
a hammer in order to shape it.
Metal-working was one of the earliest occupations for which specialist
skills were required.  Medieval smiths were important not only for
making horseshoes, plowshares and other domestic articles, but above
all for their skill in forging swords, other weapons, and armor.
As a result, the name and its equivalents became the most widespread of
all occupational surnames in Europe.
Smyth or Smith?
Smyth was the early surname spelling.  Smith is now almost
universal.  Smith is in fact the leading
surname in terms of numbers in both England and America.  “John
Smith” has become a generic name for the average man.

Smith Resources on

England.  The
earliest recorded Smith in England was an
Ecceard Smid in Durham in the year 975.

Smyths from Sneinton in Yorkshire
moved to nearby Rosedale Abbey in
the 1530’s after the dissolution of the monasteries.
A hundred years or so later, William Smyth
left Rosedale Abbey for Ireland after the death of his wife Ann.  A related Smyth line stayed in Durham and was
staunchly Catholic through the religious turmoils of the 16th and 17th
centuries.  Edward Smythe of Eshe Hall
was rewarded for his loyalty at the time of the Restoration.  He later made his home in Shropshire

Smyths/Smiths of Cuerdley and Hough near Nantwich in Cheshire dated
from the
early 1400’s.  A century later these
Smiths were important civic leaders in Chester and Thomas Smith was its
in 1504. William Smyth, the Bishop of
Lincoln and founder of Brasenose College in Oxford, came from this

prominent early Smiths hailed from the west country:

  • a Smythe family were
    clothiers at Corsham in Wiltshire in the early 1500’s.
    Thomas Smythe, known as Customer Smythe,
    moved to London and established a large merchant trading business there.  His son, Sir Thomas of Westenhanger Castle in
    was in the early 1600’s the first Governor of the East India Company
    and the Treasurer
    of the Virginia Company.  In the latter
    capacity he funded both explorers and colonizers.
  • while Matthew Smyth from the
    Forest of Dean was the progenitor of the Smyth family of Bristol
    merchants.  His son John acquired the Long
    Ashton estate in
    Somerset in 1545, which was to remain with the family until 1946.

There was an
early Smith family from Saffron Waldron in Essex which claimed descent
from the
Black Prince. Sir Thomas Smith of this family was Secretary of State
Queen Elizabeth.  These Smiths of Hill Hall in Essex became,
Smijths and then Smyths.

families have lent their names to three well-known brands, one of
and two still operating:

  • Smith’s Bank which was begun in Nottingham by Thomas
    Smith in 1658 and is believed to have been the first bank ever formed
    of London.  Family members ran the bank
    for the first hundred years.  The bank
    remained independent until it was acquired by National Provincial Bank
  • W.H. Smith the booksellers which was started by, strangely,
    H.W. Smith in
    London in 1792.  However, three W.H.
    Smiths were to follow.  It remained a
    family-run business until 1948, although a Smith stayed on as Chairman
  • and Smith’s Crisps which began in Frank Smith’s garage in
    London in 1919.  By 1931 Smith’s Crisps
    was selling in both the UK and Australia.  Since
    that time, his company has passed through many hands.
    Pepsico are the present owners.

Smith today is the most common surname in
England.  However, it is not equally
spread about the country. It has its
largest concentrations in the East Midlands and East Anglia, both areas
early Anglo-Saxon settlement.  Some
have suggested that it was these Anglo-Saxon invaders that brought the
name with them

Scotland.  The name
was first recorded in SE Scotland in the 13th century.
According to
legend one clan of Smiths, known as sloich gow chrium (the race
of the
hunchback smith), originated in Perth a century or so later.
There was
a Smythe family
of Braco and later of Methven in Perthshire from the 1470’s.

The Gaelic word gobha for smith gave rise to surnames
such as Gow, MacGow and MacGowan, but also by the 17th century, in an
around Loch Lomond, to the anglicized form of Smith.
Later it was said that many Highland
clansfolk adopted the Smith name after the Jacobite defeat in 1746 to
their clan association.

The name Smith was also widespread in Lowland Scotland.
Adam Smith, famous for his book The Wealth of
, was born in
Kirkcaldy, Fife in 1723.  The largest
Smith numbers in Scotland are now in and around Glasgow.

Ireland.  The Gaelic name MacGabhann
(from the Gaelic word gobha) was often anglicized, as in
Smith.  Smiths in county Cavan were descended from Irish families
that had
been transplanted there from Antrim and Down in the 16th century.
The progenitor
of the Smiths of Ballinure in Cavan was the Rev. William Smith, rector
Clones for forty years who died there in 1717.
It has been said that many of the Scots Smiths in Ulster were in
fact McGowans
in disguise.

William Smyth of the Yorkshire Rosedale Smyths moved to Dundrum
near Dublin with his family in the 1630’s. Later
Smyths of this family were prominent churchmen:

  • the Rev. Arthur
    Smyth, Archbishop of Dublin in the 1760’s
  • the Rev. John Smyth,
    Archdeacon of
  • and, more controversially, the Archdeacon’s son Edward Smyth
    who was
    expelled from his living as an Anglican minister and became a
    Methodist preacher.

Captain Thomas Smyth, grandson of William Smyth, had arrived
in Westmeath by 1671 and was
forebear of the Smyths of Drumcree.  His
brother the Rev. Robert Smyth acquired Portlick castle in Westmeath in

Smiths in Kilkenny and Tipperary have descent from the William Smith
who had come
to Kilkenny from Ashton Court in Somerset in 1630.
It was recorded that the Earl of Ormond “was
well pleased that William Smith of Damagh should bear some parcel of
his arms
for diligent services done by him to the said Earl.”
The family line continued through William’s
grandson Valentine.

Both Smith and
Smyth spellings
persist in Ireland.  Overall, the Smith
spelling is slightly more popular
than Smyth.  Smyth is more common in
Northern Ireland.

America.   One of the first Smiths in America was the
explorer and writer John Smith of Jamestown fame. Born
in Lincolnshire, he arrived there with
the first Virginia colonists in 1607.  He
was famously saved from execution that winter by the Indian chef’s
Pocahontas.  He returned to England and,
after voyages of exploration along the New England coastline, died in
England in

Robert Smith, also from Lincolnshire, came to Topsfield, Massachusetts
1638.  His descendants lived there
through five generations and Joseph Smith
Sr. was born there in 1771.  It was his
son Joseph Smith Jr. who founded the Church of Latter Day Saints or
Church.  Mormons point out Topsfield in
their history books and continue to visit the Smith ancestral hometown

Other early Smiths in America included:

  • Henry Smith who
    arrived in 1637 and settled in Wethersfield, Connecticut.
    His descendants included the Puritan minister
    Cotton Mather Smith and his son John Cotton Smith who became Governor
    Connecticut in 1812.
  • Richard Smith who came around 1640 and was the first
    European settler on Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island.
  • Thomas Smith who came to
    Charleston, South Carolina in 1684 and was a planter and merchant there
    briefly its colonial Governor).  His
    grandson Josiah was a prominent evangelical preacher.
  • and William Smith who was
    born in Virginia, probably in Old Rapahannock county, around 1690.  A later William Smith in Fauquier county was
    “Extra Billy” because of the extra fees he charged on the mail service
    established in Virginia in the 1820’s.  He
    was twice Governor of Virginia and, at the age of sixty
    five, the
    oldest Confederate general in the Civil War.  

John Smith came to Philadelphia from Ireland in 1720 and
made his home in the Brandywine settlement in
Chester county, Pennsylvania

He was the forebear of the first prominent Irish-American Smith
family. Son James was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, but
lost most of his money supporting the Revolution. Grandson Joseph was
financially more successful, a Philadelphia merchant who traded with
the East.

were already 35,000 Smiths recorded in the US census of 1840, with 20%
of that
number in Pennsylvania and a further 20% combined in Ohio and New York.

larger number of Smiths in Pennsylvania is probably explained by the
German Schmidts who arrived there in the 18th and 19th centuries and
Smiths.  Smith was also adopted as a
surname by some from other countries whose name meant Smith but was
spelt and
sounded different.  Alfred Ferraro from
Italy, for instance, fought in the American Civil War and took the name
Alfred Smith.  His son Al Smith was four
times Governor of New York and in 1928 the first Catholic US

Smith was an important name in early Texas history:

  • Henry Smith, born
    in Kentucky, arrived in Texas in 1817, and became the leader of the
    pro-Independence party.  However, he lost
    out to Sam Houston and died in a mining camp in California.
  • another Smith, James
    Smith, was much honored in Texas and had Smith county named after him.  Born in South Carolina, he arrived in Texas
    in 1835 and earned his spurs leading the fight at the Battle of San
  • also at the battle was Erastus Smith,
    a scout for Sam Houston despite his deafness.
  • while an early settler in Texas
    was French Smith
    and his family who arrived in Gonzales county, Texas
    1837.  He was a descendant of William
    Smith who had come to Northumberland county, Virginia around 1657.

Today the
Smith numbers in America are greater than those in England, having
absorbed these
non-English immigrants as well as many African Americans also taking
the Smith name.

Smith Miscellany

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

Select Smith Names

William Smyth was Bishop of Lincoln
and founder of Brasenose College in
Adam Smith was a
famous 18th century Scottish economist, the author of The Wealth of Nations.
Joseph Smith Jr. was the founder of
the Church of the Latter Day Saints (the Mormon movement).
Donald Alexander Smith was
the Scottish-born fur trader, railroad baron,
and politician in Canada in the 19th century.
Ian Smith was Prime Minister of
Rhodesiia from 1964 to 1979, the last leader of white monority rule.
Jimmy Smith was a jazz
musician, a virtuoso on the electric organ.
Alexander McCall Smith is the
author of the No. 1 Lady Detective
series of books.
Will Smith is a popular African
American hip hop artist and actor.

Select Smiths Today

  • 730,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in West Midlands)
  • 907,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 346,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Smith is the #1 ranked surname in the UK and America.


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