Spears Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Spears Surname Meaning

Spears is the main American spelling of this surname.  It has its origins in earlier spellings of the name in England and Scotland.

Spiers and Speirs derived from the Old French word espier, meaning to watch or observe, and was the title for a keeper of the Watch or an early form of policeman.  Spiers has been the most common spelling in England.  Speirs and Spiers have both been found in Scotland. Pronunciation has tended to be like Spe-ars, except in the West Midlands where it has been like Spy-ers.

Spear derived from the Middle English spere, meaning a spear.  The name, found mainly in Devon and Cornwall, described either a spear-maker or a spearman, a soldier with a spear.

The Spiers, Speirs, Spear, and Spears spellings are all found today.  There are also German, Dutch and Jewish origins for these names.

Spears Surname Resources on The Internet

Spears, Speirs and Spiers Surname Ancestry

  • from Scotland (Ayrshire and Renfrewshire), England West Midlands) and from Germany
  • to America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

Scotland.  Both Spiers and Speirs appeared in earlier Scottish records, but now Speirs has become the more common spelling.

Some have thought that the place-name of Spierston, between Ayr and Glasgow, might have been the origin of the surname.  But this appears unlikely as no Spiers or Speirs were recorded in the immediate vicinity. Even so, the main concentration of the Spiers/Speirs name has been in that general area.  The name of John Speir did appear in the 1587 and 1597 Ayr borough records.

Ayrshire.  A Spiers family of cabinet-makers in Ayr has been traced back to Robert Spiers, born in Ayr in 1743. Perhaps the best known of these Spiers was Stewart Spiers who thrived in the late 19th century. Robert Speir purchased Campbell farm in Dairy, Ayrshire in 1741.  It appears that Speirs are still farming there.

William Speirs married Janet Sheddan at Kilmaurs in eastern Ayrshire in 1758.  Through this marriage the Speirs family became owners of the Kersland mill and Marshalland estate in Beith.  The family prospered.  Margaret Spiers, who outlived both her husband and her son, bequeathed on her death in 1870 funds for a school to be established in memory of her son. Spiers’ School was opened in 1888 and continued until 1972.

Renfrewshire and Glasgow.   Isaac Speer was recorded as being born in Renfrewshire in 1565 and dying there in 1644.  Some time later his son Andrew moved to Ireland and continued the family in Donegal.

The line of the Speirs of Burnbrae in Renfrewshire began with the birth of Robert Speir there in 1688.  They became major landowners in the area.  A branch of the family moved to county Tyrone in Ulster in the 1740’s.

The famous Speirs merchant family of Elderslie in Renfrewshire is thought to have had  its origins in Perthshire.  John Spiers, an Edinburgh merchant, was probably born there.  His son Alexander Speirs became involved in the tobacco business, owning a tobacco plantation in Virginia and trading tobacco from Glasgow, and amassed a huge fortune. This was inherited in 1782 by his son Archibald.

Alexander had sought without success to establish a cotton mill at Fintry some 20 miles north of Glasgow.  His youngest son Peter succeeded with a water-driven mill in 1800.  This mill thrived for about thirty years, but then became uneconomic and was closed down.

The Speirs remained a powerful and influential force in Glasgow life throughout the 19th century.  Perhaps the best remembered has been Lady Anne Speirs, in part because of her philanthropic work but more because of her alleged curse on the town of Linwood.

England.  Spiers and Spear have been the two main spellings in England.

The Spiers Surname.   The name seems to have first appeared as Spier in the West Midlands.  John Spier of Newbold-on-Avon in Warwickshire died in 1618.  Another John Spier married Ann Brand at Severn Stoke in Worcestershire in 1721. Later the spelling was Spiers or sometimes Spires. The Spiers family of Stoneleigh in Warwickshire dating back to the 1750’s used both spellings.

Spiers meanwhile has been a long-established name in the village of Ludgershall in Buckinghamshire. There was an early account of a Richard Spiers “possessed of the friary.”  And under the tower of the church there is a huge monument to William Spiers, dated 1814, who was a local benefactor.

Some Spiers in England were of foreign origin. Alexander Spiers the lexicographer, who was born on the coast in Hampshire in 1807, had German parents.  His grandson Edward Spiers changed his name from Spiers to Spears.  He had a lengthy political career that benefited from his close relationship with Winston Churchill.  Morris Spiers, also Jewish, came to London from Poland in the 1860’s.  The Rev. Bernard Spiers, from Poland as well, was a Jewish dayan leader in London in the 1870’s.

The Spear Surname.  The Speare name appeared in the Devon subsidy records in 1332.  By the 1600’s Spear seems to have been mainly concentrated in central Devon in an area around the villages of Winkleigh and Monk Okehampton northwest of Exeter.  One family has traced their ancestors back to the mid‑Devon village of Sandford in the 1730’s.  The Spear name extended to Cornwall and later to Somerset and Bristol. 

America.  Spiers and Speirs may have been spellings in England and Scotland.  Some may have come to America by that spelling.  But over time Americans spelt the name as they heard it and this became Spear and Spears.

Northeast.   George Spear’s origins in England are uncertain.  He came to Braintree, Massachusetts in 1644 and tradition has it that he lived in the Mount Wollaston farm previously occupied by John Quincy. His descendants were numerous in New England. According to Verne Spear’s 1988 book The Descendants of George Spear: 

“George Spear had over 200 descendants fighting in the Revolutionary War, with more than 100 bearing his name and 16 of them officers.  An equal number of descendants from the Spear daughters enlisted from Massachusetts alone and fought to free a nation.”   

The Speer and Spear names were common in Essex county, New Jersey in the early 1800’s. These names harked back to the early Dutch immigrant Hendrick Spier who arrived in what was then New Amsterdam in 1650.

Virginia.   There were three notable early Spiers/Spears lines into Virginia – one from Scotland, another of uncertain origin, and a third from Germany.

Henry Spiers was born to Scottish parents in Prince George county around the year 1720.  He was a tobacco planter.  Many of his descendants remained in the area through the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.  William Spiers was with General Lee at Appomattox in 1865 when he surrendered to General Grant.  This line was covered in Mary Spiers Kennette’s 1979 book Descendants of Henry Spiers.

James Spears was born in Albemarle county in 1729. He was a neighbor of the Jeffersons and appeared in the will of Thomas Jefferson’s father in 1757. His sons William and Samuel moved to Georgia in the late 1790’s.

Christian Spears, born in Virginia in 1755, was the son of German Speers immigrants.  He was in Kentucky as early as 1780 and was in fact captured there by the British during the Revolutionary War.  Laroux Gillespie’s 1987 book History and Descendants of John E. and Noah Spears is an account of two Christian Spears’ descendants and their westward adventures during the 19th century. 

Georgia and Mississippi.   The Spears name came south to Georgia into Mississippi.  Archibald Spears, from a Scottish line, died in Twiggs county, Georgia in 1812.  His son, also Archibald, moved to Jones county, Mississippi and later to Texas. He lost three of his sons in the Civil War.

Old John Spiers, who lived to be ninety, was born in Georgia in 1799 and came to Pearl River county on the Mississippi shoreline as a young man.  He was one of the early settlers there. The Spears of Pike county, Mississippi in the early 1800’s probably came from South Carolina.  A descendant is the Mississippi-born singer Britney Spears.

Canada.  David Spiers from Ayrshire, despairing of the farming life there, came out to Canada in the late 1840’s as a teenager.  In Galt, Ontario he prospered in a number of businesses and became one of the civic leaders of the town.  Spiers Crescent was named after him. 

Australia.  Felix Spiers who arrived in Melbourne in 1857 came from a Scottish family which had its origins with Joseph Spiers, born in Glasgow around the year 1700, and later Spiers who were tobacco merchants in France.

Felix formed a partnership, Spiers & Pond, with Christopher Pond to run restaurants and hotels.  However, they are best remembered for bringing the first All-England cricket team to Australia in 1861 to play a series of matches.  Felix Spiers left Australia for London in 1863.

New Zealand.  James and Harriotte Spiers from London were on-board the Oriental which arrived in New Zealand in 1839.  They settled in the Karori suburb of Wellington.  There is a street now named Spiers in Karori.

Britney Spears’ Family Ancestry

The singer Britney Spears, born in Mississippi in 1981, came from a family with deep roots back to the early 1800’s in a part of America that is sometimes called the Bible Belt.  For generations the Baptist church would be the main influence on the lives of this family.  Britney even sang in the Baptist church choir when she was a child.

Just click below if you want to read more about this history:

Spears, Speirs and Spiers Surname Miscellany

Spiers, Speirs, Spear and Spears Today

Numbers (000’s) Spiers Speirs Spear Spears Total
UK     3     4     2     2    11
America     1     4    10    15
Elsewhere     2     1     1     2     6
Total     6     5     7    14    32

Reader Feedback – Isaac Speer in Renfrewshire.  My mother was a Spier and her origins trace back to an Isaac Speer who was born in Renfrewshire in 1565 and died there in 1644. What clan were the Speers associated with please?

James Billings (lakesidehome@bellsouth.net)

Spiers as Spy-ers.  A Spiers family of Evesham in Worcestershire pronounced their name as spy-ers and often spelt it as Spires.  This pronunciation seems to have extended across the West Midlands.

Richard Spiers was Mayor of Oxford in the 1850’s.  His father was a hairdresser and perfumer whose shop was on the High Street in the town.  The family joke was that when Wordsworth wrote his poem Oh Ye Spires of Oxford, it was in fact in praise of this shop.

Lady Anne Speirs and Her Curse.  The Speirs family was once a very wealthy family at Linwood in Renfrewshire.  They lived in Bumbrae House and owned much of the surrounding land. Five members of the Speirs family were buried in the family vault under the old parish church hall. It was said that if the vault were ever disturbed then Lady Anne Speirs would haunt the villagers of Linwood.

The origin of the curse is shrouded in mystery.  But the “wrath” of Lady Anne was first said to have been incurred in the early 1980’s with the closure of the nearby Rootes car plant, Linwood’s main employer.  The plant ceased operations in 1981, five years after the parish church was pulled down.  More recently, superstitious locals have warned that the plans by Tesco to move the remains of the five Speirs from their crypt and reunite them with their descendants in North Berwick will bring tragedy to the town.

However, local historians have asserted that Lady Anne Speirs was not among those Speirs being moved (in fact she was unrelated) and that the curse has no foundation.

Edward Spiers Who Became Edward Spears.  Edward Louis Spiers changed his name from Spiers to Spears in 1918. He claimed that the reason was his irritation at the mispronunciation of Spiers.  Yet it is possible that he wanted a more English-looking name, something more in keeping with his rank as a Brigadier General and head of the British Military Mission to the French War Office.

He denied that he was of Jewish stock.  But his great grandfather had been an Isaac Spiers of Gosport who had married Hannah Moses, a shopkeeper in the same town.  His ancestry was known.

Old John Spiers, Mississippi Pioneer.  John Spiers was a hunter, woodsman and trapper and a legendary character in the early history of what is now Pearl River county, Mississippi.  He was born in the state of Georgia in 1799.  He grew up in the great forest section of western Georgia where few people except Indians lived.  He learned well the way of wild things and Indians as he grew up.

John came to Hancock county (now Pearl River county) about 1816 or 1817.  One story has it that he was having problems with a teacher in Georgia.  On one day it came to a head and John pulled out his pocket knife and cut across the front of the teacher’s suit.  After the incident he was afraid to go home to his father and face the consequences, so he ran away.  Another story has him joining General Andrew Jackson’s army and coming to Mississippi that way.

John settled in the Henleyfield area on the old river.  He killed hundreds of bears over a period of years and was almost solely responsible for ridding the area of wolves.  He was the forefather of the many Spiers living in this area.  Eight of John’s nine sons fought in the Confederate army during the Civil War and two died in the war.  John lived a long life and died in 1889.

Reader Feedback – Christian Spears in Kentucky.  Christian Spears, a young German immigrant, arrived in Kentucky in 1778 shortly after Daniel Boone had been captured by the Indians.  Two years later Christian and his friend John Burger registered their land claims right behind Daniel in January 1780 after he had escaped.

When 1,200 Indians and British soldiers came to Ruddell’s Settlement in Bourbon county and took these two friends along with almost 350 others, everyone’s life changed.  Murder, slavery, captivity, and families were torn apart and kept by the Indians while those who were marched to Detroit experienced great suffering along the way.

Some joined the British army in Detroit; some were imprisoned in Detroit or Montreal; some were captives there for several years, yet allowed to roam the area working for others, and some settled in Canada and lived their lives there.

LaRoux Gillespie’s 2015 book Christian Spears in Kentucky is the story of Christian and the people he interfaced with over the period from 1778 to 1811.

LaRoux Gillespie 

Noah and John E. Spears.  Noah and John E. Spears were both descendants of the Virginia-born Christian Spears who had moved to Kentucky at the time of the Revolutionary War.  Noah was born in Kentucky in 1828, John in Missouri in 1836.

Laroux Gillespie, a descendant, has written an account of their times in his History and Descendants of John E. And Noah Spears.  The book describes the life, travels and descendants of these pioneers.

Their story starts out in Missouri.  It was the Union soldiers that destroyed their peace in Cass county, Missouri.  They made the journey to Vernon, Texas and then, when opportunity presented itself, to Grady county in Oklahoma.

Spears Names

  • Alexander Speirs, based in Glasgow, was one of the leading British tobacco merchants of the mid-18th century.   
  • Britney Spears is an American singer from Mississippi who burst into the hit charts in the late 1990’s and established herself as a teen icon.

Spears Numbers Today

  • 11,000 in the UK (most numerous in Glasgow)
  • 15,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 6,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

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Written by Colin Shelley

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