Steele Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Steele Meaning
The Steel and Steele surnames came from Scotland and the north of England.  There were two possible origins for these names:

  • that
    they may have
    started out as nicknames – describing someone who was inflexible and
    firm, i.e.
    as hard as steel.   
  • and/or
    that they may have
    derived from the place-name of Steel, found along the Anglo-Scottish
    border in
    Ayrshire, Berwickshire and Dumfriesshire and also in Northumberland and

Steele Resources on

Steele Ancestry

England.   The
main early sightings appear to have been in Cheshire.

Cheshire.  The Steeles
at Sandbach
dated back to Richard Steele who had acquired Giddy
Hall in the
early 1600’s.  The main line followed his
son William to Ireland where he was appointed Lord Chancellor in
1656.  A branch
via John Steele returned to England in the early 1700’s and became
Steel in
Suffolk.  Other Steeles remained at

plates and cups in the silver communion service used at the old
Sandbach parish church bear the following inscription: ‘The gift of
Steele, second son of Richard Steele of Sandbach, for the use of the
parish of Sandbach forever. 1656.’”

Steele line in Cheshire was to be found at Barthomley where Richard
Steele was
born around the year 1550.  Three Steele
descendants were massacred at the local church on Christmas Eve 1643 by
Royalists.  Richard Steele, not one of
these, moved to London and became a nonconformist minister.  Later Steeles in Barthomley held Buddylee
farm.  Another Steele farming family
there, indebted, emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1795.

Elsewhere.  Steeles in the village of
Fairsted near
Basildon in Essex appeared around the year 1500.  John
Steele emigrated from there to America
in 1631.

Steeles in Broughton in Hampshire went back to William Steele, a local
carpenter in the early 1600’s.  Four
generations later the Steeles were well-to-do timber merchants, with
Steele – following his brother Henry – also active as pastor of
his local Baptist
church.  His daughter Anne Steele, born in 1717,
became a
prolific hymn writer.

Samuel Steele, born in 1708, was the first of his line in
Coleford, Gloucestershire.  He had two
sons – Elmes a surgeon and Samuel an army officer in Canada.  Six
of Elmes’s sons
followed in these footsteps.

was believed to have been below-board as an assistant surgeon on the Victory at Trafalgar, another was
drowned during a naval exercise in the Baltic.
Three served as soldiers throughout the Peninsular War, one of
whom died
from his wounds at Waterloo and another was said to have been the
tallest man
in the British army during the subsequent occupation in Paris.” 

Another naval officer Elmes Steele retired
early and emigrated to Canada in 1832.

In general, it should be said however, the Steele surname was to be
found mainly in the northwest of England, in a line stretching north
Staffordshire through Cheshire and Lancashire into Cumberland. 

Scotland.  Early
Steels in Scotland
were spelt Steill, possibly from the parish
Berwickshire of that name.

The Steels of Lesmahagow in Lanarkshire had joined
the army of Covenanters at war with the Stuart kings.
The aged father Robert Steel was slain in
1679, whilst his son Captain John Steel at that time narrowly escaped
death.  After years on the run David Steel was murdered
outside his
front door by Royalist dragoons in 1686.

Descendants of these Steels have

  • the
    Steels who fled to Ireland and subsequently emigrated to
  • and
    David Steel, the UK Liberal party leader from 1976 to 1988.

Steel, a shipowner from Kirkwood in Lanarkshire who had made his home
Liverpool in the mid-19th century, was the forebear of an English
family.  There were seven Steel sons, of
whom four played first-class cricket for Lancashire and one Allan or AG
times for England.

Ireland.  There
were English Steeles and Scottish Steels
in Ireland.

The English Steeles were based in Dublin following William Steele’s
appointment as Lord Chancellor of Ireland in 1656.
His grandson Sir Richard Steele, born there,
made his name as a politician and playwright.
He co-founded in 1709 with his friend Joseph Addison the
magazine The Tatler (which continues to this
day).  Richard’s grandson, also named
Richard, emigrated to Pennsylvania in the late 1700’s.

According to family
tradition three Steel brothers, loyal to the Covenanter cause, had been
to flee Scotland.  It was said that one
of the rebel John Steel ended up in Donegal.
Many of these Steels later also emigrated to Pennsylvania.

Other Scottish Steels were to be found at Castleblaney in
Monaghan.  The lads here formed the
“Steelboy insurrection” against English rule in the early 1770’s.  For nearly three years the Steelboys
slaughtered cattle and destroyed the property of new tenants.
Steel then departed
for Pennsylvania in 1774.

America.  John
and George Steele from Essex were early arrivals
in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1631.
They moved inland four years later to be among the first
settlers of
Hartford, Connecticut.  Daniel Steele
Durrie’s 1862 book was entitled Steele
Family: A Genealogical History of John and George Steele

Steele descendants migrated to New York (and
the numbers here included the landscape architect Fletcher Steele) and
to Ohio
and California.

Steele was a West Point graduate and a hero of the Mexican and Civil
Wars.  In 1853 he returned to Ohio and told his brothers of the
opportunities in California, convincing them to make the journey and
there with their families.”

This they did in the next five years, leasing land at
Rancho Punta Año Nuevo and setting up five dairy farms.
Their story was told in C.B. and W.H.
Steele’s 1971 book The Steeles of Punta Año Nuevo.

Meanwhile another Steele line, in this case
via New York, produced Elijah Steele who had arrived in California in
1850 and
was an Indian agent in northern California.

Pennsylvania.  The Steele arrivals into
Pennsylvania were
more numerous and included English (or Anglo-Irish) and Scottish (or
Irish) Steeles.

The Anglos included:

  • Richard
    the grandson of Sir Richard Steele, who was granted lands in the
    vicinity of
    Mercersburg in the 1730’s.  Three of his
    sons, including Captain Andrew Steele who fought in the Revolutionary
    later settled in Fayette county, Kentucky. 
  • and
    George Steele from Cheshire who
    came to Chester county in 1795.  His line
    was covered in Frederick Steele’s 1896 book The
    Descendants of George Steele of Barthomley. 

amongst the more
numerous Scots Irish in Pennsylvania were:

  • William
    Steele who arrived in 1750
    and made his home in Steelville, Chester county.  His
    grandson Franklin headed west in 1838 and
    was an early settler in Minneapolis.
  • the
    Rev. John Steele who came to Carlisle in
    Cumberland county in 1759 and served as the pastor of the Presbyterian
    there for twenty years.  He was known as
    the fighting parson in the early years of the Revolutionary War.  The name of Ephraim
    first appeared in Carlisle in 1769.
    He was an influential merchant and landowner
    there for forty-five years.
  • James
    Steel from Monaghan who was in Cumberland
    county by 1774, but soon headed west to Westmoreland county where he
    died in
  • the
    various Steel Covenanter descendants in Donegal who came to
    Pennsylvania in stages between 1790 and 1824.  The
    Rev. David Steele was a Covenanter minister in
    Huntingdon and later
    served as a pastor in Adams county, Ohio. 
  • a
    later arrival in 1846 was a Steele widow and her four sons from
    Glasgow in Scotland.  Her eldest son
    started work in Philadelphia as a carpenter.

    1886 the four sons
    were partners in William Steele and Son,
    Carpenters and Builders
    .  No longer
    house builders, they had quickly moved into large-scale construction.  The project for which they became famous was
    the Shibe Park baseball stadium, completed in 1909.

Pennsylvania also had some German-origin
Steeles who had come as Stahls.
such was Johann Jakob Stahl who arrived in
Philadelphia from Rheinland-Pfalz in 1738.
Their son
Georg Stahl

George Steele.

Elsewhere.  John Steele of Rowan county,
North Carolina was a nephew of the Ephraim Steele in Pennsylvania.  He served as a Federalist legislator after
the Revolutionary War and was appointed comptroller of the US Treasury
George Washington in 1796.

Thomas Steele, a native of Dublin, had served on the
schooner General Putnam in defence of
New York during the Revolutionary War.
He settled with his family in Kentucky in 1798.
His grandson Alfonso fought with Sam Houston
at the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836 during the Texas Revolution.  On his death in 1911 he was the last
remaining survivor of that battle.

Canada.  James
and Thomas Steele, brothers from Antrim, arrived in Simcoe county
sometime in
the 1820’s.   Both settled in West
Gwillimbury township and both married McAfee girls.

Sam Steele, the son of retired British naval officer Elmes Steele,
was born in
Medonte township, Simcoe county in 1849.
He became an officer of the North-West Mounted Police, most
famously as
the head of the Yukon detachment during the Klondike Gold Rush in 1898.

South of Simcoe county lay the city of Toronto where
Thomas and Milcah Steele arrived from Yorkshire in 1834.
Thomas and later his son John were
proprietors of the Green Bush Inn in
its Newtonbrook suburb.  Steele’s Corners
and Steele’s Avenue in the area were named after them.

Australia.  The early Steele accounts in Australia
related to convicts.

Betty Steele was a deaf young woman who was convicted of
burglary in London and transported to Australia on the infamous Lady Juliana in 1789.  She
ended up in Norfolk Island where she
pioneered a farm with her ex-convict husband James Mackey.
Freed in 1794 she, however, died just one
year later.  She might have been
forgotten had not her gravestone been discovered in 1971 almost two
years later.

George Steel from Suffolk came out to Tasmania as a fee settler in
1828.  Six years later he was convicted
of cattle stealing and sent also to Norfolk Island.
Freed in 1843 he lived out the rest of his
life in Liverpool, NSW.


Steele Miscellany

Steels and Steeles Today

Numbers (000’s) Steel Steele Total
UK    24    14    38
America    32     2    34
Elsewhere    12     4    16
Total    68    20    88

The spelling in England is mainly Steele, in Scotland Steel.

Early Steels in Scotland.  George Fraser Black in his 1946 The Surnames of Scotland had the following to say about Steel:

“There are places so named in the shires of Ayr, Berwick, and Dumfries. In
Berwickshire the old parish of Steill is now Ladykirk.  William Stele was a
burgess of Edinburgh in 1423 and John Steil or Steyll appeared as a
of Kilmoirin Brechin in 1434 and 1448.  John
Steill alias Kempy Steill was hanged for theft in 1524 and George
Steyll was the
King’s familiar servitor in 1530.  Jock
Steill appeared in the town of Bowdenon the Scottish borders in 1567.  William Steill was piper to one of the two
companies of Highland bowmen raised in Argyll in 1627 for service in

The Steele Family of Sandbach and Ireland.  The
following line for the Steele family of Sandbach in Cheshire derived from the Visitation of Cheshire in 1663.  The
Steele family home in Sandbach was the moated Giddy Hall.

– Thomas Steele, yeoman farmer of Weston (1540-1607), m. Alice Latham

— Richard Steele, gentleman of Sandbach (1580-1645), m. Cicely Shaw (note – his younger brother Thomas, a cheese factor in Nantwich, was shot in 1643 by the Parliamentarians for giving up Beeston castle without a fight).

— William Steele (1610-1690), Lord Chancellor of Ireland, m. (1) Elizabeth Godfrey and (2) Mary Mellish

—- Richard Steele (1638-1709), a debt collector in Ireland (brother to William and Benjamin Steele)

—– Sir Richard Steele (1671-1729), Irish writer and politician

— Lawrence Steele (1616-1697), clerk of the Irish House of Commons.

The Murder of David Steel.  The Rev. Robert Simpson
in his 1887 book Traditions of the
had this to say about the murder of David Steel.

Steels of
Lesmahagow were men of renown and faithful witnesses to Jesus Christ.  David Steel was shot at Skellyhill in 1686 in
the thirty-third year of his age.  He
was, after a promise of quarter, murdered before his own door.

Weir, his youthful and truly Christian
wife, cherished an uncommon attachment for her husband, having bound up
shattered head with a napkin and closed down his eyelids with her own

looked upon the manly and
honest countenance that was now pale in death and said with a sweet and
heavenly composure:

archers have shot at thee my husband, but they cannot
reach thy soul.  It has escaped like a
dove, far away and is at rest.’

Steel was shot by an officer under the
command of Viscount Dundee, known in history as Bloody Claverhouse, who
devastated Scotland as a follower and supporter of the exiled Stuarts.

buried at Lesmahagow, in the same God’s Acre in which repose the others
of the
family name.  At Skellyhill a monument
commemorating his martyrdom was erected.”

play True
, based on the story of Steel’s martyrdom, was written by
McLeish.  It has been performed a number
of times, most recently in 2016 at nearby Strathaven.

The Story of Anne Steele.  Anne Steele
was born in the village of Broughton in Hampshire in 1717, the daughter of
William Steele, a well-to-do local timber merchant who converted
his home at Pigeon House Farm into that fine Georgian house
known as Broughton House.

Anne suffered in her early years from misfortunes.
She was only a baby of three years old when
her mother died.   She grew up a
child and suffering a hip injury in her late teens that made it
difficult for
her to get around.

Life was to deal a
further hard blow.  She had fallen in
love with a man called Robert Elscourt.
He proposed marriage and she accepted.
But her lover decided to swim and bathe in the Test river on the
before their wedding.  He drowned and
Anne was grief stricken.

had always been a young woman who found solace in
writing and now she turned to God to guide her through this wretched
time. It
is believed that her first hymn, a poem of beautiful resignation, was
at this time.  Anne went on to write 144 hymns and 34 versified
psalms. She
wrote devotional poems under her pseudonym Theodosia.

1760 two volumes of her
Poems on Subjects Devotional were
published and these inspired others to compile a Baptist hymn book
her works.  She was one of the first female hymn writers in
Britain and her work
has been described as being deeply moving and inspirational. 

Ephraim Steele of Carlisle, Pennsylvania.  Ephraim Steele came to America with
his cousin Thomas Stephenson.  It is
probable that he was not then of age and that he settled in Carlisle
his brother John was already living there.
His name first appears on the town’s tax list in 1769.

In 1777 he
purchased for 300 pounds the lot lying in the southwest angle formed by
street and the public square.  Here he
had his home and business place for many years.

In 1779 his pastor, the Rev.
John Steele, the famous captain preacher, died and Ephraim Steele was
one of
the executors of his will.  By this time
he was one of the foremost citizens and businessmen of the town and a
of the Peace.

At the conclusion of the Revolutionary War in 1783 he was
a county commissioner and, a few years later, a member of the lower
branch of
the State Legislature. In February 1813 the Governor appointed him an
judge for Cumberland county.  But this
honor he was not permitted to enjoy long as he died in 1814.

Sam Steele, Canadian Mountie in the Yukon.  Part of
Sam Steele’s attraction for his contemporaries was that he embodied the values
of the day – Victorian ideals, imperial zeal, and selfless patriotism.  Born in Ontario in 1849, he came from a long
line of defenders of the Union Jack.  His
British-born forebears had fought on the Plains of Abraham in 1759 and
at the
Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

was still a teenager in 1866 when he joined a
militia formed to fight raids onto Canadian soil by Irish American
Fenians. The
youngster quickly realized that military life in the rough British
offered adventures impossible to experience on a pioneer farm.  He was a big, brawny man’s man – barrel
chested, good looking, and inclined to hit the bottle too hard when

In 1872 the Canadian Government launched the North-West Mounted Police.   Its distinctive uniform reflected its
purpose.  A Mountie wore the red jacket
of a traditional British regiment and the breeches and boots of a
ranger.   The third man to be sworn
this uniquely Canadian force was the twenty-four year-old Samuel
Steele.  He began his career as a
constable and started moving up the ranks.

1898 he was appointed
superintendent of the Mounties in the Yukon where gold had been
discovered.  He assumed command of a
third of the entire Mountie force and moved to Dawson City.

he insisted
that all bars, saloons, and gambling parlors be closed from midnight on
Saturday until 2 a.m. on Monday.  He
cleaned up corruption in the gold commissioner’s office.
And he saw that major criminals were summarily
shipped out of the country, while minor offenders were put to work
cutting firewood
for police headquarters in temperatures as extreme as 40 degrees below

the time of his arrival the burly man in scarlet serge had by sheer
force of will imposed law and order on this squalid, frantic frontier
town.  When the young Mounties at the
police station
near the Front Street saloons saw their walrus-mustached boss stomping
them in the early-morning darkness, they jumped to attention.  When Steele tramped along the frozen Klondike
River on crisp, twilit winter afternoons, looking like a dangerous
predator in
his raccoon coat, cabin dwellers along the riverbank waved politely. On
rare occasions when he stepped into a smoky saloon, a hush spread
through the
gambling tables as card sharps and hookers melted into the background.

spring of 1899, the Toronto

Steele should
be given a special vote of thanks by Parliament.  No
man ever deserved it more. Besides having
his men under such a remarkable state of discipline he has done wonders
in many
other ways.  That is the kind of man
required in a country like this.”

not everyone shared this opinion and
his Yukon command was terminated later on that year.


Steele Names

  • Sir Richard Steele was an 18th century Irish writer,
    playwright, and politician, remembered as the co-founder of The Tatler. 
  • Sam Steele was a famous Canadian Mountie in the 1890’s at the time of the Klondike gold rush. 
  • Freddie Steele, born Frederick Burgett, was an American middleweight boxing champion of the world in the 1930’s who later became a Hollywood actor.   
  • Tommy Steele, born Thomas Hicks, was regarded in the
    1950’s as Britain’s first teen idol and rock and roll star.
  • David Steel from Scotland was the leader of the Liberal Party from 1976 until its merger with the Social
    Democratic Party in 1988. 
  • Danielle Steel is an American writer, known for her best-selling romance novels.

Select Steele Numbers Today

  • 38,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Lancashire)
  • 34,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 16,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)




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