Stevens Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Stevens Surname Meaning

It could be Stephens, it could be Stevens – being “son of Stephen” and “son of Steven,” a personal name from the Greek Stephanos meaning “crown.”  It was a popular name in the early Middle Ages, having been borne by the first Christian martyr.  There are two spellings of the surname, Stevens and Stephens.

Stevens Surname Resources on The Internet

Stevens and Stephens Surname Ancestry

  • from Southern England and from Germany
  • to America, Canada and Australia

England.   In England, the first record of Stephens came from Airard FitzStephen who commanded William the Conqueror’s flagship on the invasion of England. 

His family received land allotments in Gloucestershire. They became feudal barons and remained powerful through medieval times. The Fitz was dropped sometime around 1350.  Branches of the family were later resident at Eastington, Chavenage, and Lypiatt Park.  The most impressive of these edifices was Chavenage, an Elizabethan manor house built by Edward Stephens in 1576.

Stephens.  This spelling has remained very much a west country name, with a particularly high concentration in Cornwall.

A Stephens family was established at St. Ives from the 1470’s, having apparently arrived there after a shipwreck from Ireland.  They started out as bakers and became successful merchants.  Samuel Stephens of this family built a splendid mansion for himself at Tragenna Castle in 1774.  But it stayed with the family for only sixty years. 

One Cornish family began with the marriage of Robert Stephens and Mary Morrier in St. Austell in 1667. Their descendants remained in St. Austell until the mid 19th century when the depression in the mining industry there drove many to emigrate to Australia.  

However, the Stevens spelling can be found at St. Ives in Cornwall.   William Stevens, the progenitor of a St. Ives family, was born nearby at Zennor in 1611.  For five generations, starting in 1900, a Stevens family has been fishing off St. Ives. 

Anthony Stephens was born in Wiltshire in 1560 and Thomas Stephens was a haberdasher in London in the early 1600’s.  Their line was traced in C.P. Stevens 1968 book Stevens-Stephens Genealogy and Family History.  

Stevens,  This spelling, by general contrast, has been a name of London and the southeast.

One Stevens family came from Henley in Oxfordshire.  Henry Stevens was Wagonmaster General to Charles I during the Civil War.  His descendants, lawyers in London, held lands in Berkshire, first at Wargrave and then at Bradfield.  The Rev. Thomas Stevens converted the Bradfield manor house in the 19th century into Bradfield College.

Surrey Stevens living in 1600 included Rodger Stevens of Banstead and Jerome Stevens of Ewell.  The early cricketer Edward “Lumpy” Stevens was born at Send near Guildford in 1735. 

America.  America also has had Stephens and Stevens. 

Stephens.  John Stephens was an early arrival in America, settling in Guilford, Connecticut in 1648.  Some genealogies have him coming from Lypiatt in Gloucestershire, but this has been disputed.  A branch of this family was later to be found in Maryland.  Henry Stephens who came to Stonington, Connecticut in 1668 was also thought to have come from Gloucestershire, but again this may be doubtful. 

Some early Stephens in America came from Germany, such as Peter Stephens (born Peter Steffen) who was instrumental in founding in Virginia in the 1730’s the town that is now called Stephens City. 

Stevens.  On the Stevens side was some early arrivals into New England:

  • Henry Stevens who arrived in Boston from London in 1635.  He was married twice and the father of twelve children born between 1637 and 1670.  He was a mason by trade.
  • John Stevens from Oxfordshire who came to Newbury, Massachusetts in 1638 and later moved to Amherst.
  • and Thomas Stevens who was in Stamford, Connecticut by 1641.  His line included Lieutenant Ezra Stevens from Danbury who fought in the Revolutionary War.

Clarence Stevens’ 1950 book The Stevens Genealogy and Family History covered the lines of the brothers Richard and Henry Stevens who arrived in Taunton, Massachusetts in 1660, Henry later settling in Stonington, Connecticut.

John Stevens came to New York from London in 1699 and later settled in Perth Amboy, New Jersey.  He was the patriarch of a very notable early American family:

  • his son John grew to prominence as a sea captain and merchant and later was a member of the Continental Congress.
  • his grandson John, who founded the New Jersey town of Hoboken, was the builder of the first ocean-going steamship and he also designed and constructed the first American-built steam locomotive.
  • while two of John’s sons, Robert and Edwin, were also noted inventors.  Edwin left a bequest which started the Stevens Institute of Technology.
  • and another son John was a keen sailor who founded the New York Yacht Club.  He was instrumental in 1851 in the startup of the sailors’ America Cup.

Today the overall Stevens/Stephens numbers in America are larger than in England because they include some Stevens/Stephens who had originally come from Germany or Holland with names such as Steffan or Stephan.

Canada.  Shadrack Stephens, born in Wales, had emigrated to South Carolina at a very young age.  Caught up in the Revolutionary War there, he had taken the British side.  Then, surviving imprisonment by the Americans,  he was able to get to New York in 1789 and from there he made it to New Brunswick.  The land there, however, was too poor for farming and he moved with his family to Newmarket, Ontario some ten years later.

Roger and Abel Stevens of Pittsford, Vermont were also Loyalists at the time of the Revolutionary War.  Both brothers later departed for Canada, Roger Stevens for Leeds county, Ontario in 1789 and Abel (more reluctant to leave) following him there four years later.  Elizabeth Stuart’s 1991 book The Stevens-Stephens Family from Vermont covered their history.

Harrison Stephens was also from Vermont.  He moved to Canada in 1823, eventually settling in Montreal where he profited greatly from his various business enterprises as a merchant and in real estate.  He had no animus towards the country of his birth.  Both his son and grandson were named George Washington Stephens.

Australia.  The Rev. John Stephens, a Methodist minister from Cornwall, was father to two sons who stayed in England and three sons who were early settlers in South Australia:

  • Edward Stephens came out with his wife Emily on the Coromandel in 1836.  Like his father he was a Methodist and the first Methodist sermon in South Australia was preached in his tent.  He prospered in Adelaide, but returned to England in 1855.
  • his brother John Stephens was active in London in promoting this new colony, publishing his book The Land of Promise in 1839.  He came out to Adelaide himself in 1843 and founded the Adelaide Observer newspaper.  However, he incurred debts, faced libel suits, and died early in 1850.
  • while another brother Samuel Stephens lasted an even shorter time in South Australia.

Other Stephens from Cornwall came to South Australia later, as miners.  John Stephens, for instance, arrived with his wife Mary in 1850, first working as a carpenter at the Burra Burra mine before moving to Moonta.

Stevens and Stephens Surname Miscellany

Airard Fitz Stephen and His Line.  The Norman house of Fitz Stephen was said to have originally taken its cognomen from the Christian name borne in honor of St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Church.  A Norman noble, Airard Fitz Stephen, commanded the ship Mora that brought William the Conqueror across the Channel on his invasion of England in 1066.

His son Thomas was in charge of the White Ship when it sunk off the Normandy coast with all hands on board, including the King’s son Prince William, in 1120.  Finely dressed bodies were being washed up along the Norman shoreline for months afterwards.  After King Henry heard of the disaster, it was said that he never smiled again.

The Fitz Stephen line in Gloucestershire began with Thomas’s son Ralph who was Sheriff of Gloucestershire and died in 1190. John Stephens was the first to drop the “Fitz” nomenclature around the year 1350.The main later lines in Gloucestershire began with:

  • Edward Stephens from the 1570’s with Eastington Manor and the Chavenage estate
  • and Thomas Stephens from 1610 with Lypiatt Park.

Chavenage House is said to be haunted.   Nathaniel Stephens had agreed to the execution of Charles I in 1649.  Some years later he was taken ill and died.  Ghostly apparitions then appeared:

“Following his death, a hearse driven by a headless man was said to have pulled up at the manor house. Legend holds that Nathaniel Stephens rose from his coffin and, having knelt in reverence before the figure, was seen to climb into the hearse which then sped away.”

One line from Eastington extended to Nathaniel Stephens, the rector of Alphamstone in Essex, and to his son Sir Philip Stephens, First Secretary of the Admiralty in the late 18th century.  Port Stephens in Australia was named after him.

Lypiatt Park is believed to have been the venue where the Gunpowder Plot was hatched in 1605.  But that was before the Stephens had acquired the property.  It remained in Stephens’ hands until 1802.

Samuel Stephens of St. Ives.  The Stephens family, which had been settled at St. Ives since the 15th century, was Presbyterian, deriving their wealth from the local fishery and from mining.

Samuel Stephens inherited this wealth and decided to live like a gentleman.  In the 1770’s, he disposed of everything connected with trade or with fishing and began to build a splendid mansion for himself in the town, Tregenna castle.  He also pulled down the local Presbyterian chapel and withdrew his support for its minister.

But he never escaped the taint of trade from his “betters.”  The following was one report on him:

“Mr. Stephens was born at or near St. Ives and is but of low origin.  When he offered himself as a candidate to represent St. Ives an opposing candidate reproached him with this circumstance.  In his reply he acknowledged that he sprung from the lower orders of the people, but that he could boast of having a very considerable number of the electors in the list of his relations and hoped to have the gratification of being returned a member by these near connections.”

His son Samuel, who also became an MP for St. Ives, had another advantage.  He had married an heiress, Betty Wallis, who brought with her a fortune said to have been in the order of £100,000.

The Stevens of Bradfield.  Richard Stevens was a London lawyer of the Inner Temple who had acquired properties at Wargrave and Henley in Berkshire in the 1670’s.  His son Henry built Culham Court on the Wargrave land in 1706.  The family left a legacy founding the Green Coat charity at Henley in 1718.

The Stevens’ first connection with Bradfield came in 1740, when the Rev. John Stevens, son of Thomas Stevens of Henley, became rector of the parish.  From then until 1881 the successive rectors were all members of the family.  The last rector, the Rev. Thomas Stevens, was the founder of Bradfield College, converting the Bradfield manor for this use.

John’s brother Henry had acquired the manor of Bradfield sometime around 1750.  Henry’s descendants were either lawyers or merchants connected with the East India Company.

Stevens and Stephens in the 1891 Census.  Stevens and Stephens have been mainly names of the south of England.  Stevens outnumbered Stephens overall in the 1891 census and was very much a name of London and the southeast.  Stephens was strongest in the west of England and in Wales.

Numbers (000’s) Stevens Stephens Total
London/SE    18.0     4.0    22.0
West of England     6.5     6.0    12.5
Wales     0.5     3.0     3.5
Rest of England     8.0     4.0    12.0
Total    33.0    17.0    50.0

There was a Stevens outpost in the west of England in Devon.  And the spelling also appeared in Cornwall.  The largest Stephens numbers in the west were in Cornwall.  Stephens was also a name in south Wales, mainly in Glamorgan.

Peter Stephens and Stephens City, Virginia.  Peter Stephens was born Peter Steffen in Steinfurt in the German Palatinate in the year 1687.  He was thought to have come to Pennsylvania with his parents in 1710 after a particularly brutal winter in Germany. However, the earliest record of him in America was in 1730 and it was not until 1743 in Virginia that he was naturalized.

Peter Stephens is one of the few persons definitely named by historians as going to the Shenandoah valley in Virginia with the Hite party.  This group of 16 families was known to have been the first settlers in the valley.

After buying 675 acres from Josh Hite in 1734, Peter Stephens built his house there along what was then the Great Wagon Road.  A community developed there which was unofficially called Stephens Town.  After Peter’s death in 1757, this township would be chartered by the Virginia General Assembly as Stephensburgh at the special request of his son Lewis.  Today Stephensburgh is called Stephens City and celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2008.

Another son of Peter, Henry, was a close neighbor of George Washington when he lived in Frederick county. His line went west to Ohio after the Revolutionary War.   Other Stephens ended up in Texas.

John Stevens of Perth Amboy.  John Stevens who had come to New York in 1699 was the patriarch of a very notable early American family. His age on arrival was just seventeen.  He had been sent by his father Richard Stevens of St. Clement Dane in London as a clerk under a seven year indenture to the New York governor’s secretary.  He learnt skills as a writing master there.

However, his real attention was elsewhere.  He saw the potential that America had to offer and wanted to take his chances. Some early privateering under Colonel Peartree did not turn out that well.  Land speculation became more his game.  He learned the basics quickly and very soon his name began to appear with great frequency in options, deeds, mortgages, and every conceivable lien upon land.

His main landholding came from his wife Ann Campbell, whose inheritance included some 2,000 acres of land on the west bend of the Raritan river close by Andrew Hamilton’s estate. Here, near Perth Amboy in New Jersey, he made his home.  He involved himself in local politics and was a prosperous member of the community when he died there in 1737.

Roger and Abel Stevens, British Loyalists.  Shortly after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War, Roger Stevens, a large Vermont landowner of Pittsford county, aroused the wrath of local rebels by refusing to renounce his allegiance to the British crown.  This was an act of defiance that led to his arrest and imprisonment and the confiscation of his property.

Somehow managing to escape, Roger gained employment as a guide for a brigade of German troops serving under Major-General John Burgoyne. In that capacity he acted as a spy for the British troops stationed in Vermont.

Roger’s brother Abel, seeing Roger lose his property, was more cautious in his actions.  He played his hand more carefully, joining the rebel militia and thus contriving to save his property.

After the war was over Roger crossed the border into Canada in 1789 and settled in Leeds county, Ontario.  However, his death came soon afterwards.  He was drowned in May 1793 at the mouth of Burritts Rapids at a place that came to be known as Stephen’s Creek.

Abel was still undecided at that time as whether to join him or not.  It was only the promise of free land that persuaded him to go.  He went in 1794 with his wife Eunice and eight children.  They made their home in Bastard township, Leeds county and started a Baptist colony there.

Samuel Stephens in South Australia.  Samuel Stephens had lost his position with a Birmingham commercial house after a quarrel and was seeking something new.  Through a distant relative he secured a position as colonial manager of the newly formed South Australia Company.

For a time everything went well.  In 1836 he sailed for South Australia on the Duke of York and was the first of the settlers to step ashore at Nepean Bay on Kangaroo Island.  Later that year he married Charlotte Hudson, a fellow-passenger and daughter of the second in command at the South Australian Company.

However, everything soon went downhill.  His contract with the company was cut short because of his lack of diligence and his frequent bouts of drunkenness.  In 1837 he was charged with killing a sailor from a rival fishery and was subsequently dismissed.  Three years later, he was killed when he was thrown from his horse on the Main Beaumont Spur while returning from a River Murray expedition.  The cause of death was a fractured neck.

Stevens and Stephens Names

  • Airard FitzStephen was the Norman nobleman who came to England with William the Conqueror.
  • John Stevens from New Jersey was the builder of the first ocean-going steamship.  He also designed and constructed the first American-built steam locomotive. 
  • John Lloyd Stephens was a 19th century American explorer and diplomat who played a prominent role in the rediscovery of Mayan civilization and the planning of the Panama railroad.
  • Wallace Stevens was an American modernist poet of the 1940’s and 1950’s.

Stevens and Stephens Numbers Today

  • 97,000 in the UK (64% Stevens, 36% Stephens)
  • 118,000 in America (57% Stevens, 43% Stephens)
  • 44,000 elsewhere (66% Stevens, 34% Stephens)

Stevens and Like Surnames   

Patronymic surnames can be with either the “-son” or the shorter “s” suffix to the first name.  The “s” suffix is more common in southern England and in Wales.  Here are some of these surnames that you can check out.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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