Stevens Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Stevens/Stephens 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
.

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Stevens/Stephens Resources on
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Select Stevens/Stephens Ancestry

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.

Stephens as
it is spelt 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 history 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.

Stevens, 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.  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 of the early Stephens in America were
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.

On the Stevens side was John Stevens from
Oxfordshire who came to Newbury, Massachusetts in 1638.
Another John
Stevens
arrived in 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.

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.

Canada.  The brothers
Roger and Abel Stevens of Pittsford, Vermont were Loyalist at the time
of the Revolutionary War.  Both later departed for Canada.
Abel left in 1794 and set up a Baptist colony for Vermonters in Leeds
county, Ontario which came to be known as Steventown.

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.

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Stevens/Stephens 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.

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.

 

 



Select
Stevens/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.

Select Stevens/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)

 

 

 

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