Terry Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Terry Surname Meaning

The English and Irish surname Terry can be traced back to the Germanic Theodoric, meaning “people rule” from the Latin Terentius or Terence.  It became Thierry in France and was brought to England by the Normans in that form. The English version of Terry began to appear in the 13th century.

Terry Surname Resources on The Internet

Terry Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Kent and Yorkshire) and from Ireland (Cork)
  • to Spain, Cuba, Peru, America and Australia

England. The Terry name distribution in the 19th century showed two main clusters, one in Kent in the southeast and the other in Yorkshire in the northeast.

Kent.  The earliest record in Kent appears to have been a Thierry, the son of Deorman in London, who was granted lands there by the Earl of Pembroke in the mid-12th century.  The later surname spelling here could be either Terrey or Terry.  For instance:

  • David Terrey died at Pelham near Gravesend in 1662; and Edward Terrey appeared in the hearth tax records at Cudham near Bromley in 1664.
  • while the name John Terry was recorded at Maidstone in 1602; and William Terry appeared in the hearth tax records at Cowden near Sevenoaks in 1664.

The Terrey spelling persisted into the 19th century.   But there were only 17 Terreys left in Kent by the time of the 1881 census.

Hampshire.  There was a Terry family at Long Sutton in Hampshire from the early 1500’s.  Stephen Terry made his home at Hydegate House and was a substantial landowner there in Elizabethan times.  His son the Rev. John Terry was a well-known anti-Catholic writer and his grandson John a wealthy goldsmith in London.

But the most famous Terry family from Hampshire was of reputed Irish descent (although it is not known where and when they came from Ireland). The first known was Benjamin Terry, innkeeper at the Fortune of War in Portsmouth who married Catherine Crawford in 1812.  His son Benjamin and wife Sarah, comic actors in a Portsmouth-based touring company, were the first of the Terry theatrical dynasty. 

A later Irish arrival, from Cork, was Paul Terry who came to Portsmouth in 1899 and worked there as a physician until his death in 1951.

Yorkshire.  Terry seems to have been a name from the North Riding of Yorkshire.

One Terry family record began with the birth of John Terry in Askrigg in north Yorkshire in 1705.  He was a badger by trade, a man who bought grain and carted it to a buyer, as was his son Edward.  Later Terrys were millers. Edward Terry unfortunately drowned at his mill while tipsy in 1789.  After the Napoleonic Wars, economic conditions deteriorated in the North Riding and John Terry departed for Australia in 1818.

There was also a Terry family from Guisbrough in north Yorkshire in the early/mid 1700’s.  Thomas Terry of this family emigrated to South Carolina in 1825. There he organized in Fountain Inn the building of a new Methodist church that came to be known as Terry’s Chapel.

Joseph Terry, the son of a butcher, came from the village of Pocklington at the foot of the Yorkshire Wolds in east Yorkshire. He took over Terry’s of York, the chocolate-making company, in 1828 and it remained in family hands until 2005.

The heyday of the company was probably in the 1920’s and 1930’s when it was run by Joseph’s grandson Noel Terry.  He it was who introduced the famous All Gold and Chocolate Orange selections.  Goddards, close by the chocolate factory, was the home of the Terry family from 1927 until 1980

Ireland.  The Terrys of Cork were an old Anglo-Norman family who were steadfastly Catholic at the time of Cromwell.  They first appeared in Cork documents, generally as Tyrry, around the year 1300 and they rose to prominence as merchants and traders in Cork city a century or so later. 

Edmund Tyrry, who died in 1454, was the first in this line of merchants.  During the 1500’s and the early 1600’s Terrys served as mayor of Cork city no fewer than twenty times.

However, it became untenable for them to maintain their position and their Catholic faith with Cromwell.  In 1644 all Catholic families were thrown out of the city.  Some Terrys converted to Protestantism and remained in the city. Others retained a certain presence in the surrounding countryside.  Still others emigrated.  Their power was broken. 

Spain and Latin America.  After the Jacobite defeat in Ireland in 1690, many Irish Terrys sought refuge abroad.  James Terry (whose family was originally from Cork) fled Limerick for Spain.  His relation William Terry obtained an estate with vineyards near Jerez in the region of Andalusia and began to produce fortified sherry there.  Terrys have remained there in the Cadiz region.

One line of these Terrys settled across the Atlantic in Cuba where they became powerful.   Tomas Terry made a fortune as a sugar planter in the mid-19th century and was probably the richest man on the island on his death in 1886.  His son Emilio served as Cuba’s Minister of Agriculture in the early 1900’s.

Other Terrys had migrated to Peru in the 18th century.  Fernando Terry of this line was twice President of Peru in the mid-20th century.

America.  There were two notable early Terry lines in New England. 

New England.   Three Terry brothers – Thomas, Robert, and Richard – were said to have come to the Massachusetts Bay colony from London on the James in 1635.  The youngest of them, Richard, was one of the thirteen original settlers of Southold, Long Island.  He died there in 1676.  From Long Island, his descendants seem to have scattered, some settling in Orange county, New York and others in Connecticut.

A line from Connecticut via Parshall Terry migrated to the Wyoming valley in Pennsylvania in 1763. One of his sons Jonathan was the founder of Terrytown in Bradford county, Pennsylvania in 1787.  An elder son Parshall fought in the Revolutionary War, but later deserted and joined the British side.

After the war he decamped to Ontario in Canada where he prospered.  He drowned in the Don river in 1808.  A third Parshall Terry, born near Niagara on the New York side in 1778, moved to Ontario around 1820.  Jacob Terry of this family was a Mormon pioneer to Utah in 1852. 

Samuel Terry, born near London, was brought to New England in 1650 by William Pynchon, the man who founded Springfield, Massachusetts.  There Samuel was apprenticed to Benjamin Cooley as a weaver.

“Samuel’s ancestry is uncertain. Some have him as the grandson of the Rev. John Terry, the noted anti-Catholic writer of his time and vicar of Stockton in Wiltshire. John was married to Mary, the sister of John White of Dorchester.  But others have disputed this linkage.”   

His eldest son Samuel settled nearby at Enfield where he started up a sawmill.  

Several generations later, Charles and Huldah Terry departed this area for upstate New York.  They settled after the Revolutionary War in Wayne county, having purchased land in the wilderness there.  Charles fought in the War of 1812 but died two years later as a result of gunshot wounds. His son John prospered as a businessman in Portsmouth, Ohio.

Another line from Enfield via Nathaniel Terry led to Dr. Charles Terry, a pioneer physician and surgeon in Clark county, Wisconsin in the years prior to the Civil War.

Terrys were early settlers in Wicasset, Maine.  David Terry, born there in 1737, fought in the Revolutionary War, as did his son John.  A later Terry, Captain John Darling Terry, distinguished himself in the Civil War, despite the loss of one of his legs.

Virginia.  There were a number of early Terrys in Virginia in th 1600’s.

The earliest may have been William Terry from London who arrived in 1652.  He was apparently from a Terry family that transported indentured servants to the colonies.  William himself stayed and settled in Lunenburg county.  There were later Terrys of this line in South Carolina.  

Thomas Terry was born in 1665 in what became Caroline county.  His descendants were to be found in Edgefield, South Carolina in the late 1700’s.  Joseph Terry moved to Mississippi in 1836 where he bought land in Hinds county for a farm and general store.  His son William had the town of Terry named after him.

And Captain James Terry was born in the 1670’s, also in Caroline county.  His son Champness and grandson William settled in North Carolina.  Later Terrys migrated to Alabama in the early 1800’s.  William Terry was a Methodist preacher there

Elsewhere.  Thomas Terry, a Quaker, was one of the original settlers of Bucks county, from lands granted him by William Penn in 1683.  Five generations of Terrys lived there.

But David Terry, Thomas’s great grandson, found the Quakers no longer being tolerated there in the early 1800’s.  He embarked on a desperate course of action – emigration to Canada. He and his family left Pennsylvania for Gwillimbury township north of Toronto in 1801.

Australia.  Samuel Terry’s history in Australia was a rags-to-riches story, from his arrival from Manchester as a convict in Sydney in 1801 to the business empire that he had created there some twenty years later.

He died in 1838 as the “Botany Bay Rothschild” and possibly the wealthiest man in the colony.  But any dreams of a family dynasty were soon to be dispelled.  Edward, his son and principal heir, died childless soon after Terry himself. And much of the family’s fortune was dissipated in the speculations and bankruptcy of the mercantile firm of Hughes & Hosking. 

John Terry arrived from Yorkshire in 1819 with a letter of introduction to the Governor to whom he appeared “a good worthy man.”  He had been a miller in Yorkshire and he established a mill along the Derwent river in Tasmania.

Terry Surname Miscellany

The Terrys of Cork.  Kevin Terry has written two books on the Terrys of Cork, spanning the period from 1180 to 2000.

The first, although published later in 2013, covered the period from 1180 to 1644. Entitled Merchant Gentry, the book sought to establish some of the political, social and economic reasons for their rise to prominence from the 15th century, their maintenance of this position for some 250 years, through to their expulsion together with other old English families in 1644.

The second, published earlier in 2005, brought the story up to the present. This book studied the settlement patterns of Terrys in Cork city, as well as in the baronies of Cork, Barrymore and Imokilly, between 1600 and 2000.  In 1900 there were 21 Terry families recorded, all Catholic – six in Cork city, one in Cork barony, four in Barrymore, and ten in Imokilly.

The book also looked at the Terrys who had emigrated from Cork and where they went.  The main destinations were America and Australia.

The Rev. John Terry of Stockton, Wiltshire.  The following memorial of the Rev. John Terry, the anti-Catholic writer, appeared at the church in Stockton, Wiltshire on his death in 1625:

“If men should be silent, this stone shall speak the due praise of God’s grace in John Terry, lately a faithful, painful, vigilant and fruitful Minister of God’s truth in this church of Stockton.

He was born of substantial parentage at Long Sutton in Hampshire; bred a well deserving member of New College in Oxford; freely presented to this charge by the Right Rev. Bishop of Winchester in 1582.

May he sleep happily in the public cemetery of this Church till the last trumpet shall awake him to a joyful resurrection in Christ.

He lived, he learned, he wrote, he taught, Well, much, truly, duly, he brought Home the lost sheep, which Christ’s blood bought, Against Hell’s power he stoutly fought.  Terrae Terra datur, Caelum sed spiritus ornat,  Mundus habet famam, lusa Gehenna fremit.” 

The Terry Theatrical Family.  The Terry family was a theatrical dynasty of the late 19th century and beyond. The family included not only those members with the surname Terry, but also Neilsons, Craigs and Gielguds to whom the Terrys were linked by marriage or by blood ties.

The dynasty was founded by the actor Benjamin Terry and his wife Sarah.  The first member of the family to achieve national prominence was their eldest surviving daughter Kate.  Her younger sister Ellen achieved international fame in partnership with Henry Irving.  Ellen Terry was seen as the greatest star of the family for many decades.  Kate’s grandson John Gielgud became at least as celebrated from the 1930’s onwards.

Three other siblings – Marion, Florence and Fred – also became actors.  And Fred married Julia Neilson, a prominent actress of her day. Among those of the family who did not become actors was Gordon Craig, Ellen’s son, an internationally-known theater designer and director.

The family story was told in Marguerite Steen’s 1962 book A Pride of Terrys.

Reader Feedback – Early Terrys in Virginia.  “There were a number of Terrys in Virginia in the 1600’s.  The earliest may have been William Terry from London who arrived in 1652.  He was apparently from a Terry family that transported indentured servants to the colonies.  William himself stayed and settled in Lunenburg county.  There were later Terrys of this line in South Carolina.”  I believe I have proof this is my grandfather. How do I confirm it?

Jeff Terry (jterry9@ford.com).

William Terry and the Pee Dee River of North Carolina.  William, son of Champness Terry, was known as William Terry of Hitchcock’s Creek or in the 1750’s as William East of the Pee Dee.

The Pee Dee is a river that separates Anson and Richmond counties. William Terry West of the Pee Dee lived on the other side and was a bit older. The two Williams were unrelated except by marriage. They married the Raiford sisters Anne and Mary in the 1750’s.

Jonathan Terry of Terrytown.  Terrytown is a small village situated about two miles above the mouth of Wyalusing creek in Bradford county, Pennsylvania.

Captain Jonathan Terry was its first permanent settler.  A descendant of Long Island 1640 immigrant Richard Terry, he had been born in Connecticut in 1758.  When he was five his family, along with other Connecticut settlers, moved to the Wyoming valley in Pennsylvania.  There on the frontier they encountered many Indian troubles.  They were indeed fortunate to be inside Forty Fort at the time of the Indian battle and massacre at Wyoming in July 1778.

In 1787 Jonathan built for himself a house at Terrytown and moved into it, thus becoming the founder of the village. He was a typical pioneer and was also noted for his genial nature.

In 1806 he constructed his “mansion on the river,” after having purchased a tract of six hundred acres.  This he occupied throughout his life.  The log cabin which he constructed is still standing and is in an excellent state of preservation.  On Terry’s farm was erected the village’s first grist mill, a saw mill, tannery and distillery.  He also owned and operated the first ferry across the river.

A description of Terry’s house as it appeared in 1878 ran as follows:

“It is a large two-storied hewn log house, with a huge chimney in the center of it, a small portico in the front, and in early times had large double doors about three inches thick.  It is the oldest house in the village and well merits the title “the Old Terry Castle!'”

Five generations of Terrys have lived in this home.  The story of the Terrys of Terrytown was told in C.F. Heverly’s 1913 book Terry Family Pioneers.

Reader Feedback – John Darling Terry from Maine.  My ancestor John Darling Terry from Maine was awarded a Medal of Honor at the time of the Civil War.  His grandfather John Terry was with John Paul Jones in the American Revolution.  I wrote a book with the records from archives and will share with all interested.

Robert Terry (rhterry1@outlook.com).

Terrys on the Wagon Train to Utah.  Jacob Terry and his family made their way across the Great Plains to Salt Lake valley and the Mormon settlement there in 1852.  Annie Frank, grand daughter of Mary Hannah – Jacob’s eldest daughter – supplied this little incident of their journey:

“Mary Hannah was my grandmother and told an incident in their trip across the plains.  Her brother Parshall was a practical joker and she was a very pretty young woman. The Pawnee Indians were at peace with the whites, but the Chief came down to see the immigrant train and pointing to Mary said, ‘Heep winow squaw.’

Her brother Parshall replied, ‘You bet she is.  How many ponies will you give me for her?’ As you know, Indians do not joke. The Chief said he would give one pony.

“Oh, no,” said Parshall.  So they dickered until he said he would give five ponies and Parshall said, ‘Alright, five ponies.’

The chief came next day with five ponies and insisted that he have the squaw and he followed the train for days and they had to hide Mary in different wagons this time until the Chief gave up and went on his way.”

John Terry in Tasmania.  There is a charming account by John Terry in a letter home in 1822 of his early labors in creating a mill, farm and orchard in the idyllic surroundings of Tasmania:

“I threw off my coat and rose with the sun, wrought at all that had come to hand.  I now thank God and consider myself and my family in a very comfortable position. Wild duck in great numbers, as many as 300 to 400 rise at once.  Black swan and land quail, wild pigeons colored like peacocks, and fish in great plenty.  Hunt the kangaroo.  Trees here cast a shell of bark, not leaves.  Wood when cut green sinks in water like a stone.  Your shortest day is our longest and your summer our winter. The cuckoo cries in the night and mostly in our winter.  The man in the moon has his legs upward.”

Noel Terry and Goddards.  Noel Terry was a young man in 1910 when his father Thomas passed away and he and his uncle Francis took over Terrys of York.

However, the First World War soon intervened and Noel enlisted as an officer in the Yorkshire Regiment and took part in the Battle of the Somme.  He was wounded by a bullet to the thigh during the battle and might have died.  It is thought that a silver cigarette case in his pocket took most of the impact and may have saved his life.

Back home in peacetime, Noel made a success of his stewardship of Terrys.  He introduced the famous All Gold chocolate collection in 1930 and the Chocolate Orange selection a year later.

By that time he had moved into his new home at Goddards on Tadcaster Road, close by the chocolate factory.  The house took its name from Francis Goddard, the maiden name of his grandfather Sir Joseph Terry’s wife.  Completed in 1927, it was home to Noel and his wife Kathleen and their four children, Peter, Kenneth, Betty and Richard.

Goddards has been described as the finest surviving example of the work of Walter Brierley, the Lutyens of the north.  It still retains many of the original fixtures, including its Arts and Crafts wallpapers and paneling and the staircase with its oak carving.  The exterior of the house features handmade locally produced bricks arranged in geometric patterns and decorative chimney stacks typical of a Brierley building.  Inside the house was a large assortment of Georgian furniture and clocks which Noel collected throughout his life.

When Noel died in 1980, Goddards passed to the National Trust.

Terry Names

  • Edmund Terry who died in 1454 was the first of the Terry merchants of Cork. 
  • Joseph Terry started the confectionary company Terry’s of York in 1828. 
  • Samuel Terry, transported to Australia as a convict in 1800, was the wealthiest man in the colony by the time of his death in 1838. 
  • Tomas Terry was a Cuban sugar planter, probably the richest man on the island on his death in 1886. 
  • Ellen Terry was an English stage actress of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the leading Shakespearean actress of her time.

Terry Numbers Today

  • 15,000 in the UK (most numerous in Kent)
  • 30,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 7,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Terry and Like Surnames

The Norman Conquest brought new rulers to England and they brought their names and language, a form of French, with them.  Over time their names became less French and more English in character.  Thus Hamo became Hammond, Reinold Reynolds and Thierry Terry and so forth.  The names Allen, Brett, Everett, and Harvey were probably Breton in origin as Bretons also arrived, sometimes as mercenaries.

The new Norman lords often adopted new last names, sometimes from the lands they had acquired and sometimes from places back in Normandy.  Over time the name here also became more English.  Thus Saint Maur into Seymour, Saint Clair into Sinclair, Mohun into Moon, and Warenne into Warren.

Here are some of these Norman and Breton originating names that you can check out.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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