Travers Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Travers Surname Meaning

Travers has French origins, from travers meaning “to cross” or “crossing.”  It was an occupational name for a gatherer of tolls.  In 1285 the Bishop of Norwich claimed that he and his predecessors were accustomed to take “travers” at South Elmham in Suffolk. 

Travers and Travis are the main spellings today.  Over time Travis increasingly displaced Travers in its heartland of Lancashire, as it has in America.  Travers has retained a foothold in the southwest, particularly in Dorset.

Travers Surname Resources on The Internet

Travers and Travis Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Lancashire) and Ireland (Leitrim)
  • to America, Canada and New Zealand

England.  The Travers and Travis names combined are most numerous in Lancashire today and there are the earliest records there as well.

Lancashire.  A Travers family, Norman in origin, was said to have taken over Tulketh castle near Garstang, with the Travers chief marrying the Tulketh daughter Alison.  A later union took place around 1295 when Thomas Travers married Isabel Nateby.  And so Travers came to hold both the Tulketh and Nateby estates for more than three hundred years. Another old Travers family held Whiston manor until 1506 and were recusants later.

Christopher Travers of Doncaster in Yorkshire may have come from the Nateby family.  The linkage to the Travers of Halton Hall in Cheshire appears much more definite, starting with Hamon Travers in 1522.  John Travers of this family was a successful merchant in London in Stuart times. Travers from Nateby departed for Ireland in 1599 and for America in 1627.  Nateby Hall itself was sold in 1626.

The Travis spelling was already evident in Lancashire by 1600 and it had become the main spelling by the late 1800’s.  The principal concentration at that time was around Oldham. John Travis’s 1893 book Genealogical Memorials of the Travis Family covered Travises in this area.

Elsewhere.  John Travers was Sheriff of London three times between 1215 and 1224. There were reports that he was a merchant, importing grain from Ireland, and an extensive landowner, but no clues as to his origins.   Richard Travers was a merchant tailor at Cornhill in London in the early 1500’s. His son Walter, a Puritan theologian, became Provost of Trinity College in Dublin in 1594.

In Devon the Travers at Pille in the parish of Bishops Tawton date from the 1460’s to the early 1600’s.  Walter Travers who married in 1526 was minor gentry at Witherstone in Dorset.  Nearby is the village of Loders where Travers have been traced from the early 1600’s to the 20th century.

Ireland.  John Travers from Nateby, who had married a sister of the poet Edmund Spencer, came to Ireland in 1598 and made his home at Ballinamona in west Cork.  His son Robert was killed in 1647 in the fighting during the English Civil War.

Both of Robert’s sons, John and Richard, founded long-lasting branches of the Travers family at Timoleague near Bandon.  Many of their descendants were distinguished soldiers, most notable of them being General Sir Robert Travers in the early 1800’s and his son General James Travers.  Timoleague was burnt down in 1920 during the Troubles.  The Travers family subsequently built a new house in 1926 close to the ruins of the 13th century Barry castle.

Travers in Ireland can be an anglicization of O’Treabhair, a clan in Leitrim that were erenaghs to the O’Rourkes of Breifne.  Cairbre O’Treabhair was known as Charles Travers in Elizabethan timesTreabhair in Gaelic means a ploughman and the Travers name was fairly common in north Leitrim and south Donegal.

America.  Travers frequently became Travis in America.  This was true for the Travers family from Nateby in Lancashire that came to Virginia. Robert Travis covered the family in his 1954 book The Travis (Travers) Family.

Virginia.  Edward Travers arrived in Jamestown in 1627 and ended up owning the entire east end of Jamestown island.  His descendants held that land until 1831.  His home there, Travis House, has been preserved and is now a popular tourist site in Williamsburg.  Edward’s brother William Travers, who grew up in Ireland, came to Virginia in 1655 and later settled in North Carolina.

Berwick Travis may have been related to the Lancashire line, although the evidence is elusive.  It appears that he arrived in Virginia, aged twelve, sometime around 1760 as an indentured servant.  He moved to South Carolina in 1772 and later ran a tavern in Edgefield.  His grandson was the famous William Barrett Travis or Buck Travis, born in Edgefield, who died in Texas defending the Alamo in 1836.

Elsewhere.  William Travers, a London merchant, came to Maryland in the late 1600’s, making his home on Taylors Island in Dorchester county.  His son Matthew became one of the wealthiest and most prominent men in the county and this wealth was handed down.  Samuel Travers who lived there in 1875 published a dairy of his ocean-going journey to Brazil.

Garrett Travis bought land in Westchester county, New York in 1657.  He was called “the Dutchman,” although there was no proof that he was. His descendants generally remained in Westchester county.  Nathaniel Travis, a Loyalist, did depart for Nova Scotia in 1784. Schurman Travis, possibly related to this family, was living in Westchester county in the early 1700’s.  His descendants settled upstate in Putnam county.

Canada.  One Travers line in Canada started with John Travers, an Irishman who was a soldier in the British army. He was posted to New York at the time of the Revolutionary War.  After the war was over, he moved with his family to Canada in 1784 and was granted land in Bonaventure, Quebec.  His line extended to Lawrence Travers in the Gaspe region and his daughter Mary Rose-Anna who, as Madame Bolduc, was to achieve fame and fortune in the 1930’s as a folksinger.

A Travis family from Westchester County, New York also crossed the border at this time, heading for Nova Scotia with some Travises later settling in St. John, New Brunswick.  William Henry Travis was a customs officer there.  It was said that he was the seventh son of the seventh son.   Later Travises of his line moved to Milwaukee.

New Zealand.  William Travers was an Irishman from county Limerick who had joined the British army.  After his military service ended, he moved with his family to Nelson in New Zealand in 1849. 

He was for many years a local politician.  But he is best remembered as an avid explorer, often mounting expeditions into the less well known parts of New Zealand.  The Travers Range, Travers Valley, and Travers River were all named after him.

Travers and Travis Surname Miscellany

Travers and Travis Today

Numbers (000’s) Travers Travis
UK     5     5
America     3    10
Elsewhere     5     3
Total    13    18

Travers’ Epitaph.  This epitaph, probably fake, sought to demonstrate that their Norman ancestor came over with William the Conqueror and fought at the Battle of Hastings.  Travers and his men later took the towers of Tulketh Castle and he proceeded to marry the daughter Alison.

  • “I, Travers, by birth a Norman
  • To gain victorious conquest
  • With William the Conqueror in I came
  • As one Chief ruled among the rest.
  • His querdon was a crown
  • And our subjects spoil
  • Some ransomed Tower and Town
  • Some planted English soil.
  • Tolketh his castles and herison
  • My captives maulger were
  • His daughter and heir Dame Alison
  • I espoused to my fere.
  • Thirty winters thus were worn
  • In spousals mirth and glee
  • Four begotten she had and born
  • Ere crowned was Beauclard Henry.
  • Arnold and Jordon Fitz Travers
  • The one me succeeded, the other took orders
  • With Constance and Blanch my daughters
  • The one to spousals, the other vowed cloisters.”

Christopher Travers in Shakespeare.  Christopher Travers is thought to have been one of the younger sons of Roger Travers of Nateby.  He was probably born at Nateby sometime in the late 1300’s. He may have shown up as a character in Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part Two.  Northumberland’s retainers in the first act of that play were called Travers and Morton. The timing works for him.  And Christopher Travers had a brother-in-law named Morton from Bawtry.

He made his home at Doncaster in south Yorkshire.  In 1466 he was in London and, “knowing himself to be in imminent danger of death,” made his last will and testament in the presence of his brother Bryan.  He died soon afterwards and was buried at St. Paul’s in London.  From this Bryan is thought to have come Richard Travers the London merchant tailor and his son Walter Travers the Puritan divine.

The Two Quaker William Travers.  There were apparently two William Travers Quakers living in the 1650’s, one living in London and the other in Bandon, county Cork.

The first William Travers opened a tobacco shop at the Three Feathers on Watling Street in 1636.  He had married Rebecca Booth who later became a fervent Quaker. He followed her in this belief as he was mentioned several times in the Quaker books in London of the time. However, he died in 1664.  Rebecca remained passionately involved in the Quaker movement until her death at the age of 79 in 1688.

The second William Travers, from the Nateby family in Lancashire, was living in Bandon at that time.  William like his mother was an ardent Quaker but faced persecution in Ireland.  In 1655 the Earl of Clancarthy and his soldiers were destroying the wall and other properties at Bandon.  William took refuge in America, first in Isle of Wight county in Virginia where he married Sary West and then in the 1670’s in North Carolina.  He died at Pasquotank in Albemarle county in 1685.

Buck Travis and His Son.  William Barrett or Buck Travis ranks next to Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett as the immortal Texas heroes who defended the Alamo to the death in the cause of Texas Independence. Bowie and Crockett stand out in the popular conscience as the fierce frontiersmen who fought to the last.  Buck Travis is forever remembered for commanding the Texan garrison and drawing his famous line in the sand.

He may have been considered a hero in Texas, but he had left a bad reputation in Alabama.  Apparently in 1831 he had killed a man over his wife.  The judge there told him to run and they would find someone else to take the rap. He hurriedly left during the night and headed for Texas, leaving behind his wife and two children.

With this new-found adoration in Texas, Buck’s son Charles might have had everything going for him. It was not to be.  He did start out with bright prospects as a captain in the US Cavalry.  But he had made enemies.  In 1856 he was arrested for “conduct unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman,” a not trivial charge at the time.  The charge was contested but eventually stood.  Four years later Charles died of TB, a forgotten man, and was buried in an unmarked grave. 

Taylors Island.  Taylors Island along the Eastern Shore of Maryland was one of the first settlements in Dorchester county.  John and Thomas Taylor took ownership of about 400 acres on the island in 1662 and initially called it Taylor’s Folly. William Travers and his family and other early settlers later joined them.

The fertility of the soil, the large holdings of slaves in the years before the Civil War, and the profits on shipbuilding and trading to Brazil and The Indies produced a state of considerable prosperity for its inhabitants. The dominant families were closely bound together by blood and by almost daily association.

House parties were large and frequent.  Educational provisions were quite good.  The children were usually sent to school in Baltimore or taught by tutors in private homes.  The water as well as the land furnished food in abundance.  The houses were commodious.

This neighborliness resulted from the relative isolation of Taylors Island.   The status of the island, its distance from the county seat and the almost impossible roads prohibited easy communication with other parts of the county. Connection with the mainland was originally by ferry.  It was not until 1856 that a wooden bridge was constructed.

The Travers lived on Taylors Island for many generations.

Travers and Travis Names

  • William Barrett Travis was the commander of the Texan garrison who died defending the Alamo in 1836.
  • P.L. Travers was the Australian-born author of the Mary Poppins series of children’s books.
  • Merle Travis was a well-known American country singer who was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1977.  Travis picking is a syncopated style of finger picking named after him.
  • Mary Travers was an American folk singer, part of the Peter, Paul and Mary trio that were popular in the 1960’s.
  • Randy Travis, born Randy Traywick, is a popular country singer.

Travers and Travis Numbers Today

  • 10,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 15,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 8,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Travers and Like Surnames

Many surnames have come from Lancashire.  These are some of the noteworthy surnames that you can check out.




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Written by Colin Shelley

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