Underwood Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Underwood Meaning
Underwood would describe a dwelling at the foot of a wood, literally
below the trees of a forest. It became a place-name and
a surname. Its first recording as a surname was a William de
Underwode of Bury St. Edmonds in Suffolk in 1188.

Underwood Resources on

Underwood Ancestry

The Underwood name seems
to have derived from a number of associated place-names, of which
examples have
survived in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. Early
were recorded:

  • possibly as far back as 1177 at Bixley in
  • and possibly as early as 1334 at Weston in Hertfordshire.

Edward and
Robert Underwood from Weston prospered as grocers in London in the
1600’s. They owned The
, a huge building in the city which combined a grocery,
apothecary, warehouse and dual dwelling house for the two brothers’

By 1881 the principal concentration of the Underwood name
(around 30 percent) was in the
northern Home Counties and East Anglia, centred on Northamptonshire,
with some spillover into London and the rest of the southeast.
There was a high number of Underwoods in the Northamptonshire village of
Yardley Hastings.

A secondary concentration occurred in the area around Wiltshire and
Gloucestershire, with some spread up into the West Midlands.

An Underwood family has flourished on the north Yorkshire moors since the Middle Ages, with probate records surviving for a Hugh Undirwood of Whitby in 1390 and a Thomas Underwode, vicar of Lastingham, in 1461.
And, from 1559, there have been Underwoods recorded at the Pickering
and Egton parishes
near Whitby. Other Underwoods were
to be found from an early time
around Selby.

Scotland. The Underwood
place-name (at Symington) and surname were also to be found in south
Ayrshire. James Underwood started up a potato mill at Maybole in
Ayrshire in 1831. His mill was soon the scene of a riot
which saw Underwood’s equipment and machinery destroyed.

. A number of early
Underwoods came to New England.

New England. Lucien Underwood in his 1913
book Underwood Families of America
identified six early Underwood families in New England – four in
(in Watertown, Lincoln, Chelmsford and Boston), one in New Hampshire
(Newcastle), and one in Rhode Island (Newport).
The four main lines of descent were from:

  • Martin Underwood who came with his family in
    1634 and settled in Watertown
  • Joseph
    Underwood who arrived with his brother Thomas in Hingham in 1637 and
    settled in
    Watertown in 1645
  • William Underwood who came initially to Concord and moved
    Chelmsford in 1652
  • and Henry Underwood who settled near Newport, Rhode
    Island in

William Underwood came to Boston from London in 1817 and
five years
later founded a processed food company there.
He later expanded it into canned foods that were supplied to
Union troops
during the Civil War. Afterwards the
company began producing a popular spiced ham mixture known as Devilled Ham. The Underwood
company continued to be owned by
his family until its eventual sale to Pillsbury in 1982

Underwood came with his family to Maryland from London around 1650. He was described as “a poor man with several
small children.” One of these children,
Samuel, prospered in nearby Delaware.
His son Alexander, who became a Quaker, moved to Pennsylvania in
1722. The line from Alexander’s son
Benjamin migrated west to Ohio in the early 1800’s.
Carole and Rodman Underwood narrated the
latter story in their 2007 book Underwood
Families of Caledonia, Ohio

William T. Underwood came out to Virginia as a
merchant’s clerk in 1680 and settled in Goochland county. He was
the forebear of two prominent Kentucky politicians of the mid 19th
century, Joseph and his brother Warner. Joseph’s grandson Oscar Underwood,
born in Kentucky, was a prominent Democratic politician in Alabama
during the 1910’s and

John Thomas Underwood, born in London, had emigrated to New York with
his father, a chemist who had studied with Michael Faraday, in
1873. In 1895 John bought out the patent for a typewriter and
started his own company, the Underwood Typewriter Company.
In its
heyday in the 1910’s and 20’s, the Underwood was so synonimous with
typewriters that Jack Warner the film producer was quoted as saying
that screenwriters were “schmucks with Underwoods.” John
Underwood’s younger brother Horace was a Presbyterian missionary in

Australia. Underwoods in
Australia started with three brothers, the sons of Thomas and Mary
Underwood from south London:

  • James
    Underwood the convict
    , who was transported to Australia in
    1791. On release he established Sydney’s first private shipyard
    and an early distillery. Upon his death in 1844 he left a
    legendary estate which required no fewer than three Acts of Parliament
    to resolve.
  • Joseph Underwood the merchant, who came to Australia to take
    charge of one
    of James’ ships in 1807. They both ran ships to the sealing
    islands in the Bass Straits. In later years he became the squire
    of Ashfield Park.
  • and William Underwood the drunk. He ran a pub on a corner
    of his
    brother Joseph’s land, but died drunk on the street there.

Their story was recounted in Liz Parkinson’s 2011 book The Underwoods: Lock, Stock, and Barrel.


Underwood Miscellany

Early Underwoods in England.  Lucien Underwood in his 1913 book Underwood Families of America had
the following to say about early Underwoods in England.

“The name Underwood appears
on the face of it to have arisen from some locality where the family
lived and
very probably originated independently in connection with different
who happened to live in similar surroundings.

The origin of the name is
more apparent in some of the more ancient forms in which it
appears.  In old
records it was written in several ways – as Underwode, Underode,
and even as Under-the-wode and Under-the-wood.

The earliest trace of the name in
documents was found as far back as 1177 in
the pedigree of Underwood of Bixley in Norfolk in the Harleian MSS. in
British Museum.  In 1476 Underwood from Hertfordshire was
mentioned in the Visitation of London.  At the
College in London there is a pedigree of Underwood from Weston,
signed by Robert Underwood in 1634 who made the following note: ‘Vide
Visitation of Hertfordshire where the family hath remained 300
would put the date of the family in Weston family back to about 1334.

principal families in England by the name of Underwood of whom there
are more
or less extensive pedigrees preserved are the Underwoods
of Weston in Hertfordshire, the Underwoods
of Hereford, and the Underwoods of Bixley
and Hevringham in

Besides these there is also an Irish family the extent of
pedigree cannot be stated. The Duchess of Inverness, morganatic wife of
Duke of Sussex, uncle to Queen Victoria, was descended through her
mother from
the Irish line and assumed the name and arms of Underwood.”

Underwood Name Distribution in the 1881 English Census.  The table below shows the distribution by county of the Underwood name in the 1881 English census.

County Numbers Percent
London    940    12
Northamptonshire    760     9
Leicestershire    650     8
Surrey    620     8
Yorkshire    430     5
Lancashire    370     5
Essex    360     4
Warwickshire    350     4
Gloucestershire    300     4
Suffolk    300     4
Elsewhere  3,020    37
Total  8,100   100

Underwoods in Pickering and Egton in Yorkshire.  From
the beginning of the surviving parish registers in 1559 there were
recorded in Pickering parish in north Yorkshire.  Although
a viable tree can be constructed for
the early family, some of the critical links are missing.
The James Underwood who married Margaret
Watson in Pickering in 1642 was undoubtedly part of this earlier family.  His son Thomas moved to Egton, marrying Mary
Smallwood there in 1684.  He was by trade
a roper.  Thomas and his second wife Ann
were buried in the old churchyard at Egton in 1729 and their gravestone
survives there.

have flourished in the Egton area down to the present day.
Paul and Alison Underwood run the Horseshoe
Hotel at Egton Bridge on the river Esk.

Underwoods in Yardley Hastings, Northamptonshire.  The largest concentration of Underwoods in the 1881 census, a count of 171, was in the village of Yardley Hastings in Northamptonshire.  The christening of John Underwood was recorded there in 1726.

family goes back possibly even further in the village.
Australian connection exists here with the transportation of George
James Underwood and two of his friends in the 1840’s for the killing of
gamekeeper.   Others of this family
emigrated to Canada.

James Underwood’s Early Shipping Ventures.  In the
early years in Sydney, some very enterprising convicts, after they had served
their terms of imprisonment, went into the shipping business.  There were seals on all of the islands, all
waiting to be killed for their skins, and there were plenty of
casks of
whale oil, ready to be sent back to England, and there was also plenty
sandalwood growing on the islands in the Pacific.

Three ex-convicts – James Underwood, Henry
Kable and Simeon Lord – owned quite a number of small sailing
ships; and
they had a band of sealers on the various Bass Strait and other
islands killing seals for their skins.

Then they embarked on a bigger enterprise. They bought a small ship,
Sydney Cove, in England.  By
the time that they had had her repaired
and fitted out, she had cost them over £7,000.
And they had to borrow most of this money.
Still, the Government agreed to employ the Sydney
to carry female convicts and
an escort of soldiers from the NSW Corps.

In November 1806 the Sydney Cove, sitting
at Deptford on the Thames, was sent down to Portsmouth to receive the
women and
girls.  In addition to the 109 female
convicts and the NSW Corps soldiers, the passengers included Joseph
James’s brother, and his wife and two children and also their mother.  The party arrived at Port Jackson after an
uneventful voyage in June 1807.

for the convict carriage was £2,961 and this marked the beginning of
Underwood’s rags-to-riches story.

Oscar Underwood, the Ku Klux Klan, and the 1924 Democratic Convention.  Oscar Underwood was Alabama’s senator from 1915 to 1927.  He was a longtime opponent of the Klan.  In 1914, when the Klan organized a parade in
Birmingham during that year’s National Democratic Convention, Underwood

“An effort to intimidate me, the
Alabama delegation and the Democratic party.
It will not succeed.  I maintain
that the organization is a national menace.
It is either the Ku Klux Klan or the United States of
America.  Both
cannot survive.  Between the two, I choose my country.”

By 1924 Underwood was one of very few
anti-Klan officeholders left in the South.
He led the anti-Ku Klux Klan forces at the 1924 Democratic
where he was running as its Presidential nominee.  Even
before the convention considered its
platform, the speech nominating Underwood called for the condemnation
of the
Klan and produced a lengthy floor demonstration.

The convention was marked by a deadlock
between the supporters of the Irish Catholic New York Governor Al Smith
Georgian politician William McAdoo.  As
the convention labored through 103 ballots, Alabama, as the first state
alphabetically, cast its votes first, each time without variation:
“Alabama casts 24 votes for Oscar W. Underwood.”   Underwood
therefore became a symbol of the convention’s
deadlock.  Finally the convention turned
to John W. Davis whose work as a Wall Street lawyer proved less of a
hurdle for the delegates.

The Underwood Typewriters.  The Underwood
typewriter was the creation of German-American inventor Franz X. Wagner.  Its name came from John T. Underwood, a
manufacturer of ribbons and carbon paper who bought the company early
in its

The scarcest and most valuable
Underwoods are the No. 1 and No. 2 models.
About 12,000 of these were made between 1896 and 1900.  They were labeled “Wagner Typewriter
Co.” on the back and they differed in a number of other subtle ways
later Underwoods.

Underwood models 3, 4,
and 5 were made from 1900 until 1932. The No. 3 was a wide-carriage
the No. 4 typed 76 characters, and the No. 5 typed 84 characters.

By 1920, almost every typewriter made in
America was imitating the Underwood.  The
No. 5 was the quintessential Underwood.
Millions of these machines were used by secretaries,
government officials and writers throughout the first half of the 20th
century.  Later Underwoods were
superficially modernized, but retained the same basic mechanism.  The name “No. 5” was even given to
some of these later typewriters, in honor of the model that made the

founder of the company, John T. Underwood, became so
wealthy that he built a stately home in
the neighborhood of Clinton Hill in Brooklyn.
Following his death in 1937, the estate was donated to the city
transformed into Underwood Park.


Underwood Names

  • James Underwood, a
    former convict, was an early entrepreneur in the new colony of Australia.
  • John T. Underwood was the
    British/American entrepreneur who started the Underwood Typewriter
    Company in New York in 1895.
  • Derek Underwood, known as
    “Deadly,” was an English cricketer of the 1960’s and 1970’s, one of the
    foremost spin bowlers of his day.
  • Rory Underwood, of Chinese-English parentage, played on the wing in the English rugby
    teams from 1984 to 1996.

Select Underwood Numbers Today

  • 10,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Norfolk)
  • 17,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 4,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)




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