Wade Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Wade Surname Meaning

The Wade name in Yorkshire seems to have come from the Nordic myth of Wada, a legendary sea giant. Many of the sites attributed there to Wade were in areas that were settled by the Danish Vikings.  

Outside of Yorkshire, Wade may have come from the Anglo Saxon wad, meaning a meadow for animals to feed, but more likely from wadan, meaning a ford or crossing and describing someone who lived near a ford.  

Wade Surname Resources on The Internet

Wade Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Yorkshire), Wales (Pembrokeshire). and from Holland and Germany
  • to Ireland, America, Caribs (St. Kitts) and Australia

England. The Wade name has cropped up in Yorkshire and also, to a lesser extent, in London and the west country.

Yorkshire.  Wades have always been numerous in Yorkshire, it is thought from the Saxon Duke Wada. He is said to have given his name to Wade’s Castle (Mulgrave Castle near Whitby) and to Wade’s Grove, although the latter was more of a size with the legendary giant who gave his name to Wade’s Causeway.

“In the midst of the bleak beauty of the Yorkshire wolds and the Cumberland dales, you will find a hamlet called Kilnsea. Here, not many miles from Whalley, where Duke Wada was defeated, and in the heart of that wild Northumbria, where folk stories of Wada were numerous and curious, were early settled the Wade family.”  

The Wade (or Waad) name dates here from 1379 in poll tax records.  They were first established at Plumtreebanks in Addington and then, after the dissolution of the monasteries, at Kilsnea. But they lost out in the Civil War by being Royalist supporters and their fortunes never really recovered.

From this family came Armagil Wade, the Elizabethan voyager to Newfoundland in 1536 on The Minion, and his son, Sir William, the governor of the Tower of London at the time of the Gunpowder plot. They were not universally liked. “That busybody Wade and that beast Waad” was one description. Sir Walter Raleigh, who had been imprisoned in the Tower, called its  governor “that villain Wade.”

London  There  were early Wade sightings in London. John Wade was a sheriff and alderman of London in the 1390’s. He appears on subsidy rolls as “J. Wadeblad.” The name cropped up later in Essex, Suffolk, and Oxford.

SW England.  A Wade presence in Cornwall dates back to 1313 when a man named Wade was granted a market and two fairs in the manor of Pawton. The Wade bridge was built across the river Camel in 1460 and Wadebridge became an important town for local wool merchants and sheep farmers.

Wades were recorded as holding lands at various places around Bristol in the 14th century. Later Wades at Filton near Bristol included John Wade, a major in Cromwell’s army during the Civil War, and his son Nathaniel, a plotter and conspirator who somehow managed to escape from being executed.

A Cornish Wade family lived at Trethevy Court in Tintagel. They included Arthur Wade, mayor of Tintagel in 1775.  However, the 19th century represented bad times for Cornwall.  Trethevy Court is but a ruin today and most of the Wades have emigrated, to Canada, America, or Australia.

Wales. The first references to Wades in Pembrokeshire come in the early 1600’s.

In the mid 19th century, there were:

  • John Wade running the Blacksmith’s Arms in Pembroke
  • James Wade spinning his stories there (he was one of the region’s best known story tellers) 
  • and Frank Wade  organizing the musical entertainment for the area. His shop front proclaimed a company of organ builders and musical instrument dealers, but his actual business might have been something more modest than that.

Ireland. The Wades who had fought with Cromwell in Ireland benefited from the subsequent land grab, William Wade with Kilawally in West Meath and Henry Wade with Clonebraney in Meath:

  • the Kilawally Wades produced General George Wade who was instrumental in crushing the Jacobite rebellion of 1715 and later supervised the new road system for the Highlands.
  • the Wade presence in Clonebraney continued until 1911. But the place is now just a ruin.

America. Wades in America could be of English, Irish, Dutch or German descent.

Virginia  Various English Wades arrived in Virginia in the 1630’s, William Wade on the St. Christopher, Edward and Robert Wade on the Paul, and John Wade on the Constance. Edward’s descendants later migrated to Tennessee and Georgia.

John Wade came to Virginia sometime in the 1740’s. His descendants settled in Ohio. Walter Gingery’s 1918 book Wade Family History covered the line of Wenman and Margaret Wade.

Other Wades from Virginia can be traced to Kentucky, Illinois, North Carolina, Mississippi, Missouri, Alabama, Missouri, and Texas.  Some of these Wades became Waids. David Wade was an early settler in Texas. Although he himself died of an accident in 1858, his Wade family lived on in Fayetteville.

Elsewhere  Another Wade line started with Benjamin Wade on Long Island in the 1650’s and migrated to New Jersey and later to Seneca county in upstate New York. 

Jephtha Wade was born there in 1811, the youngest of nine children. His father died soon afterwards and he left home at the age of twelve for a series of apprenticeships. In 1847, he acquired his first job in the telegraph industry. He would make his fortune in this field over the next twenty years, eventually forming the Western Union Telegraph Company.

Wades in the Revolutionary War.  Irish-born William Wade fought on the British side. His cocked hat, pierced by an American musket ball at the Battle of Bunker Hill, has been kept and is held by one of his descendants. Whilst in New York, William fell for Ann Dean, one of the belles of the city, and resigned his commission. Their daughter Frances was also a famous beauty. A miniature of her, painted by Edward Greene Mabone, still exists.

There were Wades on the American side. Daniel Wade’s property in New Jersey was taken and destroyed by British troops in 1780.

Another Wade, James Wade, fought against the British from Bunker Hill to the final victory at Yorktown. He was a dirt poor farmer after the war. But one of his sons Benjamin Wade, who started off as a laborer on the Erie Canal, studied law and eventually rose to be the Senator for Ohio. A vocal radical Republican, he was actively involved in national politics before and after the Civil War.

Other Wades,  The Wades in America came not just from England, but from Holland and Germany as well. The name here originated from very different roots, the Middle Dutch or German wade meaning garment or large net. These immigrants left their own distinctive marks.

A New World Dutch barn stands on the Wade farm property in Readington, New Jersey. Sylvanus Wade and his family were early immigrants into Wisconsin. Their Wade House Stagecoach Inn, built in 1850 in Sheboygan on Lake Michigan’s western shore, now exists as a museum to their way of life.

Caribbean. Solomon Wade came to St. Kitts in the 1840’s and built up a thriving business there around sugar plantations. He married his black housekeeper Mary James in 1855 and they raised six children. The family connection with St. Kitts extended to his grandson Charles Paget Wade who lived in St. Kitts until his death in 1956.

Other prominent Wades in the Caribbean have been locally-born, in Montserrat and Bermuda:

  • Wally Wade came from nothing in Montserrat to develop an inter-Caribbean shipping and trading business in the 1930’s. Later Wades of the family left Montserrat, most notably Tony Wade who, against all odds, became a successful black entrepreneur in 1950’s Britain.
  • while in 2007 the Bermuda airport was renamed the L. Frederick Wade airport in honor of the former Bermuda PLP leader.

Australia. Mary Wade was only eleven in 1790 when she was transported as a convict to Australia on “that floating brothel,” the Lady Juliana. She lived first in the Norfolk Island penal colony and then at a place near the Hawkesbury river. Here she raised a family which numbered twenty one children.

She is in fact credited with being the matriarch of one of the largest families in the world. They grew to include five generations and over 300 descendants during her lifetime and many thousands today, including the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. A group compiled the book, Mary Wade to Us: A Family History,” in 1986.

Wade Surname Miscellany

Wade Myths.  The origins of Wade lie in Nordic myth and saga.  Scholars speculate that he was originally a sea giant known to the coastal tribes around the North Sea and Baltic regions.

The most informative early reference is contained in the 13th century Norwegian saga of Thidrek.  One day a certain king Vilkinus was walking through the forest when he was stopped by a young woman.

Later they met again when she rose out of the sea and stopped his boat.  She told him she was to bear his child and was taken onboard.  After the child’s birth, she disappeared.  The child was named Vathe (Wade) and grew up to be a giant with an affinity for the ocean.

Later Wade had a son and the saga also recalls how he forded the deep channel of Groenasund between two Danish islands, with his little Weland on his shoulder.

On the North York Moors near Whitby, one of Wade’s stones at Barnaby is still standing, as is the one at Goldsborough. Legend has it that these two stones marked the position of the giant’s head and feet.

Tales of Wade still exist in local folklore.  He was said to have lived in the area with his wife Bell.  One built Old Mulgrave castle, the other Pickering castle.  Bell had an enormous cow which she had to take out on the moors to milk.  To help her, Wade built a road over the moors which is still there.  In building the trackway, he scooped out earth, thus creating the Hole of Horcum.  The excess earth he cast aside, thus creating Blakey Topping.

Early Wade Wills in Yorkshire

Year Name Place
1530 Thomas Wade Leeds (Headrow)
1626 Christopher Wade Rossett
1636 Francis Wade Kilsnea
1639 John Wade Wigton (Harewood)
1640 Christopher Wade Screvine
1652 Samuel Wade Addington
1653 George Wade Bickerton

The Murder of William Wade.  On the morning of July 14, 1677 William Boteler was visited at his London lodging house by a man named Parsons whom he later described as “a person of debauched life and ill fame.”   Parsons suggested that they should ride to Bishop’s Stortford, stay at Betty Ainsworth’s Reindeer Inn, and get merry.   Boteler at first refused the invitation but later agreed to go.  It was during the journey north to Hertfordshire that Parsons told Boteler of a quarrel he’d had with Captain Wade and that he wanted revenge in the form of a duel.

They stayed at the Reindeer Inn on Saturday and Sunday night.  On the Monday, Parsons suggest that they visit Wade at his home at Manuden nearby.   Parsons said that it might be better if Boteler went into the house alone and spoke with Wade while he waited in a field outside.  Boteler did so, met with Wade, and explained the situation.  Wade said that he would go and meet with Parsons and left, taking his sword with him.  At this point, Boteler mounted his horse and rode off.  However, within a short while, he was passed by Parsons riding at full gallop.  As he passed, he cried out: “He’s fallen,” and rushed away.

Parsons escaped to Holland and it was Boteler who stood trial for the murder.  He was found guilty at Chelmsford Assizes and hanged on September 10, 1677.

Mary Wade’s Trial and Conviction.  Mary Wade, from a large impoverished family in London, spent her days sweeping the streets as a form of begging.

At the age of eleven, she with another child stole three items of clothing (a cotton frock, a linen tippet, and a linen cap) from a girl when she was collecting water at a privy.  They then sold the frock to a pawnbroker. Mary was reported by another child to an officer who then found the tippet in Mary’s room. Mary was immediately arrested.  Her trial was held on January 14, 1789 at the Old Bailey where she was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.

It so happened, two months later, that the king, George III, was proclaimed cured of madness.  In celebration, all of the women on death row, including Mary Wade, had their sentences commuted to penal transportation to Australia.  She spent 93 days in Newgate prison before being transported on the Lady Juliana.

Jennie Wade Killed at Gettysburg.  Jack Skelly and Jennie Wade were childhood sweethearts in Gettysburg where they grew up.   Then Jack was called up to war when the Civil War broke out.  Jack had a friend called Wesley who, however, enlisted on the opposing Confederate side.  When Jack was wounded in battle, he managed to pass a message to Wesley to take back to Jennie at Gettysburg.  But Wesley never made it.  He was mortally wounded in the fighting around Gettysburg and died on the battlefield.

The same day, Jennie was baking bread at her sister’s home for the Union soldiers.  A sharpshooter’s bullet passed through two doors and struck Jennie.  She fell immediately. Union soldiers heard her cries and rushed to the kitchen.  They found her dead and carried her body to the basement.  A picture of Jack was found in her dress pocket.

Nine days later, Jack lost his battle to live.  They were buried together in the Evergreen cemetery in Gettysburg.  And they are remembered.  A Jennie Wade House Museum, with but a few minor changes and repairs, remains much as Jennie Wade must have known it more than 130 years ago.  Some believe she still haunts the house.

James Wade’s Stories.  The stories told by James Wade, one of Pembroke’s best known story tellers, are rather far fetched, but nevertheless delightful.

On one occasion, he recounted that, while fishing on Goodwick beach, a giant carrion crow swooped out of the sky and carried him in his beak across the sea to Ireland.  On reaching land, the crow dropped Wade and he fell into a cannon where he spent the night.  As he was waking the next morning, the cannon was fired and Wade was rocketed across St. George’s Channel.  He landed beside his fishing rod at the exact spot from which he had been plucked!

Stuart C. Wade’s Genealogy.  The following notice appeared in the May 6, 1900 edition of The New York Times.

“An advertisement appeared yesterday requesting that all Wades in the world should send their names and addresses to S.C. Wade of 146 West 34th Street, New York City.  Stuart C. Wade is the compiler of a Wade genealogy, the result of 25 years’ work, research, and correspondence. The book recounts the lives and lineages of many Wades, including, in England, Armagil, Sir William, and General George Wade.

In America, the list runs from Colonel Nathaniel Wade to Senator E.F. Wade and then to Jeptha Homer Wade, the first President of the Western Union Telegraph Company.  This family was prominent in all of the wars and one volume of the work is devoted only to its soldiers.”

Stuart Wade had published his Wade Genealogy, dedicated to Jeptha Wade, that year.  His book ran to over 960 pages.

Wade Names

  • Armagil Wade was the Elizabethan voyager who reached Newfoundland in 1536. 
  • General George Wade was the pacifier of the Highlands after the Jacobite rebellion of 1715. 
  • Benjamin Wade was the radical Republican Senator for Ohio from 1851 to 1869. 
  • Jephtha Wade founded Western Union Telegraph in 1861 and later became a benefactor to his adopted city of Cleveland. 
  • Virginia Wade won the Wimbledon ladies’ tennis championship in 1977.  
  • Abdoulaye Wade, whose forebears were Wolof slave traders, is a recent President of Senegal.

Wade Numbers Today

  • 13,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 31,000 in America (most numerous in Texas).
  • 15,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Wade and Like Surnames

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


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Written by Colin Shelley

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