Ward Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Ward Surname Meaning

The English surname Ward has two and possibly three derivations – the first being occupational, a weard or guard or keeper of the watch; the second topographical, one who lived by a werd or marsh; while an early Ward family in Yorkshire claimed a Norman descent, from Fouques de Vardes of Normandy.  Ward in Ireland came about during the English occupation, being an anglicization of earlier Gaelic names.

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Ward Surname Ancestry

England. Robert le Warde, recorded in the 1273 Oxfordshire rolls, was a guard; while Walter de la Warde, in the Suffolk rolls of the same year, lived by a fen.  The early spelling of the surname was Warde, although it generally later became Ward.

Wards were substantial landowners at Givendale near Ripon in north Yorkshire in the late 13th century. Sir Simon Ward was sheriff of Yorkshire in 1315.  This line died out in the early 1500’s.

Wards of Norfolk and London.  First records of another Ward line began in Norfolk in 1363 when John Ward obtained the manor of Kirby Bedon through marriage. This family was described as lesser Norfolk gentry.

However, they took a step upward when Edward Ward was able to take possession of Bixley Hall at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries. The main branch of this Ward family continued
as local gentry there until the 18th century. Sir Edward Ward who died of a fever in 1742 at the young age of 21 was much lamented.

In the early 1600’s William Ward, a sixth son of this family who saw no prospects at home, departed for London where he became apprenticed as a jeweller. In time he became a very wealthy jeweller and goldsmith to royalty:

  • his son Humble Ward married into the well-born Dudley family.
  • and their descendants, based at Sedgeley in Staffordshire, became the Earls of Dudley.

The first Earl of Dudley was briefly British Foreign Secretary in 1827.  Many later Wards were Conservative politicians.  The actress Rachel Ward came from this family.


Elsewhere.  John Ward, of uncertain origins, served in the British capture of Gibraltar in 1704 and stayed on. His descendants were merchants there and later in London.  George Ward became a large landowner on the Isle of Wight.

The 19th century surname distribution showed the Ward name to be found more in the north of England, with 30% in Yorkshire and Lancashire.

Ireland. Ward appeared in Donegal and Galway as an anglicization of the Gaelic mac an Bhaird, meaning “son of the bard.”

The Mac an Bhairds, dating from the 11th century, originally served as the bards to the O’Donnells in Donegal and the O’Kellys in Galway and were among the learned families of late medieval Ireland. Aedh Buidh Mac an Bhaird or, in his anglicized form, Hugh Ward, was born in Donegal in 1593 and is considered the father of Irish archaeology.

Other Donegal names such as MacWard and Deward became Ward as well over the course of the 19th century.

The Wards of county Down, the head of whose family was Viscount Bangor, came from England, however. The line began with Bernard Ward from Cheshire who had been appointed Surveyor General of Ireland by Queen Elizabeth. In 1570 he acquired Castle Ward in Strangford, county Down which was to be the family home. A later Bernard Ward rebuilt the castle in the 18th century.

America. The early Wards who came to America were English and many of them settled in New England.

New England. Andrew Ward may have been the first Ward in America, arriving in 1633 and later settling in Fairfield, Connecticut where he died in 1660. He obviously was a person of some importance as there is a special monument to him in Fairfield’s old burying grounds.

William Ward, according to family lore, came from Yorkshire.  He arrived in Sudbury in 1639 and later settled in Marlborough.  His line in America was covered in Charles Martyn’s 1925 book The William Ward Genealogy.

From him came Nahum Ward, a sea captain who bought land in what became the town of Shrewsbury.  That was where Artemas Ward, a Major General in the Revolutionary War, was born.  His home there is now the Artemas Ward House. A later Artemas Ward of the family became a successful businessman in the early 1900’s:

“It was said that Artemas Ward gave over four million dollars to Harvard University on condition that they erect a statue in honor of General Ward. Harvard provided the money for a statue, but not enough to give the general a horse.”

John Ward meanwhile was an officer in Cromwell’s army from Gloucestershire who had come to New England after the restoration of the monarchy in England in 1660.  His descendants settled in Newport, Rhode Island where they were first merchants and then town officials.

Samuel Ward was Governor of Rhode Island in 1764 and was later a delegate to the Continental Congress.   His descendants were distinguished:

  • his grandson Samuel established the Bank of Commerce in New York.  He was also a founder of New York University and the New York Temperance Society
  • while two of his children were very notable.  There was Sam, a political lobbyist in Washington who married into the Astor family, and Julia, a poet and author who wrote Battle Hymn of the Republic.

Irish. More than half of the Wards that came to America sailed from Irish ports. Some early arrivals, Scots Irish, were:

  • James Ward who came from Donegal to Philadelphia around 1730 and settled with his three sons in Augusta county, Virginia.
  • and John Ward also from Donegal, who settled in Amberson Valley in Pennsylvania sometime in the 1760’s.

Francis Ward had come to South Carolina from Antrim in Ireland around 1730.  He married there the daughter of a Cherokee chief, but was later banished from the tribe.  Their daughter Nancy married his nephew Bryant.  However, this marriage also did not last:

  • Nancy, known as “Beloved Woman,” became a much-respected mediator between the Cherokees and white settlers and lived onto 1822.
  • while Bryant died in Georgia in 1808.  His descendants through his son John were part of the Cherokee forced emigration from Georgia in the 1830’s.

James Ward emigrated from Donegal in 1860 and went to work in the Pittsburgh iron and steel mills. The family story is that he had a stroke at the mill and his 14 year old son Michael had to go to work in a glass factory to support the family.

Some Irish Wards made it to Texas at an early stage.  A certain “William Ward of Ireland” was inscribed among the dead at the Alamo in 1836; while Edward Ward was a mercenary for the Mexicans a few years later.

Canada.  Nehemiah Ward – of the William Ward line – came to New Brunswick with the early settlers in 1765, making his home in Sackville, Westmorland county.

John Ward – thought to have been a descendant of the immigrant Andrew Ward – was a Loyalist from upstate New York who in 1783 left for St. John, New Brunswick (he had to spend the first winter in a tent there).  He became a leading early businessman in the town until his death in 1846.

George Ward, from a Protestant family in Ireland, served in the British army in North America at the time of the Revolutionary War and stayed.  He and his family settled in Canada around 1810 in a township that came to be known as Wardsville in Kent county.  His home was close to the action during the War of 1812, with his son William – who had joined the local militia – being captured by the Americans.  A Ward family reunion of descendants began in 1984.

David Ward was an English fisherman who had come to the Toronto area in 1830 and made his home in what came to be known as Ward’s Island.  Although the island was initially rather isolated and desolate, four generations of the Ward family came to live there, including, in his youth, Frank Ward who died as recently in 2012.  David’s son William Ward built a hotel on the island in 1882.

Australia.  Michael Ward was a convict from London brought to Australia in 1815. His youngest son was the famous Australian bushranger Fred WardHe was on the loose for seven years between 1863 and 1870 before he was finally shot down.

Jacob Ward was a later English convict, this time from Somerset, who was transported to Sydney in 1837.  He married in 1854, after obtaining his ticket of leave, and settled down to a more conventional life.  He and his wife Ann raised ten children in Mudgee, NSW.

John Ward from Kent came on the convict ship Chapman in 1826, but was part of the armed guard.  He and his family settled in Parramatta, NSW.   His son William moved to Bathurst in 1845.

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Ward Surname Miscellany

The Wards of Givendale.  The first on record was Osbert de Varde of Givendale near Ripon in Yorkshire in the year 1130. He was said to have been a descendant of Fouques de Vardes of Normandy.

A descendant Sir Simon Ward, who succeeded his father in 1306, fought against the Scots and was captured after the battle of Bannockburn.  On his release after ransom was paid, he was made the Governor of Pontefract castle in 1324.

The Ward line at Givendale continued until the death of Sir Christopher Ward in 1521.  He left one daughter and three granddaughters, but no sons. However, a possibly related Warde line continued at Tanshelf Court near Pontefract.  Bernard Ward of Cheshire was said to have come from a cadet branch of this family.  He went to Ireland in 1570 and founded the family that became Viscount Bangor..

William Ward’s Luck.  His father Edward Ward was the forebear of the Wards at Bixley, acquiring the property at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries and building Bixley Hall.

“He was bountifully blessed with progeny.  Nine sons and three daughters had fallen to his share.  To lighten the burden of this heavy freight, one of them William, the sixth son, was heaved overboard and dispatched to push his fortune in London.”

William Ward apprenticed as a jeweler and in time became a wealthy jeweler and goldsmith to the Queen.  It was said that he arrived at this position through a lucky accident which occurred as follows:

“Mr. Ward was standing by his shop door in Lombard street when a man in a sailor’s habit passed by. He asked the usual question, whether there was anything he wanted.  The answer was – he could not tell until he knew whether he had occasion for something he had to dispose of, which he would show him if he should be pleased to go into the back shop.

Mr. Ward was thereupon surprised by a great number of rough diamonds that were poured out of a bag upon the counter by the sailor.  He was asked the same question – if he had occasion for or would buy any such things and at what price?  He answered he would buy and they agreed a fee.  Mr. Ward then invited the
sailor and all the ship’s crew to supper at a neighboring tavern; where he treated them generously.  The sailor whispered to him at parting, that he had such another parcel for him in the morning if he would be pleased to buy. And he gladly bought these goods too.

He soon fell to work upon the stones which fully answered his expectations.  They so much added to his fortunes that he soon raised his reputation and became one of the most eminent financiers in London.”

Another piece of good fortune then came about as follows:

“It chanced that Edward Lord Dudley, having much impaired his fortune by irregular living, was advised by his friends to apply to Mr. Ward, as an honest and substantial banker, for a loan of 20,000 pounds.  Mr. Ward told his Lordship that the money would be ready upon the producing of satisfactory security.  He then told his Lordship that his finances would be better supported if he agreed to the marriage of his only son and his Lordship’s grand-daughter Frances.  This so happened and the two families and estates became united.”

Aodh Buidhe Mac an Bhaird aka Hugh Ward.  Hugh Ward’s father Geoffrey was Toparch of Lettermacward and head of the Tirconnell branch of the ancient family of Mac an Bhaird.   For a long time this family had cultivated literature and filled the office of Ollav or chief historian to the O’Donnells.

Hugh himself was born in 1593.  His chief interest throughout his life was centered on the history and literature of Ireland. The plan of publishing the lives of the Irish saints and other ancient records of Ireland was his. Searching out manuscripts in Ireland and abroad, he intended a comprehensive history of Ireland, both civil and ecclesiastical.  His publications accomplished much of that goal.  He was in fact the pioneer and founder of the school for Irish archaeology that arose in the 17th century.

He also wrote Latin hymns and epigrams with elegance and many poems in Irish of great beauty and feeling.

James Ward and His Sons in Virginia.  James Ward was fifty eight and a widower when he came to Philadelphia from Donegal in Ireland with his three sons – James, William and John – in 1730.  They made for the Scots Irish outpost in Augusta county, Virginia.  Sadly there is a record of a petition by James Ward there in 1758, then aged 86, almost blind and unable to provide for himself.

The eldest son James settled in Greenbriar county, West Virginia.  James’s grandson John was kidnapped by Shawnee Indians in 1758 at the age of three.  He was raised by an Indian family and given the name of White Wolf.  In 1774 he fought against his father James in a battle where his father was killed.  He died later in another skirmish that involved his brother James.

William’s line had a more settled time of it in Wythe county, Virginia, although son William was captain of the local militia at the time of the Revolutionary War.  These Wards stayed in Virginia over the course of the 19th century.  A branch did migrate to Kentucky.

Their family history was recounted in Lilburn Everett Ward’s 1978 book Ward Family History.

The Artemas Ward House.  The Ward house in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts was built by Nahum Ward in 1727 to house tenants for his farm.  Artemas Ward moved into the house in 1763.  On his return in 1785 as a General after his success in the Revolutionary War, the building was expanded to accommodate both his household and that of his son Thomas Walter Ward.

Thomas served as Sheriff of Worcester for eighteen years.  His son Andrew Ward was Shrewsbury’s Town Clerk and wrote The History of Shrewsbury in 1847.  Charles Ward of the family fought and was killed in the Civil War.  The General’s great grandson was the author and advertising executive Artemas Ward of the early 1900’s.

The main structure was occupied by Ward family members until 1909.  From 1909 until 1954 descendants of the general lived in a second structure situated behind the colonial home.  The property itself was donated by the family to Harvard University in 1925. It now functions as a museum.  One of the most interesting exhibits is an old shay (one horse carriage), made around 1800, that belonged to Sheriff Thomas Ward, the son of the General. 

William Ward’s Tragedy.  On a mild spring day in May 1862, William Ward of Ward’s Island took his five sisters sailing around the Toronto islands.  Only he returned alive.

“I had run the sheet through the rail of the gunwale,” Ward later recalled in a story from Star Weekly in 1912.  “A puff of wind struck us and the rope jammed. The boat upset and threw us all into the bay.”

Ward managed to right the boat and pull his sisters back on when another squall tipped them out again. Unable to swim, and held down by their dresses, the sisters drowned. Only Ward was rescued.

The traumatic experience and the guilt that followed pushed William Ward to a life dedicated to saving others. He was the captain of the Dominion Lifesaving crew and was awarded the Royal Humane Society’s silver medal for a particularly heroic rescue with Robert Berry, an oarsmen and boxer.  In total, Ward was credited for saving more than 160 lives from Toronto Harbor.

Captain Thunderbolt aka Fred Ward.  His father Michael Ward had been caught with stolen liquor in London in 1814.  He was tried at the Old Bailey, found guilty and sentenced to death, although the sentence was later commuted to life transportation.
He arrived in Sydney on the Indefatigable in 1815.

He and his wife later settled in Wilberforce and nearby Windsor along the Hawkesbury river.  Fred Ward, born in 1835, was the youngest of their children.  In 1856 Fred’s nephew John Garbutt became the ringleader of a large horse and cattle stealing operation and enticed other members of the extended Ward family, including Fred, to join him. John Garbutt and Fred Ward were later captured and each received a sentence of ten years with hard labor at the Cockatoo Island penal establishment.

Fred managed to escape from Cockatoo Island in 1863 and, over
the following six and a half years, robbed mailmen, travellers, inns, stores and stations all across northern New South Wales.  Known as “Captain Thunderbolt,” he gained some support from the public because of his “noble” ways and the façade of a Robin Hood morality claiming only to rob the rich.  He seemed to lead a charmed life evading police on countless occasions until the law finally caught up with him.  On 25 May 1870, after robbing travellers near the Big Rock, he was shot and killed by a police constable.

Carol Baxter’s 2011 book Captain Thunderbolt and His Lady has given a romantic view of these bushranger years.

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Ward Names
  • John Ward, born in Canterbury in 1571, was a composer of madrigals.
  • Jack Ward was an English pirate who became a Barbary
    Corsair at the turn of the 17th century.
  • Artemas Ward was one of Washington’s most trusted generals in the Revolutionary War.
  • Montgomery Ward was the American businessman who founded the mail order firm of his name in 1872.
  • Joseph Ward was New Zealand’s Prime Minister twice in the early 20th century.
  • Barbara Ward was a 20th century British economist involved in the problems of developing countries.
  • Stephen Ward was the London society osteopath in the 1960’s who committed suicide when the Profumo scandal broke out.
Ward Numbers Today
  • 126,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 97,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 71,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

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