Washington Surname Meaning, History & Origin

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The surname Washington comes from the place-name Washington (originally Wassyngton) near the river Wear in what was then Durham. The Washington family took their name from this location.
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Washington Ancestry

England. George
Washington’s family dates from 1183 at Washington on the Wear and
possibly before. They were landed gentry and owned property in
Yorkshire (Selby) and in Lancashire (Chorley).

Some 350 years
later, a descendant, Lawrence Washington, moved south and bought
Sulgrave manor near Banbury in Oxfordshire. This was the home
from which George Washington’s great-grandfather, John
, departed for
Virginia in 1656.

There are still Washingtons to be found in the north of England, but
more in Staffordshire. The earliest record is a will and
inventory of Edmund Washington of Leek, dated
1537. The name has
continued there and in nearby towns and villages.

America. The John Washington
who settled in Westmoreland county and was the forebear of President
Washington was not the only Washington to come to Virginia in the 17th
century. The records show two others:

  • Edward Washington, possibly related, who
    became constable of Westmoreland county
  • and John Washington of Surry county

There was descent from both of these Washingtons.

George Washington and his
wife Martha had no children. Their Mount Vernon estate passed
onto his
nephew Bushrod and then to Bushrod’s nephew John Augustine. The Washington trail then went south:

  • Thomas Washington moved his family to Alabama
    and Thomas Pratt Washington
    his family and slaves to Texas in 1845.
  • Joseph Washington from Tennessee was one of the men who
    perished at the Alamo
    at the hands of the Mexicans in 1836.
  • while Lewis Washington, a writer and
    journalist from Georgia, lived through these times as well. He
    was killed
    in 1857 while covering a war in Costa Rica.

. The number of Washingtons in America must have
something to
with African Americans taking the name after emancipation.

T. Washington
, born a slave in Virginia in 1856, took his
name from his
step-father, Washington Ferguson. He was an educator and writer
and emerged as the spokesman for African Americans
post-emancipation. His autobiography Up From Slavery
is still widely read.

Another former slave was John

from Fredericksburg whose ordeals after the war have recently been
retold by the historian David Blight. And Jesse Washington, a
seventeen year old lynched in Waco Texas in 1916, provides a further
sobering reminder of the past race divides.

It is a remarkable fact
that 90% of the Washingtons in America were black in 1900 and the same
percentage holds true today. African
Americans could choose their name after Emancipation and many of them
chose Washington, the founder of their country.
Washington was a slave-owner. But
he did give orders that 124 of his slaves should be released on the
death of
his wife.

Today’s African American
Washingtons include jazz performers, baseball players, and the Academy
award winning actor, Denzel Washington. Of course, these
Washingtons have their own genetic roots. The actor Isaiah
Washington discovered that his DNA roots lay on his mother’s side with
the Mende people of Sierra Leone.


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The 1537 Will and Inventory of Edmund Washington of Leek.  Edmund’s inventory is that of a prosperous yeoman farmer.  He
willed about £7,000 in today’s money to the church to pray for his and
his family’s souls.  His was the first of a long line of
Washington wills in Staffordshire.  As he was the first recorded
Washington in Staffordshire, it raises the question as to where his
parents came from.

John Washington Arrives in America.  John Washington was about 19 when his father died.
Two years later his mother died and he went to London, probably taking
his brother Lawrence with him.  The brothers saw the new
opportunities in trade with the American colonies and John, already
married, sailed for Virginia in 1656 as mate and voyage partner of
Edward Prescott, the owner of the Sea
.  His first wife died and he remarried the daughter
of an American planter, Nathaniel Pope.  Their wedding present was
a 700 acre estate at Mattox Creek where their eldest son, Lawrence, was
born in 1659.

George Washington and His Lineage.  In a letter written near the end of his
life to an English genealogist, Washington claimed that he knew little
and cared little about his English ancestry.  He may not have; but
he had sufficient family pride to have a Washington coat of arms
imprinted on his bookplate in 1771, displayed next to a similar
bookplate, of slightly earlier date, for a distant English
cousin.  He employed a seal bearing his family coat of arms on
many of his personal letters and he had a large wooden carving of the
crest on the wall at Mount Vernon.

Thomas Pratt Washington.  In the fall of 1845, Thomas Pratt Washington brought his family and
slaves from Alabama to Texas and improved a 2,000 acre farm at the
mouth of Onion Creek on the Colorado river.  The plantation house
was completed in 1848 and the plantation itself had a gin and a
press.  Mrs Washington taught the neighbors’ children as well as
her own.  But the property and its 106 slaves were lost as a
result of the Civil War. Reconstruction difficulties caused further
setbacks.  After the Colorado river flood in the summer of 1869,
Washington moved to Austin where he died in 1873.

Booker T. Washington Recalling Emancipation.  “As the great day grew nearer, there was more singing in the slave
quarters than usual.  It was bolder, had more ring, and lasted
later into the night.  And most of the verses of the plantation
songs had some reference to freedom.

Some man who seemed to be a stranger made a little speech
and then read a long paper, the Emancipation Proclamation, I
think.  After the reading we were told that we were all free and
could go when and where we pleased.  My mother, who was standing
by my side, leaned over and kissed her children, while tears of joy ran
down her cheeks.  She explained to us what it all meant, that this
was the day for which she had so long been praying but fearing that she
would never live to see.”

John and Ruth Washington.  Ruth Washington had no idea that her grandfather, John Washington, was
a slave.  That truth came to light in a new book by the Yale
historian David Blight.  The book tells the story of two slaves,
Washington and Wallace Turnage of North Carolina, who wrote about their
ordeals after the Civil War.

Eighty nine year old Florida resident Ruth Washington made a recent
trip to Virginia to pay her respects to a man she is just beginning to
know.  She saw John Washington’s world at Fredericksburg which has
been preserved.  It includes the slave living quarters where he
spent much of his life and the site on the Rapahannock where he went
across in 1862.

She said her grandfather died the year she was born, so
she never knew him.  Her father never talked about that dark
chapter in the family history.


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  • George Washington was the first President of the United States. 
  • Eugenia Washington, grand niece of the President, was one of the founders of the DAR (Daughters of the
    Revolution) in 1890. 
  • Booker T. Washington, born a slave, was an educator and writer and emerged as the spokesman for African Americans until his death in 1915. 
  • Dinah Washington, the jazz
    singer, was born Ruth Lee Jones. It is said that Lionel Hampton gave her this name. 
  • Harold Washington was
    the first African American mayor of Chicago, serving from 1983 to 1987. 
  • Denzel Washington, the American actor, is a two-time Academy award winner.

Select Washington Numbers Today

  • 1,500 in the UK (most numerous
    in West Midlands)
  • 52,000 in America (most numerous
    in Texas).


Select Washington and Like Surnames

The surnames found here cover most of the US Presidential surnames since the first President, George Washington.  Click on the surname below if you wish to know more of that particular President and his name.

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