Watkins Surname Genealogy

Watkins is a pet form of Watt, itself an abbreviation of
Walter. It had appeared as Gwatkyn in Wales by the early 1400’s.
The suffix
was generally attached to a personal
name as a pet name, usually denoting “the little one.” The suffix
was apparently a Flemish import which for some reason became popular in
England.  Various “-kins” surnames also became popular in Wales,
including Watkins.

Watkins Resources on

Watkins Ancestry

The Watkins surname probably first surfaced in Wales in
Breconshire. Lewis ap Howell ap Gwylim ap Gwatkyn was recorded in
the old Welsh patronymical style in Breconshire in 1539. He may
have been the Lewis Watkins – known in Llangorse as ap Gwatkyn – who
had come to London
and the court of Henry VIII and adopted the English-style name.
However, in 1545, there was
trouble back home for him.

“Lewis Watkins and three others – a
laborer of Langorse named Richard ap Watkin, John Thomas ap Euan, and
Watkin ap Philip – slew Roger ap Watkin of Langorse with an
arrow. This was loosed by Watkin ap Philip but the three others
were also sentenced to death as accessories.”

Richard ap Watkin was executed. But Lewis
miraculously escaped the noose and received a pardon. He died
three years
later. The incident evidently did his family no harm. His
son and grandson, both William, were four times High Sheriffs of
Breconshire between 1567 and 1601. And the Watkins continued as
gentry. Colonel
Vaughan Watkins
was the local MP between 1832 and
1865. He lived at Pennoyre where he had an Italianate-style villa
built for him.

Watkins also started to appear as a surname in the 16th century on the
border area, in particular in Herefordshire which was then part of
Wales. The Welsh patronymical style was still around, even in the
17th century. Hence in 1666 David Watkins’ father was Watkin
David of Preston on Wye in Herefordshire, not Watkin Watkins. But
English-style Thomas Watkins was a Baptist preacher there at that time.

. The Watkins name
was also found on the English side of the border. Family accounts
Watkins at Ruardean in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire from an
early time. Richard Watkin was a gunsmith there in the mid 1700’s.

Watkin and occasionally Gwatkin has also been a surname in
England. Its starting point may
have been mid-Wales. The Watkin name has been found principally in
Staffordshire, and Lancashire.

John Watkin ran a small cotton business in Manchester in the late 18th
century. It was transformed when his nephew Absolom joined him
from London. Absolom Watkin became a wealthy
cotton merchant in his own
right and a leading figure in the Anti-Corn Law League. One of
his sons, Alfred, was mayor of Manchester; the other, Edward, a
leading railway magnate of the Victorian age. Edward was also
responsible for what became known as Watkin’s folly:

“One of Sir Edward’s projects was on
the site of what is now Wembley stadium. During a trip to France
in 1889, he became greatly impressed with the newly built
Eiffel Tower which stood over 894 feet high. He wanted to build
an even taller tower on land he owned in
Wembley Park. He set up the Metropolitan Tower Construction
and held an architectural competition inviting designs from all over
the world.”

America. Most Watkins who
immigrated to America
during colonial times came via
Virginia. Henry Watkins
came to Virginia from Wales in the 1670’s and settled to farm in
Henrico county. He suffered discrimination for a number of years
because he was a Quaker. Later Watkins had trouble with the local
Indians and with their fellow Quakers.

“In 1726 Benjamin Watkins was
“disowned” by his Henrico Quaker meeting for “marrying out of
unity.” The bride who caused the dismissal was Jane Watkins,
daughter of Thomas Watkins of Swift Creek in Chickahomony county.
Undaunted by the ban Benjamin Watkins and Jane Watkins formed a
successful alliance.”

The family history has been covered in John Hale Statesman’s 1989 book Some Watkins Families of Virginia.

An earlier Watkins family in Virginia began with John Watkins who came
to Isle of Wight county in 1641. His descendants move south into
the Carolinas and south into Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas.
Another family line started with Joseph Watkins in South Carolina in
the 1750’s and moved onto Georgia in the 1830’s.

Frances Ellen Watkins was a notable African American Watkins. She
was born free in the slave city of Baltimore in 1825. She never
experienced the hardships of slavery and yet she devoted her entire
life in her writings and her lectures to the abolitionist movement and
what she called “a brighter coming day.”

Australia. Watkins to
Australia came from both Wales and England. One English family
was that of Thomas Watkins from Gloucestershire. They came to
Australia on the Oregon in
1851 under the Assisted
Passage Scheme. Thomas was a gardener. His son
left Australia ten years later for Dunedin, New

Watkins Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:

Watkins Names

Edward William Watkin was a
Victorian railway magnate.
Carleton Watkins was a
pioneer photographer of the American West.
Vernon Watkins, brought up in
Swansea and a contemporary of Dylan Thomas, was also a poet.

Select Watkins Today

  • 30,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Cardiff)
  • 40,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 13,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)



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