Webb Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Webb Surname Meaning

Weaving as an occupation has generated a number of surnames: Webb, Webster, Webber, and Weaver. The root is the Old English webba, meaning “to weave.” The poem Piers Plowman has the following line: “My wife was a webbe and woollen cloth made.”

There was a definite south/north divide in the incidence of Webbs and Websters, rather than a male/female divide as the original Anglo-Saxon might suggest (webbestre meaning a female weaver).

Webbs were mainly to be found in the south, Websters in the north and Scotland. Webbers and Weavers were much more geographic specific, Webbers in the southwest and Weavers in Cheshire.

Webbe was probably the early spelling. But it gradually became Webb.

Webb Surname Resources on The Internet

Webb Surname Ancestry

  • from Southern England
  • to Ireland, America, Australia and New Zealand

EnglandEarly Webbs seem to have come from the west country.

SW England. The byname Alger se Webba appeared in Devon around the year 1100. A Webb family from Dorset was to be found in the vicinity of Stratford, Warwickshire by the mid-14th century. They made their home at Bearley, a small village north of Stratford, and became prominent in court circles during Tudor times. Mary Webb was William Shakespeare’s grandmother. Richard Webb emigrated to America in 1626.

Early Webbs were to be found in Stroud in Gloucestershire, where they were prominent in the cloth industry, and on the Gloucestershire borders with Warwickshire and Oxfordshire. Humphrey Webb, forebear of American emigrants, came from the Oxfordshire side. One family history started with William Webb leaving his native Oxfordshire in 1770 to work in a papermill in Redditch, Warwickshire.

There was a Webb family in Draycott, Wiltshire in the late 14th century and possibly earlier. Alice Webb, the last of this line, married William Richmond in 1430 and their family became known as the Richmond Webbs. Edmund Richmond Webb was “Webb the duelist” after he killed Sir Thomas Eastcourt in a duel in 1684. His son John also dueled, but married into money and built Biddesden House at Ludgershall in Wiltshire in the 1720’s.

There were also Webbs in the towns of Salisbury and Devizes. William Webbe, whose parentage is uncertain, was by the late 1400’s one of the richest merchants of Salisbury.

“Webbe may have started his business in Southampton which was an important outlet for the Wiltshire cloth trade. He built Church House on Crane Street there. Poole was probably another port through which Webbe exported his goods as both his son and grandson did so, while his daughter married a merchant of the town.”  

Benjamin Webb, a 17th century clothier in Devizes, was known as Benjamin the miser. A relative of his, Philip Webb, went to London, prospered as a lawyer, and secured in 1763 through marriage a country estate in Surrey, Milford House. Another Webb line in Wiltshire, found at Oldstock, were noted for their adherence to Catholicism.

SE England. Kent had early Webbs in the southeast. The Webbs at Frittenden may have come from Stratford. But the Webbes at Sandwich and Canterbury were probably home-grown. Bennet Webbe was mayor of Sandwich in 1488. George Webbe, probably a nephew, was a corn merchant in Canterbury. John Webbe was burnt at the stake in Canterbury in 1555 because of his Protestant faith. London by that time had many Webbes, including the adventurer Edward Webbe who voyaged to the Levant and later recounted his escapades.

The 19th century distribution of the Webb name showed two groupings, one in and around London and including Kent and Essex and a second in the west country, extending north from Wiltshire through Gloucestershire and Warwickshire into Staffordshire.

Ireland. George Webb, from the Catholic Webbs of Oldstock, was chaplain to Charles I and appointed Bishop of Limerick. However, during the Irish uprising of 1641, Webb was imprisoned by rebels and died of jail fever.     

Other Webbs in Ireland arrived at the time of Cromwell or later. William Webb, an engineer in Cromwell’s army, obtained land at Ballymote in Sligo. Captain Daniel Webb established himself at Maidstown castle in Limerick. Webbs were also to be found in Antrim, Dublin, Tipperary, and elsewhere.

America. Richard Webb came to Boston in 1632 and later moved with the Rev. Hooker to found the new town of Hartford, Connecticut. From his line came:

  • Samuel B. Webb, a General in the Revolutionary War. He was aide-de-camp to Washington and wounded in three battles .
  • his son James Watson Webb, a newspaper publisher who later became a diplomat.
  • and his sons William and Walter who became railroad magnates and, with their connections to the Vanderbilts, one of the illustrious families of the Gilded Age. William’s son James was an American polo champion. The family legacy is their Vermont home, now the Shelburne Museum.

Christopher Webb, who arrived with his father in 1645, was the Town Clerk in Braintree, Massachusetts. His family had early associations with the Adams family. Two Webbs from Salem were sea captains in the 1670’s, John Webb and Daniel Webb.  

“The first recorded voyages by Webbs were in fishing ketches with small crews. By the time of the American Revolution private brigantines commanded by Webb sea captains captured English ships and sold the cargo and ships as prizes.”  

Captain William Webb made a name for himself in the War of 1812. The Webb seafaring prowess continued well into the 19th century.

Virginia. Giles Webb from the Stratford Webbs was an early arrival in Virginia, getting there with his father on the Thomas Babe in 1629. His descendants ended up in Carroll county. A Merry Webb family line began with the birth of Merry Webb in Henrico county in 1697. John Webb, born in Pitsylvania county in 1725, had descendants who settled in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Mississippi.

Australia. Two Webbs, Robert and Thomas, served as able seamen on the First Fleet to Australia in 1788 and their brother James was to follow them on the Scarborough two years later.  Robert was one of the first settlers to be granted land. He died, however, in 1800. James Webb was an early settler in an area that became known as Brisbane Water.

Edmund Webb, the son of a Cornish farmer, came to Australia for his health in 1847. He settled in Bathurst, NSW. Staring as a draper’s assistant, he became one of the town’s leading businessmen and a prominent local politician. He built his home Hathrop on Vale Creek in the 1860’s.

New Zealand.  Thomas Stirrup Webb, the son of a Methodist minister in Staffordshire, was one of the first settlers to come to the northern Wairoa region of New Zealand. He arrived there, a middle-aged man with wife and seven children, in 1863. He acted for many years as the region’s JP. His grandson Clifton Webb played rugby for New Zealand and went on to be an MP, Cabinet Minister, diplomat, and UN delegate.

Webb Surname Miscellany

The Martyrdom of John Webbe.  John Webbe, gentleman, was one of the 41 Kentish martyrs burnt at the stake during the reign of Queen Mary.  There is a martyr’s memorial to them near Wincheap Street in Canterbury.

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs recorded the following:

“John Webbe was brought before the bishop of Dover and Nicholas Harpsfield or some other deputed, in their room on the sixteenth day of September; and there had propounded unto him such ordinary articles as it seemeth were commonly ministered by Bonner to those of his jurisdiction.

And being willed for that present to depart and to deliberate with himself upon the matter against the next time of his appearance, he made answer that he would not otherwise say (by God’s grace) than he had already said, which was this: “As touching the sacrament of Christ’s body, I do believe,” quoth he, “it to be left unto his church (with thanksgiving) in commemoration of his death and passion, until his coming again.

So that it is left in remembrance of his body; and not by the words of consecration to be made his body really, substantially, and the same body that was born of the Virgin Mary – I utterly deny that.”

After this the said John Webbe, with George Roper and Gregory Parke, were brought  before the said judges: who there and then agreeing, and steadfastly allowing the former answer made before by Master Wehbe, were by the bloody prelates adjudged heretics.  Therefore, about the latter end of November, they together were taken and brought out of prison to the place of martyrdom; who by the way, going towards the stake, said certain psalms mournfully.”

Benjamin Webb the Miser.  That noted miser Benjamin Webb, a clothier of Devizes, was referred to in the memoirs of Dr. Trusler as a wealthy relative of his.

Trusler said in his memoirs:

“Being left executor to his own son, a bachelor, who lived under the same roof with him and who bequeathed to an aunt of mine £1,000, half to be paid six days after his funeral, Benjamin Webb carried his love of money so far that he would not bury his son, but kept him six months above ground, supported in his coffin on a pair of tressels standing in his hall through which he passed ten times a day. There the body would have continued till the old man’s death had not the parish threatened him with a prosecution.”

The Webbs of Stroud.  Stroud grew in the 17th century to become the centre famous for cloth of exceptional quality, among them the famous Stroud scarlet.  The lengths of this cloth were dried in the fields.  Several historians have commented on their appearance in the landscape in and around Stroud in their day.

The Webbs were a prominent family in this cloth industry. The first of these Webbs appears to have been Thomas Webb from nearby Painswick.  The Webb family owned a home there called The Hill near Merrywalks for close on two hundred years.

Thomas Webb was first recorded in Stroud in 1607 and died there in 1645. After his death, his sons expanded the family presence in Stroud, each operating his own mill.

“A wedding in 1675 was an opportunity to celebrate the importance of the Webb family. The groom was the heir of William Webb of Stroud, a clothier who had bought the Brimscombe estate in 1648. Attendees included: William’s brother John, a clothier of the Newhouse; Thomas, clothier at Wallbridge; and Samuel clothier at the Ham.  The bride and other attendees came from other clothier families.”

John Webb lived at the Gunhouse manor house and Samuel at a mansion called Doleman’s Ham.  The vicarage at Stroud was built by the Webb family and still has the clothiers’ mark above the porch.

Reader Feedback – Early Webbs from Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire.  My family has been researching Oxfordshire Webbs (my mother’s maiden name) for many years now.  We have traced the family from Luton back to Aston Rowant in Oxfordshire. We hit a brick wall with a Humphrey Webb who married a Mary Burton in 1621.  We have no idea where he came from as the records in Aston Rowant dried up.  However, we have always been suspicious that he may have moved into the area due to the lack of other Webbs in Aston Rowant and in surrounding parishes.

We joined the Webb DNA project in the hopes of finding a clue. This just opened up more mysteries, such as who emigrated to America anytime from 1600-1800.  Anyway, back to my question.  Do you think it is possible that Humphrey Webb came from Stroud or from the surrounding area?  I have found hints that some Webbs moved to Oxfordshire and even mention of a Humphrey.

I am aware that there is a line of Webbs that includes connections to Shakespeare from Warwickshire and Oxfordshire.  I believe they have a Humphrey in their tree and some from this line emigrated to America. We know we are not related to them because of the DNA evidence.

Kate Day (kateday@talktalk.net) 

Reader Feedback – Early Webbs in Virginia and Maryland.  My grandfather’s grandmother was Vera Webb who was born in Georgia in 1888.  I’ve traced her back to John Webb of Virginia (1705), but I cannot find any reliable sources before then. All I know is that his family were either descended from Giles Webb of Virginia (1623), or from a grandson of Ann Webb (1642), who had a son fathered by some McLellan of Londonderry in Ireland (apparently from a family of Webb Quakers who fled to Ireland).

Regardless, my question is: were most American Webbs in the Virginia and Maryland colonies from the Webbs at Odstock or Gloucestershire? Were both branches related?  It’s difficult to tell as Giles’ line is far easier to trace, the Quaker Webbs of Ireland of the middle 17th century had little paper trail, except they were skilled tradesmen and apparently merchants.

John S (john.sholota@gmail.com).

Captain William Webb and the War of 1812.  William Webb was remembered as an owner and the first captain of the schooner Fame.  The Fame was commissioned as a privateer during the War of 1812.

Captain Rutstein explained what happened:

“At the outbreak of war in 1812, a number of Salem shipmasters risked their fortunes and their lives by fitting out a small fishing schooner as a privateer and manning it themselves. The risk paid off.   Fame was the first American privateer to bring back a prize and, before she was through, she captured some 22 vessels.”

Captain William Webb emerged as something of a folk hero.  The Golden Hind Company published a traditional folk song, The Fame of Salem, that mentioned Captain Webb in one verse:

  • “Captain Webb had not sailed many leagues before he did espy
  • Two lofty ships a-windward, they came bearing down so nigh,
  • And both of them were British ships full loaded with supplies,
  • Webb made them haul their colors down and took them as his prize.”

After retiring from his career as a mariner, William Webb worked as an inspector at the Salem Custom House. However, he lost his job there for alleged incompetence. The incident was related in The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, who had a hand in his firing.

James Watson Webb, Newspaper Publisher and Diplomat.  James Watson Webb, as a newspaper publisher or as a diplomat, never had a small opinion of himself.

He started his newspaper career at the age of 25 in 1827 with the purchase of the Morning Courier, which he then consolidated with the New York Enquirer to form the New York Courier and Enquirer. He remained connected with this paper for more than 30 years.  Historian Don Seitz wrote of those days:

“James Watson Webb of the horrendous Courier and Enquirer, who was a good deal of what was known in that day as a ‘lady-killer’, sneered editorially at Greely’s ill-worn clothes.

Just before indulging in this persiflage, Webb had been indicted, convicted and sentenced for acting as a second to Henry Clay in a duel with Tom Marshall. The term of duress was two years in Sing Sing.  But Governor William H. Seward pardoned him before he went behind bars, in return for which Webb should name one of his sons ‘William Seward Webb.’”

Webb had no hesitation in stirring up popular prejudices of his time.  In 1834 he recycled or invented extravagant rumors of miscegenation, that the abolitionists had counselled their daughters to marry blacks and that Lewis Tappan had divorced his wife in order to marry a black woman.

As he grew older he wanted political recognition and sought an ambassadorial post. Seward’s biographer wrote: “James Watson Webb, an inveterate beggar for office, wanted a diplomatic post that would be lucrative.”  Eventually he was appointed the minister to Brazil and served in that position for eight years.

According to Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln’s biographer, Webb “believed that Lincoln should have appointed him major general, rating himself a grand strategist, having fought white men in duels and red men in frontier war.” 

James Webb in Australia.  James Webb was one of Australia’s early settlers.  The brother of two First Fleeters, Robert and Thomas, he arrived in 1790 to serve in the NSW Corps. On his discharge in 1794, he grew corn for the colony, built ships, and acquired land at Cockle Bay (now Darling Harbour) where he sold timber.

James Webb was by that time a boat builder and an owner of a sloop called William and Ann.  Did the Ann relate to the Ann Peat, the daughter of a partner, whom he had married in 1810?  Possibly not. In 1815 Webb inserted a notice in the newspaper stating that “all persons are hereby cautioned against giving credit on account of James Webb of Cockle Bay to his wife Ann Webb.”  It would appear that they had separated by this time.

Sometime around 1823 Webb moved out into an undeveloped mangrove region up the coast that became known as Webb’s Flat (and later as Woy Woy and Brisbane Water).  He was its first white settler.  There he continued his shipbuilding and started farming. The census of 1828 recorded that he had 540 acres in total, of which 75 were cleared and 70 were cultivated.  He had 11 horses and 120 head of cattle.

He was a rough type of man.  He once bragged how he had shot at point blank range Aboriginal men who were attacking his boat. He took advantage of a young Aboriginal woman who bore him a child Charlotte in 1824. Webb never had much to do with her upbringing and it is not surprising that when Charlotte passed away in 1913 he was not mentioned on her death certificate.

James Webb himself died on his land in 1848.  His age was given as ninety, but that is believed to have been an estimate.

Captain Matthew Webb’s Memorial.  Matthew Webb grew up in the small town of Dawley in Shropshire. After his death attempting the Niagara rapids, his elder brother Thomas placed a memorial for him in his home-town.  It read: “Nothing great is easy.”

Matthew Webb is known to be the first man to swim the English Channel by his own power and without devices.  His accomplishment went unmatched for 37 years until 1911 when, after fifteen failed attempts, Thomas Burgess managed to repeat the feat.

Sidney Webb According to Beatrice Potter.  When Beatrice Potter first met Sidney Webb, she was well-born and well-connected and he was poor and struggling.  However, there was something about him that drew him to her. This was her diary entry of their first encounter in 1890.

“Sidney Webb, the socialist, dined here to meet Charles and Mary Booth.

A remarkable little man with a huge head on a very tiny body, a breadth of forehead quite sufficient to account for the encyclopedic character of his knowledge, a Jewish nose, prominent eyes and mouth, black hair, somewhat unkept, spectacles and a most bourgeois black coat shiny with wear.

With his thumbs fixed pugnaciously in a far from immaculate waistcoat, with his bulky head thrown back and his little body forward he struts even when he stands, delivering himself with extraordinary rapidity of thought and utterance and with an expression of inexhaustible self-complacency.

But I like the man. There is a directness of speech, an open-mindedness, an imaginative warm-heartedness which should carry him far.  He has the self-complacency of one who is always thinking faster than his neighbors, who is untroubled by doubts, and to whom the acquisition of facts is as easy as the grasping of matter; but he has no vanity and is totally unself-conscious.”

They married in 1892 and the two remained together and shared their political and professional lives until Beatrice’s death in 1943.

Webb Names

  • John Webbe was a Protestant martyr, burnt at the stake in Canterbury in 1555. 
  • William H. Webb was a 19th century American railroad magnate and one of the adornments of the Gilded Age. 
  • Captain Matthew Webb was the first recorded person to swim the English Channel in 1875. However, eight years later he died in an attempt to swim the Niagara rapids. 
  • Sidney and Beatrice Webb were early members of the Fabian Society and co-founders of the London School of Economics in 1895. 
  • James E. Webb led NASA from 1961 to 1968 and oversaw the first US manned space missions.  NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope was named after him.
  • Harry Webb was the given name of the singer who became Cliff Richard.

Webb Numbers Today

  • 70,000 in the UK (most numerous in Essex)
  • 62,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 33,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Webb and Like Surnames   

The various medieval trades and occupations were a source of surnames as John the baker would over time would become known as John Baker.  Some skilled craftsmen – such as chandlers, fletchers and turners – were able to form guilds, protective organizations, and style themselves Worshipful Companies.  These are some of the occupational surnames that you can check out.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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