Whitney Surname Genealogy

The surname Whitney comes from an old place-name near Hay in
Herefordshire, recorded as Witenie in the 1086 Domesday Book and
Whyteneye in the 1283 Herefordshire charter rolls. A Robert de
Wytenye was the first surname to be found there.
The root of Whitney is the Old English hwit meaning “white” and eg “island,” hence white island.
The name probably refers to the river Wye which runs through the
area and can become a torrent when heavy rains in the Welsh mountains
cause it to swell.

Whitney Resources on

Whitney Ancestry

Whitneys at
Whitney-on-Wye and Clifford
in Herefordshire date from the
13th century and the Whitney name continued to be reported in
Herefordshire in succeeding centuries. However, by the time of
the 1891 census, the number of Whitneys recorded in Herefordshire
was quite small.

by then had moved north towards Cheshire and Lancashire. The
Whitneys of Coole Pilate near Nantwich in Cheshire, first recorded in
the 16th
century, included the poets Geoffrey and Isabella Whitney.

London and Northamptonshire Whitneys also
started to appear at this time. They
included in the 1600’s the Whitney pirate and highwayman
– Thomas
the pirate and James Whitney the highwayman.
John Whitney the emigrant departed from London in 1635.

Unlike America, no Whitney in England really claimed the headlines.

AmericaJohn Whitney embarked from London on the Elizabeth and Ann for New England and settled in Watertown, Massachusetts in 1635. His descendants, enumerated in Frederick Pierce’s 1895 book The Descendants of John Whitney, are legion and include:

  • Eli
    , born in Massachusetts in 1765, the man who invented
    the cotton gin
  • Asa Whitney from New York, an early backer of transcontinental
  • Josiah Whitney, the geologist from Massachusetts after whom Mount
    Whitney is named
  • David Whitney from Vermont, one of the earliest settlers in Iowa
  • David
    the lumber baron, born in Watertown, Massachusetts
  • and Amos Whitney from Maine, the co-founder of the Pratt &
    Whitney machine tool company in 1860.

The late 19th century saw the rise of the New York
branch of this family, through William Collins Whitney.
became an extremely wealthy businessman who made the Whitney name
synonymous with thoroughbred horse racing. His family was known
in America for their social prominence, wealth, business
enterprises and philanthropy.

Richard Whitney was President of the New York Stock Exchange from 1930
to 1935. However, his own speculative investments turned sour and
he took to embezzlement to cover his losses. He was finally
caught, arrested, and convicted of embezzlement.

“On April 12, 1938, six thousand people
turned up at Grand Central Station to watch as a scion of the Wall
Street establishment was escorted in handcuffs by armed guards onto a
train that delivered him to prison.”

Other Whitneys.
There were Whitneys in America other than the descendants of John
Whitney. Henry Whitney had came to Huntington, Long Island
sometime in the 1650’s. His grandson Henry was one of the
earliest settlers of Ridgefield, Connecticut. Samuel Whitney,
born in 1734 in eastern Massachusetts, raised seventeen children there,
including Captain
Ebenezer Whitney

“Stories handed down over the years
claimed that Eben Whitney was shipwrecked off Cape May in 1806 and,
while stopping in Glassboro on the way to Philadelphia, met his future

Ebenezer’s sons Thomas and Samuel built a successful glassware business
south Jersey there. Thomas’s mansion, Hollybush, still stands.

Samuel Whitney
from Hartford, Connecticut went further afield. He
was among the first Christian missionaries to Hawaii in 1820. His
son Martyn, born there four years later, was its first postmaster and
founded a number of long-lasting newspapers on the islands.

Whitney Miscellany

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

Select Whitney Names

Eli Whitney was the
American inventor best known for inventing the cotton gin. It was
one of the key inventions of the Industrial Revolution and shaped the
economy of the antebellum South.
was a Midwestern lumber baron of the late 19th century
who made
his home in Detroit.
William Whitney was an
American financier and politician of the late 19th century
and founder of the socially prominent Whitney family.
Jock Whitney of the Whitney
family was one of
America’s first venture capitalists. He was reportedly one of the
ten wealthiest men in the world in the 1970’s.

Select Whitneys Today

  • 3,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Carmarthenshire)
  • 13,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 4,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)



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