Williams Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Williams Meaning
Williams is a patronymic (son of) name from William, common
in both England and Wales. Because of William the Conqueror, William was the most used personal name in England until it was superseded by John in the 13th century.

Williams Resources on

Select Williams Ancestry

England. Thomas Williames was
recorded in the 1307 Staffordshire rolls.
The Williams name was mainly to be found in western counties in
succeeding centuries.

A Williams family has held Herringstone House near Winterborne in Dorset
continuously since 1513.
Robert Williams of this family, a banker in London, acquired the
estate nearby in 1797; while a branch of the family moved to Trevers in
Cornwall. In 1901 Edward Williams, JP
for Dorset, and his wife lived at Herringstone with a lady’s maid, two
housemaids, a kitchen maid, butler, footman, and hall boy

the Williams family of Burncoose and Caerhays – through their ownership
mines and smelting works – was a major force in the Cornish industrial
revolution of the 18th and early 19th century. The first of this
line was
John Williams who purchased the Burncoose estate in 1715.
Charles Williams is the current owner of
Caerhays castle, a mock-medieval castle on the Cornish coast acquired
by the
family in 1854.

Wales. Williams emerged in different places as a
Welsh surname in the 16th century. Oliver Cromwell in fact might
have been a
Williams if his Welsh great grandfather, Richard Williams from
Glamorgan, had
not changed his name to Cromwell at the instructions of Henry VIII.

Other early
Williams were:

  • the Williams family of Vaynol near Bangor in north Wales. Wyn ap William (Thomas Williams) took
    ownership of the estate in 1572. John
    Williams, the
    Archbishop of York in 1641, held Vaynol for a while.
    But it passed out of family hands when Sir
    William Williams died without issue in 1696.
  • the Williams family of Aberpergwm
    in the Neath valley, beginning with Jenkin William (a descendant of
    William ap Hopkin of
    Blaen Baglan) who first settled there around the year 1500. This
    family later owned coal mines in the Neath
    valley and St. Donat’s castle. But after World War One both coal
    mines and castle were sold.
  • the
    Williams of Llangibby castle in Monmouthshire. This
    line boasted an old Welsh lineage. Roger Williams of Usk, the
    first to adopt
    the Williams
    surname, acquired Llangibby in 1554. These Williams
    constructed a new
    house there in the 17th century which continued in use until 1951.
  • while Glasbury in Breconshire boasted
    three notable Williams during the course of the 17th century.

Thomas Williams
developed the Parys and Mona copper mines in Anglesey in the late 18th
century. When he died in 1802 he was said
to have been the
richest man in Wales.

. Williams in Ireland would probably
have come originally from either Wales or England.

One such family of Welsh
origin settled in county Monaghan in the 1640’s. Charles
Williams, from
Coleraine in county Derry, was a 19th century war correspondent who
founded the
Press Club. A Williams family has been running the Tullamore
distillery in county Offaly since the early 1900’s.

at the Massachusetts colony in 1631. At odds with the Puritan
there, he fled the colony and purchased land at a place he called
Providence. He is considered the founder
of Rhode Island and the founder of religious toleration.

Matthew Williams from Wales (said to have been a
kinsman of Oliver Cromwell) had arrived in Massachusetts some years
earlier. He was one of the early
settlers of Wethersfield, Connecticut in 1644.
Later Williams of this family moved to Essex and Orange
counties, New

Robert Williams from Norfolk arrived in 1638 and settled in Sudbury,

  • one line via his son Isaac led to Ephraim Williams, the
    of Williams College in NW Massachusetts.
  • another line via his son Samuel led to the
    Rev. John Williams, the first pastor at Deerfield.
    In 1704 he was captured there by Mohawk
    Indians and taken to Canada in an incident that became known as the
    Deerfield massacre. During that time his
    daughter Eunice was
    adopted by a Mohawk family. Her grandson
    Thomas was a tribal chief at the time of the Revolutionary War. He lived onto 1848.

African Americans. Williams is the most common
surname amongst
African Americans. In fact
almost half of the Williams in America are
African American. The Williams name
appeared in many places before Emancipation:

  • Molly
    Williams, a black slave in New York, was
    recorded as the first female firefighter in America in 1818.
  • Peter
    Williams was a black minister in
    Harlem, New York in the 1830’s who spoke out against
    slavery from the pulpit and advocated emigration.
  • James
    Williams from Alabama,
    a driver on a cotton plantation, provided in 1838 the first slave
    published by the American Anti-Slavery Society.
  • while
    Cathay Williams from
    Missouri, legally a slave, was enlisted into the Union army during the
    War. She is the only documented woman
    who fought in the war as a man. Sadly
    she was denied a military pension when she needed it later in her life

Canada. John
Tucker Williams
of the Cornish Williams family came to Canada with
the Royal Navy in 1812 and stayed. His son Arthur, born at Port
Hope in
Ontario, died west in 1885 after military skirmishes along the
river; his grandson Victor was a Canadian general during the First
World War

Australia and New
Zealand. Henry
and William Williams
early Christian missionaries, arriving in New Zealand with their wives
in the
1820’s. Henry
instrumental in the negotiations with the Maoris over the Treaty of
Waitangi. William translated the Bible and
the prayer
book into Maori. John Williams,
unrelated, was another Christian missionary, this time from a
background. He came to Tasmania in 1817
and later established Congregational churches in Sydney and Brisbane.

There were
Cornish Williams from the Redruth area who emigrated to Australia in
the 1840’s
after the downturn in Cornish tin mining.
Many headed for the copper mines of South Australia like Kapunda. Others went to Victoria and Queensland. John
came in 1833 and settled with his family in the Hunter
valley of


Williams Miscellany

Williams at Herringstone.  John Williams was a prosperous merchant in Dorchester who bought the Herringstone estate near Winterborne for £360 just before his
death in 1515.  It was his grandson John
who began a major rebuilding of the house in the 1580’s.

He is generally
credited with the “spectacular splendor” of the great chamber at
Herringstone.  This was redecorated in
the later Jacobean style, apparently to mark the creation of Prince
Charles as
Prince of Wales in 1616 (since its ornaments include his initials and
the heraldic
emblem of three feathers).

The project was left unfinished, perhaps because of
John Williams’ death in 1617.  He was
buried with his ancestors at St. Peter’s Church in Dorchester.  A sumptuous monument was later erected in his
memory.  He was succeeded at Herringstone
by his grandson, his eldest son having predeceased him.

Williams at Glasbury.  Glasbury on the river Wye in
Breconshire has associations with three notable Williams.

First there was Sir David Williams, a
prominent judge, who died there in 1613.
He was the first in his family to adopt the Williams name, his
father being
Gwilym ap John Vychan.

was the
Sir Thomas Williams who died at Glasbury and was buried there in 1712
at the
grand old age of 108.  He was the
grandson of Thomas Williams of Tallyn in Llangasty parish and had
trained as a
doctor.  He became physician to both
Charles II and James II.  Charles heaped
honors on him and he died a baronet and a wealthy man.

there was Henry Williams of Glasbury who
cast bells in the period 1677 to 1719.
Colin Lewis’s book Henry Williams:
The Glasbury Bellfounder
described his life, his craft, and his

Roger Williams, Founder of Rhode island.  Roger
Williams had arrived from London on the Lyon in Boston
with his wife Mary in
early 1631.  He preached first at Salem,
then at Plymouth, then back to Salem, always at odds with the

When he was about to be
deported back to England, Roger fled southwest out of the Massachusetts
Bay Colony
and was befriended by local Indians.  He
made his first settlement on the east bank of the Seekonk river, but
found that
it still lay within the boundaries of the Plymouth colony.
He eventually settled at the headwaters of
what is now Narragansett Bay.  Roger
purchased land from the Narragansett chiefs, Canonicus and Miantonomi,
named his settlement Providence, as in “thanks to God.”
From this purchase came the Rhode Island

Roger Williams was Governor of
the colony from 1654 to 1658.  During the
later years of his life, he saw almost all of Providence burned during
Philip’s War of 1675-1676.  He lived to
see Providence rebuilt.  He continued to
preach and the colony grew through its acceptance of settlers of all

Williams from Cornwall to Canada.  John Tucker Williams, from the Williams family in Cornwall, had started his career in the British Navy.  At the age of 16, he was in a ship fighting under Lord Nelson
at the Battle of Trafalgar.  He later
fought in Canada in the War of 1812, remaining there until the British
navy in
the Lower Lakes was dispersed in 1816. He went back to England, but
returned to Canada in order to marry Sarah, the daughter of another sea
and an early settler in Port Hope, Ontario.
He made his home there.

life in Canada was a mixture of military
adventures (in putting down the Rebellion of 1837), land speculation,
and local
politics.  He died at his estate in Port
Hope, Penryn Park, in 1854.

elder son Arthur had the same range of
interests, but died of fever after a military skirmish along the
river in 1885:

“Colonel Williams was the
only nationally known figure to die in the northwest campaign and his
body was
brought home in state. A huge funeral was held in Port Hope where
citizens erected
a statue in his honor. Parliament voted his orphaned children a special
pension. Then, like most heroes, he was gradually forgotten.”

son Victor had a
military career.  He fought in the Boer
War and was a Canadian Brigadier-General in Europe during World War One.

Henry and William Williams in New Zealand.  The
Williams brothers had Welsh nonconformist blood
in them, but grew up in Nottingham.  The
eldest Henry had served as a naval officer during the Napoleonic war
embarking as a Christian missionary to New Zealand in 1823.  He was joined three years later by his younger
brother William.  They and their wives
Marianne and Jane were to be active missionaries with the various Maori
they encountered over the course of their lives.

was leader of
the Anglican mission in the Bay of Islands and became Archdeacon of
Waimate in
1844.  He was active in succeeding years
as a peacemaker between hostile tribes and was instrumental in the
with the Maoris over the Treaty of Waitangi.
His brother William was consecrated the first Anglican bishop of
in 1859.  He was a translator of the
Bible and the prayer book into Maori and wrote a comprehensive
dictionary of
classical Maori that was first published in 1844.

two families had a total
of 94 grandchildren.  Descendants of the
two families now number several thousand, scattered throughout New
Zealand and
overseas.  Details about these
descendants were first published in the 1991 book Faith
and Farming: The Legacy of Henry Williams and William Williams
Evagean Publishing. 

John Williams, Early Australian Settler.  John Williams
was little more than a youth when he arrived in Sydney aboard the Portland in 1833.  John was
English, from Manchester, but had
embarked on the vessel in Ireland.  The
385 ton ship took four months to complete its journey from Cork to
Sydney.  John could have considered himself
lucky to
have disembarked in New South Wales as the ill-fated vessel was to be
on rocks off the coast of Tasmania on its onward journey to Launceston.

his early years in the colony, John worked for John Macarthur, the man
was responsible for the introduction of Merino sheep to Australia.  John Williams and his wife Mary later settled
in the Hunter valley of NSW near Singleton and both lived into their
nineties.  Along the way they raised a
large family,
twelve children in all.


Williams Names

  • Roger Williams was the founder of the state of Rhode Island.
  • Edward Williams was Chief Druid
    and bard of Wales in the 18th century.
  • Ralph Vaughan Williams was an English composer.
  • Hank Williams was an American
    country singer who has achieved almost cult status.
  • Andy Williams is a well-known American singer.
  • Eric Williams was the first Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, serving from 1956 to 1981. 
  • Robin Williams was a popular American movie actor and comic.
  • Vanessa and Serena Williams, sisters, are American tennis champions.

Select Williams Numbers Today
  • 411,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Lancashire)
  • 523,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 145,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Williams is the #3 ranked surname in America and the #4 ranked in the UK.


Select Williams and Like Surnames   

Patronymic surnames can be with either the “-son” or the shorter “s” suffix to the first name.  The “s” suffix is more common in southern England and in Wales.  Here are some of these surnames that you can check out.





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