Woodruff Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Woodruff Meaning
The root
of the surname Woodruff is the Old English word wudurofe
meaning woodruff, a plant whose
leaves gave off a sweet smell.  Woodruff
may either have been topographical, for someone who lived on a patch of
where woodruff grew, or a nickname for someone who used woodruff as a
perfume.  A variant spelling is Woodroffe.
One early Woodruff family in Yorkshire was
initially Woodrove and this may have derived from the occupational name
reeve,” a bailiff in charge of woodlands.
Select Woodruff Resources on The Internet

Woodruff Ancestry

Woodruff name in England was to be found in the 1881 census in two parts of the
country mainly:

  • the
    West Riding of
    Yorkshire extending into Lancashire (the largest numbers by that time
    were in
  • and
    SE England, focused on London and Kent.

and Lancashire
.  A Woodrove
family originated at Normanton in the West Riding of Yorkshire near
Wakefield.  In 1377 John Woodrove
acquired Woolley Hall and this house was to remain with the family for
the next
two hundred years.

The best known of these Woodroves was Sir Richard Woodrove who was the High Sheriff of
Yorkshire from
1510 to 1518.  The family later ran into
problems due to their association with Thomas Percy, one of the
ringleaders of
the Rising of the North in 1569 (a later Richard had married his
daughter), and
Woolley Hall was sold by the Woodroves.

The Woodruff name appeared at Walton le
Dale in Lancashire in the 18th century and later at nearby Preston. William Woodruff,
the noted historian,
was born in the cotton mill town of Blackburn in 1916.

SE England.  The Woodrove name
resurfaced in London.  David
Woodroffe was apprenticed as a haberdasher in London and became a
freeman of
the Haberdashers’ Company in 1526.  His
son Sir Nicholas was Lord Mayor of London in 1579.
The line via another son Robert led to
Matthew Woodruff, early emigrant to America.

The Woodruff name had started to appear in the
small village of Fordwich, just outside of Canterbury in Kent, in 1521.  Many Woodruffs were buried at its Church of
St. Mary the Virgin.  John Woodruffe was
a churchwarden there in 1636 and then emigrated to America.  A later John Woodruff was mayor in 1775.  And an enthusiastic clergyman, the Rev. C.
Eveleigh Woodruff, wrote a history of the village in 1895.
Woodruffs were also appearing by this time
along the coast at Ramsgate and Deal.

America.  Early Woodruffs came to
Connecticut and (via
Long Island) to New Jersey. 

Connecticut.  Matthew Woodruff came to
Connecticut from London in 1636 and later made his home to Farmington.  His house still stands in Farmington on land
that he purchased in 1653.  His lineage
in America was covered in Mackenzie and Stewart’s 1925 book Woodruff
.  Two notable descendant
lines led to:

  • Wilford
    Woodruff, born in Farmington in 1817 who joined the Mormon church in
    1833, made
    the journey to Salt Lake valley, and served as the fourth President of
    Church in 1889.
  • and,
    from Samuel Woodruff who settled in Southington (South
    Farmington), came George Waldo Woodruff who migrated south to Columbus,
    in the 1850’s.  George’s son Ernest made
    the crucial investment in the Coca Cola company in 1919.
    His grandsons Robert and George were to run
    the company from 1923 to 1954.

line via
Nathaniel Woodruff led to Major General Mitchell Woodruff of Litchfield
Connecticut; his son George, US Representative for Connecticut, and his
grandson Timothy, three times Lieutenant Governor of New York state.  A line also led via the Rev. Jeremiah
Woodruff to Rollin Woodruff, Governor of Connecticut in 1907. 

New Jersey
.  John Woodruff was one of
the original settlers
of Southampton on Long Island, arriving there with his family from Kent
1640.  His younger son John remained on
Long Island (although his descendants settled in Westfield, New
Jersey); while his
older son John migrated to Elizabethtown, New Jersey in 1664.   Four Woodruffs from this New Jersey
family –
Seth, Timothy, Jacob and Thomas – fought in the Revolutionary War.  Ceylon Woodruff’s 1967 book Woodruff
covered this family

Another Woodruff arrival in New Jersey was Thomas Woodruff who came to
Salem, New Jersey in 1679.  A family
Bible, known as the Nathan Woodruff Bible, was handed down to John
Woodruff, a Methodist deacon in Butler county, Ohio in the 19th century.

Long Island came William E. Woodruff, born there in 1795, who headed
south to
the newly created state of Arkansas in 1819.
He printed the first edition of the Arkansas
in 1819.  In acknowledgement
of his pioneering efforts in promoting the new state, Woodruff county
Arkansas was named after him.

A number of Woodruffs from New Jersey headed
westward to Ohio after the Revolutionary War.
Seven Woodruffs served in the Ohio militia during the War of
1812 and
the following Woodruffs arrived there later:

  • David
    Woodruff from Cumberland county in
    Muskingum county
    in 1813
  • Cornelius
    Woodruff from Elizabethtown who was with David Woodruff in Muskingum
    county and
    later made his home in Union county.  
  • Nathan Woodruff from Salem county in Butler county in
  • and
    Lieutenant Benjamin
    Woodruff from Bergen county in Jackson
    around 1820.

were forty Woodruff burials in the Woodruff cemetery in
Watertown township, Washington county – the earliest adult there being
Woodruff in 1835.

Amos Woodruff departed Rahway, New Jersey for Memphis,
Tennessee in 1845.  He started a
carriage-making enterprise which proved to be very successful and he
into other lines of business.  He built
what is now known as the Woodruff Fontaine House on “Millionaire’s Row”
on the
outskirts of the town in 1870.  His
daughter Mollie Woodruff now
haunts this

.  The
Woodroof name started to appear in Virginia in the early 1700’s.  George Woodruff was born in Brunswick county,
Virginia in 1780.  He married Sally
Manning there in 1808 and they departed for Madison county, Alabama
around the
year 1815.  George was a farmer.  After his wife died he married again and
settled in his later years in Franklin county, Missouri.

One line in South
Carolina began with Joseph Woodruff, a Revolutionary War veteran, who
was an
early settler in the Spartanburg district.
The town of Woodruff there took its name from him.
His son Samuel migrated first to Tennessee
and then to Mississippi.

Canada.  From the
Connecticut line came Ezekiel Woodruff, a Loyalist during the
Revolutionary War
who moved his family to the Niagara peninsula in 1795.
His sons Richard
and William Woodruff
built and operated the first
steam-powered grist mill
in Ontario.  Both of these sons fought in
the War of 1812.


Woodruff Miscellany

Sir Richard Woodrove of Woolley in Yorkshire.  In the middle of the 16th century St. Peters church in
Woolley contained much painted glass.  In
the first light of the east window of the chancel was a figure of Sir
Woodrove who died in 1522 kneeling, behind him six sons, and beneath
that the
following inscription:

“Pray for the soul of Richard Woderove a soldier, son and
heir of John de Wolley Woderove, esquire, whose soul be with God.”

Woodruffs in the 1881 UK Census

County Numbers Percent
Yorkshire    136
Lancashire    308
Sub-Total    444    32
London    222
Kent    117
Surrey     64
Sussex     47
Sub-Total    448    32
Elsewhere    508    36
Total   1,400   100

William Woodruff’s Childhood in Lancashire.  William
Woodruff was born in Blackburn in 1916.
His grandparents had emigrated to Massachusetts and his parents
rather unusually, returned to England to work as weavers in a
Lancashire cotton

was born during the Great War and into abject poverty. Two weeks
before his birth, his mother had received a telegram saying his father
had been
killed in France. On the day of his birth his mother received a second
saying there had been a mistake and that his father was alive. William
delivered two hours later in the cotton carding room of the factory.

extraordinary story of his Lancashire childhood was told in his
book The Road to Nab End, a book that was on The London
list for a year.

the collapse of the English cotton industry in 1920 the
Woodruff family became destitute. The cotton mills closed, half the
adults were
unemployed; people starved to death. The family had to move to a single
room in
a slum at Nab End.

William was haunted all his life by the journey he took at the age of
six with
his mother to the seaside resort of Blackpool.
During the day his mother would tell him to sit on a bench.  From there he watched men, far better dressed
than any he had known, enter the hotel.
Some came out with his mother.
“You’re a grand lad,” some said, tossing him a coin or two.  Billy Boy, as he was known, wondered why.

At the age of 13 in 1929 he left school to
become a
grocer’s delivery ‘barrow boy.’  After the wealthy grocer suffered
a stroke
William was lucky to get a job in a brickyard.  At age 16 he ran
away to London.
He approached the unknown with resourcefulness and self-reliance honed
by hard
times.  He always counted himself lucky to have been born in
Lancashire and
doubly lucky to have been born poor. 

David Woodruff, Pioneer Settler in Muskingum County, Ohio.  David Woodruff, born in New Jersey in 1773, was one of the pioneer settlers of Muskingum county in Ohio, arriving there as early as
1813.  He came by wagon with a group of
people that included his wife and three children.

In making their journey from
New Jersey to Ohio, and after they had reached Zanesville on the way to
Creek, a commotion appeared in the brush.
A number of the men, including David Woodruff, loosened their
dogs which
immediately pounced upon and killed a bear on the spot where the market
now stands.  David Woodruff and his dogs
subsequently killed a bear where the Lutheran church of their township

Initially David Woodruff leased land near Stovertown and
he resided
there until around 1819.   Then he
80 acres of land where he built a cabin and began clearing the land and
improving his farm in various ways.  He
lived on at his farm until his death in 1844.

Mollie Woodruff and the Haunted Woodruff Fontaine Mansion.  Amos Woodruff
grew rich from his carriage-making business in Memphis, Tennessee and
in a large five story French-Victorian mansion located on what was
“Millionaire’s Row” on the outskirts of the town.  The
woodwork was made of machine-carved solid
cypress.  The total cost was estimated at
$40,000.  Amos, his wife Phoebe, and
their four children moved into the mansion in 1870.

Their daughter Mollie married the next year and
inhabited the mansion’s Rose Room.  That
was the room where she lost a young child shortly after childbirth.  Three months after the death of the child,
her husband Egbert died in the Rose Room from a staph infection.  Mollie was devastated but eventually
remarried and moved away.

Legend has it that Mollie’s ghost returned to her
father’s house and still roams the halls.
Reports of haunting activity such as a smoke-formed apparition
of Mollie
have been reported by staff when they tried to update or move furniture
in the
mansion.  Mollie apparently becomes upset
and makes her dislike of the re-redecorations evident by slamming doors
breaking things.  Mollie has also been
reported seen sitting on the bed in the Rose Room.

Richard and William Woodruff and the War of 1812.  William Woodruff
served as a private in Crook’s Company at the beginning of the War of 1812 and
fought under Captain McClellan at the Battle of Queenston Heights, for
which he
gave a vivid account.  Both he and his
brother Richard were awarded a land grant for their services during the

Richard Woodruff was listed as a prisoner at Fort Niagara on June,
1813.  He built a home at St. Davids
which was destroyed when the American army burned the village in 1814.  He rebuilt the house in 1815 and his family
lived there until the early 1900’s.


Woodruff Names

  • Sir Richard Woodrove of Woolley Hall was the
    High Sheriff of Yorkshire from 1510 to 1518. 
  • Wilford Woodruff served as the fourth President of the Mormon church from 1889 until his death in 1898. 
  • Robert W. Woodruff was the President of the
    Coca-Cola Company from 1923 until 1954.  He was also a major philanthropist in his home city of Atlanta. 
  • William Woodruff grew up in abject poverty in Lancashire to become a Fulbright scholar and a Professor of World History in America.   
  • Maurice Woodruff was a well-known English clairvoyant and
    astrologer in the 1960’s

Select Woodruff Numbers Today

  • 2,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Lancashire)
  • 9,000 in America (most numerous in Ohio)
  • 1,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)



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