Woodward Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Woodward Surname Meaning

The Old English words wudu meaning “wood” and weard meaning “guardian or “protector” gave us the occupational surname Woodward, someone who looked after the trees and the game in the forest. The name Waudard appeared in the Domesday Book of 1086.

In the Middle Ages woods and forests were an important part of the economy and were of special interest to Kings for hunting and also as a source of timber for weapons and building.  It was in the early 14th century that Edward II first introduced wardens to look after his royal forests.

Woodward Surname Resources on The Internet

Woodward and Woodard Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Warwickshire and Kent)
  • to America, Canada and New Zealand

England. The King’s subsidy roll for Gloucestershire in 1370 recorded a large number of Wodewards in the county.  By the end of the 1400’s the name was also well established in Worcestershire and Warwickshire, two heavily wooded counties and favorite royal haunts.

Various Warwickshire branches claimed descent from John Wodeward, a ranger in Arden forest.  Warwickshire Woodward branches emerged in the 15th century at Butlers Marston, Solihull, and Avon Dassett.  Later these Woodwards spread to Shropshire, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire, and Buckinghamshire.

John Woodward, the 17th century naturalist, came from a “good family” in Gloucestershire.  One Woodward family traced itself back to John and Hannah Woodward in Alcester, Warwickshire in the 1730’s.

By the 19th century the Woodward name had spread further north into Staffordshire, Cheshire and Lancashire, while there were Woodward pockets as well in the southeast.

Kent.  The Woodwards of Brooke Place in Ashford, Kent could trace their line back to the early 1500’s:  “The will of Richard Woodwarde dated February 21, 1516: Desires to be buried at Ashford beside Elizabeth his first wife.”

Thomas Woodward, a descendant, was Assay Master of the Mint under Charles I, but lost that position in 1649 and departed for Virginia.  The Woodwards held Brooke Place until 1757.

America.  There were a number of early Woodwards in New England.  

New England.  Nathaniel Woodward came to Boston in 1633.  Most of his descendants remained in Massachusetts, although one branch under Beamsley Woodward settled in York, Maine.  Nathaniel’s line was followed in Harold Woodward’s 1984 book Some Descendants of Nathaniel Woodward.   

Richard Woodward came to Massachusetts with his parents on the Elizabeth in 1634 and settled in Watertown: 

  • a 19th century descendant, born in Maine, was the inventor Amos Woodward who founded the Woodward Generator company in Illinois in 1870. 
  • while another line went via Pennsylvania and Illinois to Bob Woodward, the investigative reporter of Watergate fame in the 1970’s.   

Henry Woodward, a doctor from Lancashire, arrived with his wife-to-be Elizabeth a year later than Richard on the James, surviving a terrible thunderstorm.  They settled first in Dorchester and then moved onto Northampton.

South Carolina.  Another Dr. Henry Woodward, a young ship’s surgeon, was to be found in the 1660’s in the sea islands off South Carolina.  He had been sent there to live among the Indians and learn their language and culture before the settlers arrived.

A century or so later Thomas “the Regulator” Woodward organized the South Carolina planters to protect themselves against the lawless; and then another Thomas Woodward, born in Georgia in the 1790’s, became well-known for his role in opening up new areas for settlers elsewhere in the South.  His life was described in Don Marler’s 2001 book General Thomas S. Woodward and Woodward’s Reminiscences.

Maryland.  The Woodward family of Maryland began with Abraham Woodward, the son of a London merchant, who came to America in the early 1700’s and settled in Annapolis, Maryland:

  • this family later made their fortune from selling textiles to the Confederate government and then turned their attention to horse-breeding after having acquired the Belair estate and stud farm.
  • in 1955 Billy Woodward, heir to the estate, was shot to death by his wife Ann in what Life described as the shooting of the century.

Meanwhile Dr. Theodore Woodward was the patriarch of one of Maryland’s most distinguished medical families of the 20th century.

Virginia.  Henry Woodward came to Virginia in 1755, was a neighbor to George Washington in Stafford county, joined the Virginia militia, and was a hero of the French and Indian wars.  He was awarded substantial land grants afterwards.  But little was heard of him again.

Woodards.  There are also a sizeable number of Woodards in America.  The Woodard name in England, from the Old English Wudheard and found in East Anglia, was probably not the name that crossed the Atlantic to America. Instead, some Woodwards became Woodards, mainly in the South.

That was the case with Francis Woodward who came to Virginia in the 1650’s but signed his will there as Woodard in 1679.  Later Woodards were plantation owners in Bath and in Wilson county, North Carolina.

However, the best-known Woodard of Wilson county was London Woodard, a man who had been born a slave in 1792.  He was able to secure his freedom in 1856 and subsequently made his name as a preacher, founding a Primitive Baptist church.

Canada.  William Woodward from Cheshire came to Canada in 1870, headed out west, and homesteaded at Woodward’s Hill in Surrey, British Columbia.

Meanwhile Charles Woodward, having failed in business in Ontario, came out to Vancouver in 1892 and opened up his first department store there.  That store became a chain, was passed down to his son and grandson, and made the family rich.

New Zealand.  Jonas Woodward was one of the early settlers in New Zealand, arriving there with his family from London on the Clifton in 1842.

On his death in 1881, it was said: “He was one  of the oldest and most respected citizens of Wellington and his career was one of singular activity, maintained to the last.”

Bob Woodward’s  Family Ancestry

Bob Woodward, the famed chronicler of US Presidents, has an ancestry that began in Pennsylvania (perhaps earlier in New England) and culminated with his father Judge Woodward in DuPage county, Illinois.  Just click below if you want to read more about this history:

Woodward Surname Miscellany

Wadard or Waudard.  Commander Wadard was said to have assembled William’s army at Saint Valery in Normandy for the invasion of England in 1066.  It was he, Wadard, who then advised William of the Saxon advance from the north under King Harold at Hastings.

Wadard was granted lands in Essex and as Waudard appeared in the Domesday Book of 1086.  Descendants Henry and Simon Wadard were recorded as lords of the manor in Essex in 1278.

Nathaniel Woodward the Hot-Headed Puritan.  Nathaniel Woodward, captain of the Warwick yeoman guards, was a strong Puritan and apparently a hot-headed one as well.  He was cited in 1632 by a bench of Anglican Bishops to take oath to keep his Puritan teachings within his own family and home. Unwilling to do this and heavily fined by the ecclesiastical court, he gave notice that he and his brother Ezekiel, also cited, would leave England for good.

This they apparently did, departing with two yeomen Henry Saterlee and Richard Sumner to Whitehaven where they took passage to Boston.  By trade a carpenter, Nathaniel was employed there to survey the border between Plymouth colony and Massachusetts.

Nathaniel’s hot-headedness was apparently a family trait. In 1671 his son Nathaniel was sentenced by the Court to sit in the stocks for the pleasure of the Court “for speaking abusive words against Mr. Shove, the pastor of the church of Taunton.”

How Henry Woodward Met His Wife.  In 1755 Henry Woodward had just boarded a ship at England to come to America when he saw officers coming on board to search the ship to see that no able-bodied man left England.

He was said to have cried out to himself and the sea as follows:

“I have served seven years in the War, and now I suppose I will have to end my life in the army.”

A young but large woman standing nearby overheard him.  Her name was Sarah Shelton and she looked at him.  Noticing that he was a small man, she told him:

“Squat down under this stool.”

Then she sat upon the stool, out-spreading her skirt so as to completely obscure him during the search.   He then jumped up and kissed her.  Allegedly they were married by the captain of the ship during the voyage.

Henry Woodward and his new wife came to Virginia. He was known by his descendants for his sword and silver knee and shoe buckles.

Woodward Pioneers in British Columbia.  William Woodward was born in Norley, Cheshire in 1821, the son of the innkeeper of the Red Lion. He and his wife Hanna raised seven children there – one son and six daughters.

However, tragedy struck the family in 1864 when Hanna died of tuberculosis, followed by the death through epidemic two years later of three of their daughters.  As a result William Woodward departed with his son John for a new life in Canada in 1870.

Father and son ended up in British Columbia where William secured a contract for road-building in Surrey and soon saw the possibilities for homesteading there.  He and John were granted land in 1886.  William initially built a log cabin but by the following year he had constructed a substantial frame house, one of the first in Surrey, at what became known as Woodward’s Hill.  Two of his daughters, Elizabeth and Ann, had by then joined him in Canada. Son John meanwhile had started a dairy farm at Burnaby nearby and took over his father’s farm after William died in 1893.

Elizabeth Woodward married John Oliver who went on to become Premier of British Columbia in 1918. She lived onto the ripe old age of 95, dying in 1952.

Woodwards of Vancouver.  The story of Woodward’s, the well-known Vancouver retailer, began in 1875 on Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron.  It was there that Charles Woodward opened his first store with his brother-in-law in a bid to break away from farming. The small store, however, did not fare well and a fire, allegedly criminally begun, burnt down his store and destroyed Woodward’s ambitions in his home province.

Charles started out again in Vancouver in 1892.  Laden with debt, he struggled for the first few years to meet his monthly payments; but – despite a recession and the loss of his wife and two of his children to tuberculosis in the summer of 1892 – he managed to make it through the tough times, emerging as a healthy retailer.

Business grew tremendously in this first decade of the 20th century, in parallel with the growth of the city. Vancouver’s population was about 14,000 when Charles Woodward opened his first store in 1892.  Fifteen years later, it was already 60,000, and would reach almost 130,000 by 1912.  It was no surprise, then, that established retailers with a strong work ethic were to reap the benefits of this growth.  Charles Woodward finally achieved the success he had been seeking since starting out in business.

The Shooting of the Century.  By the 1930’s the Woodwards were old money.  In 1876 James T. Woodward became President of Hanover National Bank, a position he held for 34 years before turning it over to his nephew, William Woodward.  William Woodward Sr. was the owner of Belair Stud in Maryland, a foremost horseracing stable.  His wife Elsie was a socialite who was to become the dowager empress of New York high society.

Son Billy followed in his father’s footsteps in both the horse business and the banking industry. Upon his return from the war, he became known as an “international sportsman.”   He was passionate, reckless and the quintessential playboy. Through his father he met a 27-year-old radio actress, born Angeline Crowell on a farm in Kansas, who had changed her name to the more theatrical Ann Eden.

It was love at first sight and very quickly the two were wed. However, their marriage was a stormy one.  Billy and Ann had one of those relationships that was too fractious to keep together and too strong to break apart.  They sparred openly in public over many things, not the least of which were her affairs with the likes of the Aga Khan and Franchot Tone and his with any number of debutantes.

But the marriage had a tragic denouement in 1955 in what was called at the time “the shooting of the century.”  The following was an account of that fateful night:

By the time the couple had returned home, it was about one a.m.  Ann and Billy retired to their own rooms. Behind locked doors, Billy slept with a revolver nearby while Ann was armed with a double-barreled shotgun.

It was two hours later that Ann awoke to find her dog, Sloppy, barking at her open door. Ann told authorities she saw a “shadowy figure” near the door to Billy’s room, backlit against the pale moonlight streaming in from a hallway window.  She reached for the 12-gauge shotgun and pulled the trigger.  Birdshot from the gun exploded from the muzzle of one barrel, a majority striking the wall next to the door.  She pulled the trigger again and the second barrel fired, a scattering of pellets hitting the figure in the doorway.

“Almost immediately,” Ann testified later, “I realized it was my husband. I ran to help him and fell on the floor beside him.” Ann pulled herself away long enough to call for help.  She summoned an ambulance, police and, in a move that some would use to damn her, an attorney. Billy died on the floor of his mansion; one of the shotgun pellets had lodged in his brain. When police arrived at the scene, they found a distraught Ann on the floor near her husband.

“I did it,” she told them. “I thought it was the man who has been around here.”

The jurors took just 30 minutes to deliberate over the facts and find that Ann had acted without malice and that the shooting was unintentional.  However, the tongues had begun to wag and quickly Ann became persona non grata in New York society.  Behind her back they called her “Annie Get Your Gun” or “the murderess.” Ann left New York for Europe and did not return for twenty years.

A Woodard Family Tale.  James I. Woodard from Michigan moved west as a young man and was a postmaster in Omaha, Nebraska from 1870 until his death in 1923.  His son James E. did much better, hooking up with the Anaconda Copper Company in Butte, Montana.  He married there a local girl, Judith Waite, and rose through the ranks to become Treasurer of the company.

Colin Woodard from Maine has made his name as a journalist and historical writer.  He gave this glimpse into the family history.

“My great grandfather had accumulated a considerable fortune at the expense of the miners of Butte, Montana, and, later, those mining copper in Chile. He lived in the Waldorf-Astoria in New York and rode his Arabian thoroughbreds through Central Park, while his wife took round-the-world cruises with other men.

When their eldest and favored son James W. drowned in 1938 in a sailing accident on Silver Lake at the age of seventeen, they literally made my grandfather John wear his clothes and tried to get him to adopt his dead brother’s name.

Instead he married a Catholic miner’s daughter, fled Montana, and devoted much of his life to squandering his appreciable inheritance, most successfully by buying a failing ski resort at the top of California’s Donner Pass.  Finally the money ran out and the family was compelled to seek the support of great grandmother Woodard – widowed in 1947 and taking a break from Cunard – prompting them to return East and into a detached ranch in Wilton, Connecticut.”

Woodward Names

  • William Woodward from Maryland, who made a fortune selling textiles to the Confederate government, was a founder of the New York Cotton Exchange.
  • Joanne Woodward, the actress, was wife to the actor Paul Newman whom she married in 1958.
  • Bob Woodward is the Washington investigative reporter and journalist who first achieved fame with his Watergate coverage in the 1970’s.
  • Sandy Woodward was the admiral who commanded the British naval forces in the South Atlantic during the Falklands War.
  • Clive Woodward was the English rugby coach who guided the team to World Cup victory in 2003.

Woodward Numbers Today

  • 29,000 in the UK (most numerous in Leicestershire)
  • 22,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 10,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Woodward and Like Surnames

These were status positions within the feudal position of that time – usually positions serving noble families, lords of the manor, or in the church.  Here are some of these status position surnames that you can check out.



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Written by Colin Shelley

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