York Surname Meaning, History & Origin

York Surname Meaning

The York surname comes from the town of York, of great antiquity, in northern England.  It was called Eboracum by the Romans.

When the Vikings captured the town in 962, they changed the name to Yorvik. This name had become York by the 13th century. The surname would initially describe someone from York.  York and Yorke are the main spellings.

York Surname Resources on The Internet

York and Yorke Surname Ancestry

  • from England
  • to America and Canada

England.  Yorks or Yorkes may have come at one time from York.  There was one line which began with Sir Richard Yorke, a successful merchant who was mayor of York in 1469 and again in 1482.  He was the forebear of a colorful Yorke family line.

But that does not mean that the Yorks should be in York.  Two Yorke families, possibly related to each other, came from the south of England:

  • William Yorke held the Manor House in Twickenham in Surrey from 1445
  • while John Yorke of Ramsbury was High Sheriff of Wiltshire in 1492 and his son Thomas followed him in that position in 1523, later residing for a time at Twickenham.

The Wiltshire visitations of 1623 showed a Yorke family resident at Hannington.  It is believed that Simon Yorke left Hannington for Dover in Kent just before the onset of the Civil War.  He became a successful merchant in Dover and was the forebear of a famous family of lawyers, politicians, and naval commanders.

Philip’s son Philip became Lord Chancellor of England and Lord Hardwicke.  Cousin William became Chief Justice of the Irish Common Pleas.  Philip’s son Charles was also made Lord Chancellor and Philip’s other sons were an MP, a diplomat, and a bishop. From son Charles came Sir Joseph Yorke and his son Charles, both British naval commanders.

The Yorke spelling had generally given way to York by the 19th century.  Yorks by that time had become mainly a name of the English Midlands, with a particular concentration in the county of Northamptonshire:

  • Yorks in Long Buckby went back to the 1600’s, the recorded family history beginning in the 1750’s.
  • Thomas York married Elizabeth Perkins at Yelvertoft in the late 1700’s.  
  • Henry York of this family emigrated to Canada in 1844.
  • while the York name was also to be found at Ashby St. Ledgers, Duston and Southwick in the county then.

America.   There were Yorkes in Dover, England but also in Dover, America.  Richard Yorke arrived in Dover, New Hampshire as early as 1635.

Jeremiah York, recently widowed, came to Chester county, Pennsylvania from Buckinghamshire in 1717.  There he married again and he and his family first migrated to Frederick county, Virginia and then to Granville county, North Carolina.  His son Semore, a Tory, was imprisoned during the Revolutionary War. After the war, one line of these Yorks migrated to Kentucky: 

  • John and Nancy York arrived there in the 1780’s and settled in Fayette county  
  • and their son Bartlett who grew up there fought in the War of 1812. 

There were several other Yorks in Kentucky in the early 1800’s.  One York line went from Kentucky to Arkansas and later onto Oklahoma.  James York took his family to Texas in 1821, settling in Austin county.  His son John fought in the Texas Revolution and became a famous Indian fighter.  

“Captain York died in October 1848 in a battle with the Indians who had raided the settlement of what was to become Yorktown.  A historical marker designates York’s grave seven miles from town.”  

There was a York line from the 1750’s in Surry county, North Carolina.  James York fought in the Revolutionary War and his son Thomas migrated west to Tennessee. A descendant was Sergeant Alvin York, born in a log cabin in Tennessee, who was the most decorated American soldier of World War One.

William York of Randolph county, North Carolina also moved to Tennessee after the war. The land lottery then drew him to Georgia.

“In 1827 the York and Philpot families, numbering about fifty souls, traveled by ox-drawn wagons 150 miles to settle on the border of the Creek and Cherokee Indian nations in Carroll county, Georgia.  At that time it was a heavily forested wilderness.  Wolves howled at night and wildcats, bear, deer and turkey were found in abundance.”  

William’s son Josiah served as Constable of Carroll county and became a prosperous farmer there. 

Canada.  Daniel York, born in Albany, New York of Dutch origins, was in search of new farming land and crossed the border into Ontario with his family in 1806.  He ended up squatting on land in Lennox and Addington county as he was unable to prove that he was a Loyalist entitled to a land grant.  His descendants have held regular reunions since 1984. 

Henry York emigrated to Canada from Northamptonshire with his family in 1844. Sadly his wife died soon after their arrival. He did eventually remarry seven years later and settled in St. Vincent township in Ontario.

York and Yorke Surname Miscellany

Yorkes of Twickenham.  It was in 1381 that John York, possibly from Greenwich, acquired land where Twickenham in London now stands.   Ownership was not without its problems.  In 1410 it was recorded that John Warden of Winchester College was apprehended to answer to John York on a plea of arrest and unlawful detention and seizure of cattle on Whitton Marsh.

John York’s son, also John, inherited.  He died in 1413 and in 1445 William Yorke, possibly his grandson, obtained Twickenham Manor.  William, a fishmonger and wool merchant of London, died in 1476 leaving his widow Elizabeth in possession of more than 300 acres of land around Twickenham.  A descendant of this line was later said to have moved to Ramsbury in Wiltshire. 

The Yorkes from York.  The Yorkes were an extremely successful mercantile family from the city of York.  The first Sir Richard Yorke had been both mayor and MP for the city in the 1480’s.

His successors blazed a colorful trail through history. Sir Richard’s grandson was knighted by Edward VI before being thrown into the Tower by Mary Tudor. Sir Edward Yorke repelled the Armada and then circumnavigated the world with his cousin, Sir Martin Frobisher.  Sir John Yorke, a staunch Catholic, was implicated in the Guy Fawkes gunpowder plot of 1605.

Simon and Philip Yorke of Dover.  Simon Yorke was buried in St. James’s Church in 1664 and his son, Philip, an attorney and some time Town Clerk of Dover, resided at a house of many gables on Snargate Street.  The Yorke’s house was on the corner of the street and, although somewhat pretentious in appearance, was not a large mansion.  Philip Yorke, although attorney and Town Clerk, was not rich.

Richard Yorke of Dover, New Hampshire.  Richard Yorke is believed to have come to America from Shropshire. He was on The James with thirty other emigrants from Shropshire under Thomas Wiggins that arrived in Salem, Massachusetts in 1633.  Two years later he had settled in an area of New Hampshire then known as the Oyster River settlement, but now known as Dover, New Hampshire, where he married and lived until 1672.  He was survived by his wife Elizabeth and his sons John and Benjamin. The eldest son John was killed by Indians in 1690.

Descendants were to be found in Dover in New Hampshire, Falmouth in Maine, and Gloucester in Massachusetts.

Henry York, Canadian Immigrant.  In 1844, Henry York and his wife Ann and their five children left their home in Long Buckby, Northamptonshire and sailed for Canada in search of a better life.  Henry’s dream was to farm his own land. They sailed on the ship Cairo, arriving at Grosse Ile, Quebec in September, 1844.

Ann, who had been ill for half of the journey, spent about three weeks in the infirmary there and died.  Henry, grief stricken and feeling very alone, made his way with the five children to Picton, Ontario, where he and his son Frederick found work.

Many of Henry’s letters home at this time have survived.  The following is one extract:

“They live different here. They eat butter and cakes, pickles and preserves, plums and cherries which grow in great quantities in the woods.  I have been out to supper several times this winter and have had meat, potatoes, pickles, preserves, apple sauce, and pumpkin pie all heaped on my plate at once, like a mess for a mad dog.  All very good if kept separate, but such a mixture I don’t like.

We have butter and meat allowed us while at work three times a day, and tea without sugar.  If a man is ever so poor here, he may still get plenty of bread and meat and if industrious he will get himself some cattle. They are easier to get than money. When a man has some pigs, which nearly keep themselves, and a cow or two, his family has something to depend on beside his labor.

But with all these prospects there is an aching void on my part, for the loss of my wife embitters everything and is always uppermost on my mind.”

It was December 1851 before he remarried, to Elizabeth Prentice.  Henry and Elizabeth’s marriage resulted in the birth of nine children between 1853 and 1872.  Happily settled now, Henry lived in the St. Vincent township area for more than 30 years.

Sergeant York.  Sergeant York was a 1941 biographical film about the life of Alvin York, the most-decorated American soldier of World War One.  It was directed by Howard Hawks and was the highest-grossing film of that year.

Alvin York, played by Gary Cooper, was a poor Tennessee hillbilly.  He was an exceptional marksman, but a ne’er-do-well prone to drinking and fighting. He then underwent a religious awakening when he was struck by lightning during a late-night rainstorm and it turned his life around.

He tried to avoid induction into the Army for World War I as a conscientious objector due to his religious beliefs, but he got drafted into the Army nonetheless.

Initially York wanted nothing to do with the Army and killing. But pinned down by German fire on the Western Front, his self-doubt disappeared.  He worked his way around behind German lines and shot with such deadly effect that the Germans surrendered.  He and the handful of other survivors ended up with 132 prisoners. York became a national hero and was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Returning to Tennessee after a ticker tape parade and celebration, the people of Tennessee purchased the bottomland farm he tried to get before the war and paid for a house to be built on the land where Alvin and his wife Gracie were to start their married life.

York Names

  • Philip Yorke, the 1st Earl of Hardwicke, was an English lawyer who served as Lord Chancellor in the 1750’s. He introduced the Marriage Act in 1753 which instituted the calling of banns before marriage.
  • J.W. York was a 19th century American musical instrument maker noted for his innovations.  His York tuba sound is considered by most tubists to be the defining timbre of a quality instrument.
  • Alvin York was the most decorated American soldier of World War One.
  • Peter York, born Peter Wallis, is a British style writer best known for co-authoring The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook.   
  • Michael York is an English stage and film actor.

York Numbers Today

  • 10,000 in the UK (most numerous in Leicestershire)
  • 18,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 4,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

York and Like Surnames

Many surnames have come from Yorkshire.  These are some of the noteworthy surnames that you can check out.





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Written by Colin Shelley

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