Select Jennings Surname Genealogy

Jennings is a patronymic surname, deriving from the early medieval names of Janyn and Jenyn which themselves came from the diminutive "little John" of John. 

It was a Captain Jennens who was said to have had the honor of bringing the body of Richard the Lionheart back to England in 1200.  Early spellings of the surname were Walter Jannes and Richard Janyns, both being recorded in the subsidy rolls of Worcestershire in 1327.  

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England.  One theory is that the Jennings came from Yorkshire and that they were originally Saxons before the Conquest; while some have given Jennings a Danish origin.  Whether these orgins were true or not, the Jennings name had become quite widespread in England by the 16th century.  It could be found in Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Warwickshire, Hertfordshire, Surrey, and Somerset in the west country. 

One of Henry VIII''s favorites was a Robert Jennings of Shettle in Derbyshire.  He presented Robert with a sword and belt in 1545 which have been preserved by his descendants.

A Jennings family had inherited the Sandridge estate in Hertfordshire from the Rowlatts in the 1570's.  John Jennings, knighted in 1603, died a lunatic in 1609.  But his son Sir John Jennings was High Sheriff for Hertfordshire and the MP for St. Albans.  And his granddaughter Sarah married the Duke of Marlborough and, through her close friendship with Queen Anne, was one of the most influential persons of her time. 

Then there the British admiral Sir John Jennings, descended from a Shropshire family that had suffered for its adherence to the Royalist cause during the Civil War.  He was at the capture of Gibraltar in 1704 and was knighted for his gallant conduct at that time.  

Another John Jennings had been a quartermaster under Cromwell and owned nearly all of the land on which Birmingham now stands.  He established the iron works there which were the basis of the city's later wealth.  One of his grandsons was William Jennens or Jennings who left a huge unclaimed fortune on his death in 1798.

Ireland.  Jennings is an Irish surname of Anglo-Norman origin, from MacSheoinin or MacJonin meaning "son of little Sean." They were a subset of the Burke sept which settled in Mayo and Galway.  These Jennings tended to be strongly attached to the Catholic faith.  John Jennings of Ballymurphy forfeited his Irish estates in 1633 rather than change his Catholic religion.  A descendant of his was the Sir Patrick Jennings who became Premier of New South Wales in 1886.

Jennings from Mayo included Dr. Theobald Jennings who left his native Ireland In 1738 at the time of the Penal laws to practice as a physician for SW France:
  • his son Charles Edward Jennings - better known as Kilmaine, his homeland in county Mayo - was one of the greatest Irish soldiers to serve France in the 18th century.  He was committed both to the cause of Irish independence and to that of the French Revolution. 
  • Kilmaine's cousin John Jennings, a doctor back in Ireland, died young from a fever he contracted while attending a patient in his native Galway.  His death occasioned the lament known as Doctúir Jennings.
America.   Many early Jennings came to New England.

New England.  Early settlers included Nicholas Jennings who arrived in 1634 on the Francis from Ipswich.  He settled first in Hartford and later in New Haven and Saybrook where he suffered various misadventures.  Joshua Jennings, believed to have been his brother, was one of the first settlers of Fairfield, Connecticut in the early 1650's. 

In 1677 Stephen Jennings of Hatfield, Massachusetts achieved legendary status for his daring rescue expedition in tracking an Indian raiding party that had kidnapped his wife and daughters and taken them to Canada.  He was able to arrange for their ransom and negotiate their safe return to Massachusetts.  After this escapade he moved his family to Brookfield.  The farm that he established there was to remain with the Jennings family into the 20th century.  

Elsewhere.  John Jennings was an early settler in Southampton, Long Island.  When the British ordered his descendant Israel Jennings to swear allegiance to the Crown or to give up his home, he elected to relinquish his property.  He migrated to Kentucky and then to Ohio.  He was the maternal great-grandfather of William Jennings Bryan, the Great Commoner.

Another Jennings of this line had moved to New Jersey by the time of the Revolutionary War.  Dr. Jacob Jennings was a surgeon and officer from Hunterdon county at that time.  According to Jennings lore, he was one of those wounded with Washington at Trenton.  He recovered and later became a pastor in Readington.  His sons migrated west to Ohio and Indiana.  Jonathan Jennings was the first Governor of Indiana in 1816. 

William Jennings of uncertain origins was to be found in Virginia – first in Hanover county and then in Nottoway county – in the mid/late 1700’s.  Later Jennings in America were as likely to be of Irish origin as of English origin. There were also some German Janning who became Jennings in America.

Bermuda.  Richard Jennings, born in 1600, first appeared in Bermuda records when he was involved in 1622 in the salvaging of a Spanish shipwreck.  He prospered there.  When he died in 1669 he divided his considerable land holdings and eleven slaves to his sons Richard and John who built upon this wealth, in large part through smuggling.

A Rev. Henry Jennings, following Richard Jennings, came to Bermuda in 1635.   He was probably the forebear of Captain Henry Jennings, the Jamaican-based pirate.

Canada.  A Jennings Quaker family from Vermont crossed the border into Canada and settled in Norwich township in SW Ontario in the early 1800’s.  Solomon Jennings, a farmer there, was the father of a remarkable woman - Emily Stowe nee Jennings.  She was the first female public school principal in Ontario, the first Canadian woman to openly practice medicine, and a founding member of the Canadian Women’s Suffrage Association.

South Africa
.  A Jennings family was among the 1820 Settlers to the Eastern Cape.  The young James, who grew up near Grahamstown, later moved to Transvaal and became a famous hunter.  He would make expeditions with his sons into Matabeleland and even as far away as the Zambezi valley

New Zealand
.  George and Margaret Jennings departed West Cork for New Zealand in 1875.  They made their home in Otara, a small community near Invercargill on South Island.  Their descendants celebrated the centennial of their arrival there in 1977.  Gregg Jennings’ 1985 book The Jennings Family: West Cork to New Worlds covered the family history.

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

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Henry Jennings was a successful pirate who operated out of Jamaica against the Spanish in the early 18th century.
Sir Patrick Jennings was an Irish-Australian politician who became Premier of New South Wales in 1886.
Pat Jennings was a Northern Ireland footballer who played for his country as goalkeeper no fewer than 119 times between 1964 and 1986.
Waylon Jennings, born in Texas, was a popular country music singer of the 1970's and 80's.
Peter Jennings of ABC was one of the "Big Three" news anchors who dominated the American TV network news from the early 1980's to the early 2000's.  He was born in Toronto, Canada.

Select Jennings Today
  • 26,000 in the UK (most numerous in Edinburgh)
  • 32,000 in America (most numerous in Texas) 
  • 17,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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