Select Lawrence Surname Genealogy

Lawrence derives from the male name Laurentius, which itself originates from Laurentium, the "city of laurels," in Italy.  The idea of the laurel as a symbol of victory was probably one factor behind the popularity of the name. 

In addition Lawrence was the name borne by a saint martyred at Rome in the 3rd century AD who enjoyed a considerable cult following throughout Europe in medieval times.  In England Laurence, the second Archbishop of Canterbury, was revered as a saint after his death in AD 619.

The main spellings in English have been Lawrence and Laurence, together with the abbreviated forms of Laurie and Lowrie.  Elsewhere Laurent is a common name in French, Lorenzo in Italian and Spanish, Lourenco in Portuguese, and Laurenz in German. 

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Select Lawrence Ancestry

EnglandThe founder of the first Lawrence line in England was said to have been Robert Laurens.  The story about him runs as follows:

"During the Third Crusade in 1191 Robert Laurens was knighted by Richard the Lionheart.  King Phillip of France had sworn to have his men reach the battlements ahead of the English at the great walled city of Acre.  Both he and King Richard came down with a bad case of the ague and could not fight.  But Robert Laurens ran and climbed and affixed the banner of St George on the highest tower."

Lancashire.  The Lawrence family established themselves
at Ashton Hall near Lancaster.  Edmund Lawrence married Agnes de Wessington in 1390 and thus began the entwining of the Lawrence and Washington families.  Lawrence Washington bought Sulgrave manor in Oxfordshire in the 17th century, the home from which George Washington's great-grandfather departed for Virginia in 1656.  Meanwhile the Lawrence family - now based in St. Albans in Hertfordshire - were Royalists during the English Civil War.  They later became landowners in New York.

ElsehwereEarly Lawrence lines from the 16th century show a wide distribution around the country, from Lancashire to Gloucestershire and Dorset in the southwest and from Durham and Yorkshire down the east coast as far as Suffolk and London.

The Lawrences of Suffolk have been traced back to Thomas Lawrence of Rumburgh who died in 1471.  John Lawrence emigrated to America in 1630.  Another Lawrence line extended to Chelsea in Middlesex in the 16th century.  Their numbers included Sir Thomas Lawrence, goldsmith and merchant adventurer in the City of London.  He was the grandfather of the Robert Lawrence who emigrated to Virginia in 1638. 

Henry Lawrence, a Huntingdonshire landowner, was a Puritan who came to prominence with Cromwell.  He served as President of the Council of State during the Protectorate.  His younger son John emigrated first to Barbados and then in 1676 to Jamaica where he founded a wealthy dynasty of plantation owners.

William Lawrence had been born in Burford, Oxfordshire in 1753 but moved to Cirencester in Gloucestershire where he became the town's chief surgeon and physician.  His son William became an even more famous surgeon, recognized as one of the best in the land and the recipient of a baronetcy from Queen Victoria.  His son and grandson were both noted horticulturists. 

Ireland.  The St Lawrence family in Ireland descended from Christopher St Lawrence who was elevated to the peerage as Baron Howth around 1425. This Anglo-Irish family held Howth castle near Dublin.  The third and fourth barons both served as Lord Chancellor of Ireland.

From the Lawrences of Lancashire, it was said, came John Lawrence and his brother Walter in 1584 as Irish administrators serving Queen Elizabeth.  John settled at Ballymore in Clonfert parish in east Galway where he built himself a castle.  Being Catholic and Royalist, they suffered during the Cromwellian years. 

Lawrence descendants moved to Lisreaghan in the early 1700’s and made their home at Belview.  The Prince of Wales, later George IV, visited Belview in the 1780’s.

“According to family tradition, the visit allowed the Prince to tide himself over some domestic difficulties he was having with his father.  His stay was said to have coincided with the arrival from Italy of a bust of the Goddess Minerva.”

The Lawrence estate fell into decay in the late 19th century and by 1908 there were no longer any Lawrences left living at Lisreaghan.

America.  Initially, the Lawrence name was to be found in New England and New York.

New England.  Three Lawrences came to New England in the 1630's and were the forebears of illustrious Lawrence families in America:
  • John Lawrence arrived on the Arbella in 1630 and settled in Groton, Massachusetts where he died in 1663.  His descendants were to be found there for a number of generations.  In the early 1800's four brothers - William, Amos, Abbot, and Samuel - made names for themselves in Boston as merchants, manufacturers and philanthropists.  Amos's son, Amos Adams Lawrence, was a key figure in the abolitionist movement in America in the years leading up to the Civil War. 
  • William Lawrence came on the Planter in 1635 and ten years later received a grant from the Dutch for land in Flushing in present-day Brooklyn.  He resided at what became known as Lawrence Neck and died there in 1680.  Joseph, his second son, had his mansion on Long Island Sound and entertained lavishly, his home being frequently crowded with society people from New York and Brooklyn.
  • and Thomas Lawrence came some years later.  He obtained possession of a tract of land in Newtown, Long Island in 1655 and afterwards purchased the whole of Hell-Gate Neck, from Hell-Gate Cove to Bowery Bay.  He died in Newtown in 1703.  Jonathan Lawrence, his great grandson, made two fortunes - one before the Revolutionary War and one after.  
New York and New JerseyThe Lawrence family in New York remained rich and powerful through colonial times and well into the 19th century.  Meanwhile the Lawrences of Hertfordshire were also large landowners in New York by this time.  The last of this Lawence line, Emma Lawrence, brought her land in the Bronx and on Long Island to her marriage to Leonard Jacob in the 1860's. 

In Elmira in upstate New York in 1842 was born William Van Duzer Lawrence.  He became a millionaire real-estate and pharmaceutical mogul who is best known for having founded Sarah Lawrence College in 1926. 

Another Lawrence family was prominent in the early history of New Jersey.  John Lawrence created the "Lawrence Line" when he surveyed the boundary between East and West Jersey in 1743.  Lawrence’s great grandson, Captain James Lawrence, achieved lasting fame in the War of 1812.

"Captain Lawrence of the Chesapeake, with a green and mutinous crew, unwisely accepted a challenge from the British Captain Broke of the Shannon.  He sortied from Boston to defeat and glorious death on June 1, 1813.  As he lay mortally wounded, he uttered the immortal phrase, 'Don’t give up the ship.'"

Ironically, his Loyalist father had fled to Canada during the Revolutionary War, leaving a half-sister to raise him. 

German Lawrences.  Johann Philipp Lorentz departed the Rhineland Palatine for America in 1748, settling first in the Shenandoah valley and then moving to Beaver county, Pennsylvania.  The spelling by this time had changed to Lawrence.  Isaac Lawrence headed west to Dearborn county, Indiana in 1818 with several of his brothers and they founded the small hamlet of Lawrenceville there.

Australia.  A line of Lawrences went from the Lawrences of Newtown, New York to Effingham Lawrence, a merchant in Trinity House, London after America was lost, to William Effingham Lawrence, who travelled independently to Australia on his own boat in 1822.  He received large land grants in Tasmania and became one of the largest landowners in the colony.  

Select Lawrence Miscellany

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

Select Lawrence Names

Sir Thomas Lawrence was a leading English portrait painter of the early 1800's.
Amos Lawrence of Boston was a key figure in the abolition movement in America in the years leading up to the Civil War.
D.H Lawrence was an acclaimed but controversial English writer, author of such novels as Women in Love and Lady Chettersley's Lover.
T. E Lawrence, the "Lawrence of Arabia," fought for Arab independence during the First World War and wrote his account in Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
David Lawrence founded in 1933 the weekly newspaper that became US News & World Report.

Select Lawrences Today
  • 51,000 in the UK (most numerous in Surrey)
  • 48,000 in America (most numerous in California) 
  • 28,000 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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