Select Pope Surname Genealogy

In the early Christian Church, the Latin papa or “father” was first used as a title of respect for male clergy of every rank.  In the western Church it gradually came to be restricted to bishops, and then only to the Bishop of Rome - i.e. the Pope.  

As a surname Pope might not even apply to a man of the church.  It could have been adopted by someone who had played the part of the pope in a pageant or play.  Some have suggested that it might also have been used as a nickname describing an austere or vain man

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England.  Pope has been a surname of southern England - both SW England and SE England.

SW England.  The Pope name appeared at an early time in the town of Gloucester.  In the late 14th century John Pope was a prominent goldsmith there and other Popes were cloth manufacturers.  Four Popes represented Gloucester in a total of ten Parliaments between 1376 and 1397.  In 1388 two of them, John and Stephen, were returned together.

 The Pope name had extended by the 15th century:  
  • west to Devon and Exeter - where Walter Pope was mayor in 1452  
  • and east to Hampshire and Fordingbridge - where John Pope was born in 1461.  
It was said that some of the early Popes in Fordingbridge had been head foresters.  John Pope died there in 1530 a wealthy man.  Many of his descendants were to prosper in the next century.  Some of them moved to Hertfordshire and some to Sussex.  Both produced emigrants to Virginia in the 17th century.
There was a Pope family at Dorchester in Dorset dating back to Alexander Pope in 1589.  As Eldridge Pope & Co Ltd, they took over the local brewery in 1870.  These Popes had a distinguished World War One record.  They acquired the Wrackleford estate outside of Dorchester which remains with descendants today.

SE England.  There were early sightings of the Pope name in Suffolk.  Hugh le Pope appeared in the 1273 Suffolk hundred rolls.  Ralph Pope was recorded at Bentley in 1316.  Gentleman Henry Pope was born in Mildenhall in 1465.  He made his home in Oxford; as did his descendants. 

A Pope family had migrated to Oxfordshire from Kent around the year 1400. They were small landowners until Sir Thomas Pope became one of the richest commoners in England as treasurer of the Court of Augmentations during the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530's.  Much of his wealth went to the foundation of Trinity College in Oxford.  The Pope line which followed descended from his brother John Pope of Wroxton.

Alexander Pope the 18th century English poet considered himself to have had this Oxford ancestry.  His father Alexander was a London linen merchant.

Scotland.  The Popes, or Papes or Paips, were one of the prominent families in east Sutherland in the north of Scotland - from the 17th to 19th centuries.  Family tradition has it that the first Pope in the area was a clergyman, a “stranger” named Pope, who had arrived in the late 1400’s.

William Pape or Pope was first recorded in that locality in 1580.  He and his brothers Thomas and Charles were involved in a brawl at Durnosh in 1608 that came to be known as the Pope Riot.  Many descendant Popes were clergymen, most notably the Rev. Alexander Pope of Reay.

“In 1732 Alexander Pope travelled by pony all the way to Twickenham in London to meet his namesake Alexander Pope the poet.  Although he at first got a cool reception, the two men eventually became friends and the poet presented the Rev. Pope with a subscription copy of the Odyssey.”

Some of these Popes emigrated to Australia in the 19th century

IrelandPopes were to be found in Waterford in the late 1700’s and possibly earlier.  Alexander and Richard Pope had a large shipping business at that time and made a fortune shipping wine during the Napoleonic embargo.  Their home was at Sion Hill House in Ferrybank.

Another Alexander Pope, born in Cork, was an actor on the London stage in the late 1700’s.  As was his wife Maria.  But her life was tragically cut short at the age of 28 when she died of a stroke in 1803.

America.  The origins in England for two early Pope arrivals in New England and one early arrival in Virginia are unclear. 

New England.  John Pope, a weaver by trade, was first recorded in 1624 in Dorchester, Massachusetts.   Later Popes of his line started a sawmill there, which then expanded into a larger timber and shipbuilding operation at East Machias in Maine (and subsequently relocated to the West Coast).  Another line established itself in Hartford, Connecticut where Albert Pope began manufacturing bicycles in the 1870’s.  The family was covered in Charles Pope’s 1888 book A History of the Dorchester Pope Family
Thomas Pope, a cooper, came to Plymouth in 1627 and moved to Dartmouth around 1673.   His son Seth was a leading merchant there.  The book record here was Dora Pope’s 1917 book Genealogy of Thomas Pope.
Virginia.  Another Pope of uncertain origins was Nathaniel Pope, first mentioned in Maryland in 1637. He affixed a mark to his writings, so he was probably illiterate at that time.  He migrated to Westmoreland county, Virginia in 1651 where he prospered as a planter and merchant.  His oldest daughter Anne married Colonel John Washington and was thus the great grandmother of George Washington.

“At the time of his death in 1660 Nathaniel Pope was among the county’s wealthiest residents.  The Pope and Washington families were bound there by more than blood.  County documents are filled with their business and legal ties.”

His line in America was first covered in G.W. Beale’s 1904 book Colonel Nathaniel Pope and His Descendants.

There were many Nathaniels among his descendants, including two Nathaniel grandsons that have often been confused.  John Pope, the son of a Nathaniel one generation later, toured the southern states in 1790 and wrote a book of his travels (A Tour).  He died in Georgia in 1795.  He has sometimes been confused with his cousin John Pope who moved with his family to Wilkes county, Georgia in 1800.

Other lines of this Pope family led to Kentucky where Colonel William Pope first laid out the town of Louisville.  One son John, known as “One Arm Pope,” became a US Senator for Kentucky in 1807, another son Nathaniel a federal judge in Illinois and friend to Abraham Lincoln.

Another Virginia Pope line began with James Pope of Northumberland county, first recorded there in 1657.  Leroy Pope moved with his parents to Georgia in 1790 and then purchased land around Big Spring in Alabama in 1809 where Huntsville now stands.  His mansion there, Poplar Grove, w
as one of the earliest brick structures in Alabama and remains a prominent Huntsville landmark. 

William Pope came to Nansemond county sometime in the 1650’s.  A subsequent William, a Quaker, migrated to Edgecombe county, North Carolina in the 1730’s.  A century later Dempsey Pope migrated to Tennessee and then to Illinois.

.  One line of Popes was originally Pabst from Germany and came to Berks county, Pennsylvania in the 1730’s.  Pope descendants moved first to North Carolina and then to Cherokee county, Georgia.

.   Thomas Pope was a Devon timber merchant who sent three of his sons – John, William and Joseph – to Prince Edward Island in 1818 in search of timber. 

Joseph Pope remained there.  Through his farm and shipyard at Bedeque he became one of PEI’s most important merchants.  His son James was an influential PEI politician, serving as premier of the colony in the 1860’s and in 1873 when the island joined the Canadian confederation.  Another son Henry, also a proponent of confederation, had been the editor of The Islander newspaper. 
John Pope stayed in PEI for a while but then returned to Devon as a merchant in 1826.  His two sons followed different directions – George as a Christian missionary who spent forty years in southern India and William as a Methodist theologian in Devon.  The third in PEI meanwhile, William Pope, ended up as a surveyor in Liverpool. 

Australia.  A Pope family from the Isle of Wight were assisted immigrants who arrived in NSW on the William Metcalf in 1838.  In 1846 George Pope became the postmaster at Ryde, a position he was to hold until his death in 1871.

Another assisted immigrant was Samuel Pope from Devon who came to Melbourne on the Royal Consort in 1844.  A year later he had moved to Gawler, South Australia where he farmed and ran the Wheatsheaf Inn.  He lived there until his death in 1892.  The Rev. Henry Pope from Cornwall was a later arrival in South Australia, around 1867.  He was a Methodist minister, first stationed at Moonta and Kapunda where many Cornishmen were miners
Select Pope Miscellany

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

Select Pope Names

Sir Thomas Pope founded Trinity College in Oxford in 1555.
Alexander Pope
was the 18th century English poet best known for his satirical verse.
John Pope, known as One-Arm Pope, was the US Senator for Kentucky from 1807 to 1813.
Generoso Pope was the Italian-American businessman who acquired The National Enquirer tabloid in 1952.

Select Popes Today
  • 17,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 23,000 in America (most numerous in Texas) 
  • 12,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

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