Select Watkins Surname Genealogy

Watkins is a pet form of Watt, itself an abbreviation of Walter.  It had appeared as Gwatkyn in Wales by the early 1400's.

The suffix "-kins" was generally attached to a personal name as a pet name, usually denoting "the little one."  The suffix was apparently a Flemish import which for some reason became popular in England. 
Various "-kins" surnames also became popular in Wales, including Watkins. 

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Select Watkins Ancestry

Wales.   The Watkins surname probably first surfaced in Wales in Breconshire.  Lewis ap Howell ap Gwylim ap Gwatkyn was recorded in the old Welsh patronymical style in Breconshire in 1539.  He may have been the Lewis Watkins - known in Llangorse as ap Gwatkyn - who had come to London and the court of Henry VIII and adopted the English-style name.  However, in 1545, there was trouble back home for him.

"Lewis Watkins and three others - a laborer of Langorse named Richard ap Watkin, John Thomas ap Euan, and Watkin ap Philip - slew Roger ap Watkin of Langorse with an arrow.  This was loosed by Watkin ap Philip but the three others were also sentenced to death as accessories."

Richard ap Watkin was executed.  But Lewis miraculously escaped the noose and received a pardon.  He died three years later.  The incident evidently did his family no harm.  His son and grandson, both William, were four times High Sheriffs of Breconshire between 1567 and 1601.  And the Watkins continued as local gentry. Colonel Vaughan Watkins was the local MP between 1832 and 1865.  He lived at Pennoyre where he had an Italianate-style villa built for him. 

Watkins also started to appear as a surname in the 16th century on the Welsh/English border area, in particular in Herefordshire which was then part of Wales.  The Welsh patronymical style was still around, even in the 17th century.  Hence in 1666 David Watkins' father was Watkin David of Preston on Wye in Herefordshire, not Watkin Watkins.  But English-style Thomas Watkins was a Baptist preacher there at that time.

.  The Watkins name was also found on the English side of the border.  Family accounts show Watkins at Ruardean in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire from an early time.  Richard Watkin was a gunsmith there in the mid 1700's.

Watkin and occasionally Gwatkin has also been a surname in England.  Its starting point may have been mid-Wales. The Watkin name has been found principally in Shropshire, Staffordshire, and Lancashire.
John Watkin ran a small cotton business in Manchester in the late 18th century.  It was transformed when his nephew Absolom joined him from London.  Absolom Watkin became a wealthy cotton merchant in his own right and a leading figure in the Anti-Corn Law League.  One of his sons, Alfred, was mayor of Manchester; the other, Edward, a leading railway magnate of the Victorian age.  Edward was also responsible for what became known as Watkin's folly:

"One of Sir Edward's projects was on the site of what is now Wembley stadium.  During a trip to France in 1889, he became greatly impressed with the newly built Eiffel Tower which stood over 894 feet high.  He wanted to build an even taller tower on land he owned in Wembley Park.  He set up the Metropolitan Tower Construction Company and held an architectural competition inviting designs from all over the world."
America.  Most Watkins who immigrated to America during colonial times came via Virginia.  Henry Watkins came to Virginia from Wales in the 1670's and settled to farm in Henrico county. He suffered discrimination for a number of years because he was a Quaker.  Later Watkins had trouble with the local Indians and with their fellow Quakers.

"In 1726 Benjamin Watkins was "disowned" by his Henrico Quaker meeting for "marrying out of unity."  The bride who caused the dismissal was Jane Watkins, daughter of Thomas Watkins of Swift Creek in Chickahomony county.  Undaunted by the ban Benjamin Watkins and Jane Watkins formed a successful alliance."    

The family history has been covered in John Hale Statesman's 1989 book Some Watkins Families of Virginia.

An earlier Watkins family in Virginia began with John Watkins who came to Isle of Wight county in 1641.  His descendants move south into the Carolinas and south into Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas.  Another family line started with Joseph Watkins in South Carolina in the 1750's and moved onto Georgia in the 1830's.

Frances Ellen Watkins was a notable African American Watkins.  She was born free in the slave city of Baltimore in 1825.  She never experienced the hardships of slavery and yet she devoted her entire life in her writings and her lectures to the abolitionist movement and what she called "a brighter coming day."

Australia.  Watkins to Australia came from both Wales and England.  One English family was that of Thomas Watkins from Gloucestershire.  They came to South Australia on the Oregon in 1851 under the Assisted Passage Scheme.  Thomas was a gardener.   His son Charles left Australia ten years later for Dunedin, New Zealand.

Select Watkins Miscellany

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

Select Watkins Names

Edward William Watkin was a Victorian railway magnate.
Carleton Watkins was a pioneer photographer of the American West.
Vernon Watkins, brought up in Swansea and a contemporary of Dylan Thomas, was also a poet.

Select Watkins Today
  • 30,000 in the UK (most numerous in Cardiff)
  • 40,000 in America (most numerous in Texas) 
  • 13,000 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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