Select Whitney Surname Genealogy

The surname Whitney comes from an old place-name near Hay in Herefordshire, recorded as Witenie in the 1086 Domesday Book and Whyteneye in the 1283 Herefordshire charter rolls.  A Robert de Wytenye was the first surname to be found there. 

The root of Whitney is the Old English hwit meaning "white" and eg "island," hence white island.   The name probably refers to the river Wye which runs through the area and can become a torrent when heavy rains in the Welsh mountains cause it to swell.    

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England.  Whitneys at Whitney-on-Wye and Clifford in Herefordshire date from the 13th century and the Whitney name continued to be reported in Herefordshire in succeeding centuries.  However, by the time of the 1891 census, the number of Whitneys recorded in Herefordshire was quite small.  

Whitneys by then had moved north towards Cheshire and Lancashire.  The Whitneys of Coole Pilate near Nantwich in Cheshire, first recorded in the 16th century, included the poets Geoffrey and Isabella Whitney.

London and Northamptonshire Whitneys also started to appear at this time.  They included in the 1600ís the Whitney pirate and highwayman - Thomas Whitney the pirate and James Whitney the highwayman.  John Whitney the emigrant departed from London in 1635.

Unlike America, no Whitney in England really claimed the headlines.

America.  John Whitney embarked from London on the Elizabeth and Ann for New England and settled in Watertown, Massachusetts in 1635.  His descendants, enumerated in Frederick Pierce's 1895 book The Descendants of John Whitney, are legion and include:
  • Eli Whitney, born in Massachusetts in 1765, the man who invented the cotton gin
  • Asa Whitney from New York, an early backer of transcontinental railroads
  • Josiah Whitney, the geologist from Massachusetts after whom Mount Whitney is named
  • David Whitney from Vermont, one of the earliest settlers in Iowa
  • David Whitney the lumber baron, born in Watertown, Massachusetts
  • and Amos Whitney from Maine, the co-founder of the Pratt & Whitney machine tool company in 1860.
The late 19th century saw the rise of the New York branch of this family, through William Collins Whitney.  He became an extremely wealthy businessman who made the Whitney name synonymous with thoroughbred horse racing.  His family was known in America for their social prominence, wealth, business enterprises and philanthropy. 

Richard Whitney was President of the New York Stock Exchange from 1930 to 1935.  However, his own speculative investments turned sour and he took to embezzlement to cover his losses.  He was finally caught, arrested, and convicted of embezzlement.

"On April 12, 1938, six thousand people turned up at Grand Central Station to watch as a scion of the Wall Street establishment was escorted in handcuffs by armed guards onto a train that delivered him to prison."

Other Whitneys.  There were Whitneys in America other than the descendants of John Whitney.   Henry Whitney had came to Huntington, Long Island sometime in the 1650's.  His grandson Henry was one of the earliest settlers of Ridgefield, Connecticut.  Samuel Whitney, born in 1734 in eastern Massachusetts, raised seventeen children there, including Captain Ebenezer Whitney:

"Stories handed down over the years claimed that Eben Whitney was shipwrecked off Cape May in 1806 and, while stopping in Glassboro on the way to Philadelphia, met his future wife."

Ebenezer's sons Thomas and Samuel built a successful glassware business in south Jersey there.  Thomas's mansion, Hollybush, still stands.

Samuel Whitney from Hartford, Connecticut went further afield.  He was among the first Christian missionaries to Hawaii in 1820.  His son Martyn, born there four years later, was its first postmaster and founded a number of long-lasting newspapers on the islands.

Select Whitney Miscellany

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

Select Whitney Names

Eli Whitney was the American inventor best known for inventing the cotton gin.  It was one of the key inventions of the Industrial Revolution and shaped the economy of the antebellum South. 
David Whitney was a Midwestern lumber baron of the late 19th century who made his home in Detroit.
William Whitney was an American financier and politician of the late 19th century and founder of the socially prominent Whitney family.
Jock Whitney of the Whitney family was one of America's first venture capitalists.  He was reportedly one of the ten wealthiest men in the world in the 1970's.

Select Whitneys Today
  • 3,000 in the UK (most numerous in Carmarthenshire)
  • 13,000 in America (most numerous in California) 
  • 4,000 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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