I hope that the following information will be useful and interesting.
This is the history, as I see it, of the start of the Rowntree family, up until the end of the seventeenth century.Families with the name Rowntree, or alternative spellings, are found in a number of countries in the world, but mainly England, Ireland (both Northern and the Republic), Canada, United States of America, Australia and New Zealand.In the British Isles the name is recognized as a maker of chocolate and sweets, by a company set up in the nineteenth century, in Yorkshire, England, by Joseph Rowntree; it is now owned by the Swiss company Nestlé.World wide the name is well known through a charity: the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.The charity campaigns very vigorously for the poor and the underprivileged.
The main variants of the name, other than Rowntree, which is the predominant version in England, are Rountree and Roundtree.Both of these are the more usual spellings in the U.S.A, while Rountree is the more usual in New Zealand.Ireland is split, in the main, between Rountree and Rowntree, as is Australia.It should be noted, however, that around Dublin, in the Republic of Ireland, the name Roantree occurs quite often.In the English church registers, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, there were, at least, 26 different spellings of the name.The variation often appeared to be down to the whim of the local priest or minister.One good example is that of Francis Rowntree, who, in the Guisborough, Yorkshire, Society of Friends (Quakers) registers of the seventeenth century, has the surnames Rowntree, Rountry, Roantry, Rountree and Roantree, over a period of twelve years(1).
The information used in this brief history is based, as far as I am aware, only on accredited sources.Unsupported myths and unaccredited data have been ignored, which is what is expected of any genuine family name research.
2.Origin of the Rowntree name
What is the meaning of the Rowntree name, and when was it first used?In most genealogical or surname studies it is said to mean 'Dweller under the Rowan tree', and is also said to be Viking in origin, but it was almost certainly in England that the name, as we know it, was first used.It is known that the Rowan tree was sacred to the Vikings, but, as far as I know, they didn't import such trees to Britain, the trees being already native to these Isles and were used by the Druids long before the Vikings arrived.The Vikings first invaded the British Isles in the eighth century A.D., with Yorkshire, in north eastern England, being a favoured area and they were settling here by the ninth century, some two hundred years before the Normans invaded.
Did those early Vikings use the name?It is impossible to say, as written records do not exist, but I would be very surprised if they did.The Domesday Book, which was the first recorded English 'census', was compiled by the Normans in the latter part of the eleventh century but mostly covered land owners, churchmen and the nobility.I have been through the name index(2) several times and there is neither a mention of the Rowntree name nor any name remotely similar.That is not really very surprising as very few people mentioned in the Domesday Book had a surname, such a practice being very uncommon at that time.However, that does not stop some ‘professional’ genealogists, who try to sell surname stories to an unsuspecting public, claiming that the name occurs up to four times in the book.It is, of course, possible, that the name was used, informally, by some of the 'poorer' people, who would not have been included in the Domesday Book.If so, there would be no written evidence.
It was not until around the thirteenth century that the use of surnames became much more common in England.The first known written recording of our family name, that I can find, is in the Lay Subsidy Rolls of 1301, being that of Robto (Roberto) Rountre, at Neuby (modern name is Newby) in north Yorkshire, England, during the reign of Edward I(3).The 1301 Lay Subsidy was a one off tax imposed on the personal wealth of an individual by the king, Robert having to pay four shillings and seven pence (£0.23).
Another early mention is said to have been in 1376, in the ancient kingdom of Oriel, which covered some of the southern part of the province of Ulster, in Ireland.This is recorded in Edward MacLysaght’s book, ‘The Surnames of Ireland’, giving the name as Rountree or Roantree but the book does not give any details of the source.So far, I have not been able to track down that source. Unfortunately McLysaght has died so he can't be asked.There had been Viking settlements in Ireland, particularly around the Dublin area, also in the eighth and ninth centuries.
After these recordings of the name I have been unable to find another reference until 1504, when the name Adam Rowndetre appears in the Testamentary Records of the Commissary Courts of London, Adam being a resident of London, in the parish of St. Botolph without Aldgate(4).Then, in 1521, a lawsuit was brought against John Rountrie, by John Peirt, with reference to cottages and land in Borrowby, Yorkshire, promised to the complainant on his marriage to the defendant’s daughter, Katherine(5).Unfortunately, there are two Borrowby villages in Yorkshire and there is no way of telling in which one the Rountrie land and cottages were.One is about sixteen miles south of Newby, while the other is about sixteen miles east of Newby.I think that it is fair to expect that John was probably born before 1480, assuming his daughter was over 21 years old.What had happened to the family in between 1301 and, say, 1480 and how large had it become?There appears to be no way of knowing, but it is possible that it was badly affected by the Black Death which decimated the English people in the middle and late fourteenth century.
I would like to add a word of caution about the spelling of the surname.C. Brightwen Rowntree, in his 1940 book ‘The Rowntrees of Risborough’, quotes the lawsuit brought against John Rountrie (1521) but spells the surname Rowntree.In the same book, he mentions one of his ancestors, Peter Rowntree of Easby, who married in 1614, in Ingleby Greenhow, Yorkshire.The church records, however, spell the name Rontre.Brightwen has conveniently changed the names to match his own which is misleading to readers of his book.That is why original sources should always be used and quoted.
The next recorded mention of the name, that I have been able to find, does not occur until after church registers became a legal requirement, in England, in 1535, the first entry, in surviving registers, being the baptism of Margret Rontre, at Ingleby Greenhow, in 1545.No parents are noted.Ingleby Greenhow is also in north Yorkshire, about six miles from Newby.The next two entries of the name are Henry Rontre, in 1547 and Allyson Rontre in 1549, these also being baptisms in Ingleby Greenhow.Up until 1600 the majority of recorded Rowntree (or variants) are to be found in church records, with wills and civil litigation providing the only other sources of information.
It is interesting to look at the locality distribution of these church entries of the Rowntree (and variants) name, which I have taken, in the main, from the International Genealogical Index (IGI), produced by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons).The LDS was given access to most Church of England parish registers that have survived from the sixteenth century and later.Up until the end of 1599 there were 60 baptisms registered in England of which 56 were recorded in Yorkshire parishes, 1 in Co. Durham and 3 in London.That doesn't necessarily mean that other births and baptisms didn't occur; the baptismal registers might not have yet started in a parish, not been kept properly, lost, or even destroyed.In the same period there were 19 marriages in Yorkshire, 2 in London, 2 in Co. Durham and 1 in Lincolnshire.This latter was in the town of Boston, being the marriage of Meriall Rowndtree to John Flyntoffe, in 1588.There is only one other entry for a Meriall, being the christening of Meriall Rountree, in Stokesley, Yorkshire, in 1578.Is it the same woman?If it is, was she only ten years old when she got married?I think that it highlights a problem in assuming a birth year from the year in which a baptism took place.Very often baptisms took place some years after birth, especially during this period of religious upheaval, due to the Reformation.
Some of the entries in the IGI have to be treated with a great deal of scepticism, as they have been entered by so called patrons or relatives.The earliest reference to the name in the IGI is in Yorkshire, being that of Jane Rowntree, born at Scarborough in 1497.This was ‘entered’ by a relative, Hannah Rowntree, with no reference to an original source.I think that in a lot of the entries by patrons, or relatives, much guesswork has been used and these entries must therefore be ignored.The entry for Jane is a very clear case of this, as the date of her death is given as 1821 (324 years old!!!).Only those taken by the LDS from church or civil registers should be accepted as genuine, unless the original source is given.
The earliest register entry that I have found in London is the marriage of Rychard Rawntre to Elysabeth Sedname, in 1551, at St. Stephen, Coleman Street.The earliest baptism in London was Mary Rawntre, of Rychard Rawntre, in 1552, also at St. Stephen.The same Rychard?St. Stephen’s records date from 1538.
The seventeenth century saw a significant increase in the number of register entries for the name, in England, again with the majority in Yorkshire, but also with entries from other counties as well as the four mentioned above.This century also saw the first registrations in Ireland, according to the IGI.These were the baptisms of Raph Rontree (his father being Gayles Rontree) in 1652, and Anne Rowntrie (father Gayles Rowntrie) in 1657, both being in the church of St. John The Evangelist, Dublin.I am not sure about the name Gayles; I wonder if it a corruption of Guilemus, this being Latin for William.I have not seen the original register, so Gayles could just be a misinterpretation of the original handwriting by the compiler whose data was used by the IGI.Also in Ireland the names of Thomas Rowntry and Widow Rowntry appear in the Hearth Tax lists of 1664, in the parish of Kilmore, Co. Armagh.
It was also at the end of the seventeenth century that the name starts to appear in records in the United States of America.In 1674 Thomas Rowntree was given 100 acres of land in what is now South Carolina(6).In 1681, in Virginia, the names of Tho. Roundtree and Wm. Roundtree are given as being transported to land owned by Chas. Turner(7).Later in the same century the names Chas. Rowntree, Robert Rountree, Francis Roundtree and Elizabeth Roundtree also appear, again in Virginia(7).No information is given about the country of origin for any of these settlers, and, as the first census in the USA was not taken until 1790, all these people would have been dead by then; therefore, as far as I know, there is no way of tracing their birth country, or who their ancestors were.
(1) Society of Friends, Guisborough, Register (document RG6/1092, The National Archives, Kew, Surrey)
(2) ‘Domesday Book – Index: Persons’ J. Dodgson & J. Palmer, Phillimore & Co. (1992)
(3) Yorkshire Lay Subsidy – 1301 (document E 179/211/2, The National Archives, Kew, Surrey)
(4) Testamentary Records in the Commissary Court of London – Probate and Administration Act Books Vol. 2, 1503 -1505 (document Ms 9168/2, Guildhall Library, London)
(5) Court of Chancery: Six Clerks Office: Early Proceedings, Richard II to William and Mary (document C 1/552/56; 1518 – 1529, The National Archives, Kew, Surrey)
(6) ‘Warrants for Lands in South Carolina 1672 – 1711’ A.S.Salley Jr. (Ed.), South Carolina Dept. of Archives and History (1910)
(7) ‘Cavaliers and Pioneers, Abstracts of Virginia Land Patents and Grants 1666 – 1695’ N.M.Nugent (1977)
19th July 2004