Select Coleman Surname Genealogy

The surname Coleman has two distinctly different derivations, one English and the other Irish:

In England, the surnames Coleman, as well as Collier, is occupational, describing either a burner of charcoal or a gatherer of coal (col was Old English for coal or charcoal).  The German surname Kohlmann has the same roots.  A spelling variant Colman crops up in East Anglia.
In Ireland, Coleman is an anglicized name from the Gaelic Clumhain or Colman:
  • the former (or O'Clumhain, descendant of Clumhain), a personal name, derived from the Gaelic clumh, meaning "down" or "feathers."  The O'Culhains were originally a literary and bardic family in county Sligo. 
  • the latter (or O'Colman, descendant of Colman) refers to a 6th century Irish missionary called St. Columban who enjoyed at one time a cult following in Europe.  There is a St. Colman's Cathedral in Cork Harbor today. 
Coleman can also be the Americanized form of the German Kohlmann or Kuhlmann.
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Select Coleman Ancestry

England.  The Coleman name was mainly to be found in SE England and in East Anglia.

SE England  The place name Colemans Hatch in East Sussex is said to have derived its name from a Coleman family of charcoal makers recorded in Hartfield in the late 1200's.  Coleman appeared in the records of Fletching parish nearby from the mid 1500's.  A Coleman family was in Brede from the mid 1600's.  They were prosperous enough to purchase Chitcombe Farm there in 1821 and to become benefactors to the village (building a church and a local school). 

The Coleman name mainly sprung up in the southeast of England, in Kent and Essex as well as Sussex, with outposts in Northamptonshire and in East Anglia (where the spelling has been and continues to be Colman).

East Anglia  There has been a Colman family recorded in Little Waldingfield (near Sudbury in Suffolk) from the early 1400's.  They prospered as clothiers - as the brass in the local church reveals:

"A reminder of happier times in the parish is the grandest brass of all, that of the clothier John Colman in 1506.  His family may well have paid for the rebuilding of the church at that time.  Beneath him, six sons and seven daughters stand in pious grief."

Edward Colman of this family later met a grisly end.  A Catholic convert, he had become implicated in the Popish plots, was tried for treason in 1678, and, on conviction, was executed by the barbaric means of being hung, drawn, and quartered.

Colmans in Norfolk have produced the Colmans of Colman's Mustard.

Ireland.  The O'Clumhain name has cropped up in the Annals of the Four Masters, such as this entry in 1493:

"Mac Namee, the son of Conor Roe and son of Eachmarcach, an eminent poet and a good scholar, was slain by a laborer, one of his own people the O'Clumhain."

Their original homeland was the barony of Tireragh in county Sligo.  Coleman country today is south Sligo, in and around Tobercurry and Gurteen.  This was where Mary Coleman lived and where the famed Irish fiddler Michael Coleman grew up.  Over time these Colemans have spilled over into the neighboring counties of Mayo and Roscommon.

The Coleman numbers (from St. Colman, the 6th century Irish missionary) have been larger further south, in county Cork.  Today Inishannon in Cork is the home of two well-known Coleman jump jockeys.

America.  In terms of recorded arrivals to America, Colemans came:
  • 60 percent from Ireland
  • 38 percent from England
  • and 2 percent from Germany.
New England  The English arrived first.  Among the New England arrivals was Thomas Coleman who came to Newbury in 1635.  He was the forebear of a long line of Quaker Colemans, in Nantucket (where Elihu Coleman was an early opponent of slavery), New Hampshire, and in and around Philadelphia.  William Coleman was one of Philadelphia's first civic leaders, Nathaniel Coleman a well-known silversmith in Burlington, New Jersey.

Virginia  More came via Virginia, including four Robert Colemans - three of whose family trees have been extensively documented:
  • Robert Coleman of the first doomed Virginia settlement.  He apparently died in the water in 1590 while attempting to rescue other members of a landing party.
  • Robert Coleman of Mobjack Bay Virginia, whose presence was first recorded there in 1638.  A descendant was the Texas adventurer, Robert Morris Coleman.  This family history was recorded in Sherry Nicoll's 1998 book The Coleman Family of Mobjack Bay.
  • Robert Coalman (later Coleman) was in Charles City county, Virginia by 1652.  His line went south to South Carolina, Mississippi, and Texas.  A descendant was the Mississippi Governor, JP Coleman, who in 1965 published The Robert Coleman Family - from Virginia to Texas.
  • and Robert Coleman of Nansemond county Virginia, first recorded there in 1684.  His sons settled in Edgecombe county, North Carolina and later descendants moved onto Alabama.
Irish Colemans  One of the earliest Irish Colemans was a Robert Coleman from Donegal who had arrived in Philadelphia in 1764.  He started an ironworks, built up a business making cannonballs, and became Pennsylvania's first millionaire.  However, two of his daughters would meet tragic ends

The 19th and early 20th century saw a much larger influx of Irish Colemans to America - including in 1914 the famed fiddle player Michael Coleman (who made his home and recorded in New York City).

German and Jewish Colemans  Colemans of German origin are much larger in proportion than the arrival data above would indicate - as many changed their names to Coleman once in America and after their arrival, such as: 
  • Sebastian Kohlmann (later Coleman) who came to Pennsylvania from Baden in Germany n 1738
  • Nicholas Kuhlmann and his family, Protestants, who brought their German religious books with them to Philadelphia from Strasburg in 1768.  Their descendants, as Colemans, migrated to North Carolina and the Wiregrass area of SE Alabama. 
  • while other Kuhlmanns/Colemans arrived in Minnesota in the early 1800's. 
Then there were Jewish Kalmans who became Colemans and even a Kaufman (Cy Coleman the jazz pianist and songwriter).

Central America.  William and Cynthia Coleman were Confederate refugees who fled to Honduras to escape the Reconstruction era in Georgia after the Civil War.  William started up various businesses there which did well and his sons William and John carried on.  The family became involved in Honduras politics during the 1920's.  John was killed in the 1932 revolution, William died in Honduras in 1944.

Africa.  Liberia has been ruled for most of its history by a small group of Americo-Liberian families from Clay-Ashland, including the Colemans.  William Coleman had arrived in Liberia, aged 11, in 1853 and rose to become President of that country in 1896.  He was the father of ten - including David Coleman who in 1955 was shot dead by security forces after a failed attempt to assassinate the then President.

Australia and New Zealand.
  Henry Coleman was possibly the first Coleman in Australia, a convict transported there from England on the Barwell in 1798.  His descendants were in Parramatta and nearby Smithfield.  Tom Coleman died there in 1955 at the ripe old age of ninety five.

A notable early settler was Benjamin Coleman, a farm worker from Sussex.  He arrived in New Zealand in 1840 and was one of the first white settlers in Otago, South Island.  He lived to see the arrival of the Dunedin settlers in 1848 but died by drowning one year later.

Select Coleman Miscellany

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

Select Coleman Names

Robert Morris Coleman
organized the first Texas Rangers, helped defeat the Mexicans at the Battle of San Jacinto, but later fell out with Sam Houston and died young in mysterious circumstances.
Jeremiah Colman was the man who built up Colman's of Norwich, the mustard-makers, in the second half of the 19th century.
William Coleman became President of Liberia in 1895.
Michael Coleman was the legendary fiddler from Sligo most responsible for the revival of Irish traditional music.
Ornette Coleman, the jazz saxophonist, was one of the major innovators of the "free jazz" movement of the 1960's.

Select Colemans Today
  • 35,000 in the UK (most numerous in Kent)
  • 70,000 in the UK (most numerous in Texas)
  • 25,000 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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