Select Mead Surname Genealogy

The most likely origin of the surname Mead is that it is topographical, describing someone who lived near a mead or meadow.  The origin of the word was the medieval mede, meaning a meadow or flat piece of land.  However, the surname Mead may also have described a brewer or seller of mead, a fermented brew from honey that was popular in the Middle Ages.

The early spelling was Mede.  The principal spellings today are Mead, Meade, and Meads.  Mead is the main English spelling.  Meads crops up in the Midlands.  Meade has been the usual spelling in Ireland.

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England.  Early references of the surname are John ate Mede in Essex in 1248, William atte Mede in Hertfordshire in 1293, and Norman atte Mede in Somerset in 1307.  Mede here is thought to be the English version of the Norman de Prato (ďof the meadowĒ) name that existed around the year 1200.

SW England
.  Some sources have the Mead name originating in Somerset.  Two Bristol merchants held public office in the 15th century - Thomas Mede Sheriff in 1453 and Philip Mede three times Mayor in 1458, 1461 and 1468.  And a Thomas Meade was born in Wedmore, Somerset in 1489.  But the larger numbers have been and are in Essex in SE England.

SE England
.  Thomas Mede of Elmdon appears to have been the first of the Essex Meads.  He willed his lands in Essex and Cambridgeshire to his two sons Thomas and Reginald in 1557.  This Thomas became a Justice of the Common Pleas in 1577 and was knighted.  Later Meads of his family made their home at Wendon Lofts which Justice Thomas had acquired.  John Mead, the last male of the line, died there in 1715.

It is thought that the Meads of Buckinghamshire may have been related to these Essex Meads.  Richard Mede of Soulbury was first mentioned in the Buckinghamshire musters of 1522.  His line extended to Matthew Mead, a nonconformist minister of the mid/late 1600ís, and his eleventh child Richard who became a famous physician.  By 1714 he was recognized as the leader in his profession and in 1727 he was appointed physician to George II.

In Hertfordshire, the Mede or Mead name was to be found in Bishops Stortford, Ware and Watford from the early 1500ís.  In Watford the Meads were known as ďmealmen,Ē that is millers of grain.  George Mead was a yeoman farmer in nearby Sawbridgeworth a century or so later.

Midlands.  The Meads spelling cropped up in the Midlands, primarily in Nottinghamshire and in villages there such as Oxton and Calverton.  Meads were employed there in the hosiery trade in the 19th century.  Nathan Meads, a Mormon convert, departed this area for Utah in 1861.  Joseph Meads was a gardener at Potter Newton Hall near Leeds in Yorkshire in 1841.  A year later he emigrated with his wife Ann to New Zealand.

.  The origins of the Meagh family in Ireland are unclear.  However, they were among the leading families of county Cork by the beginning of the 14th century.  Their Cork stronghold was Meaghstown castle.  By the 1600ís their name had become Meade.  However, t
heir estates were forfeit in 1645 with Cromwell, regained in 1661 with the Restoration, and then lost again in 1691.

The line from Sir John Meade of Ballintubber near Kinsale in Cork led to a later Sir John Meade, an Irish judge who was created a baronet in 1703.  His descendants became the Earls of Clanwilliam.  The first of these Earls ended up having to sell his family estate in the 1780ís because of debauchery and reckless spending.  Large sums had been dissipated on horseracing, gambling, and mistresses.

ďIn 1779 Horace Walpole repeated a rumor, almost certainly exaggerated, that Clanwilliam had arranged for the murder of one of his romantic rivals.Ē

A measure of respectability returned with Richard the fourth Earl, a Royal Navy officer who ended up as Admiral of the Fleet in the late 1800ís.

In Ireland the Meade name continued at Ballintubber and Inishannon in county Cork and at Burrenwood in county Down.  The Rev. John Meade had acquired the Ballintubber estate from his cousin the Earl in 178

America.  William Mead from Watford in Hertfordshire came to America with his family on the Elizabeth in 1835 and first made his home in Stamford, Connecticut.  His son Joseph was the ancestor of the Fairfield county Meads, his other son John that of the Greenwich Meads.  Spencer P. Mead wrote one genealogical account of the family in his 1901 book History and Genealogy of the Mead family of Fairfield County.

William Mead Line.  William Mead has a large number of descendants in America: 
  • Josephís line spread out to New York, Ohio, Indiana, and points further west   
  • while Johnís went to New York, Pennsylvania (Meadville) and Vermont. 
One line from John led to Amos Mead, a surgeon in the French and Indian wars of the 1750ís.  A descendant Seaman Mead of Greenwich, Connecticut, possessed his flintlock pistol and powder horn inscribed as follows:ďAmos Mead, surgeon of the 3rd Connecticut Regiment, Ticonderoga 1759.Ē  John Mead IV meanwhile was a Major General in the Revolutionary War.

After the war three Mead brothers Ė Benjamin, Ralph and Staat Mead Ė left Greenwich for New York City where they made their mark as merchants.  George Mead left Ridgefield for Kingston, New York and subsequently built Meadís Mountain House in the Catskills.

Much later came Dr. Elwood Mead, born in 1858 in Indiana.  As Director of the Department of the Interior, he oversaw in the 1920ís and the 1930ís the construction of the Hoover and Grand Coulee dams in the West.  Lake Mead on the Colorado river was named in his honor.

Another William Mead Line
.  This William Mead came from Buckinghamshire sometime in the early 1700ís.  Quaker records have him in Cecil county, Maryland by this time.  His descendants had moved to Loudoun and Bedford counties in Virginia in the 1750ís and later onto Kentucky. 

Cowles Mead
relocated to Mississippi in the early 1800ís and ran a tavern before becoming a planter.  He served as Acting Governor of Mississippi in 1806, but was unsuccessful in being elected its Governor in 1825.  Even so, he was said to have been a spell-binding orator. 

He was the first to introduce Bermuda grass at his plantation home Greenwood in Clinton, Hinds county.  Greenwood fell victim to the Civil War and was burned in 1863.  Nothing remains there except for a small cemetery where Cowles and his wife were buried.  His earlier home Meadvilla does remain. 

Meade Lines
.  There were two notable Irish Meade lines in America. 

Andrew Meade of the Cork Ballintubber line came in 1685 via London to Nansemond county, Virginia where he prospered.  Some of his descendants remained in Virginia, others moved west to Kentucky.  Hamilton Baskervillís 1921 book Andrew Meade of Ireland and Virginia covered his line. 

Robert Meade from Limerick had less notable ancestors, but more remarkable descendants.  He was a merchant, initially in the Bahamas who came to Philadelphia in 1742.  His line led to George Meade, the Union general victorious at Gettysburg during the Civil War.  Meade county in Kansas and in South Dakota were both named after him. 

His brother Richard was a naval officer during the war, but lost his ship one stormy night and died a disappointed man.  Still, Richardís sons Richard, Henry and Robert all had distinguished naval records.  Richard became a Rear Admiral, although he retired in dispute with the Navy in 1895

  Richard Meade, an indigent farmer in county Cork, came with his wife and three children to Ontario on the Fortitude in 1825.  Granted land in Douro township in Peterborough, they were part of the Peter Robinson settler scheme.

Roland Mead became Roland Meade after he crossed the border with his parents from Vermont to Ontario in the 1840ís.  His ancestry went back to immigrant William Mead of Stamford, Connecticut in 1635 and to Colonel James Mead, the first settler in Rutland, Vermont in 1770.  In Canada Roland joined the Hudsonís Bay Company and moved to Winnipeg.  There he pursued a profession as a painter.  Unfortunately, his life was cut short by lead poisoning from his oil paints.

New Zealand. 
Joseph and Ann Meads departed England for New Zealand on the Thomas Sparks in 1842.  The main Meads line in New Zealand came from Zachariah Meads, born in Wellington in 1843 and who lived until 1937.  His line extended to his great grandson Colin Meads, one of New Zealandís greatest rugby players.

Select Mead Miscellany

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

Select Mead Names

Richard Mead was the most prominent English physician of the early 18th century.
General George Meade
commanded the Union army at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, a turning point in the Civil War.
Dr. Elwood Mead oversaw in the 1920ís and the 1930ís the construction of the Hoover and Grand Coulee dams in the West.  Lake Mead on the Colorado river was named in his honor.
Margaret Mead was an American anthropologist who popularized its insights into American and Western culture during the 1960ís and 1970ís.
Colin Meads
was a New Zealand rugby player between 1957 and 1971.  An icon within New Zealand rugby, he is widely considered one of the greatest rugby players in history.
Richard Meade
was Britainís
 most successful equestrian Olympian, winning three gold medals in total.  He also won five World Championship medals between 1970 and 1982.

Select Meads Today
  • 17,000 in the UK (most numerous in Hampshire)
  • 19,000 in America (most numerous in California) 
  • 14,000 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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