Select Pitt Surname Genealogy

Pitt derives from the Old English word pytt, meaning a pit or hollow.  The name is usually thought to be topographical, describing someone who lived near a pit or hollow.  However, an alternative occupational origin has been suggested. 

Before 1500, the surname spelling was generally Pytt.  After 1500, both Pitt and Pitts emerged as surnames.  Pitt is more common in England today, Pitts in America.

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England.  Pitt has been mainly a west country name, to be found on a line running south from Staffordshire through Worcestershire and Gloucestershire to Dorset and Hampshire on the coast.  Pitts has cropped up in Devon (the Pitts of South Allington) and in Yorkshire.

The best-known of these Pitts have been the Pitts from Blandford in Dorset.  The line there traces back to Nicholas Pitt in the early 1500's.  Thomas Pitt, the son of a vicar, was a merchant in India known as "Diamond" Pitt for his purchase of and profit from an extraordinary diamond.  Stratfield Saye House in Hampshire was built on its proceeds.  Pitt was the grandfather and great grandfather of two British Prime Ministers, William Pitt the Elder and William Pitt the Younger.  Their family history was covered in Sir Tresham Lever's 1947 book The House of Pitt.

The direct line ended at that time as William Pitt the Younger died without legitimate issue.  The line through his cousin Thomas Pitt of Camelford in Cornwall also did not continue.

"During a short but adventurous life, Lord Camelford ran away from school to join the Navy at the age of fourteen, was shipwrecked, flogged, and court-martialled.  He travelled secretly to France planning to assassinate Napoleon and was finally killed in a duel at the age of twenty nine."

But there were earlier branches of the family which established themselves via Thomas Pitt on the Isle of Wight and via Christopher Pitt in Bermuda.

Other west country Pitts have been:
  • Henry Pitt, a wool merchant from Bushbury Hill in Staffordshire who built the Moseley Old Hall (with its hiding places for Catholics) in the 1580's
  • John Pitt, a Dorset merchant and alderman of Melcombe Regis in the early 1600's
  • Laurence Pitts, born in 1660, the forebear of the Pitts of Stokenham in south Devon
  • John Pitt, a clockmaker in Tetbury, Gloucestershire in the early 1800's.  He was born in Brokenborough in 1776.
  • Joseph Pitt, a developer from Cheltenham who built the Pittville estate there in the 1820's.  The Pump Room and the gardens are his main legacies.      
Bermuda.  Christopher Pitt came to Bermuda in the 1650's and the Pitts have remained on the island since that time.  Pitt's Bay near Hamilton is named after them and the Pitts have been supplying Bermuda residents with tobacco for the past five generations.  A branch of the family under William Pitt moved to Charleston, South Carolina in the 1780's.

America.  William Pitt was onboard the second ship (after the Mayflower) to arrive at the Plymouth colony, the Fortune one year later in 1621.  He was an armorer by trade.  However, there is no record of him after 1627.  He had either died or departed by that time.

One Pitt who stayed was Richard Pitt, convicted of coining in England and transported to the American colonies for life in 1774.  He was stationed in Rockland county, New York during the Revolutionary War.  His descendants are to be found in the Ramapo mountains.  William Pitt, meanwhile, was a British deserter of the War of 1812.   He married and settled down to farm in Canton, New York.

Pitts in the South  The surname Pitt is outnumbered approximately six to one by Pitts in America.  Pitts has been particularly strong in the South, notably in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Texas.  Sometimes the name changed from Pitt to Pitts in America.  For instance, the son of Phlilip Pitt of Dorchester county, Maryland who died in 1698 was the sea captain John Pitts. 

William Pitts came to North Carolina in the early 1700's.  A descendant Captain John Pitts was a soldier in the Revolutionary War who was then murdered by Tories along the Ogachee river.  His son Hardy Pitts migrated to Georgia.  A later Hardy Pitts, born there in 1821, was married three times and was the father or adopted father of 26 children.  His son William was married four times but had fewer children.  He moved his plantation to Texas in 1854.  The town that grew up around the plantation came to be known at Pittsburg.

Other 19th century Pitts in the South were:
  • Hiram Pitts who departed South Carolina for Pontotoc county, Mississippi in 1823
  • and Philip Pitts who left Virginia to grow cotton in Alabama in 1835 (his son Philip became a prominent Selma lawyer).  
William Irby Hudson Pitts was born in Waverly Hall, Georgia in 1862.  He turned his father's small general store there, along with an astute early investment in Coca Cola stock, into a multi-million dollar fortune.  

South Africa.  Robert Pitt, a shoemaker from London, and his wife Lucy and son Robert were among the original 1820 British settlers to the Cape colony, part of Sephton's party on the Aurora.  George Pitt was a plasterer who came to Port Elizabeth as a single young man in 1856.  He soon found a wife and they settled in Grahamstown, Cape colony.  Descendants of this family today are numerous.

  Richard Pitt was one of the first free settlers in Tasmania.  He had come out from Tiverton in Devon on the Ocean in 1803.  He farmed and later became chief constable of Hobart Town.  His tombstone in St. David's burial ground was among those preserved to mark the jubilee of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1951.

William Pitt and his wife Jane arrived in Melbourne in 1855 and ran various hotels and cafes in town, including the Cafe de Paris at the Theatre Royal which William decorated with his own paintings.   Their son William, known as Billie, grew up to be a well-known Australian architect.

Select Pitt Miscellany

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

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William Pitt the Elder was the British Prime Minister who led the country to victory over France in the Seven Years' War from 1756 to 1763.  He was known as the Great Commoner because of his long-standing refusal to accept a title.  The city of Pittsburgh is named after him.
William Pitt the Younger was at twenty four Britain's youngest Prime Minister.  He held office from 1783 to 1801 and again from 1804 until his death in 1806.
David Pitt came to Britain from the Caribbean island of Grenada in 1933.   He became a British civil rights campaigner and Labor politician and was ennobled as Baron Pitt of Hampstead.
Brad Pitt, brought up in Missouri, is one of the most popular actors around today.

Select Pitts Today
  • 17,000 in the UK (most numerous in Gloucestershire)
  • 17,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 11,000 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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