Select Swift Surname Genealogy

The surname Swift came from the Old English word swift and probably originated as a nickname for someone who was swift, a fast runner.  A Suffolk entry of 1222 showed "Nicholas, ye sonne of Swyfte."  Swift was a name often given to a messenger or courier.  In the household books of King Edward III a Ralph Swyft was recorded as his courier.   

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Select Swift Ancestry

England.   Swift is a Yorkshire name.  The early wills of Yorkshire showed that there were Swifts at Easington in Holderness from the 1460ís.

Yorkshire.  One Swift family dates back to the early 1300's and a Bryan Swyfte who was granted land at Allergill in Durham.  His family was later to be found in Rotherham in Yorkshire where Robert Swift, known as the rich mercer of Rotherham, profited from Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century:
  • these Swifts then established themselves in some style at Broom Hall near Sheffield. 
  • another branch moved to Kent and later, with the Rev. Thomas Swift of Goodrich, to Herefordshire.
The Swift surname distribution by the late 19th century showed that the greater number were still in Yorkshire, in particular in the Sheffield and Rotherham areas, with many also in Lancashire and London.

Elsewhere.  A Swift family was to be found in public records in Skelmersdale, Lancashire in the 16th century - when Peter Swift was involved in a court case over property against his father John.  Swifts stayed numerous in that area. 

Swifts were also to be found in London by the 17th century.  There was a long-established Swift family at St. Giles Cripplegate; and William Swift had started a publishing business in London in the early 18th century. The business continued with James Platt Swift from Halifax in Yorkshire and his sons in the 19th century.

Ireland.  In 1627 Barnham Swift of the Yorkshire Swifts was granted lands in Ireland.  He was followed in the 1650's by the Royalist Swifts from Herefordshire, four brothers led by Godwin, the sons of the Rev. Thomas Swift.  These Swifts acquired property near Jenkinstown in Kilkenny, Swiftes Heath and Foulksrath castle, and their descendants still live in that area. 

"It was not a disaster to be born a Swift.  The Swift family in Ireland were gentlemen.  They owned land, occupied valuable properties, and made a good living from the law.  They were adventurers who did well in Ireland at a time when to be rapacious and unprincipled were advantages."

From one of the Kilkenny sons Jonathan, a Dublin lawyer, came Jonathan Swift, the famous satirist who became Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral.  The line later produced some odd and poetic Swifts:
  • Theophilus Swift who was shot in a duel with the Duke of Richmond and spent time in Newgate prison
  • and his son Edmund Swift who was Keeper of the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London.
The Swift name in Ireland today is to be found in Dublin, Kilkenny, and Wexford.  The Swifts of county Mayo are not of English origin.  Swift - as with the surnames Rush and Speed - were adopted there as an anglicized form of the Gaelic O'Fuada or Foody.

America.  William and Joan Swift from Bocking in Essex came to New England around 1630, settling first in Watertown and then moving to the Cape Cod town of Sandwich in 1639.  The farm William bought there was the largest in Sandwich at the time and was still in the possession of his lineal descendant Shadrach Freeman Swift in the late 19th century.  

William Swift of this family was a cattle drover in West Sandwich in the early 19th century.  He had three sons:
  • Noble Swift, who stayed at home and expanded his father's business
  • and Gustavus and Nathan Swift who moved to Chicago and founded the Swift meat-packing empire.
A much later descendant, from a line which settled in Pennsylvania, is the country music singing star Taylor Swift.

There was another William Swift, but this time a clergyman of Herefordshire Swift descent, who came out to Virginia via Bermuda with his family in 1728.  His descendants were and are to be found in Hanover county, Virginia.  Some Swifts from this family settled in San Antonio, Texas in the 19th century and Arthur Swift was a founder of the First Baptist Church of Seguin, Texas. 

Meanwhile, Flower Swift arrived from London in 1732 and settled in Frederick county, Maryland.  Flower Swifts were later to be found in North Carolina and in Elbert county, Georgia.

Australia and New Zealand.  John and Mary Swift from Chesterfield in Derbyshire came out to Australia and settled in Melbourne in the 1820's.  Later Swifts from this family moved onto New Zealand.

Select Swift Miscellany

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

Select Swift Names

Jonathan Swift, born in Dublin in 1667, was the Anglo-Irish satirist, author of Gulliver's Travels.
Gustavus Swift founded the meat-packing empire in the American Midwest that bears his name.
Frank Swift from Blackpool in Lancashire was England's goalkeeper in its international football team of the late 1940's.
Taylor Swift is a popular American country singer/songwriter.

Select Swifts Today
  • 19,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 7,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 7,000 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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