Churchill


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The name Churchill is thought to be habitational in origin, from a place name meaning "church on the hill."  The roots here are the Old English cyrice meaning "church" and hyll meaning "hill."  However, there are alternative origins of Churchill that have been put forward.

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England.  Churchill is a west country name, with early sightings as a place-name in Somerset and Devon.

Dorset  Churchill is, in addition, an old Dorset name.  The first records of the celebrated Churchill family - of which Sir Wnston Churchill is a member - was in the Dorset village of Bradford Peverville around 1500.  John Churchill was a clothier in Dorchester who prospered from the sale of church lands at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries.  These Churchills later made their home at Muston Manor near Winterbourne. Another John Churchill married Sarah Winston in 1620, from whence came the Winston name.  Their son, the first Winston, was known as the Cavalier Colonel because of his support for the Royalist cause.  He made his home at Minterne Manor.

Blenheim Palace  Both Winston's sons, John and Charles, were soldiers.  It was John who became the great military commander and, after his victories in Europe in the War of the Spanish Succession, was ennobled as the Duke of Marlborough and had Blenheim Palace near Oxford built to his specifications.

Because this Duke had no surviving sons, the title was allowed by special Act of Parliament to pass through his eldest daughter Anne.  She married Charles Spencer of the Spencer family.  The family initially styled themselves Spencer but reverted to Churchill in 1817. 

Lord Randolph Churchill, a Tory politician and cabinet member in the 1880's, was a younger son of the 7th Duke of Marlborough.  His son, Winston, born in Blenheim Palace in 1874, was Britain's war leader during World War Two.  Since that time Churchill's family and descendants have perhaps been more newsworthy than those of the Duke's - until possibly Jamie Blandford.  

Elsewhere  There are Churchills other than those of the Spencer-Churchill clan.  The name continues to be found mainly in the west country, in Somerset, Devon and Hampshire as well as in Dorset.  A Churchill family has been in Bruton, Somerset since the 1600's.  Churchills were recorded as gentlemen in the east Devon villages of Ottery St. Mary and East Budleigh in the early 1700's. 

America.  There were three notable Churchills who came to America in the 17th century, two of them Puritans from Dorset.
 
New England  The first was John Churchill, who was possibly related to the Winterbourne Muston Churchills.  He arrived at the New England Plymouth colony in 1642 and married Hannah Pontus two years later.  They raised six children, including a daughter Mary Churchill.  Asaph Churchill of this family became a distinguished lawyer in Milton, Massachusetts:

"When a boy he found himself adrift after his father died.  But he obtained Greek and Latin books in some way and walked barefoot from the backwoods of Middleborough to Cambridge to save his shoes. Graduating there with honors he married Mary Gardner of Charleston, remarkable for her beauty, and bought the Adam Street estate."

A descendant Gardner Asaph Churchill compiled the family genealogy The Churchill Family in America in 1904.

Some of these Churchills ended up in Maine.  James Churchill served as mayor of Portland in the 1840's. Others moved to Vermont.  Sylvester Churchill was born there in 1782.  His service in the army spanned the War of 1812 and the Civil War and he is comemmorated by Churchill county in Nevada.  Sir Winston Churchill saw his portrait and believed that there was a family likeness. 

The second Churchill, more definitely connected with the Winterbourne Muston Churchills, was Josiah Churchill.  He settled in Wethersfield, Connecticut where he was the town surveyor and married Elizabeth Foote in 1638.
 
Virginia and Kentucky  The third, Colonel William Churchill, came to Virginia from Oxfordshire in 1674.  He had the good fortune to marry a wealthy widow and this allowed him to live in some style on his Bushy Park estate along the Rappahonnick river in Middlesex county.  His grandson Armistead brought the family to Louisville, Kentucky in 1809. 

"Armistead Churchill came through Cumberland Gap and across the Wilderness Trail on a coach, driving four-in-hand.  On reaching Louisville he was completely disgusted with the settlement.  According to a tradition in the family, he would have turned back the next day, but for the Indians he had encountered and the badness of the roads."

The Churchill name lives on in Louisville through Churchill Downs, the racetrack on which the Kentucky Derby is staged. 

Canada.  There has been a sizeable Churchill presence in Canada's Atlantic provinces.  Two Churchill brothers from Devon, Samuel and Nicholas, had come to Ochre Pit Cove in Newfoundland in the 1740's. These Churchills were later to be found in Portugal Cove.

Nova Scotia  Larger Churchill numbers were in Nova Scotia, the descendants of the Churchills who had moved north from Massachusetts; Lemuel Churchill to Yarmouth in 1752, Josiah Churchill to Lockeport in 1762, and Ephraim Churchill to Yarmouth in 1784:
  • Ezra Churchill, whose father had been lost at sea, came from Lemuel's line.  He operated one of the largest shipbuilding yards in Nova Scotia in the 19th century.  His home at Hantsport is now the Churchill House museum;
  • Lewis Churchill, grandson to Josiah, was a prominent shipping merchant in Lockeport;
  • while Ephraim's descendants were also active in shipping, as sea captains and shipbuilders.  In 1874 "Rudder" Churchill moved to Savannah, Georgia where he started the Churchill Steamship Lines and made his fortune.
Australia.  Churchill island was the first place in Victoria inhabited by Europeans.  It got its name because Lieutenant James Grant, who in 1801 had built a simple cottage there and planted crops, named the island after his friend John Churchill who had suppled him with the seeds.

Another well-known Churchill name has been Victor Churchill, reputed to be the oldest butcher's shop in Australia.  James Churchill opened his shop in the Sydney suburb of Woollahra in 1876, delivering meat with five horses and carts.  Son Victor was in charge until 1953 when the business was sold (although the name has remained).

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


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John Churchill was the commander who made his name and his fortune by his military victories in Europe between 1704 and 1709.  He was ennobled as the Duke of Marlborough and built his grand home, Blenheim Palace, just outside Oxford.
Lord Randolph Churchill was a Victorian politician (father to Sir Winston Churchill), who was briefly in the 1880's Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Sir Winston Churchill was Prime Minister and Britain's war leader during the Second World War.
Peter and Odette Churchill were British spies during the Second World War who were captured yet survived the German concentration camp.

Select Churchills Today
  • 9,000 in the UK (most numerous in Hampshire)
  • 5,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 7,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada).



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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