Select Jordan Surname Genealogy

The Jordan name was popularized at the time of the Crusades when soldiers and pilgrims to the Holy Land would often return with flasks of water taken from the Jordan river to use for christening purposes.  They also told stories, sometimes exaggerated, about their exploits.  Jordan itself derives from the Aramaic yarden, meaning ďto descendĒ (in the case of the Jordan river to the Dead Sea).

Jordan emerged as a given name for nobility in Italy and later in France.  It also began appearing in various guises in the Spanish, German, Polish and Hungarian languages, as well as in English.  Among the first surname recordings in England were those of John Jorden of Cambridge in 1202 and Walter Jurdan of Sussex in 1327.

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Ireland.  The Jordan name in Ireland began with Jordan De Courcy, a younger brother of Sir John De Courcy, who came with the Anglo-Norman invaders in 1170 and was so named because of his reported exploits in the Holy Land.  His line was first known as de Exeter as they were from Exeter in England.  Jordan de Exeter, sheriff of Connacht in the mid-13th century, was the forebear of the family in county Mayo that came to be known as MacJordan or MacSiurtain and later as de Exeter Jordan.  Jordan when anglicized sometimes came out confused as Sheridan.

The principal stronghold of the Jordans was
Athleathan castle in Gallen barony, built around 1180.  The castle remained with the family until the 1650ís when Cromwell confiscated their possessions.  Father Fulgenius Jordan of the Jordan Duff line was martyred for his faith at Ballyhaunis in 1682.  Jourdan, one of Napoleonís most successful generals, was said to have been descended from the family through a Jordan officer who left for France in 1691.  The Jordan family in Mayo remained Catholic during the time of the Penal Laws. 

Jordans are most common in Mayo and Galway, but are to be found as well in Down, Waterford and elsewhere in Ireland (possibly from different lineages
).  Jordan's Castle was built in Ardglass, county Down in the md-15th century and was held by Jordans during the 16th century.  Among present-day Jordans:
  • Eddie Jordan, the former F1 racing driver, grew up in county Wicklow
  • while Neil Jordan, the filmmaker and novelist, was born in Sligo (Connacht).
Wales.  From the Jordans in Exeter also came Jordan de Cantington, an early Norman invader into Wales. These Jordans were once prevalent in Pembrokeshire.  But the male line there seems to have ended in 1802 when Barrett Bowen Jordan of Neeston died.

England.  Another legend from the Holy Land gives the Jordan name to Sir William Deardon who fought in the Crusades with Richard the Lionhearted and lived in Devon.  A Jordan manor near Widecombe on Dartmoor is said to have been there from those times.  The present Jordan manor house dates from the early 1600's. 

Early Jordans,
sometimes spelt Jourdaine, were to be found in Exeter and along the coast in Dorset at Melcombe (Weymouth) and Lyme Regis, as well as in Somerset (from Jordaine near Ilminster).  The Jordan name is still present in Devon.  But there are more in London, Kent and the southeast.  Jordans of Gatwick, landed gentry in Surrey, date from the 15th century and contributed an early emigrant to America, Arthur Jordan. There was another gentry family of Jordans at Cranbrook in Kent by the 16th century.

AmericaJordans in America were at first English, later Irish.  There were four main Jordan lines in America in the 1600's, one in New England and three in Virginia.
  • The New England representative was the Rev. Robert Jordan who arrived in 1638 and, being Episcopal rather than Puritan, settled in southern Maine.  There he married Sarah Winter, the governorís daughter, and became a substantial landowner in the region.  His family line was covered in Tristram Jordanís 1882 book The Jordan Memorial.
  • The first in Virginia was Samuel Jordan from Lyme Regis in Dorset, called "an ancient planter" due to his arrival in Virginia as early as 1610.  He established himself near Charles City on a plantation known as Beggars Bush at Jordan's Journey (later Jordan Point).  There he survived the Indian raids of 1622 but died a year later.  His son Thomas, who had arrived in Virginia in 1618, remained, as did his young second wife.  Other early Jordans in Virginia were Arthur Jordan and Richard Jordan (unrelated), who were to be found in Surry county in the 1630ís.
Later came Jordan migrations to the South.  Richard Jordanís descendants headed to North Carolina and then onto Georgia.  William Enoch Jordanís forebears had left Virginia for South Carolina and he and his family then moved onto Georgia and Alabama in the 1830ís and 40's.  Levi Jordan and John Jordan were early settlers in Texas.  Levi Jordan stayed and became a successful plantation owner.  John Jordan moved onto California.

The first Irish presence in America - probably in the late 18th century - came from county Down in Northern Ireland.  Subsequent Jordan arrivals came from different points in Ireland.

African American.  Jordan is a notable African American name.  Whether its Biblical and baptismal associations appealed at the time surnames were chosen or whether there were other reasons, there have been a number of prominent African American Jordans around in recent times Ė Michael Jordan the basketball player, Barbara Jordan and Vernon Jordan the civil rights campaigners, June Jordan the poet and playwright, Louis Jordan the bandleader, and the Jordan New Orleans family of musicians.

Caribbean.  The Jordan name features in the Caribbean.  Edward Jordan was an early settler in Barbados. His descendants ran the Black Rock plantation in St. James's parish.  Another Edward Jordan was a controversial figure in Jamaica, the first black Mayor in the 1850's of Kingston.  There is a statue of him in St. William Grant Park.

AustraliaJames Jordan was transported to Australia in 1791 on the first convict ship, the Queen, that departed directly from Ireland.   He served out his seven year term on Norfolk Island and his descendants settled in Tasmania.

In different circumstances came Henry Jordan, a Methodist missionary from an old Devon family, who arrived in South Australia in the 1850's with the intent of converting the local Aboriginals.  But his health was poor and he ended up in politics in Queensland.

Select Jordan Miscellany

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

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Jordan de Exeter was a 13th century Anglo-Norman knight and forebear of the MacJordan clan in Mayo.
Dorothea Jordan
was an Anglo-Irish actress, courtesan, and companion of the future King William IV.
Louis Jordan
was a pioneering African-American musician, songwriter, and bandleader who enjoyed great popularity from the late 1930ís to the early 1950ís.
Vernon Jordan was a leading figure in the civil rights movement and later a close advisor to President Clinton.
Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls is considered one of the greatest basketball players of all time.  He was instrumental in popularizing the game around the world in the 1980ís and 90's.

Select Jordans Today
  • 34,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 69,000 in America (most numerous in Texas) 
  • 28,000 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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