Select Moss Surname Genealogy

There have been two principal origins of the Moss surname, one English and the other Jewish.  The English version came from the Old English word mos, meaning “bog” or “morass,” and would describe someone who lived by a bog or morass.  The Jewish form was from Moses, the Jewish leader who led the Israelites out of Egypt.  Moses often became Moss in England and America as a less identifiable Jewish name.

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Select Moss Ancestry

England. The English version of the Moss surname seems centered around Lancashire and the northwest, the Jewish version around London and the southeast.

.  The Moss surname has continued to be found in areas where mosses or peat bogs have existed.  Thus the largest number of Mosses in the 1881 census was in Ashton under Lyne, close by Ashton Moss. Manchester and Salford were also well represented in bogs and in names. 

From Manchester came the Rev. William Moss, born there in 1571 and father of one of the early settlers of the New Haven colony in America, and Edward (Ted) Moss, born there in 1852 and the theater impresario who founded Moss Empires.

A Moss line on Merseyside began with John Moss of Hurst House, born around 1717.  His son Thomas moved to Liverpool where he operated as a timber merchant on the Salthouse dock, bringing in his son John as a partner in 1803.  John Moss was to make his fortune as a banker and Caribbean plantation owner.  He built a fine new house for himself, Otterpool House, along the Otterpool creek in 1812. 

The Moss peat bogs and Moss name extended southward into Staffordshire and eastward into Yorkshire.  The Moss name featured among the potters of Stoke-on-Trent in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

  Perhaps the first to arrive was Samuel Moses from Alsace in France who was probably in London sometime in the 1780’s.  His son Jacob had children who emigrated to Australia and Canada in the 1840’s and 1850’s, generally as Moss, and were instrumental in the formation of Jewish congregations in Sydney and Montreal.

Of those who stayed in London was
Moses Moss who started what became the Moss Bros clothing chain with his two shops in London's Covent Garden in 1851.  After Moses’s death in 1894 Moss Bros remained in family hands through his sons Alfred and George.  George’s son Harry followed Alfred as the next “Guvnor;” while other family members were on the company board.

Another Moss family began in Whitechapel in the East End of London in the mid-19th century with Nathan Moses and then with Abraham Moss who married outside his faith.  Abraham’s son Alfred was a successful dentist in London and a part-time racing driver.  Alfred’s son Stirling, who got bullied at school for being Jewish, grew up to be the famous racing driver; while his sister Pat achieved her own fame as one of the most successful women rally drivers of all time.

Other noted Jewish families in the 19th century were the Moss family of Portsea in Hampshire, headed by Joseph Moss a glass merchant, and the Moss family in Stepney and Bermondsey, bootmakers and leather workers.

Moss or Mosse is an Ulster name, mainly found in Tyrone and along the Tyrone-Donegal border.  If Irish, the name probably originates from the Gaelic Maolmona, where the suffix –mona is thought to have derived from moin meaning “peat bog.”

.  John Moss was one of the early settlers of the New Haven colony, arriving there on the Hector in 1637. His origins are uncertain.  Some sources have him coming from Lancashire, others from Berkshire.  He died in Wallingford, Connecticut in 1707 apparently at the great age of 103.

The line from his grandson John claims Clint Eastwood as a descendant, from another grandson Benjamin Charles William Post and Dina Merriill as descendants.  Sometime in the 1800’s the surname spelling changed from Moss to Morse, although some lines remained Moss.

Virginia and the South
.  Edward Moss from Lancashire appears to have been the progenitor of an early Moss family in York county, Virginia dating back to the 1640’s and possibly earlier.  John Moss of this line fought in the Revolutionary War and was a farmer in Fairfax county, as were his sons William and Thomas.

Another Moss line was that beginning with John Moss who was born in Goochland county, Virginia in 1707.  After the Revolutionary War some stayed in Virginia, others moved to the Carolinas, while the line from Nathaniel Moss headed further south and eventually made its home around 1812 in Louisiana.

Georgia has a relatively large Moss population today.  The earliest arrival might well have been Joseph Moss from Yorkshire who was in Clarke county by 1803 and married Sophia Easley there ten years later.

Then there was a Virginia line that passed through Kentucky and settled in Paris, Missouri.  Preston B. Moss headed west from there to Billings, Montana in 1892 where he built himself an extravagant red-stoned mansion.  It served as the family home until 1984.  It has the reputation of being haunted.

  John Moss from London immigrated to Philadelphia in the 1790’s and was one of its early merchants.  His grandson Lucien, born in 1831, is remembered for his philanthropy and for the scrapbooks he left behind describing Jewish life in America.

.  An exodus of fishermen from Dorset to Newfoundland in the 1780’s included two Moss brothers, William and John, from Corfe Castle.  They settled initially in Keels and Open Hall near Bonavista Bay before spreading across Newfoundland.  Their story was covered in Malcolm Moss’s 2014 book The Mosses of Bonavista Bay and Beyond

St. Helena.  The remote Atlantic island of St. Helena was an unlikely setting for a Jewish Moss family from London. George Moss had come to work for the Jewish entrepreneur Saul Solomon who had arrived on the island by accident in 1790.  Moss lived for more than forty years at Longwood House which had been Napoleon’s first home of exile there.  Many of his descendants emigrated to New Zealand in the 1850’s and 1860’s.  Frederick Moss prospered as a businessman in Dunedin.

Australia and New Zealand
.  Down Under attracted other Jewish Moss settlers as well.  Joseph Moss had left London via Australia for New Zealand in the early 1860’s where he was a music teacher and choirmaster in Dunedin. His son Matthew returned to Australia, in this case to Western Australia, and became a cabinet minister there in the early 1900’s.

A much later arrival was the Auschwitz survivor Sam Moss who came to Australia in 1948 and launched the successful Katies fashion stores in the 1950’s.  He died in 2016 at the ripe old age of ninety.

Of course there were other Moss settlers in Australia who were not Jewish.  Two families who came to Melbourne in the mid-19th century were:
  • Thomas Moss and his wife Mary who left Manchester on an assisted bounty program in 1841.  Their voyage on the Frankfield to Australia was a lengthy one as it went via Rio de Janeiro.
  • and a Moss family from Surrey who departed for Australia in stages in the 1850’s.  The first to leave were the Rev. William Moss, a Congregational minister, and his sister Anne Moss who met her future husband on the journey.
Select Moss Miscellany

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

Select Moss Names

Moses Moss started what became the Moss Bros clothing chain with his first two shops in London's Covent Garden in 1851.
Ted Moss
 was a British impresario who founded the Moss Empires theater combine in 1900.  Moss Empires grew to be the largest variety theatre group in Britain and possibly at one time in the world.
Stirling Moss
was a British racing driver who was either second or third in the F1 championship each year between 1955 and 1961.
Kate Moss
is an English supermodel first discovered at the young age of fourteen in Croydon in 1988

Select Mosses Today
  • 34,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 26,000 in America (most numerous in Georgia) 
  • 15,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Select Surnames

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 500 surnames.

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