Select Nichols Surname Genealogy

Nichols and Nicholls are the patronymic forms of the medieval given name Nicholas - from the Greek Nikolaos (meaning “to conquer people”), a name popular among Christians because of a fourth century saint that bore that name. 

Early spellings of the surname were variable.  The Nichols spelling became more common in eastern England, Nicholls in western England.  Nicholls is more common in England, Nichols in America. 

Select Nichols/Nicholls Resources on The Internet

Select Nichols/Nicholls Ancestry

England.  Nicoll was recorded in the village of Islip in Northamptonshire in 1467, the year that the names John and Ann Nicoll were inscribed in the chancel of the local church.  Matthias Nicoll left the village for America and was the first English Mayor of New York in 1671.  Another Northamptonshire family has been traced back to William Nicholls who acquired Ecton manor in 1540.  His family used the same coat of arms as those of the Nicholls of Cornwall and the Nicholls of Llandwit Major in Glamorgan.

Nicholls has been a relatively common name in Cornwall.  The county ranked second after London in terms of Nicholls frequency in the 1881 census:
  • the oldest family was probably the Nicholls of Penvose near St. Tudy who had held a manor there until 1678 (this family may trace back to a John Nicholl of Bodmin who was murdered in the town on Easter Day 1398).  
  • the Nicholls of Trereife near Penzance date from about 1600.  
  • a Nicholls family in Redruth has been traced back to the birth of William Nicholls in 1671. 
  • another William Nicholls was in the 1690’s the first in a long line of stonemasons in St.Keverne.  Sir George Nicholls of St. Keverne was in the 1830’s the first British Poor Law Commissioner. 
Nicholls in general is a west country surname.  The surname is also common in Devon, Gloucestershire, Warwickshire, and Staffordshire. 

Nichols, by contrast, has appeared primarily on the east coast of England, in a line running south from Yorkshire to London with a particular concentration in Norfolk.  The Nichols, however, are outnumbered by about three to one by the Nicholls.

Wales.  Some say a Nichols line began in Wales with Nicol de Albini in the 11th century.  A Norman Bishop Nicol of Llandaff followed.  From this line, it is thought, came the Nicholls of Landwit Major in Glamorgan, beginning with Nichol ap Thomas in 1465.  This family lived in the Great House, a building later abandoned and then restored in the 1950’s.

America.  Matthias Nicoll, the mayor of New York in 1671, was the patriarch of the Nicoll family which settled and owned much of Long Island.  Numerous place names there bear his name.  Richard Nicolls of Bedfordshire (originally from a Nicholls family in London) was New York’s first Governor, although he later returned to England. 

However, the main spelling in America has been Nichols.  Francis Nichols from Sedgeberrow in Worcestershire was an early arrival in New England, recorded in Stratford, Connecticut in 1639.
  Thomas Nichols was the forebear of the Nichols of Rhode Island.  They included two deputy colonial governors of the state, Jonathan father and son. 

Amos Nichols from London came to Pennsylvania in 1681, having received a land grant from William Penn.  His son, also named Amos, was a trader along the Chesapeake Bay, but of dubious reputation. 

"He was described on several occasions as owing debts, being a vagrant, and possibly inciting trouble among the frontier Indians.  He stood trial for both robbery and forgery, but managed to get acquitted each time.

Amos Nichols died in Chester county, Pennsylvania in 1725.  His son John was one of the first settlers of western Maryland.

Today Texas has the largest number of Nichols.  One early line of Nichols there began in Virginia with Solomon Nichols at the time of the Revolutionary War.  George Washington Nichols and his family migrated via Tennessee via Arkansas to Texas in 1836 and made their home in Gonzalez county.  His brother Rowland Nichols came later to Kerr county in 1856, but tragically met his death there in 1859 as a result of an Indian attack.

Thomas Nicholls was the seventh son of a Cornishman, Edward Church Nicholls, who had come to America at the conclusion of the Revolutionary War and settled in Louisiana.  His seventh son Francis was a Brigadier General in the Confederate army and served for two terms as the Governor of Louisiana.

Nicholls in America may have other origins.  An early example was a Hessian soldier Christoph Nicolaus who defected during the Revolutionary War and stayed in Charleston, South Carolina as Christopher Nichols.  More recent examples have been Jewish, like the film director Mike Nichols and the comedian Dan Nichols.

Canada.  Some of the first Nichols in Canada were Loyalists who crossed over the border after the Revolutionary War was lost.   Captain John R. Nichols arrived from Long Island and settled with his wife Katherine in Digby, Nova Scotia.  Another John Nichols, this time originally from Rhode Island, was in Quebec by 1790.  William Nichols of New Haven, Connecticut never made it, as he died in 1783.   But his wife and five children reached Wilmot, Nova Scotia where they claimed compensation from the British Government. 

From Devon in England in 1836 came George and Sarah Nicholls, followed by George’s brother John.  They settled in Binbrook, Ontario.

Australia.  John Nichols, arrested for stealing in London, was one of the First Fleeters transported in 1788 on the Scarborough to Australia.  He obtained his release in 1791 and took up a grant of land.  He and his wife Ann raised eleven children.  Kaye Purnell’s 1988 book The Story of John Nichols narrated his story and those of his descendants through five generations.

Two Nicholls brothers, Henry and Charles, left London for Melbourne in 1853 and headed for the Victorian goldfields.  Their hopes of organizing miners into a cooperative ended in failure.  Henry pursued a life as a journalist and ended up as the editor of the Hobart Mercury.  One of his sons, Herbert, became Chief Justice of Tasmania.  Lake Nicholls in the Western Highlands was named after him.

Select Nichols/Nicholls Miscellany

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

Select Nichols/Nicholls Names

George Nichols from Oxford was an English Catholic martyr during the reign of Queen Elizabeth.
J. C. Nichols was a prominent real estate developer in Kansas City in the first half of the 20th century.  His projects included America’s first suburban shopping center.
Herbie Nichols was the American jazz pianist and composer who wrote Lady Sings the Blues.
Mike Nichols, born Mikhail Peschkowsky, is a well-known American film director.  He arrived with his parents in America as Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany.

Select Nichols/Nicholls Today
  • 48,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 54,000 in America (most numerous in Texas) 
  • 31,000 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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