Select Watts Surname Genealogy

Wat as a given name in England dates back to the 8th century and an early Saxon king of Sussex (who was recorded in charters at the time as Wattus rex).  A later Wat was Wat Tyler, leader of the Peasants' Revolt in 1381.  Wat de Carnegy appeared in Scotland in 1446.  Wat by this time was short for Walter, a popular name in medieval times derived from the Germanic Wattier or Wautier brought to England by the Normans.

The surnames Watt and the patronymic Watts later emerged, as did other forms of the name such as Walters, Watson, Watkins, and Watkinson.  Some of the Watts in America were originally Watz who had come from the German state of Hesse.

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Select Watts Ancestry

England.  Watts was a surname of southern England, but was widely spread there.  It was found on the east coast and the west coast, with the largest numbers in London.  

Richard Watts, born near Rochester in Kent, was a successful London merchant during Elizabethan times and a benefactor to the city.  Isaac Watts the famous hymn writer, born into a Nonconformist household in Southampton, lived in Stoke Newington on the outskirts of London for most of his life - from 1690 and 1748.  Watts from Odiham in Hampshire date from the 1700’s and possibly earlier.

Watts, initially de Wath and Wathes, were to be found at Eston in Worcestershire from the 14th century.  One later line of this family was the Watts of Hawkesdale Hall in Cumbria.

There were other Watts in the north.  A Watts family, dating back in Manchester to the 1730's, were small farmers in the area who also engaged in handloom weaving.  James Watts founded with his elder brother Samuel what was to become the largest wholesale drapery business in Manchester.

"James Watts was the classic type of Manchester entrepreneur: son of a self-made man, a free trader and a dissenter.  He was concerned not only with business success, but also to make a social mark."

He was mayor of Manchester in 1855 and bought Abney Hall in Cheadle where many distinguished visitors later stayed.

Scotland.  As Watt and Wattie, the surname was to be found in Aberdeenshire and Banffshire in NE Scotland.. There was a fishing village in Banffshire where, amazingly, 225 out of the 300 inhabitants once had the name of Watt. 

Watson rather than Watt has been more common in Lowland Scotland.  But James Watt, renowned for his development of the steam engine, was born in Greenock on the Clyde.  One son Gregory Watt, a promising geologist, died at a young age in 1804.  Another
son James Watt - who carried on his father's work - died unmarried, the last of the direct descendants, in 1848.  A line did run to Robert Watson-Watt, born in 1892, who was one of the pioneers in the development of radar.  Another line, the Gibson-Watts, was to be found in Wales.

The Watts of Rose Hill near Edinburgh were staunch supporters of King James VI of Scotland in 1596.  Robert Watt, subsequently Watts, emigrated to America around the year 1700.  The Rose Hill section of Manhattan, which his family later acquired, was named after the Scottish home.

America.  Edward Watts from Somerset was an early arrival in America, coming to Virginia first in 1640 and marrying in Stafford county and then travelling between England and Virginia over the rest of his life.  Later Watts of this line were to be found in South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama.  Thomas Watts became Governor of Alabama at the time of the Civil War.

Frederick Watts came to America from Wales in 1762 and settled in Pennsylvania.  He was a Brigadier General during the Revolutionary War.  He and his wife Jane raised six daughters and their youngest, David, a son.  His son Frederick Watts, a prominent agricultural reformer, was the founder of Penn State University.

Early Scots Watts in America included Robert Watts, whose family settled in Manhattan, and John Watts, an Indian trader and interpreter out of Virginia who worked primarily with the Cherokees.  His mixed race son John Watts, born in 1753, was a leading chief of the warlike Chickamanga faction of Cherokees that waged war on the American frontier.  Descendants were later to be found in Georgia and Texas.

A German Watz family was in the Carolinas by 1820.  They then spread throughout the South, most notably settling in Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.  Several Watz have at least partial Cherokee blood and a number served in the Civil War.  Today many of the descendants bear the Watts name.  Most Watz who arrived later in the 19th century settled in New York and the Upper Midwest.

Canada.  Two Watts brothers, William and Matthew, made the long sea voyage from Ireland to Canada in 1850.  They were boat-builders and set up shop on Georgian Bay near Toronto to supply fishing boats for the local fleet.  Twenty years later William Jr. moved to Vancouver to build boats for the west coast market.  The business passed from William to son Fred, but there the tradition stopped.   It struggled through the late 1930’s and early 1940’s until Fred Watts lost his battle with cancer in 1947.

Australia and New Zealand.  John Cliffe Watts was an Irishman who joined the British army and came to Australia in 1813.  He became Governor Macquarie’s aide-de-camp and was an architect for many of the new buildings in Sydney.  He later settled in Adelaide where he took up the position of Postmaster General.

From Scotland came:  
  • John Brown Watt, who arrived in Sydney from Edinburgh in 1840 and prospered in business there.  One son Ernest followed in his father’s business footsteps, another son Oswald (known as Toby) was an aviation pioneer whose life was cut short by drowning in 1921.   
  • and James Michie Watt, a farmer from Aberdeen who came to Melbourne around the year 1843.  His son William rose to become Premier of Victoria in 1912.  
William and Sophia Watts came to New Zealand on the Oriental from Kent as early as 1841.  However, they were not happy there and, after a few years, settled in Jamberoo, NSW.  However, one son Edward returned to New Zealand and was one of the Kaikora pioneers in Hawkes Bay.  His farm remained in family hands until 1960.

Select Watts Miscellany

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

Select Watts Names

Isaac Watts was an 18th century English hymn-writer credited with being the father of English hymnody.
James Watt
was the Scottish inventor and mechanical engineer whose improvements to steam engines were fundamental to the changes wrought during the Industrial Revolution.  He developed the concept of horsepower and the watt unit of power was named after him.
James Watts
was a prominent cotton trader and wholesale distributor in Manchester in the mid-19th century.
Alan Watts
was a British-born writer and speaker in America, best known as an interpreter and popularizer of Eastern philosophy.
Naomi Watts is a British-born Hollywood actress.

Select Watts Today
  • 46,000 in the UK (most numerous in Gloucestershire)
  • 31,000 in America (most numerous in Texas) 
  • 22,000 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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