Cromwell


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The surname Cromwell in England originates from the village of that name in Nottinghamshire some five miles north of Newark.  The root is the Old English crumb, meaning “bent” or “crooked,” and waella, a “spring” or “stream” – thus a winding stream.  There was indeed a Ralph de Cromwella, recorded in 1177, who was lord of the manor there. 

Although the Cromwell surname is well known through historical personages, the Cromwell numbers today are relatively few
in England.  There are more in America.

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England. The Cromwells were lords of the manor of Cromwell in Nottinghamshire from the 12th century and possibly earlier.  Later Cromwells made their home at Tattershall castle in Lincolnshire.  Lord Ralph Cromwell served as Treasurer of England from 1433 to 1443.  But the male line died out on his death and the Cromwell name did not survive in Nottinghamshire.  Indeed there were no Cromwells recorded in Nottinghamshire in the 1891 census.

There followed, unconnected, two famous Cromwells.

Thomas CromwellThomas Cromwell's birth occurred around the year 1485 was on Putney Hill in the outskiirts of London.  His father was a blacksmith and sometime brewery owner.  From these somewhat obscure origins came a man who held the highest office in the land during the reign of Henry VIII.   The TV adaptation of the book Wolf Hall portrayed him as a brilliant lawyer and a masterful political operator.   But his time at the top ended abruptly when he was tried and executed for treason in 1540.

Despite Cromwell's downfall, his line did continue through his son Gregory who was created Baron Cromwell.  The later line, ennobled as the Earl of Ardglass, made their home in Staffordshire.  The male line here died out in 1687.

Oliver Cromwell.  Oliver Cromwell was distantly and indrectly related to Thomas Cromwell.  Thomas's older sister Katharine and her husband Morgan Williams, a Welsh lawyer, had a son named Richard who was brought to court by Thomas.  Richard was soon a King's favorite and came into possession of Hinchinbrooke nunnery in Huntingdonshire at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries.  He changed his last name from Williams to Cromwell at this time. 

The line from Richard Cromwell led to:
  • his son Sir Henry Cromwell, one of the two wealthiest landowners in Huntingdonshire
  • his grandson Robert Cromwell, a man of more modest means
  • and his great grandson Oliver Cromwell, the man who led the Parliamentary side during the Civil War and ruled England as Lord Protector from 1653 until his death in 1658. 
Oliver's son Richard followed him as Lord Protector, but lasted only two years in the position.  The male descent from Oliver was via his fourth son Henry who retired to Spinney Abbey in Cambridgeshire after the Restoration.  Later Cromwells made their home in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire.  The last male survivor of the Lord Protector was apparently Oliver Cromwell, a London solicitor, who died in 1821.

James Waylen's 1897 book The House of Cromwell covered this family history.

America.  The Cromwells in New York and Maryland each claimed a descent from the family of the Lord Protector.  

New York.  John Cromwell the emigrant came to Westchester county in 1686 in an area that later was known as Cromwell’s Neck.  His grandson John was an active patriot during of the Revolutionary War.  

David Cromwell of this family, a Quaker, married Rebecca Bowman in the 1820's and produced two sons who both perished at the time of the Civil War:
  • Henry B. Cromwell had started the Cromwell Steamship Company with ten ships in 1854 at the tender age of 26. Ten years later in 1864, at the age of 36, he was dead.  His steamship company was thriving and continued to thrive after his death as one of the main steamship companies of the East Coast. 
  • his younger brother James meanwhile, a major in the Union army, was shot through the heart as he was leading his men on a charge at the Battle of Gettysburg  in 1863.  A gold locket bearing the picture of his wife Anna was found around his neck.  She had just given birth to a son that James would never meet.
Another line via Charles Cromwell survived the Civil War and led in the 1930’s to Oliver Cromwell, a noted American mountain climber, and his brother James Cromwell who married the tobacco heiress Doris Duke.  Their sister Louise was the first wife of General Douglas MacArthur.

John Nelson Cromwell from Brooklyn died at the Battle of Vicksburg in 1863.   His son William Nelson Cromwell was a lawyer who was active in the promotion of the Panama Canal project for which he was richly rewarded.   He is remembered by the Cromwell Book Prize awarded annually in the field of American legal history.

Maryland.  William and John Cromwell came on the Benona Eaton to Maryland in 1671 and their descendants were local gentry in Anne Arundel county.  Cromwell Valley Park north of Baltimore was named after the family.  Later Cromwells would spread into Kentucky and Indiana (their lines covered in Jean Cromwell Price's 1984 book The Cromwells of Maryland, Kentucky, and Indiana).  Still, Maryland has the largest number of Cromwells in America today. 

Philemon and Rebecca Cromwell moved from Maryland to Twin townshiip in Darke county, Ohio in 1838.  They purchased 156 acres in a wild state near Ithaca where they built their home and raised nine children.   Henry and William Cromwell fought in the Civil War.  Henry died in 1864 at the Battle of Wilderness in Virginia.  His remains were never recovered from the battlefield.  William survived.


Canada.  A Loyalist Cromwell family came from America to Weymouth, Nova Scotia in 1783.  Curiously, this family was African American and descended from freed slaves.  The Cromwells are still there and held a family reunion in 1988.

Select Cromwell Miscellany

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


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Thomas Cromwell
was chief minister to King Henry VIII from 1532 to 1540.  During that time he was one of the strongest and most powerful advocates of the English Reformation.
Oliver Cromwell led the Parliamentary side during the English Civil War and ruled England as Lord Protector from 1653 to 1658. 
Henry B. Cromwell founded the Cromwell Steamship Company in New York in 1854.

Select Cromwells Today
  • 1,500 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 3,000 in America (most numerous in Maryland) 
  • 1,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)



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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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