Select Cannon Surname Genealogy

The Cannon surname has Irish, Manx and English origins: 
  • the Irish Cannon was an anglicized form of the Gaelic O’Canain, a personal name derived from cana meaning “wolf cub” 
  • the Manx (Isle of Man) Cannon derived from the Gaelic Mac Canannain, son of Canannain, a personal name of uncertain origin   
  • while the English Cannon came from the word canun which described someone or was a nickname for someone who worked in a clergy house.  
In none of these cases did the surname have anything to do with the cannon firearm.

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Select Cannon Ancestry

IrelandUi Canannain was the ancestral name of the Cannons and TirConnel - all of Donegal and part of Derry – which was known as the "Land of the Cannons."

Their castle was located at Conlow on Letterkenny Hill in Donegal.  However, the O’Cannon 350-year dynasty in TirConnel ended around the year 1250, defeated by the O’Donnells, and their ruling class more or less died out.

Still, Cannon remained very much a Donegal name.  By the time of Griffith’s Valuation in the mid-19th century, the Cannon name had spread to neighboring counties on the west coast such as Galway and Mayo.   Canning was the spelling that emerged in the Ulster counties of Derry and Tyrone.

There was Cannon emigration to America in the 1700's.  By the early 1800’s there were some 200 families bearing the Cannon name in Donegal.  These were mainly small tenant farmers barely existing on the meagre potato patches that were allotted to them.  The potato famine brought great misery and more emigration.

Isle of Man. 
Cannon was first recorded on the Isle of Man as MacCannon in 1497, but the “Mac” soon disappeared.

John Cannon was born around the year 1564 in Kirk Michael.  His line extended to Hugh Cannon, a fisherman in Peel who did a little smuggling on the side.  His son George, born there in 1766, was a slave-trading sea captain operating primarily in the Caribbean.  He was killed in 1811 when his crew mutinied.  George’s son George Cannon caught religion and joined the Mormon church, emigrating to America in 1842.

  The English 1881 census showed Cannons in the Isle of Man and in Lancashire (in part the result of Irish migration).  But the largest concentration of the name had been in and around London.

The spelling was initially Canon.  The name had appeared at an early time in Hertfordshire, in Clothall where there is a Cannon Lane.  Cannon’s brewery was started in Ware in 1622.  And there were many Cannons living in the market town of Hitchin in the 1881 census.  Godfrey Cannon, born in Clothall, had moved there in the late 1740’s and his descendants were still there in the early 1900’s.

Robert Cannon, born in London in 1663, became Dean of Lincoln and is commemorated in Westminster Abbey.  One of his sons Charles was a clergyman, another son Thomas achieved some notoriety by producing a pamphlet which may have been
the earliest published defence of homosexuality in England.

Commodus Cannon was a master tallow chandler in London in the early 1800’s.  He grew sufficiently wealthy from his trade that he was able to retire a country gentleman in Muckford, Shropshire.

.  Early Cannons were from England:
  • one was John Cannon, a cooper from London, who came via Barbados to Henrico county, Virginia sometime in the 1660’s.  His descendants moved south, first to North Carolina, then to South Carolina, and later to Georgia.
  • another was Thomas Cannon who arrived in Baltimore, Maryland also in the 1660’s.   Later Cannons spread, James migrating to Mecklenburg county in North Carolina.   In 1887 his descendant James W. Cannon founded Cannon Mills which was to become the largest towel manufacturer in the world.  After his death in 1921, his son Charles ran the company until the 1960’s. 
  • and there was James Cannon, referred to by genealogists as Nanticoke James, who arrived in Dorchester county, Maryland in 1683.  This later became Sussex county, Delaware.  William Cannon, born there in 1809, was a wealthy merchant who was the Governor of Delaware at the time of the Civil War.  Another line of descent led to Newton Cannon, born in North Carolina, who was the Governor of Tennessee in the 1830’s.
Irish.  The Irish arrivals began in the 1700’s.  .Colonel John Canon, born in 1741, was an early settler of Irish extraction in the Chartiers Valley area of Virginia.  He fought in the Revolutionary War and was later a miller, judge, and the founder of three towns, one of which - Cannonsburg in Pennsylvania - bore his name.  

It was said, because of religious persecution, that three Cannon brothers left Ulster around the year 1750 for America, two of whom ended up in North Carolina.  William Cannon, born there, moved to Georgia in 1802.  His son Almon was a rugged frontier farmer who had settled in Tennessee in 1833. 

Matthew Cannon came with his family from Antrim to Delaware in 1753.  He was for ten years a sea captain on the Dolphin plying from Philadelphia.  He later moved to upstate New York.  Meanwhile Thomas C. Cannon arrived in Virginia from Ireland around 1780 and settled in Jefferson county, Kentucky where he died in 1797. 

Other Cannons emigrated at the time of the potato famine in Ireland or after.  Dennis Cannon came to New York from Donegal in 1864, later settling in Ohio; while Patrick Cannon arrived with his family three years later and moved to Brooklyn.  Thomas Cannon and his family from Donegal came in the 1870’s to farm in Greeley county, Nebraska through the assistance of the Irish Colonization Association.

.  George Q. Cannon was a Mormon pioneer who arrived in Salt Lake Valley in 1849.  He became one of their leaders and, with his brothers Angus and David, began a Cannon family in Utah which was influential in the state and beyond over three generations.

.  Edward Cannon, a master mason, had lef - according to family tradition - his home in Wexford for Newfoundland in 1774.  He moved onto Quebec in 1795.  There he began to undertake large construction projects, assisted by his sons Ambrose, Laurence and John.  It was John who carried on the family business after Edward died in 1814.

Subsequently the Cannons rose to become one of Canada’s most prominent families.  Lawrence John Cannon, born in 1852, had a long career as a judge and magistrate.  His two sons also distinguished themselves, Lucien serving as Solicitor General for Canada from 1925 to 1930 and Lawrence being appointed to the Canadian Supreme Court in 1930.  A later Lawrence Cannon served in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Cabinet from 2006 to 2011

Select Cannon Miscellany

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

Select Cannon Names

Rory O’Cannon was the last O’Cannon chieftain who ruled TyrConnel in Donegal.  He died in 1250.
Edward Cannon
who left Ireland for Canada in 1774 was the progenitor of
one of Quebec’s foremost families.
George Q. Cannon
was the patriarch of the prominent Mormon family of Cannons in Utah. 
James W. Cannon
 founded in 1887 in North Carolina his company Cannon Mills, which was soon to become the largest towel manufacturer in the world.

Select Cannons Today
  • 13,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 26,000 in America (most numerous in Texas) 
  • 3,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)

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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