Select Eaton Surname Genealogy

Eaton is a topographical surname which described someone who lived by a river or on an island.  The root of the name is the Old English ea meaning “river” or eg meaning “island” or “low-lying land” plus tun meaning “settlement" or “enclosure.”  This became Etone or Eitone by the time of the Domesday Book in 1086.

Eaton as a surname was first found in the western counties of Shropshire, Cheshire, and Derbyshire.  One early spelling was Eyton

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Select Eaton Ancestry

EnglandThe Eyton spelling was found in Shropshire where Robert de Eyton held the manor of Eyton-on-the-Wildmoors in 1154.  These Eytons remained in Shropshire for many generations.  Sir John Eyton fought at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485; and Thomas Eyton was High Sheriff of Shropshire in 1779.

.  The Eaton place-name in Cheshire near the village of Eccleston gave rise to an Eaton family which in the 15th century married into the more famous Grosvenor line.  Eaton Hall became their ancestral home.  Earlier, around 1310, Sir Nicholas de Eaton had married an heiress in Stockport and moved the Eaton family name into Lancashire.

Some accounts have Richard Eaton, the vicar of Great Budworth in Cheshire in the early 1600’s, as descended from the Eytons of Shropshire.  But this is by no means clear.  Richard had three illustrious sons - Samuel, Theophilus and Nathaniel Eaton.  All three were Protestant dissidents who emigrated to America.  Only Theophilus stayed there. 

.  Long Eaton in the Erewash district of Derbyshire was referred to as Aitone in the Domesday Book.  A settlement had grown up close to the lowest bridging point of the Erewash river.

The Eaton name has been mainly to be found in Derby.  An Eaton family was engaged for several generations in the wool-combing and dyeing trade during the course of the 17th and 18th centuries.  They lived at the Bridge-gate. Thomas Eaton served as its mayor in 1771 and William and Richard Eaton, father and son, were keepers of the county jail in the early 1800’s.

.  There were sizeable Eaton numbers in Cheshire and Derbyshire by the time of the 1881 census.  Larger numbers were to be found further north in Lancashire.

Eatons dated from the mid-16th century in Dover, Kent.  Nicholas Eaton was mayor of the town in 1618.  His son John emigrated to America in 1635.

There were two notable Eaton lines in London in the 19th century:
  • the first began with William Eaton, first recorded as a buckle-maker on Addle Street in 1784.  His son William practiced as a silversmith, one of the most prolific silversmiths in the country, from 1813 until his death in 1845.  But he almost fell into deep trouble with the law in a court case at the Guildhall in 1822. 
  • the second, born in 1816, was Henry William Eaton.  He became wealthy as the head of Henry William Eaton & Sons, silk brokers with China.  He was the MP for Coventry and made Baron Cheylesmore.  His son Herbert was a sportsman, Army officer, and Chairman of London County Council.
Ireland.  The main Eaton line here had descent from Theophilus Eaton, the grandson of Richard Eaton from Great Budworth in Cheshire.  He had returned from America after his father’s death and moved to Dublin at the time of Cromwell’s conquests in the 1650’s.  He secured Powers Court at Goresbridge in Kilkenny. 

“The story goes that his grandson John then lost Powers Court on a game of cards to the Loftus family.  But he somehow remained in possession for a period of time while accompanied on all occasions by two thugs with pike and blunderbuss.” 

Timothy Eaton’s family had been in Ulster since 1626.  He was born in 1834 in Ballymena in county Antrim, the son of Scottish Presbyterian tenant farmers.  His father died when he was only two months old, his mother died when he was fourteen.  In 1854, at the age of twenty, he followed several of his siblings and emigrated to Canada.  He was the progenitor of the Eaton dynasty in Toronto.

America.  According to the Eaton Family Association,
there were five main early Eaton lines into New England.

New England
.  The first to arrive was Francis Eaton from Bristol with his family on the Mayflower in 1620.  A
carpenter by trade, he died in 1633 as a result of an epidemic that had struck the colony.  The report on him by Governor William Bradford in 1649 ran as follows:

"His first wife died in the general sickness and he married again and his second wife died.  He married a third time and had by her three children. One of them married and has a child.  The others are living, but one of them is an idiot.  Francis died about sixteen years ago.  His son Samuel, who came over as a sucking child, also married and has a child."

Theophilus Eaton came with his family and two brothers on the Hector in 1637.  Two years later he helped found the colony of New Haven in Connecticut and was to serve as its first governor until his death in 1657.  His epitaph read:

“Eaton so famed, so wise, so just,
The Phoenix of our world, here lies his dust, 
This name forget, New England never must.”

By then his eldest son Theophilus had returned to England and settled in Ireland.

John Eaton from Kent arrived on the Elizabeth and Ann with his family in 1635 and settled in Dedham, Massachusetts six years later.  The line of descent, which numbers many thousands today, was through his son John.  This was covered in John Eaton Alden’s 1900 book Eaton Family of Dedham.  A family reunion by descendants was held at Dedham in 2017.

Jonathan Eaton, who was born in Dedham in 1681, moved to Windham county, Connecticut in 1701.  He was the first permanent settler of Putnam village where he built a mill.  From Windham came:
  • Abel Eaton who moved to Columbia county in upstate New York in the 1770’s.  His son Amos who co-founded the Rensselaer School in 1824 was an inspired educator and botanist who emphasized the scientific approach to study.  Daniel Eaton, like his grandfather Amos, was also a botany professor.
  • and Benjamin Eaton who departed for California in 1850 at the time of the Gold Rush.  He moved south to Los Angeles and was the first settler and founder of the town of Pasadena.  His son Fred became a major force in Los Angeles, serving as city engineer and mayor. A younger Eaton owned a ranch in the Owens Valley and introduced William Mulholland to the area.  This led to the controversial bringing of Owens River water to Los Angeles in 1913.
Another John Eaton, possibly from Warwickshire, was first recorded in Salisbury, Massachusetts in 1639.  His homestead there, later known as Brookside Farm, remained in family hands until the early 1900’s.  Other Eatons migrated to New Hampshire and Maine.  Tristram Eaton of Buxton, Maine died in 1875 at the grand age of ninety-four.

The brothers Jonas and William Eaton were likely cousins of John Eaton of Dedham.  They arrived from Kent on the Hercules in 1637 and made their home in Reading, Massachusetts.  A family home, now known as the Eaton-Prescott House, was built in Reading in the 1750’s.  Lilley Eaton, born in 1802, was a Justice of the Peace for thirty-eight years and a noted local historian.

.  John Eaton was a Baptist from Radnorshire in north Wales who came with his wife Joan and brothers George and Joseph to Philadelphia in 1686.  John and Joan moved to the Welsh tract in New Castle county, Delaware by 1712.  Later Eatons settled in Rowan county, North Carolina.

William Eaton who died in York county, Virginia in 1714 appears to have been the progenitor of the Eatons of North Carolina and Tennessee.  His grandson Major Pinketham Eaton of Halifax county, North Carolina was killed in battle in 1781 during the Revolutionary War.  He left land in Williamson county, Tennessee to his brother John.

John’s son John Henry Eaton moved to Tennessee in the early 1800’s and became part of a network there that supported the political campaigns of Andrew Jackson   He was just twenty-eight years old in 1818 when he entered the US Senate, making him the youngest Senator in US history.  He later was Andrew Jackson’s Secretary of War until he became embroiled in the “Petticoat affair.

"The Petticoat affair, led by the wife of Vice President John Calhoun, socially ostracized John Eaton, the Secretary of War, and his wife Peggy over disapproval of the circumstances surrounding their marriage and what they considered her failure to meet the moral standards of a cabinet wife.”

.  There were notable Eaton lines in Nova Scotia and Toronto.

Nova Scotia
.  David Eaton from Haverhill in Massachusetts was an early arrival in Nova Scotia in 1760, settling in Cornwallis, Kings county after the French had departed five years previously.  His line was covered in the Rev. Arthur Eaton’s 1929 book The Eaton Family of Nova Scotia.

The line through Stephen Eaton, a shipbuilder and farmer in Pugwash, produced Charles and Cyrus Eaton.  Charles was a
clergyman, journalist, U.S. Congressman and a signatory to the original United Nations charter.  Charles’s nephew Cyrus prospered as well in America, emerging in the 1920‘s as one of the most powerful financiers of the American Midwest.   Cyrus funded and helped organize the first Pugwash conferences on World Peace in 1955.

Toronto.  Timothy Eaton was the Irish immigrant who founded Eaton’s department store in Toronto in 1869, one of the most important retail businesses in Canada's history.  He spawned a colossal retail empire that his offspring would expand from coast to coast, reaching a high point in World War Two when they employed more than 70,000 people.

The Eaton family of Toronto
was considered like royalty in Canada.  Four generations of the family were involved in the running of the business.  However, retail decline set in in the 1990’s and the company went bankrupt in 1999. 

Australia and New Zealand.
  William Eaton was convicted of the theft of a cheddar cheese in London and transported to Australia on the Admiral Barrington in 1791.  Both he and his son John prospered as farmers - William in Hawkesbury, NSW and John in Maryborough, Queensland.  And both lived to a good old age.  William Eaton died in 1858 at the age of eighty-nine, John Eaton in 1904 at the age of ninety-three.

Edward Eaton, a carpenter, and his wife Emily came to New Zealand from Kent on the Stag in 1852.  They were early settlers in Masterton near Wellington where the built their home, the Ivy Cottage, in 1855.  They moved to Dunedin around 1870.

Levi Eaton arrived in New Zealand in 1860 on the George Henderson from Pugwash, Nova Scotia.  He had been involved in the building of wooden ships there, but that business was in decline.  Levi became an auctioneer in Auckland.

Select Eaton Miscellany

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

Select Eaton Names

Theophilus Eaton was a Puritan colonial leader in New England, the co-founder and first governor of the New Haven colony in Connecticut in the 1640’s.
Timothy Eaton
, an Irish immigrant, founded Eaton’s department store in Toronto in 1869.  It was to thrive as Canada’s leading department store for over a hundred years.
Henry Eaton became wealthy in London in the mid/late 19th century as the head of Henry William Eaton & Sons, silk brokers with China.
Cyrus Eaton
, born in Canada, was one of the most powerful financiers of the American Midwest from the 1920’s to the 1950’s.

Select Eatons Today
  • 14,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 19,000 in America (most numerous in California) 
  • 11,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

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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