Select Steele Surname Genealogy

The Steel and Steele surnames came from Scotland and the north of England.  There were two possible origins for these names: 
  • that they may have started out as nicknames - describing someone who was inflexible and firm, i.e. as hard as steel.   
  • and/or that they may have derived from the place-name of Steel, found along the Anglo-Scottish border in Ayrshire, Berwickshire and Dumfriesshire and also in Northumberland and Westmorland.

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Select Steele Ancestry

England.   The main early sightings appear to have been in Cheshire.

.  The Steeles at Sandbach dated back to Richard Steele who had acquired Giddy Hall in the early 1600’s.  The main line followed his son William to Ireland where he was appointed Lord Chancellor in 1656.  A branch via John Steele returned to England in the early 1700’s and became Steel in Suffolk.  Other Steeles remained at Sandbach.

“The plates and cups in the silver communion service used at the old Sandbach parish church bear the following inscription: ‘The gift of Lawrence Steele, second son of Richard Steele of Sandbach, for the use of the said parish of Sandbach forever. 1656.’”

Another Steele line in Cheshire was to be found at Barthomley where Richard Steele was born around the year 1550.  Three Steele descendants were massacred at the local church on Christmas Eve 1643 by Royalists.  Richard Steele, not one of these, moved to London and became a nonconformist minister.  Later Steeles in Barthomley held Buddylee farm.  Another Steele farming family there, indebted, emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1795.

.  Steeles in the village of Fairsted near Basildon in Essex appeared around the year 1500.  John Steele emigrated from there to America in 1631.

Steeles in Broughton in Hampshire went back to William Steele, a local carpenter in the early 1600’s.  Four generations later the Steeles were well-to-do timber merchants, with William Steele – following his brother Henry - also active as pastor of his local Baptist church.  His daughter Anne Steele, born in 1717, became a prolific hymn writer.

Samuel Steele, born in 1708, was the first of his line in Coleford, Gloucestershire.  He had two sons – Elmes a surgeon and Samuel an army officer in Canada.  Six of Elmes’s sons followed in these footsteps.  

“One son was believed to have been below-board as an assistant surgeon on the Victory at Trafalgar, another was drowned during a naval exercise in the Baltic.  Three served as soldiers throughout the Peninsular War, one of whom died from his wounds at Waterloo and another was said to have been the tallest man in the British army during the subsequent occupation in Paris.” 

Another naval officer Elmes Steele retired early and emigrated to Canada in 1832. 

In general, it should be said however, the Steele surname was to be found mainly in the northwest of England, in a line stretching north from Staffordshire through Cheshire and Lancashire into Cumberland. 

.  Early Steels in Scotland were spelt Steill, possibly from the parish in Berwickshire of that name.

The Steels of Lesmahagow in Lanarkshire had joined the army of Covenanters at war with the Stuart kings.  The aged father Robert Steel was slain in 1679, whilst his son Captain John Steel at that time narrowly escaped death.  After years on the run David Steel was murdered outside his front door by Royalist dragoons in 1686.

Descendants of these Steels have been:
  • the Steels who fled to Ireland and subsequently emigrated to Pennsylvania.
  • and David Steel, the UK Liberal party leader from 1976 to 1988.
Joseph Steel, a shipowner from Kirkwood in Lanarkshire who had made his home in Liverpool in the mid-19th century, was the forebear of an English cricketing family.  There were seven Steel sons, of whom four played first-class cricket for Lancashire and one Allan or AG many times for England.

Ireland.  There were English Steeles and Scottish Steels in Ireland.

The English Steeles were based in Dublin following William Steele’s appointment as Lord Chancellor of Ireland in 1656.  His grandson Sir Richard Steele, born there, made his name as a politician and playwright.  He co-founded in 1709 with his friend Joseph Addison the magazine The Tatler (which continues to this day).  Richard’s grandson, also named Richard, emigrated to Pennsylvania in the late 1700’s.

According to family tradition three Steel brothers, loyal to the Covenanter cause, had been forced to flee Scotland.  It was said that one descendant of the rebel John Steel ended up in Donegal.  Many of these Steels later also emigrated to Pennsylvania.

Other Scottish Steels were to be found at Castleblaney in Monaghan.  The lads here formed the “Steelboy insurrection” against English rule in the early 1770’s.  For nearly three years the Steelboys slaughtered cattle and destroyed the property of new tenants.  James Steel then departed for Pennsylvania in 1774.

John and George Steele from Essex were early arrivals in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1631.  They moved inland four years later to be among the first settlers of Hartford, Connecticut.  Daniel Steele Durrie’s 1862 book was entitled Steele Family: A Genealogical History of John and George Steele. 

Steele descendants migrated to New York (and the numbers here included the landscape architect Fletcher Steele) and to Ohio and California.

“General Frederick Steele was a West Point graduate and a hero of the Mexican and Civil Wars.  In 1853 he returned to Ohio and told his brothers of the opportunities in California, convincing them to make the journey and settle there with their families.”

This they did in the next five years, leasing land at Rancho Punta Año Nuevo and setting up five dairy farms.  Their story was told in C.B. and W.H. Steele’s 1971 book The Steeles of Punta Año Nuevo.

Meanwhile another Steele line, in this case via New York, produced Elijah Steele who had arrived in California in 1850 and was an Indian agent in northern California.

.  The Steele arrivals into Pennsylvania were more numerous and included English (or Anglo-Irish) and Scottish (or Scots Irish) Steeles. 

The Anglos included:
  • Richard Steele, the grandson of Sir Richard Steele, who was granted lands in the vicinity of Mercersburg in the 1730’s.  Three of his sons, including Captain Andrew Steele who fought in the Revolutionary War, later settled in Fayette county, Kentucky. 
  • and George Steele from Cheshire who came to Chester county in 1795.  His line was covered in Frederick Steele’s 1896 book The Descendants of George Steele of Barthomley. 
whilst amongst the more numerous Scots Irish in Pennsylvania were:
  • William Steele who arrived in 1750 and made his home in Steelville, Chester county.  His grandson Franklin headed west in 1838 and was an early settler in Minneapolis.
  • the Rev. John Steele who came to Carlisle in Cumberland county in 1759 and served as the pastor of the Presbyterian church there for twenty years.  He was known as the fighting parson in the early years of the Revolutionary War.  The name of Ephraim Steele first appeared in Carlisle in 1769.  He was an influential merchant and landowner there for forty-five years.
  • James Steel from Monaghan who was in Cumberland county by 1774, but soon headed west to Westmoreland county where he died in 1823.
  • the various Steel Covenanter descendants in Donegal who came to Pennsylvania in stages between 1790 and 1824.  The Rev. David Steele was a Covenanter minister in Huntingdon and later served as a pastor in Adams county, Ohio. 
  • a later arrival in 1846 was a Steele widow and her four sons from Glasgow in Scotland.  Her eldest son William started work in Philadelphia as a carpenter.  By 1886 the four sons were partners in William Steele and Son, Carpenters and Builders.  No longer house builders, they had quickly moved into large-scale construction.  The project for which they became famous was the Shibe Park baseball stadium, completed in 1909.
Meanwhile Pennsylvania also had some German-origin Steeles who had come as Stahls. One such was Johann Jakob Stahl who arrived in Philadelphia from Rheinland-Pfalz in 1738.  Their son Johann Georg Stahl became George Steele.

.  John Steele of Rowan county, North Carolina was a nephew of the Ephraim Steele in Pennsylvania.  He served as a Federalist legislator after the Revolutionary War and was appointed comptroller of the US Treasury by George Washington in 1796.

Thomas Steele, a native of Dublin, had served on the schooner General Putnam in defence of New York during the Revolutionary War.  He settled with his family in Kentucky in 1798.  His grandson Alfonso fought with Sam Houston at the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836 during the Texas Revolution.  On his death in 1911 he was the last remaining survivor of that battle.

.  James and Thomas Steele, brothers from Antrim, arrived in Simcoe county sometime in the 1820’s.   Both settled in West Gwillimbury township and both married McAfee girls.

Sam Steele,
the son of retired British naval officer Elmes Steele, was born in Medonte township, Simcoe county in 1849.   He became an officer of the North-West Mounted Police, most famously as the head of the Yukon detachment during the Klondike Gold Rush in 1898.

South of Simcoe county lay the city of Toronto where Thomas and Milcah Steele arrived from Yorkshire in 1834.  Thomas and later his son John were proprietors of the Green Bush Inn in its Newtonbrook suburb.  Steele’s Corners and Steele’s Avenue in the area were named after them.

.  The early Steele accounts in Australia related to convicts.

Betty Steele was a deaf young woman who was convicted of burglary in London and transported to Australia on the infamous Lady Juliana in 1789.  She ended up in Norfolk Island where she pioneered a farm with her ex-convict husband James Mackey.  Freed in 1794 she, however, died just one year later.  She might have been forgotten had not her gravestone been discovered in 1971 almost two hundred years later.

George Steel from Suffolk came out to Tasmania as a fee settler in 1828.  Six years later he was convicted of cattle stealing and sent also to Norfolk Island.  Freed in 1843 he lived out the rest of his life in Liverpool, NSW

Select Steele Miscellany

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

Select Steele Names

Sir Richard Steele was an 18th century Irish writer, playwright, and politician, remembered as the co-founder of The Tatler.
Sam Steele was a famous Canadian Mountie in the 1890's at the time of the Klondike gold rush.
Freddie Steele, born Frederick Burgett, was an American middleweight boxing champion of the world in the 1930’s who later became a Hollywood actor.  
Tommy Steele,
born Thomas Hicks, was regarded in the 1950’s as Britain's first teen idol and rock and roll star. David Steel from Scotland was the leader of the Liberal Party from 1976 until its merger with the Social Democratic Party in 1988.  
Danielle Steel
is an American writer, known for her best-selling romance novels.

Select Steeles Today
  • 38,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 34,000 in America (most numerous in Texas) 
  • 16,000 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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