Select Barrett Surname Genealogy

Barrett origins are unclear.  One line of thinking is that the word was derived from the Old French barat and barater meaning “commerce” or “dealings” and described a market trader; or possibly it could have been a nickname for someone quarrelsome.  Alternative suggestions have been the French barrette meaning "cap" or a Norman personal name of similar sound.

The name was brought to Ireland during the Anglo-Norman invasion.  The Gaelic rendering was Baroid in the south (in county Cork) and Baireid in Connacht (Mayo and Galway).  The similarity of these two names may have been coincidental.  The Barretts of Cork were said to have derived their name from the Norman-French Barat or Barratt; while the Barretts of Mayo and Galway picked up the Gaelic name Bairéad which meant “quarrelsome” or “warlike.

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Ireland.  The two Barrett branches in Ireland may nor may not have been related.  Both came with the Anglo-Norman invasion in 1170 and both originated from the Pendyne region of Carmarthenshire in Wales. 

County Cork.  One branch claimed Norman origins, from a knight named Baret who had come to England with William the Conqueror in 1066.  These Barretts, initially called Barratt, settled in county Cork where their name was rendered as Baroid.  They became influential in the part of central Cork which became known as Barrett’s Country and they were large landowners there until 1691. 

Their castle at Castlemore had been damaged by Cromwell’s forces in 1645, but not pulled down, and they managed to retain their lands at that time.  In 1691, however, the then head of their family, Colonel John Barrett, had Castlemore destroyed and had 12,000 acres of his land taken away for having raised a regiment of infantry for King James’s Irish army.

Mayo/Galway.  The second line of Barretts established themselves in the Connacht counties of Mayo and Galway, where their name was Gaelicized as Bareid.
Although the pedigree produced in 1588 claimed a noble lineage, the alternative version was that they had just been hired mercenaries at the time of the invasion. They were consequently known as “the Welshmen of Tirawley,”  having originally settled in the barony of Tirawley in the mountainous part of Mayo/Galway. 

These Barretts came to form a clan in the Gaelic fashion, the head of which was known as Mac Bhaitin Baireid (Mac Watten Barrett), and over time they assimilated fully into Irish culture.

.  Baret was an early spelling of the name in England.  Baret was recorded as owning lands in Yorkshire at the time of Edward the Confessor; while a Baret may have arrived with William the Conqueror in 1066.  Barets and later Barrets and Barretts were later to be found primarily in SW and SE England.

SW England.  Barets were cloth manufacturers in Gloucester in the mid/late 1300’s.  Richard Baret often traded these cloths to Wales.

“In 1394 a certain band of ruffians, planning to murder one Robert Sage on the road through Monmouth and Usk, by mistake assaulted Baret instead, leaving him for dead.  He did, however, survive to represent Gloucester in three more Parliaments.”

There were also Barretts at Penquite in Cornwall.  They were Royalist and had their lands confiscated by Cromwell in 1651.  But Hearcey (Hercie) Barrett, said to have been of this family, was part of Cromwell’s invasion force in Jamaica, remained there, and was the forebear of the Barretts of Jamaica.  

SE England.  There was a Barret line in Kent where Valentine Barret was sheriff of Kent in the early 1400’s. His brother John established the family at Aveley Belhus in Essex where they were to remain for the next 250 years.  According to family tradition Queen Elizabeth stayed at Belhus on her way to review the troops at Tilbury Fort in 1588.  These Barretts later became the Barrett-Lennard baronets.

Other Barets/Barretts were to be found in Norfolk.  One line began with Simon Barret who was married in Hardwick in 1385.  Another started in the village of Blythborough, just across the border in Suffolk, in the next century.  It included Christopher Barrett, mayor of Norwich in 1634.  From a Barret family in King’s Lynn came the clergyman John Barret.  He switched from Papacy to Protestantism very rapidly after the death of Queen Mary in 1558.

Elsewhere.  The Barrett spelling had become predominant by 1600, although older spellings did persist. George Barret, father and son, were 18th century landscape painters and early members of the Royal Academy.  Barratt continues to be found in the Midlands and the north:
  • William Barratt founded the Barratt shoe company in Northampton in 1903.  It has lasted as a High Street store until recently.
  • while Lawrie Barratt from Newcastle began Barratt Developments, one of the UK's largest homebuilders, in the early 1960's.
Caribbean.  R.A. Barrett began his 2000 book The Barretts of Jamaica with the following sentence: 

“On 8th May 1655, the English fleet dropped anchor at Port Royal, Jamaica.  On board was a young lieutenant, Hercie Barrett, and his wife and child." 

In the years that followed, his family acquired substantial wealth and influence in Jamaica. They controlled much of the island's mining and agriculture, becoming as well one of its leading plantation owners.

Among the more prominent members of the family was Richard Barrett who was elected three times as Speaker of the House of Assembly in Spanish Town. He was cousin to the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  He built Greenwood as his home outside of Montego Bay, a mansion which still stands. 

These Barretts have long since left Jamaica.  But the Barrett name remains in Jamaica, notably with the musicians Carly and Aston Barrett who played with Bob Marley and the Wailers in the 1970’s.

  Two early Barretts to New England were:
  • Thomas Barrett and his wife Margaret who came in the late 1630’s from Suffolk to Braintree, Massachusetts.  The family moved in 1663 to Chelmsford (where their home, the Barrett-Byram Homestead, still stands).  Martha Barrett Sparks was accused of witchcraft in 1691 but later released.  Oliver Barrett was a minute-man at the time of the Revolutionary War.
  • and Humphrey Barrett who came from Kent to Concord, Massachusetts in 1639.  His descendants remained there.  Colonel James Barrett was a well-known Revolutionary leader in the town in the 1770’s.  After the war Samuel Barrett had a gristmill there, hence the present-day Barretts Mill Road.
There were early Barretts also in Virginia.  Thomas Barrett arrived in Jamestown on the Abigail in 1620.  Later Barretts operated a ferry along the Chickahominy river which was still functioning by the time of the Revolutionary War.  Many Barretts descend from the Rev. Robert Barrett who came as a missionary to the Norfolk area in 1737.

John Barret was a merchant in Richmond, Virginia and
its mayor three times in the 1790’s.  His son William was a tobacco manufacturer whose home, Barret House, has been preserved.

“One of the wealthiest men in Richmond, he died when he set his dressing gown on fire while lighting his pipe.”

Barrets have continued to live in Richmond.

Over time, more Barretts have come to America from Ireland than from England.  Many arrived poor at the time of the Great Famine. 
Patrick Barrett brought his entire family from Mayo to Cork and thence to America in 1847.  They made it to New Orleans and then worked a passage up the Mississippi to St. Louis. Finally, after fleeing fire and cholera there, they were able to make a home for themselves in the village of Catawissa in Missouri.

.  William Barrett, a poor subsistence farmer from Ballygally in Cork, joined Peter Robinson’s emigration scheme to Canada in 1825.  He settled with his family in Peterborough in eastern Ontario.  The family history was recounted in Anthony Barrett’s 2014 book The Tribe Within.

At the other end of the social spectrum, Hugh Massey Barrett from county Down, a descendant of the Cork Barretts, brought his family to Quebec on the Bolivar in 1830.  His son T.B. Barrett migrated to Port Dover on Lake Erie ten years later.  Three Barretts of his family, Harry and his son and niece Alice, moved west to British Columbia in the 1880’s.  Alice kept diaries of her time in Port Dover and British Columbia which were published in 2002.

A Jewish immigrant to British Columbia in the 1920’s, a fruit and vegetable peddler in Vancouver, adopted the name of Barrett.  His youngest son Dave, a former social worker, rose to become Premier of British Columbia in the 1970’s.

Some early Barretts came as convicts.  Thomas Barrett had been a First Fleeter.  In Australia he was accused of stealing food from the Government storehouse and in February 1788 became the first man to be hanged in the colony.

Edward Barrett-Lennard from Essex arrived in style in Western Australia in 1829, being one of its first settlers.  He brought with him on the Marquis of Anglesea six servants and some farm animals and equipment so that he could start farming on the large acreage that he had secured on the banks of the Swan river.  Grandson George died on the family property in 1917, following the death of his son Forrest by accidental drowning and his son Douglas who fell at Gallipoli.

Select Barrett Miscellany

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

Select Barrett Names

Riocard Bairéad aka Richard Barrett was a poet and United Irishman at the time of the 1798 Uprising.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
, born Elizabeth Barrett,
was one of the most prominent English poets of the Victorian era.
Lawrie Barratt founded Barratt Developments, one of the UK's largest homebuilders, in the early 1960's.
Matthew Barrett was a Canadian-Irish banker who became CEO at the Bank of Montreal and Barclays Bank in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

Select Barretts Today
  • 42,000 in the UK (most numerous in Essex)
  • 36,000 in America (most numerous in Florida) 
  • 36,000 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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