Select Howell Surname Genealogy

Howell derives from the Welsh personal name Hywel meaning “eminent” or “prominent.”  It was borne by Hywel Dda or Howel the Good who became King of Wales in 926.  He was known for codifying the Welsh law under which Wales was governed for several centuries.  Many later Howells have claimed descent from Howel the Good.

Howell’s early presence was in Monmouthshire.  The name, although Welsh in origin, was thus to be found in both the Welsh and English border counties.  The main surname spellings today are Howell and Howells, the patronymic Howells being the more common spellingon the Welsh side. 

The Howell name also has separate English origins, from the place-name Howell found in Lincolnshire and derived from the Old English hugol meaning “mound” or “hillock.

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Select Howell Ancestry

Wales.  The Howell name first established its presence in Monmouthshire.  Howel was a son of Oeni who became known as the Prince of Caerleon-upon-Uske in Monmouthshire. By the early 1300’s the name had become firmly established in Monmouth and also across the English-Welsh border where Howel held lands as well.  David and Philip Howel were recorded as the Lords and Prince of the manor in Monmouth in 1313.

This line does not seem to have continued in Monmouthshire.  But the Howell name was found there later in Thomas Howell, a merchant from the county, who died around 1540 and left a Thomas Howell charity.  Thomas and James Howell, Royalists at the time of the Civil War, also claimed a Monmouthshire pedigree.

The Howell and Howells name extended westward across south Wales into Glamorgan, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire.

One Howell family were said to have lived at Nantymoel in Llangyfelach parish, Glamorgan since the 1300’s.  However, they adopted the Howell surname late.  Howel Roger was the freeholder there in 1764 and his grandson was the Rev. Roger Howell, born in 1774, the local Nonconformist minister.

In Carmarthenshire there were Howell families:at
  • Maesgwynne in Llanbody parish, from the early 1600’s until 1789 when Walter Rice Howell, unmarried, died.
  • and in the village of Gwynfe, starting with Samuel Howell in the late 1700’s.
William Howell was a Quaker from Castle in Pembrokeshire who emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1682.

.  Not all Howells in England have Welsh roots or connections.  A few have English origins.  It was said that William Marshall, the first earl of England, raised a small army of Howells in Lincolnshire in the 12th century to defeat an insurrection in that county.  Later, the Howell name was more likely to crop up in Norfolk than in Lincolnshire.

Most Howells instead were to be found in the border counties, such as Gloucestershire and Shropshire (where Thomas Howell was the mayor of Oswestry in 1785) or later in Lancashire. The Howells of the Westbury manor at Marsh Gibbon in Buckinghamshire had Welsh ancestry.  William Howell had purchased the estate in 1536.  His grandson Edward sold it in 1638 and emigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

.  John Howell was perhaps the earliest Howell arrival in America, leaving persecution in Pembrokeshire for Virginia in the 1620’s and making his home in Henrico county.  Later Howells of his line migrated to North Carolina and Georgia.  Joseph Howell, who was born in Edgecombe county, North Carolina in 1735, died in DeKalb county, Georgia at the age of 102.  His grandson Evan Howell later recounted his family ancestry.

Another line from Edgecombe county went to Atlanta, Georgia where Clark Howell prospered as a businessman.  His son Evan acquired an interest in the Atlanta Constitution newspaper in 1876.  Evan’s son Clark Howell was a prominent state politician and for fifty three years was the editorial executive and owner of the Atlanta Constitution.

Edward Howell
from Buckinghamshire was one of the early English settlers on Long Island, arriving in 1640 and helping to found the Southampton colony.  His descendants were there at the time of the Revolutionary War.  They were also in New Jersey where the Howell farm was first established in Cumberland county in the 1740’s and is still operating today after ten generations.

This Howell line is thought to have extended as well to Morristown, New Jersey where Aaron Howell lived in the 1740’s and David Howell was born in 1747.  David moved to Rhode Island and was active in civic affairs there until his death in 1824.  His son Jeremiah was US Senator for Rhode Island from 1811 to 1817.

The Quaker John Howell, “a
native of the ancient walled city of Aberystwyth,” came to Philadelphia in 1697 and died there in 1721.  His son Jacob and grandson John were both tanners, the latter migrating south to Savannah, Georgia where he died in 1765.  However, the main Howell numbers remained in the Philadelphia area and included:
  • Colonel Jacob Howell, a clerk of the Pennsylvania Board of War in 1778
  • Arthur Howell, a prominent Quaker preacher who died in 1818
  • and Colonel Joshua Howell who died in battle in 1864 in the Civil War.
The family history was captured in Frances Howell’s 1897 The Book of John Howell and His Descendants.

Reynold Howell, also from Wales, acquired land near Newark, Delaware in 1724 and settled there.  One of his grandsons Lewis was a surgeon during the Revolutionary War, but died of fever during the conflict.  His other grandson Richard Howell survived the war and served as Governor of New Jersey from 1794 to 1801. 

Richard was the grandfather of Varina Howell, the second wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.  She had been born in Mississippi after her father had moved there in the 1820’s.

"In 1843 Jefferson Davis was a handsome 35 year old widower and a wealthy plantation owner; Varina Howell a 17 year old from an impoverished family whose father had gone bankrupt more than a decade ago.  She was not considered attractive, being tall and thin with the olive complexion of her Welsh ancestors.  Yet they met at a Christmas party and married two years later."   

South Africa.  James Howell's origins are uncertain.  He was a naval victualling clerk when his ship arrived in the Cape colony in 1806.  Two years later he married Maria Eksteen and they raised a family in Cape Town where he worked as a librarian.

Australia.  Richard Howell had arrived from Gloucestershire with his parents as a young boy in 1840.  When he grew up he became a Methodist preacher who was known as “Hellfire Dick.”  He made his home at Devon Park in Dunkeld, Victoria.  Samuel and others of his sons preached.   Samuel’s son Richard served as a missionary in the Belgian Congo for thirty years.

New Zealand.  John Howell come to New Zealand on a whaling ship around 1828 when he was just eighteen years old.  He ran a whaling station at Waikouaiti on South Island for twenty years until the whaling industry's decline.  He later became a substantial landowner in the area.  

Select Howell Miscellany

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

Select Howell Names

Hywel Dda, known as Howel the Good, was the King of Wales from 925 to 950.
James Howell
 was a 17th century Anglo-Welsh historian and writer, perhaps the first to make writing the main means of livelihood.  He held the title of Historiographer Royal.
Richard Howell
 was the third Governor of New Jersey from 1794 to 1801.
Clark Howell
was a prominent Georgia politician and, from 1883 to 1936, was the editorial executive and owner of the Atlanta Constitution.  
Geraint Howells
was a Welsh farmer and politician, active in Liberal party circles in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Select Howells Today
  • 39,000 in the UK (most numerous in Glamorgan)
  • 44,000 in America (most numerous in Florida) 
  • 17,000 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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