Select Norton Surname Genealogy

The surname Norton comes from the place-name Norton (from nor meaning “north” plus tun “farm” or “settlement”), of which there have been many in England.  Similar type English place-names and surnames are Sutton, Easton, and Weston. 

In the 1086 Domesday Book the Norton place-name could be found as far apart as Runcorn in Cheshire, Doncaster in south Yorkshire, as well as Northamptonshire and Suffolk further south.   Modern-day examples of the name are Midsomer Norton, Chipping Norton, and Brize Norton.  An early example of the surname was Osuuardus de Nordtone of Kent, also recorded in the Domesday Book. 

In Ireland and Scotland Naughton or MacNaughton could become Norton
. .

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England.  The Norton family of Sharpenhoe in Bedfordshire was one early Norton line, beginning with le Seugneur de Norville in the 12th century.  Norville became Norton sometime in the 13th century.  Thomas Norton of Sharpenhoe prospered as a grocer in London in Tudor times and his son Thomas made a name for himself as a poet and as a persecutor of Catholics. 

From this family, it was thought, came the Nortons of York.  The male line there was originally Coigners.  When Roger Conyers married the Norton heiress around the year 1300, the family adopted the Norton name.  Richard Norton and many of his kinfolk were involved in the Catholic Rising of the North in 1569 and had their estates attainted as a consequence.  Still, the line did continue to Sir Fletcher Norton of Grantley who became Speaker of the House of Commons in 1769. 

“Sir Fletcher Norton ended his time as Speaker with a dubious reputation.  He was derided by satirists as Sir Bullface Doublefee and described by Horace Walpole as one who rose from obscure infamy to that infamous fame which will long stick to him.’” 

Another early Norton family traced its ancestry back to East Tisted in Hampshire in 1308.  During the course of the 16th century they became one of the leading families of Hampshire.  Colonel Richard Norton was a Parliamentary officer of some distinction in the Civil War.  He survived the Restoration.  However, his line ended with the next generation. 

Meanwhile John Norton was the first of the Nortons of Sheldwich in Kent, inheriting the Lees-court estate there through marriage in the 1450’s.   Sir John Norton of this family was sheriff of Kent in 1513 and again in 1522. 

Robert de Norton was Sheriff of Norfolk in 1269.  

And there were some early Nortons also in the west country.  The spelling in Somerset was Nourton or Nurton in the 15th century but became Norton a century later.  William Norton was a churchwarden at Ilminster in 1543; while a Norton family of tanners lived nearby at Broadway and White Lackington around this time.  Subsequent Nortons were embroiled in a Norton family dispute which impoverished the family. 

The later distribution of the Norton name reflected to some extent this earlier incidence.  Yorkshire was one concentration, London and the southeast another.  There was also a number of Nortons in Norfolk and Lincolnshire. 

  The Gaelic O'Neachtain was most commonly anglicized as Naughton but sometimes as Norton.  In early times the O'Neachtains were recognized as the hereditary door-keepers of the kings of Connacht and the chief commanders of the cavalry of Ui Maine. 

They were displaced at the time of the Anglo-Norman invasion and
they then settled in the Athlone region of Roscommon.  They remained a clan until the English incursions during the reign of Elizabeth.  Many lost their lands at the time of Cromwell. 

Nortons elsewhere in Ireland were often of Scottish origin. 

Scotland.  The Naughton/Norton name also appeared on the west coast of Scotland in what is now Argyllshire.  Naughton here came from the Pictish name

The MacNaughton name appeared in Lochowe as early as the 12th century.  The MacNaughtons of Dunderawe were a pro-Royalist family at the time of the Civil War.  But John MacNaughton, who was born in the region in 1760, became John Norton.  And the family thereafter were Nortons.

   Nortons from England came mainly to New England and some to Virginia and elsewhere.  America also had Irish Nortons and even some Jewish Nortons. 

New England
had a number of early Norton arrivals: 
  • George Norton who came to Salem in 1629 and died thirty years later in Wenham.  He was by trade a carpenter and later in his life an inn-keeper. 
  • two brothers, the Revs. John and William, who arrived from Bedfordshire and settled in Ipswich around the year 1632.  They were followed by their uncle Thomas some six years later.  He made his home in Guilford, Connecticut.  There were several other Norton relatives who settled elsewhere in Connecticut.  
  • while Nicholas Norton arrived from Somerset around the year 1640, settling first in Weymouth and moving to Edgarstown on Martha’s Vineyard some twenty years later.  He lived onto 1690.  His progeny were prolific.  In 1790, one hundred years later, it was said that 174 of the 1,350 inhabitants of Martha’s Vineyard were Nortons.  
The Bedfordshire line of Nortons in America (with antecedents in England) was first presented in Charles Eliot Norton’s 1863 account The Genealogy of the Norton Family.  The main descent in America was via the Rev. William Norton.  From his line came the 19th century Unitarian preacher Andrews Norton, a trenchant opposer of Emerson’s trancendentalism, and Charles Eliot Norton, his son the writer. 

It is thought that Hiram Norton’s family originated from Connecticut.  They were Loyalists who took refuge in Canada during the Revolutionary War.  Hiram started a stage coach service between Montreal and Toronto in the 1830’s.  He later left Canada and settled in Lockport, Illinois where he oversaw an extensive canal operation for grain and ran a large water-powered flour mill.  He became by the 1860’s one of the wealthiest people in northern Illinois. 

.  The Nortons of Fluvanna in Virginia started with Christopher Norton, a British naval officer who came to Virginia in the 1730’s and later retired there.  His grandchildren all fought on the American side in the Revolutionary War.  After the War, two of these grandchildren settled in Kentucky: 
  • one line from there led to Nimrod Norton who moved to Missouri and later to Texas.  He was a Confederate officer during the Civil War.   
  • from another Kentucky line came David Norton who became a Mormon and headed to Salt Lake in 1847 on the first pioneer wagon there.  
Thomas Norton was a 27 year old watchmaker who left London for Philadelphia on the Amelia in 1774.  A descendant is the actor Edward Norton. 

ohn Norton had arrived in Pennsylvania in the early 1800’s from Ireland.  His sons James and Matthew worked on the railroad in Canada where they met the Laird brothers and learnt  the lumber trade.  But it was in Winoma, Minnesota where they started the Laird Norton companyin the 1850’s.  That company, in its seventh generation of family ownership, is now spread over the American West. 

James was James Naughton in Roscommon in 1834 and James Norton there in 1839.  He and his wife emigrated first to New York and then to Illinois in the late 1840’s.  Michael Norton, born in Roscommon, came to New York as a child round this time.  He became a New York state senator in the 1870’s. 

Norton can be a Jewish name.  The most famous bearer of the name was undoubtedly Joshua Norton who was born in London, emigrated with his parents to South Africa in 1820, and then arrived in San Francisco at the time of the Gold Rush.  There he remained, the celebrated Emperor Norton who died poor but famous.

.  Richard Norton from London came out as a young man to Canada in 1714 under the auspices of the Hudson Bay Company.  His son Moses, thought to have been a mixed-blood son of his father and a native woman, was also a factor in the company’s employ.  Moses’s only known descendant was a daughter named Polly, also born to a native woman. 

Australia also had a prominent Norton father/son but from a later time.  John Norton arrived from London in 1884 and made his name in newspapers, acquiring The Truth in Sydney in 1896.  He was a hugely controversial owner, often drunk and abusive at work, but highly successful.  He disinherited his only son Ezra.  But after his death in 1916, Ezra managed to gain control of The Truth.  He too was a successful and combative newspaper man before selling the paper in 1958.

Select Norton Miscellany

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

Select Norton Names

Thomas Norton was a prominent anti-Catholic Puritan, known in the 1570’s as the Rackmaster General.  Joseph Norton, known as Emperor Norton, was an eccentric self-publicizer who became famous in San Francisco in the latter part of the 19th century.  
(Pa) Norton
was a pioneer of the British motorcycle industry with his Norton bike which was first produced in 1902. 
illiam Norton, the son of a Dublin tram driver, was the leader of the Irish Labor Party from 1932 to 1960. 
Graham Norton
, born Graham Walker, is a popular Irish-born TV chat-show host in Britain

Select Nortons Today
  • 17,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 24,000 in America (most numerous in California) 
  • 12,000 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 500 surnames.

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