Select Prior Surname Genealogy

The spelling can be either Prior or Pryor.  The surname originates from the Old English word prior, which described an official that was ranked below an abbot in a monastery.

Select Prior Resources on The Internet

Select Prior Ancestry

England.  Prior emerged as a surname in the 13th century in southern England.  The spelling initially could be variable de Preyers, de Priers, Priorur or Priour.  The early Priors were to be found in Essex, Hertfordshire and Northamptionshire:
  • the Priors in Essex, dating from 1218, were initially de Priers.  Sir Andrew Prior held their old manor at Boys Hall in 1507.
  • Thomas Priour was MP for Hertfordshire in 1313 and his younger brother John sheriff of London in 1317
  • while Henry de Preyers held the manor of Strixton in Northamptonshire in 1317,  although it left the family about a hundred years later.
There was a longstanding Prior family at Godmanstone in Dorset from the 1600s or possibly earlier.  Martha Prior who died in 1889 was possibly their last representative in the village.  Their numbers included Matthew Prior who experienced success as a writer and a diplomat in London in the early 1700s.

Southeast.  The main Prior numbers, however, have been in London, Essex and the southeast.  Essex Priors have included:
  • Priors from Great Hallingbury dating back to the 1600s.  
  • John and Timothy Prior who were bakers in Coggeshall in 1823.  
  • a Prior family who owned the mill at Halstead in the mid-19th century.  Harold Prior, a steward from Halstead, was one of the survivors of the Titanic disaster of 1912. 
  • while another Prior family ran barges out of Burnham in east Essex around this time.  
A Prior family, which became listed as J.J. Prior in 1934, has been operating ships along the Thames, Colne and Medway since 1870.

Priors in Heathfield and Bexhill in Sussex date from the 1600s.  Two Prior families from Bexhill emigrated in the 1830s, one to America and the other to Australia.

Cornwall.  Pryor not Prior has been the preferred spelling in Cornwall.  A Pryor line in Wendron began with the marriage of John and Margaret Prior in 1565.  The spelling changed to Pryor in the middle of the next century.  Later Pryors of this family emigrated to South Carolina in the 1780s and to New Zealand in the 1840s.  Richard and Margaret Pryor were married at Sithney nearby to Wendron in the early 1720s.

The mining depression in Cornwall in the 19th century caused an exodus, including many Pryors.  James Pryor and his wife Caroline departed for mining opportunities in Australia in 1866.  The daughters of William Pryor, a blacksmith in Redruth, found work in the cotton mills of Yorkshire in 1877.  Eventually their father and the rest of the family joined them.

 Prior in Ireland was an anglicized form of the Gaelic Mac an Phrora, meaning son of the prior.  Most of the Priors in Ireland came from either county Leitrim or county Cavan.

Some were English implants.  Thomas Prior arrived from Essex with Cromwell and was granted land at Rathdowney in county Laois in 1667.  Son Thomas was killed by Irish rebels in 1700.   But grandson Thomas was a notable writer and economic thinker of his day and founder of the Dublin Society in 1731

America.  Prior and Pryor arrivals in America came from England, Ireland, and a smattering from Germany.  They generally came as Prior.  The spelling soon became Pryor.  Pryors outnumber Priors by three to one today.

An early arrival in Virginia was Robert Pryor, of uncertain origins in England, who was first recorded in Gloucester county in 1689.  The main line went through his eldest son Colonel Samuel Pryor.  Some of these Pryors moved south to Mississippi and Alabama in the early 1800s.  Luke there became the US Senator for Alabama and his brother John Benjamin a thoroughbred racehorse trainer.

However, the best-known of these descendants was the one who had remained in Virginia, Roger William Pryor.

Roger William Pryor was a newspaper editor and politician who became known for his fiery oratory in favor of secession.  He was elected to both national and Confederate office and served as a general for the Confederate Army during the Civil War.

There was another Pryor line, beginning with John Pryor in the 1730's, in Amherst county, Virginia.  John moved with his family to Kentucky in 1783.  His son Nathaniel Pryor was a member of the Lewis and Clark expedition, fought in the War of 1812, and later was an agent to the Osage Indians in Oklahoma territory.  The town of Pryor and the Pryor river in Oklahoma were named after him.

One Pryor line from Gloucester county seems to have run via Kentucky to Samuel Pryor in NW Missouri in the 1850's.  He was a bandmaster who founded the original Pryor Band.  His son Arthur became a famous trombone player and a soloist in the Sousa Band. 

South Africa.  Joshua Prior came to South Africa from Essex in 1834.  According to the family stories, he arrived as a young boy of fourteen with just a gold sovereign in his pocket.  He ended up farming in the Free State.  Prior Grange at Springfontein, which has been with the family since 1854, serves today as a guest and working farm. 

Australia.  The copper mines in South Australia attracted a number of Cornish Priors and Pryors in the mid-19th century.

Thomas Prior and his family arrived in 1849.  The men went to work at the Burra mines.  Later they became successful farmers.  Two families arrived in 1866:

  • James Pryor, a mine agent, came to the Moonta mine at that time.  His son Oswald Pryor made his name as a cartoonist at the Adelaide News; as did his great grandson Geoff at the Canberra Times.
  • Samuel Prior meanwhile came to farm in Brighton, which he did for fifty years.  His son Samuel became editor and publisher of The Bulletin in Sydney.
Select Prior Miscellany

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

Select Prior Names

Matthew Prior was an English poet and diplomat of the early 18th century.
Thomas Prior
was an Anglo-Irish writer who founded the Dublin Society in 1731.
Richard Pryor
was a manic American comedian, actor, writer and social critic of the 1970s and 1980s.

Select Priors Today
  • 16,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 10,000 in America (most numerous in Texas) 
  • 11,000 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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