Select Skinner Surname Genealogy

Skinner in England and Scotland is an occupational name, for someone who stripped the hide from animals that was to be used for tanning into leather.  The root is the Old Norse skinn meaning a hide or pelt.  In medieval records this occupation can be found in the form of "le skynner" or "le schimner," written after the Christian name for the individual being identified.

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England.  The Worshipful Company of Skinners was one of the great medieval trade guilds, first recognized in 1327.  Its early use as a surname, such as Ralph Le Skinnere in Hertfordshire in 1269 and Henry le Skyniar in Oxfordshire in 1273, was in a form to denote their occupation. 

London and the Southeast.  The Skinner name and occupation was most common in large towns such as London.  Thomas Skinner, for instance, was a London alderman and its Lord Mayor in 1596.  His forebears may have been skinners; but he himself was a prosperous master of the cloth-workers’ guild.  His tombstone read as follows:

“Here lies the corps of Thomas Skinner late citizen and alderman of London, born at Saffron Walden in Essex who in the 65th year of his age and on the 30th day of December 1596 being then Lord Mayor of this city departed this life, leaving behind him three sons and three daughters." 

Skinners were recorded in the small town of Reigate in Surrey in 1445.  In 1542 John Skinner Jr and James Skinner, “members of a long dynasty of Skinners,” represented this borough in Parliament.  Their father, John Sr, had held the position of Clerk of the Peace there since 1488.

The 19th century distribution of the Skinner name showed that it was mainly concentrated in the southeast around London.  But there was an outpost in the west country, with the largest numbers being in Devon. 

.  One family began with the marriage of William and Anne Skinner in Newton Abbot in Devon around the year 1665.  Another began with the birth of Alexander Skinner at Chittlehampton in 1688.  John Skinner was recorded at Ermington in 1692.  William and Catherine Skinner were married at St. Minver in Cornwall in 1726.

The Skynners of Thorpe in Lincolnshire were said to have originated in Devon (although this has been disputed):

“Being required of John Skynner in the county of Lincolnshire, receiver of the honor of Bollingbroke, son and heir to Robert Skynner of Exeter in the county of Devon.  The gentleman to make search in the register and records for the ancient arms and crest belonging to that name and family whereof he is descended and found the same.” 

The line from John Skynner, mercer in Lincoln, led to Sir Vincent Skynner, the Elizabethan politician, and to William Skynner, the mayor of Hull in 1665.  His son Thomas was a merchant in the Caribbean who died at a young age; his grandson William became responsible for Britain’s fortifications and was appointed its Chief Engineer in 1757. 

The line from there moved to the Americas.  William’s son, Captain William Skinner, drowned during a military engagement in the Caribbean in 1761.  One of his sons William Campbell Skinner became a successful engineer in America.  Another son Thomas came to Newfoundland in 1790 where he served as chief engineer.  His son Robert fought in the War of 1812. 

  Skinner, a surname found in the NE Highlands of Scotland, appears to have the same occupational origins as in England.  The name here would have closer links with Viking-origin words.  Alternatively, it has been suggested that the name Skinner derived from the word skene meaning in Gaelic a dirk or dagger. 

Skinner has been a well-known name among the fishing communities at Avoch and Easter Ross in Ross-shire.  The name has also extended into Aberdeenshire.  Scott Skinner, the famous 19th century Scottish fiddler, came from the village of Arbeadie in Aberdeenshire. 

Skinning was an occupation of the cattle trading clan Gregor of the Perthshire and Trossack Highlands.  When the persecution of the MacGregor name began to be enforced in Perth in 1603, some MacGregors were thought to have adopted the Skinner surname. 

This MacGregor-Skinner switching can be seen in the case of William MacGregor who renamed himself William Skinner after the Jacobite defeat in 1715 and left for Perth Amboy, New Jersey where he became the rector of St. Peter’s church. 

His son General Cortlandt Skinner and grandson John MacGregor Skinner were both loyal to Britain during the Revolutionary War, the former departing for London in 1783 and the latter serving with the Royal Navy in the Caribbean where he lost first his arm and then his eye.  John moved to Holyhead in Wales in 1793 and was a master on packet ships crossing the Irish Sea.  He lost his life, aged 70, when he was washed overboard from his ship Escape in 1832. 

.  Early Skinners came to New England and to Virginia. 

New England
.  John Skinner from Braintree in Essex was a member of Thomas Hooker's company which came to America in 1635 and settled at Hartford, Connecticut a year later.  Among later descendants were:
  • Justin Skinner, a seafarer who settled in Maine in the early 1800’s.  His eldest son Austin also went to sea.  After the Civil War Austin took command of a merchantman sailing between America and Europe/
  • Eugene Skinner who came to Oregon territory in 1846 and was one of its early settlers.  He was the founder of the city of Eugene which was named after him.
  • and David E. (Ned) Skinner who co-founded the Skinner and Eddy shipyard in Seattle, Washington in 1916.  This shipyard had a short life.   But subsequent Skinners were to play a prominent role in Seattle’s civic life.
Sergeant Thomas Skinner left his home in Sussex for Malden, Massachusetts in 1650. He was for his times a remarkably long-lived individual (he died in 1702 at the age of 85) who was the first person licensed to operate an inn which served "victuals and strong waters" in Malden. 

Skinners of this line moved to Maine.  Daniel Skinner arrived in 1793 and founded the Skinner settlement in Corinth.  The farmhouse there has remained with the family until recently.  From another line, via Joseph Skinner, came the Maine lighthouse keeper Charles Clement Skinner.  Richard Skinner moved to Vermont and became Governor of that state in 1820.  His son Mark moved to Chicago and served there as City Attorney. 

The whole family line from Sergeant Thomas Skinner was traced in Ira Skinner’s 2013 book The Skinner Family History.

William Skinner was a much later arrival, coming from London in 1843 and starting a silk manufacturing business which, from 1874, was based in Hadley, Massachusetts.  Sons William and Joseph carried on the business after his death in 1902.  At nearby Mount Holyoke the family legacies are Skinner Park, Skinner Hall and the Skinner Museum. 

  Skinners of Elizabeth city county, Virginia date from the 1670’s.  Later Skinners here settled in Darlington county, South Carolina.

Richard Skinner, first recorded in Virginia sometime in the 1670’s, migrated in 1701 to Perquimans county, North Carolina where his descendants became prominent plantation owners and politicians. 
John Skinner’s Perquimans seat, known as Ashland, was located in the Harvey’s Neck section of the county.  Considered one of the finest homes in northeastern North Carolina, it burned down in 1952. 

Robert Skinner from Essex was in the 1870’s a factor at the Hudson Bay Company trading post on Quesnel island in the extreme northwest of British Columbia.  Sadly the records show that he was dismissed from the company’s employ in 1887 for falsifying the accounts.  His daughter Constance moved to California and then to New York where she became a writer of the Canadian northwest. 

Australia and New Zealand
.  Martha Skinner came to Sydney with her husband William Cole from Kent in 1838 and many other Skinners of Martha’s family were to make the same voyage over the next twenty years.  They settled in Braidwood and elsewhere in NSW. 

William Skinner left the comforts of Melbourne in 1854 for the hardships of a gold prospector in Victoria.  His wife Emily followed him to various diggings, enduring the primitive huts and tents, isolation and hardships of that life.  The family was plagued by sickness and lost their first born when he was five months old.  William had little success with his diggings and he eventually gave up his dream of gold.  Emily’s recollections of those times were published in a 1995 book Emily Skinner, A Woman on the Goldfields. 

Thomas Skinner, a butcher from Devon, was one of the early settlers in New Zealand, arriving there in 1841 and making his home in Taranaki.  His son William was a surveyor who over his long life wrote about the history of the region and was a staunch supporter of its customs and heritage.  His son Henry became the director of Otago Museum

Select Skinner Miscellany

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

Select Skinner Names

The Rev. John Skinner from Aberdeenshire was an 18th century Scottish historian and writer of popular songs.
B. F. Skinner
is a renowned
American behavioral psychologist of the 20th century.
Dennis Skinner
is a British Labor Party politician, known for his left-wing views and acid tongue.  He has been called “the Beast of Bolsover,” the constituency which he represents

Select Skinners Today
  • 25,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 20,000 in America (most numerous in Texas) 
  • 22,000 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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