Some Concluding Observations

extracts from: English Ancestry of the Pettypool Family of Colonial Virginia

©Carolyn Hartsough

When the last remaining members of the English Pettypool family became London residents in the early seventeenth century, the spelling of the surname became much more standardized and largely assumed the two variant forms — Pettypool(e) and Pettipool(e) — that we recognize today. Most of the alternatives that appear in records of the time are merely deviant spellings of these two forms. The pronunciation and spelling had settled down as compared to earlier centuries, and a preference for “e” at the first vowel position had been established with the move to London. The clear association of the surname with its origins at Pooty Pools Farm had likely become blurred. After five centuries, it is doubtful whether even the seventeenth-century carriers of the name would have been aware of the association.

According to existing records, William, the American immigrant, was the last of the Pettypools to be christened with the surname in England. English national surname indexes subsequent to the seventeenth century show no evidence of anyone bearing the surname Pettypool or any likely variants. Such a scarce surname, although narrowing the field of view, has proved invaluable in widening prospects for an expanded medieval history. Although not all links among individuals we encountered from the twelfth through the seventeenth century can be genealogically “proved,” all English Pettypools almost certainly arose from one original medieval family and all should be considered a cousin at some level, even if not a lineal ancestor.

As many of their earlier moves appear to have been associated with economic opportunity, it is of interest and perhaps telling that at the end of the day the family in England should find their way to London. In keeping with many families that had followed agricultural pursuits during the Middle Ages, the Pettypools had turned to wage-earning trades by the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. By ultimately servicing the booming East End shipping industry, they likely found the best wages in the England of their time. As the son and grandson of London craftsmen, William, the immigrant likely brought no actual experience of farming to his role as an indentured agricultural servant in colonial Chesapeake. The new climate, rough work environment and pioneer conditions of colonial Virginia must have been a hard adjustment to a young man who had basically known only London city life during his formative years.

The Pettypool men in William’s direct lineage were long-lived. Only William, the immigrant, was unable to survive beyond the age of forty, succumbing in his late thirties in the malarial and disease-ridden environment of the Chesapeake. His father, Samuel, had lived to age 60, his presumed grandfather, John, to age 68 and his putative great-grandfather, Richard, into his early sixties. The immigrant William’s only son, also a William, living in Virginia but away from the low-lying Tidewater region, likewise is judged to have survived into his early sixties, as did his two sons. In a time when forty was considered the beginning of advanced age, this legacy of longevity is impressive and likely helps account, during the first few generations in America, for the persistence and spread of the surname.

Currently, there is no “smoking gun” to explain the immigrant, William’s, desire to leave England and embark on a new life in Virginia. He must have been highly motivated in order to leave aging parents as well as face the loss of the close-knit parish life that he likely would have known in the seventeenth century East End. Possibly the periods of economic recession and declining wages endemic to early seventeenth century London convinced him to go. 4 Perhaps the Civil War that had worn on during much of his youth and early adolescence was a factor. Perhaps he had a taste for adventure and a desire for land, two New World attractions that England could not offer.

The Pettypool surname appears endangered. It would already have gone extinct in the seventeenth century had not William, the American immigrant, managed to produce a son. As an extremely low-frequency surname, it is pure happenstance that it endured and continues to do so. This is exemplified by its frequency in the major indexes of surnames from the centuries surrounding William’s Atlantic journey. For example, Ancestry.com has computed the number of birth, marriage and death records added to its databases with the contribution of those from the London Metropolitan Archives for the years 1538-1812. Those Archive records associated with the Pettypoole/Pettipoole surname number 28 out of a total of nearly nine million (8,841,248), and some of these are duplications for the same event. 1 That count produces a vanishingly small proportion of instances of the surname although it is not unusual for surnames to have gone extinct in the United Kingdom that survive in the United States, Canada or Australia.2 According to a project citing the 2000 US Census, 104 people were counted as currently using the Pettypool surname.3 With a 2014 estimate of the US population resting at approximately 317 million,5 an even smaller proportion currently use the surname than did in the seventeenth century. Although there are likely thousands of “genetic” Pettypool descendants in the United States carrying truncated versions of the surname, we should be especially grateful to those few families that have stuck with the original spelling and carried the name forward into the twenty-first century, more than eight centuries after its creation.

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[1] Ancestry.com. London, England, Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1538-1812 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010, accessed 30 May 2014.

[2] George Redmonds. Names and History: People, Places and Things. (London: Hambledon and London, 2004), 43.

[3] "MooseRoots". Website. Pettypool Surname, accessed 2 June 2015.

[4] J.A. Sharpe. Early Modern England: A Social History 1550-1760. (London: Edward Arnold, 1987), 212 .

[4]Robert Schlesinger. ”The 2014 U.S. and World Populations”. Article. US News and World Report [online version], December 31, 2013, accessed 30 May 2014