Select Pelham Surname Genealogy

The place-name Pelham, thought to have derived from the Old English peol meaning “house by the pool” and ham or “homestead,” cropped up in various places in England. 

Peleham, which appeared in the 1086 Domesday Book in Hertfordshire, later became the village of Ferneux Pelham.  Pelham manor in Cambridgeshire, part of the Bishopric of Ely, was held by Peter de Pelham in 1201. Either of these two place-names may have been the origin of the influential Pelham family of Sussex

Select Pelham Resources on The Internet

  • Brocklesby  Pelhams in Brocklesby in Lincolnshire.
  • Pelham  Pelhams from Sussex to Australia.
Select Pelham Ancestry

England.  According to family lore, the Pelham family in Sussex has as its emblem the buckle – the result of a supposed surrender of the French king to Sir John Pelham in 1356 after the Battle of Poitiers.  Tradition says that when the king handed over his sword, Pelham kept the sword buckle and henceforth used it as his crest.

A more prosaic ancestry has these Pelhams originating from Cambridgeshire.  John Pelham was a vicar at West Wickham in 1347 and a later John Pelham, from this Cambridgeshire line, w
as the son of a sometime coroner in Sussex.

.  This John Pelham’s fortunes rose during the reign of Henry IV and, on the king’s death in 1413, he was named as one of the five executors of his will.  From that point onward the Pelham family of Sussex was a wealthy and influential one.  Their principal homes in Sussex were Laughton Place from 1390 to 1595, Halland Place from 1595 to 1730, and Stanmer House near Brighton from 1730 to 1926.

In 1545 Sir Nicholas Pelham defended the Sussex coast against an attack by the marauding French.  His exploit was recorded on a memorial in St Michael’s Church in Lewes:

"What time the French sought to have sacked Seaford
This Pelham did repel them back again."

Sir William fought on French soil at Le Havre in 1562 and later served as Lord Justice in Ireland.  His son Sir Thomas was made a baronet in 1611 and a subsequent Sir Thomas was the father of two British Prime Ministers during the time of the Whig supremacy:
  • Henry Pelham in 1743-1754
  • and Thomas Pelham-Holles, the Duke of Newcastle, in 1754-1762.
One Pelham family came from Chichester in Sussex.  Peter Pelham, who had been born there in 1695, was trained in London in the then new technique of mezzotint engraving.  He left London for America in 1725. Another Pelham line, traced from Playden in the early 1700’s and later settling in Brede, emigrated to Australia in 1841.

.  Pelhams from Sussex spread elsewhere in England.  They came to Brocklesby near Immingham in Lincolnshire in 1565 and, as the Earls of Yarborough, have remained there to this day.  In Brocklesby Park stands the Pelham Mausoleum, completed in 1787.

Another line was to be found in Hull where Peregrine Pelham had been apprenticed to a merchant in the 1620’s and became a prosperous merchant there himself.  He was an ardent Parliamentarian and one of the regicides of the King in 1649.  However, the Civil War had ruined him and he died penniless the following year.

.  Herbert Pelham had been among the founding investors of the Massachusetts Bay Company in 1630.  In 1638 he departed for America with four of his children and bought a house in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  During his short time in America he was appointed the first Treasurer of Harvard University and his house almost burnt down.  He returned to England in 1646.  But his daughter Penelope remained to marry Josiah Winslow in 1651.

Peter Pelham, who had arrived in Boston in 1725, made his mark there as a portrait painter.  One son Henry, another painter and engraver, was a Loyalist who departed America for London in 1776.  Another son Peter was an organist and harpsichord teacher who made his home in Williamsburgh, Virginia:
  • one of his sons William was a well-known bookseller and publisher in Boston in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
  • another son Charles fought in the Revolutionary War and later settled in Maysville, Kentucky.  His grandson John Pelham, born in Alabama, was an artillery officer in the Confederate cavalry during the Civil War.  He was dubbed the Gallant Pelham for his military prowess and personal courage.
Pelham is a well-known place-name in the New York area but has no connection with the Pelham family. Thomas Pell bought the area known as Pelham from the local Indians in 1654.  He named his manor Pelham in honor of his tutor Pelham Burton.

Select Pelham Miscellany

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

Select Pelham Names

Sir John Pelham, advisor to Henry IV in the early 1400’s, was the forebear of the Sussex Pelhams.
Henry Pelham
and Thomas Pelham-Holles, the Duke of Newcastle, served as consecutive Prime Ministers of England in the mid-18th century.
John Pelham
was a Confederate cavalry officer during the Civil War who was dubbed the Gallant Pelham because of his military prowess and personal courage

Select Pelhams Today
  • 800 in the UK (most numerous in Sussex)
  • 1,000 in America (most numerous in Florida) 
  • 400 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 1,000 surnames.

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