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Seagraves Names

Most of us have inherited the SEAGRAVES spelling and it is the most common variation these days. The English family seems to have consistently used the SEGRAVE spelling, which it how it is found on early English maps until about 1800 when cartographers started using the SEAGRAVE version. The Irish records generally follow the English pattern using SEGRAVE in almost all cases, but on occasion they use SEAGRAVE.

One of the more accepted origins of the name is that the small hamlet named Segrave less than 10 miles north of Leicester in the English Midlands was probably so called because there was a grove ("grave" in Old English) of trees near a small body of water, perhaps a pond ("Se" in Old English). Many other much more romantic ideas for name origins have been proposed than 'Pondgrove', but, while I would like to think that it originated with the Old German title of 'Zee graf' meaning sea lord or its Scandinavian equivalent of 'Sjo greve', both reflecting settlement of the area by a retiring Viking or German sea captain; however, as in most such things the simplest answer is usually the best one.

There is no evidence for the date of the founding of the village of SEGRAVE but, as more than just a hunting or herdsman's cabin, it probably does not predate the main town and later Roman fortress of Leicester which was first recorded by Ptolemy in 120 AD as a town of the British tribe, the Coritani. The "History of Leicestershire", volume I includes a section entitled Ancient Earthworks which lists archaeological evidence of hill fortresses and strongholds found throughout the county most of which are attributed to the Roman occupation period from about 48 AD to about 425 AD.

No reference to the village has been noted during Roman times or the subsequent Anglo-Saxon period ending in the later 500s. In 1086 AD King William I had published a fiscal record of his holdings in England known then, as now, as the "Domesday Survey". While not prominent in the Shire, the village of Segrave distinctly appears as a King's Manor and the King, being the chief landholder, owns [receives rents from] Segrave for 6 carucates [about 120 acres each] and meadowlands 3 furlongs [a furlong is about 1/8 of a mile] in length and 1 furlongs in breadth. Later, under the title "the Land of Earl Hugh" it is recorded that he holds in Setgrave [Segrave] 2 carucates of land and 10 acres of meadow.

Both the English families and their Irish cousins tended to keep the singular spelling version of the name (SEGRAVE or SEAGRAVE). I am sure some linguistics expert could explain why, but once the settlers came to the Americas the variation of adding an "s" to the name seems to have become more common, thus we see early settlers called Segraves and Seagraves. The Massachusetts Branch was the more formal group, perhaps because they lived in close proximity to each other in and around Uxbridge, MA for many generations. They did and still do adhere to the English spelling of SEAGRAVE. Even as their descendants migrated across the country we can be fairly sure that anyone using that version is probably a descendant of the Massachusetts Branch. Examples include the well-known Seagrave Fire Truck Company and Dr. Gordon Stifler Seagrave, the famous "Burma Surgeon" of WW II fame.

Francis Segrave, the patriarch of the Virginia/North Carolina Branch, generally appears in early Colonial records of the 1690s as Francis Segrave, but when his will was recorded in 1727 in Isle of Wight Co., VA he is referred to as Francis Segraves. The records (mostly land records in surviving Isle of Wight County Deed Books later in the 1700s) show a changing pattern of spellings. The following are summaries of key deed abstracts in chronological order involving Francis' descendants in Isle of Wight County:

The "Abstract of Record of Wills, Inventories, Settlements of Estates 1771-1802 of Wake County, North Carolina" has similar and later listings:

My conclusion from this medley of names scattered over these records is that among the early Virginia & North Carolina Segraves/Seagraves families the accepted pronunciation and the favored spelling by recording clerks had evolved into the plural version with an "s" on the end by 1800. The "SE" spelling versus the "SEA" spelling seems to have still been interchangeable, but the Sea was becoming more common.

To cover similar ground with the New Jersey Branch of the family, their history appears to have been founded by a William Segrave who was born in New York after 1650. This William may have been the father of the Mary Seagrave who married Thomas Alderman 27 April 1703 in East Hampton, Long Island, New York. His first appearance in the "Records of Cape May County, New Jersey" is 21 Dec 1698 when William SEGRAVE was appointed Administrator of the "effects of Oliver Johnson, deceased". In 1702 he is mentioned in the New Jersey will of John Stubbs as William SEGRAVE.

The first William also seems to have been the father of a William SEAGRAVE born about 1690 in New Jersey. This second William married an Esther or Hester Hand Huet about 1715 in Cape May County, NJ. William SEAGRAVE was the Administrator of the will of Joseph Huitt, first husband of Esther in 1714. William and Esther had two known sons: a third William, called William SEAGRAVE, Jr., born 14 October 1716 in Cape May County and Onesimus SEAGRAVE, born about 1718. Onesimus was the Executor of his father's will after William, Jr. died 10 October 1751 in Salem County, NJ. Onesimus was the father of Artis SEAGRAVES, born about the 1750's in New Jersey. From there, as they migrated west, the New Jersey Branch became more creative in spellings. In the mid-nineteenth century a variation cropped up in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana: SEAGREAVE/SEAGREAVES, which seems to have been used by descendants of both the Massachusetts and New Jersey Branches. It is still in use by some in my generation, but it is not common. I have only 62 examples in my list of about 2,500 males born with a version of the name. Another variation I have seen mostly used in Kentucky is SAGRAVE/SAGRAVES. That appears 139 times, occasionally as SAGRAVE or SAGROVE(S).

Let me help clarify the statistics from my list in which I have the form of the name most commonly associated with the person in the records cited. If a living person has provided information on themselves, I have used the spelling they did. Except that all variations in this study are combined under the most common modern name of 'Seagraves'. Only the Massachusetts family is recorded under its most common usage as SEAGRAVE and the Kentucky family under their SAGRAVE(S) variation.

This is not a scientific analysis, but it does give a pretty clear picture of relative usages. The first item is the name as spelled in the source document and the second is the number of times it appears in various records. A 1 means that only one person has a primary record with that spelling.

A second statistical analysis that may help see the pattern change through time and location is to show the count by census. Recall that the spelling used was what the census taker thought it should be based on what it sounded like and his or her experience with similar names. Almost all of our ancestors were not able to read or write as Americans were generally illiterate until the early 20th century, so they did not know how to spell their names, just how they sounded. Some of our records are lost due to the excessively creative spellings used by clerks and record-keepers in the past. Still, this listing should be useful and instructive. It is structured by census year then by state, then by county and number of heads of family with each spelling. I am only showing the first 5 censuses (through 1830) since that should be enough to make the issue understandable. If anyone would like to see more, just let us know.

1790 Census
Massachusetts, Worcester Co., 3 SEAGRAVES families
New York, New York City, 1 SEAGRAYS family
North Carolina, Wake Co.,6 SEGRAVES families
Pennsylvania, Nothampton Co., 1 SIDGREVES family

1800 Census
Massachusetts, Worcester Co., 3 SEGRAVES families
New York, New York Co., 1 SEAGRAVE family
North Carolina, Anson Co., 3 SEGRAVES families
Montgomery Co., 1 SEGRAVES family
Wake Co., 7 SEGRAVES families
Warren Co., 1 SEGRAVE family
Pennsylvania, Northampton Co., 1 SEAGREAVES family
Vermont, Windsor Co., 1 SEAGRAVES family

1810 Census
Connecticut, Windham Co., 2 SEAGRAVES families
Kentucky, Knox Co., 2 SEGRAVES families
Warren Co., 2 SEGRAVES families
Massachusetts, Worcester Co., 7 SEGRAVES families
North Carolina, Anson Co., 2 SEAGRAVES families
Montgomery Co., 3 SEGRAVES families
Warren Co., 1 SEAGROVE family
Pennsylvania, Dauphin Co., 1 SEAGRAVES family
Northampton Co., 1 SEAGREVES family
1 SEEGRAVES family
Tennessee, Rutherford Co., 1 SEAGRAVES family

1820 Census
Connecticut, Windham Co., 3 SEAGRAVES families
Georgia, Camden Co., 1 female SEAGROVE living alone
Madison Co., 1 SEGROVES family
Kentucky, Allen Co., 2 SEGRAVES families
Harlan Co., 1 SEGRAVES family
Massachusetts, Berkshire Co., 1 SEGRAVES family
Worcester Co., 7 SEEGRAVES families
1 SEAGRAVES family
North Carolina, Anson Co., 2 SEAGRAVES families
Wake Co. Tax List, 7 SEAGRAVES families
Warren Co. Tax List, 1 SEAGROVES family
Ohio, Warren Co., 1 SEAGRAVE family
1 SEGRAVES family
Pennsylvania, Dauphin Co., 1 SEGREAVES family
1 SEAGRAVES family
Lancaster Co., 1 SEAGRAVE family
1 SEAGRAVES family
Lehigh Co., 1 SEAGRAVE family
Philadelphia Co., 1 SEGROVE family
Tennessee, Maury Co., 1 SEAGRAVES family
1 SEAGEARS family
2 SEGRAVES families
Montgomery Co., 1 SEAGRAVES family
Virginia, Spotsylvania Co., 1 SEAGRES? family

1830 Census
Alabama, Perry Co., 4 SAGROVE families
Connecticut, Windham Co., 3 SEAGRAVES families
Georgia, Gwinnett Co., 1 SEGRAVES family
Madison Co., 2 SEGRAVES families
Pike Co., 1 SEGRAVES family
Illinois, Bond Co., 1 SEEGRAVES family
Clinton Co., 3 SEAGRAVES families
Fayette Co., 2 SEGRAVES families
Indiana, Henry Co., 1 SEAGRAVES family
Wayne Co., 2 SEAGRAVES families
Kentucky, Lawrence Co., 1 SEAGRAVES family
1 SEEGRAVES family
Massachusetts, Worcester Co., 8 SEAGRAVES families
Plymouth Co., 1 SEAGRAVES family
Missouri, Cooper Co., 2 SEGRAVES families
New Jersey, Cape May Co., 1 SEGRAVE family of 2 "free colored persons"
Salem Co., 4 SEAGRAVE families
Warren Co., 1 SEAGREAVES family
1 SEAGROVES family
New York, Saratoga Co., 1 SEGROVE family
North Carolina, Rowan Co., 1 SEGRAVE family
Surry Co., 2 SEAGRAVES families
Wake Co., 6 SEGRAVES families
Wilkes Co., 1 SEGRAVES family
Ohio, Warren Co., 1 SEGRAVE family
Pennsylvania, Lancaster Co., 1 SEAGREAVES family
Lehigh Co., 1 SEGRAVES family
Luzern Co., 1 SEAGREAVES family
Rhode Island, Providence Co., 1 SEAGRAVE family
1 SEGRAVES family
Tennessee, Bledsoe Co., 1 C. S. GRAVES family
1 SEGRAVES family
Gles Co., 1 C. GRAVES family
Tipton Co., 1 SEGRAVES family
Virginia, Ohio Co., 1 SEGRAVE family

The name spelling inconsistencies in the census records mirror other available records. Often we have been forced to select a spelling for a person's family based on only a few instances of the name and, if none predominates, we default to other family names in the same area. Our only conclusion is that American speech patterns favor adding an s to names more than English or Irish speakers. Like it or not, our computerized world is solidifying spelling patterns in family names in a way not seen before. There are cases in which a person's tombstone has their family name spelled differently than census or other records surviving from their lifetime. We have made the easy assumption that all persons are all related if they have a reasonably close variation of the Seagraves family name.

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