The Seagraves Family

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Seagraves Names

The spelling of surnames is a frequent problem among family historians.  People just starting out on their genealogy research often assume that the spelling used by their parents is the only official version.  For many common names this is a reasonable assumption, however, few people before the late 19th century were functionally literate in this country (and most others).  The average person did not know or care much about spelling and were happy to be able to pronounce their names for clerks, census takers, and similar recorders.  It is not unusual to see a particular family living in an area over generations have their name recorded in several different ways by such record keepers, who were often among the few literate people in a community.  The record keepers usually just wrote down what they thought they heard and what they thought was a locally common version of that surname.

Most of us currently living in the United States have inherited the SEAGRAVES version of the spelling and it is the most common variation in America these days.  On the 1940 US census of the 23 spelling variations of the name that were recorded ranging from Cegraves to Sigraves census takers recorded the name as SEAGRAVES 1,015 times or 31.4% of the total variations; the next most common version was SEGRAVES, at 518 times or 16.3%.

The most common variation in early English records seems to have been the SEGRAVE spelling, which it how it is found on early in early family records and English maps until about 1800 when cartographers started using the SEAGRAVE version. The SEGRAVE version is still in active use in England as evidenced by the author of "The Segrave Family, 1066-1935", by Charles W. Segrave.  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 (now called Seagrave) less than 10 miles north of Leicester in the English Midlands which 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). Other much more romantic ideas for the name origin have been proposed rather than 'Pondgrove', but, while some 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 the possible settlement of the area by a retiring Norse or Germanic sea captain; however, as in most such things the simplest answer: that there was a grove of trees by a ditch or stream where an early manor house or settlement occurred, is probably the best one and which we have accepted here.

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 much 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.  This does not rule out a campsite a day's walk out of the then Coritani village on the future site of the Roman camp of Leicester being used on the future site of the village of Segrave at any time before the Roman occupation, however, there is no historical evidence, just conjecture.

No reference to the village has been noted during Roman times or the subsequent Anglo-Saxon period extending through the later 900s. Much of the part of Britain which now includes Leicestershire was under the Danelaw ruled by descendants of Norse invaders from the late 870s until late in the rule of the Wessex King, Alfred, who began to defend from and push back on the Norse threat.  The expansion of lands ruled by Wessex kings continued under his son, Edward, and daughter Athelfled (who ruled the Saxon kingdom of Mercia), grandson, and Edward's son, Athelstan, through the early 10th century.  Athelfled gained control of Leicester in 919 AD not long before she died.  She was one of the more successful leaders of early medieval leaders of early British history.  On her death Mercia was rolled into Wessex under Athelstan forming a more solid base for the ultimate Saxon control of Britain until the Norse came back in the form of William of Normandy in 1066.  The period from the sparsely recorded Roman era to the Norman conquest left few to no records of individuals other than nobility.  Only a very few thousand individual names have been located from that time (see The Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England, and none appear to be any form of Segrave

In 1086 AD King William I ("William the Conqueror") had created and published a fiscal record of his holdings in England known then, as now, as the "Domesday Survey." While not prominent in the Shire of Leicester, 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 in the Survey, 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.  We believe that the village or manor of Segrave gave rise to the surname as it was attached to people who either owned property there or actually lived on the land.  For a discussion of the early English family Segrave, please see the caption on the home page of this site called "The Original English Family".

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 were more highly educated and lived in close proximity to each other in and around Uxbridge, MA for many generations, did and still do adhere to the English spelling of SEAGRAVE. Even as their descendants migrated across the country we can be fairly sure (but not certain) 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 County, 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:

  • 21 Feb 1734 William Ashburn of Bartee Precinct in North Carolina to William SEAGRAVE (probably the son of Francis) of the lower parish of Isle of Wight...160 acres on the Dirty Branch adjoining John Pearce... Witness: Francis (X) Seagrave
  • 20 Aug 1743 Thomas Applewhaite to William SEGRAVES... 100 ACRES ON Blackwater branches... adjoining Mathew Westraw...
  • 10 Jun 1746 John Peirce and wife, Esther Peirce, to William SEAGROVES...160 acres on Cypress Swamp...adjoining Browns Branch.
  • 10 Jun 1746 John Peirce and wife, Esther Peirce, to Nathan Peirce...239 acres on Cypress Swamp...adjoining William SEAGRAVE...Witnesses: ... William Powell and William (X) SEAGRAVES.
  • 12 Aug 1747 John Pearce to Francis SEAGRAVES (also probably a son of Francis)... 100 acres...adjoining Richard Pearce and Honey Tree Branch.

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

  • 25 Oct 1785 inventory in Bladen Co., NC of estate of Christopher Woodward...notes of... William SEGRAVES... John SEGRAVES...
  • 19 Jul 1791 estate sale of David Utley...Buyers: ...Daniel SEAGRAVES...
  • 16 Jul 1797 will of Elisha Strictland...Daughter Prisilla SEAGROVES: 1 S (shilling)...
  • 2 Jul 1797 estate sale of E. Strictland...Buyers: ...Wm SEAGROVES
  • 6 Feb 1798 estate sale of William Williams...Buyers: ...Jacob SEGROVES...Solomon SEGROVES...
  • 6 Mar 1798 will of Mary Williams...Mary Williams, widow of William Williams, left to America Jones wife of Lewis Jones the remainder of her estate after the legacy of 200 a(cres) whereon Jacob SEGRAVES lives and the stock of cattle the said SEGRAVES has the care of was paid to Lewis Jones, son of Lewis.
  • 11 Apr 1799 B & E Sanders sale of goods... Buyers: ... Benjamin SEAGRAVES
  • 2 May 1800 inventory of estate of Britain Sanders.. Debtors: ... Wake Store Middle Creek: ... Benjamin SEAGRAVES...John SEAGRAVES Sr...
  • 29 Aug 1800 estate sale of Mary Williams...Buyers: Jacob SEAGRAVES, William SEAGRAVES...William SEGRAVES Jr., John SEGRAVE Jr., Stephen SEGRAVES...
  • Aug 1801 B & E Sanders debts due...John SEGRAVES Sr... John SEGRAVES,... John SEGRAVES Sr.,...
  • 16 Sep 1801 estate sale of Kesiah Hambleton...Buyers:..John SEGRAVES,...Kinchen SEGRAVES...

Our 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 about 1800. The "SE" spelling versus the "SEA" spelling seems to have still been interchangeable, but the Sea was becoming more common.  The Seagrove(s) version seems to have arisen from the script "a" being misread as an "o" by certain scribes or because it made more sense to them.  Thus, we believe that all Seagrove(s) names are directly related to the Seagraves family.

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 probably 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.

That 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 current generations, but it is not common. We have only 62 examples in a list of about 2,500 males born with a version of the name. Another variation seen mostly used in Kentucky and southern Ohio is SAGRAVE/SAGRAVES. That appears 139 times, occasionally as SAGROVE or SAGROVES.

Let us clarify the statistics from that list in which we 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, we have used the spelling they did.  Except that all variations in this study are combined under the most common modern name of 'Seagraves' to make analysis and recording easier.  Only the Massachusetts family is recorded under its most common usage as SEAGRAVE and the Kentucky/Ohio 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.

  • SAGRAVES 132
  • SEAGRAVE 358
  • SEGRAVE 44
  • SEGRAVES 649
  • SEGROVE 12

  • Total 2493

A second statistical analysis that may help see the pattern change through time and location is to show the count by census. Please 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. We only show 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, Northampton 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
Giles 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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