Sawyer


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The Old English saghen, meaning "to saw," was the root of the occupational name Sawyer, one who made his living by sawing wood.  Sometimes Sawyer was abbreviated to Sayer.  In America, Jewish names like Seger were often anglicized to Sawyer.

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England.  Some early surname forms were Sagher.  But Sawyer had started to appear by the 14th century. The name crops up mainly along the East Coast of England, to some extent in Yorkshire but much more so in East Anglia and in Kent.

Norfolk  One Sawyer line traces itself to Cawston in Norfolk in the 1500's and possibly earlier.  Sir Edmund Sawyer was auditor for the city of London.  He purchased Heywood near Maidenhead in Berkshire in 1627 and this manor stayed with the family for the next two hundred years.  Two Sawyers became Royal Navy admirals in the 18th century.  Other branches of this family were to be found in Cambridge and in Kettering in Northamptonshire.

Kent  A Sawyer family in Kent were, appropriately enough, carpenters.  Based in Dover, Willard Sawyer was a carpenter who became internationally known as the first professional maker of a man-powered vehicle.  He set up his business in 1838, the year after Queen Victoria came to the throne.  The four-wheeled velocipede on which he cycled from London to Brighton is now an exhibit in the London Science Museum.

America
.   The early Sawyers in New England have been traced in Eleanor Sawyer's 1995 book Sawyer Families of New England, 1636-1900

New England.  Among the first New England arrivals were:
  • Edward, William, and Thomas Sawyer, three brothers in Ipswich, Mass in 1636 (one line of descendants were to become merchants and ship-owners in Gloucester, Mass).
  • William Sawyer, one of the founders of Newbury, Mass, in 1640
  • Thomas and Mary Sawyer who settled in Lancaster, Mass. in the 1640's.
Mary Elizabeth Sawyer was the little girl in Sterling, Mass about whom the children's poem, Mary Had a Little Lamb, was written in the early 19th century. 

Alfred Sawyer from Marlborough, Mass started Sawyer's Woollen Mills in Dover, New Hampshire in 1824.  His grandson Charles became Governor of New Hampshire in 1886.  Thomas Sawyer, born of a poor family in Vermont, became a prominent Universalist minister and educator.  And Sawyers were also to be found from an early time at Greene, Saco, and Elliotsville in Maine.

Other notable Sawyers were:
  • Moses Sawyer who was an early settler on Shelter Island on Long Island Sound in the 1760's. 
  • a pioneer Sawyer family of upstate New York, who transferred from Dutchess to Schuyler county in the 1780's.
  • and Philetus Sawyer who moved from upstate New York in Wisconsin in 1847 where he worked in the lumber industry. He ended up serving two terms as the Senator for Wisconsin.  The family home on Algoma Boulevard in Oshkosh is now the Oshkosh Public Museum.
Sawyers in the South  Sawyers were also in Virginia and the Carolinas by the 1700's, the most prominent of these being the Sawyers along the Pasquotank river in Camden, North Carolina.  Enoch Sawyer grew wealthy there by managing the port.  Brother Lemuel Sawyer was a local congressman and a writer of some repute, although his 1844 autobiography did not go down well.  This was one reviewer's comments:

""This book - a frank disclosure of his gambling, wastefulness, dissipation, chicanery, and tawdry love affairs - must be one of the most self-condemning documents in all American letters."

He blew his wife's money and died in poverty.  Family accounts showed later migrations of these Sawyers south to Alabama, Arkansas, and Texas. 

Hannibal, Missouri is known as Tom Sawyer's town, being the childhood home of his creator Mark Twain.  John Sawyer, born in Virginia, settled with his wife Maria in Schuyler county, Missouri in the 1820ís.  His granddaughter Millie Mariah died in Kansas in 1938 at the grand old age of 87.  She left 109 living descendants to mourn her passing.

Canada.  The first Sawyer in Canada was probably James Sawyer, born in New Carlisle, Quebec in 1764.  His descendants were to be found there and in New Brunswick and Maine as well.

Lewis Sawyer was born in Canada in 1786.  It was thought that his father had been a Scotsman who had come out to Canada as a young lad, but was then captured by Mohawk Indians.  He was raised by the tribe at the St. Regis Indian reservation in upstate New York.  Son Lewis, who was born there in 1824, could remember both his mother Mary and his grandmother Ann who lived to be 100. 

John Sawyer left his home in Lancaster, Massachusetts in the 1780ís either during or after the turmoil of the Revolutionary War.  He settled in Three Rivers, Quebec.  There he married a French girl, accepted the Catholic faith, and became Jean.  One of his descendants Avila did return to Massachusetts in the 1890ís.  Another Sawyer family in Quebec, also in the Three Rivers area, came from the German immigrant Johannes Sauer, a Hessian soldier.


Other Sawyers from America were:
  • Noadiah Sawyer from Vermont, a Loyalist, who settled in Hamilton township, Ontario around 1810
  • and the Rev. Joseph Sawyer, a Methodist missionary from upstate New York who preached across the border on the Niagara circuit.   One of his converts was a young Ojibwe Indian who took the name of Joseph Sawyer on his baptism.  He and his son David Sawyer were to become chiefs of the Ojibwe Indians and to lead them to their new reservation in Tuscarora township.
Africa.  The Sawyers have been a prominent Americo-Liberian family in Liberia.  Amos Sawyer from this family served as an interim President in the early 1990's.   Violence in the country has meant that many of these Sawyers now live in the US.

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


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Sir Edmund Sawyer was auditor to the Exchequer Court in London in the early 1600's.
Willard Sawyer was the bicycle pioneer from Kent with his development of "velocipedes" in the 1840's.
Tom Sawyer was the lead character in Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which first appeared in 1876.
Philetus Sawyer was the Senator for Wisconsin from 1881 to 1893.
Diane Sawyer from Louisville, Kentucky is a well-known TV newscaster. 

Select Sawyers Today
  • 19,000 in the UK (most numerous in Kent)
  • 18,000 in America (most numerous in North Carolina)
  • 4,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)



Select Surnames

Adams Cohen Harding McDonald Reynolds
Armstrong Corbett Harmer Meredith Richardson
Bacon Crawford Harris Mitchell Rooney
Baldwin Crowther Hayward Moore Sawyer
Bannister Doyle Henderson Murray  
Shelley
Bartlett Drake Hepburn Myers Sheraton
Bennett Driscoll Higgins Nash Spencer
Booth Ellis Hilton Newton Swan
Bowles Fitzgerald Holmes
Nightingale Sykes
Brett Fleming  Hopkins Oakes Tattersall      
Burden/Borden Foster Hudson Osborne Todd
Byrne
Fox Jackson Palin
Tucker
Carpenter Fraser Jefferson Palmer Vaughan
Carter Fry Jenner Pascoe Wade
Cassidy Fuller Lofthouse  Perry/Parry        
Wallace
Cavendish Gallagher        
Lynch  Pertwee Warren  
Chapman Goodwin Maloney Powell Washington
Chisholm Gould Marriott Pratt Webster
Clay Grant Maynard          
Probyn Witherspoon
Clinton Hancock McCarthy Quayle Wyatt 

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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