Select Swan Miscellany
- The Various Origins of the Name Swan
- Swans and Swanns
- The Swans of Hook Place in Kent
- The Sad Tale of William Swan
- James Swan: The Swan That Slept
- Morven Park
The Various Origins of the Name Swan
The main although not the only origin of the Swan surname is
the Old Norse word svein,
with its various meanings of friend, partner or servant.
Its first recording as a family name was Osgot Sveyn, dated 1045, in
the Anglo Saxon will register for Cambridge. Subsequent Swans
recorded in Pipe and Assize rolls were:
The name Swan could also have an Anglo Saxon origin, from the
Old English swon meaning
swineherd or herdsman. Its appeareance as a surname in the 14th
century came with the French prefix Le:.
||Stephen le Swan
||Simon le Swayne
||Thomas le Swan
Third, less common, was Swan as locationalwith the prefix atte, describing
someone who lived at a place with the sign of the swan.
||Godfrey atte Swan
||Thomas atte Swan
Swans and Swanns
Swann is the main variant to Swan as a surname in England
and Scotland. The table below shows the distribution of these two
names by region as recorded in the 1891 census.
Distribution in 1891
Swan would appear to follow Viking settlement on the
eastern side of the country. Swann, meanwhile, was concentrated
in Yorkshire, Lancashire and the Midlands. It does not appear in
Scotland nor much in the East and West.
The Swans of Hook Place in Kent
Hook Place in Southfleet was for many centuries the seat of a family named Swan, who, as early as the reign of King Richard II, wrote themselves as gentlemen. John Swan sat as baron for Sandwich in the late 1400's.
Sir William Swan possessed it in the reign of James I
and, dying in 1612, lies buried in the parish church of St. Nicholas;
as does Hester Lady Swan, his mother, who died at the beginning of that
year. On the wall of the belfry there is a brass plate
inscription showing that William's sons, John, William, and Richard,
together with his grandsons, Thomas and William, gave the largest bell
to this structure.
Grandson Sir William Swan was likewise of Hook Place and was created a baronet in 1666.
The Sad Tale of William Swan
The following strange narrative of human suffering was to
be found in the Universal Register
on March 18, 1786.
"On Friday morning last was found dead in his bed, at an obscure lodging near Chiswell Street, Mr. William Swan. He was the only surviving male heir of Thomas Swan, the alderman and mayor of Hull who had left an estate of £20,000 per annum which his family had been trying in vain to recover for more than twenty five years.
The history of this unfortunate man has been no less
remarkable than that of his father. In 1705, at the age of nine,
he had been trepanned from his father's house in Newcastle and put on
board the new Britannia brig. This vessel was wrecked on the
rocks of Sicily and he was subsequently taken by an Algerine vessel and
sold into slavery. He was, after four years, set at liberty
by the Redeeming Friars. But he was then taken prisoner again and
sold as a slave to a planter in South Carolina.
After a banishment of twenty years, he returned to
England and was identified in Newcastle by his nurse and by his
father's footman. But he had no success in laying any claim to
the family estate. He married and settled down at North Dalton
near Hull where the unfortunate William Swan was born. He died
there, it was said of a broken heart, in 1735."
James Swan: The Swan That Slept
James Swan was a Revolutionary War soldier from Scotland;
later a land speculator, founding Swan's Island in Maine, and
became a very wealthy businessman. He also spent the last twenty
two years of his life in a French jail, falsely accused of a debt that
he had the money to repay. It is that enigmatic final period of
his life that the Camden playwright Robert Manns explored in his play The Swan That Slept.
play is set in Swan's jail cell in France where he lived from 1808 to
1830. There are four characters: Swan himself, his jailer, his
girlfriend Roseanne, and the Revolutionary War hero, the Marquis de
Lafayette who was one of Swan's friends.
"I couldn't believe that a man would commit himself to prison for 22 years when he could pay the fine and tell the French where to go," said Manns. "He stayed there on principle. But he lost a beautiful wife, his children, a good dog, a shipping business, and homes in Boston and France. It was a very expensive commitment for principle. The question of the play is: what is the price for principle?"
Galen Turner who runs the Marine Musuem on Swan's Island
has also pondered on this issue. He believes that the
biographical facts do not begin to tell Swan's story. "What is
known about him is only the tip of the iceberg. It is obvious
that he was a very complex man."
The mansion, the focal point of the estate, evolved from a fieldstone farmhouse built in 1781. The first owner was Wilson Cary Selden. Judge Thomas Swann acquired the property in 1808 and added the Doric portico and dependencies in the 1830s. In 1858, Swann's son, Thomas Swann, Jr., later Governor of Maryland, engaged Baltimore architect Edmund G. Lind to remodel the house into a grand mansion.
The plantation in the early months of the Civil War was home to Confederate troops of the 17th Mississippi Regiment. The front lawn was used as drilling and review grounds by the Southern soldiers. Known as "Swan's Castle" by the troops because of the Italianate style towers on the house in the 19th century, Morven Park provided living space for officers in the mansion, while more than fifty log huts housed soldiers in the woods behind the house.