Spears


Select Spears Surname Genealogy

Spears is the main American spelling of this surname.  It has its origins in earlier spellings of the name in England and Scotland. 

Spiers and Speirs derived from the Old French word espier, meaning to watch or observe, and was the title for a keeper of the Watch or an early form of policeman.  Spiers has been the most common spelling in England.  Speirs and Spiers have both been found in Scotland.  Pronunciation has tended to be like Spe-ars, except in the West  Midlands where it has been like Spy-ers. 

Spear derived
from the Middle English spere, meaning a spear.  The name, found mainly in Devon and Cornwall, described either a spear-maker or a spearman, a soldier with a spear. 

The Spiers, Speirs, Spear, and Spears spellings are all found today.  There are also German, Dutch and Jewish origins for these names
.

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Scotland.  Both Spiers and Speirs appeared in earlier Scottish records, but now Speirs has become the more common spelling. 

Some have thought that the place-name of Spierston, between Ayr and Glasgow, might have been the origin of the surname.  But this appears unlikely as no Spiers or Speirs were recorded in the immediate vicinity.  Even so, the main concentration of the Spiers/Speirs name has been in that general area.  The name of John Speir did appear in the 1587 and 1597 Ayr borough records. 

Ayrshire.  A Spiers family of cabinet-makers in Ayr has been traced back to Robert Spiers, born in Ayr in 1743.  Perhaps the best known of these Spiers was Stewart Spiers who thrived in the late 19th century.  Robert Speir purchased Campbell farm in Dairy, Ayrshire in 1741.  It appears that Speirs are still farming there. 

William Speirs married Janet Sheddan at Kilmaurs in eastern Ayrshire in 1758.  Through this marriage the Speirs family became owners of the Kersland mill and Marshalland estate in Beith.  The family prospered.  Margaret Spiers, who outlived both her husband and her son, bequeathed on her death in 1870 funds for a school to be established in memory of her son.  Spiers’ School was opened in 1888 and continued until 1972. 

Renfrewshire and Glasgow
.  The line of the Speirs of Burnbrae in Renfrewshire began with the birth of Robert Speir there in 1688.  They became major landowners in the area.  A branch of the family moved to county Tyrone in Ulster in the 1740’s. 

The famous Speirs merchant family of Elderslie in Renfrewshire is thought to have had  its origins in Perthshire.  John Spiers, an Edinburgh merchant, was probably born there.  His son Alexander Speirs became involved in the tobacco business, owning a tobacco plantation in Virginia and trading tobacco from Glasgow, and amassed a huge fortune. This was inherited in 1782 by his son Archibald. 

Alexander had sought without success to establish a cotton mill at Fintry some 20 miles north of Glasgow.  His youngest son Peter succeeded with a water-driven mill in 1800.  This mill thrived for about thirty years, but then became uneconomic and was closed down. 

The Speirs remained a powerful and influential force in Glasgow life throughout the 19th century.  Perhaps the best remembered has been Lady Anne Speirs, in part because of her philanthropic work but more because of her alleged curse on the town of Linwood. 

England
.  Spiers and Spear have been the two main spellings in England. 

The Spiers Surname
.  The name seems to have first appeared as Spier in the West Midlands.  John Spier of Newbold-on-Avon in Warwickshire died in 1618.  Another John Spier married Ann Brand at Severn Stoke in Worcestershire in 1721.  Later the spelling was Spiers or sometimes Spires.  The Spiers family of Stoneleigh in Warwickshire dating back to the 1750’s used both spellings. 

Spiers meanwhile has been a long-established name in the village of Ludgershall in Buckinghamshire.  There was an early account of a Richard Spiers “possessed of the friary.”  And under the tower of the church there is a huge monument to William Spiers, dated 1814, who was a local benefactor. 

Some Spiers in England were of foreign origin.  Alexander Spiers the lexicographer, who was born on the coast in Hampshire in 1807, had German parents.  His grandson Edward Spiers changed his name from Spiers to Spears.  He had a lengthy political career that benefited from his close relationship with Winston Churchill.  Morris Spiers, also Jewish, came to London from Poland in the 1860’s.  The Rev. Bernard Spiers, from Poland as well, was a Jewish dayan leader in London in the 1870’s. 

The Spear Surname.  The Speare name appeared in the Devon subsidy records in 1332.  By the 1600’s Spear seems to have been
mainly concentrated in central Devon in an area around the villages of Winkleigh and Monk Okehampton northwest of Exeter.  One family has traced their ancestors back to the mid‑Devon village of Sandford in the 1730's.  The Spear name extended to Cornwall and later to Somerset and Bristol. 

America. 
Spiers and Speirs may have been spellings in England and Scotland.  Some may have come to America by that spelling.  But over time Americans spelt the name as they heard it and this became Spear and Spears. 

Northeast.
  George Spear’s origins in England are uncertain.  He came to Braintree, Massachusetts in 1644 and tradition has it that he lived in the Mount Wollaston farm previously occupied by John Quincy.  His descendants were numerous in New England.  According to Verne Spear’s 1988 book The Descendants of George Spear: 

“George Spear had over 200 descendants fighting in the Revolutionary War, with more than 100 bearing his name and 16 of them officers.  An equal number of descendants from the Spear daughters enlisted from Massachusetts alone and fought to free a nation. 

The Speer and Spear names were common in Essex county, New Jersey in the early 1800’s.  These names harked back to the early Dutch immigrant Hendrick Spier who arrived in what was then New Amsterdam in 1650. 

Virginia
.  There were three notable early Spiers/Spears lines into Virginia - one from Scotland, another of uncertain origin, and a third from Germany. 

Henry Spiers was born to Scottish parents in Prince George county around the year 1720.  He was a tobacco planter.  Many of his descendants remained in the area through the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.  William Spiers was with General Lee at Appomattox in 1865 when he surrendered to General Grant.  This line was covered in Mary Spiers Kennette’s 1979 book Descendants of Henry Spiers. 

James Spears was born in Albemarle county in 1729.  He was a neighbor of the Jeffersons and appeared in the will of Thomas Jefferson’s father in 1757.  His sons William and Samuel moved to Georgia in the late 1790’s. 

Christian Spears, born in Virginia in 1755, was the son of German Speers immigrants.  He was in Kentucky as early as 1780 and was in fact captured there by the British during the Revolutionary War.  Laroux Gillespie’s 1987 book
History and Descendants of John E. and Noah Spears is an account of two Christian Spears’ descendants and their westward adventures during the 19th century. 

Georgia and Mississippi.
  The Spears name came south from Georgia into Mississippi.  Archibald Spears, from a Scottish line, died in Twiggs county, Georgia in 1812.  His son, also Archibald, moved to Jones county, Mississippi and later to Texas.  He lost three of his sons in the Civil War. 

Old John Spiers, who lived to be ninety, was born in Georgia in 1799 and came to Pearl River county on the Mississippi shoreline as a young man.  He was one of the early settlers there.  Pascal Spears was born at Osyka, Pike county in 1862.  He is the first known Spears ancestor of the Mississippi-born singer Brittany Spears. 

Canada.
  David Spiers from Ayrshire, despairing of the farming life there, came out to Canada in the late 1840’s as a teenager.  In Galt, Ontario he prospered in a number of businesses and became one of the civic leaders of the town.  Spiers Crescent was named after him. 

Australia and New Zealand.
  Felix Spiers who arrived in Melbourne in 1857 came from a Scottish family which had its origins with Joseph Spiers, born in Glasgow around the year 1700, and later Spiers who were tobacco merchants in France.  He formed a partnership, Spiers & Pond, with Christopher Pond to run restaurants and hotels.  However, they are best remembered for bringing the first All-England cricket team to Australia in 1861 to play a series of matches.  Felix Spiers left Australia for London in 1863. 

James and Harriotte Spiers from London were on-board the Oriental which arrived in New Zealand in 1839.  They settled in the Karori suburb of Wellington.  There is a street now named Spiers in Karori
.

Select Spears Miscellany

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


Select Spears Names

Alexander Speirs, based in Glasgow, was one of the leading British tobacco merchants of the mid-18th century. 
Britney Spears
is an American singer from Mississippi who burst into the hit charts in the late 1990’s and established herself as a teen icon.

Select Spears Today
  • 11,000 in the UK (most numerous in Glasgow)
  • 15,000 in America (most numerous in Texas) 
  • 6,000 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 800 surnames.

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