Meaning of the Frothingham Name




Meaning of the Frothingham Name
Biography of Jacob F Spalding
Thomas Frothingham Letter
Richard and Thomas Frothingham Jr’s Years in Ellsworth County, Kansas, 1886-1888
First Presbyterian Church, Galesville, Wisconsin



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 The following transcription came to me from Don Frothingham. He received it from his grandfather Donald Y Frothingham who wrote it to pass on the history of our beginnings in Great Britain. My thanks to Don for his permission to publish it here.

Origins of the Frothingham Name

Written by Donald Y Frothingham

To my Grandsons and their Cousins


First of all, it’s old English, dating back all of nine hundred years . But before that, in the very beginning, Frothi was a Danish name of the legendary Viking Age, long before there were written records.

In English histories it shows up first in the Doomsday Book in 1086, some twenty years after the Norman Conquest. This book was the very first record and survey of all the properties and places in that England conquered by William of Normandy in 1066. In the Estreding (East Riding) of Yorkshire, Domesday Book listed the estate and place of North Frodingham, which name reappears in the Yorkshire Charters of 1100 and 1300, and was spelled North Frothyngham in the Subsidy Rolls of 1297. This place was in the Holderness region, near the coast of the North Sea, about 11 miles from the ancient Beverley Minster Church, famous as a mediaeval sanctuary for those fleeing the King’s Law. Some twenty miles south and nearer to the Humber port of Hull, was South Frodyingham, held by the same family, and first listed some two hundred years later in the Yorkshire “Feudal Aids” of 1285. Across the Humber Estuary in what became Lincolnshire, was still another Frodingham, near Scunthorpe, held by a branch of the same family and listed in Church Chronicles of 1125.

According to the Oxford “Dictionary of English Place Names”, your full name means “The home (ham) of Frothi’s people” indicated by that -ing syllable which usually meant ‘the sons of’, much like Mac in Scottish and Irish names.*

Here the history scholars started on a new piece of research: “Who was Frothi?” They knew that the Yorkshire country had been conquered by the Vikings from Denmark across the North Sea, who had sailed in their Long Ships to ravage and plunder the English shores, before settling finally in that rich country of the East Coast. These wild fighting Northmen in their winged helmets, with their two handed swords and battle axes, were Danish sea rovers mostly from Jutland. Whereupon the scholars started their study of the Danish Sagas, the long poems of the Viking court singers and skalds which the minstrels had passed from father to son for hundreds of years, before there had been writing. In the Skioldunga Saga, they found the stories of that legendary King Frothi of Jutland (more like a warrior chieftain than a later day King) who was the son of Danr the Proud, the first King of Denmark in the Viking Age. The riddle of the name was solved. Frothi’s descendants were called the Frothings, who centuries later sailed in to the Humber with a horde of fair haired blue eyed fellow Vikings, to conquer and settle the rich countryside, and so to establish the Frothing(ham) name on the land for all the years that followed.

In fact, so many conquering Danes sailed across the North Sea that they won all of that England north of London to the Scottish border, holding the land apart from the Saxon kings in the south, under the rule of their own Danish kings in the ancient northern city of York. It was in the year 865 that the “Great Army” of the Vikings under Guthrum and Halfdan had invaded England, of whom but few ever did return to Denmark. After nine long years of campaigning, the great army split in two divisions, Halfdan settling his half in Yorkshire in 876, and dividing the land among his Jarls and their retainers. So it was that the historians think the Frothings first came up the Humber to Holderness in 876 to settle down in what later became known as Frothingham, the home of Frothi's people.

The Danish conquerors of the north of England became converted to Christianity, intermarried with the vanquished English, but called their lands the "Danelaw" (under the own laws) and forced the Saxon kings of the south to pay an annual tribute called the "Danegeld" in the 10th and 11th centuries. Finally one more powerful than all his forerunners became King of all England. This was the renowned Cnut, who with his sons Harald and Harthacnut, ruled England from 1016-1042, before the Norman Conquest, and whose retainers of Viking ancestry were most thickly settled in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. That countryside is dotted with Danish place names to this very day, as you can see on any map, with Frothingham but one of dozens of names ending with "ing", "ingham" or "ington".

While no one of your name seems to have survived in Yorkshire since the late 1600's, the county maps still show in the Holderness division a tributary of the Hull River called Frodingham Beck (Danish for "brook"), a Frodingham Grange, and in South Frodingham, Frodingham Hall, an old stone manor house of the 15th century, with traces of a moat and a drawbridge, the old time residence of the feudal land holders of that time.

On the oldest Yorkshire Parish Records, the first known entry of that name is of Piers de Frodyngham, who married Jane, daughter of Sir Will Boynton de Sadberg about the year 1250. There followed thirteen generations of descendents in Holderness. As feudal land holders, they served their kings and overlords in armor, with their own men-at-arms, holding the right of wearing their own arms device on their shields, a royal privilege carefully restricted to the so-called "nobiles", those "of gentle blood".

The first recorded knighthood in the long line was that of Sir Peter de Frodyngham, living in Holderness about 1300 and therefore in the reign of Edward I. His coat of arms was "Azure, a bend argent between six mullets or", in the ancient language of Heraldry, the same to be carried by his descendants in Holderness in the years that followed. You know of course that knighthood itself was not inherited, but that the family right of "bearing arms" was most scrupulously and jealously guarded by the manor lords and gentle folk who by military service inherited that royal right of coat armor. By 1417, this so-called "Preuve de noblesse" was sanctioned only "by proof" before the Royal College of Arms and the King's Heralds. And the hall mark of truly old coats of arms is simplicity. As the years passed and the number of gentle folk increased in England, the designs of coat armor became increasingly elaborate, an interesting thing to remember in looking at the simply designed Frothingham arms of about 1300.

Another Sir Peter Frodingham of about 1450 held the next knighthood in the family, in the time of Henry VI. The old records in church and law Latin, of which so many were lost or misplaced, are painfully deficient in exact dates, although they were extremely careful about the exact line of descent and succession, for the very good reason that manorial landholdings were entailed, always the direct inheritance of the eldest living son and heir. And the most favored name for the eldest son, up to 1540, was that of Peter, probably after that first Sir Piers.

The last of the Frothinghams in Yorkshire were in the 1600's, the manor and lands of South Frothingham in Holderness having been sold in 1625, a time of bitter political and religious strife in England. Many of the gentry of those days of King versus Parliament found it healthful to move elsewhere rather than to face political, court and church conflicts which frequently came to violent endings. On the Yorkshire Land Records, the last of the name was "Christopher Frothingham, Gent." who was reported living in 1662, at the age of 84, whose eldest son and heir Charles had moved away to Birchanger in Essex. It was Christopher who was recorded as seller of Frodingham Hall in 1625, but no record has ever been found of the families of his four brothers, Francis, Richard, Michael and John.

The William Frothingham who at the age of thirty came out to Massachusetts with the Winthrop Fleet in 1630, seems to have been another of the younger sons of those troubled times, likely without the prospect of further inheritance at home, and without the desire to marry an heiress, enter the church or the army, the usual recourse of the cadet sons of the country gentry. At least he had the courage and the will to emigrate to the wilds of a strange land, and was the only one of his name known to have taken the great adventure. Obviously he had a sufficient inheritance to become a shareholder in the Massachusetts Bay Company colonization project, and to pay for the passage to New England of his wife Anne and himself, with such few household effects as could be shipped in the cargo space of the little vessels of those days. In passing, the Atlantic crossing in those little ships of the Winthrop fleet took three months or more, an ordeal to truly test the hardihood and strength of those who survived. Never a word did 'William of Holderness In Yorkshire and his wife Anne' leave of their great venture from the old country, or of their families in England, which was entirely characteristic of all the other English colonists in the Massachusetts community of highly independent and stiff necked individualists. For better or for worse, they had left the old country of their own free will, their choice to cut all ties with that troubled England of rank, privilege and religious persecutions.

On that point, there came highly significant comment in 1945, at the Centennial celebration of the New England Genealogical Society, solemnly explaining why the society of ancestry students had not been organized until more than two centuries after the great colonial emigration. It read: "The first settlers and their descendants for 200 years had looked with distrust upon any effort to effect an organization whose avowed purpose was remembrance of past deeds and personalities which might foster family prestige and class feeling." Likely enough this could have applied in full to William Frothingham and his associates in the extreme care with which they kept silence on ancestral matters.

The Massachusetts colonial and church records show that William and his wife Anne were original settlers of Charlestown (across the Charles River from Boston) in 1630, raising a family of five boys (one named Peter) and five girls, before his death in 1650. Up to the War of the Revolution in 1776, all of his many descendants lived on in Charlestown and Boston, the very first to move away from that neighborhood being your own fourth great-grandfather, Thomas, after serving in Washington's Continental Army from 1776 to 1783. It was this Thomas Frothingham, (also a second son), who moved on to New York State after the Revolution, himself the first to break the family record of 150 years of colonial living in Massachusetts. But that's another story, except that Thomas was the first emigrant adventurer since William of Yorkshire in 1630. And of course that reminds you that your own father kept up the family's westward tradition by emigrating from New York to the state of Washington in 1946, after serving in still another war.


*Editors Note: The above was researched by Donald Y Frothingham. My research has found some alternate explanations which I've included below for comparison.

From The Genealogy of Frothingham written and researched by John Frothingham and Gertrude Karahalis:

     " Very often the surname of a family is taken from a place, or area, and thus the family name is subordinate to and derived from the place. A study of the derivation of the name Frothingham would give us:

         a: "Firth" meaning a place among the woods--or inlets of the sea

         b: "ing" - a meadow or low ground

         c: "ham" - a dwelling, hence home

    Thus we might say that our ancestors came from a somewhat flat area, within a wooded area and that the inhabitants called themselves Frothinghams. It would not be hard to imagine that over several hundreds of years the name may have been spelled Foderingham, Fotheringham, or of Frothingham. Further substantiation of the above analysis of the name and origin is historical. The Romans and their empire were deteriorating by 450 A.D. and thus further immigration and invasions by outsiders was common to Great Britain. From southern Germany area came the Angli (or English). Artifacts locate the Saxons in the area south of London and thus the Angli (English) coulc easily have been in the area of Holderness in Yorkshire. The native Britains were driven westward to Cornwall and Wales. Lastly, the area of Holderness is bounded on the south by a sea inlet leading to the seaport of Hull, this fitting the word definition of "firth" (or the Froth of Frothingham) as near a sea inlet."

From the website of GenUKI:

      "The name of the place has come down to us from Saxon times with very little change. In Domesday Book it is spelt Fotingham, but this is probably an error of the Norman scribe for Frothingham, as it is written in later documents. Its signification is clear; the ham or settlement of the Frodings, or descendants of Froda, whose name is mentioned in the poem of Beowulf"




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Meaning of the Frothingham Name | Biography of Jacob F Spalding | Thomas Frothingham Letter | Richard and Thomas Frothingham Jr’s Years in Ellsworth County, Kansas, 1886-1888 | First Presbyterian Church, Galesville, Wisconsin

This site was last updated 01/15/12