Archive:The Descendants of John Whitney, page 11

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The Descendants of John Whitney, Who Came from London, England, to Watertown, Massachusetts, in 1635, by Frederick Clifton Pierce (Chicago: 1895)

Transcribed by the Whitney Research Group, 1999.


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WHITNEY GENEALOGY. 11

THE FIRST WHITNEY EUSTACE DE WHITNEY was of Flemish descent. Of his mother, Agnes, it is recorded in Doomsday Book, "Agnes relicta Turstini Flandrensis, et Eusta- cius Miles filius ejus, Dominus de Whitney, dederunt ecclesiae Sancti Petri, Glocest; unam hidam terrae in Pencomb, etc. [Agnes widow of Turstin the Flem- ing, and Sir Eustace, her son, Lord of Whitney, gave to the church of St Peter, at Gloucester, one hide (120 acres) of land in Pencomb, etc.] Some of the early Lords of Whitney were of Welsh descent, one of whom, Sir Peidge Exreg, was a Knight of the Round Table and "to King Arthur's time he lived at his castle at Cardmore Cardinganshire. _______________ ORIGIN OF THE NAME AND FAMLY WHITNEY, as a surname, owes it's origin to the ancient, but obscure parrish of Whitney, on the western confines of Herefordshire, near the border of Wales. This is not to be confounded with Witney in Oxfordshire, so famous for it's manufacture of woolen goods. But possibly, both names are the same in meaning, and have not always been differently spelled. Witney appears in ancient records as Wittney, Witenie, Witeney, Witteneye Wytney, Wyttneye, Wyteney, Wytteneye, Whiteneye, Whitteneye, Whitney; and Whitney, we find also written Whiteney, Whyteneye, Witenie, etc. It lies in the valley of the river Wye, which is here a mountian torrent, subject to sudden and destructive freshets. This circumstance affords a probable explanation of it's name Whitney, being perhaps derived from the Anglo-Saxon words hwit-white, ey-water, and so literalty meaning white water. Other examples in Herefordshire are (seen in notes and queries, 5th series, volume 6, page 119) Whit-bourn, the white brook. Whit- church, the white cyre (church), and Whit-tom, the white town, the last of which occurs in six other places in England. But more ambitious etymologies of the name are not wanting. The Rev. Dr. GILES, in his history of Witney and the neighboring parishes in Oxfordshire, says: it certainly takes it's name from the occupation of that and plod- ding race of men." The Witan-eye, or, as it is also written in Anglo-Saxon, or Old English dialect Witan-ige, evidently signifies "The Island of the Wise Men or of the Parliament." By parliament in this connection should be understood merely in assemblage of the witan or wise men of the fole or shire, and not a great national council of the Anglo-Saxons or Witena-gernote (in which witena is the genitive of witan), as it was termed. Thus the word Witney means, etymologically, parliament island, though no record has been handed down to us to tell for what reason such a name was given. There is a large house still named Parliament House at the corner of the Crofts Lane, which to the minds of some conveys a tradition concerning the etymology of the name Witney. Dr. Thomas WRIGHT, the eminent Anglo-Saxon scholar, made other suggestions in a letter addressed to Mr. Henry Austin WHITNEY, February 1, 1860: I think Dr. GILES' derivation of Witney in Oxfordshire a very probable one. Some meeting of the Whiten or leading men of the district had probably been held there and the island had been named from it like what is now called Magna Charta Island in the Thames. But the great difficulty in fixing the derivation and meaning of these local names arises from the circumstance that the name is in the majority of the cases derived from that of a Saxon professor of the land. I should think Whitney is not the same thing as Witney. It has either something to do with white, or it perhaps contains a man's name as Hwitenes-ege, the island belonging to Heitene." There is certainly no improbability in supposing that ige or ege, signifying Island, was the termination of a Herefordshire Whitney, situated, as it is, on the

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