The Beginnings of the Webster Family

 The Beginnings 

Websters in England

Coming to America

Websters in western NY

They settle in Addison

Into the 21st Century

Appendices

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Before recorded history, the ancestors of the families who would come to be known as Webster, like other families of pre-Anglo-Saxon origin, lived in huts and caves on the shores of the North Sea in Continental Europe.

As the Angles and the Saxons became stronger and more warlike, they imposed their culture on, and reigned over, neighboring tribes. Eventually they, like the earlier Celts, the Pictish alliance (including the people called by the Romans the Caledonii), and later the Danes, invaded the British Isles. The Picts conquered the eastern part of the country we call Scotland (Caledonia) while the Gaels continued to control Ireland and western Scotland. The Anglo-Saxon alliance drove the Celts to Wales and western England and conquered what was left from the native Britons and called it England (the place of the Angles or "Angle-land"). The Britons offered land to the Jutes (a Germanic people loosely related to the Angles and Saxons) if they would assist in driving out the invaders, but the Jutes seized southeastern coastal areas and joined the Anglo-Saxon alliance.

At this time, individual tribes and clans were small enough that most people were called by a single given or assumed name. Some had a title appended to their names (e.g.: "the king", "the smith", "the woodwright", etc.). There were no family names.

As the population increased, identifying individuals became more and more confusing. There were just too many "Johns", "Williams", "Harrys" etc. It was also becoming increasingly tedious to communicate in that one might possibly need to designate between "Ethelred, King of Wessex" and "Ethelred, Smith of the Hart Clan in Sussex". About 1100 A.D., it became popular to append an added or surname to a person's common name as a means of identification. Some just added -son after their father's name (Johnson, Williamson, Harrison, etc.) while others took family names from the places in which they lived (Kent, Stafford, Wood, etc.), but the most popular source of a family name was from a trade or profession in which the family was engaged (Mason, Miller, Smith, Taylor, etc.). Surnames were also becoming necessary as a means of personal identification because, at this time, governments were introducing personal taxation. In England this was known as the "Poll Tax".

The family name of Webster is a variant of the occupational name Webb, which originally described the weaver of cloth. Common English usage was gender-specific in this period and the Old English word webbestre denoted a female weaver whereas a male weaver was a webber (just as a baxter is a female baker and a brewster is a female brewer).

There exists some evidence that suggests that the Webster family originated in Flanders, the northern, Dutch-speaking, area of Belgium that was held by the Saxons and Celts during the waning years of the Roman Empire. English surnames of Flemish origin are characterized by a large number of spelling variations. Due to the lack of rules of usage and spelling in medieval English, coupled with the fact that the official court languages were French and Latin (William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy, conquered England in 1066 A.D. and made French the official language), names were rarely spelled consistently. Court officials and church scribes recorded names as they sounded, rather than adhering to specific spelling rules, and people often had their names recorded in several different forms throughout their lives. This is why the spelling of the family name has been Webstre, Webestre, Webbster, Webestere, Webstar and Webster at different times and places.

The Webster family is found chiefly in Yorkshire, Lancashire and the Midlands of nothern England as well as the counties of Angus, Aberdeenshire, and Banffshire in Scotland.

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