Eleven centuries ago, an industrious and conscientious historian, desiring to give a record of the establishment of his forefathers in this island, could find no fuller or better account than this: "About the year of Grace 445-6, the British inhabitants of England, deserted by their Roman masters, who had enervated while they protected them, and exposed to the ravages of Picts and Scots from the extreme and barbarous portions of the island, called in the assistance of heathen Saxons from the continent of Europe. The strangers faithfully performed their task, and chastised the Northern invaders; then, in scorn of the weakness of their employers, subjected them in turn to the yoke, and after various vicissitudes of fortune, established their own power upon the ruins of Roman and British civilization." The Saxons in England by John Mitchell Kembel. London: Bernard Quaritch, 15 Piccadilly. 1876. Vol. 1, pp. 1-2.
       They in turn succumbed to the Norman invader, William the Conqueror, who parcelled out much of the land to his foreign followers, yet "actual occupiers of the soil largely retained possession." . . . "A crowd of smaller Thegns and of well-to-do churls seem to have been left undisturbed." The History of the Norman Conquest of England, ect., by Edward A. Freeman. Oxford: at the Claredon Press. MDCCC.LXXI. Vol IV, p. 25.
       From an admixture of such blood the earliest Stillwells sprung.
       They first appeared in the quiet vale of Meriden about thirty miles South of London, in the County of Surrey, England, in the early part of the 14th century. This tract was fertile, well wooded and watered by a stream arising at Nag's Well, in Collect Moor (Colletmoor), and was traversed by the Roman road known as Stane Street, and later as the King's High Way, contiguous to which were towns of varying size. In this general locality the earliest Stillwells lived. Most of them probably farmed; some no doubt became artisans, but all worked. Political feuds, wars and religious friction mingled with the lesser excitement of market day gatherings and festivals, alone broke the monotony of a stupid existence. Education and intelligence as we now understand them, were at low ebb.
       How the family came to be possessed of the properties owned by it in former years, whether by inheritance, purchase or otherwise, is involved in the mists of antiquity, but certain it is, there were, in very early times, considerable estates presided over and belonging to persons of our name, in the County of Surrey, England. Their holdings lay first in Farnham1 and in Witley, adjacent to Thursley, into which and over towards Dorking they later extended. That portion lying in Witley Parish was more particularly known as High Stillwells.2 This name had its origin from the springs, wells of water, which abounded in this locality and were peculiarly pure and never froze; some were bubbling and others still; some were high on the hill sides and others were in the low places. First used to describe a locality, it was soon applied, as a surname, to the family who was then in occupancy. This occurred as early as 1324, as appears in the Pedes Finium, of Surrey:

       This is the final agreement made in the court of the lord the King at Westminister from the day of St. Michael within one month in the eighteenth year of the reign of King Edward the son of King Edward before William de Bereford, John de Mulford, William de Herle, John de Stonore and John de Bousser justices and other faithful subjects of the lord the King then there present Between William Stilewell plaintiff and Richard Merk of Farnham and Alice his wife, deforciants of one messuage with appurtenances in Farnham whereof a plea of covenant was summoned between them in the same court, to wit that the aforesaid Richard and Alice acknowledge the aforesaid messuage with appurtenances to be the right of the same William and that they rendered to him in the same court To have and to hold to the same William and his heirs of the chief lords of that fee by the services which to the aforesaid messuage pertain forever. And moreover the same Richard granted for himself and his heirs that they will warrant to the aforesaid William and his heirs the aforesaid messuage pertain forever. And moreover the same Richard granted for himself and his heirs that they will warrant to the aforesaid William and his heirs the aforesaid messuage with appurtenances against all men forever. And for this acknowledgment surrender warranty, fine and agreement the same William gave to the aforesaid Richard and Alice 100 s. (shillings) of silver3
       Following this date closely appears:

       In the assessment for 1332 (in the Surrey Taxation Returns at the Records Office, London), there were taxed for property, at "Wytle," i.e., Witley, near Woking:

      Richard Styelwelle viii s. (shillings) iii d. (pence.)
      William Styelwell iii s. (shillings) iii d. (pence.)
      Robert Stielwelle iiii s. (shillings) x d. (pence.)
       Taking into account the relative value of money, this sum paid by William Stilewel would be equivalent in these days to about $1,000, or more, and the taxes of the other three individuals, figured proprotionately, indicate they were all people of substance, ranking as well-to-do citizens and feudal tenants, desirable positions in the then existing English oligarchy.
       During the six hundred years of its known existence, the name has been variously spelled according to the ignorance, indifference or training of those who have borne it.
       In one deed alone, owned by the late Mr. John Pakenham Stilwell, dated 14th of Sept., 1621, by which John Stilwell, the elder, yeoman, makes over to his son John Stilwell, the younger, who was about to be married to Joane, daughter of Thomas Constable, of Ockley, the land, messuage, etc., called Collet, now Collet Moor, in the parish of Dorking, the name is spelled Stillwell, Styllwell and is signed John Stilwell; and in our early Dutch and English records equally great is the latitude taken when it is spelled Stellwel, Stilewell, Stillewel, Stillewell, Stillwal, Stillwel, Stillwell, Stillwel, Stilwell, Stilwil, Styllwell, Stylwell, etc.
       No doubt there are other existing English records, which, if known, would connect those that appear in 1324 and 1332 with those that now follow, but it has not been my good fortune to locate them.

1. Farnham lies in Hampshire just over the Surrey line, about six miles northwest of Thursley, in Surrey.
2. Stilwell (English). Dweller at the Constant Spring (one not intermittent). (Old Eng.: Stille, constant, etc. W(i)ella, a Spring. Harrison, Surnames of the United Kingdom.
3. Translation of an extract from Pedes Finium, County of Surrey. The original parchment, now in the Records Office, London, is written in "Law French" and is dated 18 of Edward II, i.e. 1324. It represents the records of fines, for the County of Surrey, from III of Richard I, to the reign of Henry VII.

John E. Stillwell, M.D.; Stillwell Genealogy, Vol I, pp 1-2; New York City, 1929.


Last updated on December 8, 1998