Site hosted by Build your free website today!

Early History of the Cleveland Family

Vikki L. Jeanne Cleveland

According to Biblical tradition, Noah had three sons who advanced the lines from which all of the human race are descended. Shem, the oldest son, was a deep yellowish-red. His descendants were the Indians, Jews, and others of reddish-brown or yellow skin. The second son, Ham, was the first dark infant ever born. His descendants wandered from the land just south of Mount Ararat into Africa. Japheth, the third son, was the palest infant ever born. His descendants peopled Europe and some of Asia. One of Japheth's grandsons was part of the tribe that settled in Greece. From this tribe came the Celtics, who roamed northward, some settling in Gaul (now France) and others ranging even farther north into the area where Denmark, Sweden, and Norway are now.

There the Celtics joined forces with a tribe from Asia, also descendants of Japheth. One branch of this tribe came to be known as the Gadds, taking their name from Gadd, one of their "founding fathers." Gadd had an impressive genealogy: he was the great-grandson of Abraham and Sarah, the grandson of Isaac, and the son of Jacob. His people were among those whom Moses led out of Egypt and into Canaan, where they lived on the banks of the Jordan for many years before becoming involved in a war with a neighboring tribe. The Gadds werre subsequently defeated. Some of those who survived the battle were absorbed into the victorious tribe. Other Gadds fled north into Europe.

Eventually a branch of the escaping Gadd tribe reached the North Sea and settled there. Called "Northmen" or "Norsemen," these people became the great sea pirates who roved and plundered their way to England. A Northman chief and his tribe were, supposedly, the first inhabitants of England after landing and settling on the northeast coast of the island. The chief's name among the Celtics was "Cahevium," which the Romans changed to "Caluvium" and the Saxons changed to "Cleveland," so called because of the numerous cliffs or "cleaves" in that area. The original meaning of the name was, in fact, "one who came from Cleveland (the hilly district in Yorkshire)." Because of language barriers in those early days of invasion and conflict and because of the poor spelling and handwriting habits of our ancestors, the name has been variously spelled (sometimes within the space of a single document) as "Cliveland," "Clyveland," "Cleivland," "Clievland," "Cleiveland," "Cleaveland," and "Cleveland." ("Cleaveland" and "Cleveland" were the two spellings of popular choice once the line landed on American soil. "Cleaveland" was initially the preferred of the two, but sometime around 1700 "Cleveland" seemed to become more popular among the Southern Line. However, there are some Southern cousins who still use the "Cleaveland" spelling.)

The district of Cleveland and Cleveland Hills still exist in northern England near the historic town of Whitby. Thorkil de Cliveland, the first Cleveland of record, and his son Uctred, Earl of York in 1066, are credited with building the great Whitby Abbey and were, supposedly, buried under what was the front bay window. More recent information indicates that the structure may actually have been built in 657 or before and Thorkil and Uctred merely added to it. Some of the Whitby Abbey still stands today and is being dug up for archeological purposes. Breathtakingly magnificent scenery in this area is punctuated by moors, valleys, dales, groves of beech and pine, forests of oak, towering sea cliffs, and the ocean. This location also abounds in monuments of antiquity: abbeys, priories, hermitages, castles, fortifications, encampments, and relics of great and former families. Cleveland Hills is where Lady Godiva made her famous ride atop a white horse to protest high taxes.

Before the time of William the Conqueror, the Cleveland castle, sometimes referred to as Skelton Castle, was the seat of the main Cleveland family. In those ancient times, the family patriarch and his oldest son occupied the central castle. Daughters and some younger sons grew up there, married, and then moved to the castles or manors of the families into which they had married. However, as most of the younger sons married, they stayed on their fathers? estates in smaller castles.

Despite the tradition of large families, the number of sons was not so numerous because of constant warring in those times. The Clevelands took part in almost all the early wars of the island but managed to hold their land even during the Roman invasion. During the war with William the Conqueror, however, the lord of Cleveland castle and his oldest son were killed, and the oldest grandson was subsequently placed in a lesser estate. William then placed one of his own men, Robert de Bruce, in the main castle. Although Robert de Bruce's descendants eventually ascended to the English throne in the Stewart line, the castle retained the Cleveland name and Robert called himself Lord of Cleaveland.

According to the legend, the Cleveland grandson who survived the invasion of William the Conqueror hid in the forest for months afterward, protected by members of his grandfather's family, who were afraid the Normans would assassinate the grandson (also named William) because he was the rightful claimant to the Cleveland castle. When William the Conqueror caught up with William the Cleveland, however, the man took pity on the boy and placed him on a lesser estate in Ipswich.

In the Domesday (sometimes called Doomsday) Book, the surviving census record of England made in 1085-1086 by order of William I (the Conqueror), the names of Thorkil de Cliveland and Uctred appear for Ipswich in Suffolk County. All American Clevelands are, supposedly, descended from the aforementioned Thorkil of Yorkshire. However, the exact relationship between the Yorkshire Thorkil and Uctred, the Ipswich Thorkil and Uctred, and the two Cleveland ancestors killed by William?s men in the 1066 invasion is uncertain. In any event, Thorkil and Uctred were large landed estate proprietors even in 1085, nearly twenty years after the Norman invasion. [Vikki's Note: One English historian believes the Cleveland name may actually predate the invasion of William. She writes, "I read the conclusion about the Cleveland and deCliveland name down through English history and found it to not be totally correct. It is really such a small thing, but let me explain what I mean. The deCliveland and Thorkil are quite wrong. The Thor bit does not come from the god Thor but from the Norse word 'Thorp,' meaning farm or settlement--there are many combinations of the 'Thorp' word in place names over here from the days of the Norsemen and the Scandinavian raids. They are numerous up along the northeast, like 'Grimethorpe' in Yorkshire meaning Grim's farm, 'Kettlethorpe' in Lincolnshire meaning Kettel's settlement, etc. Cleveland probably means Cleve's land, and 'Cleveland' used to be a district in its own right before it was merged into the country of Northumberland. The 'Thorkil' probably means something like 'Kel's thorpe of or in Cliveland.' Your family name could very likely be from even earlier than 1066 because the Viking raids were before and after the Conquest. Andover, England, used to pay Danegeld (Dane's gold) to a Viking king as 'protection money' to save it from being overrun by the invaders."]

As time passed and the feudal system faded, Clevelands were forced to take on "real jobs." Some entered the ministry or politics; others became farmers or merchants. A William Cleveland, "citizen of York," served as sheriff of that community around 1456.

Early birth records in Ipswich show a William Cleveland born there in 1520. This William had a son named William. The two main Cleveland lines in the United States were supposedly descended from this William-William line.

One of these Williams moved to Hinckley in Leicestershire County, where he "was buried a very old man in 1630." Thomas Cleveland, the son of this Hinckley William, became Vicar of Hinckley and the father of John Cleveland, an English Cavalier poet. Born in 1613, John was the most popular poet of his time and well known for both his wit and his political satire. In fact, his satires were influential enough to earn him a three-month vacation in a Yarmouth jail. Although he stenuously and publicly opposed Oliver Cromwell, Cromwell was the one to grant John's eventual release. That much is history. A bit of genealogical gossip suggests that one of John's sisters was Cromwell's mistress and even bore his child. Such a relationship would certainly explain Cromwell's change of heart about a man who had condemned him so vehemently.

According to the rumor, there was in the time of Charles I a court beauty by the name of Elizabeth Cleveland. (Some say she was the daughter of Thomas Cleveland, Vicar of Hinckley. Others claim she was the daughter of an officer of the palace of Hampton Court.) When Elizabeth attracted the attention of her sovereign, a love affair resulted. Eventually Charles I was murdered and replaced by Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England. Oliver, too, was supposedly smitten by Elizabeth's beauty. He wooed and won her, and soon a son was born to them. Elizabeth eventually retired from the public eye and married an exceedingly understanding man named Bridge. When Elizabeth and Oliver's son grew up, he took his mother's maiden name, calling himself William Cleveland. William revealed his ancestry in his four-volume biography, The Life and Adventures of William Cleveland, Natural Son of Oliver Cromwell, published after the author's death, with the consent of his son, first in 1731, again as a French translation in 1741, and a third and final time in 1760.

Historical scholars scoff at the notion of Cromwellian blood flowing in Cleveland veins. Most cite Cromwell's Puritanical personna as reason enough why Cromwell would never have an extra-marital fling. (So how do we explain Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggert?) In truth, there is no documentation for such a claim. Colonel Benjamin Cleveland, who would become a hero in the fight liberating America from England, was especially proud of his supposed link with the English "Lord Protector." (However, neither of his sons was named Oliver Cromwell.)

Interestingly, in 1635 Oliver Cromwell, using William as an alias, was about to set sail for Virginia, but he was stopped. Also in 1635, Samuel Cleaveland, a brother of John the poet, did manage to leave for the colonies. Some researchers think this Samuel was really the Moses Cleveland who founded the Northern line of Clevelands, from which President Grover Cleveland was descended.

There has been a tremendous amount of debate over who was the original immigrant for the Southern line of Clevelands. Cleveland genealogists are fairly well split between Roger Cleveland and Alexander Cleveland. The only detail on which both sides do agree is that Roger-or-Alexander was either a brother or first cousin of the Northern-line Moses, for the Clevelands back home in England were all closely related and there was, apparently, strong family resemblances between the two lines. Unfortunately, to date there has been no documentary proof established. Nor is there any entry information for Cleveland immigrants during these early colonial times. President Cleveland evidently accepted the notion of a blood tie between the two lines and sent a letter of recognition to the ceremonies dedicating a monument to Colonel Benjamin Cleveland.

Information from the three-volume Cleveland genealogy, published in 1899 by Edmund Janes Cleveland and Horace Gillette Cleveland, claims the following descent from Thorkil:

THORKIL (the Saxon), b. prior to 1066. He was a land owner and had his seat at Giseburne, now Guisborough, Cleveland, North Riding of Yorkshire, England. Here he assumed the surname, calling himself Thorkil de Cliveland, probably previous to 1119 when he was well along in years. He and his son Uctred assumed the name at the same time.

UCTRED DE CLIVELAND, b. prior to 1066. He was the owner of considerable landed property, being ten manors, and other possessions mentioned in the Domesday Book. Skelton Castle, Skelton parish, from the Domesday Book, was before the Conquest held held by Uctred and afterward was part of the fee of Robert de Brus (Bruce), a Norman knight who landed in England with the Conqueror and called himself Lord of Cleaveland. He died in 1114 and is buried at the Priory. His tomb still remains below a window in the rear wall--nearly all that is left of the Priory, now a part of the Chaloner estate. Uctred gave land to the Priory of Guisborough, abbey, cathedral, and monastery. Of Whitby Abbey nothing is now left standing but the ruins of the church on a high cliff about a quarter of a mile from the sea. The Priory of Guisborough was in the archdeaconry of Cleveland.

ROBERT DE CLEIVELAND lived at Ormesby, England, in Ebor County. He gave land to Whitby Abbey and a meadow to Gusiborough Priory. He had three children: Peter, Henry (the first to drop the "de" from the name), and Ralph.


JOHN granted lands and tenements to Guisborough Priory in Ormsby.

JOHN dropped the "de" from his name. He was a citizen of York, Yorkshire, England.

WILLIAM was the Sheriff of York in 1456.

WILLIAM moved from North Riding, Yorkshire, to Hinckley, Leicestershire, dying there 15 January 1630, an aged man. He had at least two sons: John and Samuel.

SAMUEL had at least two sons: Alexander and Moses, who emigrated from England to America.

(NOTE: This line of descent is not documented and may conflict with other equally speculatory lines of English descent.)

c1993 by Vikki L. Jeanne Cleveland and Cleveland Family Chronicles
All rights reserved.

Links to Other Clevelands
Cleveland Family Chronicles
Cleveland Family Forum
Edmund Janes Cleveland and Horace Gillette Cleveland
Original Immigrant of Northern Clevelands
Original Immigrant of Southern Clevelands
In Memory of L. Jeanne Cleveland
The Cleveland Connection to Black Hawk Down: SSG William David Cleveland, Jr.
The Cleveland Coat-of-Arms
Colonel Benjamin Cleveland
"Sweet Lips: The Battle of King's Mountain"
President Grover Cleveland
The Cleveland/Cromwell Connection
The Prevost Novel on "The Natural Son of Cromwell"
More Genealogical Links
Rooting Out Your AnceStory: A Primer for Beginning Genealogy

Vikki L. Jeanne Cleveland at

Graphics courtesy of Heraldry and Coat-of-Arms Web Ring