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My dad answered an ad in the early 1980s or so to learn Coleman surname origins.  Dad received a family crest and a story for his trouble, but no definite connections for his parents.  Through persistent research, I have had more luck on our particular line, but have not been able to document the story my dad related to me.  He recalled the crest had a dove as one prominent feature.  He said:

I've read the Coleman name is one of the common names of people in the hills of Kentucky or the Appalachians(?) in general.  I've also read that, during the time of the Spanish Armada, some Spanish ships were sunk (don't know if it was in a storm or in battle) off the coast of Ireland.  Some of the sailors made it to land and settled there.  Supposedly, there still exists an area some place in Ireland where the descendants of these Spanish sailors live.  They, of course, intermarried with the Irish.  The story went on to say that one of the names of those sailors was something which became O'Colmain in Ireland and then Coleman in America.  That would make us descendants of the Spanish.  But then they became Irish and then on to America and elsewhere. 

If you can document the shipwreck story, I'd be interested to hear from you. 

I have read of connections to Colemans from

I have read of Colemans who were in shipping and went to Australia as well as the US during our earliest Colonial period. 

I have a small booklet on the Buchanan Clan that says the Coleman branch is an offshoot or associated with the Buchanan Clan in earliest available records on the name.  It says Coleman means "dove" or peace maker, which I found interesting since I have been called peace maker and was involved in rescue organizations.

David Feldwisch Strubbe, in Feb. 1998, posted to the COLEMAN list on rootsweb.com that his line derived from John (Johan ?) Coleman, born 1789, who came to America when he was a lad as a Holland redemptioner.

J. P. Coleman, 51st governor of the state of Mississippi, wrote a book, published privately.  The Robert Coleman Family from Virginia to Texas 1652 - 1965 is available online:

J. P. Coleman records interesting stories of early Colemans in the failed Virginia Colony, the one that left only the word "Croatoan" carved on a tree.  He relates that Robert Coleman died trying to swim to save drowning members of a landing party trying to reach the shore before seas had calmed from a storm.  The landing party was trying to reach members of the colony they did not yet know had been lost.  I often speculate this Robert Coleman may have been an icon to the early colonial Colemans such that many families named sons Robert.  But being a common name then as now, they may not have needed this reason for using the name, other than their previous generations had done so.

In the book, The Coleman Brothers, Revolutionary War Militiamen, Pennsylvania and (West) Virginia Pioneers and Their Descendants compiled by Georgie Kratzer Allen, with Research Assistant: Beverly Yingling Peoples, published by Gateway Press, Inc., Baltimore 1987, the origin of the name is discussed.  Here is found a reference to Ferguson, in his Teutonic Name System, who regards Gold, Goldie, Gould, Goult, Cold, Gouldman, Coltman, and Coultman as forms of the name Gold, from whence Coleman purportedly derived.  The next reference is to Arthur, in his Derivations of Family Names, who claims it to be derived from Coal-man, a dealer or workman in coals.  The third reference is to Gaelie, Colman, a Dove.  The author then goes on to say it may have derived from the old Saxon word, Ceol, meaning a ship, a boat, or the keel.  Thus Ceol-man would be a ship-man or boat-man or a seaman. 

Another student of Coleman history sent information via email to me on 1/24/99 stating the word 'ceol' in Gaelic means 'music'.  If you descend from a Coleman, you can take your pick of associations behind the name.  Personally, I like the Dove or peace-maker characterization best.  But I love music and ships as well! Or combine all: make peaceful music whilst sitting above the forcastle of a ship becalmed at sea.

Other Ceol- names are common in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle the author notes.  The author notes that the name could derive from German, Kohlman or Kohlmann; Old German, Coloman; English, Coultman, Coloman, Colman, Coleman; French, Collman. The author then records:

"...the name Colman first appears in history A.D. 664, as that of a celebrated Scotch bishop, of Lindisfarne, or Holy Island, on the northeast coast of England, below the Tweed.  This bishop, in consequence of a vehement controversy, retired and built a monastery on the Island of Hii, Iona, on the west of Scotland; then another, on the Island of Inisbofinde, on the west of Ireland; and yet another on this island, now annexed to the Archbishopric of Tuam, in Ireland, where he died A.D. 676.  Another, a bishop in Ireland, baptized by the former, built also another monastery in the island; a third was murdered with the Bishop of Wurtsburg, in Germany, A.D. 689.  One of this name, from Scotland, in the eleventh century, went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and was slain in Austria; and became a patron saint of the country A.D. 1015...

"...As early as 1634-35 a Thomas Coleman was recorded in New England.  Fifty years later we find Colemans among the Philadelphia Quakers, some of whom came from New England and some from England.  Many of the Presbyterian records contain that surname; some came from Scotland and some from Ireland.  The German "Kohlman" was also anglecized to Coleman, their church affiliation being Lutheran."

The same source describes the fact that early American Colemans who lived and fought together were often unrelated, demonstrating the fact that the name was common prior to the settlement of America.  This source also mentioned one of the oldest London streets has borne the name of Kohlman as far back as is known.

I thought the reference to the term for ship was very interesting since I have read that some Colemans were in shipping and received money and lands in return for delivering passengers to colonial Virginia.  They bought neighboring parcels that had been deeded to others.  They did quite well in their business it seems and may have come from a line of successful seafaring Coleman businessmen.

In The Coleman Family by the American Genealogical Research Institute of Arlington, Virginia; four traditional British home counties of the Colemans are Kent, Northampton, Sussex, and Essex.  All of these are in the southern part of the country removed from Wales, Scotland, and Ireland.  The source states the given name, Cole, is a form of Nicholas ("people victory").  It cites "Old King Cole" as a well-known name from early English folk-lore.  The idea of German origin is then proposed based on the facts that two German saints, Columba and Coleman, whose holy days are celebrated by Germans.  The thesis is that the name "came to England through Saxons and their barbarian German heritage".  This source records the charcoal worker connection and a connection between the nickname of Cole with a dark-haired man of dark-complected appearance.  An interesting contrast is drawn between the name Coleson (son of Cole) and Coleman (servant or dependent of Cole).  It records the spelling Colman is rare except in English counties of Essex and Norfolk.  This source also records:

"In English history the Coleman family has been primarily noted among such common people as yeomen, tradesmen, and farmers.  Only a handful entered the higher class of the gentry.  Representatives of both classes came to settle in America.  The reason why there were so many Coleman immigrants is that most of them left England poor, in search of prospects in America. Noble titles in the family do not occur at any time in English history."

This source, The Coleman Family by the American Genealogical Research Institute also records the distribution of Coleman families in the first U.S. Census, taken in 1790:
Massachusetts 57, Virginia 55, N. Carolina 45, Pennsylvania 38, New York 36 and S. Carolina 25.  A remaining 51 families were distributed over five other new states.  In addition, there were reportedly 1489 single and independent Colemans not found in the Coleman households. There were approximately 180,000 adult Colemans in the U.S. when the book was published in 1973.

Other sources record early Colemans in colonial Virginia.

The Compendium of American Genealogy, p. 842 records:
"COLEMAN, Henry (b 1594), from Eng.; in Elizabeth City Co., Va., 1632;
secured grant for 1,000 acres; m Catherine--"

and, same page records:
"COLEMAN, Thomas (1598-1674), from Eng., 1630; an original propr. of
Hadley; m 2d, Mrs. Frances Wells (d 1674)."

First Families of America, p. 477 records:
"10-Henry Coleman, from Eng., secured grant for 1,000 acres in Elizabeth
City Co., Va., 1632;
9-Richard, m 1654, Rebecca Claiborn;
8-Robert;
7-Robert, m Ann--;
6-Howard (will proved;-1794), resided Spotsylvania Co., Va.; m Sarah--;
5-James, Spotsylvania Co.; m 1799, Molly Penny(?);
4-Ambrose, Orange Co., Va.; m Fanny Hillman (Joseph, 5 above);
3-Nancy, m Champ Hillman (3 above);
2-Sarah Coleman (1854-1932), m 1886, Joseph Seely (1848-1921), magistrate;
lawyer; ..."

First Families of America, p. 563 records:
"9-William Coleman (1619-80), came in the "Assurance," 1635, to Va.;
to Gloucester, Mass.; m. 1st, ------
8-William (1650-1705), to Southold, L.I., [ed. note: Long Island?] ante
1675; m Mary Mapes (1660-1707; Thos., qv);
7-George (1684-1743), to Orange Co., N.Y., 1732; m 1707, Abigail Clark;
6-George (1710-78), of Orange Co.; m Keziah---(1724-1806);
5-George (1751-1831), of Orange Co.; Am. Rev.; m 1781. Hannah Van Amburgh.
a widow (d 1822);
4-Frances (1787-1782), of "The Clove," Orange Co., N.Y.; m Nathaniel Brown
(4 above)"


J. P. Coleman's book records the diary of Jennie I. Coleman, an early Coleman family historian who wrote about the origin of the three brothers, William Thomas, and Charles who came from Virginia to Hallifax Co. North Carolina and then to Fairfield Co. South Carolina arriving in 1775.  She recorded that the family emmigrated from Wales.

There is also a book by Judge Solon Bernard Coleman entitled "Notes on the Coleman Family of Virginia" which is mostly comprised of a 106 page typed manuscript entitled, "Some Descendants of Robert Coleman of Gloucester County Virginia" It is probable that Mr. Bernard was the author of this piece, but it is not clear why, if that be the case, the two have different titles.  "Notes" does contain a seemingly random or chaotic compilation of notes of Colemans in Virginia and I can see all family historians accumulating disjoint facts on a family name.  So, it is conceivable the purpose of "Notes" was to publish the entire set of facts accumulated on Colemans of Virginia, and for that, we can be most appreciative.  Sherrianne Coleman Nicol authored an extensive 2 volume update to Judge Coleman's work.  It is filled with Coleman descendants from Robert Coleman of Mobjack Bay (Gloucester County), Virginia.  This work is now online:
The Coleman Family of Mobjack Bay.

As for my family line, it is my belief that the Charles Coleman (1793-1860), born in South Carolina, settler of Bledsoe Co. TN and homesteader in North Hamilton Co. TN was that Charles S. Coleman which J. P. reports in the back of his book as having no known connection to his lines.  J. P. records the information provided by a probated will and a DAR record which show the Charles Coleman (1762-1836/1842) who was born in Virginia (place unknown) and later a resident of Fairfield County, SC was the father of Charles S. Coleman (1793-1860).  My research bears out the difficulty J.P. had in placing this pair with any prior Colemans.  However, with help from a couple of long lost cousins, I have documentary proof the elder Charles Coleman was born to Cader Coleman, son of Robert Coleman.  For more on this line, see the Table of Contents for my book online:
Descendants of Robert Coleman of Nansemond County Virginia, 1684-1930.

     By:  Wes Coleman     Written:  2/19/1998   Last Updated:  07/14/2003