The Doe surname is believed to have been of ancient Norman origins, presumably arriving in England as a result of the Norman Conquest of 1066. One family historian hypothesized that the surname was perhaps of Danish origin since the Danes frequently made incursions into Normandy. One source indicates the surname is derived from the old English word “da’” which was a nickname for a gentle man.
Many surnames have origins as place names as well and in the case of Doe could have been recorded as “D’Eu” or “D’O”. The Doe family, originally from the Castle of O and who came to England after the conquest, settled in Somerset. The surname could easily be derived from the place name “D’O”.
Some early records of Doe (or variations):
Edward Da of Lancashire (1185)
Robert Doe or Yorkshire (1273)
John de Do of Somerset (1327-1377)
Roger Doe of Yorkshire (1379)
Walter Do of Devon (1400)
Charles Doe was Lord High Sheriff of London (1635)
Joshua Doe or Ireland (1702-1703)
Benjamin Doe married Jane Shackledge in 1740 (London)
Some historians believe that “Dow” is an alternate spelling for this surname, but it is more likely of Scottish origin. Other sources claim that “Dewe” was an alternate spelling which I presume they believe morphed into “Doe” at some point. I say presume because most references to “Doe” when referring to those who came to America (Virginia) as “Dewe” have “(sic)” after “Doe”, e.g., Thomas Doe (sic) – it’s a little confusing! But, then again, nothing is easy when it comes to genealogy research!
Several Does landed in Virginia as early as 1635. The first Doe immigrant in New England was Nicholas who had two sons named John and Sampson. The narratives below are based on the research of Elmer Doe who compiled and published The Descendants of Nicholas Doe (DND) in 1918.
It is believed that Nicholas Doe was born in approximately 1631 in England. At the time DND was published, the author had been unable to determine exactly when or where Nicholas was born. A member of the Doe family, ninety years of age at the time, believed his grandfather had told him that Nicholas came from London. He had also been told that Nicholas’ father owned a whole street called “Blue Street” because all of the houses were blue.
Since there don’t appear to be any records of when Nicholas actually left England, Elmer Doe proposed the following:
A record was kept of those families who left England, and before leaving they were requested to take the oath of loyalty to the English Crown and promise conformity to the Established Church. As many desired to avoid this enforced allegiance and to settle in the land of their adoption free to follow their own religious inclinations, a great many of them left secretly and made their way as sailors, etc. It is possible that Nicholas Doe left England in this manner.
His name first begins to appear in New England records in 1666. From 1666 to 1672 he was taxed at Oyster River and on November 15, 1666 he witnessed the will of Thomas Walford at Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
As an early settler of Dover, New Hampshire, Nicholas was “received an inhabitant” on July 21, 1668 (Oyster River was a part of Dover at that time). The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Volume VI, also records that Nicholas had a “difference” with John Goddard which was settled in 1674.
Another uncertainty is the date of Nicholas’ marriage to Martha Thomas. I think perhaps they were married in 1668, possibly around the time he was received as an inhabitant of Dover. Their first child, John, was born on August 25, 1669.
Records indicate that their second child Sampson was born on April 1, 1670, which to me seems a bit soon after John’s birth. Their third child and only daughter, Elizabeth, was born on February 7, 1673. Nicholas’ will referred to Sampson purchasing his sister Mary’s share of the estate. There may have been a fourth child named Mary, but records for Nicholas are rather sketchy. Nicholas died in Oyster River in 1691.
Nicholas’ first child John married Elizabeth (surname unknown) and had seven children: Daniel, John, Joseph, Benjamin, Mary, Elizabeth and Martha. It appears, according to church records, that the whole family was baptized in November of 1719 and admitted to the Durham church. Reverend Hugh Adams baptized the children and referred to them all, except Martha (3 years old), as adults. Notably, Joseph who was born in 1707 lived to the age of 102 years.
John Doe died on April 28, 1742. Curiously, John’s sons and wife who were Subscribers to his will were listed as Elizabeth Doe (wife), Daniel Doe, John Doo, Joseph Doo and Benjamin Doo – not sure why the spelling is different for three of his sons.
Sampson married Temperance (surname unknown), perhaps in 1700. Children born to Sampson and Temperance were: Samuel (1701), Martha (1704), Nicholas (1707) and Temperance (1710).
Sampson married his second wife, Mary Ayers who was the widow of William Ayers of Portsmouth, on October 16, 1716. Children born to Sampson and Mary were: Nathaniel (1718), Mary (1720), Elizabeth (1722), Zebulon (1724) and Sarah (1727).
During the Indian War of 1712, Sampson served as a scout for Captain James Davis. Both Sampson and his brother John signed a petition to incorporate Oyster River. Apparently the area had grown enough to sustain itself and it was too inconvenient to travel to Dover to handle business affairs or to attend church:
[W]hereas now ye Petitioners have by divine providence settled and Inhabited that Part in this his Majests Provence commonly called Oyster River, and have found that be the scituation of the place as to Distance from Dover or Exeter butt more Especially Dover, how being forced to wander through the Woods to ye place to meet to and for ye management of our affairs are much Disadvantaged for ye Present in our Business and Estates and hindred of adding a Town and People for the Honr of his Majesty in the Inlargement and Increas of his Province. Wee humbly Supplicate that yor Honrs would take itt to yor Consideration and grant that we may have a Township confirmed by our honours….
When Oyster River was incorporated and a church established, Sampson was one of the church’s founding members. Sampson Doe died in 1748, his will dated April 14. He distributed to his remaining eight children (Temperance died in 1719) each three shillings. The remainder of his estate, including all his goods and chattels, was given to Mary who was also the Executrix of the will.
Sampson’s sons Nathaniel and Nicholas served in the French and Indian War and some of his grandsons served in the Revolutionary War. Although many of Sampson and John’s descendants remained in New Hampshire, by the fifth generation several began to migrate to Maine, New York and Massachusetts. In 1920 the greatest concentration of Does was still located in those states. It appears John was the most common forename paired with the Doe surname.