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Family History

and Fitz-Osbert Union Crest (Jernigan on Right)

Somerleyton Hall
Circa 1400 A.D.

Somerleyton Hall
2007 A.D.

The Jernigan name has a rich heritage dating back to the 900s AD, likely in Denmark.  Of note, some researchers assess the origins of the name to be from Brittany.  I, personally, subscribe to the Danish origins, as the data I have read would indicate "Jernegan" was among Canute's inner circle.  It is highly suggestive and reasonable that such confidence would only be placed in a well known warrior; one with similar origins as Canute himself.  That said, both are currently speculation and I can neither prove nor disprove either.  Quite simply, little or no written documentation has surfaced from the period.  Either way, it is solidly recorded that the original Jernegan to settle in England arrived from Mainland Europe with Canute after his father's conquest of England.

The first mention of the name I've discovered was "Jernengham" along with a second individual called "Jenhingho" (now Jennings), who I theorize were probably brothers.  I discovered reference to both as loyal and faithful captains of King Sweyn I of Denmark during his conquest of England in 1013/1014.  According to british-history.ac.uk, these two were well regarded by King Sweyn's son, Canute, for their service to his father.  Canute assumed the throne of England in 1016, holding the crowns of both Denmark and England.  A devout Christian, Canute embarked on a journey to Rome from Denmark in 1027 to observe the coronation of the new Roman Emperor, Conrad II.  Upon his return to England, he brought with him "diverse captains and souldiers from Denmark" to be christened in England, where many then settled.  It is recorded that King Canute bestowed royalties unto his most esteemed Jernengham, also called Jernegan, and at Parliament held at Oxford [date unknown], did give him certain manors in Norfolk and to Jenhingho, certain manors lying upon the seaside near Horwich in Suffolk.  This began the long and distinguished line of 'Jernegans' that existed for many generations in England and are prevalent throughout America today. 

The Jernegans were prominent throughout Norfolk and Suffolk, holding land and title for many generations.  Most prominent of the various estates and lands held by the Jernegans of England is known as Somerleyton.  Sir Walter Jernegan, married a wealthy land owner named Isabelle Fitz-Osbert in the late thirteenth century, giving rise to a lengthy reign of Jernegan influence in Somerleyton, England.  Becoming one of the main family estates, Somerleyton once consisted of some 7,500 acres in the English countryside near Lowestoft.  Somerleyton Hall remains one of most beautiful manor homes of the early English estates and is open for tours, should you find yourself in England.  Although the current manor house is the fourth to be built on the estate, it uses the some of the foundations of the former homes that stood on the site, at least two, perhaps three, of which were occupied by our Jernegan ancestors.   

Our ancestors enjoyed wealth and prominence in England for many centuries.  Many were Knights of Suffolk, serving various monarchs throughout the years.  Good standing ebbed and flowed, but Jernegans seemed to persevere holding land and title in England over many centuries.  

The Jernighams achieved most prominence in recorded history through the Tudor Dynasty.  Several were notable confidants and emissaries in the royal court of the period.  Among them, Sir Richard Jernigham was King Henry VIII's Master of the Chamber and later served in various roles of state including envoy to various locations throughout Europe.  Sir Richard was among Henry's most trusted advisors for many years.  He was present with Henry in France during The Field of Cloth of Gold in Calais in the year 1520.  

Another, Sir Henry Jernigham was instrumental in Queen Mary's accession to the throne in 1553.  He was one of her most staunch supporters, assembling a significant force from Norfolk and Suffolk, including six ships, to march on London in order to depose Lady Jane Grey and install Mary to her presumed rightful place on the English throne.  He later served Queen Mary I [aka Bloody Mary] in various roles including appointment as her Vice Chamberlain and Master of the Household during her reign between 1553 and 1558.  He was clearly very well regarded in Mary's court.  Sir Henry was granted many estates throughout Norfolk and Suffolk, including one of the largest in England, Costessey, near Norwich.  He was appointed as an executor of Mary's will upon her death, thus retaining his stature among Queen Elizabeth's (Mary's sister's) court.  He was later retired by Elizabeth, retaining his land and title and living out his remaining days at Costessey.  

After that time it would appear that the Jernegan prominence began to decline and the name began to disappear from England.  While our name remained prevalent throughout Norfolk and Suffolk for many more years, it never regained the stature once held under the Tudors.   

The Jernegan name officially arrived in America in 1668.  Thomas Jernegan brought his family to Virginia and settled near Suffolk, where he was granted 250 acres in Nazemund at a place called Somerton on May 18th, 1668.  Thomas had been to America several times prior, it would appear.  As a young lad, Thomas was apparently a mariner.  Records indicate that he departed England in 1635 aboard the English ship, TRUELOVE, bound for Bermuda.  Additional records indicate that he apparently visited Maryland with his sisters on at least one occasion in 1637, returning to England in 1638.  Thomas is believed to have sailed the Atlantic for around 30 years before making the journey to America to settle in 1668.  Thomas became a prominent land owner in Virginia and was well respected.  It was recorded in the notes from the General Assembly of Virginia in Nov 1682, that Thomas was awarded payments in tobacco, assessed against Nansemond County for carrying 'publique' letters into Carolina.  Thomas purchased an additional 330 acres near Somerton in 1685.  He had three sons from which the American Jernigans descended.  It is Thomas Jernegan that can be considered the founding Patriarch of the Jernigans that call America home today.  There was also a daughter, Margarget, born in Somerton, Virginia, in 1670.  The Jernigan name has completely disappeared from England in modern times, with no one by that name appearing as a permanent citizen of the United Kingdom at the time of my research. 

We can be proud of our family name, as one of those that has survived down through the ages.  Few have discovered the true depth of our heritage and I hope that this little history of our family name inspires each reader to dig deeper and find their link back to Thomas.  No doubt more records exist on the Jernegans of England and are waiting to be uncovered for us to learn more about our ancestors.  

Note:  This data is based on my personal research.  Records vary and are sometimes contradictory, but this version seems to be backed up by sound data.  I make no representation that the data here is without fault.  It is simply my research and my conclusions based on the data that I've come across in my search. 


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