The Jolliff family, says one old account, “descended from an ancient and honorable family which dates its origin from the incursion of the Norman [French] Conquerors, [who] allied to some of of the chief nobles of the kingdom.”  William of Normandy conquered England in 1066, becoming known there as William the Conqueror.  

    The use of surnames appears to have started in Normandy, with the Normans then bringing this practice to England with them.  The nobility began to adopt hereditary surnames in the 1100’s, with it spreading to the common people by the 1300’s, until Edward IV (1461-83) enforced it.  The book, Norman People, lists N. Giolif of Normandy, 1195; Robert Jolif, 1198; William Jolyf, 1295, bailsman for Thirsk; Robert Jolyf, 1305.  

Burke’s Landed Gentry of Great Britain says “The family of Jolliffe (originally Jolli) is of considerable antiquity in the counties of Stafford and Worcester.”  The Origin of English Surnames says “Jolliffe and Jolly are both from jolif and joly [meaning] joyous, mirthsome, sprightly, spirited, which occurs in a number of nicknames, as Roger Jolifboye (in 1308) and Robert Goleboye (in 1317).

The History of the Upper Monongahela Valley of West Virginia gives this information on the early Jolliff family:

“During the troublous times of [King] Charles I and the revolution under Cromwell, they were staunch royalists, and adherents of the Established Church, one of them attending Charles to the place of execution.  For their loyalty and religious convictions, they were made to  suffer by being deprived of their rank, position and estates.  At the Restoration [of the Crown] their property was restored to them, and  they were reinstated in royal favor.  They furnished from their number magistrates and sheriffs of the counties of Stafford and Worcester  during the reigns of Charles II and later kings.  They have been aldermen and lord mayors of the city of London, members of Parliament, and  governors of provinces.  Many of them were men of note as authors, physicians, soldiers, and above all as philanthropists.  One of the grammar schools established here and there throughout England by private means was that founded at Stratford-on-Avon by a Thomas Jollyffe, a  native of the town, who had gone up to London to become lord mayor.  It bore on its rolls the name of William Shakespeare...”  [from Genealogical and Personal History of the Upper Monongahela Valley, WV, by James Morton Callahand, Vol. 1, p 390-95]

Some of the early Jolliffs made their money as wool merchants, some of them acquiring land and castles. 

The first American Jolliffs seem to have arrived in Virginia in about 1648-1651, many continuing there as merchants.  The English Jolliffs were wealthy Cavaliers (Royalists), supporters of King Charles I who was beheaded by the Puritans in 1649 after the English Civil War between the Cavaliers and the Roundheads.  After the War some of them came to Virginia along with other Royalists.  This strong support for the English monarchy among the Virginia planters lasted to the Revolutionary War. 

I don’t know what connection my line of Jolliffs, who came through New Jersey, had with the family in Virginia. An 1980’s history of the Jolliff family in Illinois (descendants of James) claimed that they came from the Virginia family, but a few years later proof emerged that they actually came from New Jersey.



from England to New Jersey to Pennsylvania to Kentucky to Illinois to Missouri