The Cheese surname, like the Cakebread and Whitebread surnames (see recent articles here and here), is among one of the oldest, dating back to pre-seventh century Olde English.  Both the Olde English word “cese” and the Saxon word “cyse” mean cheese and refer to someone who makes cheese, making it an occupational surname.

Like the “bread” occupational surnames, a cheesemaker was one of the oldest recorded trades, and therefore the Cheese surname was prominent.  As the Internet Surname Database suggests, the Cheese coat of arms featured a golden lion on a blue field which may have suggested nobility or close royal association.

The first record of the name was Ailwin Chese as a member of the St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London in 1150.  Other early records show John Chese on the 1279 Hundreds Rolls in Huntingdon, the name Walter Le Cheser was recorded in Hereford in 1376 and Mary Chese was christened in Canterbury in 1572.

Phebe Cheese married Nicholas Moleny on October 11, 1646, perhaps the first time that spelling variation was seen in records.  Spellings variations include Cheese, Chese, Chuse, Chouse, Cheser, Chesse and more.  According to the Internet Surname Database, “the more usual surname form is Cheeseman, although strictly speaking Cheeseman refers to the servant or manager of the cheese making, whilst ‘Cheese’ is the big cheese himself!”

Early American records show that members of the Cheese family served during the Revolutionary War.  A 1783 Continental Congress record shows a Negro woman named Ann Cheese on an Inspection Roll of Negroes, also called the “Book of Negroes”.

The book consisted of over two hundred pages which listed black Loyalists, and in some cases included short descriptions (country of origin, slave owner, indentures, age, and even appearance).  For instance, the record for Ann Cheese lists her as a thirty year-old “stout wench” along with William Cheese, a “stout fellow”, age forty-five.  Just above the Cheese record appeared Violet Snowball, also a thirty year-old “stout wench” with two children, Nathaniel, a twelve year-old “fine boy” and a three-month old “healthy child.”

Not all of them were slaves apparently since according to about 3,500 free black Loyalists left New York City with a total group of 35,000 bound for New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island.  There were also approximately 1,500 enslaved individuals who belonged to slaveholding Loyalists.  Approximately fifteen percent of all Loyalists who went to Canada were of African ancestry.

At that time if a slave had a last name it was often the same as the person who owned them.  However, I located a couple of women, presumed to have been Negroes, buried in the Amos Lockwood cemetery in Kent County, Rhode Island.  These two women, mother and daughter (Bethana and Violette Cheese), were perhaps owned by the Lockwood family.  While buried at the back of the cemetery, their headstones had been carefully carved and likely indicated they were much beloved by the Lockwood family.

Sgt. Thomas S. Cheese

A Civil War veteran named Thomas S. Cheese is buried in Chalmette National Cemetery in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana.  He was deployed to Louisiana as part Company A of the United States Colored Troops, 11th Regiment Heavy Artillery, organized from the 14th Rhode Island Colored Heavy Artillery.

Thomas died of sunstroke (or “coup de soleil” as the surgeon in charge noted) at the Colored Artillery Hospital in New Orleans on July 11, 1864.  His wife Eliza filed for a Widows and Other Dependents Pension in May of 1865.  Thomas and Eliza had been married since May 15, 1838 and had two younger children, Eliza (11) and Thomas (14) at the time of Thomas’ death.  Another daughter named Sarah Maria was listed but her name struck through because she was presumably over the age of sixteen.

Thomas had served “honestly and faithfully” and Eliza was granted a monthly pension of $8.  The last pension payment of $12 was recorded on June 4, 1900 shortly before her death.  Of interest, daughter Eliza’s birth record indicates she was mulatto, so either her mother was Caucasian or one or both of her parents were of mixed race.

In case you missed it, be sure and read this week’s Tombstone Tuesday article about Charles H. Cheese here.  In researching the Cheese surname I ran across an interesting tidbit.  The family name of actor and comedian John Cleese (Monty Python) was Cheese.  His father, embarrassed by the name, is said to have changed it prior to enlisting for service in World War I.  Believe me, there are plenty of “unfortunate” surnames – stay tuned for future articles :).

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