Lawrence is derived from the Latin Laurus or Laurentius. It has been given various meanings among which is "flourishing like a bay tree" and "crowned with laurel," both implying that the owner of the name was successful. Variations of the name are Laurence and Lawrance with the spelling Lawrence being the most prevalent in modern times. In old English records Lawrence also is found spelled Laurens or Laurenz, the French spelling, indicating that the family origins may have been from the Normans who invaded and conquered England in the Eleventh Century. In colonial records, all three spellings are found as well as other variations such as Larrance depending on the individual doing the recording. It is not unusual to find various spellings referring to the same individual.
Lawrence families in America actually can be traced to several different countries. Once in America their surnames took on the more common Lawrence spelling. These include the French Laurens and Laurenz mentioned earlier, the Spanish Lorenzo, and the German Lorrentz. The Lawrence family depicted here, however, is of English descent.
The earliest bearer of the name is Laurentius, the chief deacon of Pope Sixtus II, Bishop of Rome in 258 A.D. Laurentius also in known as St. Lawrence, the Martyr. He was overwhelmed with grief when Pope Sixus was condemned to death. Overjoyed when Sixus predicted that he would follow him in three days, he sold many of the Church's possessions and donated the money to the poor. When the prefect of Rome heard of his action, he had Lawrence brought before him and demanded all of the Church's treasures. Lawrence indicated that he would need three days to collect them and then presented the blind, the crippled, the poor, the orphans, and other unfortunates to the prefect and told him that they were the Church's treasures. This infuriated the prefect, and he had Lawrence bound to a red-hot griddle. Lawrence bore the agony with unbelievable equanimity and in the midst of his torment instructed the executioner to turn him over, as he was broiled enough on one side. According to Prudentius, his death and example led to the conversion of Rome and signaled the end of paganism in the city.
The first with the name in England was Lawrence the Monk, who was one of those sent to Britain to convert the islanders to Christianity about 916 A.D.
According to some earlier 19th century researchers, the first ancestor of the Lawrences from whom the family can be definitely traced is Sir Robert Lawrence who accompanied Richard Couer de Lion in the crusades to the Holy Land. He was the first to plant the banner of the crusades on the battlements of Palestine in the siege of Acre in 1191 A.D. For this he was knighted Sir Robert of Ashton Hall and was granted for his arms, "Arg. a cross raguly Gu." This lineage has been propagated in many Lawrence family history books that have been written. Schuyler Lawrence contradicts this lineage in his research. According to Schuyler, Ashton Hall did not fall into the hands of the Lawrences until about 100 years later, at which time the Lawrence surname came into use. The first to use the surname Lawrence and to occupy Ashton Hall was a John Lawrence. A lawsuit at that time mentions the first three generations of John's ancestors as Lawrence de Lancaster (from whom the surname is derived), Thomas de Lancaster, and Roger de Lancaster. Whether the earliest individual mentioned in this lawsuit, Roger de Lancaster, is related or descendant from this Robert de Lancaster, I cannot determine. My research of the Victoria History of Lancashire appears to substantiate Schuyler's findings. See Lawrences of Ashton Hall for further discussion.