The Hemphill surname is typically thought to be of Northern Irish and Scottish roots. The name is derived from the Old English words henep (hemp) and hyll (hill) and referred to people living near the hemp hill (i.e. a place where hemp was grown) in a place near Galston in Ayrshire. However, it could also originate from a medieval English place called “Hempshall” in Nottinghamshire. There is also some thought that Hemphill derives from the German “Hempel.” (I subscribe to the “hemp hill” theory, at least in relation to my ancestors, since they came from Scotland, via Ireland.)
Name Distribution in the U.S.
In 1840, the Hemphills were mostly concentrated in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Ohio. By 1880, they were still heavily concentrated in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, and had also spread in numbers to South Carolina, Illinois, Missouri, and Texas. By 1920, Hemphills had spread to all but two of the continental states (Rhode Island and North Dakota) and were most heavily concentrated in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi, Missouri, and Texas. Georgia reported between 29 and 85 Hemphill families on the 1920 census.
In 1880, most Hemphills were engaged in agriculture, and in fact, were more likely than the general public to be farmers or work on farms. I’m sure this is a result of their heavy concentration in the southern states. 45% of Hemphills were farmers, 10% were laborers, 7% kept house, and 10% worked on farms in some capacity. Contrast this with the general population in 1880: 35% were farmers and 7% worked on farms.
Civil War Service
412 Hemphills fought in the Civil War and they were almost evenly divided. 208 fought for the Confederacy and 204 were among the Union troops.
“Hemphill Family History Facts.” Genealogy, Family Trees and Family History Records online – Ancestry.com. 27 Dec. 2008 http://www.ancestry.com.
“Hemphill surname meaning.” SurnameDB: Free database of surname meanings. 27 Dec. 2008 http://www.surnamedb.com.