The family originated in Craven, moving to Leeds at the end of the eighteenth century. Samuel Petty Snr. (1766-1844) was born in Kirkgate, Leeds, where he trained as a baker and maltster. He went into business in Beeston, where he donated land for the first Wesleyan chapel opened in 1807. Along with Mathew Hewitt he was a partner in the Hunslet Hall Pottery from c.1814 to 1824, when his son Samuel Petty Jnr. (1796-1859) joined the business which traded as Petty & Co until 1845. Family graves are in St. Marys churchyard, Beeston, Leeds.
John William Petty (1820-1900), grandson of Samuel Petty Snr., was born at Hunslet. His father John Petty died when he was 6 years old and his stepfather apprenticed him to the Leeds Times. He then worked for H. Walker, a Briggate printer, and then more briefly for Webb, Millington and Co. of Otley. In 1865 John set up his own business in Albion Street, assisted by his sons Wesley and Benjamin. The firm began to prosper, becoming the largest printing works in the town. In 1868 it relocated to Trinity Street, and then to Whitehall Road in 1886. In 1894 it became a limited company and about this time opened a second works in Reading. In the post-war years Pettys came into the ownership of Robert Maxwell and the British Printing Corporation, then Polestar. It ceased in 2014.
A local preacher from c.1839, John William Petty sided with the Wesleyan Reformers, ending up in the UMFC. He served as a Liberal councillor for the West Ward from 1871 to 1891. He was for many years the President of the Leeds Temperance Society, much of his early business being for the temperance movement. He was also a manager of the Leeds, Skyrac & Morley Saving Bank.
John William Pettys son Wesley Petty (1847-1928), born in Sheepscar, Leeds, joined the printing business at 18 and made a major contribution to its growth. He left Methodism for the Church of England, moving to Harrogate where he was church warden at Bilton and represented the Central Ward as a Liberal on the town council. Like his father he was a keen advocate of temperance, being the Secretary of the Leeds Temperance Society in 1869, and later its president. At the time of his death he was senior vice-president of the National Temperance Council. In Leeds his public service included serving on the St Jamess Hall Workingmens Institute and the Anglican Leeds Extension Society, and as vice-president of the YMCA. On the death of his wife in September 1922 he moved back to Leeds where he died on 22 April 1928.