Select Raleigh Surname Genealogy

The surname Raleigh comes from the place-name Raleigh in the parish of Pilton in north Devon near Barnstaple.  The name was recorded as Radeleia in the Domesday Book of 1086, from the Old English read meaning “red” and leah meaning “wood” or “clearing."

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England.  The Raleigh family, of which Sir Walter Raleigh was a member, originated from the parish of Pilton in north Devon.  The start of this Raleigh line may have occurred earlier, but the first recorded was Sir Hugh de Raleigh in the year 1160. 

These Raleighs were clearly established gentry in north Devon by the 14th century.  Their country estate was named Fardel.  They were strongly Protestant in the 16th century and had a number of narrow escapes during the reign of Queen Mary.  There does seem to have been a decline in family fortunes at that time, resulting in Walter and Catherine Raleigh moving into rented accommodation near Exeter.  Their two sons were: 
  • Sir Carew Raleigh, the elder, who was a naval commander and privateer and subsequently a politician who sat in the House of Commons at various times between 1586 and 1622.  His son Walter Raleigh became the Dean of Wells, but was murdered in his deanery in 1646.  
  • while Sir Walter Raleigh, the younger, achieved fame and fortune under Queen Elizabeth but was later executed.  Sir Walter’s line included two surviving sons, Walter and Carew.  Walter died in 1616 in naval action in the Caribbean.  Carew survived the disfavor of the Stuart monarchs and lived through to see the Restoration.  
Another early Raleigh line was to be found at Thornborough in Warwickshire from the 15th century.  This line appears to have died out a century or so later, however. 

Although living Raleighs have been short on the ground in England, the Raleigh name has continued.  The history of Raleigh bicycles, at one time the world’s largest manufacturer of bicycles, began in 1885 when two men – one English and one from France – began building bicycles in a small workshop on Raleigh Street in Nottingham.

  Raleighs have been more numerous in Ireland.  Sir Walter’s grandson Phillip moved to Antrim in the 1670’s and there have been Raleigh descendants there. 

A larger number of Raleighs were and are to be found in Limerick in SW Ireland.  The spelling here could initially have been Rawley (Rawleys were based at Ballinrawley from the late 1500’s).  Sir Walter Raleigh was granted large tracts of land in Limerick and some of his extended family may have settled there. 

Maurice Raleigh was born in the county in 1775.  By the 19th century Raleighs were to be found in the Knocklong and Bruff areas of Limerick.  There were Raleigh emigrants from there to America and later to Australia.

  Raleigh has also been a name to be found in Galloway in SW Scotland.  Thomas Raleigh, an 18th century Congregational minister, had come from staunch Covenanter stock there.  His grandson Alexander moved to England and settled in London in the 1860’s where he was twice elected President of the Congregational Union.  Alexander’s son Walter Raleigh became an Oxford don who gained something of a reputation as a writer of light verse.

The first Raleigh arrival, from the Raleigh line in county Antrim, was probably Philip Raleigh who came to Massachusetts in the 1730’s.  These Raleighs later settled in Hillsborough, New Hampshire.  A descendant was the Mormon pioneer Alonzo Raleigh.

Kentucky has the largest number of Raleighs in America today.  The forebear for many of them was Enoch Raleigh who was said to have died from yellow fever in North Carolina in 1810.  His son James, born there in 1795, migrated to Breathitt county in Kentucky and was buried at the Raleigh Deaton cemetery at Wolfcoal in 1853.  Raleighs also ended up in the Letcher and Harlan counties on the other side of Pine Mountain.

Later Raleighs from Limerick in Ireland came to New York (Brooklyn and upstate) and to West Rutland in Vermont

Select Raleigh Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

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Sir Walter Raleigh was the famous Elizabethan explorer and writer who initiated the first English colony in America at Roanoke.  He went onto to popularize the use of Virginia tobacco in England.
Walter Raleigh
was a scholar, poet and author in England in the early 20th century.  His ancestry was Scottish.

Select Raleighs Today
  • 1,500 in America (most numerous in Kentucky) 
  • 700 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 1,000 surnames.

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