Raleigh Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Raleigh Surname Meaning

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.”

Raleigh Surname Resources on The Internet

Raleigh Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Devon), Ireland (Munster) and Scotland (Galloway)
  • to America

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.

Ireland.  Raleighs have been more numerous in Ireland.  Popular history says that potatoes came to Ireland with Sir Walter Raleigh who planted them at his estate in Youghal, county Cork.  Some of his extended family may have settled there or in neighboring Limerick.

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).  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.

Scotland.  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.

America.  The first Raleigh arrival, from a Raleigh line in Ireland, 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.

Raleigh Surname Miscellany

The Start of the Raleigh Line.  Sir Walter Raleigh named his eldest son Damerei as he believed that he was descended from the Damerey de Clare who had married William the Conqueror’s sister.  Vivian’s Visitation of Devon stated that Walter de Raleigh had been slain at the Battle of Hastings.  There is no evidence for either of these assertions.

The first documented Raleigh was Sir Hugh de Raleigh who was Sheriff of Devon from 1160 to 1167.  He held three knight’s fees for the feudal barony of Barnstaple.  In 1167 he was granted by Henry II the manor of Nettlecombe in Somerset. 

Sir Walter Raleigh’s Life.  Walter Raleigh was an adventurer who rose rapidly in the favor of Queen Elizabeth and was knighted in 1585. He was instrumental in the early English colonization of North America and was granted a royal patent to explore Virginia.  This paved the way for future English settlements.  He has left his name in countless places there, most noticeably to the capital of North Carolina.

But there were lows to his career as well. In 1591 he secretly married Elizabeth Throckmorton, one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting, without the Queen’s permission. As a result he and his wife were sent to the Tower of London.

After the Queen died in 1603, Raleigh was again imprisoned in the Tower, this time for being involved in the Main Plot against James I.  In 1616 he was released to lead an expedition in search of El Dorado.  This was unsuccessful, the Spanish complained, and to appease them, Raleigh was arrested and executed in 1618.

His son Carew was presented at court, but the King supposedly complained that he looked like his father’s ghost.  He was not able to inherit his father’s estate until ten years later.

Sir Walter Raleigh’s Lines.  Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618) married Elizabeth Throckmorton (1565-1618)

  • Damerei Raleigh, died stillborn in 1691
  • Walter Raleigh (1593-1616)
  • Sir Carew Raleigh (1604-1667) married Philippa Weston (1607-1674)
  • – Walter Raleigh (1650-1660)
  • – Philip Raleigh (1652-1705) married Frances Greenville
  • — Walter Raleigh, born in 1674
  • — Brudenall Raleigh, born in 1676.

Reader Feedback – Sir Walter Raleigh’s Descendants.  Sir Walter Raleigh’s grandson Philip lived in Yorkshire and Surrey and then in London.  His sons Walter and Brudenell were baptised in Swillington, West Yorkshire.  Entries of their baptisms, along with those of Philip’s daughters, can be found in the parish register.

Claims that any Raleighs in Ireland descend from Sir Walter are entirely mythological and not supported by records. Philip Ralegh, Walter’s only surviving grandson, did not have a son called Thomas upon whom this descent supposedly rests.

The details usually attributed to a Colonel Thomas Raleigh ‘of Antrim’ actually belong to Thomas Raleigh of Westminster in London who was never in Antrim. He was a relative of Sir Walter, but not a descendant. This Thomas married Elizabeth Elwes (nee Ralegh) – an actual descendant of Sir Walter, but this is never mentioned in the Irish descent because no real research has been done here!  Thomas & Elizabeth Elwes married late in life and had no children together.

Sir Walter’s lands in Ireland were sold before his death and added to this, he held no lands in Antrim anyhow! The descendants of Irish and American Raleighs may find their time better spent researching Rileys and O’Rileys in Ireland.

Spragnella (Spragnella@hotmail.com).

Walter Raleigh, Academic and Poet.  Walter Raleigh held the Chair of English Literature at Oxford University from 1904 until his death in 1922.  His son Hilary edited his light prose, verse, and plays in Laughter from a Cloud (1923). He is probably best known for the poem Wishes of an Elderly Man, Wished at a Garden Party, June 1914:

  • “I wish I loved the human race;
  • I wish I loved its silly face;
  • I wish I liked the way it walks;
  • I wish I liked the way it talks;
  • And when I’m introduced to one
  • I wish I thought what jolly fun.”

Raleigh Park at North Hinksey near Oxford, where he lived from 1909 to his death, was named after him.

Alonzo Raleigh, Pioneer Mormon.  Alonzo Raleigh was born in Hillsborough, New Hampshire in 1818 and first heard the Mormon preachers in Boston in 1840.  He departed with other Mormons for Nauvoo, Illinois in 1843 and then made the trek west to the Mormon Salt Lake settlement.

His journey west, according to his testimony, was fairly uneventful.

“In early 1846 we commenced in earnest to prepare to leave for the West, and, together with my wife and infant daughter Caroline C, I started with an outfit of one team, wagon, tent, cow, etc. and traveled to the Missouri river in the Pottawattamie nation of Indians, a distance of about 250 miles, where we wintered

In the spring of 1847, I went to St Joseph, Missouri and worked at my building trade.

In the spring of 1848, we took up our journey and traveled in President Heber C. Kimball’s company across the plains to Great Salt Lake where we arrived in September that year.”

Raleigh Names

  • Sir Walter Raleigh was the famous Elizabethan explorer and writer who initiated the first English colony in America at Roanoke.  He went onto 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.

Raleigh Numbers Today

  • 200 in UK (most numerous in London)
  • 1,500 in America (most numerous in Kentucky)
  • 800 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)

Raleigh  and Like Surnames

Many surnames originated from SW England, the principal counties there being Devon and Cornwall, Somerset and Gloucestershire.  These are some of the prominent and noteworthy surnames that you can check out.




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Written by Colin Shelley

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