Lee


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The English name comes from the Old English lea, which originally meant a wood or glade.  It could derive from the many place names called Lee or describe someone who lived near a meadow.  Other spellings were Lea and Leigh, the latter a name largely found in Lancashire. 

Some English Lees were Norman in origin, initially de la Ley, possibly from the place-name Laye in France - itself derived from la Haie meaning “hedge.” 

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England.   There were early Lees in Shropshire, of likely Norman origin: 
  • a Lee family (originally de la Lee) lived at Coton Hall in the parish of Alveley from the 1300's onwards. This family is believed to have produced Richard Lee, the first of the Lee family in America.  Coton Hall stayed with the English Lees until 1821.  
  • another Lee family, probably related, held Langley Manor in Shropshire.  Sir Richard Lee of this family was a Royalist commander during the Civil War.  Only a timber-framed gatehouse remains of their house.  
A Lee line began in Cheshire further north in the 1300’s and later had branches at Quarendon and Hartwell in Buckinghamshire and at Ditchley in Oxfordshire.  This family had built their wealth from sheep farming and they were prominent Buckinghamshire landowners and MP's in the 18th century.  Meanwhile Symon Lee from Worcester had moved to London in the early 1400's and was the forebear of an old Lee family that was to be found in Kent.   

Later Lee distribution showed a preponderance of Lees in the north of England, in Yorkshire and Lancashire. 

In addition to its traditional English origins, the name has been adopted by Romany gypsies in Britain.  Here it is pronounced with a slight aspiration at the end (almost as "leek") in common with its sound in the Romany language.  Gypsy Rose Lee was a well-known gypsy queen and fortune-teller. 


Ireland
.  Lee is an anglicized version of the Gaelic Laoidhigh, an occupational name meaning "poet."  There was a John O'Ladaigh, otherwise known as John O'Lee, who was Bishop of Killala in 1253.  Lees from this source were later to be found in Limerick and Cork. 

Other Lees - from the Gaelic mac an leagha (son of the physician) - were in Galway and Antrim.  Lees from these four counties plus Dublin accounted for about half of the Lees in Ireland in 1890. 

Meanwhile, many Lees in Ireland were of English planter stock.  One line at Barna in Tipperary, for instance, began in 1658 with a Lee from Quarendon in Buckinghamshire.  Earlier Leys or Lees in Kilkenny, one of the “Ten Tribes” of Kilkenny, were possibly Anglo-Norman in origin.  

America
.  The Lees have been a long-established and politically prominent Virginia and Maryland family.  The first of this family in America was Richard Lee who came to Virginia in 1639 and grew wealthy from tobacco. 

The main Lee line at the Stratford Hall plantation in Virginia, built by Thomas Lee in 1741, included two signers of the Declaration of Independence and Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general during the Civil War (and a postwar icon of the South's lost cause).  Other Lee homes and lines were at Blenheim, Cobb's Hall, Ditchley, Dividing Creek, Lee Hall, Leesylvania, and Mount Pleasant.  

There were 44 members of a Lee family from Donegal on-board the Faithful Steward when the vessel departed Londonderry in 1785.  However, the ship ran aground off Delaware and most of them drowned.  Only six Lees survived.  These Lees who settled in Pennsylvania and Ohio were, in the view of Robert E. Lee, distantly related to his Lees of Virginia.  

Asia.
  In recent years, Asian Lees - either Li from China (the most common Chinese surname) or Lee from Korea (there are seven million Lees in Korea today) - have become more prevalent in the English-speaking world.  For this reason, California has the highest concentration of Lees in America today
.

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


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Robert E. Lee was the Confederate general during the Civil War.
Laurie Lee was the English 20th century poet, novelist and screenwriter, most known for Cider With Rosie.
Bruce Lee was the Chinese-American martial artist and actor.
Ang Lee is the Taiwanese-American film director who produced Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain.

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  • 160,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 214,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 84,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

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Adams Ellis Johnson O'Connor
Scott
Allen Evans Jones O'Sullivan Shaw
Anderson Fisher
Kelly Parker Simpson
Bailey Foster Kennedy Perry Smith
Baker Fox King Peterson Stevens
Barnes Fraser 
Lee Phillips Stewart
Bell Graham Lewis Powell Taylor
Bennett Gray Marshall Price Thomas
Brown Green Martin Reed
Thompson
Butler       
Griffiths Mason      
Reynolds Turner
Campbell Hall McDonald Richards
Walker
Carter Hamilton Miller  Richardson Walsh
Chapman Harris Mitchell Roberts Ward
Clark Harrison
Moore Robertson Watson
Collins Henderson Morgan Robinson White
Cook Hill Morris Rogers Williams
Cooper Howard Murphy Ross Wilson
Cox Hughes Murray Russell Wood
Davis Jackson Nelson Ryan Wright
Edwards James O'Brien 
Sanders
Young

For other surnames check the surnames2 page where there are to be found the history and genealogy for more than 800 surnames.

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