This long-established surname is of Anglo-Saxon origin, and is locational from any of the numerous places thus called, for example, Ashley in Cheshire, Kent, Wiltshire, Staffordshire and Northamptonshire. The name, recorded as Ashley, Ashlee and Ashleigh, in all cases, derives from the Olde English pre 7th Century "aesc" meaning "ash", plus "leah", a wood or clearing. Hence, "the ash wood" or "area cleared of ash trees". Locational surnames, such as this, were usually acquired by a local landowner, or by the lord of the manor, and especially by those former inhabitants of a place who had moved to another area, and were thereafter best identified by the name of their birthplace.The surname is first recorded in the latter half of the 12th Century (see below), and other early recordings include: Robert de Aslegh, who appears in the 1273 Hundred Rolls of Devon, and a Robert de Ashley, recorded in the 1281 Court Rolls of Wiltshire. The marriage of Richard Reeve and Anne Ashley was recorded in London, in 1617, and on January 2nd 1634, Samuel Ashley embarked from the port of London on the ship "Bonaventure" bound for Virginea. He was one of the earliest recorded namebearers to enter America. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Walter de Esselega, which was dated 1162, in the "Pipe Rolls of Gloucestershire", during the reign of King Henry 11, known as "The Builder of Churches", 1154 - 1189. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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