This is a medieval English locational surname. It originates from any or all of the three villages called Rothwell in the counties of Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire. The place name and hence the surname is of Old English pre 7th century origins and means 'The stream in a clearing' from the words 'rod-waella', although it is also claimed that the meaning is the clearing created by ridding the ground of trees. Locational surnames of this type were amongst the earliest to be created, and were given either to the local lord of the manor and his descendants, or to people who left their original homes to move somewhere else. Here they were most easily identified by being called after their former village. The name development has included Rowell, this being the early local dialectual pronunciation particularly in Northants as in William de Rowell in the Pipe Rolls of trhe county in 1201. Amongst the very first settlers in the new colonies of America, and appearing in the census of Virginia in 1623 was a 'Mr Roswell'. The census gave both the living and the dead, he was amongst the 'living'. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Robert de Rothewelle. This was dated 1297, in the Accounts of the Duchy of Cornwall, during the reign of King Edward 1st of England, 1272 - 1307. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was sometimes known as the 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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