The ruins of a grand castle sit amidst the hills of Monmouthshire, in Wales near the border of England. It has been a ruin for a long time, intentionally destroyed after surrender during the English Civil War of the mid-17th century. However, thanks to the sturdiness of the walls and British cultural preservation efforts, it is still possible to walk around inside, to climb old stone steps, to peer out of the stone-framed windows to the fields beyond. My daughter deems it the most fun British castle to visit, as it offers both open opportunities to wander as well as a plethora of nooks and crannies that make for superior games of hide-and-seek.
Getting to the origin of the name requires traveling back in time further than this blog usually ventures, a trip made possible by the extensive research of Charles James Ragland, Jr. who wrote and published a monumental two-volume work on the Ragland family. As Volume 2 relates, in 1416 an eight-year-old boy named Robert, recently orphaned, left his grandfather’s manor house at Perthyre and moved in with his uncle William at Raglan Castle. William was an up-and-coming member of the aristocracy, achieving knighthood for (what else) fighting the French and then marrying the noble daughter of Sir John Bluet, widow of Lord Berkeley. With the marriage came the castle. Later generations would receive titles like “Earl” and “Marquesse.”
The family of Robert was Welsh, and his name at birth followed the patronymic Welsh naming system, thus “Robert ap Jevan,” or “Robert son of Jevan.” His father and uncle were Jevan ap Thomas and William ap Thomas. But in accordance with new aspirations in an aristocracy dominated by the English, Robert’s generation decided to embrace parts of English culture including the adoption of surnames. Robert’s cousins – William’s sons – began to use the last name “Herbert.” When Robert left the castle as an adult, he chose that place as the basis for his last name and became Robert Raglan.
All modern American Raglands appear to descend from a single immigrant ancestor, Robert’s great-great-great-great grandson Evan. Evan may not have been a willing immigrant. Charles Ragland believes Evan was abducted out of the village of Watchet in Somerset in about 1670 at the young age of 14. It was not an uncommon practice for ship’s captains sailing for the Americas to fill out their cargo with involuntary passengers. Once at port in the colonies, the captains would sell the captives into indentured servitude, obligating the individuals to work as a laborers for the owners of their indentures for anywhere between one and seven years (five to seven years was common). Farmers in the colonies were desperate for labor, and indentured servants filled a vital economic niche. Most of the servants undertook their indentures willingly, fleeing poverty and poor prospects closer to home and hoping for a better life. While conditions for the servant could be little different than slavery and many did not survive to the end of their service, once the indenture expired the survivors were free and the owner of the indenture was bound to give them land and/or other items of value to allow them to get started on their own, independent lives.
However unfortunate his travel arrangements, Evan was lucky, in part because he was educated. Virginia planter Stephen Pettus bought his indenture and brought him into his household as a secretary rather than putting him to work in the fields. Even better, some years after the indenture expired Evan married Stephen’s daughter Susannah and eventually inherited the plantation, which was in New Kent County along the banks of the Chickahominy River. Susannah and Evan had five children, including four sons from whom the various American Raglands are descended.
Evan stayed in New Kent County for the rest of his life, but some of his descendants would follow the lure of new land west to middle Tennessee and then to southern Kentucky after the Revolutionary War.