Claiborne #12210

William Claiborne (1600-1677)

Born in England.  Arrived in Jamestown, Virginia in 1621 and

Elizabeth Butler (1610-1676)

Born in Roxwell, Essex, England.

Claiborne 12210

For anyone interested in learning more about William Claiborne, I recommend reading William Claiborne of Virginia With Some Account of His Pedigree (Classic Reprint) by John Herbert Claiborne.

William Claiborne, Secretary of State for the Virginia Colony (1626–1634),
Parliamentary Commissioner and Secretary of the Virginia Colony (1648–1660)

William Claiborne[1] (about 1600-1677)[2] was an English pioneer, surveyor and an early settler in Virginia and Maryland, becoming a wealthy planter, a trader and a major figure in the politics of the colonies.  He was a central figure in the disputes between the colonists of Maryland and of Virginia, partly because of his trading post on Kent Island in the Chesapeake Bay, which provoked the first naval battles in North American waters. William Claiborne repeatedly attempted and failed to regain Kent Island, sometimes by force of arms, after its inclusion in the lands that were granted by a royal charter to the Calvert family, thus becoming part of Maryland.

A Puritan, William Claiborne sided with Parliament during the English Civil War and was appointed to a commission charged with subduing and managing the Virginia and Maryland colonies.  He played a role in the submission of Virginia to Parliamentary rule in this period.  Following the restoration of the English monarchy in 1660, he retired from involvement in the politics of the Virginia colony.  He died around 1677 at his plantation, Romancoke, on Virginia’s Pamunkey River.  In the opinion of historian Robert Brenner, “William Claiborne may have been the most consistently influential politician in Virginia throughout the whole of the pre-Restoration period”[3].

Essex County, on the map of England

In about 1629, William Claiborne married Elizabeth Butler, who was born at Roxwell, Essex, England about 1610 and died 20 Aug 1676 in Virginia.  The relationships among the families of Claiborne, Butler and Harris (the family of William Harris, William Claiborne’s “servant”, or apprentice, who accompanied him to Virginia in 1621) are complicated and not althogether clear.  Possible connections have invited speculations by many researchers these family lines over the years, and the connections presented here are not proven.  While it is clear that these families are closely connected in Virginia, and even earlier in Essex, England, the exact nature of the relationship between specific individuals cannot always be determined.  Many of the family members shared the same names though multiple generations and in various branches in the same generation.  As a result, and sons and daughters, brothers and sisters and cousins can easily be confused with one another.   Connections have been investigated at length by J. McFarland Williams[4], William L. “Night Owl” Deyo (the former President of the Virginia Genealogical Society and the Tribal Historian of the Patawomeck Indians of Virginia) and others.  For example, Deyo explains as follows, in the “Additions and Corrections” addendum to one of his books[5]:

“To show how closely associated the family of Col. William Claiborne was with that of William Harris, son of Sir William Harris and Frances Astley[6], one only needs to check out the family of Claiborne’s wife, Elizabeth Butler.  Elizabeth Butler was the daughter of John Butler of Roxwell, Essex, and his wife, Jane Elliott, daughter of Edward Elliott of Newlands Hall and his wife, Joan Gedge, daughter and co-heir, with her sister, Mary, of James Gedge (d. 1555) of Shenfield. Essex.  Joan Gedge’s sister, Mary Gedge, was married secondly to John Butler, grandfather, by his first wife, Cressit St. John, of royal blood, of Mrs. Elizabeth (Butler) Claiborne.  Mrs. Claiborne’s half-uncle, Nathaniel Butler, son of John Butler and Mary Gedge, was the Governor of Bermuda[7].  The key to Elizabeth (Butler) Claiborne’s kinship to the Harris family is that her grand-aunt, Mary Gedge, who was also her step-grandmother, was first married to Sir Christopher Harris, by whom she was the grandmother of William Harris, apprentice of William Claiborne! By Mary (Gedge) Harris, widow of Sir Christopher Harris, marrying secondly to John Butler, the Harris children would have been raised with Elizabeth (Butler) Claiborne’s father!  By Elizabeth’s father marrying the daughter of Joan (Gedge) Elliott, it made her a first cousin once removed to the Harris children of Mary (Gedge) Harris Butler! William Claiborne’s brother-in-law, Thomas Butler; haberdasher, of London and Virginia, was an associate of Claiborne’s brother, Thomas.  Thomas Butler, ancestor of the compiler [William Deyo] in several ways, married a widow, Joan Mount Stephen, and had several sons, one of whom was named “Christopher,” a name that carried down in the Butler family in Virginia for many generations.  It is possible that Joan Mount Stephen may have been a cousin of Thomas Butler through the Harris family from which the name of her son, Christopher, was taken.  As Robert Harris, son of Robert Harris, the immigrant to Virginia, appears to have come from this Harris family, it is strongly believed by the compiler that his wife, Mary Claiborne, was the daughter of Thomas Claiborne, the only surviving son of Thomas Claiborne, brother of Col. William.  If Mary was a relative of Col. William Claiborne, this is the only possible legitimate connection.”

Although not all of these speculations are proven, the many tantalizing connections suggest strongly that the Claiborne, Harris and Butler families of Essex, England were closely connected already in England, and that these connections continued in Virginia.

Some family researchers are convinced that Elizabeth Butler‘s family descended from Thomas Pincerna, who was the chief Butler to the Prince, during the reign of King John (1199-1216).  The name “Pincerna” (pronounced pin-ser-na) is said to be a Latin version of a Greek word for “cupbearer” or “a pourer of drinks”.  The pincerna was a minor official in the medieval households.  By the early 14th century, Pincerna was often translated into Norman French as, le botiler, from which evolved the English name “Butler”.   Many early English deeds and documents support these claims, and pedigrees can be traced through heraldic visitations.  Verifying and tracing these lines of descent will be left as a matter for future research.  The last of our Butler line born in England is Elizabeth, the wife of William Claiborne.  Two of Elizabeth‘s brothers, John and Thomas, also came to Virginia in the company of William Claiborne, and Thomas founded a large family line in Virginia.

Early life and emigration to America

Cliburn Hall, Westmoreland, England - possible ancestral home of the Claibornes of Virginia

Cliburn Hall, Westmoreland, England – possible ancestral home of the Claibornes of Virginia

The coat of arms above was the original coat of arms granted to the family of Cliburn, of the City of Cliburn in the County of Westmorland, in about 1584-1585.  William Claiborne – the Secretary of Virginia born c. 1600 – used the Cliburn coat of arms on his official documents, and the Cliburn heraldic emblem is on numerous Claiborne family gravestones, especially in Virginia.  According to the ancient English rules of heraldry, only one person could use the arms at a time, usually the father as the head of the family. Given the similarities in name and coat of arms, it was long suspected that the Claybourn family was related to this William. But in the 1940s, a Virginia genealogical researcher dispelled Claiborne’s Westmorland lineage after determining that Claiborne was the son of Thomas Clebourne of Kent, England. Thus, William’s use of the coat of arms is a mystery. The motto in Saxon is Lofe clibbor na sceame, which means “Tenacious of what is right, not of what is shameful.” The motto in Latin is Confide recti agens, which means roughly the same thing.

Over the years, many researchers have searched English records to discover a connection (if any) between Thomas Cleyborne of King’s Lynn, Norfolk, England, (William’s grandfather), and the ancient family of Cliburn in Westmoreland, England.  To the best of my knowledge, the connection, if any, has not been discovered.  At this time, I am leaving this as a subject for future research.  A useful starting point may be the articles by Dr. Clayton Torrence, Director and Correspoonding Secretary, of the Virginia Historical Society, whose interesting and exhaustive search is described in Virginia Historical Magazine, Vol. 56 (1948),  pp. 328-343; 431-460.

The Minster and Priory Church of St. Margaret, St Mary Magdalene and All the Virgin Saints can be found in the historic surroundings of the Saturday Market Place in the heart of King’s Lynn.

Thomas Cleyborne, the elder, of the Parish of St. Margaret, Borough of King’s Lynn, Norfolk, merchant, was the grandfather of Wiliam Claiborne.  Thomas was admitted free of King’s Lynn in 1552/53.  He was Mayor of the Borough of King’s Lynn in 1573; Justice of the Peace, 1574; Alderman, 1587.  His will was dated 1 Dec 1581 and probated 21 May 1582.  He desired to be buried in the parish church of St. Margarets’ in King’s Lynn near the Sepelture of my late wife.

Thomas Cleyborne (Jr.) (1557-1607) was executor of his father’s will.  He was the father of William Claiborne.  He was admitted free of the Borough of Kings Lynn in 1578-9, his franchise being secured by birth.  He was an Alderman in 1591 and a Mayor of the Borough in 1592.  He married on 21 Nov 1598, Sara James (nee Smyth), the widow of Roger James of Bednal Green, Parish of Stebunheath, County Middlesex, citizen and brewer of London, who died 10 Dec 1596.  Soon thereafter Thomas moved to the Parish of Stepney, Middlesex, and then to the Parish of Crayford, Kent, where he died in 1607.

William Claiborne was born in Kent, England in about 1600 to Thomas Clayborn, an alderman and lord mayor from King’s Lynn, Norfolk (who made his living as a small-scale businessman involved in a variety of industries, including the salt and fish trades) and Sarah Smyth, the daughter of a London brewer.  William, who was baptized on 10 August 1600, was the youngest of two sons.  The family’s business was not profitable enough to make it rich, and so William‘s older brother was apprenticed in London, becoming a merchant involved in hosiery and, eventually, the tobacco trade.

In November 1620, William Claiborne sailed from England aboard the George, as member of the party accompanying Sir Francis Wyatt, the newly appointed governor of Virginia.  Claiborne arrived at Jamestown in 1621, having been offered a position as a land surveyor in the new colony.  The position carried a 200 acre land grant, a salary of £30 per year and the promise of fees paid by settlers who needed to have their land grants surveyed.

His appointment read as follows:

The Comittee appoynted by the Preparative Courte to treate with Mr. Cleyborne (Commended and proposed for the Surveyors place) haveing mett the next day and takinge into their considerations the allowances that a former Comit tee had thought fit to State that Office withall in respect of the service hee was to per forme as well in generall as particular Surveys did agree for his Salary to allow him Thirty pounds per annum to be paid in two hundred waight of Tobacco or any other valuable Comoditie growinge in that Country and that hee shall have a conveyent howse provided at the CompanieS charge and Twenty pounds in hand to furnish him with Instruments and books fittinge for his Office which hee is to leave to his Successor…

Map of Jamestown, Virginia and the Chesapeake Bay

His political acumen quickly made him one of the most successful Virginia colonists, and within four years of his arrival he had secured grants for 1,100 acres of land and a retroactive salary of £60 a year from the Virginia colony’s council.  His financial success was followed by political success, and he gained appointment as Councilor in 1624 and Secretary of State for the colony in 1626, a post second only to Governor in political influence.  Claiborne’s appointment read as follows:

And forasmuch as the affairs of the said Colony and Plantation may necessarily require some person of quality and trust to be employed as Secretary for the writing and answering of such letters as shall be from time to time directed or sent from the said Governor and Council of the Colony aforesaid, our will and pleasure is, and we do by these presents nominate and assign you, the said William Clayborne to become Secretary of State, for the said colony and Plantation of Virginia, residing in those parts… 

Virginia was still a frontier settlement in March 1622 when Claiborne survived attacks by native Powhatans that killed more than 300 Virginia colonists.

He also managed to survive the March 1622 attacks by native Powhatans on the Virginia settlers that killed more than 300 colonists.  In 1624, while serving as Governor Wyatt’s military aide in retaliatory raids against the Powhatan Indians (following the 1622 massacre), William Claiborne and his company of 60 colonists confronted and defeated an Indian force of some 800 bowmen. None of the colonists were killed but Claiborne was wounded. He would later command Virginia forces against the Powhatan Indians in 1644-45, capturing the fabled Chief Opechancanough.

Land patents granted to William Claiborne in 1625 include 150 acres in The Corporation of Elizabeth Citty.  It was on this land, located near the present Settlers Landing Road that he established the trading post used as a base for fur trading expeditions and explorations in upper Chesapeake Bay[8].

The following account of Claiborne’s settlement on Hampton site is from William and Mary College Quarterly Historical Magazine, Series 1, Vol. 9, No. 2, 1901, p. 86:

On the west side of the river lived in these early days that very quaint character in our early history, called William Capp, who resided at “Little England,” anciently known as Capps’ Point, and who in 1610 represented Kecoughtan in the first American Legislature. Above him, on two tracts of land, together aggregating 150 acres, and separated from Capps by a creek, was the most famous of all the early settlers of this region. This man was the celebrated William Claiborne, surveyor, Treasurer of Virginia and Secretary of State. Here, on the very site of the present Hampton Town, he had his storehouse for trade with the Indians up Chesapeake Bay and elsewhere, and from this storehouse his sloops, loaded with goods in exchange for skins and furs, sailed to many points in Maryland, Nansemond and the Eastern Shore.

The William Claiborne Historical Marker was dedicated to the city of Hampton, Virginia on 8 Jun 1997. William Claiborne once owned the land upon which Hampton was built.

The following is from History of Hampton and Elizabeth City County by Lyon G. Tyler, 1922 (pp. 28-29):

We have seen that… Col. Claiborne obtained a patent for 150 acres at the present site of Hampton. In 1680, this land had become the property of a ship captain named Thomas Jarvis…. This same year (1680) the General Assembly passed an act condemning fifty acres, in each of the counties, for towns, to be centers of trade and sole places of import and export. For Elizabeth City, the area selected was a part of Captain Thomas Jarvis’ property, which was vested in trustees or feoffees, and divided into half acre lots. The limitations of the act, however, were distasteful to both merchants in England and planters in Virginia, and the act was soon suspended by the government, though several persons bought and built houses at the new town.

In 1691, the act was revived, and the town for Elizabeth City County was decreed to be built on “the west side of Hampton River, on the land of Mr. William Wilson, lately belonging unto Mr. Thomas Jarvis, deceased…” [This land on which the town of Hampton was incorporated in 1691 was the land originally owned by Claiborne and sold by his family to Jarvis in 1680.

Around 1627, Claiborne began to trade for furs with the native Susquehannock on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay and two of its largest tributaries, the Potomac and Susquehanna Rivers. To facilitate this trade, Claiborne wanted to establish a trading post on Kent Island in the Chesapeake Bay, which he intended to make the center of a vast mercantile empire along the Atlantic Coast.  Claiborne found both financial and political support for the Kent Island venture from London merchants Maurice Thomson, William Cloberry, John de la Barre, and Simon Turgis.


Kent Island[9] and the first dispute with Maryland

Map of the modern state of Maryland with Kent Island indicated in red.  This island was the touchpoint for a long conflict between Claiborne and the Maryland colony.

During his explorations of upper Chesapeake in 1628, Claiborne had discovered, named, and settled Kent Island (which he bought from the local Indians for 12 pounds sterling).  There he built a post from which to conduct fur trading expeditions with Indians.  He described his island as follows:

Entered upon the Isle of kent, unplanted by any man. But possessed of the natives of that country, with about one hundred men and there contracted with the natives and bought their right, to hold of the Crown of England, to him and his Company and their heirs, and by force and virtue thereof William Claiborne and his Company stood seized of the said Island. (The actual price that Claiborne paid for Kent Island in 1631 was 12 pounds sterling.)

The island was named for his native Kent County, England. He later would apply the name to New Kent County, Virginia.

Sir George Calvert, 1st Baron Baltimore ("Lord Baltimore"), 8th Proprietary Governor of Newfoundland (1579-1632)

Sir George Calvert, 1st Baron Baltimore (“Lord Baltimore”), 8th Proprietary Governor of Newfoundland (1579-1632)

In 1629, George Calvert, 1st Baron Baltimore arrived in Virginia, having traveled south from Avalon, his failed colony on Newfoundland (now part of Canada).  Calvert was not welcomed by the Virginians, both because his Catholicism offended them as Protestants, and because it was no secret that Calvert desired a charter for a portion of the land that the Virginians considered their own.  After a brief stay, Calvert returned to England to press for just such a charter, and Claiborne, in his capacity as Secretary of State, was sent to England to argue the Virginians’ case.  This happened to be to Claiborne’s private advantage, as he was also trying to complete the arrangements for the trading post on Kent Island.

Calvert, a former high official in the government of King James I, asked the Privy Council for permission to build a colony, to be called Carolina, on land south of the Virginia settlements in modern-day North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.  Claiborne arrived soon afterwards and expressed the concerns of Virginia that its territorial integrity was being threatened.  He was joined in his protests by a group of London merchants who planned to build a sugar colony in the same area.  Claiborne, still intent on his own project, received a royal trading commission through one of his London supporters in 1631, one which granted him the right to trade with the natives on all lands in the mid-Atlantic where there was not already a patent in effect.

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge crosses Kent Island in the Chesapeake Bay of Maryland. The original span opened in 1952 and, at the time, with a length of 4.3 miles, it was the world’s longest continuous over-water steel structure (postcard reproduction).

William Claiborne sailed for Kent Island on 28 May 1631 with indentured servants[10] recruited in London and money for his trading post, likely believing Calvert’s hopes defeated.  He was able to gain the support of the Virginia Council for his project and, as a reward for London merchant Maurice Thomson’s financial support, helped Thomson and two associates get a contract from Virginia guaranteeing a monopoly on tobacco.  Claiborne’s Kent Island settlers established a small plantation on the island and appointed a clergyman.  While the settlement on Kent Island was progressing, the Privy Council had proposed to George Calvert that he be granted a charter for lands north of the Virginia colony, in order to create pressure on the Dutch settlements along the Delaware and Hudson Rivers[11].  Calvert accepted, though he died before the charter could be formally signed by the king, and the new colony of Maryland was instead granted to his son, Cecilius Calvert[12], on 20 Jun 1632.  This turn of events was unfortunate for Claiborne, since the Maryland charter included all lands on either side of the Chesapeake Bay north of the mouth of the Potomac River, a region which included Claiborne’s proposed trading post on Kent Island.  The Virginia Assembly, still in support of Claiborne and now including representatives of the Kent Island settlers, issued a series of proclamations and protests both before and after the granting of the Maryland charter, claiming the lands for Virginia and protesting the charter’s legality.

Claiborne’s first appeal to royal authority in the dispute, which complained both that the lands in the Maryland charter were not really unsettled, as the charter claimed, and that the charter gave so much power to Calvert that it undermined the rights of the settlers, was rejected by the Lords of Foreign Plantations in July 1633.  The following year, the main body of Calvert’s settlers arrived in the Chesapeake and established a permanent settlement on Yaocomico lands at St. Mary’s City.  With the support of the Virginia establishment, Claiborne made clear to Calvert that his allegiance was to Virginia and royal authority, and not to the proprietary authority in Maryland.  Some historical reports claim that Claiborne even tried to incite the natives against the Maryland colonists by telling them that the settlers at St. Mary’s were actually Spanish, and enemies of the English, although this claim has never been proven.  In 1635, a Maryland commissioner, Thomas Cornwallis, swept the Chesapeake Bay for illegal traders and captured one of Claiborne’s pinnaces in the Pocomoke Sound.  Claiborne tried to recover it by force, but was defeated, although he retained his settlement on Kent Island.  These engagements (23 April and 10 May 1635) were the first naval battles in North American waters, and three Virginians were killed as a result.

During these events, Governor John Harvey of Virginia, who had never been well liked by the Virginian colonists, had followed royal orders to support the Maryland settlement and, just before the naval battles in the Chesapeake, removed Claiborne from office as Secretary of State.  In response, Claiborne’s supporters in the Virginia Assembly expelled Harvey from the colony.  Two years later, an attorney for Cloberry and Company, who were concerned that the revenues they were receiving from fur trading had not recouped their original investment, arrived on Kent Island. The attorney took possession of the island and bade Claiborne return to England, where Cloberry and Company filed suit against him.  The attorney then invited Maryland to take over the island by force, which it did in December 1637.  By March 1638 the Maryland Assembly had declared that all of Claiborne’s property within the colony now belonged to the proprietor.  Maryland temporarily won the legal battle for Kent Island as well when Claiborne’s final appeal was rejected by the Privy Council in April 1638.


Parliamentary Commissioner and the second dispute with Maryland

In May 1638, fresh from his defeat over Kent Island, Claiborne received a commission from the Providence Land Company, who were advised by his old friend Maurice Thomson, to create a new colony on Ruatan Island off the coast of Honduras in the Caribbean Sea.  At the time, Honduras itself was a part of Spain’s Kingdom of Guatemala, and Spanish settlements dominated the mainland of Central America.  Claiborne optimistically called his new colony Rich Island, but Spanish power in the area was too strong and the colony was destroyed in 1642.

Soon after, the chaos of the English Civil War gave Claiborne another opportunity to reclaim Kent Island. The Calverts, who had received such constant support from the King, in turn supported the monarchy during the early stages of the parliamentary crisis.  Claiborne found a new ally in Richard Ingle, a pro-Parliament puritan merchant whose ships had been seized by the Catholic authorities in Maryland in response to a royal decree against Parliament.  Claiborne and Ingle saw an opportunity for revenge using the Parliamentary dispute as political cover, and in 1644 Claiborne seized Kent Island while Ingle took over St. Mary’s.  Both used religion as a tool to gain popular support, arguing that the Catholic Calverts could not be trusted.  By 1646, however, Governor Leonard Calvert had retaken both St. Mary’s and Kent Island with support from Governor Berkeley of Virginia, and, after Leonard Calvert died in 1648, Cecilius Calvert appointed a pro-Parliament Protestant to take over as governor.  The rebellion and its religious overtones was one of the factors that led to passage of the landmark Maryland Toleration Act of 1649[13], which declared religious tolerance for Catholics and Protestants in Maryland.

In 1648, a group of merchants in London applied to Parliament for revocation of the Maryland charter from the Calverts.  This was rejected, but Claiborne received a final opportunity to reclaim Kent Island when he was appointed by the Puritan-controlled Parliament to a commission which was charged with suppressing Anglican disquiet in Virginia (Virginia in this case defined as “all the plantations in the Bay of the Chesapeake.”)  Claiborne and fellow commissioner Richard Bennett secured the peaceful submission of Virginia to Parliamentary rule, and the new Virginia Assembly appointed Claiborne as Secretary of the colony.  It also proposed to Parliament new acts which would give Virginia more autonomy from England, which would benefit Claiborne as he pressed his claims on Kent Island.  He and Bennett then turned their attention to Maryland and, arguing again that the Catholic Calverts could not be trusted and that the charter gave the Calverts too much power, demanded that the colony submit to the Commonwealth.  Governor Stone briefly refused but gave in to Claiborne and the Commission, and submitted Maryland to Parliamentary rule.

Claiborne made no overt legal attempts to re-assert control over Kent Island during the commission’s rule of Maryland, although a treaty concluded during that time with the Susquehannocks claimed that Claiborne owned both Kent and Palmer Islands.  Claiborne’s legal designs on Maryland were once again defeated when Oliver Cromwell returned Calvert to power in 1653, after the Rump Parliament ended.  In 1654, Governor Stone of Maryland tried to reclaim authority for the proprietor and declared that Claiborne’s property and his life could be taken at the Governor’s pleasure.  Stone’s declaration was ignored and Claiborne and Bennett again overthrew him, creating a new assembly in which Catholics were not allowed to serve.  Calvert, now angry at Stone for what he perceived as weakness, demanded that Stone do something, and in 1655 Stone reclaimed control in St. Mary’s and led a group of soldiers to Providence (modern Annapolis).  Stone was captured and his force defeated by local Puritan settlers, who took control of the colony.  Given the new situation, Claiborne and Bennett went to England in hopes of convincing Cromwell to change his mind but, to their dismay, no decision was made and, lacking royal authority, the Puritans gave power over to a new governor appointed by Calvert.  Going behind Claiborne’s back, Bennett and another commissioner reached an agreement with Calvert that virtually guaranteed his continued control over Maryland through the remainder of the Protectorate.

With no authority left in Maryland, Claiborne turned to his political offices in Virginia. However, he was a Puritan and an ally of Parliament during the English Civil War, and upon the restoration of the British monarchy in 1660, he had few friends left in government.  Claiborne therefore retired from political affairs in 1660 and spent the remainder of his life managing his 5,000 acre estate, “Romancoke”, near West Point on the Pamunkey River, dying there about 1677.


Family life and descendants[14]

In the midst of the political turmoil of the conflict over Kent Island, William Claiborne married Elizabeth Butler of Roxwell, Essex, England who would remain his wife at least through 1668.  Elizabeth is the daughter of John Butler and Jane Elliott.  William and Elizabeth are the forebears of a number of lines of American Claibornes.  Among his descendants are William C. C. Claiborne[15], first governor of Louisiana, fashion designer Liz Claiborne[16], Senator Claiborne Pell[17] of Rhode island and Congresswoman Lindy Boggs[18] of Louisiana, elected to fill her husband’s (Hale Boggs) seat in the House of Representatives, who was killed in a plane crash in Alaska, then was re-elected seven times.

The children of of William Claiborne and Jane Elizabeth Boteler are listed as follows:

  1. Mary Claiborne, see below.
  2. William Claiborne, born about 1638, died about 168. He married Catherine Elizabeth Wilkes. Catherine Elizabeth Wilkes was born about 1636, died about 1684.
  3. Thomas Claiborne, born about 1647, died about 1732.

Mary Claiborne[19] was born about 1637 and died about 1710.  She married Robert Harris, born about 1615 and died about 1712.  The lineage of Mary Claiborne and Robert Harris is continued under the heading of William Harris (1596-1656).


Suggested Reading:

  • Chesapeake Conflict The Troublesome Early Days of Maryland by Gene Williamson (Heritage Books, Inc.) 1995.
  • We Claim Right of Possession: The Saga of William Claiborne by Gene Williamson.  A book-length narrative poem of 17th century dispute in upper Chesapeake Bay between Virginia fur trader William Claiborne and Maryland, leading to piracy, open war, and the first major naval engagement in American waters.
  • “Virginia’s One-Man War Against Maryland” by Gene Williamson, Virginia Magazine, Vol. 6, No. 2.
  • Virginia Venturer, a Historical Biography of William Claiborne, 1600-1677 by Nathaniel C. Hale (Dietz Press) 1951.
  • “The English Ancestry of William Claiborne of Virginia” by Clayton Torrence in Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 56, No. 33-4, 1948.
  • History of Hampton and Elizabeth City County, Virginia by Lyon G. Tyler (published by Board of Supervisors of Elizabeth City County, Hampton, Virginia) 1922.

[1] The family name has been alternately spelled as Clayborn, Clayborne, or Claiborne.

[2] A number of different sources dispute Claiborne’s date of birth and which family he descended from in England, though Brenner, which is the most recent authoritative historical text (Merchants and Revolution: Commercial Change, Political Conflict, and London’s Overseas Traders by Robert Brenner, published 2003), cites 1600 as the date of birth and the Norfolk / Kent Clayborns as his ancestry.  This has now become the consensus view among Claiborne researchers.

[3] Brenner, Robert. Merchants and Revolution: Commercial Change, Political Conflict, and London’s Overseas Traders (London: Verso, 2003), p. 120.

[4] Willams, J. McFarland. Harris Family of Virginia: Captain Thomas Harris – Immigrant of 1611; Robert Harris – Immigrant of 1634-1635; compiled by descendant J. McFarland Williams, Jr.  This work has been filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1971 (1 Microfilm reel); held at the Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.  Williams’ “typescript” (article) was written in 1959 for the DAR on the English origins of Capt. Thomas Major Robert Harris. His original typescript is in the National Library of the DAR in Washington, DC.

[5] Deyo, William L. The Family and Ancestry of William Dabney (ca 1743-1779) of Virginia and His Two Wives, Jane Quarles and Anna Harris.  An analysis of the English connections of the families of Dabney, Harris, Overton, Waters, Peake, Herbert, Mallory, Quarles, Millett, and others (Colonial Beach, Virginia: DeJoux Publications) 2000.

[6] Many sources identify the parents of William Harris (b. 1596) as William Harris (1545-1601) and Joan Hardings (1550-1615).

[7] Nathaniel Butler (born about 1577, living 1639, date of death unknown) was an English privateer who later served as the colonial governor of Bermuda during the early 17th century.  He had built many structures still seen in Bermuda today including many of the island’s coastal fortresses and the State House, in St. George’s, the oldest surviving English settlement in the New World (the State House, completed in 1620, was the first purpose-built building to house the Bermudian parliament).  He also has the distinction of introducing the potato, the first seen in North America, to the early English colonists of Jamestown, Virginia.

[8] See Records of the Virginia Company of London (Vol 4, pp. 555-558), edited by Susan Myra Kingsbury, published in 1906 by the U.S. Government Printing Office and reprinted in 1994 by Heritage Books Inc., Maryland.

[9] Kent Island the oldest English settlement within the present day state of Maryland and the third oldest permanent English settlement in the United States after Jamestown, Virginia and Plymouth, Massachusetts.

[10] It is reported that Thomas Youell (1618-1655), our 10th g-grandfather, accompanied Claiborne on this mission.

[11] New Amsterdam was a 17th-century Dutch colonial settlement that served as the capital of New Netherland. It later became New York City. The settlement, strategically located at the fortifiable southern tip of the island of Manhattan, was meant to defend the Dutch East India Company’s fur trade operations in the North River (Hudson River). Fort Amsterdam was designated the capital of the province in 1625. The 1625 date of the founding of New Amsterdam is now commemorated in the official Seal of New York City (formerly, the year on the seal was 1664, the year of the provisional Articles of Transfer, ensuring New Netherlanders that they “shall keep and enjoy the liberty of their consciences in religion”, negotiated with the English by Petrus Stuyvesant and his council).

[12] Cecilius Calvert, 2nd Baron Baltimore, 1st Proprietor and 1st Proprietary Governor of Maryland, 9th Proprietary Governor of Newfoundland (1605-1675), usually called Cecil, was an English colonizer who was the first proprietor of the Maryland colony. He received the proprietorship that was intended for his father, George Calvert, the 1st Lord Baltimore, who died shortly before it was granted. Cecil established Maryland from his home in England, and as a Catholic continued the legacy of his father by promoting religious tolerance in the colony. Forming it based on the ideas of freedom of religion and separation of church and state, Maryland became known as a haven for Catholics in the New World. Cecil governed Maryland for forty-two years.

[13] The Maryland Toleration Act, also known as the Act Concerning Religion, was a law mandating religious tolerance for trinitarian Christians. Passed on 21 Apr 1649 by the assembly of the Maryland colony, it was the second law requiring religious tolerance in the British North American colonies and created the first legal limitations on hate speech in the world. (The colony which became Rhode Island passed a series of laws, the first in 1636, which prohibited religious persecution including against non-Trinitarians; Rhode Island was also the first government to separate church and state). Historians argue that it helped inspire later legal protections for freedom of religion in the United States. The Calvert family, who founded Maryland partly as a refuge for English Catholics, sought enactment of the law to protect Catholic settlers and those of other religions that did not conform to the dominant Anglicanism of Britain and her colonies.  The Act allowed freedom of worship for all trinitarian Christians in Maryland, but sentenced to death anyone who denied the divinity of Jesus. It was revoked in 1654 by William Claiborne, a Virginian who had been appointed as a commissioner by Oliver Cromwell and was a staunch advocate for the Anglican Church. When the Calverts regained control of Maryland, the Act was reinstated, before being repealed permanently in 1692 following the Glorious Revolution. As the first law on religious tolerance in the British North America, it influenced related laws in other colonies and portions of it were echoed in the writing of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which enshrined religious freedom in American law.

[14] A number of genealogies reference his descendants, including Boddie’s Virginia Historical Genealogies (1999).

[15] William Charles Cole Claiborne (born 1772-1775; died 1817) was a United States politician, best known as the first Governor of Louisiana.  He also has the distinction of possibly being the youngest Congressman in U.S. history, though reliable sources differ about his age.  Three U.S. counties are named in his honor: Claiborne Parish, Louisiana; Claiborne County, Mississippi; and Claiborne County, Tennessee. The longest street in New Orleans is named in his honor: Claiborne Avenue.  The Claiborne Building in downtown Baton Rouge and serves as a government administrative center for the Louisiana state government.

[16] Anne Elisabeth Jane “Liz” Claiborne (1929-2007) was a Belgian-born American fashion designer and entrepreneur. She is best known for founding Liz Claiborne Inc., which in 1986 became the first company founded by a woman to make the Fortune 500.  Claiborne was the first woman to become chairperson and CEO of a Fortune 500 company.  See “Notable Kin” for more details.

[17] Claiborne de Borda Pell (1918-2009) was a United States Senator from Rhode Island, serving six terms from 1961-97, and was best known as the sponsor of the Pell Grant, which provides financial aid funding to U.S. college students. A Democrat, he was that state’s longest serving senator.

[18] Marie Corinne Morrison Claiborne Boggs, usually known as “Lindy” Boggs (1916- ), is a United States political figure who served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and later as ambassador to the Vatican. She was the first woman elected to Congress from Louisiana. She was also a permanent chairwoman of the 1976 Democratic National Convention, which made her the first female to preside over a major party convention. She is the widow of former House Majority Leader Hale Boggs, and the mother of three children: Cokie Roberts (a television news commentator), Thomas Hale Boggs, Jr., (a prominent lobbyist), and the late Barbara Boggs Sigmund, a mayor of Princeton, New Jersey, and a candidate in the 1982 New Jersey Democratic senatorial primary election. No woman has served in the House from Louisiana since Boggs left office. See “Notable Kin” for more details.

[19] Although many published family histories have included Mary Claibourne as a daughter of William Claibourne and Jane Elizabeth Butler, some researchers are skeptical due to a paucity of documentary evidence. For the purposes of this study, it is assumed that the traditional parentage is correct, and resolving this controversy will be left as a matter for further research. William Deyo (whose work was cited previously) provided the following explanation in an online post on the RootsWeb website (6 Sep 2005): “The thing most people cannot get past is that how could William Claiborne’s daughter, Mary, marry Robert Harris when William Claiborne did not have a daughter, Mary! It is a clear fact that he had two daughters, Jane and Elizabeth. Elizabeth is the one whose husband is not specifically stated in the records. Her name is also NEVER given as “Mary” in the official records because her given name at birth was Elizabeth. “Mary” was simply the name that she wished to be called by, her religious confirmation name. It is the name that her descendants would naturally remember. It would have been quite logical for her to have used another name other than “Elizabeth” among her family, as that was the name of her mother who was living at the same time. This is not a rare case at all. Her own son, William Harris, married Temperane Overton, whose own mother did the exact same thing. Temperance’s mother was named “Elizabeth Waters” at birth but chose to be called “Mary”, her religious confirmation name, by her family and friends. We have proof of this, as her mother, Ann Waters, of London, named her as Elizabeth Overton in her 1700 will, and the Overton family record, in a religious book during her lifetime, recorded her name as “Mary” Waters. Fred Dorman did not do the in depth study of the Harris/Claiborne connection I did. He also was not aware of the close relationship of William Claiborne’s wife, Elizabeth Butler, to the Harris family or of the knowledge that William Claiborne’s surveying partner, William Harris, whom he transported to Virginia, was the father of Robert Harris who married Claiborne’s daughter. Since Robert Harris’ land was in walking distance from that of Elizabeth “Mary” Claiborne, daughter of William, and their fathers were close associates, they certainly were well acquainted. Family records of a grand child stated the marriage took place, and at least one grandchild was named “Claiborne” Harris. None of this proves beyond any doubt that the marriage took place, but the supporting evidence is overwhelming. Since no one else has come up with another marriage for William Claiborne’s daughter, Elizabeth, I am totally convinced she is the one who married Robert Harris and possibly first to a Mr. Rice. It is obvious that Mr. G. M. Claiborne (of the 1900 Claiborne genealogy) had access to the original journal of Robert Harris’ grandson, Thomas Harris, which stated Robert Harris married the Widow Rice and her maiden name was said to have been Claiborne. There is even a court record of the time cited in my manuscript which lists Robert Harris and Elizabeth Harris as witnesses, indicating there was a married couple in the area named Robert and Elizabeth Harris.”


One comment

  • Zetta Mae Harris Baker

    Hello my name is
    Zetta Mae Harris Baker.
    My father name is
    Ira Lee Harris and mother is Zetta Mae Caperton Harris
    Dads has a Brother Clevis and
    Sister Elsie.
    I have six brothers and five sisters. Harry, Mary, Thomas, William, Elsie, Robert, Janet, James, Fred, Gloria, and Shirley. All are Harris.
    My dad was born in Mineral, Virgina and mom was born in West Virginia. I believe we are kin to you. My email is and phone number is 386 566 3539

Your comments are welcome. Keep in mind, however, all comments are moderated, and please no off-topic links.