William Clayborne [Claiborne]

"William Clayborne, (Claiborne as now pronounced and written) an English colonist, was born in the county of Westmoreland about 1590. He was the third son of Sir Edmund and Grace (Bellingham) Cleburne of Cleburn-Hall in that county, and was paternally descended (from a common ancestor with the Fitz Hughs and Washingtons) from the ancient Breton house of Akarius of Ravensworth County of York, founder of the celebrated Abbey of Jervaulx (1145), and on his mother s side from "Alan Bellingham of Levens, the famous treasurer of Berwick, who received from King Henry the VIII, a [small parcel] of the barony of Kendal, known as the Lumley Fee."

He immigrated to Virginia with Sir Francis Wyatt in October, 1621, and was appointed surveyor of the Virginia Plantations by James I. He was a member of the Virginia Council in 1623, and was appointed by King Charles I, secretary of state for the colony of Virginia, March 24, 1625.

His commission begins, "To our trusty and well-beloved William Cleyborne, Esquire, Greeting," and a similar commission was granted to him in 1627. Commissions were also issued to him by the governors of Virginia in 1627, 1628, 1629 and 1630 and a special patent was granted him by the king at Greenwich, May 16, 1631, by which he was authorized "to make explorations and discoveries anywhere from the 34th to the 41st degree of latitude," and he obtained through his friend Sir William Alexander, the king s Scottish secretary, the necessary license to open up territory for increase of trade with the Indians.

On October 16, 1629, he led a successful expedition against Candyack (now West Point) which gave peace to the colony, and for which he was rewarded with the lands at Romancoke. On March 8, 1631. a license was issued by Governor Sir John Harvey (afterward his bitterest enemy) by which he was authorized to trade with the Dutch, and in which he is mentioned in the most nattering terms. In 1628 he visited England, where he made known his colonization and trading schemes, and for these purposes formed a co-partnership with one William Cloberry, John De La Barre, and others of London; Sir William Alexander obtaining for them license "to trade in any community what ever, and to make any voyages or discoveries within the bay of Chesapeake."

In January, 1630, he was in England "for the purpose of informing the king about the condition of colonial affairs," and on the 16th of May, 1631, he went on another voyage of discovery to the Isle of Kent, an island which he had "discovered, purchased and planted years before the patent of Maryland was ever thought of," and which he had named for the River Kent, which ran through the grounds of his mother's birthplace at "Levens Hall."

In 1632, Charles I gave to Sir George Calvert, first Lord Baltimore, a part of the territory of Virginia, which was named Maryland in honor of the Queen. On the death of the first lord, in 1632, Cecil, the second Lord Baltimore, assumed jurisdiction over this "Isle of Kent" (which may have been included ignorantly or unintentionally in the patent granted his father), and sent to America his brother Leonard Calvert with two hundred men to take possession.

Because they were Roman Catholics, on their arrival in 1633, the Virginia Council sent to the king a petition protesting against their settlement. The matter was referred to the privy council, and Lord Baltimore was advised to confer with the planters, which he did through his brother the Governor of Maryland. Meanwhile Clayborne, who had disputed Calvert's rights to any part of Virginia, especially to the Isle of Kent, was accused of sedition and of stirring up hostility among the "Nations," for which Calvert ordered his arrest April 23, 1635.

One of Claiborne's vessels being seized by the Marylanders, he fitted out an armed [ship] under Lieutenant Warren, which was defeated by two vessels of the enemy sent out under Cornwallis. This first naval battle in colonial waters, was a prototype of America's naval renown. Claiborne fled to Virginia, and then to England where he presented his grievances to the king in person, but was soon after sued by his London partners and cited before the commissioners on charges of sedition, piracy, etc. (constructive crimes), preferred by his old enemy, Sir John Harvey, but nothing came of it.

Up to this time, Clayborne, who was a man of in [tamed] will, energy and perseverance, had tried to play a difficult game in politics to be at once popular with the court and the colonists. So far he had succeeded, but unfortunately for him, his cousin and chief patron, Anne, Countess of Dorset and Pembroke, suddenly withdrew her self from court, owing to a quarrel with the king about her Barony of Clifford, and his old friend and kinsman George Percy (a former governor of the colony) died in March, 1636, thus depriving him of much of his former influence, while the Calverts were daily growing in power and popularity. He had championed the planters in their grievances, had protested against the king's unjust taxes on tobacco, had made an enemy of Gondomar by opposing the "Spanish Alliance," and had thwarted the interests of the lords commissioners with Loud at their head. He had, however, fully set forth his grievances to the King, who in 1638, "severely reprimanded Lord Baltimore for having, in violation of his royal commands, deprived Claiborne of his rightful possessions," nevertheless, in the succeeding year, April 4, 1638, the commissioners made a decision wholly in favor of Lord Baltimore.

Clayborne had purchased Palmer's Isle from the Indians in 1636 and when again in England, June 6, 1638, he petitioned the king for a grant of Rich Island which he had discovered, and for an immense tract of land twelve leagues [36 miles] in breadth "extending to the great lakes and southerly down the bay on both sides to the ocean, to be held in fee of the crown of England," which was refused; but in 1642, the king appointed him "treasurer of the colony of Virginia for life."

Early in 1645, at the head of his "men of Kent," he expelled Calvert, who in his turn was forced to flee to Virginia. In September, 1651, "believing that all things were now favorable to the recovery of his ancient rights and possessions," he joined the Parliament, and was appointed by its council of state one of the five commissioners for the "reduction of Virginia and the colonies in obedience to the Commonwealth of England." His terms of capitulation were most favorable to Virginia, and he concurred in the election of Sir William Berkeley as governor in 1660. In the spring of 1652, he had been elected secretary of state for Virginia, to which office he had been again appointed in 1655, 1657 and 1658, and on Cromwell's death he was appointed by a convention which met at James City, "to continue in office until the next assembly."

Upon the restoration, Claiborne was superseded in his office by Colonel Thomas Ludwell, but he still held the esteem and confidence of the people, for in 1663-64, he was a delegate from New Kent to an assembly held in James City, after which he participated in the defense of the colony against the depredations of the Indians.

After the crushing of Bacon's Rebellion, the assembly of Virginia in April, 1677, presented an address to King Charles recounting their grievances, in which the following sentence appears, "that the Island of Kent in Maryland granted to, seated and planted by Colonel [William], Se[c]. [Clayborne's son], formerly a limbe and member of since lopt off and deteyned from us by Lord Baltimore"

The question thus raised by the highest official power of Virginia fifty years after the settlement, when Claiborne the proprietor had long ceased to urge his claim, was not really settled until Virginia, in her Bill of Rights in 1776, renounced her claim to the territory of Maryland beyond the Potomac.

Colonel Claiborne was married to Elizabeth Boteler, or Butler, about 1645, by whom he had one daughter, Jane, and three sons Leonard, of Jamaica, West Indies, William of Romancoke, Virginia, and Thomas of Pamunky Rock, Virginia, from which junior branches the Claibornes in the United States are descended. He was known by his friends as "The Champion of Virginia," and by Chief Justice Marshall was styled "The evil genius of Maryland." He died in Virginia in 1676.

"Clayborne The Rebel," the name applied by Mr. William H. Carpenter of Maryland (in his novel entitled "Clayborne, the Rebel," 1846) to Mr. Secretary William Clayborne of Virginia, to indicate his disaffection to the King, and sudden adhesion to the parliamentary party in 1650. That Clayborne did so for the best interests of the struggling colony rather than for "the recovery of his ancient rights" was afterward proven, but at the time his resources were at a low ebb, his family in England had been ruined by the civil war, the influence of the Cliffords and his other kinsmen, Percy, Berkeley and Bellingham (three of whom had been royal governors of colonies) had considerably waned, yet Clayborne, by his tact and good management in this crisis, managed to hold on to the government of the colony, and he was sustained up to the time of his death against all his enemies by James I, Charles I, Cromwell, and Charles II, under each of whom lie had held high political positions in Virginia.


— Lamb's Biographical Dictionary of the United States, 1900 (edited)

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