Claiborne, William. The ancient family of Claiborne derives its name from the Manor of Claiborne or Cliborne in Westmoreland county England near the river Eden and which is named in the Domesday Book AD 1086. William Claiborne was born about 1587 and came to Virginia with Gov. Wyatt in 1621 in the employ of the Virginia Company as surveyor general of Virginia at a salary of thirty pounds a year a house and in all probability fees.
He quickly became prominent in colonial affairs and in 1624 was commissioned by the King as first royal secretary of state a position which he held off and on for eighteen years. In 1626 he became a member of the council. On July 22 1629 he received a commission from Gov. Pott appointing him captain and commander of all the forces to be levied for a war against the Indians and as a reward for the successful conduct of the campaign was granted in 1640 a tract of land on the Pamunkey river. In the latter year he petitioned the King to create an office which should have the keeping of the Virginia seal. The King referred the matter back to the governor and council of Virginia who decided that such an office was appropriate and appointed Claiborne to fill it. In 1634 through the influence of Harvey he lost his place as secretary of state but on Apr 6 1642 Charles I appointed him treasurer of Virginia for life.
He again commanded forces against the Indians in 1644 and again received a grant of land in reward Claiborne was a great explorer and traded with the Indians as well as fought them. In 1627 the government of Virginia gave him permission to discover the source of Chesapeake Bay and explore any body of water between the thirty fourth and forty first parallels of latitude and on May 16, 1631 the King granted a license to “our trusty and well beloved Wm Claiborne” to trade in the colonies of New England and New Scotland, and commanded Gov Harvey and the council to allow him to do so. Claiborne soon afterwards established a trading post on Kent Island near the present city of Annapolis and this caused him to oppose with great persistence the efforts of the Baltimores to establish the colony of Maryland. When in 1632 that part of Virginia lying north of the Potomac was granted to Cecilius Calvert, Lord Baltimore, the Virginians including Claiborne protested against it on the ground that it was a territorial spoliation. They brought the matter before the King and urged that in revoking the charter and assembling control over Virginia both his father James and himself had given assurances that the intention was to alter the form of government not to dispute property rights.
The political existence of the colony remained as much a fact as before and if the King could grant away Maryland he could grant away Jamestown itself. The King and his commissioners of foreign plantations were nevertheless adverse to this view and the legality of Baltimore's charter was upheld. The Virginians hoped however to except Kent Island from its operation on the ground that the Island was actually occupied by Virginia settlers. They argued that the assurances given at the revocation meant at least that actual occupation was to be respected. It made no difference whether Claiborne had any title to the soil or not, under his license to trade the colony of Virginia had extended its laws over it and the occupation was a legal one. When therefore Leonard Calvert. Baltimore's governor. called upon Claiborne to recognize his authority in Kent Island the council of Virginia to whom Claiborne referred the request considered the claim and declared that the colony had as much right Kent Island as any other part of the country given by his Majesty's patent in 1609. This particular phase of the question came before the King like the more general phase and was referred by him as in the former case to the commissioners of foreign plantations. It pended before them for several years and in the interim feeling grew warm. A miniature war developed and several persons were killed on both sides Sir John Harvey interfered in behalf of Lord Baltimore and this so incensed Claiborne's friends in Virginia that he was seized and sent back to England. At length however the commissioners in 1638 decided for Lord Baltimore and Kent Island having been seized in Claiborne's absence in England by Capt. George Evelyn in behalf of Lord Baltimore has remained ever since a part of Maryland. While Claiborne never admitted the justice of the decision it does not appear that he ever tried again to set up Kent Island as independent of Maryland. During the disturbances of Richard Ingle 1645-1647 he visited Kent Island but appears to have come over to look after his property rights which had been confiscated. Instead of posing as a friend of parliament he showed a commission and letter from King Charles I, by whom he appears to have stood till the King's death in 1649. After that time Claiborne went to England and espoused the parliament side and Gov Berkeley in 1650 declared the office of treasurer vacant on account of Claiborne's delinquency.
In Sept 1651 Claiborne was appointed with Capt Robert Dennis, Mr. Richard Bennett and Mr. Thomas Stegg on a commission to reduce Virginia to obedience to the parliament of England an office which they succeeded in performing in Mar 1652. They then repaired to Maryland and reduced that province also. The ascendancy of Claiborne in Maryland was complete but beyond renewing this property claim to Kent Island he did not treat it politically different from the rest of Maryland. In Virginia the two surviving commissioners Bennett and Claiborne shared the chief offices between them Bennett became governor and Claiborne secretary of state. Maryland was only temporarily pacified. Lord Baltimore encouraged his adherents to resist and a civil war ensued and much blood was shed. The design of the commissioners appears to have been to have brought about the union of Virginia and Maryland again but Baltimore won such favor with Cromwell in England that the contest was given up and his authority finally recognized.
When the restoration of Charles II took place Claiborne was deprived of his office as secretary and removed from Elizabeth City where he had formerly lived to Romancoke near West Point the scene of one of his former victories over the Indians Romancoke was then situated in the county of New Kent which had been cut from York in 1654 when Claiborne was at the height of his power. The county was evidently named by him after his beloved Kent Island. Here he lived many years siding with the government in the disturbances of Bacon's rebellion and dying about 1677 when he was upwards of ninety years of age. To the last he remained unconquered in spirit and as late as 1675 he sent to parliament a long recital of his injuries suffered at the hands of the Baltimores asking satisfaction and urging the union of Maryland with Virginia.
- This follows the list of June 15, 2013 and is part of a series. Most of this information came from Stanard's The Colonial Virginia Register, Cynthia Leonard's The General Assembly of Virginia, July 30, 1619-January 11, 1978, A Bicentennial Register of Members and Gardiner's Encyclopedia of Virginia.
See also my previous posts on Claiborne.