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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
reprinted in 1994 by Heritage Books Inc., Maryland.


Claiborne's Arrival in Virginia: In November 1620, Claiborne sailed from England aboard the George, as member of the party accompanying Sir Francis Wyatt, newly appointed governor of Virginia. Claiborne was 21 years of age when his ship sailed through the Virginia capes into Chesapeake Bay on August 8, 1621, en route to Jamestown.

Claiborne appointed Virginia Surveyor: Prior to leaving England, the Virginia Company appointed William Claiborne, of Kent County, England, as Surveyor for Virginia. 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....

Claiborne Wounded in Indian Hostilities: In 1624, while serving as Governor Wyatt's military aide in retaliatory raids against the Powhatan Indians (following the 1622 massacre), 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 command Virginia forces against the Powhatan Indians in 1644-45, capturing the fabled Chief Opechancanough.

Claiborne Appointed Virginia's Secretary of State: In 1625 William Claiborne was named to Governor's Council and in 1626 was elevated to Virginia's Secretary of State, 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.

Claiborne served as Secretary until 1637 (again from 1652 to 1660) and was named the colony's treasurer in 1642.

Claiborne Established Trading Post in Hampton: Land patents granted to William Claiborne (Clayborne) 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. 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.

Following account re Claiborne's settlement on Hampton site is from Old Kecoughtan (p86), William and Mary College Quarterly Historical Magazine, Series 1, Vol. 9, No. 2, 1901:

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.

Following is from History of Hampton and Elizabeth City County by Lyon G. Tyler, 1922 (pp28-29):

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 1680.1

Claiborne Explored Chesapeake Bay: In January 1629, Claiborne was commissioned by Virginia's acting governor, John Pott, to explore the parts and territories of this colony situate and lying to the southwards of this place as also of some particular places to the northward and in the Bay of Chesepeiacke and greatly favoring the prosecution of such enterprises tendeth so much to th eenlargement and welfare of this colony.

Claiborne Discovered Kent Island: 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.

Claiborne Lost Kent Island to Lord Baltimore: In 1632, Charles I granted Maryland to Sir George Calvert, First Lord Baltimore, but Calvert died before the royal seal was put to the charter. Rights and privileges were inherited by the son, Cecil Calvert, Second Lord Baltimore. Maryland had been carved out of territory included in Virginia's original charter, and it included Claiborne's Kent Island which Lord Baltimore confiscated. This led to a lengthy territorial dispute between Claiborne and the Lords Baltimore-and involved a Chesapeake Bay shooting war which in 1635 would include the first naval engagement in American waters. The dispute would not be resolved until Claiborne's death in 1677.

Claiborne Appointed Parliamentary Commissioner: In October 1650, following the English Civil War in which Charles I was executed, Parliament appointed William Claiborne as one of two commissioners to govern Virginia and Maryland, with authority to reduce those two colonies to the subjection of the English Commonwealth.

Suggested Reading:

  • Chesapeake Conflict The Troublesome Early Days of Maryland by Gene Williamson, Heritage Books, Inc. 1995 (1-800-398-7709);
  • We Claim Right of Possession by Gene Williamson, 2000, (great Title No.70);
  • "Virginia's One-Man War Against Maryland" by Gene Williamson, "Virginia" magazine, Vol.6,no.2 (804-725-7700)
  • 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;