Incredible as it may seem, William Claiborne had time for other things in addition to his trading in the Chesapeake and struggles to hold onto Kent Island. He had his positions in the administration of Virginia, his family, and his plantations.
The trading season was in the spring, allowing Claiborne to return to Jamestown by June for Council meetings. He was pressed into service as the Virginia spokesman in London on several occasions. In 1642 he was made Treasurer of Virginia for life. And, in 1644, when the local tribes again mounted a concerted attack to dislodge the English, Claiborne was put in charge of the campaign to secure the colony. In 1652 he negotiated the surrender of Virginia and Maryland to Cromwell’s government in England. Finally, in 1661, he resigned from the Council, when Charles II came back to power in the Restoration, as he had been so closely allied with the side of the Puritans. However, in 1676, during Bacon’s Rebellion, the Claibornes supported Governor Berkeley against the smaller planters on the new frontier who were fighting Indian attacks, which they claimed were a result of the “Tidewater aristocracy” ignoring their interests and being soft on the Indians.
During his lifetime, Claiborne had become a member of that landed gentry. When he first began his life as the Surveyor, he was granted 150 acres in Elizabeth City, at the mouth of the James River, where the city of Hampton now stands. This grant came from the headrights for transporting three persons to Virginia, who were in reality his survey crew. He established warehouses on this land for his trading and developed a home and plantation, which was called Kecoughtan, after the Indian village there. He and his family lived there, between trips to England and times on Kent Island, until about 1650. By 1626, Claiborne had active plantations, growing tobacco no doubt, at Kecoughtan and also on 250 acres at Archer’s Hope and 200 acres which had been granted him as Surveyor at Blount Point. He also acquired 500 acres more in that location in 1626, probably from headrights.
In 1639 he patented 700 more acres near Kecoughton and 3000 acres in the Northern Neck. In the 1650’s he got the land on the Pamunkey River “running westerly to the point of land on which Col. Claybourne landed the Army under his command, anno 1644”. In 1657, he patented 1600 acres adjoining this plantation and 5000 acres between the Mattapony and Rappahannock Rivers, for transporting 100 persons. In 1658 he acquired another 1000 acres on “the south side of the Peanketanke great swamp” for bring in 20 persons. In 1661, he chose 4000 acres on the Pyanketank River for 80 transports. For a man with ships, this was the obvious way to acquire land and Claiborne seems to have taken full advantage of it. I don’t know whether he actually went himself on each of these voyages.
By this time, I am beginning to have a lot of sympathy and admiration for William’s wife, Elizabeth, who must have been the consistent overseer of his affairs at home during his frequent absences. They did have long-time friends who were official overseers. And sometimes, Elizabeth went to England with him. They had at least five children, William, the oldest son, was born in 1636 at the Kecoughtan plantation. Jane seems to have been born in England in 1637. Thomas was born in 1647, probably on the land on the Pamunkey. There is no record of children born during the intervening 10 years. Then there was Leonard, born about 1649 and John, in 1651.
I like to think of William and Elizabeth in their “golden years” sitting on the porch of their manor house, watching the river. When William died, the property was divided among his three sons, William getting his father’s house, Thomas receiving the middle section on which he built Sweet Hall, and John getting the third upriver. Leonard seems to have moved to Jamaica with his wife.
I can see the drive and ability of William Claiborne in my father’s life, both forging new paths and rising to the top, although Ted loved trees as William loved the sea.