The National Society of the Claiborne Family Descendants
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Article written by Michael P. Gleason
who has given his permission for its use.

Published by Gleason Publishing, Inc.,
P.O.Box G
Gwynn, VA 20366

Virginia Magazine of Travel and History
Fall 1998
Volume 6, Number 3

The National Society of The Claiborne Family Descendants

Englishman William Claiborne, a native of County Kent, England, immigrated to Virginia in 1621 to undertake the task of surveyor of the colony. He was just 21.

Claiborne was a member of the official party traveling with Virginia's new royal governor, Sir Francis Wyatt, who sailed from England and took office in November 1621 as the last colonial governor appointed by Virginia Company.

Five years later, Claiborne, 26, was appointed secretary of state and a member of the council that served Sir George Yeardley, who succeeded Wyatt as Virginia's royal governor.

Claiborne is remembered for establishing a Virginia trading post on Kent, a Chesapeake Bay island. That was in 1631.

William Claiborne, one of the Virginia colony 's more illustrious leaders, was the subject of a feature article in our last issue. Now, read about the The National Society of the Claiborne Family Descendants, a group devoted to William Claiborne and the fame he deserves. We appreciate the efforts of two society members, Mildred B. Johnson and Vera W "Curly" Moore, who provided information for this story. Both Johnson and Moore are subscribers.

A year later, Kent Island fell within the proprietary that England's King Charles I granted to Cecilius Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore. Calvert's younger brother, Leonard, founded Maryland in 1634, and Claiborne despite strong protests lost his island trade center.

A decade later, in 1642, Claiborne was named treasurer of Virginia. And in 1644, he led a Maryland revolt that ousted Coy. Leonard Calvert. Claiborne controlled Mary land for several years, and in 1651, at the onset of the Commonwealth period in England, the Cromwellian regime appointed him to a commission that controlled both Maryland and Virginia.

Still, during the Interregnum and after, Claiborne lost all attempts to regain Kent Island.

He died in Virginia in 1677, at the age of 90.

For generations, historians thought William Claiborne descended from the ancient Cliburn family, a Westmoreland, England, clan who traced their lineage to Malcolm II, the first King of Scotland.

William Claiborne of Virginia reportedly used the Cliburn coat of arms on his official documents, and the Cliburn heraldic emblem is on numerous Claiborne family gravestones, especially in Virginia.

But in the 1940s, a Virginia genealogical researcher dispelled Claiborne's Westmoreland lineage after determining that Claiborne was the son of Thomas Clebourne, a Kent, England, native who once served as mayor, alderman and justice of the peace in King's Lynn, a Norfolk, England, village.

The researcher suspected - but never determined - a link between Thomas Clebourne and the Cliburn family of Westmoreland.

The National Society of the Claiborne Family Descendants, a clan established in the mid-1980's, honors William Claiborne and his colorful exploits.

"The Claiborne clan happened by chance," reports Mildred "Milly" Barker Johnson, the society's founder and president emeritus.

In 1985, Johnson recalls, she and her husband traveled to England for a summer vacation. The couple made a stop in King's Lynn, a seaport on the Great Ouse at The Wash, a shallow North Sea inlet.

"All my life," Johnson says, "my mother told me I had an ancestor who had been a mayor of King's Lynn in the mid-1500's." That ancestor was Thomas Clebourne.

Milly Johnson and her husband arranged for a day tour in King's Lynn. A town guide organization assigned an English couple, Jill and Huw Price, to meet the American tourists.

The Johnsons soon learned that the Price couple was researching their own family genealogy as well as the lineage of the Claiborne descendants.

Together, the Prices and Johnsons visited a number of Claiborne sites, including Guild Hall, where the town stores the ancient manuscript list of all its mayors. By day's end, the two couples were fast friends.

Later that year, Milly Johnson remembers, Jill Price took a trip to Cliburn Hall in Westmoreland, England.

In Westmoreland, the Englishwoman found a record of past Cliburn Hall visitors, and the list included eight Americans - all William Claiborne descendants.

Jill Price shared the list with Milly Johnson, and that handful of Americans became the nucleus of the Claiborne society.

Milly Johnson, now a resident of Hilton Head Island, S.C., called on the Claiborne clan to assemble in Williamsburg in October 1988. Another Claiborne descendant, Vera Williamson Moore of Virginia, was the mastermind of the reunion.

"There is no doubt," Johnson says, "that Vera Moore's ideas, and willingness to bring them to fruition, were the single most important thing that brought the Claiborne Clan into being."

Moore is affectionately nicknamed "Curly." She resides in Hopewell.

Twenty-six Claiborne family members attended the three-day assembly. The group visited Sweet Hall and Romancoke, early Claiborne homes on the Pamunkey River.

And Jill and Huw Price traveled from England to Virginia to participate. The Prices presented a slide show on King's Lynn and gave the clan a gift from their mayor, who sent along an invitation to visit his seaport village.

The group accepted the mayor's invitation, and voted to hold its next reunion in King's Lynn.

Meanwhile, the Claiborne descendants allocated $500 for Jill and Huw Price to use in supervising research to find William Claiborne's "missing link" with the Clibum family of Westmoreland, England. Research is continuing.

The clan journeyed to England in September 1990 for its second reunion. The Prices and Curly Moore organized the venture.

In England, the descendants visited Westmoreland and Cliburn Hall. They made a stop at St. Cuthbert's Church, built by the Clibum family in 1284.

The group also toured King's Lynn, where the mayor hosted the clan in his office at Trinity Guild Hall.

The Claiborne descendants held a third reunion in Williamsburg in the fall of 1992. The clan boasted 70 members, and 51 of them - from 10 states - took part in the Virginia gathering.

Two years later, in the fall of 1994, 17 of the clan's 86 members traveled to England for a fourth reunion. The group toured King's Lynn and Pembroke College, Cambridge, where William Claiborne studied in 1617.

The descendants also visited York and Cliburn, including stops at Cliburn Hall and St. Cuthbert's Church.

In 1995, half the clan's 110 members traveled to Tennessee as guests of Sam and Maria Claiborne at Deerfield Resort. Speakers included Edward Matthews of New Orleans, a descendant of William C.C. Claiborne, first governor of Louisiana.

The group also heard a talk by Gene Williamson, a writer who reviewed his book, Chesapeake Conflict: The Troublesome Early Days of Maryland.

The clan bestowed honorary memberships on Jill and Huw Price, Doreen and Derek Bowness of Clibum Hall, and Lolita Bissell, author of Cliborn-Claiborne Records. Milly Johnson was elected president emeritus.

In 1995, the Claiborne clan received a $150 contribution from the King's Lynn town guides organization to start a drive to commission a William Claiborne oil portrait to hang in the King's Lynn town hall.

Curly Moore raised the additional funds necessary for the painting.

Moore retained Richmond artist Louise Carrington, who put color touches on a black-and-white photograph of a portrait from the The Library of Virginia.

Then, in May 1996, Moore delivered the portrait to King's Lynn, where she presented it to Mayor Moss Evans in a town hall ceremony.

The portrait includes a plaque, which reads, "William Claiborne of Virginia, 1600-1677, Presented by The National Society of the Claiborne Family Descendants."

The organization also spearheaded a protest in Hampton, Va., where city officials planned to build a parking lot over the site of William Claiborne's 17th century plantation.

Clan members also raised funds to erect a Virginia historical marker near Claiborne's property, site of Hampton's establishment.

Claiborne descendants held a sixth reunion in Williamsburg in June 1997.

Clan members visited St. Peter's Church in New Kent County to hear about the church's connection with Thomas Claiborne, who was William Claiborne's eldest son.

The group also viewed the tomb of Thomas Claiborne's wife, Sarah Fenn Claiborne Bray.

Some descendants visited Sweet Hall and Windsor, both Pamunkey River homes of early Claibornes. The clan also heard genealogical research reports from Sue Forbes and Jill Price.

The next day, clan members visited Jamestown.

The Claiborne clan concluded the annual meeting by naming author Gene Williamson an honorary member. And Claiborne T. Smith Jr. received an award - the first Claiborne T. Smith Jr. award - for co-publishing a book, Claiborne of Virginia: The First Eight Generations.

The society, which now has more than 170 members, will meet in 1999 in New Orleans.

Milly Johnson sums up the organization's mission:

The Claiborne Clan, as we are informally called, continues to grow because we are joined together to find the missing link between Thomas Cleyborne of King's Lynn, and the Westmoreland Cliburn family... because, at our reunions, we learn and visit important Claiborne sites ? and because we want to bring William Claiborne the fame he deserves as one of America's most distinguished colonists. But most of all, we grow because in accomplishing this, we have formed lasting friendships with other Claibornes."







Note: misprint: William Claiborne was 77 years old at the time of his death, not 90.