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Claiborne, or Clayborne, William 1589-

Colonial politician; born in Westmoreland, England, about 1589; appointed surveyor of the Virginia plantations under the London company in 1621. In 1627 the governor of Virginia gave him authority to explore the head of Chesapeake Bay; and in 1631 Charles I. gave him a license to make discoveries and trade with the Indians in that region. With this authority, he established a trading-post on Kent Island, in Chesapeake Bay, not far from the site of Annapolis. When Lord Baltimore claimed jurisdiction over Kent and other islands in the bay, Claiborne refused to acknowledge his title, having, as he alleged, an earlier one from the King. Baltimore ordered the arrest of Claiborne. Two vessels were sent for the purpose, when a battle ensued between them and one owned by Claiborne. The Marylanders were repulsed, and one of their number was killed. Claiborne was indicted for and found guilty of constructive murder and other high crimes, and fled to Virginia. Kent Island was seized and confiscated by the Maryland authorities. Sir John Harvey, governor of Virginia, refused to surrender Claiborne, and he went to England to seek redress. After the King heard his story he severely reprimanded Lord Baltimore for violating royal commands in driving Claiborne from Kent Island. In the spring of 1635 Claiborne despatched a vessel for trading, prepared to meet resistance. The Marylanders sent out two armed vessels under Cornwallis, their commissioner, or councillor, to watch for any illegal traders within the bounds of their province. On April 23 they seized Claiborne's vessel. The latter sent an armed boat, under the command of Ratcliffe Warren, a Virginian, to recapture the vessel. Cornwallis met Warren with one of his vessels in a harbor (May 10), and captured it after a sharp fight, in which Warren and two of his men were killed; also one of Cornwallis's crew. This event caused intense excitement. The first Maryland Assembly, which had convened just before the event, decreed “that offenders in all murders and felonies shall suffer the same pains and forfeitures as for the same crimes in England.” A requisition was made upon Governor Harvey for the delivery of Claiborne. That functionary decided that Claiborne might go to England to justify his conduct before the home government. A court of inquiry—held three years afterwards to investigate the matter—resulted in a formal indictment of Claiborne, and a bill of attainder passed against him. Thomas Smith, next in rank to Warren, was hanged. Claiborne, who was now treasurer of Virginia, retaliated against Maryland by stirring up civil war there, and, expelling Gov. Leonard Calvert (1645), assumed the reins of government. In 1651 Claiborne was appointed, by the council of state in England, one of the commissioners for reducing Virginia to obedience to the commonwealth ruled by Parliament; and he also took part in governing Maryland by a commission. He was soon afterwards made secretary of the colony of Virginia, and held the office until after the restoration of monarchy (1660) in England. Claiborne was one of the court that tried the captured followers of Nathaniel Bacon (q. v.). He resided in New Kent county, Va., until his death, about 1676.

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William Claiborne (14)
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