William Coulbourn —
By Timothy Robinson
Who exactly was William Coulbourn?
He was a man who lived in Somerset County on Maryland’s Lower Eastern Shore
over three hundred years ago. Even though he died over three centuries ago, he left
behind proof of his existence. It was through court, land and probate records
that Coulbourn’s life can be pieced together. What
kind of man was William Coulbourn? Was he rich or
poor, important or insignificant? From where did he come and why did he end up
William Coulbourn was
many things. He was a planter, a nonconformist, a founding father, a sheriff, a
justice of the peace, a county leader and a military officer. He arrived in
It is speculated that William Coulbourn was
born on January 19, 1629/30, in
After establishing himself as a nonconformist, Coulbourn
next appeared in the court records in 1652. He had paid for the transportation
of seven individuals from
After acquiring his land, Coulbourn then met
his first wife, Anne, and they married in July 1656 in
On October 25, 1658, John Ellis, an associate of Coulbourn’s, wrote his will. Ellis asked Coulbourn to witness his will along with John Berrymore and John Dixon. This is significant because demonstrates with whom Coulbourn associated on a social level, and that he was prominent enough to witness a will. This request was a sign of trust because the deceased required that the will stand up in open court and that its terms be carried out. That request was taken care of in court on November 29, 1658, after Ellis’ death, when Coulbourn attested to the will’s authenticity and ensured its proper execution.
Coulbourn appeared to have maintained an
average existence in
On January 29, 1660, William Coulbourn stood
before the court in
Coulbourn kept a low profile for the next few
years before deciding to relocate on the Eastern Shore of Maryland to the
domain of the Calvert family. The flap over his association with the Quakers
probably was the impetus for the move. It was widely known that Calvert’s
There is no definitive date for when Coulbourn left
Coulbourn officially applied to the leadership
By this time the Coulbourn family really
started to grow. A second child, a daughter named Mary, was born on November 8,
1661, while the Coulbourn’s were still residing in
On March 26, 1664, Coulbourn realized an
important first milestone when Charles Calvert, Governor of Maryland,
recognized Coulbourn for his “fidelity,
circumspection, courage and good conduct” and appointed him to the Colonial
Having acquired his one thousand acres of land and started his family in earnest, Coulbourn began concentrating on his livelihood-that of a planter. He both grew crops and raised livestock. On January 11, 1665, Coulbourn registered his own cattle mark with the Somerset County Court. That mark consisted basically of a notch cut out of the right ear and he had the left ear held and over bitten. Coulbourn’s eldest son, seven-year-old William, Jr., also had his own cattle mark recorded on February 12, 1665, which consisted of a cropping of the right ear and the left ear halfed on the upper part.
On January 10, 1666, William and Anne Coulbourn
sold their property in
It did not take long for Coulbourn to continue
his rise to prominence in
In 1668, Coulbourn apparently was the victim of a crime when John Kirke allegedly killed hogs that belonged to Coulbourn and Robert Hart. The victims brought their case against Kirke and subpoenaed John Johnson, John Walker, George Hasfurt, Richard Miles and Benjamin Sumbler to testify against the alleged perpetrator. The case was heard in March 1668; however, there is no record of any of the witnesses’ testimony. The only adjudication that is mentioned is that the case was referred to arbitration after a debate.
Court appearances continued for Coulbourn when
he appeared in the county court on June 18, 1668, in a case where an indentured
servant, Thomas Moolson, sued his master, Henry
Boston, arguing that his period of servitude had expired. William Coulbourn along with Stephen Horsey appeared as evidentiary
witnesses in this case. Again there is no record of their individual testimony,
but the court ruled in favor of Moolson and ordered
him released from his servitude. The court also ordered
By 1669 the political and military careers of William Coulbourn
reached greater heights beginning with his appointment to serve as one of ten
county commissioners for the recently-formed
In 1671, Coulbourn had a confrontation with an individual known as Thomas Hues who had a sexual relationship with one of Coulbourn’s female servants. The female servant became pregnant as a result of this relationship and Coulbourn attributed the responsibility for the loss of the pregnant servant’s labor directly to Hues. Since Hues engaged in “carnall copulation” and used the female servant to fulfill Hues’ “lustful desires,” Coulbourn lost the use of his servant for several months due to the pregnancy. Coulbourn sued Hues in County Court which ordered that Hues pay Coulbourn five hundred pounds of tobacco for the loss of the servant’s labor. The court gave the servant, Helena Johnson, the option of receiving twenty-five lashes on her bare back or paying Coulbourn five hundred pounds of tobacco for bearing a bastard child. This case is paramount to getting an insight on the moral attitudes of Coulbourn. By his statements, it leads to believe that Coulbourn disapproved of pre-marital sexual relations as well as intercourse for non-procreation reasons.
The prominence of Coulbourn continued to rise.
Charles Calvert appointed him as a commissioner for
The year 1673 saw Coulbourn add the role of lawman to his repertoire with his appointment by Governor Calvert as the Sheriff of Somerset County. One of Calvert’s first orders to Sheriff Coulbourn was to authorize him to “make entry of all undecked vessels, open sloops and boats that shall come at any time to trade in Somerset County” in order to make them post a bond and acquire a license for trade in Maryland. Little activity took place during Sheriff Coulbourn’s tenure, but he made a name for himself nonetheless. In the seventeenth century, the practice of “amercing” the sheriff’s was established, partly with the hope of keeping the sheriffs efficient. Amercing took place when the sheriff stated he had subpoenaed an individual to court, but that individual failed to show. In effect, it was a monetary fine against the sheriff. It was believed that if the sheriff had this fine to worry about, he would ensure the appearance of the person subpoenaed. Unfortunately for Sheriff Coulbourn, many of the witnesses or defendants subpoenaed by him did not appear as instructed. There is documentation of Sheriff Coulbourn being amerced three different times for the non-appearance of the same individual.
In April 1675, the
During his tenure, Sheriff Coulbourn concerned
himself mostly with the serving of subpoenas. In 1673, forty-four cases
appeared on the court docket; the majority being civil in nature with the
collection of debts or issues such as slander. Coulbourn’s
court duties also included the serving of writs and warrants, as well as
empanelling juries and serving financial attachments. The sheriff also had the
responsibility of police duties. If there was a disturber of the law and order
in the county, the sheriff was required to take that subject into his custody
and present him at the next session of court. When situations warranted it and
the sheriff needed assistance, he gave the “hue and cry” and activated the
“Posse Comitatus.” The “hue and cry” meant alerting
the citizenry of any volatile situation that could possibly get out of hand
while the “Posse Comitatus” or “Power of the County”
gave the sheriff the legal authority to deputize all the assistants necessary
to quell any situation or pursue a perpetrator. The sheriff also had the role
of executioner, which meant that he was responsible for hanging all those condemned
to death for a crime against society.
There was not much documentation of the activity of the
The murders of the Williams family so outraged the entire province, that
the province made a “no holds barred” attempt at capturing the guilty parties.
Colonel William Burges raised a militia party from St. Mary’s, Calvert and
Colonel Coulbourn continued his service to the
citizens of the county as a commissioner. The governor reappointed him in 1676.
In 1678, the colonel received an additional responsibility- that of the justice
of the peace for a year. The years 1679 and 1680 both saw Coulbourn
reappointed as a
In the early 1680s there developed a controversy over the rights of
Protestants in a province ruled by Roman Catholics. Many Protestants believed
they were not treated on the same level as Catholics. Charles Calvert and his
leaders of the
In 1686, Coulbourn was involved in an event
that several historians claim as his legacy. Because of the ongoing problems
with the Indians, especially the dominant tribe of the
The conflict over religion led to a pivotal moment in
In addition to examining the political, military and judicial career of Coulbourn, it is important to also examine his family. As
previously mentioned, he met his first wife, Anne, in
Two of the sons, William, Jr., and Robert both married into the prominent family of Randall Revell. William, Jr., married Revell’s daughter Anne in 1678 while Robert married his grandaughter Rebecca. Coulbourn’s daughter Anne married John Taylor and Penelope married Michael Holland. There are records for five children of William, Jr., and four daughters of Anne and John Taylor which gave Coulbourn at least nine grandchildren. Conspicuously, daughter Mary and son Solomon are not mentioned in Somerset IKL except for their births. Since neither Mary nor Solomon were referred to in the will or inventory of William Coulbourn, it leads one to speculate that they were deceased, although there is no record of their deaths.
Soon after he established a peaceful co-existence with the Indians, Colonel Coulbourn found himself ill and at death’s door in January 1689/90 at the age of sixty. On January 12, 1689/90 the colonel wrote his will, believing death to be imminent. At the beginning of the will, Coulbourn praised God and acknowledged the human destiny that required the death of the body and the assumption of the soul into God’s kingdom. The militia colonel, county commissioner and former sheriff left his earthly existence and died on January 22, 1689/90 at the age of about sixty years.
In his will, Coulbourn made his son William, Jr., his executor as well as his primary beneficiary. William, Jr., received his father’s entire estate, his horse and tack, six oxen, some furniture and three slaves. Coulbourn also gave his other son Robert and daughter Ann parcels of land that he owned along with a slave each. In the will, gifts were left also for each of his four granddaughters. The will provided more than just information about the disposition of Coulbourn’s property. By making no mention of his second wife, Margaret and two children, Solomon and Mary, again one has to assume that they pre-deceased Coulbourn.
Robert and John King performed an inventory on the personal estate of the goods and chattels of Colonel William Coulbourn after his death. After examining the inventory, insight can be gained into the life of Coulbourn. For instance, one can conclude that he was literate because he possessed six books. Also, he was religious as the preface of his will implied and because one of the books was a Bible. He also had a desk in his house that would presumably be used for writing. For part of his life he was afflicted with vision problems because he owned three pairs of spectacles. He also accepted slavery as he had five slaves in 1689.
The militia colonel had the necessary accouterments coinciding with his position. He had three swords, a pair of pistols and holsters, two guns and a looking glass. The farmer had enough stock for a good farm. He had six oxen, eight cows and calves, three old cows, four heifers, three bulls, seven steers, a sorrel horse, a bay horse, two sows, six hogs, twelve ewes and thirteen lambs. Not only did he have the livestock, but he also had plenty of farming equipment such as a plow and five hoes. 
A good sampling of furniture occupied the Coulbourn household. There were five feather beds with two blankets, five pairs of sheets and three pillows. By the ages of the children and their marriages, and the fact there were only two blankets, it is guessed that most of the children, if not all, were gone from the house. The house contained five tables, three chests of drawers, three other chests, ten chairs and two sets of curtains for the windows. Because of the amount of furniture, the size of the family and his social and political prominence, the Coulbourn house probably was of a fairly good size for seventeenth-century Somerset County. The house apparently included two stories because the inventory referred to upper and lower rooms.
For someone as wealthy as Coulbourn, he did not possess a wide variety of clothing. He had three old shirts, three pairs of drawers and two pairs of britches. His feet were covered by three pairs of stockings, one pair of slippers or one pair of boots. He had a jacket to keep warm along with two caps and a hat that could have been used for formal occasions or to keep the sun out of his eyes.
Even though Coulbourn might not have had much
clothing, he still ranked as one of the richest men in the county. An example
of Coulbourn’s wealth was obtained from the 1678
Tobacco List. In that year, the Assembly of the Province passed an act to
reimburse the various residents of
Upon his death, Coulbourn’s rank among the wealthiest men of the county was supported by his inventory. The document completed by John and Robert King listed Coulbourn’s wealth at 255 pounds sterling. Comparing inventories of other deceased county residents from 1688 to 1695, only two had more wealth- Ambrose Dixon and William Stevens. In fact most inventory amounts did not come close to the worth of Colonel Coulbourn. Out of twenty-three other inventories examined, only three listed values in excess of one hundred pounds sterling. Most inventories were valued below fifty pounds sterling with some at five pounds or less.
This paper cannot be considered complete without addressing Col. William Coulbourn and his association with the Quakers. Even though he took a stand to support the Quakers in 1660, it appeared that he had forsaken the idea of embracing the Quaker doctrine as his lifestyle stood in opposition to it. One of the major premises of Quakerism is pacifism. Quakers traditionally refuse to serve in the military, especially avoiding any combat roles. They objected to engaging in military conflicts because they felt it was impossible to both love their enemies and at the same time try to kill them. Taking into account his military service, it could be assumed that Coulbourn no longer subscribed to the Quaker ideology. Another area where Coulbourn differed was with slavery. The Colonel owned four slaves; this action conflicted with the Quaker position against slavery.
The Coulbourn line grew over the years.
Unfortunately William, Jr., died in 1701, only eleven years after his father’s death.
Another William, the third in line and the colonel’s grandson was born in 1682. Nearly every male heir in almost every generation
since has had a son who was named William. Coulbourn’s
memory is also evident today, in the geography of the area with Coulbourn Creek, which bounded Pomfret
and is still called by the same name, and
1 Many variations existed in the seventeenth century for the spelling of Coulbourn such as Coulbourne,
Colborne, Colbourne, Colebourne
2 There is currently still speculation as to where from Coulbourn hailed. Matthew Wise made no mention of Coulbourn’s roots in the Boston Family Book, and historian
and genealogist Leslie Dryden also made no mention of Coulbourn’s
parents or hometown. Some speculated, such as Clayton Torrence,
after some research, that Coulbourn came from
3 This writer has searched available passenger lists of the seventeenth
century and has been unable to locate William Coulbourn’s
name under that spelling or any of the alternate spellings, so there is no
definite idea when Coulbourn arrived in
4 William Coulbourn, Loyalty Oath 1651, Northampton County Courthouse, Eastville, VA (microfilm Reel 3, Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture at Salisbury University) 188-89
7 ibid., Patent Book No. 5 p. 485
8 Northampton County Court Records, Reel 3 (microfilm
9 Somerset IKL Births, Deaths, and Marriages 1649-1720, (microfilm CR 50078 Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture at Salisbury University.) p. 24
10 Dr. Howard Mackey and Candy McMahon Perry, eds. Northampton County
Virginia – Deeds, Wills and Etc. 1657-1666 Book VII.
11 March 1659-60 – 11th of Commonwealth, transcribed by William Waller Henry, The Statutes at large: Being a Collection of all the Laws of Virginia, Vol. 1 New York, R.W.G. Barlow, 1823. p. 532
12 ibid. p. 533
15 When examining the inventories of slave owners during the time period, a normal value assessed to a slave was twenty pounds sterling.
16 Northampton County Court Orders, Vol. 8, No. 8 1657-1664, (microfilm Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture at Salisbury University) fol. 89
17 Patent of Pomfret, found in Maryland Land
Office Patent Record 1663-1664, (microfilm SR 7348
18 Survey of Pomfret, found in Maryland Land
Office patent Record 1663-1664, (microfilm SR 7348
19 Somerset IKL Births Deaths and Marriages 1649-1720 (microfilm CR 50,078 Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture at Salisbury University.) p. 24
20 William Hand Browne, ed. Proceedings of the Council of Maryland
1661-1676, Archives of Maryland, III, Baltimore, MD: Maryland Historical
Society, 1885. p. 491. After the end of the English
Civil War and the conflict between supporters of the King and Parliament
subsided, the Colonial Militia of Maryland had the primary duty of protecting
against Indian raids, which in the 1660s were few. For more information about
the Colonial Militia of Maryland, see Joseph M. Balkoski,
The Maryland National Guard – A History of Maryland’s Military Forces
22 J. Hall Pleasants, ed. Somerset County Court Proceedings 1665-1668, Archives of Maryland, LIV,Baltimore, MD: Maryland Historical Society, 1937. p. 741
23 ibid. p. 743
25 Somerset Deeds, Liber O1,(microfilm 34,360 Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture at Salisbury University) fol. 54; J. Hall Pleasants, ed., Somerset County Court Proceedings 1665-1668, Archives of Maryland LIV, Baltimore, MD: Maryland Historical Society, 1937.p. 660; William Hande Browne, ed., Proceedings of the Council of Maryland 1667-1675, Archives of Maryland V, Baltimore, MD: Maryland Historical Society, 1887. p.4; Karraker, Cyrus H., The Seventeenth Century Sheriff, (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of NC Press, 1930) pp.3-7, 21-30.; Gladwin, Irene, The Sheriff: The Man and His Office, (London: Victor Gollancz, LTD, 1974) p. 301, p. 393.
26 J. Hall Pleasants, ed.,
27 J. Hall Pleaseants, ed., Somerset County Court Proceedings 1665-1668, Archives of Maryland, LIV, Baltimore, MD: Maryland Historical Society, 1937. p. 710
28 ibid., pp. 709-10.
29 William Hande Browne, ed. Proceedings of the Council of Maryland 1667-1675, Archives of Maryland, V, Baltimore, MD: Maryland Historical Society, 1887. p.61; both Stephen Horsey (1666-1668) and George Johnson (1668-1669) served as the first two Sheriffs of Somerset County.
30 William Hande Browne, ed.,
31 Somerset Judicial Record 1670-1671, Somerset County Courthouse, Princess Anne (microfilm CR 44,861, Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture at Salisbury University.) pp. 177-181
32 ibid. pp. 220-1
33 William Hand Browne., ed. Proceedings of the
34 ibid. p. 121
37 ibid., pp. 564-5; Randall Revell was a fellow large land owner and the future in-law of Coulbourn as well as probably a friend for at least twenty-five years.
38 Somerset County Judicial Records 1671-1675, Maryland State Archives, CR 45,669., Cyrus H.Karraker, The Seventeenth Century Sheriff, Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1930. pp. 17-22.
39 William Hand Browne, ed. Proceedings of the Council of Maryland 1676-1678, Archives of Maryland, XV, Baltimore, MD: Maryland Historical Society, 1896. pp. 162-3.
40 Ibid., pp. 142-148.
41 Ibid. p. 190
42 ibid., pp. 213-4
43 ibid. pp.77, 216-7, 275, 328.
44 IKL Births, Deaths, and Marriages 1649-1720
(microfilm CR 50078 Nabb Research Center for Delmarva
History and Culture at
45 William Hand Browne, ed. Proceedings of the Council of
46 Ibid., pp. 479-484.
47 Ibid. pp. 554-6.
48 William Hand Browne. Ed, Archives of
49 Archives of
50 Somerset IKL Births Deaths and Marriages (microfilm CR 50078 Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture at Salisbury University) pp. 24, 40-41.; Somerset Deeds 1671-1673, (microfilm CR 34,362 Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture at Salisbury University) p. 153 Will of William Coulbourn, Somerset Judicial record 1691-1692 (microfilm CR 45,673 Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture at Salisbury University, pp. 5-6) In the deed it was mentioned that William Coulbourn was married to Margaret. No original record has been located by this author as to the death of Coulbourn’s first wife. Leslie Dryden made no mention of a second wife. Sonia Coulbourn in her work Coulbourn Heritage mentioned Anne’s death about 1670 and remarriage to Margaret Cooper. Also Sonia Coulbourn’s work provided the information for the birthdates for Robert and Penelope Coulbourn.
51 Ibid., Somerset Deeds 1679-1689, (microfilm CR 31,804 Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture at Salisbury University) pp. 923-4.
53 Will of William Coulbourne,
54 Inventory of William Coulbourn, Somerset
Judicial Record, 1691 Nov- 1692 June,(microfilm CR
45,673 Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and
58 William Hand Browne, ed. Assembly Proceedings October – November 1678,
59 Maryland Prerogative Court Inventories and Accounts Liber 10 (1685-1695) (microfilm MSA-MSM13 Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture at Salisbury University), pp56-61, listed the worth of William Stevens as 766 pounds sterling, 10 shillings, 5 pence; Somerset County Inventories EB14 1678-1725, (microfilm CR 43743 Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture at Salisbury University) listed the worth of Ambrose Dixon as 326 pounds, 8 shillings.
60 Ibid. For a complete list of inventories examined see Appendix.
61 J. William Frost. The Quaker Family in
62 ibid., pp. 51, 58, 78, 209.
63 Somerset IKL Births Deaths and Marriages 1649-1720 (microfilm CR 50078 Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture at Salisbury University.) p. 40
64 Ruth T. Dryden, Land Records of
65 Somerset County Inventories 1678-1725 EB14,(Microfilm CR 43743 Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture at
Salisbury University.) fol. 250-259.; Maryland Prerogative Court Inventories
and Accounts Libber 10 1685-1695,(Microfilm MSA-MSM13 Nabb
Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture at Salisbury University.) pp.
12-13, 13-14, 15, 56-61, 76-77, 97, 100, 104, 133-4, 141, 285, 295, 309.
Somerset Judicial Records (microfilm),
Births, Deaths and Marriages IKL 1649-1720 (microfilm),
Prerogative Court Inventories and Accounts (microfilm),
Somerset County Inventories (microfilm),
Somerset Deeds (microfilm),
Northampton County Court Records (microfilm),
Maryland Land Office, Land Patent and Survey, (microfilm),
Northampton County Court Orders (microfilm),
Balkoski, Joseph M. The
Browne, William H, et al., eds. Archives of
Coulbourn, Sonia A. Coulbourn Heritage, 1999.
Coldham, Peter Wilson The
King’s Passenger to
Coldham, Peter Wilson. The Complete Book of Emmigrants 1607-1660,
Dozer, Donald M. Portrait of the
Dyden, Ruth T. Land Records of
Greer, George Cabell Early
Filby, P. William and Meyer, Mary K., ed., Passenger
and Immigrant Lists Index,
Hening, William Waller, ed. The Statutes at Large – Being a Collection of all the Laws of Virginia, Volumes One and Two, New York, NY: R.W.G. Barlow, 1823.
Karraker, Cyrus H. The
Seventeenth Century Sheriff.
Mackey, Dr. Howard, ed., et al, Northampton County Virginia Record Books,
Teppa, Michael, ed.
New World Immigrants Vol.1 and Vol. 2,
Torrence, Clayton. Old
Wise, Matthew M. The
Wright, F. Edward.