A Study in Foundations and Founders






William Coulbourne, evidently of an old Somersetshire, England, family,(See Note 1) was in Northampton County, Virginia, certainly as early as March 25, 1652, when he signed (with 116 other persons) the "Engagement tendered to ye Inhabitants of Northampton County," by which they promised "to be true and faithful to the Commonwealth of England as it is now Established without King or House of Lords."2 Coulbourne had two patents for land in Northampton County, each for 350 acres, the first granted to him March 4, 1652 [1652/3], the second on February 28, 1662 [1662/3].3

We have discovered no record evidence which proves that William Coulbourne ever became a Quaker; but that he manifested marked sympathy with the Quaker movement is well attested. In Northampton Court, April 12, 1661, it was recorded that

    "This day Wm Colborne & his wife came to ye Court & made acknowledgemt 
    of their error for entertaineing of Quakers making their 
    Recantacon according to Order of ye Right honble Gounor Sr Wm 
    Berkeley denying ye Quakers & their faction and have thereunto sett 
    their hands." 


The most significant entry appears in the record by the side of this order of court:

            "This refused to bee subscribed by 
            Wm. Colborne."4 


It does not appear what Mrs. Coulbourne's action in this matter was; but Mr. Coulbourne's defiance of the court's mandate is very clear. One of his descendants is authority for the statement that William Coulbourne (together with Henry White, Thomas Leatherbury and Ambrose Dixon) was arrested and ordered sent to James City for a hearing before the Governor and Council of Virginia charged with giving succor to Quakers in disobedience to the Act of Assembly.5 About eleven years later, when Coulbourne had become a distinguished resident of Somerset County, we have record that the celebrated George Fox, the founder of the Society of Friends, while on his visit to that county called on William Coulbourne and held a service at his house (see ante, page 96).

William Coulbourne certainly had not made his settlement at Annemessex on the lower Eastern Shore of Maryland in October, 1663, for he is not referred to by Colonel Scarburgh in his report of invasion of that territory in that month. But certainly between October, 1663, and January 27, 1663/4, Coulbourne, his wife, and several children, had settled in Annemessex, for a record recites that his son, Solomon Coulbourne, was born at Annemessex, January 27, 1663/4.

William Coulbourne was not long in entering the official life of the territorial unit of "the Eastern Shore below Choptank." On March 26, 1664, he was commissioned as "Lieutenant under Captain William Thorne of the Foot Company at present and to be raised by him between Choptank River and a line drawne east into the Mayne Ocean from Watkins Point" (see ante, page 58). In February, 1669 [1669/70], Coulbourne was commissioned "to be Captain of a company of foot from Manokin to Pocomoke," and in October, 1673, as "captain and commander of a troop of horse to be raised from among the residents of Somerset County." In 1681 the official statement is made that "Colonel William Coulbourne, a Protestant, commands the foot [troops] raised in Somerset and Dorchester Counties." As late as December, 1688, Coulbourne was "Coll: of the foot in said county." In March, 1667/8, William Coulbourne, Stephen Horsey and William Thorne were recommended by the court of Somerset to the proprietary authority that one of them might be appointed sheriff of Somerset for the year 1668. Coulbourne failed to receive the office at this time; however, in October, 1673, and November, 1675, we find him occupying the office of High Sheriff of the county. William Coulbourne became a member of the Commission of the Peace for Somerset County in February, 1670, and continued therein until 1673. He was again a member of the Commission of the Peace from March, 1676, and continued in office until his death in 1689. In July, 1687, Colonel William Coulbourne was designated by the Lord Proprietor of the province to head a commission to draw up a treaty with the Nanticoke Indians. The commission was successful in its undertaking and the treaty was jointly signed on August 11, 1687.7

The above record of William Coulbourne's "official career" speaks for itself, evidencing the confidence and esteem in which he was held by the provincial authorities and the people of Somerset County. William Coulbourne was throughout his life a man of manifestly sound and high character. Not once do we find him exercising his offices in other than the most approved fashion; while there is never once the slightest intimation, in record or tradition, that he lived his life throughout its broad range of activity other than with the dignity befitting his station as a gentleman. Unhesitatingly we pronounce him to have been altogether one of "Old Somerset's" finest possessions in the way of a man. When William Coulbourne came to the Annemessex settlement on the lower Eastern Shore he settled on the south side of the Great Annemessex River on a tract of 1,400 acres of land, located between Jones' Creek (west) and Coulbourne's Creek (east). This tract he patented in June, 1679, under the name of "Pomfret." Here he made his home throughout his life in "Old Somerset," and here, ever since his day, certain of his descendants have continued to reside on parts of the original tract.8

"Coll: William Coulbourne departed this life the two and twentieth day of January att Animessex anno Domini one thousand six hundred and eighty nine."9

William Coulbourne married, first, Anne (whose surname is unknown); secondly, Margaret Cooper.

William Coulbourne had issue by his first wife, Ann, the following children: (1) William Coulbourne (1658-17), married Anne Revell; (2) Mary Coulbourne (1661-, ante, 1689), unmarried; (3) Solomon Coulbourne (1663-, ante, 1689), unmarried; (4) Ann Coulbourne (born 1665), married John Taylor; (5) Robert Coulbourne, married Rebecca Revell.

William Coulbourne had issue by his second wife, Margaret Cooper, a daughter: (6) Penelope Coulbourne, who married Michael Holland


William Coulbourn Note 1

1 While we cannot, as yet, positively identify William Coublourne, of Somerset
County, Maryland, as a member of the Coulbourne family of Somersetshire,
England, yet it is not unlikely that such was his "origin."

Harlein Society Publications, Vol. XI, p. 26, visitation of county of Somerset, England, 1623, give the following significant pedigree. William Colborne, of Wythehill, county
Somerset, was father of John Colborne, who was father of Thomas Colborne,
who was father of William Colborne, of Braton, county Somerset, living in 1623,
and who married Mary Topp and had issue: (1) Charles Colborne, born 1603;
(2) William Colborne, born 1604; (3) Edward Colborne, born 1609; (4) John
Colborne, born 1611.

The coat of arms of this family are given as "Argent, on
a chevron sable between 3 bugle horns or, stringed of the second, 3 mullets of
the third. Crest, Out of a ducal coronet, a stag's head attired or."


1689 ... For the regulating of the Affairs in the Militia in Somersett County: Mr. William Coulbourne, Col: of foote; Mr David Brown, Capt of a Company of foote; Mr Charles Ratcliffe, Capt of a Company of foote in the roome of Capt Osborne deceased; Mr Robert King, capt. of a Company of foote in the roome of Capt Smith; Mr. John Winder, Capt: of a troope of horse.


Wm. Coulbourne heads commission, July, 1687, to make treaty with Nanticoke