Eastern Shore History

Commissioners and Clerks

A Selection of Short Biographies
taken from the Introduction to
County Court Records of Accomack-Northampton, Virginia 1640-1645
by Susie M. Ames [(c) Virginia Historical Society, 1973]
Permission to quote has been requested.


Nathaniel Littleton
Argoll Yeardley
Obedience Robins
William Stone
William Burdett
William Andrews
William Roper
John Neale
Stephen Charlton
John Wilkins
Philip Taylor
Edward Douglas
Edmund Scarburgh

Clerks of the Court

George Dawe
Thomas Cooke
Edwin Conway

IN MOST INSTANCES, the Accomack-Northampton County court records for the period covered by this volume speak for themselves. But inasmuch as the proceedings afford but little personal data respecting the officials of the court, the following brief biographical sketches are offered as an in- troduction to the transcribed records.


Nathaniel Littleton, whose name is first listed as a commissioner at the May court of 1637, succeeded the deceased John Howe to the title of commander at the May court of 1638.(1) His social, intellectual, and political background eminently qualified him to play a leading role in the life of the community. One of his ancestors, Sir Thomas Littleton, was the celebrated jurist and author of Tenures. His father, Sir Edward Littleton, served as chief justice of North Wales, and his eldest brother, Lord Littleton of Munslow, was chief justice of the common pleas and lord keeper of the great seal in England. Littleton, "a gentleman of the Earl of Southampton's Company in the Low Countries,1625," migrated to Virginia in 1635 and established himself on the Eastern Shore.(2) He married Ann, the widow of Charles Harmer and the daughter of Henry Southey, and thus united two families of social distinction and landed wealth.(3) Littleton achieved the pinnacle of colonial prominence in 1641 upon being appointed to the Virginia Council.(4) He died in 1654, generally regarded as the foremost planter on the Eastern Shore.

Argoll Yeardley, the elder son of Sir George Yeardley, governor of Virginia, in 1638 repatented 3,700 acres of land on the Eastern Shore, the patent reciting, that the land had been "graunted to Sir George Yeardley, Kt.... by order of the Court, 9 May 1623."(5) Yeardley presided over the Accomack County court in June 1640 with the title of commander and continued in that capacity until the spring of 1645, an assignment presumably occasioned by the absence in England of Nathaniel Littleton. Yeardley as early as January 1639 was serving on the Virginia Council. But in February 1644 proceedings were instituted against "Col. Argoll Yardly of the Council" for contempt. He was subsequently reinstated in his high post. Yeardley was married twice, his second wife being Ann Custis, whom he brought to Virginia along with her brother John.(6) He died intestate before October 29, 1655, at which time an appraisal of his estate was returned.(7)

Obedience Robins, who was born in 1600 in Northamptonshire, England, was listed in 1627 as a "chirugion" in Accomack.(8) He was one of the commissioners at the earliest Accomack County court for which records survive, that of January 7, 1632/33, and continued in that office until his death in 1662(9) Like his associates on the court, he was a large landowner, patenting in all a total of 4,450 acres.(10) Robins also represented Accomack County in the Virginia General Assembly sessions of March 1629/30, January 1639/40, April 1642,October 1644, and April and November 1652. An ardent Parliamentarian, he was appointed to the Virginia Council in 1655.(11)

William Stone, like Obedience Robins a native of Northamptonshire, England, migrated to Virginia before 1628. He was on the Eastern Shore by 1629 and in i633 was serving as a commissioner on the Accomack court.(12) He became in 1634 the first sheriff of Accomack County and served again in that capacity in 1640 and in 1646.(13) Stone, married to Verlinda Graves, daughter of Virginia Company member Thomas Graves, was influential in the religious and official life of the community and was successful in finding local and overseas markets for his cattle and tobacco.(14) He had patented by 1640 a total of 5,250 acres of land.(15) Stone in 1648 became the third proprietary governor of Maryland.

William Burdett arrived in Virginia in1615 when only sixteen years old and in1624 was listed as a servant in the household of the Accomack commander.(15) Burdett became a commissioner and a vestryman and in 1639 and 1641 represented the area in the House of Burgesses at Jamestown.(16) In the 1640s he took care of the cattle inherited by William Shrimpton from Lady Dale's estate on the Eastern Shore. Although he patented 1,550 acres of land, the records indicate that he was deeply in debt at the time of his death in1643.(17)

William Andrews, like William Burdett, was an "ancient" planter and was established as early as 1623 on the Eastern Shore.(18) The "antiquity of his knowledge" was cited, for example, in connection with a 1623 claim by Sir George Yeardley to land at Mattawames.(19) Andrews himself owned land on each of the southernmost creeks of the area, Old Plantation, King's, Hungar's, and Nuswattocks.(20) He became a commissioner in 1633. (21)

William Roper first appears as a commissioner at the May court of 1637.(22) But earlier, in 1636, he had been elected to the House of Burgesses, had been listed as a candidate for the office of sheriff, and had been successfully designated lieutenant and captain.(23) His patent, only 150 acres and the smallest holding of any of the commissioners, was on a small neck of land with a water-front location.(24) There he seemingly carried on a profitable trade in Chesapeake waters, often with settlers in Maryland. His wife, Katherine (Graves) Roper, a daughter of the "ancient adventurer" Thomas Graves, was sister to Verlinda (Graves) Stone, the wife of his fellow commissioner, William Stone.(25)

John Neale, a merchant who had first settled in Elizabeth City, was present as a commissioner of the Accomack court in February 1640.(26) He had become a member of the Accomack vestry in 1636, and in 1639 and 1641 had represented the county in the House of Burgesses.(27) Neale held patents to large tracts of land on both the Atlantic and Chesapeake sides of the Eastern Shore peninsula at points well located for trade.(28)

Stephen Charlton, a member of the first vestry of 1635, was added to the court commission in 1640.(29) He served as a member of the House of Burgesses in 1645 and again in 1653.(30) In the Northampton Protest of 1652, a remonstrance against county taxation without adequate representation in the Virginia General Assembly and also a petition for the redress of various grievances, the name of Stephen Charlton headed the list.(31) His commercial ventures, begun with New England early in the 1630's, were later extended to trade with the Dutch.(32) Charlton patented a total Of 3,950 acres of land on the Eastern Shore before his death in 1654.(33)

John Wilkins was first appointed a commissioner on the Accomack court in 1633 and was appointed to the Accomack vestry in 1635.(34) He patented 500 acres of land on the Eastern Shore in 1637 and by 1640 had added an additional 600 acres to his holdings.(35) Wilkins in 1641 represented the Eastern Shore in the House of Burgesses. His will, proved January 29, 1650/51, recited that he was returning to England and feared that something might happen to him during the journey, which appears to have been the case.(36) Philip Taylor was appointed a commissioner by the governor and council in June 1642.(37) He became sheriff of the county the following year. Inasmuch as his own residence had to serve as the jail, he petitioned the county court to erect a structure for that purpose at public expense.(38) Taylor also represented the county in the House of Burgesses at the March 1642/43 session." Numerous records survive as testimonials to his energy and initiative. He was the chief lieutenant of William Claiborne, for example, during the Kent Island controversy. By order of the General Court in 1640, the Accomack court could determine cases "not exceeding the sum of twenty pounds sterling."(39) But two years later a case involving forty pounds in a debt presented on behalf of William Claiborne by Taylor was referred by the governor and council to the Northampton (previously Accomack) court.(40) Taylor's career was marked by conflicts not only with settlers in Maryland but also with the Indians. He held patents to 1,500 acres of land on the Eastern Shore.(41)

Edward Douglas was appointed a commissioner in June 1642.(42) He was then about fifty-two years of age.(43) Little information about him can be located, but depositions survive indicating that he was resident on the Eastern Shore as early as 1637.(44) Douglas in 1646 served in the House of Burgesses from Northampton County.(45)

The appearance of Edmund Scarburgh as a commissioner at the October court of 1643 is an early instance of a son, within the interval of one decade, following in the official footsteps of his father. Captain Edmund Scarburgh, the father, arrived in Virginia about 1621 and by 1630 was established on the Eastern Shore. In the early 1630s he represented Accomack at three sessions of the Virginia General Assembly and in 1632 became a member of the Accomack court commission.(46) He died in 1635. Edmund Scarburgh, the son, received legal training in England and at the time of his appointment to the court in 1643 was the youngest member of the commission. Scarburgh represented Northampton County in the fruitful General Assembly of March 1642/43 and in subsequent sessions of that body.(47) He was elected speaker of the General Assembly in November 1645.(48) He also held the office of sheriff of Northampton County and, though not officially commissioned until 1666, served as surveyor general of Virginia from 1655 until his death in 1671.(49) Scarburgh died seized of over 30,000 acres of land. A planter and merchant, Scarburgh traded extensively in Holland, New England, Maryland, and the West Indies.(50) One of his seagoing vessels, Artillery, was owned in partnership with General Edward Gibbons of Boston.(51) Scarburgh, moreover, operated a shoe-manufacturing establishment and erected a salt work from which shipments were dispatched to other areas.(52) A staunch Royalist, he took the leadership in numerous political developments, including the framing of the Northampton Protest of 1652, aimed against taxation without adequate representation in the Virginia General Assembly.(53) In 1663 he was instrumental in the division of the Eastern Shore of Virginia into the two counties of Accomack and Northampton.(54) He later served, in consort with Philip Calvert representing Maryland, as the Virginia commissioner charged with determining the boundary line between Virginia and Maryland east of the Chesapeake Bay.(55) Scarburgh's career was enlivened by conflicts with the Indians, Dutch, Quakers, Marylanders, and Puritans.(56) A man of strong convictions and determined will, he was one of the most forceful personalities in the colony of Virginia.


The proper administration of justice hinged not only on the in- tegrity, abilities, and industry of the court commissioners themselves but also on the maintenance of adequate records covering their proceedings. This was the responsibility of the clerk of the court. George Dawe succeeded Henry Bagwell in this capacity in 1637 and served until August 1639, whereupon Bagwell reassumed the assignment, serving through the May court of 1640.(57) The handwriting of the proceedings of the July court of 1640 suggests that Dawe temporarily returned to the post on that occasion. He was reported deceased, however, at the January court of 1640/41.(58) Dawe remains a somewhat obscure figure, but was probably a prote'ge' of Nathaniel Littleton, under whose auspices he was transported to the colony.(59)

Dawe's successor, Thomas Cooke "of James Cittie," served as clerk of the court until the spring of 1642.(60) He apparently had been in Virginia for a number of years inasmuch as he is listed as one of the headrights for a patent purchased by Richard Kempt from George Menefie in 1638.(61)

Edwin Conway was commissioned clerk of the court by Governor Francis Wyatt on March 21, 1642. His signature, followed by the title Clericus Curiae, first appears in the records on April 27, 1642.(62) He is said to have come to Accomack in 1640 from Worcestershire, England.(63) Conway later removed to Lancaster County, on Virginia's Northern Neck, where in 1652 he patented 1,000 acres of land.(64)


(1)Susie M. Ames, ed., County Court Records of Accomack-Nortbampton, Virginia, 1632-1640 (Washington, D.C., 1954), 105.

(2) William and Mary Quarterly, 1st ser., IX (1900-1901), 62.

(3) Annie L. Jester and Martha W. Hiden, Adventurers of Purse and Person,Virginia, 16O7-1625 (Princeton, 1956), 31O-11.

(4) H. R. McIlwaine, ed., Minutes of the Council and General Court of Virginia (Richmond, 1924),498.

(5) Jester and Hiden, Adventurers of Purse and Person, 378.

(6) Ibid., 378-79.

(7) Ibid.

(8) Mcllwaine, Minutes of the Council, 159.

(9) Ames, County Court Records, I.

(10)Nell Marian Nugent, Cavaliers and Pioneers: Abstracts of Virginia Land Patents and Grants, 1623-1800 (Richmond, 1934), 84, 152, 224-25, 401, 407.

(11) William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large, Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia (Richmond, New York, and Philadelphia, 1809-23), I, 149, 236, 283, 370, 374, 408; "Minutes of the Council and General Court, 1622-29," Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, XXVIII (1920), 326.

(12) Dictionary of American Biography, XVIII, 87-88; Ames, County Court Records, 7-8.

(13) Ames, County Court Records, 17-18.

(14) Ames, County Court Records, xxx-xxxi; Jester and Hiden, Adventurers of Purse and Person, 188.

(15) Nugent, Cavaliers and Pioneers, 27-28; Susie M. Ames, Studies of the Eastern Shore of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century (Richmond, 1940), 23.

(16) Ames,CountyCourtRecords,7-8,39,153.

(17) Nugent, Cavaliers and Pioneers, 111, 129; Ames, County Court Records, 144.

(18) Nugent, Cavaliers and Pioneers, xxxiii; John Camden Hotten, ed., The Original Lists of Persons of Quality ... Who Went from Great Britain to the American Plantations, 1600-1700 (London, 1874), 264.

(19) Northampton County, Orders, Deeds, Wills, &c., II, f. 17.

(2O) Nugent, Cavaliers and Pioneers, 13, 23, 31, 163, 300.

(21) Ames, County Court Records, 7-8.

(22) Ibid., 71.

(23) Ibid., 58, 64

(24) Ibid., 36, 81.

(25) Jester and Hiden, Adventurers of Purse and Person, 190.

(26) Nugent, Cavaliers and Pioneers, 18; Ames, County Court Records, 159.

(27) Ames, County Court Records, 54, 153.

(28) Nugent, Cavaliers and Pioneers, 43, 54, 55, 68, 80, 225.

(29) Ames, County Court Records, 39, 159.

(30) Lyon G. Tyler, ed., Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography (New York, 1915), I, 207.

(31) Northampton County, Deeds, Wills, &c., IV, ff. 67-68.

(32) David P. DeVries, Voyages from Holland to America (New York, 1853), 63-64; Ames, County Court Records, 22-23.

(33) Nugent, Cavaliers and Pioneers, 78, 82, 129, 200, 412.

(34) Ames, County Court Records, 7-8, 39.

(35) Jester and Hiden, Adventurers of Purse and Person, 356-57; Ames, County Court Records, 56; Morgan P. Robinson, "Wilkins," Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, XXV (1917), 404.

(36) Jester and Hiden, Adventurers of Purse and Person, 357.

(37) Northampton County, Orders, Deeds, Wills, &c., II, f. 88

(38) Ibid., ff. 161, 168.

(39) Hening, Statutes at Large, I, 2 3 9.

(40) McIlwaine, Minutes of the Council, 474, 483, 492; Northampton County,Orders, Deeds, Wills, &c., II, f. 101.

(41) Nugent, Cavaliers and Pioneers, 74,150.

(42) Northampton County, Orders, Deeds, Wills, &c., II, f. 88.

(43) Ames, County Court Records, 167.

(44) Ibid., 73-74.

(45) Hening, Statutes at Large, 1, 325.

(46) Ames, County Court Records, xxvii.

(47) Hening. Statutes at Large, I, 239, 289.

(48) Ibid., 299.

(49) Jennings C. Wise, Ye Kingdome of Accawmacke (Richmond, 1911), 85.

(50) Northampton County, Deeds, Wills, IV, 41; Berthold Fernow, ed., Documents Relative to the Colonial History of New York (Albany, 1877), XII, 94; Accomack County, Wills, V, 22.

(51) Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, V (I 897-98), 3 9.

(52) Northampton County, Order Book, VIII, 153; Accomack County, Deeds and Wills, I, 53, III, 98-99.

(53) Northampton County, Deeds, Wills, IV, ff. 67-68.

(54) Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, I (1893-94), 289-92.

(55) William Hand Browne, ed., Proceedings of the Council of Maryland, 1667-1687/8 (Baltimore, 1887), 44-45.

(56) For additional biographical data on Scarburgh, see Ames, Studies of the Virginia Eastern Shore in the Seventeenth Century, passim.

(57) Ames, County Court Records, xxii-xxiii.

(58) Northampton County, Orders, Deeds, Wills, &c., II, f. 27.

(59) Nugent, Cavaliers and Pioneers, 327.

(60) Northampton County, Orders, Deeds, Wills, &c., II, f. 76.

(61) Nugent, Cavaliers and Pioneers, 104.

(62) Northampton County, Orders, Deeds, Wills, &c., II, f. 76.

(63) Wise, Ye Kingdome of Accawmacke, 100.

(64) Nugent, Cavaliers and Pioneers, 271.


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