William Claiborne, one of the settlers of Virginia, and a member of the council and secretary of that colony. In 1627 the governor of Virginia gave him authority to discover the head of Chesapeake bay, or any part of Virginia lying between lat. 34° and 41° N. In 1631 Charles I. granted him a license to make discoveries and trade. He established a trading post on Kent island in Chesapeake bay, not far from the site of the present capital of Maryland, Annapolis. A dispute soon arising between Lord Baltimore, the proprietary, and Virginia, the privy council left the parties to the course of law. Clayborne continued to claim Kent island and to repudiate the iurisdiction of the infant Maryland: and at length Lord Baltimore gave orders for his arrest. An engagement took place, April 23, 1635, between a small armed vessel cruising under the auspices of Clayborne and two vessels sent out by the Marylanders. One of the Marylanders being killed, Clayborne, although not arrested, was indicted and found guilty of murder, piracy, and sedition - constructive crimes inferred from his determined opposition and obstinate insubordination. He took refuge in the more settled part of Virginia, and his estate on Kent island was seized by the Maryland authorities as forfeited.
Sir John Harvey, governor of Virginia, refusing to surrender Clayborne to the Maryland commissioners, he went over to England, accompanied by witnesses, to have the matter investigated. He presented to Charles I. a petition setting forth his grievances; and in 1638 the king severely reprimanded Lord Baltimore for having, in violation of his royal commands, ousted Clayborne from his rightful possessions in Kent island and slain several persons inhabiting there. Nevertheless, in the ensuing year the lords commissioners of plantations, with Archbishop Laud at their head, made a decision absolutely in favor of Lord Baltimore. In 1645 Clayborne at the head of a body of resolute insurgents expelled Leonard Calvert, deputy governor, and seized the reins of his diminutive government. In the follow ing, year Calvert, who in his turn had fled to Virginia, was reinstated, yet Clayborne escaped with impunity. In 1651 he was appointed by the English council of state one of the commissioners for the reduction of Virginia to obedience to the commonwealth of England, and he subsequently took part in reducing Maryland also.
Shortly after Clayborne was made secretary of state of Virginia, and held that office until after the restoration, when he was succeeded by Thomas Ludwell. During Bacon's rebellion he was a member of the court martial that sat upon the trial of the rebel prisoners. He lived in the county of New Kent, and it is probable that he died there at an advanced age. As an explorer he was adventurous and indefatigable; and he was fearless, energetic, and indomitable in defence of the rights of Virginia. His descendants are numerous, and are found in various parts of the United States, and several of them have been distinguished men. The name is now spelt Claiborne.