The earliest known Claybourn ancestor
circa 1758 - circa 1799
The first known recorded date for Joshua Clyburn is 1778, the date of his first land deed in Robeson County, which was then Bladen County, North Carolina [Claybourn, Verner M., and Harriette Pinnell Threlkeld. Supplement to the Claybourn Family (Threlkeld, 1979).]. Spelling was not strictly followed at the time, even within the same document, but in identifying him here we have chosen to use the spelling of "Clyburn" for Joshua since that was the spelling used in the 1790 census.
Thanks to a DNA study conducted in conjunction with The National Society of the Claiborne Family Descendants and Family Tree DNA, we have been able to determine with a high degree of probability that Joshua descended from an English family originating in historic Westmorland County in northern England (Westmorland is now part of Cumbria). Click here to learn more about the DNA study and its implications. The DNA study also helped put to rest years of speculation that Joshua descended from Colonel William Claiborne, Secretary of the Colony of Virginia; Joshua did not descend from William and the two appear to have no connections.
Joshua's apparent ancestral family from Westmorland County was an "ancient and knightly family" whose name was derived from the manor of "Cliburn" [Purdue, Howell and Elizabeth. Pat Cleburne Confederate General, Hillsboro, Texas: Hill Jr. College Press, 1973, p.1.]. The family held the manor for nearly 400 years, from early in the thirteenth century to the middle of the seventeenth century. Cliburn Hall stands today, near the small village of Cliburn, six miles southeast of the town of Penrith, in historic Westmorland County, high above the rivulet Leith. The grand old stone building with a three story "pele tower" was erected in the fourteenth century by Robert de Cliburn, knight of the shire for Westmorland. Two hundred years later, the original structure was altered and enlarged by Richard Cleburne. On the Tudor estate was a large deer park, beautiful pleasure grounds, and terraced walks. Across the road from Cliburn Hall is the Parish Church of Cliburn, a Norman structure built in the twelfth century.
The founder of the Cliburn family, Hervey de Cliburn (Cliburn means "stream by the bank"), and his descendants held the manor by "knight service." In about the middle of the seventeenth century, following the English reconquest of Ireland, William Cleburne, the second son of Thomas the fourteenth Lord of the manor of Cliburne, went to the City of Kilkenny, Ireland [Id.]. Kinsmen had preceded him but it was William that acquired castles, towns, and lands. Therefore Cliburnes (and variants of the name) resided in both Westmorland and Ireland for a time.
Although Joshua's ancient origins are known, the identity of his parents are largely speculation. Nevertheless, a number of people have posited theories about them. According to historian Angela Clyburn's hypothesis, Joshua descended from a John Clyburn of Henrico and Brunswick Counties, Virginia and later Bladen County, North Carolina [Clyburn, Angela. Cliburne, The Story of an American Pioneer Family (Clyburn, 2006). ]. This John Clyburn was born about 1712 and in about 1732 he married a Jean Clarke in Brunswick County. Jean was the daughter of John's nearby neighbor Robert Clarke. John served in the Militia in The French and Indian War with the rank of Private in Colonial Granville County, North Carolina, and died on 7 March 1785 in Bladen County, North Carolina.
Angela believes that Joshua Clyburn was John and Jean's son in large part because the three lived in the same vicinity, and their birth and marriage dates tally. John's father (also named John) had a step-father named Joshua Stapp and this may have been Joshua's namesake [Joshua Stapp's will, which was made on 23 Dec. 1689 and proved on 1 April 1695, indicates that Joshua Stapp's son-in-law (at that time "son-in-law" had the meaning that we now call stepson), John Clyburn, was born about 1677.]. DNA evidence from the study done in conjunction with the National Society of the Claiborne Family Descendants makes it certain that Joshua's descendants are closely linked genetically to Cliburns/Clyburns arising out of Henrico County, adding further weight to Angela's theory.
It is important to distinguish the John Clyburn discussed above from a John Cliborn of Dale Parish, Chesterfield Co., Virginia, who was also born in about 1712 (commonly referred to as "John of Dale Parish") and is credited with having a progeny numbering over a million [Bissell, Lolita Hannah. "Cliborn-Claiborne Records" (Nashville, 1986). See also "The Descendants of James Monroe Sills, James Cliburn & Allied Pitman Family" by Isom L. Stephens (1972), wherein the author estimates that John of Dale Parish has upward of a million descendants living in the United States in 1972.]. A brief history of John of Dale Parish's lineage can be found here. Various sources list John of Dale Parish having seven children [Forbes, Sue Cliborn. "John Cliburn of Old Henrico Co".], and none of them named Joshua. Nevertheless, DNA evidence indicates both John Clyburn and John of Dale Parish were closely related and likely had a common ancestor.
In her later years historian Harriette Threlkeld appeared to believe Joshua came from Ireland [Personal letter to Joshua Andrew Claybourn, dated 29 June 1993.], largely because family tradition (especially in the Arkansas branch) had held the same [See the entry for John B. Claiborne.]. Harriette discovered a Petition of Naturalization from Ireland for a 'Joshua Clibborn' dated 1796 (the naturalization papers are on file with the Philadelphia Department of Records). For reasons not entirely clear, she suspected they were the same person. But Joshua was in North Carolina from 1778 to about 1799 so it is unlikely he would have been naturalized in Philadelphia in 1796. Nevertheless, even if Joshua descended from John Clyburn, it is still possible that his ancestors lived in Ireland for a time.
If Joshua was at least twenty years old when he got his first grant of land in North Carolina, he would have been born in 1758. Joshua does not appear in the 1800 census and so we believe he died shortly before then. Assuming he was born in 1738 and died about 1799, he would have been 61. His wife's name was Sarah, but we do not know her parentage or time or place of birth. She was still in Robeson County as late as 1835 from evidence on a deed, discussed later.
Joshua's life spanned the period of the American Revolution. In spite of being of military age, we have found no records of Joshua Clyburn having served in that war. As noted below in the section concerning Joshua's siblings, Joshua may have had a brother (Ephraim) who was a British Loyalist. If true, Joshua may have shared his sentiments. Historians estimate that between 15 and 20 percent of the colonists were Loyalists, about 40 to 45 percent supported the patriot cause, and the remainder tried to avoid involvement [Calhoon, Robert M. "A companion to the American Revolution." Blackwell Publishers, 2000; p 235.]. The largest number of loyalists were found in the middle colonies like the Carolinas. Older citizens and recent emigrants, especially Scots, tended to be Loyalist, though affiliations could span all demographics [Middlekauff, Robert. The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789 (1985), p 550.].
Loyalists remaining in the United States during and after the war often faced harsh punishment from patriots, including death, imprisonment, confiscation, and tarring and feathering. Revolutionaries controlled state governments in the South and so suppression was especially strong there [Calhoon, Robert M. "A companion to the American Revolution." Blackwell Publishers, 2000; p 235.]. Homes and records of Loyalists were frequently burned and destroyed. This volatile environment encouraged about 46,000 Loyalists to seek refuge in Canada, with 34,000 of those ending up in Nova Scotia. Ephraim (Joshua's suspected brother) and his family were among them and settled on a homestead he received in Nova Scotia. Although the vast majority of Loyalists remained in the States following the war, if Joshua was a Loyalist there would seem to be a decent probability that he would follow his brother to Canada. Yet following the conclusion of the war Joshua stayed and appears to have expanded on his land holdings.
Because of the lack of conclusive evidence, we can not be certain of Joshua's involvement in the American Revolution. At least one sibling sided with the British and then fled to Canada, but Joshua stayed and flourished in the new country. For now his true revolutionary sentiments remain a mystery.
Joshua was listed in the first census of the United States in 1790, of Robeson County, North Carolina [1790 U.S. Census. Robeson County, North Carolina; National Archives and Records Administration microfilm, Roll: M637_7; Image: 0424. ] (click to view applicable page) under the following entry:
Joshua ClyburnNo slaves were listed. In North Carolina, as in Virginia, there were social distinctions. "Planter" on deeds meant one of the gentry, usually with large land holdings and slaves. "Laborer", "Saddler" or "Blacksmith" appearing on deeds meant the person was not one of the gentry [Claybourn, Verner M., and Harriette Pinnell Threlkeld. The Claybourn Family (A-1 Business Service, 1959).]. Neither Joshua nor Ephraim was designated a planter in any deeds found. Joshua received 500 acres in three grants, and bought 200 acres adjoining some of their land for their son Ephraim. Yet there were no slaves to work it, so he was probably a stock raiser as most of the "farmers" of Robeson County were. Famed North Carolina historians Lefler and Newsom write:
"The North Carolina farmer was a self-sufficient and versatile jack-of-all trades. He was a combination farmer, engineer, hunter and trapper, carpenter, mechanic, and businessman. The small farmer seldom owned more than two to three hundred acres of land. Most of them held no bond servants or slaves, though a few possessed a small number. Connor has described these small farmers as a 'strong, fearless, independent race, simple in taste, crude in manners, provicial in outlook, democratic in social relations, tenacious of their personal liberties, and when interested in religion at all, earnest, narrow, and dogmatic.'" [Lefler, Hugh T., and Albert Ray Newsome. North Carolina: The History of a Southern State. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1954. ]The same authors note that the times were very hard. In 1780 inflation had depreciated money by 800%. Most farmers raised live stock and had to drive them to distant markets, fifty to two hundred miles away, making little profit. Paying taxes was a constant struggle as well, and land deeds indicate that Joshua was not immune from such hardship.
For the period covering Joshua's lifetime, and for much of the Western world's history, land transactions can provide the most detailed documentation of a person's activities. His first land record occurred on the 17th of July in 1778 when Archibald McClain records that 100 acres on "First Swamp" bordering his lower line includes "Joshua Cliburn's" improvements [Pruitt, A.B. "Abstracts of Land Entries, Bladen County, North Carolina."]. Harriette Threlkeld found copies of land grants and surveys for Joshua in Bladen (later Robeson) County which revealed that Joshua once owned three tracts of land totalling 500 acres [Claybourn, Verner M., and Harriette Pinnell Threlkeld. The Claybourn Family (A-1 Business Service, 1959), citing the Department of Archives and History of North Carolina in Raleigh.]. From the field descriptions of these surveys and a map, Harriette located the general area as near the town of Rowland, North Carolina and near the South Carolina border. It was all between the Shoesheel Swamp and the Ashpole Swamp.
Using an "Index to Real Estate Conveyances in Robeson County," Harriette also got the county's deed book pages involving Clibourns (spelling was not strictly followed at the time) and sent for several of them. According to one deed, James Rowland sold Joshua 200 acres near Ashpole Swamp for "twenty pounds specie" (they were still using English money) [Robeson County Deeds, Book E, page 17 (25 February 1794).]. Yet the land was deeded to 'Ephrain Cliborn.' The land "[b]eginning at a post oak on Joshua Clibourn's corner," the deed reads, was conveyed "to Ephraim Cliborn, son of Joshua and Sarah Clibourn" [Id.]. The deed is dated 1794, so Ephraim would have only been six years old. It is not clear why Joshua bought this land for him at such a young age.
The 1794 deed is signed by James Rowland and witnessed by William (X) Clibourn and Charles Ingram. It is not clear what relation this William was, but he was probably his brother as discussed below. James Rowland was a large land owner in the area, and Rowland, North Carolina, was likely named after him or his family [James Rowland received a grant of 2100 acres at ten pounds per acre east of Ashpole Swamp in 1790. See Robeson County, North Carolina Deed Books A-C, 1786-90, from film 4912, Part 2, Salt Lake City. This land adjoined 200 acres he already had and was next to Joshua's.].
Joshua does not appear on the 1800 census so it is presumed that he died shortly before that year and, following his death, the family struggled to pay taxes. In a deed dated 18 November 1802, "Joshua Clibourn Heirs," represented by the sheriff of the county, sold 339 acres of Joshua's land for taxes to Matthew James [Robeson County Deeds, Book N, page 3 (18 November 1802).]. Notice of the sheriff's sale appeared in at least three issues of the Raleigh Register, suggesting others in the area were also hard pressed for money [Here is the text of two such notices, the first from Raleigh Register, Tuesday, 25 August 1801. Vol. #2, 97: "Notice of a sheriff's sale at the Courthouse in Lumberton for a long list of property to be sold for non-payment of taxes on Wednesday, August 10, 1801. For taxes due for the year 1800, they not being sent in for that year: Among them: 150 acres near Ashpole Swamp, the property of the heirs of Joshua Clibourn." Another notice from the Raleigh Register, 20 July 1802: "Notice of a sheriff's sale on Saturday 21 day of August next at the Courthouse in Lumberton, the following tracts of lands so much as will pay the taxes and charges for the year 1801. Among them: 27 acres on the south side of Ashpole Swamp near or adjoining Thomas Townsend's land, supposed to be the property of heirs of Joshua Clibourn; 100 acres near or adjoining the above, the property of the above heirs."]. The land was ultimately sold for only two pounds, sixteen shillings and ten pence (about two and a half English pounds). 25 acres of the entire plot had had taxes paid on it and was not sold; this area may have been their homestead.
The last of Joshua's land was apparently sold by Ephraim in 1811. That year "Ephraim Clibourn" of Knox County, Tennessee, sold the land he had been deeded in 1794 (the descriptions tally) to Matthew Jones for 50 pounds, the same man who bought Joshua's land in 1802 to help pay taxes [Robeson County Deeds, Book P, page 338 (23 January 1811).]. This transaction was two years after Ephraim's marriage in Knox County in 1809, so by this time Ephraim had already left North Carolina.
There is evidence to suggest that Joshua had at least two brothers, and possibly even three:
Although we are certain Ephraim is the son of Joshua and Sarah, other offspring are not so clear. Some research suggests that Joshua and Sarah had as many as five children. Here are sketches on what we know and/or suspect were their children:
References and Notes