Joshua Clyburn

Joshua Clyburn
The earliest known ancestor
circa 1758 – circa 1799

Westmorland County was located near the northwest corner of England proper and set-off above in light red.
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.[Verner M. Claybourn 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.

English Origins

Harriette Threlkeld’s rendition of Cliburn Hall. This is a view from the courtyard.
Joshua’s apparent ancestral family from Westmorland County was an “ancient and knightly family” whose name was derived from the manor of “Cliburn”.[Howell Purdue and Elizabeth Purdue, Pat Cleburne Confederate General (Hillsboro, Texas: Hill Jr. College Press, 1973), 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.[Ibid.] 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.[Confederate General Patrick Cleburne (1828 – 1864), for example, hailed from County Cork, Ireland.]

The Parish Church of Cliburn, a Norman structure built in the twelfth century.
Although the DNA studies make it virtually certain that Joshua originated from this family, it is not entirely clear how he arrived in North Carolina. It is possible that Joshua’s family came to America directly from Westmorland. On the other hand, family tradition among some ancestors is that Joshua’s family came from Ireland, and it is possible that he descended from a Westmorland group that settled in Ireland before crossing the ocean.

Joshua’s Lineage

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.[Angela Clyburn, Cliburne: The Story of an American Pioneer Family (Clyburn, 2006).] This John Clyburn was born in 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 December 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 in 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 County, 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.[Lolita Hannah Bissell, Cliborn-Claiborne Records (Nashville: Bissell, 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.] Various sources list John of Dale Parish having seven children,[Sue Cliborn Forbes, “John Cliburn of Old Henrico Co.,” The Claiborne Society Newsletter.] 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, 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 sixty-one. 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.

The American Revolution

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 fifteen and twenty percent of the colonists were loyalists, about forty to forty-five percent supported the patriot cause, and the remainder tried to avoid involvement.[Robert M. Calhoon, A Companion to the American Revolution (Blackwell Publishers, 2000), 235.] loyalists were most prevelant in the middle colonies like the Carolinas. Older citizens and recent immigrants, especially Scots, tended to be Loyalist, though affiliations could span all demographics.[Robert Middlekauff, The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789 (Oxford University Press, 1985), 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, A Companion to the American Revolution, 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.

The 1790 Census

Joshua was listed in the first census of the United States in 1790, in Robeson County, North Carolina [1790 United States Census, Robeson County, North Carolina, accessed through] (click to view applicable page) under the following entry:

Joshua Clyburn

  • 1 fee white male 16 years of age and upwards, including head of family [This is a reference to Joshua himself.]
  • 2 free white males under [One of these males was Ephraim, who was born in 1788.]
  • 4 free white females, including heads of families [One was his wife Sarah and another was their daughter Sarah (Sally).]

No 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.[Verner M. Claybourn 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 wrote:

“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.'” [Hugh T. Lefler 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.[See the section concerning land transactions, where certain transactions indicate land had to be sold to pay taxes.]

Land Transactions

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 17 July 1778 when Archibald McClain records that 100 acres on “First Swamp” bordering his lower line includes “Joshua Cliburn’s” improvements.[A.B. Pruitt, “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, The Claybourn Family, 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, North Carolina Deeds, Book E, 25 February 1794, 17.] 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.”[Ibid.] 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 Deeds, Book A-C, 1786-90. 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, North Carolina Deeds, Book N, 18 November 1802, 3.] 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 Vol. 2 of The Raleigh Register, 25 August 1801, 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, North Carolina Deeds, Book P, 23 January 1811, 338.] This transaction was two years after Ephraim’s marriage in Knox County in 1809, so by this time Ephraim had already left North Carolina.

We can only speculate at the cause of Joshua’s death. He left the earth with much the same mystery that he entered it.


There is evidence to suggest that Joshua had at least two brothers, and possibly even three:

  1. William: Since William, John, James and Thomas were popular names in the family, it is very difficult to discern which are connected. Nevertheless, William (X) Claybourn was a witness to a deed for Joshua, suggesting some sort of link as possibly a brother or son.[Robeson County, North Carolina Deeds, Book E, 25 February 1794, 17.] DNA evidence closely links the descendants of this William to the descendants of Joshua and his son Ephraim, further suggesting a link. A William Clyburn appears on the 1790 census of Robeson County, apparently in the same part of the county as Joshua.[1790 United States Census, Robeson County, North Carolina, accessed through] This William is listed as having two males over sixteen, counting the head of the family, and two males under sixteen, along with what may be six females. Therefore, with a family that large, it seems more likely that this William would be a brother to Joshua. According to historian Angela Clyburn, once married to one of his descendants, he is believed to have been born in about 1747. Angela also believed that William and Martha had ten children together: William Clyburn Jr., Lewis Sr., Nancy, Charity, Mildred, Sarah, Martha, Stephen, James Sr., and Jesse.

    Like Joshua, William left a trail of land transactions. The first recorded transaction occurred in 1768 when he paid taxes on land in Bladen County, North Carolina.[Angela Clyburn, Vol. 24 of Clyburn Family News, 8 October 2006.] On 10 January 1793, Alexander McDaniel of Georgetown District, South Carolina, sold to William Clibourn, Saddler, “66 acres beginning on the west side of Indian Swamp at a Post Oak on Edward Flowers line near the mouth of the swamp” for 50 pounds.[Robeson County, North Carolina Deeds, Book C, 10 January 1793, 295. [Deed witnessed by Joshua Barefield and Jesse Jernigan.]] On 21 June 1793, Cornelius Wingate sold William Cliburn 100 acres lying on the south side of Drowning Creek (Lumber River) in the fork between Ashpole and Indian Swamp, “fully described in the Patent dated October, 25 1788.”[Robeson County, North Carolina Deeds, Book C, 21 June 1793, 297. [Deed witnessed by John Rowland and George Smith.]] Another deed dated 15 July 1793 documents a transaction between William and Charles Ingram,[Robeson County, North Carolina Deeds, Book D, 15 July 1793, 82. [It read “William Clibourn of Robeson” sold to Charles Ingram, for 120 pounds, 100 acres on the form of Ashpole and Indian Swamp (part of what was granted to Joshua Lamb by Patent, 1758) and 33 acres of a tract adjoining the land granted to Alexander McDaniel on the end that lies next to Ashpole divided by a branch and “Agreed as containing 33 acres more or less.” It was signed William (X) Claibourn (note this spelling is different even within the same document). Witnesses were Frances L. Hayes, Ebinezer Ellis and Moab Stevens.]] and another dated 6 January 1795 describes a sale by William to Noah Pitman.[Robeson County, North Carolina Deeds, Book D, 6 January 1795, 139. [William Clibourn sold to Noah Pitman, for 100 pounds, a piece of land and plantation of unkown acreage on the west side of Indian Swamp and east of another point (writing indecipherable). The witnesses were Theopholis Griffin and Hardy Pitman. It was signed William (X) Clybourn.]]

  2. Ephraim: An Ephraim Clyburn lived from about 1746 to 1823 and in the DNA studies previously discussed, his descendants are closely linked to those of William and Joshua. This Ephraim married a woman named Sophia and is believed to have been a British Loyalist during the American Revolutionary War. Historian Peggy O’Neal-Thurston, a descendant of Ephraim, has spent much of her life researching Epharim’s line. With Peggy’s help Angela Clyburn found a history of the King’s Carolina Rangers where this Ephraim is documented as having been recruited and enlisted with the British forces in the area of Cape Fear, North Carolina (not far from where the Clyburn family is known to have lived). Following the war many British loyalists fled to Canada and this Ephraim appears to have been one of them. He was granted 200 acres of land in Nova Scotia, Canada, in 1784.[A land record is recorded on 4 June 1784 for EPHRAIM CLYBURN and Family for 200 acres at Country Harbor. They landed in Stormont with the North Carolina and South Carolina Regiments, reportedly on Christmas Day. Many of them died that first winter. They are buried at Mount Misery Cemetery.] He and Sophia are believed to have had the following children: John, William, Ann Violet Jane, Mary, Esther Hattie, Sarah, Ephraim Simon, Joshua, and Joselina. All but John were born in Canada. A deed dated 26 September 1823 is the last known record for Ephraim in Guysborough County, Nova Scotia. He likely died soon thereafter. Click here for a brief description of Ephraim by Angela Clyburn.
  3. James: Peggy O’Neal-Thurston believed an additional brother, James, belongs in this clan.[All research concerning James (the alleged brother of Joshua, Ephraim, and William) reported here is the product of Peggy O’Neal-Thurston.] Her tireless research uncovered that a James Clyburn fought in the same ranks as Ephraim, was garrisoned in the same place of St. Augustine, Florida, and then made the long ship ride to Canada arriving on Christmas Day in 1784 in Country Harbour, Nova Scotia. Peggy indicated that his name is listed on the muster lists of Country Harbour, Nova Scotia for 1784 and 1785, and on one list he appeared with a wife and child/children. In 1784 he is listed but in 1785 at the final muster list he does not sign for his land. Nearly 900 people perished that first winter in Nova Scotia due to lack of food, weather, and poor supplies. James may have been among those who perished. All who died that winter were buried on Mt. Misery, across the harbour from Country Harbour. In her correspondence Peggy noted that Ephraim and Sophia were attributed with having an abnormally large number of children; it is possible that, following the death of James, they raised his remaining children.


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:

  1. James
  2. Sarah (“Sally”) Claybourn Brown (click name for seperate biographical sketch) was born in about 1785 and died in 1853 at the age of 73.[1850 United States Census, District 10, Jefferson County, Illinois, accessed through]
  3. Rhoda and Elias Atkerson’s tombstones at Blackjack Cemetery near Franklin, Kentucky.
    Rhoda (or “Roda”) Clyburn was born on 8 March 1785 in Bladen, North Carolina.[Kentucky Birth, Marriage and Death Records – Microfilm (1852-1910), Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives, Frankfort, Kentucky, Microfilm rolls #994027-994058.] On 23 November 1801 she married Rev. Elias Atkerson, a Methodist minister who was born on 15 December 1781 in Bedford, Virginia. Their wedding occurred in Amelia, Virginia, but eventually the couple moved to Simpson County, Kentucky. Rhoda died on 15 July 1854 and is buried at Blackjack Cemetery near Franklin, Kentucky. Elias followed in death on 5 September 1855 and is buried near Rhoda.[Some information on Elias and Rhoda is derived from their headstones, as well as contributions by their descendants.] Rhoda and Elias had at least eight children together, including five sons. Four of those sons fought in the Civil War (two for the Union and two for the Confederacy). None of the four returned after the Civil War to Tennessee or Kentucky. The fifth son, George (born in 1818), moved to live with his father in Simpson County, Kentucky.
  4. Mary “Polly” Clyburn is alleged to have been born in 1787 in Robeson County, North Carolina, and died on 16 May 1876 in Franklin, Virginia.
  5. Ephraim Claybourn (click name for seperate biographical sketch) was born on 7 December 1788 in North Carolina and died on 11 May 1850.

References and Notes