"Atterburn" or "Arterburn" represent the ancestral surname of Peter's
mother or the mother of his father, although spelled differently?
Did Peter simply adopt a new surname for some reason unknown
The pronunciation of the "Otterburn" surname with its anomalous
variations of spelling found in 19th-century English census records
are remarkably similar to the variations in spelling of Peter's surname
as recorded in 18th-century public records of Maryland and Virginia.
In Peter's time, "ar" was pronounced by speakers of English (RP)
but "r" was retained in spelling (as in "card"). This speech sound
of broad A could easily be confused with the sound of short O (as
in "otter") and vice versa, especially when names were spelled from
vocalization, as illustrated by these examples of anomalous spellings
in England and America (see also Some Research Notes (7th ed.),
pp. 29-46; pp. 61-70).
"Peter Otterburn" in Henry's record of baptism agrees with the
broad A sound heard in "Arterburn," and also suggests (as with
"Atter-") that the "r" sound may not have been distinctly heard in
Peter's pronunciation. Broad A (not short A) was almost certainly
intended in "Atterburn," although a deviation in English spelling
(i.e., a short vowel typically precedes double consonants) and
missing the non-rhotic "r." Some transcriptions of "Atterburn"
(e.g., when not in an alphabetical list originally) could just as
easily be interpreted as "Otterburn," since examples of cursive "A"
and cursive "O" (without a distinct upper loop) that are virtually
indistinguishable can be found in these public records.
Could there have been an unconscious bias that favored
broad A over short O, especially when personal names
were spelled and only from vocalization, simply because
the ordinary speech sound of broad A may have been
more commonly heard and written than short O by those
who heard Peter and recorded his surname? Are the
spellings of "Atterburn" found exclusively in Maryland
and predominantly in Prince William County a clue that
Peter may actually have been pronouncing "Otterburn"
The evidence is clear that Peter's patrilineal ancestors were not
English (or Scottish) "Otterburns." Could Peter's mother have
been an "Otterburn?" There is no history of "Otterburns" in the
public records of colonial Maryland or Virginia, but there remains
the possibility that Peter's mother might have been an indentured
servant without any surviving documentary record. Could the
mother of Peter's father have been an "Otterburn?" This also
must remain a possibility, given the longstanding history of
India's relations with England that began with the East India
Company, in 1600.
What are we to make of the tradition of German ancestry reported
by a majority of the descendants interviewed by Art and Jan Arterburn,
or of the related claim of Swiss ancestry for the ARTERBURNS by a
Shenandoah County historian? Could Peter's wife, Sarah, or his
previous wife in Maryland have been the source of this tradition?
Germans were the majority population in Shenandoah County, and
Peter clearly associated with Germans (e.g., "Henry Speelman, John
Woolf, Samuel Stover"). Some of the children of Peter and William
and their descendants intermarried with German and German-Swiss
families (e.g., Booker, Carrier, Wey, Wolfe) in Virginia and Kentucky.
The anomalous rendering of "Peter Arturberner" in Shenandoah
County was probably related, though more likely a case of imputed
identity, given what we now know. "Arter" and "Bern" and "Berner"
apparently cobbled from the sound of Peter's name has no apparent
history as a surname in either Germany or Switzerland. Also, darkly
Virginia. Peter's physical appearance and the fact that he was
supporting a German, Henry Speelman, in court when this early
spelling occurred (1774) might have suggested such an identity to
the clerk who recorded his name. But a more substantial form of
attributed German identity seems implicit here, and very possibly
derived from Sarah, his wife. The origin of the tradition of our
German ancestry and the origin of our surname are probably
The formulation, "Peter Atterburn alias Williams," has not been
We also have the account of John Gardiner pointing out his
Maryland and Delaware / by Paul Heinegg.
"George Williams son and heir to William who intermarried
with a Pamunkey Indian Queen named Elizabeth of Prince
George's County .... John Ward aged 75 deposeth that he
has known George Williams a Native Indian from his infancy
... son of the Queen of Pamunkey who was wife to an Indian
[Note: Use of the terms "intermarried" and "Native
Indian" in contrast with "Indian" suggests that George
Williams' father may have been an East Indian rather
than a Native American. Could George Williams' father
and John Williams have been one and the same? Could
George Williams' father also have been the father of
"Peter Atterburn alias Williams?" If so, might Peter
have adopted a different surname for some reason
unknown to us? Perhaps George's status as "heir"
might have been a factor. If Elizabeth was Peter's
mother, this might explain the naming of the early
20th-century "Otterburn School" (Otterburn Precinct,
today) to honor a "tribe of Indians" who had previously
inhabited the area. The school was located where
Peter's family is known to have lived in Shenandoah
County, Virginia (in Warren County, today). Perhaps
this was not garbled local tradition resulting only from
the memory of Peter's "East Indian" ancestry after all,
but actually a reflection of local memory of a Native
American ancestry for the ARTERBURNS, as well. It
might even be the case that family tradition about
William and Nancy in which Nancy was remembered
as a "full-blooded Indian" might actually refer back
to William and Elizabeth instead.]
"called Mc [?] William the father of the said Geo. Williams ...
that 31 years ago George Williams and his parents lived
where Fran[ci]s Payne now lives ... John Gar[di]ner deposed
the Indians were forted in Cornwallis' neck about fifty years
ago ..." (see Heinegg's complete transcription)
(Note: Here we have John Gardiner of Nonesuch
testifying in court in support of a land claim of
George Williams, whose family had lived in the
same community of Mattawoman (see below also).
If Peter belonged to this Williams family and had
had a longstanding acquaintance with Gardiner,
this could explain why we find Peter at Nonesuch
"Francis Pain, age 29 years; mentions Henry Ward ..."
John Ward ... mentions his father, John Ward, Sr.,
"Henry Tanner, age about 89, declares that about
Prince William County, Virginia Genealogy (Family Search)
w.p. Nelson County, KY (adjacent to Jefferson County)
"The wavy line is a common sign for water,
Family Search: Charles County, Maryland Genealogy
Family Search: Talbot County, Maryland Genealogy
Wikipedia: Haplogroup R-M17 (R1a1)
Eupedia: Haplogroup R1a
National Geographic Society: Genographic Project
Smithsonian/NMNH: Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation
Native Heritage Project: East Indians in Early Colonial Records
Miss America 2014: Nina Davuluri
ABC News: Indian Ancestry of Princess Diana