mother— although spelled differently, or did Peter adopt a new surname
in Maryland for a reason unknown to us?
Could "Elizabeth," a "Pamunkey Indian Queen" and mother of George
Williams who intermarried with the (East) Indian, William, have been the
mother of Peter, which seems to confirm one local Shenandoah County
tradition in which the family of "Peter Otterburn" was remembered as a
"tribe of Indians?" Could William's Elizabeth instead of William's Nancy
have been the "full-blooded Indian" remembered in another family
If Elizabeth was Peter's mother, could "Atterburn" or "Otterburn" have
been an English sounding surname adapted from an Indian name given
to Peter by his mother?
Arterburn, Atterburn, Otterburn, ____?____
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 name
as recorded in 18th-century public records of Maryland and Virginia.
In 19th-century England, "ar" was often pronounced with broad A
(as in "father") while the "r" sound was dropped or diminished
of ordinary speech (e.g., "card," "arse," etc.). This speech sound of
broad A could be confused with the sound of short O, and vice versa,
when names were spelled only from vocalization, as illustrated
by anomalous renderings of "Arterburn" for "Otterburn" names in
England (see Some Research Notes (7th ed.), pp. 29-46; pp. 61-70).
The "Great Vowel Shift" that resulted in the emergence of broad A
Modern English had begun in the 15th century, and also impacted
The earliest spelling (May, 1773) we have in Shenandoah County is
of "Peter Otterburn" in Henry's record of baptism, which agrees with
the broad A sound heard in "Arterburn." Some transcriptions of
"Atterburn" (e.g., when not in an alphabetical list, originally) could
arguably have been transcribed as "Otterburn," since examples
of upper-case cursive "A" and "O" (without an upper loop) can be
found that are virtually indistinguishable. (For an example of Peter's
name transcribed as "Otterburn" in Prince William County, see "Prince
William County People," then compare this to the actual facsimile
image of the "Tithables List of 1765," in Appendix #5 of Supplemental
The broad A sound heard in "Arter-" and the similar sound of short O
in "Otter-" suggest that broad A (not short A as in "cat") was probably
represented in renderings of "Atterburn," in those instances where
cursive "A" was originally rendered, although this appears to us a
deviation in spelling since a short vowel typically precedes double
consonants in English, today. "Atterburn" (as transcribed) is found
exclusively for Peter in Maryland, and occurs predominantly for both
Peter and William in Prince William County, which suggests that
"r" may not have been distinctly heard in the first syllable of Peter's
pronunciation, originally (as suggested by "Peter Otterburn," also).
Could there have been an unconscious bias that favored
"A" instead of "O" when personal names were spelled
from vocalization, simply because the sound of broad A
may have been more commonly heard in speech in the
Tidewater of Maryland and Virginia, and also written or
spelled more often than "O"— especially at the beginning
of names, by those who heard Peter and recorded his
surname? What name was Peter actually vocalizing?
The evidence is clear that Peter's patrilineal ancestors could not have
been English (or Scottish) "Otterburns." Could Peter's mother have been
an "Otterburn?" There is no history of "Otterburns" in colonial Maryland
or Virginia. We must seriously consider that Peter may have simply
adopted a surname similar in sound to one or more other European
names so to identify more fully with the dominant culture of white
Europeans in Maryland.
In his monumental work of research, Paul Heinegg's summary statement
that "East Indians apparently blended into the free African American
population" clearly does not describe the ARTERBURNS. In his foreword
to Heinegg's book, Maryland historian Ira Berlin notes that "Heinegg's
genealogical excavations reveal that many free people of color passed
as whites—sometimes by choosing ever lighter spouses over succeeding
generations." We have no solid clues about the identity of William's
mother, but Peter's marriage to Sarah, who was described as a "fair skin
woman," suggests a decided preference for an Anglo-European identity,
as do all of the intermarriages of their children and descendants (and
of Peter's son, William) with Germans, English, Scots, and Scotch-Irish.
Peter's early and apparently enduring ties with William Davis and the
Davis family— presumably European, suggest this, also.
What are we to make of the tradition of German ancestry reported
by a majority of the descendants interviewed by Art & Jan Arterburn,
or of the related claim of Swiss ancestry for the ARTERBURNS by a
Shenandoah County genealogist? Could Peter's wife, Sarah, have
been the source of this tradition? Germans were by far the majority
population in Shenandoah County, and Peter clearly associated with
Germans or German-speaking Swiss (e.g., Henry Spillmann, John Wolf,
Samuel Stover/Stauffer). Some of the children of Peter and William
and their descendants intermarried with Germans and Swiss (e.g.,
Booker/Bucher, Carrier/Karrier, Houn, Smoote/Smootz, Wey, Wolfe)
in Virginia and Kentucky.
The anomalous rendering of "Peter Arturberner" in Shenandoah
County appears more likely a case of an identity imputed than of
a surname revealed, given what we now know. "Arter," "Bern,"
can be found in the 1789 tax list of Shenandoah County.) But
the compound rendering of "Arturberner" apparently cobbled
from the sound of Peter's name has no history in either Germany
or Switzerland. Germans of dark complexion (e.g., "Black-Dutch")
Peter's physical appearance and the fact that he was in court
supporting a German, "Henry Speelman," when this early spelling
was rendered in 1774 (and only once, except for Netherton's
similar anomalous spelling of "Peter Arterbern" in 1785) might
have suggested such an identity to the clerk who heard Peter
and recorded his name. Otherwise, almost all of the renderings
of the last syllable of Peter's surname appear as the common
spelling, "-burn," except for a few instances of the obviously
more phonetic renderings of "-bun" and "-bon," which also
suggest the diminished sound of non-rhotic "r" in Peter's
The evidence is clear that Peter's patrilineal ancestors were not
dark Germans or Swiss. However, Peter's support of Speelman
and apparent connections with other Germans, together with
intermarriages and a family tradition all suggest some kind of
familial or cultural relationship, very possibly derived from Sarah.
William's wife, Nancy, might have been German, too, or even
English or Scottish, instead of the "full-blooded Indian" of family
tradition (see "George Williams in Charles County Court," below).
"Arturberner" probably does not tell us anything about the origin
of our surname, but does mark the emergence of "Arterburn" as the
predominant spelling found in public records of Shenandoah County.
"Arterburn" occurs only twice in Prince William County (PWC), in
John Glassford's Dumfries Stores accounts— for Peter, compared to
ten entries of "Atterburn" (as transcribed) for Peter and William in
these same accounts, not including extant PWC court records for
"Peter Atterburn." These two anomalous "Arterburn" spellings in
Prince William County appear to be instances of interpolating "ar"
in rendering Peter's pronunciation, interpreted as English broad A
with non-rhotic or diminished "r," similar to anomalous renderings
of "Arterburn" for "Otterburn" in England. (The singular instance
of "William Arterburn" in London is probably an example of same.)
for pronouncing "aunt"— a word not spelled with "r"— in his
London dictionary in 1775. Walker's example seems remarkably
revealing of the extent to which "ar" had become identified
during Peter's time with the speech sound of English broad A
paired with non-rhotic "r." (See also Some Research Notes
(7th ed.), pp. 29-46; pp. 61-70)
Although based in Scotland, John Glassford & Company's lucrative
tobacco trade in Virginia and Maryland had business ties to London,
and speakers of "London English" were almost certainly present in
Dumfries and throughout the Tidewater of the Chesapeake, as well.
Some of these folks— most notably those with education and status—
would have moved westward to the new counties of northern Virginia,
and their language habits might reasonably be expected to reflect
in those public records.
Whether the "Arterburn" spelling became the final form of our
surname as a result of the intersection of German and English
cultures and languages in 18th-century Shenandoah County,
aided perhaps by our family's embrace of a German-American
identity the better to fit in, may be impossible to prove but seems
likely. The origin of the tradition of our German ancestry and
the origin of our surname are probably not related, otherwise.
As American English continued to evolve and as rhotic pronun-
ciation became the norm, and as literacy improved, the spelling
of "Arterburn" was established beyond Shenandoah County in
family and public records. However, spelling variations of our
surname can be found in public records throughout the 19th
century. Most of us have also heard others pronounce "ar" in
"Arterburn" as broad A with and without the sound of "r," even
"Peter Atterburn alias Williams"
The formulation, "Peter Atterburn alias Williams," has not been
found subsequently in Charles County Court records. Although
earlier records that are available have not been searched, this
entry (1736) may reflect Peter's (b. 1711, age 25) first court
appearance and a statement of Peter's bona fides as a free man
with standing before the court. "[A]lias Williams" suggests the
court might have relied on the previously adjudicated status of
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 ... a certain
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
... 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 ... "
(Underline, italics, and bracketed contents above
added. See Heinegg's complete transcription.)
The terms "intermarried" and "Native Indian" in contrast with
"Indian" in this context suggest that George Williams' father
was probably an Asian or "East Indian" and not an American
are in Charles County, today.)
John Gardiner (of Nonesuch) here testified apparently in
support of this claim of George Williams, whose family
had also lived in the community around Mattawoman Creek
(see also "Prince George's Land Records," below). If Peter
belonged to the family of George Williams and had had a
longstanding acquaintance with Gardiner, this could account
for why we find Peter at Nonesuch, in 1736/7.
William and Elizabeth are identified in this court record only
by English calling (given) names. Typically, complete names
were used to identify individuals in these court records. This
appears to be a telling clue that William did not possess an
English lineage or have an inherited surname. George's
surname of "Williams" may have been adapted from his
father's name (i.e., son of William) on the occasion of
George's Anglican baptism. Elizabeth, a "Pamunkey Indian
Queen," appears to have been "Mrs. Betty, the Queen"
("Betty" and "Betsy" were often nicknames for "Elizabeth").
(d. 1686), as Pamunkey leader. Betty inherited her role
as "weroansqua" or female chief of the Pamunkey in 1686,
but Betty's actual age is unknown. That "Mrs. Betty, the
Queen" appears as her name on a document only once
and much later (1701) suggests that Betty might have
been a young maiden or even a child, in 1686.
"Time Line: October 22, 1701 - A petition
requesting the confirmation of a sale of
Pamunkey land to English subjects is
submitted to the General Court bearing
the mark and the name, "Mrs. Betty, the
Queen." It is thought that Mrs. Betty
..., the niece who succeeded the Pamunkey
chief Cockacoeske, [and Ann] are the
(Encyclopedia Virginia. Underline and
after the royal Queen Anne ascended the throne of
England (1702), perhaps as a conciliatory gesture
toward the English at a time when the fortunes of
Pamunkey Indians were in decline. That Betty may
have been young when she became leader of the
Pamunkey is suggested by the fact that "six great
men of Pamunkey Town" co-signed with personal
marks, using their adopted English names, the first
petition bearing the name, "Queen Ann," in 1705/6.
These "great men" may have been Betty's council
of trusted advisors from her days as a youthful and
inexperienced leader of the Pamunkey.
"Often, Indians held more than one name
simultaneously, with different names used in
"Sparse documentation and the Powhatan
Indians' practice of changing their names on
important occasions have led to confusion in
identifying the principal leaders of the
"Pocahantas [aka "Amonute," also "Matoaka
alias Rebecca"], for instance, had a formal
given name; a "secret," or highly personal
name; and nicknames that were updated
throughout her life, sometimes commenting
on her personality or her position within the
(Encyclopedia Virginia. Hyperlinks and
bracketed content added)
Since "Elizabeth" and "Betty" and "Ann" were most likely
one and the same, George may have been the unidentified
son of "Queen Ann" who was sent to the "Indian school"
at the College of William and Mary, in 1711. George's age
or birth and death dates are not known, but he was living
with his parents in 1702, and thus was likely a child or
youth in 1711.
George may have used "Elizabeth" instead of "Ann"
as his mother's name in this court record because the
former (as in "Betty") may have been her primary
English name. That Betty probably chose the English
name, "Elizabeth," also suggests an aspirational
awareness of English royalty befitting a "Pamunkey
Queen," since the colony of Virginia was originally
named for Queen Elizabeth I. This politic sensibility
seems evident in choosing as a second English name
an honorific of the currently reigning royal, "Queen
Anne," at a time when the Pamunkey Indians
undoubtedly were in need of the goodwill of the
English. Incidentally, Queen Ann used a unique
personal mark remarkably similar to an English
upper-case cursive "E" (as in Elizabeth?). The
English royal Queen Anne was married to "George,"
a prince from Denmark (as in Prince George's
County). That Elizabeth— as "Queen Ann," chose
the name of "George" for her son appears to have
been an homage to the English royal family, also.
This court record (p.332) of George's claim includes
testimony that "Mary Dempsey 58 years deposes she
knows William ..." (from Heinegg's transcription), so
William must have still been alive in 1733. But no
mention was made of Elizabeth. This appears to be
a clue that Elizabeth was already deceased by 1733,
which would also accommodate the approximate
date of Queen Ann's death (1723 or after).
William must have been recognized as a free man since
George apparently asserted his lawful claim to this land
through his father as well as his mother. George claimed
that Charles I (1600-1649) as founder of Maryland had
"granted" this neck of land to George's "ancestors" the
Pamunkey Indians, who later by "Mutual agreement of
the Indians afsd [i.e., aforesigned, or conveyed] their
part to your petitioners father and his heirs forever."
Could "Peter Atterburn alias Williams" have been the
younger son of William and Elizabeth? If William did
not have an inherited English surname, then Peter may
have had no compelling reason to use the same surname
as George. Charles County Court used this extended
name in this single instance only, apparently— as if "alias
Williams" was a validation of Peter's legal status and
standing before the court by connecting him to William's
family. Thereafter, Peter appears in court records
(next in 1743) only as "Peter Atterburn."
Peter may have had an ulterior reason for choosing
a different surname. Peter's desire to identify with
Europeans and to distance himself from his Native
American or Asian roots or from African Americans
in Maryland bearing the "Williams" surname— one
or more of these could have been a factor. This
dispute over land rights on Cornwallis' Neck may
have even played a role; we don't know exactly
when Peter first used the surname that we first
find recorded as "Atterburn," in 1736. George's
status as "heir" might possibly have been a factor,
although this court record does not make clear
whether George's ancestral claim to this land was
upheld. Further research is needed to identify
and locate, if possible, this "George Williams" in
extant public records of colonial Maryland, which
might reveal more about his siblings and family.
Also, George's father, William, might have left a
If William was Peter's father, this could be reflected
in the naming of Peter's son, "William," apparently
born to Peter's previous wife in Maryland.
If Elizabeth was Peter's mother, this could explain the
naming of the early 20th-century "Otterburn School"
(in "Otterburn Precinct," today) for a "tribe of Indians"
that once had lived there. The school was located where
Peter is known to have lived in Shenandoah County (in
"Peter Otterburn" was the obvious referent.
We must consider the possibility that, if Peter
was the son of William and Elizabeth, whatever
he initially vocalized in Maryland as a surname
could have been based on an Indian name given
to him by his mother, whether adapted by Peter
himself to sound more like an English name or
by those who initially rendered "Atterburn" in
"Virginia Indians began adopting English first
names after the middle of the seventeenth
century. In the 1680s, a small number of
Indian children who went to work for English
farmers were given English first names, and
in some county records both names were
recorded. By 1700 some Indian elders took
on English first names, sometimes paired with
shortened Indian surnames, to be used when
dealing with non-Indians and possibly even
among themselves. By 1750, ... most
Powhatan people [which would have included
the Pamunkey] ... had English first [names]
and surnames that they apparently used
(Encyclopedia Virginia. Underline, hyperlinks,
ellipses, and bracketed contents added)
A 20th-century contractor's inspiration for the naming of
"Otterburn School" may not have been garbled local
tradition resulting from a memory of Peter's "East Indian"
ancestry, but actual if vague local memory of a Native
American ancestry for the ARTERBURN family, as well.
If Elizabeth was Peter's mother, our family tradition in
which William's Nancy was remembered as a "full-blooded
Indian" may instead refer back to William and Elizabeth—
who was almost certainly a "full-blooded" Pamunkey.
It seems unlikely that Peter's William (whose wife was
Nancy) would have diverted from what appears to
have been a predisposition to intermarry with Anglo-
Europeans that began with his father (Peter) and that
was continued, apparently, by all of William's children.
(According to Merriam-Webster, the pronunciation
is "Pa·mun·key: \pə' məŋkē\," with the accent on
on the first syllable. I have not been able to verify
whether this is truly the native pronunciation.)
Testing the Y-DNA of a patrilineal (male) descendant—
if one could be found— of George Williams would show
whether George's father was also likely to have been
Peter's father. Aside from the prospect of DNA evidence,
we may yet find additional clues in historical records that
will corroborate this likely scenario of Peter's parents in
Maryland. Whether the story of William and Elizabeth
is also our story poses a very interesting prospect for the
future of ARTERBURN family research. We invite you
to take up the search and help extend the ARTERBURN
"Francis Pain, age 29 years; mentions Henry Ward ..."
"John Ward ... mentions his father, John Ward, Sr.,
"Henry Tanner, age about 89, declares that about
w.p. Nelson County, KY (adjacent to Jefferson County)
"The wavy line is a common sign for water,
Family Search: Charles County, Maryland Genealogy
MSA: Maryland Government Records (Jurisdiction: Search by County)
Wikipedia: Haplogroup R1a1 (Y-DNA)
Eupedia: Haplogroup R1a (Y-DNA)
National Geographic Society: Genographic Project
Smithsonian/NMNH: Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation
Miss America 2014: Nina Davuluri
ABC News: Indian Ancestry of Princess Diana
Native Heritage Project: Pamunkey Indians