mother or the mother of his father— although spelled differently, or did
Peter simply adopt a new surname in Maryland for some reason unknown
to us? Could "Elizabeth," a "Pamunkey Indian Queen" and mother of
George Williams, have been the mother of Peter, which might confirm one
local Shenandoah County tradition that remembered the family of "Peter
Otterburn" as a "tribe of Indians?"
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
diminished but retained in the spelling of many common words of
ordinary speech (e.g., "card," "arse," etc.). This speech sound of
broad A could be confused with the sound of short O when names
were spelled only from vocalization, as illustrated by anomalous
renderings of "Arterburn" for "Otterburn" names in England (see
also Some Research Notes (7th ed.), pp. 29-46; pp. 61-70). The
"Great Vowel Shift" that resulted in the emergence of the broad A
and Early Modern English had begun in the 15th century, and also
impacted evolving American English in 18th-century Maryland and
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
Notes.) 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 or the
mother of his father have been an "Otterburn?" There is no history of
"Otterburns" in colonial Maryland or Virginia. We must also 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. We have no solid clues at present
about the identity of Peter's previous wife, but his marriage to Sarah,
who was described as a "fair skin" or white woman, suggests a decided
preference for a 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 Europeans,
suggest this, also. Given this likely propensity and his physical
appearance, might Peter have adopted a different surname to avoid
identification with African Americans in Maryland also bearing the
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 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 Spillmann, John
Wolf, Samuel Stover/Stauffer). Some of the children of Peter and
William and/or their descendants intermarried with Germans or Swiss
(e.g., Booker/Bucher, Carrier/Karrier, Houn, Smoote/Smootz, Wey,
Wolfe, etc.), 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 (1774) might have suggested such an identity to
the clerk who recorded his name. 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" is only found twice in Prince William County (PWC),
in 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.)
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 and non-rhotic "r."
(See also Some Research Notes (7th ed.), pp. 29-46; pp. 61-70)
Although based in Scotland, Glassford'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 could 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 Shenandoah County, aided perhaps by
our family's desire to embrace 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" predominated beyond Shenandoah County, both
in family and public records. However, variations in spelling can
be found in public records throughout the 19th century. Most of
us have heard others pronounce "ar" in "Arterburn" as broad A
with and without the sound of "r," even today.
The formulation, "Peter Atterburn alias Williams," has not been found
We also have the account of John Gardiner pointing out his (Nonesuch)
Maryland and Delaware / by Paul Heinegg.
" ... George Williams son and heir to William who
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
John Gardiner (of Nonesuch) here testified apparently in
support of this claim of George Williams, whose family
had lived in the same community of Mattawoman (see also
"Prince George's Land Records," below). If Peter belonged
to this Williams family and had a longstanding acquaintance
with Gardiner, this might have been 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 an inherited surname. Elizabeth, a Pamunkey
Indian evidently from a chieftain's family, almost certainly did
not have an English lineage. George's surname of "Williams"
may have been adapted from his father's name on the
occasion of George's Anglican baptism.
Whether or not he had been baptized, 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. Originally, Charles I (1600-1649)
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." It's
doubtful a Deed as such to William was ever recorded.
Could "Peter Atterburn alias Williams" have been the
(younger) son of William and Elizabeth? If his father
did not have an inherited surname, could this have been
a reason for Peter adopting a different surname? Could
George's status as "heir" have been a factor? Might
Peter's desire to identify with Europeans have been a
factor? Could repercussions of antagonisms between
Europeans and Native Americans, including perhaps this
land dispute on Cornwallis' Neck, have played a role?
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 might explain the naming
of the early 20th-century "Otterburn School" ("Otterburn
Precinct," today) for a "tribe of Indians" that once inhabited
the area. The school was located where Peter is known to
have lived in Shenandoah County (in Warren County, Virginia,
today). No Native American tribe in Virginia was known by
this or a similar name; the family of "Peter Otterburn" was
the obvious referent. This may not have been garbled
local tradition resulting only from a memory of Peter's
"East Indian" ancestry, but actual if vague local memory of
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 probably a "full-blooded" Pamunkey.
Testing of mtDNA could definitively determine whether Nancy
or Elizabeth was of Native American descent, if a proven
matrilineal descendant for either could be found. Likewise,
testing the Y-DNA of a patrilineal descendant— if one could
be found— of George Williams would show whether George's
father was also likely to have been Peter's father. Whether
the story of William and Elizabeth is also our story poses an
intriguing prospect for the future of ARTERBURN family
"Francis Pain, age 29 years; mentions Henry Ward ..."
"John Ward ... mentions his father, John Ward, Sr.,
"Henry Tanner, age about 89, declares that about
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ABC News: Indian Ancestry of Princess Diana