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Local History: Thomas Burton and Cobbs Plantation, VA

"If you claim the heritage of Thomas "of Cobbs" Burton, a short side-trip to the northern banks of the Appomattox River and a relaxing walk in the shade will stir your heart as you come home to your roots"
Photos accompany this article
By Greg Burton

For the years I have studied family history I have known the earliest certain Burton ancestor as Thomas "of Cobbs" Burton. The early Burtons of Colonial Virginia were tobacco farmers like all the early settlers. The colonial farmers would raise tobacco until a farm was depleted of its nutrients and then move to other land, usually westward.

Cobbs Plantation of my family's past seemed a mythical place

The Cobbs Plantation of my family's past seemed to be a mythical place in a land far away. It was exciting to discover through an online search that the location of the first Burton property of record was in a very public location. I began to plan my pilgrimage.

The 350-acre plantation was patented by Ambrose Cobbs in 1639 as a crown reward for bringing seven persons to the New World. Ambrose, his wife, their two children, and three other adults came to America to begin a new life. He most likely came to America through Jamestown in 1635 before claiming his headright based on fifty acres per person coming to this land. Ambrose Cobbs and his family would occupy this plantation until his death in 1655/6, whereupon his son, Robert, sold the property to Michael Masters, who then sold the estate to two brothers within the year.

Thomas and John Burton purchased the Cobbs Plantation and Burtons lived on the land for the next forty-eight years. John would eventually move on and patent his own plantation in the curls of the James River, which he would call "Longfield."

Thomas registered Cobbs Plantation in own name in 1680

Thomas would register the Cobbs Plantation in his own name in 1680. Thomas was probably 22 and John about 24 years old when they initially obtained the property. This would become a pattern for the descendants of both brothers, for parents to assist their children in obtaining their own farmland at an early age.

The Cobbs Plantation (sometimes called "Cobbs Hall") was on the Appomattox River near the confluence of Swift Creek. It was bordered by lands owned by Abraham Wood and John Baugh. Today half of the original site of Cobbs makes up the 188-acre county sports complex, Point of Rocks Park, about nine miles south of Petersburg, near the Hopewell community in Chesterfield County (once part of Henrico).

Park is located mile and half west of I-295 near Colonial Williamsburg

The remainder of the original plat is occupied primarily by an adjacent subdivision. The park is located on Enon Church Road, just a mile and a half west of Interstate 295. My son, Andrew, and I planned a trip to Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown. (Several genealogists have published that Thomas Burton's wife was the granddaughter of the founder of the Jamestown Colony, Captain Christopher Newport.)

Our first stop upon arriving in the area was at the Point of Rocks Park. Armed with our maps, we navigated our way to the park office and asked for the location of the Cobbs Hall historical marker and the small cemetery containing the remains of some of the residents of the plantation, including Colonel John Bolling, the only great-grandson of John Rolfe and Pocahontas.

We discovered the marker at the entrance of the subdivision next to the park on the corner of Enon Church Road and Riverview Drive. Going to the end of Riverview Drive and taking a right, we found the walled cemetery on a cul-de-sac at the end of Riverview Court. We took our time reading the names of those who were known to have been buried near that site. We wondered if Thomas and Susannah Burton were in that number. (Invading Union troops destroyed nearly all the headstones in 1864.)

Returning to the park, we drove slowly by the soccer fields and ball diamonds. Surely these flat parcels yielded the valuable tobacco crops Thomas and his sons would raise over several decades. The modern, manicured athletic facilities made it difficult to imagine our ancestors hoeing, suckering, and cutting their precious plants. We parked behind the baseball fields at the south end of the park and looked for access to the walking trails we were told riddled the wooded area near the marsh.

Woodlands gave us a more "historical feel"

The inviting shade of the woodlands gave us a more "historical feel" as we could imagine those early Burtons walking the same paths. The hiking trails went in several directions and allowed us to see the river, the marsh, and a great variety of trees and undergrowth. This felt like our land. The marsh was accessible via the hiking trails, which led to an aluminum walkway.

This metallic sidewalk takes you well out into the middle of the marsh for an excellent view of the Cobbs Plantation's riverbanks. These marshes are thick with wildlife, which has probably changed little since the seventeenth century. After the marsh walk, we collected a couple of small saplings to plant at our Tennessee home and picked up a couple of stones to place in our flower bed as mementoes of the trip. On our way back to the car, I put my arm around my son and said, "Andrew, the last time two Burton men walked this property as unfamiliar acreage with such care, they were preparing to buy it 350 years ago!"

My son is just about Thomas's age in 1656. Although we would stand on the banks of the James River two days later and imagine another ancestor bringing 104 brave adventurers to a New World in 1607, the pilgrimage of walking the first documented Burton property in America was more powerfully heart-warming.

Burtons came early, worked hard, raised successful families

Our people came early, worked hard, raised their families to be successful, and made a difference in settling our nation. We have never been prouder to be Burtons and to carry on that same tradition. This next year marks the four hundredth anniversary of the founding of Jamestown.

The celebrations will be tremendous and a vacation to the area of Colonial Virginia would be an excellent choice.

If you claim the heritage of Thomas "of Cobbs" Burton, a short side-trip to the northern banks of the Appomattox River and a relaxing walk in the shade will stir your heart as you come home to your roots.
Our thanks to Greg Burton for this wonderful account of the rich heritage of the Burton family. Thanks, too, to Lila Ford of the Adair County Genealogical Society for recommending posting on ColumbiaMagazine.com in addition to the Adair County Review, the genealogical society's quarterly magazine.
To see related stories/feedback on this story:

E.H. Lepiarczyk suggests DNA testing to detemine Thomas Burton of Cobbs lineage


This story was posted on 2006-07-20 08:30:14
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Andrew Burton at house once owned by Thomas Burton



2006-07-20 - Cobbs Hall, VA - Photo Greg Burton. ANDREW BURTON, the son of author Greg Burton, at the historical marker at Cobbs Hall, on the plantation once owned by the ancestor of many Adair County Burtons, Thomas Burton, who is now referred to as Thomas (of Cobbs) Burton.
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Author Greg Burton at Cobbs Plantation



2006-07-20 - Cobbs Plantation, VA - Photo Andrew Burton. For writer Greg Burton, who had heard of Cobbs Hall and ancestor Thomas (of Cobbs) Burton, the Cobbs Plantation all his life, the place remained a mythical place until a recent visit with his son to explore the ancestral grounds.
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