Ambrose Cobbs of Virginia
Email File Manager Betty Atkinson Harris Flesher
Ambrose Research Prologue
Let us begin by doing our bit to correct an oft-repeated error. By 1650,
there were two Cobb families firmly established in Virginia, within just
a few miles of each other; the families of Ambrose Cobbs lived in what is
now York County and that of Joseph Cobb were in Isle of Wight County. DNA
analysis of descendants of both men has now clearly established these two
families were UNRELATED. Looking at the
county formation maps of VA
you will see that in 1650 both Isle of Wight
Co and York Co were firmly established. York is on the northeast side of the
James River from Isle of Wight Co, VA. Since Ambrose and his family were in
Isle of Wight Co for such a short time, it would be best if we stop thinking
about them being there and concentrate on the Isle of Wight County Cobb families
as a totally separate issue.
There were at least three other separate Cobb families who are genetically
unrelated that lived in Isle of Wight County that were also NOT genetically
related to Ambrose Cobbs. Joseph died there in 1654. Nicholas Cobb was living in
the area and having children born in Isle of Wight Co, VA by 1661. John was born
there in 1728. DNA tests on descendants from each of these lines, Ambrose, Joseph,
Nicholas and John show that there is no genetic connection between any of these
families. To learn more about the families that truly did live in early Isle of
Wight Co, VA, link to their page
Ambrose COBBS "the Emigrant" was born about 1603 in Petham, Kent. He died before January
15, 1656 in Bristol Parish, Henrico County, Virginia. He was the third son named in his father's
Will to share gavelkind from his estate.
He was married to Ann WHITE (daughter of Robert WHITE and Susanna BOULDEN) on April 18, 1625 in
Norton Parish, Kent. At the time of her marriage, her parents were both deceased and she was living
in Willesborough, under the government of Thomas Cobbs, the brother of her groom Ambrose. Thomas
had married her sister Susan White in 1619.
Ann WHITE was born in 1608 in Norton Parish, Kent. She died before 1656 in Henrico County, Virginia.
This date is speculative. Ann was not mentioned in her husband's estate, and immediately after
Ambrose's death the property was sold out of Cobb family possession. Therefore, it seems logical
to assume that by then Ann was deceased.
In 1633, Ambrose and Ann sold their lands in England, possibly as the preliminary preparation for
their emigration to the Virginia Colony. It is believed they made the voyage in 1635, most likely
landing at Jamestown. Their party consisted of Ambrose and Ann; children Robert and Margaret; and
Richard Barker, Hugh Barker, and Thomas Harding. It is not known positively, but probably safe to
assume, that the latter three men had indentured themselves to Ambrose, in order to gain free
passage to the New World. It is known that under the Land Grant laws of the day, Ambrose as a
"Headright" was entitled to 50 acres of land for each person for whom he had paid the
transportation charges to Virginia. The ultimate fate of the Barkers and Thomas Harding, and the
length of their association with Ambrose Cobbs, is unknown.
The Virginia Colony had only been established in 1607, when our Cobbs first came to America.
Jamestown, though the center of commerce, government, and protection from indians, was nonetheless
a very unhealthful place, being situated on a low, swampy, mosquito infested island. Sweltering
heat, disease, starvation, the lack of potable water, and occasional Indian attack took a heavy
toll on all new arrivals. In fact, ample records exist that indicate it was the annoyance of
having to constantly 'swat' Mosquitoes that motivated the establishment of Williamsburg several
miles inland. But it was most likely here that Ambrose situated his family in temporary quarters,
while he no doubt began an immediate exploration of the area for the land he would claim as a
On July 25, 1639, Ambrose patented 350 acres on the Appomattox River, near its confluence with
Swift's Creek, about nine miles from present Petersburg, about fifty miles upriver from Jamestown,
and adjacent to properties owned by Abraham Wood and John Baugh. One can only speculate as to the
first project Ambrose took on...the construction of a house for his family, or to start preparing
the land for the first planting? It was already mid-summer; rather late in the season to be
breaking previously untilled soil to start a crop. Conditions were primitive to say the least.
The location was isolated and the situation with the indians was always tenuous. Ann could have
been but little help, her hands full with four children under the age of twelve (see the
Two more children had been born to Ambrose and Ann after their arrival in Virginia. Ambrose was
born within a year, about 1636. He lived his entire life within 15 miles of Jamestown, and died in
probably late 1683, in what is now York County. He fathered two known children by his wife Mary
Ann; sons William in 1655, and Robert in 1660. Ambrose died without leaving a written Will, but
his estate was inventoried and appraised and recorded in February 1684. Following his death, his
widow married one George Glasscock.
Thomas, the sixth and last child born to Ambrose and Ann, was born in 1637 in Charles River County,
Virginia (In 1643, the county name was changed to York.) He lived his entire life in York County,
Virginia, and died there in 1702. He never married and died without issue. His Will was probated
24 February 1702... "To cousin William Cobbs, my house and lot where I now live", and if
he died then the same to go to Thomas Cobbs; "to Isaac Sart a black mare running now at
Powhatan; two sows to Alice Newman; to Robert Cobbs, son of Ambrose Cobbs; all the remaining part
of my estate to cousins Ambrose Cobbs, Robert Cobbs, Otho Cobbs, and Robert Kerle (related through
the Thorpe-Cobb family connection), to be equally divided between them." (It is common to
also find him and the Kerle family credited as descendants of Joseph Cobb of Isle of Wight County.)
No doubt, the first home Ambrose built was a temporary structure, intended just to get a roof over
their heads. With the passage of time, to provide additional "creature comfort", he may
have added onto this dwelling, or started over again with a permanent house nearby. Whatever the
case, one thing does seem logical; that it was of an architecture one would expect to find in
England...thatch roofs covering outer walls whose supporting inner beams are exposed. It was the
style that was known by those early colonists. And certainly, with conditions being as harsh as
they were, one was hardly ever of a mind to experiment.
By the time of the American Revolution (almost a century and a half later), a great plantation
mansion was standing on the land Ambrose Cobbs had claimed as his Headright in 1639. A painting
of it now hangs in the Library of the University of Virginia. Also, even during his lifetime, the
entire locale had become known as 'Cobbs' or 'Cobbs Hall', a name that was used to identify the
entire surrounding area until well after the Civil War. Although Ambrose is popularly credited
with being the hand that built this mansion, a basic examination of facts and circumstances
indicates this is unlikely.
The reasons for this position are (1) Ambrose lived only another seventeen years after obtaining
title to the land, and apparently died a widower. (2) His heirs did not continue to live there,
(3) The mansion seen in the popular painting is clearly of southern antebellum architecture, a
style that did not take root until into the 18th century, long after Ambrose's death and the
property had passed out of Cobb family possession, and (4), The issue of family finances has to
be considered. By the time the first crop was in, the Cobbs had been in Virginia at least five
years. It would hardly seem unreasonable to assume that by then the family purse was near empty,
if indeed it wasn't already and they were living on credit or barter. Certainly, Ambrose was
mainly occupied with the clearing and cultivation of the land; and with the planting and
harvesting of the corn, rice, and tobacco that he produced. And this alone, was more than a
full-time job. Further, the size of the family had increased by only two since their arrival in
Virginia, the last being born in 1637, two years before they ever occupied those 350 acres that
became Cobbs Hall. Therefore there was no need to greatly enlarge the accommodations Ambrose
originally provided. As long as the dwelling they did occupy held up, it seems most likely that the
construction of an extravagant mansion would have been the last priority.
As mentioned earlier, Ambrose may have simply added onto the original temporary dwelling, or he
may have begun construction of a new house nearby. But the essential point being made is that the
project of building that large home probably proceeded in phases as time and money permitted, as
did many of the early colonial plantations...and that the mansion in the painting was only barely
begun in Ambrose's lifetime --- if he had anything to do with it at all.
[A note of caution to researchers would be appropriate here. The home of Ambrose Cobb is not to be
confused with the plantation of that branch of the Lee family known as the “Cobbs Hall
Lees” in Northumberland County, Virginia. The history of the Lee home is unknown, but it has
been established they had no connection to the Cobbs.]
Immediately after Ambrose died (no later than January 1656), his son Robert, acting as
administrator of the estate, sold the property to one Michael Masters, who then sold it to John
and Thomas Burton, in that same year. In 1704, a son of Thomas Burton sold "Cobbs" to
John Bolling, and though the plantation and entire area continued to be known as "Cobbs",
the property remained in Bolling family possession for over a hundred years. Bolling was the son
of Colonel Robert Bolling and his wife Jane Rolfe, daughter of Thomas Rolfe and granddaughter of
Pocahontas. A more thorough study of the Bolling family than what is done here gives rise to the
belief that it was probably that family that built the mansion in the painting. During the
Revolution, the property was raided by the British. The crops and outbuildings were burned, but
the main house was left untouched. During the War Between the States however, the entire property
was overrun and burned to the ground by Federal troops, in 1864.
The land settled by Ambrose and Ann Cobbs is now partially occupied by "Point of Rocks
Park", a 188-acre athletic complex operated by Chesterfield County (Chesterfield was created
from Henrico in 1749.). The park is located on Enon Church Road, about 1.5 miles south of
Interstate Highway 295. An archeological survey was done of the property prior to development, and
those plats and maps are available in the Virginia State Archives. Click here to see the
that identifies the park as being the original location of Cobbs Hall.
Ambrose and Ann were most likely buried in the small cemetery that is located at the extreme
northeast corner of the tract. In 1864, invading Union troops destroyed all the headstones but
one (a woman not related to the Cobbs family who died in 1801). Some years later, Wyndham
Robertson (1803-1888), a Bolling descendant and one-time governor of Virginia, and a direct
descendant of Pocahontas, was buried at "Cobbs", and his grave is prominently marked.
The cemetery is not accessible directly from the park. It can only be reached by a public street
that runs parallel to the northern park boundary. It is located in a cul de sac and is surrounded
by a rock wall approximately four feet in height.
Ambrose COBBS "the Emigrant" and Ann WHITE had the following children:
- Ambrose COBBS was christened on March 12, 1625 in Willesborough, Kent. He died
before August 18, 1626 in Kent.
- Robert COBBS (born before January 7, 1627).
- Jane COBBS was born before 1630 in Willesborough, Kent. She died before
January 12, 1634. She was buried in Willesborough, Kent.
- Margaret COBBS (born in 1631).
- Ambrose COBBS (born in 1635/36).
- Thomas COBBS was born in 1637 in Charles River County, Virginia. He died in
1702 in York County, Virginia. He never married and died without issue.