Dabney Family of Early Virginia
Cornelius Dabney (b 1630) and his descendants
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Introduction

Cornelius Dabney obtained his first land patent in Virginia September 27, 1664.  It was located on the Pamunkey River, and was later augmented by two additional patents nearby and additional land on the other side of the River leased from the Pamunkey Indians .  The colonial government appointed him official interpreter for Queen Cockacoeske of the friendly Pamunkey Indians from 1676 to 1684.  His intellectual talents must have been exceptional to master such a foreign non-european language without a teacher and textbooks.

Cornelius and his two wives, Eedeth and Susannah, had at least six children who survived to adulthood: three sons, James, George and Cornelius and three daughters, Sarah, Dorothy, and Mary.  It is possible they had a fourth son, Benjamin, about whom very little is known.  They had about 42 grandchildren, who in turn had about 157 great-grandchildren. 

Many of Cornelius’ descendants played public roles in their counties.  All of his daughters’ husbands and two of his three sons served as Justices of the Peace, who administered civil and lesser criminal justice in the county courts, determined the county tax levy, maintained records of land ownership, and probated wills and estates.  Eight of his grandsons and granddaughters’ husbands were appointed Justices of the Peace, five were sheriffs who enforced the law and collected county taxes, two were representatives to the General Assembly, two were coroners, and one was an inspector of tobacco for foreign shipment.  Among his great grandsons and granddaughters’ husbands were 25 Justices of the Peace and judges, seven sheriffs, and ten representatives to state legislatures.   

Among the 76 Dabney households listed in the first two censuses that included Virginia, 1810 and 1820, 92% could be traced through known links to the first Cornelius or in two cases to the much smaller New England Dabney Family, whose founding immigrant was probably a Huguenot from France. Clearly, almost all of the early Virginia Dabneys descend from Cornelius.

Figure 1 shows the number of household heads bearing the Dabney surname in the U. S. and Virginia from the 1810 through1840 censuses and the number of all individuals with the Dabney surname through the 1940 census, the latest available. 

Dabney surnames in the 1810 through 1840 censuses.

In the early censuses through 1840, Dabney households numbered fewer than 100, but in 1850 and 1860, when the census listed all individuals, the number of Dabneys rose to 6-700, followed by a progressive increase to 3800 in 1930.

Among some Virginia families, “Dabney” became a somewhat popular forename.  Figure 2 shows the number of household heads bearing Dabney as a first name through 1840 and the number of individuals with a Dabney first name from 1850 to 1940.

Dabney forename in censuses

Figure 3 shows the location of the first seven land patents obtained by Dabneys in Virginia.   Three were awarded to Cornelius between 1664 and 1668, and four were awarded in 1701 to his four eldest children to compensate for leases of 700 acres given Cornelius by the Pamunkey Indian Tribe.

First seven land patents obtained by Dabneys in Virginia
map legend

Figure 3.  Map showing approximate locations of land grants received by Cornelius Dabney and his four eldest children.  The measured boundaries are shown by dashed lines and the rest of the boundaries by watercourses,   For orientation to other maps, Highway U. S. 360 is shown.

Map center coordinates: Latitude: N 37° 41’ 24.4287”; Longitude: W 77° 14’ 6.936”

    Tract C 1664 & 1667, which Cornelius obtained by patent in those years, is mainly bounded by the Pamunkey River and Totopotomoy Creek and contains a total of 300 acres.  Tract C 1666, which contains 640 acres, is bounded on the northwest by Totopotomoy Creek, but may have been located a little upstream or downstream from the site shown. 

    The four patents issued in 1701 to Cornelius’ four eldest children, Dorothy (D, 179.5 acres), Sarah (S, 179.5 acres), James (J, 204 acres), and George (G, 293 acres) are bounded by the Pamunkey River and Pownce’s Swamp (creek).  The greater number of acres granted to James and George are probably due to the lesser value of the low-lying part of their tracts bordering the River, for which the 1699 Committee of the Council that approved the grants added an extra 150 acres to the 700 acres allowed for Cornelius’ earlier Indian leases. 

     The family biographies in the notes sections on this site are entered under the husband or wife who descends directly from Cornelius, so if a biography appears to be missing, it should be found with the spouse.

The myth that the Virginia Dabneys descended from French Huguenots

In 1888, William H. Dabney of Boston, in his book, Sketch of the Dabneys of Virginia, proposed that Cornelius Dabney, progenitor of the Virginia Dabneys, and his brother John were brothers of Robert Dabney/Dobney/ Daubigny/ d’ Aubigné, of French Huguenot descent, who the Boston Dabneys have consistently recognized as the immigrant progenitor of their family.  More recently, records of Cornelius Dabney’s baptism in 1631 and his parents’ marriage in 1630 have been found in the Register of Bucknall Parish, Lincolnshire, England by Arden H. Brame Jr. and published in The Colonial Genealogist, 1985, 12, p. 107-111.

A search for Robert Dabney/Dobney/Daubigny in Boston records has yielded a record of his admittance to habitation in Boston June 23, 1715, with Capt. John Alden as security.  Also found were four lawsuits in which Robert Dobney, blacksmith, was a plaintiff against Thomas Hodeball and Joseph Bissell, Othniel Hackett, John Smith, and Thomas Edeball in the Boston Court of Common Pleas 1715-1718.  He also had a son John born August 17, 1723 and baptized in Kings Chapel September 22, 1723.  Clearly, the Robert Dabney of Boston, who was probably of French descent, was of a later generation than Cornelius Dabney of Virginia, who was born in England and died in 1693/94, and therefore could not be his brother.  The claim that Cornelius Dabney was a descendant of a French Huguenot family is clearly a myth based solely on the similar spelling of the surname in Boston and Virginia.