William Cotton was born 18 March 1609/10 in Bunbury Parish, Cheshire, England. His parents were Jeffray and Joane Cotton. William had five known siblings, four of whom survived: Peter, born 31 May 1607; John, born 28 March 1613; Elizabeth, born 3 June 1615 - died 11 March 1615/16; Elizabeth, born 15 February 1616/17; and Richard, born 24 November 1622. [Parish Register, 1559-1653, Bunbury Parish, Cheshire, England.]
William must have lived in Bunbury as a child, but no records of his schooling have been found. His father, Jeffray Cotton, was buried on 28 December 1622, in Bunbury and the record reads "a poor man of the parish." William's mother, Joane, was buried on 23 March 1642/43 in Bunbury as "a poor woman of the parish." The maiden name of Joane is unknown as are any details of Jeffray's parents.
The Reverend William Cotton arrived in Virginia in the early 1630s, settling on the Eastern Shore in Accawmack County where he became the rector for Hungar's parish. While most ministers of that period were educated at Cambridge or Oxford, no record for this William Cotton is found at either university. Since William's father was "a poor man," William would have had a sponsor for his education, as was the case for young students who showed intellectual promise.
"Anglicanism may have been the official religion on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, and for the better part of a century, the established faith spent a good deal of its time combatting 'dissenters.' And since it was hard to obtain proper Anglican recorts for the distant Eastern Shore, a succession of local ministers came from the ranks of the Puritan dissenters, much to the dismay of the Anglican authorities in Jamestowne. Wm. Cotton, the first known successor to the original rector, Francis Bolton, conformed outwardly to the beliefs and practices of the established church, but this was the character 'of a stern Puritan.' [Kirk Mariner, Revival's Children, A Religious History of Virginia's Eastern Shore (Peninsula Press, 1979), p. 4.]
Upon Reverend Cotton's death in 1640, he was succeeded by Rev.Nathaniel Eaton, who arrived on the Shore after having been expelled as head-master of the school that later became Harvard. Two rectors later, Rev. Francis Doughty, a non-conformist, left England because he refused to recognize the divine right of the King. Governor Berkeley stopped this Puritan and Quaker infiltration of the Eastern Shore churches in 1676. So the question remains, was Reverned William Cotton a non-conformist with Puritan leanings?
Here as follows some of the history of the Reverend William Cotton in Hungar's parish:
- 19 February 1633, at court at Acchawmacke, Mr. Wm. Cotton, minister, complains that he had desired the churchwardens to levy his tythes from his parishoners but they did not.
- 19 May 1634, upon the suit of Mr. Cotton, Minister of God's word, Thomas Allen fined one shilling for swearing.
- 23 October 1634, Rev. Cotton complains against administrators of Capt. John Stone's estate for thythes due him.
- March 1634/5, at court three men shows that they heard Henry Charleton say that if he had had Mr. Cotton without the Church yard he would have kicked him over the Pallyzados [palisades] calling of him black cotted raskell [black-coated rascal].
- 14 September 1635, at this Court Mr. Wm. Cotton, minister, presented a Court order from James City for the building of a parsonage house upon the Glybe land and that a Vestry be appointed; and the first meeting will be on 29 Sept.
- 29 September 1635, the new Vestry voted that a parsonage house should be built on glebe land, that house shall be forty by eighteen feet, with two doors, chimney at each end, rooms for a study, a buttery, a kitchen, and a main chamber.
- 4 January 1635/6, Mr. Cotton, minister, complains that parishoners are backward in paying tythes.
- 20 May 1636, the Vestry ordered that the minister have one peck of corn and 2 lbs. tobacco for every thythable; minister will get 10 lbs. tobacco for every grave.
- 5 September 1636, the will of John Symons gave Mr. Cotton, minister, 40 lbs. tobacco.
- 28 November 1636, the will of Wm. Smith, planter, asked that Mr. Cotton make a funeral sermon and to have 100 lbs for it.
- 11 January 1636/7, at Court Mr. Wm. Cotton, minister of the Gods word, commenced a suit against the churchwardens for his tythes according to an act of assembly which upon examination, it is ordered that Mr. Cotton shall have an execution upon the estate of the churchwardens. And Richard Cooke ordered to pay Mr. Cotton, minister, 100 lbs tobacco due him.
- 19 July 1637, Wm. Cotton, Clerke, granted 350 acres called 'the old mans neck' between the horns of Hungar's Creek for persronal adventure of himself, his wife, and 5 persons.
- 12 February 1637/8, Court ordered that Mr. Cotton, minister, shall forthwith be paid and satisfied out of the estate of Capt. John Howe for his funeral service and grave in the Chauncell.
- 22 February 1638/9, Wm. Cotton, Clerk, granted 300 acs. for his own adventure and for 2 men, 1 woman, and 2 Negroes.
- 6 May 1639, the will of Nicholas Harwood desires that Mr. Cotton make a sermon at his funeral.
In summary, Reverend Cotton felt keenly that he should be paid by tithes; others must have liked him since they asked him to preach at their funerals.Rev. William Cotton married Anne Graves, daughter of Capt. Thomas Graves and his wife, Katherine. Anne was born in Accomack County probably in 1620. Reverend Cotton wrote his will on 20 August 1640, naming his wife, Anne, and his mother Joane Cotton of Bunbury, Cheshire. He also stated that two children had died earlier and that Anne was pregnant. A daughter, Verlinda, was born in late 1640 or early 1641, possibly before the death of Reverend Cotton.Verlinda Cotton married Thomas Burdett on 1 September 1658 in Northampton County, Virginia. They had at least three children: Parthenia; Elizabeth, born ca. 1659; and Sarah Burdett, born ca. 1666 in Charles County, Maryland. Thomas died before 2 March 1667/68; Verlinda married secondly Richard Broughton on 24 June 1668. Verlinda (Cotton) Burdett Broughton died in 1683 in Charles County, Maryland.Anne (Graves) Cotton married secondly to Nathaniel Eaton in 1641/42. She married thirdly Francis Doughty 10 June 1657 in Accomack County, Virginia. With son Samuel, they moved to Charles County, Maryland, where Anne died 2 March 1682/83.