Cotton was the wife of John Cotton, of York County. Nothing is known about the date and place of her birth, her maiden name, the date of her marriage or marriages, or whether she had any children. Historians who have identified her husband as a native of the Eastern Shore of Virginia believed that they resided in Hungars Parish, Northampton County, and had a daughter in the spring of 1660 and a son in December 1662, but no documents demonstrate that either of the Cottons had a relationship to any Eastern Shore families. The first reference to Ann Cotton in extant Virginia documents is dated November 4, 1657, when she and her husband witnessed the will of William Evans in York County, where she and her husband evidently lived from sometime before that date until after Bacon's Rebellion. Her husband was an attorney and for a time owned a plantation on Queen's Creek. It is evident from her narrative of the rebellion that she knew most or all of the important people in the county, including Edmund Cheesman and his wife, both prominent supporters of Nathaniel Bacon.
Unlike many other women in her time and place, Cotton was literate and educated. She corresponded with at least one friend in England, for whom she composed a highly personal narrative of the rebellion. Much of what is known about Cotton must be gleaned from that lost document, which was first published without a note on its provenance on September 12, 1804, in the Richmond Enquirer. In that source the letter was signed "An. Cotton. From Q. Creeke" and was addressed "To Mr. C. H. at Yardly in Northamptonshire."
Like the Cottons, Harris would have known many of the major figures in the rebellion. His wife was a stepdaughter of Nathaniel Bacon (ca. 1620–1692), who resided in York County and was a member of the Council and supporter of the governor against the rebellion that his namesake kinsman led. In her narrative, Cotton referred to the elder Bacon as "your late wives father-in-law." Harris and his wife had sold some land to him in 1661 and apparently departed for England soon afterward. Evidently the Cotton and Harris families had kept in touch, for she referred to previous correspondence: "as hath by a former letter bin hinted to you" and "hinted in my former Letter."
Cotton's narrative style, like the longer work by her husband, is laced with parenthetical remarks, but many of hers are addressed specifically to Harris. A reference to Colonel John Washington is followed by the aside, "(him whom you have somtimes seene at your Howse)." After naming several members of the governor's Council, she reminded her reader that they were "all persons, with whom you have bin formerly acquainted." Naming some of the rebels who were executed in 1676 and 1677, she mentioned "James Wilson (once your servant)" and Henry Page "(one that my Husband bought of Mr. Lee, when he kep store at your howse)."
November 4, 1657 - John Cotton and his wife, Ann, witness the will of William Evans in York County.
June 9, 1676 - John Cotton writes his wife, Ann, a letter from Jamestown recounting one of the dramatic events at the opening of Bacon's Rebellion.
September 12, 1804 - A narrative of Bacon's Rebellion written by Ann Cotton sometime late in 1677 or later is published for the first time in the Richmond Enquirer.
1836 - Peter Force reprints Ann Cotton's letter recounting many of the events of Bacon's Rebellion in the first volume of Tracts and Other Papers, Relating Principally to the Origin, Settlement, and Progress of the Colonies in North America.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Bernhard, V., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Ann Cotton (fl. 1650s–1670s). (2012, January 18). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Cotton_Ann_fl_1650s-1670s.
- MLA Citation:
Bernhard, Virginia and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Ann Cotton (fl. 1650s–1670s)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 18 Jan. 2012. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: August 1, 2011 | Last modified: January 18, 2012