Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Man, The Doctor, The Mystery....Dr. William Cobb

A few weeks ago I emailed a 4th cousin on my Cobb side that I found through the magic of DNA.  Our common direct ancestor is Hewitt Cobb.  John Ashley Cobb was her 2nd great grandfather. I have been in contact with a descendant of Zachariah Taylor Cobb for a number of years. James Hiram was my 3rd great grandfather and a brother to John Ashley and Zachariah Taylor! It has been fun exchanging information and of course this has rekindled an interest in my Cobb family. Dr. William Cobb is the earliest Cobb I have been able to find and like most that research this Cobb family I have the one burning question…

Where the heck did Dr. William Cobb come from?


It is like he just appeared in Greenbrier County where at the age of 42 he married Elizabeth Morrison (8 August 1787) in Greenbrier County. Forty-two seems a bit older than the average age of first marriages so inquisitive minds want to know…

Could Dr. William Cobb have been married before marrying Elizabeth?


There are several land grants in Kanawha County 1788, 1792, 1799, 1799 and 1825. I believe most are in or near what is now Clendenin. I’m going from memory so this may not be exactly right…but the grants are near/on the Elk River. So…we know he married in Greenbrier in 1787, obtained a land grant in Kanawha in 1788 and also had a son in 1788. Where was he before 1787? This is just a few years after the Revolutionary War. He was of the right age to fight. Could he have been part of the British Army and decided he loved the Virginia Mountains, who doesn't, and decided that he didn't want to return to England? Okay, maybe I have more than the ‘one burning question’! Here is another, we know that he was a doctor. not just any doctor, but the FIRST doctor along the Elk River! Cool….! But one can’t help but wonder…..

How did he become a doctor? 


Surely he had to have had some training. Right? Well, I have devoted a lot of thought to this question over the years. The University of Pennsylvania was founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1765. U of Penn was the first and only medical school in the 13 colonies. Did William attend U of Penn…I seriously doubt it…. That would be too easy. Plus, I looked at their amazing online collection and found no hide nor hair of dear William. I know many doctors received training as an apprentice. Here is an interesting fact from the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology

“On the eve of the Revolutionary War it has been estimated that the colonies contained 3,500 physicians, only 400 of whom had undergone some sort of training, and about 200 of these actually held medical degrees.

I once found a reference to a William Cobb who was an apothecary during the Revolutionary War. This makes sense to me but I have not been able to locate any additional information. The History of Charleston mentions Dr. Cobb and early medical care in the area.

Pg. 216: “William Cobb MD – the first physician on Elk River – residing one mile up Big Sandy, not far from the present site of Osborn’s Mills. These were the only settlers in this part of the Elk valley in 1795.”


Pg. 269: “There was also a Dr. William Cobbs settled up Elk, about the mouth of Big Sandy, who practiced medicine for a long time and was said to be “lucky,” If not learned. He had a large territory to serve and he killed himself riding about visiting the sick, and last of all the Doctor died also.”

Read more about early Kanawha Physicians...... 


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