The Cumbos of Halifax, NC & the Famous Massachusetts 54th Colored Regiment

A Cumbo descendant found my blog and reached out to me recently, seeking guidance on tracing her Cumbo ancestry. Research on her possible ancestry led to Hilliard and Sarah Cumbo and uncovered some interesting discoveries.

1. There were Cumbos in Halifax County, North Carolina.

I can only find a few records on Hilliard Cumbo.  The key one that ties him to Halifax County is his marriage record to a woman named Sally Meacham on 11 January 1859 in Halifax.  Unfortunately, the marriage record doesn’t list his birth date or the names of his parents.  This is the first time I’ve come across a Cumbo in Halifax.  All of the Cumbos I’ve come across in the early 1800s  in Northeastern North Carolina have come from Northampton and Hertford Counties.  Here’s all of the Cumbo households in NE North Carolina from 1790-1820 according to US Census records.  What I’m guessing based on research is that family members might have wanted to live right next to one another but due to scarcity of land, may have had to settle for neighboring counties. So perhaps Hilliard Cumbo was originally part of one of these Northampton or Hertford households and headed south west to Halifax county in search for land and opportunity.


Cumbo, Cannon 5 Northampton County


Cumbo, Matthew 5 Hertford


Cumbo, Phoebe 4 Northampton Co. p716


Cumbo, Britain 301-001 Northampton County page 222 (my 5th great grandfather)

Cumbo, Henry 01- Northampton County page 222

Cumbo, John 01- Northampton County page 220

Cumbo, David (Males crossed out) -111 Hertford County p 186

Cumbo, Matha 0001-211 Hertford County page 188

Map of North Carolina by County.  Halifax County borders Northampton and Hertford counties west and south.

2. From Halifax, North Carolina to Michigan

The only other records I could find on Hilliard Cumbo were death records for his children – Mary Cumbo Ampey, Louisa Cumbo Bolden, Dudley Cumbo.  According to the records, all were born in Halifax County in the 1840s and 50s and died in Michigan.   The death records reveal that the Hilliard Cumbo family likely migrated from Halifax, North Carolina to Michigan sometime after the 1850s prior to the Civil War.  The Cumbos were not alone.  They were part of a wave of migration of free people of color families from the Carolinas and Virginia to the Midwest – Michigan, Indiana and Ohio.  In the early 1800s the Cumbos, Newsoms and Manleys, among other families, migrated from Northampton NC to become the first families of color to settle in Logan, Ohio.  In the 1830s, the Roberts family of Northampton County, free people of color, migrated to Hamilton County, Indiana and established the Roberts Settlement.   A brief account written by Hamilton McMillan in “The North Carolina Booklet: Great Events in North Carolina History, Vol. 13” published in 1913 by the NC Daughters of the Revolution, ties the Croatan Indians (now Lumbee) to families in Indiana and Michigan in the mid-1800s.

1903 Michigan death record for Dudley Cumbo born in 1854 in Halifax County, North Carolina to Hilliard and Sarah Cumbo.

3. Cumbo connection to the Massachusetts 54th Colored Regiment

Give ‘em Hell, 54…” – From the Film Glory

This was one of my all-time favorite lines from one of my all-time favorite films.  The 1989 film Glory, starring Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman and Matthew Broderick, is about one of the first Army Units during the Civil War– the Massachusetts 54th – made up exclusively of people of color.  Well it turns out that one of Hilliard and Sarah Cumbos’ daughters, Mary Cumbo, married a man named Isom Ampey, who served in the Massachusetts 54th.  He was born in Wayne County, Indiana to formerly enslaved parents from North Carolina.  After the civil war he moved to Michigan and married Mary Cumbo in 1866.  They settled in Bloomfield, Michigan and raised 5 children.  He was a prominent member of his community and served in various public offices until his death in 1905.

Photo of Private Isom Ampey, Company K, 54th Massachusetts Infantry and husband of Mary Cumbo.

So where do we go from here?

As a next step, I’ve encouraged the Cumbo descendant who reached out to me to DNA test.  Hopefully that can help us establish a connection between the Cumbos of Halifax County and Cumbo descendants of Northampton or Hertford County.  Stay tuned.

The Life and Times of a Northampton County Cotton Farmer

Here’s what I have been able to uncover about the life of my 5th great grandfather Britton Cumbo Sr., a free man of color born 1776-1794 of Northampton County, North Carolina, through an examination of his 1837 estate records.

Here are the key items Britton Cumbo owned at the time of his death in 1837:  a loom, a spinning wheel, two tables and 4 chairs, a shot gun, 3 beds, a chest, 111 lbs. of seed cotton, a fat hog, a bay mare, bridle & saddle, collar and harness.  These are essential items for a small farm.

He was a cotton farmer

Peanuts, soybeans, corn, cotton, chickens, and hogs are core agricultural products that have been grown in Northampton County for hundreds of years. Assuming your average 1800s Northampton County cotton farmer could plant roughly 10 pounds of seed per acre, Britton Cumbo owned enough seed at the time of his death to farm around 10 to 11 acres of cotton crops.   Britton would have fashioned the collar and harness he owned to his bay mare to pull a plow up and down his cotton field.  The same horse could then be fitted with the bridle and saddle for riding into town to buy more seed or perhaps items for his family. He’d use the spinning wheel to create thread and yarn from the harvested cotton.  He’d then use the loom to create fabric from the thread.  The cotton, thread and fabrics could be sold for profit or used to make clothes for the family.

Also note that Britton Cumbo owned a shot gun.  A shot gun was an essential item for a farmer back then.  Just a few short years after his death however, the state would make it illegal for men like Britton to own a firearm.  Around 1840, North Carolina passed a law prohibiting free coloreds from carrying fire arms.  Given events in history, I’m little surprised the law hadn’t been initiated sooner.  Remember, the Nat Turner rebellion had occurred in Southampton, VA (a county which sits right above Northampton state border between Virginia and North Carolina) in 1831.  At any rate, the 1840 law was challenged and went all the way to the North Carolina Supreme Court in the State v Elijah Newsom in 1844.  The court upheld the law because it ruled that free coloreds, while they were free from enslavement, were not considered citizens.  This was but one of a succession of laws throughout the 1800s which increasingly restricted the rights of free people of color living in North Carolina and through the south.

He was a farm laborer or tenant farmer

Britton Cumbo at the time of his death owned around $160 of personal property but no real property.  Personal property is movable property. It’s anything that can be subject to ownership, except land. Real property is immovable property – it’s land and anything attached to the land.

Britton was a farmer who owned no land, so he likely farmed someone else’s land as a laborer or tenant farmer.  Tennant farming was a system where land owners allowed others to farm their land in exchange for payments back to the land owner either in the form of a portion of their crop yields, cash or a combination of both.

Whose land might he have farmed? 

According to Britton Cumbo’s estate file, he was indebted to a number of people upon his death.  Any one of them could have owned the farmland he worked.

Debt owed by the estate of Britton Cumbo Sr. were to King Deberry $8.96 (free colored), Howell Hedgepeth $5, Henry Deberry $7.26, Wilson & Lawrence $34.23, Britton Bird $20.00 (free colored), Solomon Smith $2.94, the Estate of Willie Senter $14.91, and the Administrator (Kinchin Powell), $55.84


The left lists people Britton Cumbo Sr. was indebted to at the time of his death.  The right lists proceeds raised from the Britton Cumbo estate sale.  The estate value remaining after creditors were paid was $ 4.11.

One creditor on this list that stands out to me is Henry DeBerry.  According to the 1840 census, DeBerry was a white farmer who owned a large Northampton County plantation which included 37 slaves.  This leads me to believe that he had vast land holdings a portion of which he could have hired out to tenant farmers. Or perhaps Britton worked for him as a farm laborer.

Another candidate is Jesse Morgan, a white farmer who purchased items at Britton Cumbo’s estate sale.  When Britton died, his son Britton Cumbo Jr. (my 4th great grandfather) was hired to Morgan as an apprentice.  The fact that the courts chose to entrust Britton’s son with Jesse leads me to believe that they could have had a friendship or close association while Britton was living, perhaps because Britton farmed Jesse’s land.

He had a diverse community of friends, associates and neighbors (FANs)

According to Britton Cumbo’s estate file, individuals who purchased items at the estate sale included: Nathaniel Allen (slave owner), Isaac Parker (Quaker, farmer), Absalom Hays (slave owner), James T.  Maddrey (slave owner), Rebecca Jenkins (wife of farmer James Jenkins), Jesse Morgan (to whom Britton Cumbo, Jr. was apprenticed), Henry Deloatch (slave owner), Nancy Lewter (free colored woman who married free colored Moses Porter in 1838), King Deberry (free colored), and Matthew Cumbo (free colored).

Matthew Cumbo purchased multiple items for sale.  He was in fact the only Cumbo to purchase items.  I believe him to the same Matthew Cumbo who appears in an 1850 census record for Northampton County as a mulatto male born around 1810 married to Frances Cumbo (Jacobs) with a two year old daughter named Sarah.  It is also my belief that Matthew Cumbo was Britton Cumbo Sr’s son and therefore Britton Cumbo Jr’s older brother.


Listing of individuals who purchased items at the estate sale

Pilgrimage to Northampton County

Last October I traveled to Northampton County on a pilgrimage in search of my Cumbo ancestry.  While driving in and around Northampton, I felt compelled to stop my car and take a picture of this cotton field, representative of the sights I’d been soaking in all weekend.  After research, this photo has renewed meaning to me.  It is representative of the difficult life my Cumbo ancestors led in order to scratch out a living and raise a family which now extends to all of us.  Now, each time I look at this photo I can’t help but be thankful to Britton Cumbo, Northampton cotton farmer, my 5th great grandfather.


Using Social Media, AncestryDNA & Gedmatch to advance family research

I am a genealogy hobbyist who uses traditional research, genetic genealogy (the use of DNA testing) and social media to advance my research efforts virtually from my computer.

In last week’s blog post, How Hertford & Northampton Cumbos Connect?, I shared a theory that the parents of my 5th great grandfather Britton Cumbo Sr. (b.1776-1794 and d.1837) of Northampton, NC were Matthew and Phoebe Cumbo of Hertford, NC, and that his brothers were David and Matthew Cumbo of Hertford, NC.


At the end of the blog, I highlighted the opportunity to validate this theory through DNA testing.  Well I might have moved one step closer to doing that thanks to social media and AncestryDNA.

Leveraging Social Media

I am active on Facebook and across a number of genealogy oriented Facebook pages where I share my blog posts.  I’ve found that sharing my research helps me to often connect with DNA matches, genealogy experts and other hobbyists, often fortuitously, who share my genealogical interests with whom I now regularly collaborate on research.

Last week I shared my blog post to the Hertford County Free People of Color and Their Descendants page administered by Dr. Warren Milteer. It generated a comment from someone who descends from David Cumbo of Hertford County NC.

Remember my theory is that my 5th great grandfather Britton Cumbo Sr. and David Cumbo were brothers.  This person’s name looked familiar to me, so I checked my family’s AncestryDNA match list.  Sure enough it turned out that this person was a match to us.


One of the things I like about testing with AncestryDNA is that the service encourages users to link their DNA results to their online family trees.  This feature allows AncestryDNA testers to search their DNA match lists by surname and family location.  Additionally, AncestryDNA offers a feature that allows people to share their full DNA results – both ethnic admixture and searchable DNA match list – with other matches.

I messaged my match, for purposes of this blog let’s just call her Holly, and requested that she share her full AncestryDNA results with me.  Holly graciously obliged.  A quick search of her match list using the surname Cumbo resulted in 9 matches –  5 descended from Britton Cumbo Sr. and 4 descended from David Cumbo.

Match 1

Descends from David Cumbo’s daughter Susan Anne Cumbo of Hertford NC

Possible Relationship to Holly: 4th-6th cousin

Confidence: High

Match 2

Descends from David Cumbo’s daughter Susan Anne Cumbo of Hertford NC

Possible Relationship to Holly: 4th-6th cousin

Confidence: Good

Match 3

Descends from Britton Cumbo Sr’s son Britton Cumbo Jr. of Northampton NC

Possible Relationship to Holly: 4th-6th cousin

Confidence: Good

Match 4

Descends from Britton Cumbo Sr’s son Britton Cumbo Jr. of Northampton NC

Possible Relationship to Holly: 5th -8th cousin

Confidence: Good

Match 5

Descends from Britton Cumbo Sr’s son Britton Cumbo Jr. of Northampton NC

Possible Relationship to Holly: 5th -8th cousin

Confidence: Moderate

Match 6

Descends from David Cumbo’s son William Cumbo of Hertford NC

Possible Relationship to Holly: 5th -8th cousin

Confidence: Moderate

Match 7

Descends from Britton Cumbo Sr’s son Britton Cumbo Jr. of Northampton NC

Possible Relationship to Holly: 5th -8th cousin

Confidence: Moderate

Match 8

Descends from Britton Cumbo Sr’s son Britton Cumbo Jr. of Northampton NC

Possible Relationship to Holly: 5th -8th cousin

Confidence: Moderate

Match 9

Descends from David Cumbo’s daughter Susan Anne Cumbo of Hertford NC

Possible Relationship to Holly: 5th -8th cousin

Confidence: Moderate

I then invited Holly to the Cumbo Family Page which I co-administer on Facebook. This page has enabled me to connect Cumbo family members and share research with them.  Family members in turn have shared family photos and details which I’ve used to update my family tree.  The 2016 Cumbo Family Reunion in Williamsburg, VA largely grew from the virtual family connections created on this page.

Enter Gedmatch

It could be that Holly shares DNA matches with my family because we share the same single ancestor – Matthew Cumbo – the theorized father of Britton and David Cumbo.

But it could also be that we share different ancestors from the same area.  Pre-civil war free people of color communities often married within themselves, essentially cousins marrying and having children with other cousins – creating a genealogical effect known as endogeny.  In addition, there was cross pollination between Northampton and Hertford NC free people of color communities.  After all, it’s this assumed connection that underpins the theory that David and Britton were brothers.

To isolate the above shared match pattern to a single ancestor, I will need to determine if they share an identical DNA chromosome segment location.  If a mix of the above descendants of Britton and David Cumbo do share an identical segment location, it’s reasonable to assume that they inherited that identical segment from a single ancestor.  In the genetic genealogy community this is called genetic triangulation.


Notional example of identical shared segment match (green) across multiple DNA matches indicating they share the same ancestor from whom they inherited the segment.

To prove this out, I’ll need to convince my matches to upload their AncestryDNA raw DNA file to Gedmatch, a free DNA service for people who have already tested DNA with AncestryDNA, 23andMe or Family Tree DNA.  Gedmatch provides users the tools required to perform genetic triangulation.

The process to upload to Gedmatch is free, easy and allows DNA tester to maintain privacy. Here’s an Introduction to Gedmatch by Professional Genetic Genealogist Angie Bush







How Hertford & Northampton Cumbos Connect?

What I share in this blog post is a theory.

I’ve spent months researching the parents of my great-great-great-great-great (5x) grandfather Britton Cumbo Sr., born a free person of color between 1776-1794 and of Northampton County, NC.   I’ve also aimed to uncover the connection between Northampton and Hertford Cumbos which I’ve observed through DNA clues within my own family.

For this effort I’ve consulted all census, vital and estate records available to me online and partnered with a researcher on the ground to consult deeds, probates, court records, tax lists, loose papers, and any other documents only available as original or microfilm records at the North Carolina State Archives and Library in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Research Approach

Given limited documentation available in this time period in North Carolina for people of color, we utilized an approach called cluster analysis in which you look for as much documentation as possible on families in a particular area who share a last name (Cumbo), with the hope that you’ll find clues that will reveal their relationships to one another.  The theory is that a single clue identified in a document validating a single relationship can then lead to solving other relationships and eventually the whole puzzle.  This is kind of like solving the easiest rows in a Soduku puzzle first with the hope that they will lead to additional clues that help you solve the whole grid.

Connecting Northampton and Hertford

We focused on Cumbos in Hertford and Northampton County North Carolina in the late 1700s and early 1800s.  As I referenced in a previous blog post, my 4th great grandfather Britton Cumbo Jr. owned land located in the town of Potecasi, Northampton NC.  The Potecasi Creek originates in Northampton County and flows east into neighboring Hertford County where it empties into the Meherrin River.  The Potecasi Creek was also a significant transportation connect between the two counties.  This lays the groundwork for how Cumbo family members could end up living in both Northampton and Hertford on both ends of the creek.  Family members might have wanted to live right next to one another but due to scarcity of land, may have had to settle for neighboring counties.


Potecasi Creek rises in central Northampton County and flows east into Hertford County, where it enters Meherrin River. Appears as Weyanok Creek on the Ogilby map, 1671. The upper portion of Potecasi Creek is marked Catawhisky on the Moseley map, 1733. Appears as Meherrin Creek on the Collet map, 1770. – William S. Powell & Michael Hill, The North Carolina Gazetteer, Second Edition

Start with What You Know and Work Back


Cumbo, Britton, 1776-1794, Northampton County (my 5x great grandfather)

Cumbo, David, 1776-1794, Hertford County

Cumbo, Matthew, 1731-1775, Hertford County

Britton and David are the same age bracket.  They could be brothers or cousins.  Matthew is older.  He could be an older brother or possibly a young father candidate for Britton and or David.  Matthew and David are recorded living four houses away from one another.


Cumbo, Britton, 1776-1794, Northampton County

Cumbo, Henry,1776-1794, Northampton County

Cumbo, John,1776-1794, Northampton County

Cumbo, David, 1776-1794, Hertford County

Cumbo, Matthew, 1776-1794, Hertford County

John and Henry are the documented sons of Byrd Cumbo and Tabitha Newsom, according to the will of Tabitha’s father Moses Newsom.  That leaves Britton, David and Matthew.  All three align to the same age bracket in this census year.  The Matthew of this census could be different to the Matthew from 1830 or the same man.  My gut is that they were same man who was born around 1775-1776 which could explain how he could end up jumping from one age bracket to another within census records.


Cumbo, Phebe, 4 FPC, Northampton County

No household details are provided nor other Cumbos are recorded in Northampton or Hertford Census


Cumbo, Matthew, 5 FPC, Hertford County

No household details are provided nor other Cumbos are recorded in Northampton or Hertford Census


Cumbo, Cannon, 5 FPC, Northampton County

No other Cumbos are recorded in Northampton or Hertford Census.  Paul Heinegg speculates that Cannon and Byrd Cumbo, husband of Tabitha Newsom is the same man, but this is not yet documented.

My Theory

Here’s how I see the puzzle pieces possibly coming together.



Cumbo, Matthew, 5 FPC, Hertford County

Matthew as head of household and father.  Phoebe as his wife and mother.  Sons Britton, David and Matthew make five.


1800 Hertford County census record for Matthew Cumbo, head of house for a family of 5 free people of color. My theory is that this is my 6th great grandfather, father of my 5th great grandfather Britton Cumbo Sr.


Cumbo, Phoebe, 4 FPC, Hertford County

Phoebe as mother and head of household.  Matthew has died or left the household.  Sons Britton, David and Matthew make four.

1820 and 1830

Mother Phoebe has died.  Brothers Britton, David and Matthew are head of their own households.  Matthew and David remain in Hertford.  Britton moves up the Potecasi river and over to Northampton. 

Blind Spots

In addition to limited documentation, there is also the challenge that free people of color regularly lived within white households in 1790-1830 making them virtually invisible from a census perspective.  These information gaps could be masking pockets of family members, relationships and patterns that are helpful when conducting cluster research.

What I’ve shared is a theory

My effort did not validate the identities of Britton Cumbo Sr.’s parents.  I found no “smoking gun” document stating “Matthew and Phoebe Cumbo, parents of Britton Cumbo” or “Britton Cumbo, son of Matthew and Phoebe.”.

What did emerge is a viable theory that Matthew and Phoebe were his parents and David and Matthew his brothers.  This theory is strengthened in my mind by a third Matthew Cumbo I’ve identified, born about 1810, recorded in Northampton County in 1850, and who purchased a coffee mill, 2 bottles, and 2 axes at the Britton Cumbo’s 1837 estate sale who I believe was Britton Sr’s son. To me this establishes a pattern of the name Matthew Cumbo in the family.  It would mean that the name Matthew Cumbo was used several times in the same family.  That was the name runs in the family and that Britton’s father, brother and son bore that same name.

The Path Forward

Here’s how I’m moving forward to validate (or refute) this theory.  I have a Y DNA test plan in the works between the direct paternal descendants of Britton Cumbo of Northampton County and David Cumbo of Hertford County.  I’ll also continue my cluster research and of existing estate and court records and extend it to available private manuscript records.

I’d also like to thank Victoria P. Young,  President of the The North Carolina Genealogical Society and Michael Miller, a research manager with AncestryProGenealogists, who were my research partners on this effort. The search continues!


Meeting the Queen

The New Museum

This past weekend the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture opened its doors to the public.  It was a herculean effort to create this magnificent museum, 13 years in the making, and it was led by Historian Dr. Lonnie Bunch.

It’s a grand structure which replicates the design of three-tiered crowns used in West African art forms. Close to 40,000 object and artifacts were collected to be showcased in the museum over time, about 10% of which are currently on display.

The museum is designed to showcase the past, present and future of the African American experience. Sixty percent of the museum is contained below ground.  Once at the ground level the structure then rises another 75 feet.

Visitors are encouraged to start deep in the museum’s basement which features exhibits on black America’s origins in Africa, the transatlantic slave trade, and the beginnings of chattel slavery in America.  Visitors can then work their way up through time from the bottom of the museum to the top.

I had the privilege of touring the museum with my family and (a few thousand of my closest friends) on it’s opening weekend.  As a person with a passion for genealogy, history and a drive to trace my own family roots back to Africa, I had an absolute ball exploring in the museum.  I naturally spent the most time exploring its bottom floors.


Me with my sons visiting the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture for the first time.

Queen Nzinga

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the basement floor featured Queen Nzinga of Ndongo (modern day Angola).  Queen Nzinga, who ruled Ndongo from 1624-1663, was known as a strong leader who fought against Portuguese colonialism and the expansion of the slave trade in order to protect her people.

The Kingdom of Ndongo was located on a plateau that lies in between the Lukala and Lutete rivers.  The Portuguese, led by general Luis Mendes de Vasconcelo, attacked the kingdom in 1618 on a hunt to capture Africans for sale into slavery.

The first Africans to arrive in Jamestown in 1619 were believed to have been captured in Ndongo, a result of this ongoing conflict between the Portuguese and the Ndongo.  They were forced onto Portuguese slave ships heading to the Caribbean sugar islands.   British pirates then intercepted the ships, re-directing them to Jamestown, VA.

In 1619, famous Jamestown settler John Rolfe (he’s most famous for being the husband of Pocahontas) penned a letter to Sir Edwin Sandys about the colony.  In it, he announces the arrival of “20 and Odd” Negroes.  This reference is believed to have documented the arrival of the first Africans in America. Our original ancestor Emanuell Cambow (Cumbo), is believed to be one of these first Africans to arrive in America, if not part of the first 20, arriving a few years after.


Queen Nzinga featured in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

Connecting Cumbo Roots to Africa

One way to connect Cumbo descendants back to these first Africans in America is to examine DNA results.  Over generations Cumbos brances became quite ethnically blended, with branches embracing black, white and Native American racial identities.  But the power of YDNA testing is that the Y chromosome is passed down fully preserved from father to son. Therefore, analyzing a tester’s Y chromosome provides the opportunity to identify deep paternal ancestral roots that date back 500+ years, with the power of validating ancestral roots all the way back to Emanuell Cambow.

There is no comprehensive Y DNA study on direct paternal Cumbo descendants.  However, there is a public database called which allows you to search the YDNA results of men who tested with Family Tree DNA and uploaded their results to the site.

Here are result links from for testers claiming Cumbo ancestry.  All of these Cumbo descendants share the B haplogroup. Haplogroup B is one of the oldest population groups in the world, originating in sub-Saharan and West Africa.

Emanuell Cambow

Reuben Cumbie (1779-1855)

James Cumbie (1774-1860)

Through research, I also discovered this sermon written by the Rev. Denise Cumbee Long.  In it, she talks about discovering that the Scottish ancestral story her family had told her was a complete fabrication. Her name had indeed been changed over the years, but it used to be “Cumbo”, not “MacCumbee”, and her paternal ancestors were all listed as mulatto or free people of color on census records that went back to 1790. She had her father take a Y DNA test. He was also a match for Haplogroup B.

I had the pleasure of meeting cousin Denise this summer at our 2016 Cumbo Family Reunion in Williamsburg, VA and together we shared stories of Cumbo family history.


Me with cousin Denise Cumbee Long at the 2016 Cumbo Family Reunion

I hope to eventually get a Cumbo Y DNA project established and expand the number Y DNA tested Cumbos, starting with my known family members.  Through this project I hope to further substantiate the understanding that family origins for many Cumbo branches begin in Ndongo with the birth of Emanuell Cambow.

Family Trailblazers

What fuels your interest in genealogy? What drives my passion is the excitement of discovering new ancestors and relatives and learning their life stories and how they connect with history.

This past week I was sad to learn of the passing of my Cumbo cousin Jacqueline “Jackie” Majette Carson.  Fortunately, I had the honor of meeting her for the first time at our Cumbo Family Reunion this past summer.

Trailblazer.  Jackie Carson was a pioneering black woman in the field of science.  She was born in 1934 in Franklin, Southampton, Virginia to Vinton Majette and Magnolia “Maggie” Long of Northampton, North Carolina.  She graduated first in her class from high school at age 16.  She possessed an aptitude for science and went on to graduate from the Howard University School of Pharmacy at age 20.  While at Howard she was the President of her senior class and Student Council Secretary.  She would go on to enjoy a successful career in pharmacy, becoming the first black woman to be head of the Virginia Board of Pharmacy.  Her career would inspire many, women and people of color in particular, to enter the field of pharmacy. Her first pharmacist job out of college happened to be with Suffolk Professional Pharmacy which was owned and operated by James “Doc” Richards Sr. who was my grandfather.


Jacqueline Majette Carson


Jacqueline Majette Carson at our 2016 Cumbo Family Reunion in July

Community Man.  My grandfather James Edward Richards Sr. was born in in 1920 in Suffolk, Virginia to James Lee Richards and Annie Biggs, of Suffolk, VA.  He attended South Carolina State College graduating with a degree in chemistry in 1942.  He went on to serve his country in World War II.  After his military service he discovered that his race made it difficult for him to pursue a career in his chosen field of chemistry so he attended Howard University to train as a pharmacist. While at Howard he served as President of his senior class.  Upon graduation in 1950 he returned home to Suffolk VA to open its first and only black pharmacy so his community could get their prescriptions filled by walking in the front door. In the south prior to integration, black customers were forced to use the back or alley door entrances of white owned businesses, sill with no guarantee of being served.  You could characterize my grandfather as an entrepreneur, but he was much more of a community man.  He was part of a group of medical professionals who practiced in an area of Suffolk called The Fairgrounds.  They were committed to serving their community.  Many young people earned their first jobs at Suffolk Professional Pharmacy.  Sick community members were never turned away for prescriptions even if they didn’t have the money.  People could count on Doc to fill their prescriptions at any time of night if needed.  The pharmacy has since closed but its legacy continues to this day.  My grandfather died in 2009.


James Edward “Doc” Richards Sr.

Cumbo Connection.  Now here’s the wonder of genealogical discovery.  It turns out that my grandfather James “Doc” Richards and Jackie Majette Carson were related and I had the pleasure of discovering it.  I uncovered it as I built out our Cumbos of Northampton, NC Family Tree.  My cousin Corrine whom I’d met doing Cumbo family research pointed out to me that her aunt Jackie had worked for Suffolk Professional Pharmacy.  Turns out Doc and Jackie worked alongside each other for many, many years, serving the community together, not ever knowing that they were third cousins.  They had so much in common.  He was a direct descendant of Junius Matthias “Bug” Cumbo, she was a direct descendant of Matthias’s brother Hezekiah Thomas Cumbo. Julius and Hezekiah were the sons of Britton and Mary Cumbo, free people of color of Potecasi, Northampton, North Carolina.  They were both Howard University School of Pharmacy graduates.  They were both accomplished, both trailblazers, both served their communities and both raised thriving families. I’m so proud and humbled to be connected to them both.


James “Doc” Richards and Jacqueline Majette Carson relationship chart



Hall Family History Etched In My DNA

I am a Cumbo through my grandfather and a Hall through my grandmother.  My Cumbo ancestors were free people of color who settled in Northampton County, North Carolina.  My Hall ancestors were free people of color who settled in bordering Hertford County, North Carolina.  This past weekend I attended the 2016 Hall Family Reunion.  I was honored when reunion organizers invited me to deliver brief remarks at the reunion banquet on DNA testing and genetic genealogy.  Here is what I presented.


Family History Etched In Our DNA

My name is Andre Kearns, and I am a Hall.

But I didn’t know that I was a member of this amazing family until very recently.

You see I was born and raised in Washington DC.  My mother grew up in Suffolk,  VA, my dad in Raleigh, NC. I discovered that I was a Hall through family tree research.

Now as far as I can tell, I’m not directly descended from William Hall – which is probably 90% of you in this room — nor Allen Hall or Andrew Hall.  But I am a Hall just the same, and I’m related to most, if not all of you in this room.  And I’ll share with you how I can confidently say that in a little bit.

I relied on three main sources to uncover my Hall ancestry.  The first is family oral history that has been passed down to me.  The second is traditional genealogical research of census records, birth certificates, marriage licenses and death certificate.  The third, which I’ll spend the most time sharing about, is DNA testing.  So how did I discover my Hall ancestry?

Step 1, I started with Oral Family History

Since childhood I’ve known that my great-great grandmother was a woman named Martha Sharp. Her husband was Jenkins Sharp and they had 5 children together including my great grandmother Georgia Mae.  As far as any of us knew, they always lived in Suffolk.

Step 2, I extended the oral Family History with genealogy Research

I wanted to learn more about my great-great grandmother Martha Sharp so I started searching for information about her online.  I found a marriage record for her which listed her maiden name as Hall.  I then learned that Martha Hall had been born in Hertford County, in 1868, had grown up in Winton, and that her parents were Joseph and Emma Jane Hall.

Step 3, I validated my discoveries with DNA Testing

So what is DNA Testing? How does it work?  DNA testing services such as AncestryDNA, FamilyTree DNA and 23andMe will analyze your DNA and provide you information on your ancestry.  Test results tell you about your ethnic makeup and present you with a list of DNA matches to help you to identify new relatives.  Here’s how the process works.  First you chose a testing service, order a kit which arrives in the mail.  The kit comes with a cup.  You spit in the cup (your spit contains your DNA), then you send it back to the service and wait for your results as they compare your DNA to all of the samples they’ve collected around the world.  I’ve taken tests with AncestryDNA, FamilyTreeDNA and 23andMe.

Let me share a little bit about what I’ve learned about myself and my Hall ancestry through DNA Testing and what you can as well.

Here’s what I learned about my ethnic makeup

According to a recent study, African-Americans today are on average 82.1 percent African, 16.7 percent European and 1.2 percent Native American.  According to 23andMe I am 60% African, 38% European, 2.0% Native American and Asian. My individual results represent a slightly more diverse profile as compared to African Americans on average as identified in the study.   This diversity can be attributed in part to my multi ethnic Hall ancestry.  The Native American DNA that shows up in my results may also come from my Hall ancestry.

Here’s what I learned about who I am related to

As I reviewed the DNA match list which came with my results, I noticed that one of my top matches was a man named Robert Hall.  I reached out to him over email to figure out how we might be related. Turns out he descended from Richard Hall and Matilda Reynolds.  I believe Richard to be the brother of my great-great grandmother Martha Hall Sharp.

Another one of my top DNA matches was Allen Hall descendant Constance Mitchell.  I reached out to her and we started corresponding. She is the absolute best.  We haven’t figured out exactly how we are related but I’ll always be thankful to her because among other things she vouched for me so I could join the Hall Family of Ahoskie Facebook Page adroitly administered by cousin Monica Mason.  I’ve connected with so many of you and learned so much about our family from that page.

I discovered that another one of my DNA matches was Chief Wayne Brown who is Hall related.  In October I took a road trip to Ahoskie for my first Meherrin Pow Wow and I had the honor of meeting Chief Brown for the first time.

Another one of my DNA matches is Dr. Warren Milteer.  Our families lived next to each other for years in Suffolk, VA and through DNA testing we discovered that our families are also related.  Warren is a true scholar and has been an amazing advisor in helping me to uncover my Hall ancestry.  If you haven’t already, go get his book – Hertford County, North Carolina’s Free People of Color and Their Descendants.

As I reviewed my DNA matches I continued to uncover more and more connections to Halls and Hertford County.  This is why I can confidently say that I’m related to most if not all of you in this room.  It’s due to DNA Testing.  Yes many of the old Hertford County records have been destroyed (1830 Hertford County Courthouse Fire) or have gone missing.  Yes I may never figure out exactly how my 3x great-grandfather Joseph Hall is related to William, Allen and Andrew Hall.  But luckily our connection to each other has been etched in our DNA.

 As cousin McClary Hall Jr. once said to me, “It’s in the blood, it’s in the blood.”

If any of you are interested in DNA testing, I’d be happy to help.

I’d like to close by thanking the reunion committee for inviting me to speak.

One hundred twenty eight years after my great-great grandmother Martha Hall Sharp left Hertford County, it’s a true blessing to be able to reconnect with my family here this weekend at this family reunion.

Thank you and may God continue to bless the Hall Family.


My great-great grandmother Martha Hall Sharp born in Hertford County around 1868 and who grew up in Winton.  Her parents were Joseph and Emma Jane Hall.

Joseph Hall

1850 Hertford County Census record for my great-great-great grandfather Joseph Hall, father of Martha Hall Sharp.  Because only free persons were recorded in census records in 1850, it means he lived as a free person of color.  His neighbors were the Manleys and the Nickens.  I believe this means there was a familial connection between the families.  DNA clues point to this as well. I hope to uncover the connection eventually through research.

Chief Brown

Here I am with Hall descendant and DNA cousin Chief Wayne Brown at Meherrin Pow Wow in October 2015.

Richards Grandparents

My grandparents. I am a Cumbo through my grandfather and a Hall through my grandmother.

Cumbo Family Reunion Group Photos

We celebrated our 2016 Cumbo Family Reunion July 15-17 in Williamsburg, Virginia. The reunion reconnected Cumbo family branches literally  separated by hundreds of years.  The weekend brought together at least two distinct family branches who trace their ancestry all the way back to Emanuell Cambow – the Cumbees of Brunswick County North Carolina and the Cumbos of Northampton County North Carolina.

The Brunswick Cumbees were represented by Denise Cumbee Long, whose great-great grandfather was Isom (Isham) Cumbo (Cumbee), born a free man of color in 1802. Isom lived in the Green Swamp area of Brunswick County where he had over a hundred acres of farmland and started a family. Isom’s grandfather was Cannon Cumbo of Roberson County, a great-grandson of Emmanuell Cambow.

The Northampton Cumbos were represented by most of the rest of us of the reunion attendees who trace their ancestry back to Britton Cumbo born a free person of color around 1825, who was orphaned as a young boy in 1837, and who died in 1898 as the Cumbo family patriarch and who owned 50 acres of farmland.   Britton Cumbo and his wife Mary had 7 children James Henry, Junius Matthias known as “Bug”, Sarah Frances known as “Puss”, Virginia Ellen, Hezekiah Thomas, William Britton known as “Shine” and Mary Ann known as “Mollie”. Reunion attendees represented descendants of 6 of the 7 branches of the family.

Here are our some group family photos from the reunion.

Cumbo Family group photo

Cumbo Family Reunion Photo

Isom Cumbee Branch


James Henry Cumbo Branch


Junius Matthias “Bug” Cumbo Branch

Cumbo Pope


Sarah Frances “Puss” Cumbo Boone Branch



Hezekiah Thomas “Tom” Cumbo Branch


William Britton “Shine” Cumbo Branch



Mary Ann “Mollie” Cumbo Manley Branch


Mollie Cumbo Descendants 2


Meet Edith Cumbo, Nation Builder

We celebrated our 2016 Cumbo Family Reunion last weekend July 15-17 in Williamsburg, Virginia.  One of the reasons we chose Williamsburg was because Colonial Williamsburg features a historical figure – Edith Cumbo –  who is an ancestral family member.

Edith Cumbo, as far as I can tell, is my first cousin 9 times removed.  Continuing to trace back from my 5th great grandfather Britton Cumbo Sr. of Northampton, North Carolina  to our original ancestor Emanuell Cambow, the focus of my current research, will help me to confirm this.

Edith Cumbo was a mixed race, free woman of color born around 1735 to Richard Cumbo Jr., the grandson of Emanuell Cambow, and an Irish woman.  According to 18th-century Virginia law, the status of your mother determined whether you were born enslaved or free. Both of her parents were free and so was Edith.

The role of Edith Cumbo in Colonial Williamsburg was played masterfully by actor and historian Emily Jones.  We met her at the Lumber House at Colonial Williamsburg and spent the morning with her.  She walked and spun captivating stories of our Cumbo ancestors and their contributions to history.  It was amazing.

She shared how her father Richard Cumbo had fought in the the French and Indian War and for his service had been granted 50 acres of land in Williamsburg.  When he died he left his land to his daughter Edith Cumbo.  She then bought two horses and started a laundry business.  That’s right, Edith Cumbo was an entrepreneur.  She shared how Edith Cumbo, considered a “handsome” woman with means, attracted many suitors in her day, but that she never married essentially because of 18th century law.  According to the law, once a woman married, ownership of her property immediately passed on to her husband.  She went on to highlight this as the reason why she never married.  She wanted to maintain control of her property.  I’m currently reading Chernow’s epic biography on Alexander Hamilton and he cites this law as the primary reason why Hamilton and his mother, though she’d been born into a family with means, ended up destitute, because when she and her husband split, he essentially took everything.

While Edith never married, she did have a son Daniel Cumbo.  She shared how her son Daniel and many other Cumbos (John Cumbo, Michael Cumbo, Peter Cumbo, Richard Cumbo, Thomas Cumbo) as well as other free men of color served in the Revolutionary War side by side with General George Washington  at Valley Forge.  She shared how a great number of men of color fought in the war for independence, on both sides (enslaved men were offered their freedom by the British if they chose to take up arms for the Loyalist cause) and how this fact has been lost a bit in history.

She shared the significance of  historical events such as Bacon’s Rebellion. I remembered reading about the Rebellion in Zinn’s A People’s History of The United States, but Jones in her portrayal of Cumbo helped me to connect the dots on the event’s significance for our country and for my family’s history.

Bacon’s Rebellion was an armed rebellion in 1676 by Virginia settlers led by Nathaniel Bacon against the ruling class.  Prior to Bacon’s Rebellion, society was divided by class – the elites vs everyone else.  This meant that poor whites, poor free blacks, enslaved blacks and Native Americans lived togehter, celebrated together, struggled together and started families together.  This was the world Emanuell Cambow lived in.  After the rebellion ended in failure, the ruling class determined that the best way to protect its power was to divide the governed class by race – black and white, slave and free. This emerging racial caste system would further calcify through the passage of the Virginia Slave Codes of 1705. Events like this set in motion a racial divide in America which created a perilous life for my Cumbo ancestors, free men and women of color living first in colonial Virginia slave society, and then in segregated societies under the rule of Jim Crow throughout the American South.

I commend Colonial Williamsburg for making Edith Cumbo a prominent historical character and for bestowing upon her historical character Nation Builder status, equivalent to founding fathers such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

Emily Jones delivers a wonderful and enlightening portrayal of Edith Cumbo.  I recommend that you visit Colonial Williamsburg, and when you do I highly recommend that you visit with her to experience her portrayal as Edith Cumbo.




Photo Blog: Cumbo Reunion July 15, 2016

On July 15-17, over 200 Cumbo descendants gathered from across the nation and around the world in Williamsburg, VA for our 2016 Cumbo Family Reunion.  Here are photos from our Friday Meet and Greet event.

Here I am arriving in Williamsburg, quite excited.


We hosted the reunion at the Williamsburg Woodlands Hotel.  Our Meet and Greet was hosted in the hotel’s conference center.  All in all  I give the hotel mixed reviews.  If you are interested in more details I’m happy to share.


Printed Cumbo Family Tree documents and my blog posts on display for family members to review


Family starts to arrive.  Meet and Greet begins!





Family members digging into the Cumbo Family Trees and blog posts.




Here I am making introductions and covering the agenda for the weekend.




Cumbo Family Tree displays