Who was Bug Cumbo?
He was my great-great-great grandfather.
I never knew anything about him until I started tracing my Cumbo ancestry. My family’s knowledge of our Cumbo ancestry started and ended with Florence Cumbo Biggs, my great great grandmother, who turned out to be his daughter.
There is a lot I still do not know about him, for example the year he died or where he is buried. But here is what do know about him based on research. From all I can tell, he was a good man.
Beginnings. He was born around 1845 in Northampton County, North Carolina to a free family of color. His parents were Britton (born between 1818 and 1825) and Mary Manley Cumbo (born around 1822) . I know he had at least 3 brothers – one older brother James Henry, the others younger, Hezekiah Thomas “Tom” and William Britton “Shine” Cumbo – and at least 3 younger sisters – Sarah Francis “Puss”, Virginia Ellen, and Mary Ann “Mollie” Cumbo.
What’s in a name? He appeared to have gone by many names throughout his lifetime. Census records between 1850-1900 for Northampton list him as Matthias Cumbo, although the spelling (Matthias, Mate, Matthas, Mathias) varies slightly with each census record. His marriage index lists him as Junius Cumbo. I interpret this to mean that both were his names. However I’ve not found any documentation that lists both names together, or a name and initial together, to hint at which was his first and which was his middle name. He could have been Junius Matthias or Matthias Junius. On the death certificate of his son Elias Kendrick Cumbo, he’s listed simply as Bug. I take this to be his nickname. Perhaps Junius became Junebug became simply Bug.
Marriage and Family. According to the 1850 census Bug Cumbo was a 5 year old boy living in his parents Britton and Mary Cumbo’s household. Living one house away was another free family of color headed by Elias Pope, a Northampton landowner and the son of a white Northampton land owner named Jonas Pope and a woman of African descent. In 1850 Elias Pope had 7 children. His oldest daughter was listed as Louisa, age 18. Despite the significant age difference between the two, Bug and Louisa would marry 16 years later in 1866. They had four children together. Their oldest child was my great great grandmother [Elizabeth] Florence Cumbo Biggs.
Life & Death. Northampton County has a rich agricultural history and so it’s no surpise that Bug likely spent his life farming. He’s listed as a 25 year old farm laborer on the 1870 census for Northampton. He lived a few houses away from his parents Britton and Mary who owned property so he likely started out working on their farm. He could neither read nor write and according to subsequent census records he remained illiterate throughout his life. By the 1900 census he was 55 living with his son Elias and was listed as a farmer. His wife Louisa had died prior to 1900 because he is listed as widower. This is the last census on which he appears, so he likely died before 1910.
Legacy. The lasting legacy of my great-great-great grandfather lies first in his descendants, and then in a church I discovered in Rich Square, Northampton County that bears his name. According to recorded church history, Bug Cumbo donated the land on which the Cumbo Chapel Bapist Church was originally built in 1895. This offers proof that he was a land owner at some point in his life. The first paragraph of the church history reads as follows:
In the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and ninety five marks the first one hundred years of a long and rich history for Cumbo Chapel Baptist Church. The LORD has truly blessed us! The Church was founded around 1895 about one and a half miles from the present site. The site was donated by Mr. Bugg Cumbo, for whom the church was named.
Here I am visiting the church during my ancestral pilgrimage to Northampton back in October of 2015.
I’ve been in contact with the Rev. Carroll R. Dickens, Senior Pastor for Cumbo Chapel Baptist Church. He invited me to attend homecoming services in August. I hope to make it there to pay respects to my ancestor Bug Cumbo.