Louisa “Lou” Pope Cumbo was my great-great-great grandmother. She was born around 1832 in Northampton County, North Carolina to a free family of color. Her father was Elias Pope, born around 1793, who was born to Jonas Pope a white man born around 1770 in southeastern Virginia, perhaps Southampton, and a woman of African descent. Elias’s wife was a woman named Sarah (or Sallie) Clark Pope but it’s unclear, based on her age and how she is handled in estate files for Elias Pope, whether she was the biological mother of Louisa or any of her siblings. Louisa had at least 11 siblings – Jonas, Olive, Lazarus, Sarah, Elias, Martha, Sidney, John, William, Hansel and Exum Pope.
I don’t have a photo of Louisa or any of her siblings. All I have to approximate their appearance is this description written within the 1851 Freedman’s Papers of her oldest brother Jonas Elias Pope. In it he was physically described as “of bright yellow complexion, five nine inches in shoes…” His complexion and likely that of his siblings were indicative of their mixed African and European family ancestry.
According to the 1850 census Louisa lived with her father Elias, his wife Sarah and her siblings. Her father Elias, by all appearances was a relatively prosperous man of color in Northampton. He is listed as a farmer who owned 65 acres of land with a real estate value of $295. It’s unclear from records exactly how Elias came to own all of this land, but estate records suggest that he might have inherited it from his white father Jonas.
By 1860 Louisa was 28 and living with her older brother Elias. The census records lists her occupation as “spinster” an 1800s term no longer used in contemporary language, for an unmarried woman who is past the usual age for marrying and is considered unlikely to marry. It’s a bit hard to fathom that society would judge woman in her twenties as unlikely to marry, but those were the times I suppose. She ended up proving the judgement of society wrong on 9 Jan 1866 when she married Matthias (also listed as Junius) Cumbo. According to the 1850 census, the Popes and Cumbos had been neighbors in Kirby Township, Northampton County, North Carolina so that’s likely how Louisa and Matthias met. One wonders how they came to know each other and choose to marry. I often wonder if they’d come to the decision themselves or it had been arranged between the families given Louisa’s perceived advancing age and the need to “marry her off”. What makes the circumstances of their marriage even more interesting is that Matthias was around 13 years younger than Louisa. They had four children together. Their oldest child was my great-great grandmother [Elizabeth] Florence Cumbo Biggs.
The most notable member of the Pope family I’ve discovered so far has been a man named Dr. Manassa(s) Thomas Pope, my first cousin four times removed. He was born in 1858 to Jonas Elias Pope Sr. (1827-1899 of Northampton NC), oldest brother of Louisa Pope Cumbo, and Permelia Hall Pope (b.1827 of Hertford NC) which would make him Louisa’s nephew.
Much of what I’ve learned about him I acquired through reading a dissertation written by Dr. Kenneth Zogry on Dr. Pope, his life, family, and legacy. Dr. Pope was a Shaw University graduate, military officer during the Spanish American War and successful surgeon. In 1902, he was one of only seven black men registered to vote in Raleigh, NC. To prevent blacks from voting, southern states like North Carolina enacted literacy tests and grandfather clauses stipulating that to be eligible to vote, your father had to be eligible to vote. Dr. Pope was a doctor and was able to handle the literacy test. What made him even more unique within his community was that he possessed his father’s 1851 Freedman’s papers (the ones I described earlier in the blog) which he produced when asked to meet the grandfather clause. States also used intimidation to deter blacks from voting. Make no mistake; by requesting that he be added to the roll of eligible voters Dr. Pope was putting his livelihood and the well-being at risk. But he stood strong and courageous in his conviction to be treated as an equal to white men.
In 1919, Dr. Manassa Thomas Pope, became the only African-American man to run for mayor of a Southern capital – Raleigh, North Carolina — in the midst of the Jim Crow Era. His home in Raleigh has been converted into a museum called The Pope House. It is the only African-American house museum in the state of North Carolina. I’ve been lucky enough to recently connect with Pope cousins who are organizing a Pope family reunion scheduled this summer which will feature a tour of Pope House. I hope to make it there.
Dr. Manassa(s) Thomas Pope, nephew of Louisa Pope
Jonas Elias Pope II, nephew of Louisa Pope with his family, provided courtesy of The Pope House. Left to right is Cora Weaver (his half sister), Mattie Reynolds Pope Weaver (his mother), Jonas Elias Pope, II, Joseph P. Weaver (his stepfather), and Joseph Willis Weaver (his halfbrother).