The 7 Cumbo Tribes of Northampton, North Carolina

There were seven Cumbo Tribes of Northampton County, North Carolina. The biblical Abraham of our tribe was my great-great-great-great (4x) grandfather Britton Cumbo Jr who was born free colored in Northampton County around 1825. According to Northampton County Court records Britton Cumbo Jr. was orphaned as a young boy:

Monday, June 5th, 1837 Ordered by the court that Britton Cumbo, a boy of color about twelve years of age, orphan of Britton Cumbo Sr be bound an apprenticeship to Jesse Morgan who entered into bond in the penalty of two hundred dollars conditioned with Henry Deberry and Kinchen Powell securities.

By the time he died around 1898 he was a land owner and family patriarch. All Cumbos who trace their ancestry back to Northampton County likely descend from one of his 7 children.

Starting a Family.  On January 24th, 1842 Britton Cumbo Jr. married Mary Manley in Northampton County and they started a family together. Manley (also spelled Manly), along with Cumbo, represents a core surname for free colored families who lived in Northampton between the Colonial period through the Civil War.  By the 1850 census for Northampton County, Britton and Mary have 4 children and he is working as a farm laborer.

Land Ownership.  How Britton Cumbo Jr. became a land owner is still a mystery to me.  He likely didn’t own property in 1850.  I’ve not even been able to locate his family in  1860 census records.  The Civil War started in 1860 and the Cumbos were a free colored family living in North Carolina, so it’s understandable to me why they might have made themselves inconspicuous. By 1870 he’s listed on the census twice, first under dwelling #170 with a real estate value of $450 and a second time under dwelling #250 with a real estate value of $360.  How did Britton amass all of this land over that time-period?  Perhaps he’d been saving since his days as an apprentice.  Perhaps he inherited the land.  I know from court records that his father Britton Cumbo Sr’s estate was sold off to repay debts, so perhaps Britton inherited land through his mother.  This is an open question which I continue to research.

Potecasi.  Britton’s land was located in the town of Potecasi. The name had passed down in my family, but over generations it had become “Pultey Casey”.  Only through research did I discover the original name.  Potecasi is an Algonquian phrase meaning “parting of the waters”. The Potecasi Creek originates in Northampton County and flows east into neighboring Hertford County where it empties into the Meherrin River.  This creek not only connects the two counties but connected two historic North Carolina free communities of color. Just as the free colored community of Northampton was concentrated along the eastern border of the county, Hertford’s free colored community was concentrated along its western boarder within the township of Murfeesboro and extended east into the Winton township. The Cumbos settled into Hertford as well.  The root of the Hertford Cumbos traces back to a man named David Cumbo who was born around 1798 and who lived his life in Hertford.  What I’ve observed is that for many of his descendants, over time, the  family surname name morphed from Cumbo to Combo. I have a number of distant DNA matches who descend from David Cumbo so I believe Britton and David were related, likely connected by a common Cumbo ancestor who lived a generation or two prior in colonial Virginia.

The Seven Tribes.  Britton and Mary Cumbo had 7 children.  These children would grow up and  marry into the Bowsers, Popes, Boones, Waldens and Manleys, all core surnames for free colored Northampton families.  Most of Britton and Mary’s children remained in Northampton County.  Many branched up or down into neighboring townships such as Conway, Roanoke and Rich Square. One followed the Potecasi Creek in to Hertford.  Their children were:

  1. James Henry T Cumbo (b.1843) m. Martha Bowser 
  2. Junius Matthias “Bug” Cumbo (b.1845) m. Louisa Pope (my 3rd ggrandparents)
  3. Sarah Frances “Puss” Cumbo (b.1848) m. Elisha Boone
  4. Virginia Ellen Cumbo (b.1850) m. Cordie Bowser
  5. Hezekiah Thomas “Tom” Cumbo (b.1852) m. Cherry Manley
  6. William Britton “Shine” Cumbo (b.1853) m. Artensia Walden
  7. Mary Ann “Mollie” Cumbo (b.1858) m. Jesse Anderson Manley

The Cumbos of Northampton

Other children?  Two other children Margaret and James Cumbo show up in Britton and Mary’s households in 1870 then disappear in subsequent censuses.  They also do not show up as heirs in Britton Cumbo’s estate files in 1899 so I believe that they were relatives, perhaps a niece and nephew, living with Britton and Mary for a time.

Final Years. By 1880 Britton and Mary were an elderly couple living with their last daughter Mary and two of their grandchildren Noah (orphaned son of their first born James Henry who died as a young man) and “Mattie B” (Mary Bethenia Bowser, daughter of Virginia Ellen Cumbo and Cordie Bowser).  While Mattie was technically Britton’s granddaughter they were quite close and he referred to her throughout her life as his own daughter.  Remember this because after the death of Britton Cumbo Jr., family patriarch, Mattie B would find herself at the center of a family fight over the Britton Cumbo Jr. estate, which I will detail in an upcoming blog post.  Mary died prior to 1887 and Britton died in 1898.

1880 Census

Reuniting the Tribes. Through DNA testing I’ve connected with descendants from all 7 branches of the Britton and Mary Cumbo family.  We are all coming together along with other identified Cumbo family branches for a Cumbo Family Reunion July 15-17 in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia where we are Reuniting Branches and Generations.  I can’t wait.

Hezekiah Thomas Cumbo

Hezekiah Thomas Cumbo (b. 1858-1892) with an unidentified boy.  This is the only photo our family has of any of Britton and Mary’s  seven children.


  1. Andre, that is some very excellent research on our Genealogy. It, is amazing for one like me who really wants to understand/ picture or connect the dots. Visualizing our heritage as free people of color going back centuries in these rural areas of Northampton, Hertford, Bertie, Halifax, Perquimans, Chowan counties in NC on the VA border. Artensia(Sis) Walden b. abt. 1862 is my gg mother Elizabeth Sue(Betty Sue) Walden’s Sister,born abt. 1870. Now, on to the Manley lines. One of my gg father’s is Bryant Manley born abt. 1840 married Charlotte Canada/Canady/Kennedy/b. abt. 1842. Thus, they spawn abt. Ten off-springs: Margaret Manley-b. abt. 1868 married William P. Scott b abt. 1865 is the brother of one of my gg mother’s “Rebecca Scott-Harvey” who married “William H. Harvey” , “Polly Manley”-my gg mother b. abt. 1871, “Connie Manley”, b. abt. 1873, “Joshua Manley”, b. abt. 1875, “Wm. T. Manley” b. abt. 1877. It appears some of their children are missing of course due to apprenticeships, death, or did not live in household any longer. These Manleys lived close to or along the Potecasi Creek from Northampton Co. into Hertford Co. Again, double kin and triple kin to people in our Tribe it appears. Thus, I related via , Pope, Walden, Manley who married Cumbos. Wow, it is mindboggling sometimes to wrap one’s mind around how close we are to each other.

  2. Are any of the people found in southern VA, particularly Halifax Co, and surnamed Cumba, Cumboe, or Cumby related to your people?

    1. Yes I believe they are related to my people. My Northampton, NC Cumbo ancestors descended from Cumbos from VA. Also over the years Cumbo family branches developed their own variation on how the name is spelled but they all trace back to a set of common ancestors from VA.

  3. Andre, I follow a number of genealogy blogs and think yours is especially valuable — not just because your family narrative is compelling but because you have an educator’s sense of how to present information. Subheadings, maps, photos — you have a terrific understanding of the visual cues and organizational tools that communicate essential information.

    Sometimes I start reading a genealogy narrative and it isn’t long before I say to myself “you lost me.” I know that in the immediacy of blogging, a post is often so full of passion over a new discovery that the writer just dives in and maybe assumes the readers can follow. It is such a relief to encounter material that has been organized with an understanding of your audience!

    1. Thank you so much. I’m trying to share an essential family discovery in the context of history enabled by genealogy with each post, but sometimes I get anxious that they are too elemental for the sophisticated and technical audience I share them to. Thanks for the validation that I’m doing okay!!!!

  4. sorry, we missed the Cumbo reunion, my gg grandfather was William Combo and my gg grandmother was Martha Newsome, my g grandfather was John W. Combo, and my g grandmother was Annie Hall, my grandfather was Johnnie Wm. Combo , my grandmother was Isadora Smith, they were all from Cofield, NC and Hertford County.

    1. Belinda, Annie Hall’s father Richard Hall was my gg grand uncle, brother to my gg grandmother Martha Hall. Hope to meet you at the Hall family reunion next weekend.

  5. Excellent work Andre! I appreciate it so much. The map is so helpful. You mentioned that the only pic we have of the 7 is Hezekiah but I thought we also had Mary and James Henry? Isn’t that right? Please correct me if I’m wrong.

    1. Hi The photo of James Henry Cumbo that you’ve seen is an ancestral cousin from Jones County NC. Our uncle James Henry Cumbo of Northampton was a different man and unfortunately we don’t have a photo of him. We don’t have a photo of Mary “Mollie” Cumbo Manley. We do have a picture of Mary Cumbo who is the daughter of William Shine Cumbo.

  6. Hello to all !!! My name is Alan Gillian Jr and Bryant Manly , is my GG Grandfather. My Great Grandfather’s name , is Henry C Manley and his son , Henry Miles Manley , was Henry Miles Manley. Thanks for all the information, Cousins!!!!

      1. Alan, Pleasure to meet you. Were your Manleys originally from Northampton County? Where were Bryant and Henry from? When were they born? Answers to these questions will help me figure out how our family trees might connect. I look forward to hearing back from you. Best, Andre

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