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:
- James Henry T Cumbo (b.1843) m. Martha Bowser
- Junius Matthias “Bug” Cumbo (b.1845) m. Louisa Pope (my 3rd ggrandparents)
- Sarah Frances “Puss” Cumbo (b.1848) m. Elisha Boone
- Virginia Ellen Cumbo (b.1850) m. Cordie Bowser
- Hezekiah Thomas “Tom” Cumbo (b.1852) m. Cherry Manley
- William Britton “Shine” Cumbo (b.1853) m. Artensia Walden
- Mary Ann “Mollie” Cumbo (b.1858) m. Jesse Anderson Manley
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.
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 (b. 1858-1892) with an unidentified boy. This is the only photo our family has of any of Britton and Mary’s seven children.