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!



  1. Andre,
    Your stories are always so clearly written. I am very much enjoying this post detailing your use of a “cluster study,” and how you are interpreting the results. It is a very time consuming method, and not everyone has the ability to focus this way.

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