The Cumbos of Halifax, NC & the Famous Massachusetts 54th Colored Regiment

A Cumbo descendant found my blog and reached out to me recently, seeking guidance on tracing her Cumbo ancestry. Research on her possible ancestry led to Hilliard and Sarah Cumbo and uncovered some interesting discoveries.

1. There were Cumbos in Halifax County, North Carolina.

I can only find a few records on Hilliard Cumbo.  The key one that ties him to Halifax County is his marriage record to a woman named Sally Meacham on 11 January 1859 in Halifax.  Unfortunately, the marriage record doesn’t list his birth date or the names of his parents.  This is the first time I’ve come across a Cumbo in Halifax.  All of the Cumbos I’ve come across in the early 1800s  in Northeastern North Carolina have come from Northampton and Hertford Counties.  Here’s all of the Cumbo households in NE North Carolina from 1790-1820 according to US Census records.  What I’m guessing based on research is that 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. So perhaps Hilliard Cumbo was originally part of one of these Northampton or Hertford households and headed south west to Halifax county in search for land and opportunity.


Cumbo, Cannon 5 Northampton County


Cumbo, Matthew 5 Hertford


Cumbo, Phoebe 4 Northampton Co. p716


Cumbo, Britain 301-001 Northampton County page 222 (my 5th great grandfather)

Cumbo, Henry 01- Northampton County page 222

Cumbo, John 01- Northampton County page 220

Cumbo, David (Males crossed out) -111 Hertford County p 186

Cumbo, Matha 0001-211 Hertford County page 188

Map of North Carolina by County.  Halifax County borders Northampton and Hertford counties west and south.

2. From Halifax, North Carolina to Michigan

The only other records I could find on Hilliard Cumbo were death records for his children – Mary Cumbo Ampey, Louisa Cumbo Bolden, Dudley Cumbo.  According to the records, all were born in Halifax County in the 1840s and 50s and died in Michigan.   The death records reveal that the Hilliard Cumbo family likely migrated from Halifax, North Carolina to Michigan sometime after the 1850s prior to the Civil War.  The Cumbos were not alone.  They were part of a wave of migration of free people of color families from the Carolinas and Virginia to the Midwest – Michigan, Indiana and Ohio.  In the early 1800s the Cumbos, Newsoms and Manleys, among other families, migrated from Northampton NC to become the first families of color to settle in Logan, Ohio.  In the 1830s, the Roberts family of Northampton County, free people of color, migrated to Hamilton County, Indiana and established the Roberts Settlement.   A brief account written by Hamilton McMillan in “The North Carolina Booklet: Great Events in North Carolina History, Vol. 13” published in 1913 by the NC Daughters of the Revolution, ties the Croatan Indians (now Lumbee) to families in Indiana and Michigan in the mid-1800s.

1903 Michigan death record for Dudley Cumbo born in 1854 in Halifax County, North Carolina to Hilliard and Sarah Cumbo.

3. Cumbo connection to the Massachusetts 54th Colored Regiment

Give ‘em Hell, 54…” – From the Film Glory

This was one of my all-time favorite lines from one of my all-time favorite films.  The 1989 film Glory, starring Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman and Matthew Broderick, is about one of the first Army Units during the Civil War– the Massachusetts 54th – made up exclusively of people of color.  Well it turns out that one of Hilliard and Sarah Cumbos’ daughters, Mary Cumbo, married a man named Isom Ampey, who served in the Massachusetts 54th.  He was born in Wayne County, Indiana to formerly enslaved parents from North Carolina.  After the civil war he moved to Michigan and married Mary Cumbo in 1866.  They settled in Bloomfield, Michigan and raised 5 children.  He was a prominent member of his community and served in various public offices until his death in 1905.

Photo of Private Isom Ampey, Company K, 54th Massachusetts Infantry and husband of Mary Cumbo.

So where do we go from here?

As a next step, I’ve encouraged the Cumbo descendant who reached out to me to DNA test.  Hopefully that can help us establish a connection between the Cumbos of Halifax County and Cumbo descendants of Northampton or Hertford County.  Stay tuned.


  1. Hi Andre..have you ever seen the name Seldon… Chester….Thornton ….Bellamy…Crowell….Johnson …Wade ..Townsend….in your research…..the name Cumbo…could it have been changed for Mozombo..or Mizombo or spelled in a similar fashion…I really appreciate your time… I am Carol Althea Seldom on Facebook…..

  2. I enjoyed your research. I have done research on David Pone Sr, Revolutionary War Veteran, born in SC moved to NC after the war- Lumbee area.

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