An Alternate Theory of John Bembry’s Disappearance

I’ve been looking at families associated with the early Bembrys just to see what pops up. While perusing “Descendants of Captain John Wiggins of Martin County, North Carolina” to find out more about John and Maria Wiggins, his wife,  I ran across this alternate theory of John Bembry’s disappearance after the death of the Littleton Bryan. It originally appeared in an unpublished Bembry family history by Samuel H. Andrew, Jr.

knife fightIn May, 1831, John Bembry had been indicted in Leon County (Florida) for an Assault and Battery on Littleton Bryan (likely a kinsman of either his or Maria’s or perhaps both). Littleton Bryant soon died of from infection or from wounds received in the altercation. Though no legal disposition of this case has been found, it seems incredible that that the Sheriff would have had trouble locating John Bembry anytime in 1831. He would have moved to south Georgia accompanied by a considerable entourage, including a wife and five children, several slaves, wagons loaded with plantation equipment and two millstones. Such a caravan could not easily have “stolen away in the night” as was represented in a Territorial Governor’s Proclamation published in a Florida newspaper of the day. Many Leon County people must have known where John Bembry went with his family….

We believe the reported altercation was a family fight, which left room for a plea of Self Defense on John’s part, consequently, the charges may have been dropped. However, John Bembry went through a somewhat unusual process in 1834 to dispose of all his earthly goods in which he deeded all he had owned to his wife and children, but we have been unable to find his date of death. He did not appear as a head of family on the Georgia Census of 1840, nor was he mentioned when the children divided the John Bembry Estate after Mariah died about 1848. Did he, like so many others of his day, cut out for Texas or parts unknown?

Our opinion is the answer is no, for there are two unmarked but concrete covered graves side by side on the old Millwood Burial Plot, which should be the graves of John and Mariah. Lillian Parnell, Great Grand Daughter, believed this to be true. We think John Bembry died about 1834, and that he had settled his property by Gift Deeds to avoid the legal entanglements of Probate. Later, in Georgia Genealogical Magazine, there appeared an obituary on Charles D. Burton, born in North Carolina but dying in Millwood at the “home of Mariah Bembry”, and Doctor David Scarborough, a son-in-law of Mariah, became his Administrator. This Burton has not been researched but he leaves questions. Was he a cousin of either John or Mariah, or was he a name taken by John Bembry to avoid extradition to Florida?

On another hand, Burton could have been overseer on the Bembry Plantation, for his signature appeared as witness on John Bembry’s Deeds only several months before he died. Our great difficulty in finding record of John Bembry’s death is not usual for old County Archives, particularly on a fairly prominent resident. But Millwood* was relatively distant from other Dooly County settlements, and at least two of its men knew enough law to draw up Deeds and have them witnessed. We do not intend to imply there was collusion, for we do not have the facts, but in view that John Bembry and David Scarborough had both been born in North Carolina and came to Georgia from the same neighborhood, such a little deception might have occurcd to them as friends, and they could have “pulled it off.”

* Note that “Millwood” is the name of the Dooly county plantation and mill that John Bembry established on the Tucsawhatchee creek and the small settlement that grew up around it. This creek is located southwest of Hawkinsville, and is currently in Pulaski county, or at least most of it is. However there have been some boundary changes since the 1830s. I think the plantation must have originally been located near the county line, and that land has since been added to Pulaski county.

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