Miles Bembry was the first person that I know of in America to call himself “Bembry.” However, the name was spelled several different ways, as it is even today.
He first appears on the 1790 census of Martin County, North Carolina as “Miles Benbory.” He has two females in the household, presumably Ann Bryan Bembry and their first daughter. His four sons have not yet been born.
Close neighbors on this census include Whitnel Hill, a Revolutionary War veteran and member of the Continental Congress who owned the largest plantation in the area, with 140 slaves. Many other names that surround Miles on the census are also found on the earlier 1787 census of Martin County in District 7, with a few in District 3. Most were “yeoman” farmers with few, if any, slaves. Miles himself had just one slave in his household in 1790.
The next mention of Miles that I have found is in a Martin County deed dated 26 September 1795. He witnessed the sale of a slave, a girl named Milley, from John Hyman to Lewis Bryan for 75 pounds. In this document, Miles’ name is spelled “Bembry.” Lewis Bryan was John Hyman’s father in law. He was almost certainly some relation to Miles’ wife, Ann Bryan. Since he is found two doors away from Needham Bryan, her father, in 1787, and on the same page in the 1790 census, I think he is probably Needham’s brother, and therefore, Ann’s uncle.
Over the years, Miles is found living near a large clan of Bryans including Robert, Needham, Elias, and Hardy and others. He had many dealings with them, buying and selling land and witnessing documents. All of these Bryans lived in a part of Martin county that was Halifax county until 1774. They are associated with the community of Goose Nest, later called Oak City (map) near the border with Edgecombe County.
On 11 March 1797, Needham Bryan willed his daughter, Ann “Bembray” “…one hundred acres of land where James Bellflower formerly lived now possession of said Bembray also one Negro girl named Hannah which she now has in possession to her and her Heirs forever.” Though the will was probated in Bertie county, the only James Bellflower I can find is in Martin County, living near Miles in 1790. So, this was probably a tract adjoining or near to Miles’ property.
Hannah is likely the slave listed on the census in 1790, and was lent to Ann for her use upon her marriage, or perhaps upon the birth of her first child. She is the first of many named slaves I have found in Bembry records. I will continue to list them along with my own family history for the benefit of the many African-American Bembrys who are researching their families.
On 22 Jun 1799, Miles is mentioned in a Martin County deed in which Joel Bryant (the Bryans often spelled their names Bryant) sold 126 acres to William R. Long “…beginning south side Bellflower’s Branch at Richard Jones’ line, then to said Bryant’s line and north to Miles Bembery’s line and various courses to the first station.” The witnesses were Aquilla Long and R. Bennit (Bennet).
I have not yet identified where Joel fits into the Bryan clan. He may well have been one of the unnamed “five children” mentioned in Needham Bryan’s will. In this case, he might have inherited another parcel of land adjoining that of his sister, Ann. “Bellflower’s Branch” must refer to a creek on the former land of James Bellflower, mentioned in the 1797 deed, above.
So, by 1799, we have four different spellings of Miles’ surname: Benbory, Bembry, Bembray and Bembery! Several more will follow, before Miles settles into the Bembry spelling for good.
I hope that by telling Miles Bembry’s story in detail, I may identify patterns that will eventually lead to his origins. In my next post I will look at his activities from 1800 to 1809.