Thomas Bembry Goes Off the Reservation

My latest project, since I got my tree tidied up, has been going through Edgecombe County, North Carolina court minutes on Family Search. This is about as exciting as you might expect. Thankfully, the court clerks had excellent handwriting! (Actually, it’s not that bad, I feel like I am reading a soap opera script about a small town where everyone is related to each other.)

The search is paying off, as I have found dozens of mentions of Miles Bembry in the records, and many mentions of his sons Thomas and Kenneth as well. Miles frequently served on juries, as did Thomas and Kenneth on occasion. All three of them had a particular talent for getting sued–and losing!

One case that stands out is a “bastardy bond” filed by Edith Carlisle against Thomas Bembry during the May court in 1830. A bastardy bond was a commonly used method of providing support to illegitimate children: the father of the child was required to pay for childbirth expenses and support until the child turned 6 years old, at which point he or she could presumably be apprenticed and earn their keep.


Thomas Bembry who is charged with having begotten a Bastard child on the Body of one Edith Carlisle entered into Bond in the sum of £100 with Miles Bembry + James Downing sen’r securities to provide for the support and maintenance of said Child to the indemnification of the County.

Ordered that Thomas Bembry pay down to Edith Carlisle the sum of Fifteen Dollars for lying in expenses of a Bastard Child begotten on her Body by the said Bembry and that he also pay her Ten Dollars for the next succeeding six years commencing from this Term.

$15 the sum ordered to be paid down into Court + paid to Edith Carlisle.

It’s worth noting that Thomas was still married to Patsy Dicken, mother of his first few children, when he did the deed. So, he was most definitely “off the reservation” at the time!

Who was this Edith Carlisle? A previous deed provides a clue, along with census records.

In 1810, when Miles Bembry first moved to Edgecombe County, he bought 728 acres from Joseph Bell, and then two months later an additional six acres from Robert Carlisle “along the new road to the Indian Branch.” It is highly likely that this small plot of land was purchased in order to gain access to the new road, which would mean that Robert Carlisle was Miles Bembry’s next door neighbor.

Miles Bembry moved to Edgecombe just after the 1810 census was taken, however, Robert Carlisle is found living among many of the same people that were Miles’ neighbors later, as evidenced by many deeds and the 1820 census (the James Downing listed in the bond above is one of them).

In fact, a Martha Carlisle is found living just a few doors away from Miles in 1820: she is almost certainly the widow of Robert Carlisle.

Martha has a free white female aged 10-15 in her household on the 1820 census, making her 20-25 in 1830 when the bastardy bond was filed. Of course this is not proof, but it is likely this girl, a neighbor that Thomas Bembry would have known since he was a young boy, is Edith Carlisle.

And so, I can add another surname to the family tree—along with a fun story!

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