While digging around for Dicken deeds I ran across a deed from my 5th great-grandfather, Miles Bembry to James H Smith that I had somehow overlooked. It turned out to be an important part of the tangled tale of Kenneth Bembry, slippery politician, bits and pieces of which I have accumulated over the years, often without realizing their relevance. It’s amazing how seemingly random genealogical notes can suddenly fit together like that.
This deed also adds several more names to the list of those enslaved by the Bembry family (see below).
Background: in February of 1827, Kenneth Bembry was named guardian to his brother, Thomas Bembry’s, nephews, Matthew, Ephraim and William Dicken. (Thomas Bembry being my 4th great-grandfather and husband to Patsey Dicken). Their father, Richard Dicken, was either still in jail, had abandoned them, or was considered otherwise incompetent to care for them. (He is not found on the 1830 census, so I suspect he was in jail.)
In August of 1829, James Downing and James Biggs, who had posted bonds to guarantee Kenneth’s guardianship, attempted to sue Kenneth for mismanaging the estate, and running off with the slaves that comprised the bulk of the “property” to Florida.
The petition of James Biggs and James Downing Humbly shew to your Worships that (blank) Term of the County Court aforesaid in the year (blank) they became bound in these several Bonds as security to Kenneth Bembry who was appointed Guardian to Matthew, Ephraim and William Dicken children of Richard Dicken, that the Estate confided to his care was large and valuable, that at the time of securing said Bonds they had confidence that the said Kenneth would act with fidelity in the management of said Estate and that he was himself in good circumstances and was precedent in the management of his own affairs, but to their utter astonishment they have recently discovered that the said Bembry is not only embarrassed (?) and they believe insolvent but they have no doubt that he has left the State and taken with him (under pretense of selling his property and returning) the greater part of his property and has no intention of returning to the State.
They further charge that he has greatly mismanaged the Estate of his Wards and has converted the greater part of the _____ Estate to his own private use which amounts to large sums.
No doubt as a result of this suit, in November of 1829 Kenneth returned to Edgecombe County and presented himself in court to relinquish guardianship. He was replaced by Eli Howell, another local man of property. The results of an audit of Kenneth’s guardianship were presented in court in February of 1830. The deed below shows that Kenneth was determined to be in debt to the estate to the tune of $2,300, due 1 January 1830. He promptly skedaddled back to Florida, of course, where he was counted on the 1830 census and bought $500 worth of real estate in November of that year.
Miles and his son William Bembry, along with another man named David Williams (possibly a son in law) were left to clean up the mess. If I read this deed correctly, Miles put up 10 of his slaves to guarantee Kenneth’s debt to Eli Howell, guardian to the Dicken brothers. This debt was already past due at the time of the deed, 9 April 1831. The deed appears to be an attempt to buy time.
Edgecombe County Deed Book 20, p 129
Know all men by these presents that I, Miles Bembry of the County of Edgecombe and State of North Carolina for an in consideration of the sum of one Dollar to me in hand paid by James H Smith (of Palmyra, Halifax the County and State aforesaid) the receipt hereof I do hereby acknowledge,
have bargained sold & conveyed & by these presents do bargain sell & convey unto the said James H Smith his heirs and assigns forever the following negro Slaves, Viz,
man Dempsey, woman Moll & her two children Orange & Milly, woman Rhody & her three children Charity, Willie & Hal, woman Nancy & woman Esther
and I do hereby covenant for me my heirs Executors & Administrators to & with the said James H Smith his heirs & assigns that I have full power & Lawful authority to sell & convey the negro Slaves as aforesaid & that Im my heirs, executors & administrators do & will warrant & forever defend the title to him the said James H Smith his heirs & assigns forever against the Lawful claim or demand of all & any persons whatever
In Trust for and to the use that if a certain note of hand given to Ely Howell Guardian to the heirs of Richard Dicken for ($2300) Twenty Three hundred Dollars due the 1st day of January 1830, signed by Kenneth Bembrey, Miles Bembrey, Wm Bembrey & David Williams the said David Williams signing solely for my accommodation
therefore where the said David Williams his Executors or administrators shall request of the said Miles that the aforementioned note of hand with Interest & Costs shall be paid and the request is not complete with by Kenneth Brembry [sic] or some of the other parties before named exclusive of said David Williams
It shall & may be the duty of the said James H Smith his heirs executors & administrators or the survivors of them to sell at public sale after given due & public notice thereof for Ten days to the highest bidder the aforenamed negro Slaves Dempsy, Moll, Orange, Milly, Rhody, Charity, Willie, Hal, Nancy, & Esther
& the amount of the proceeds arising therefrom to pay over the the said David Williams or to the Extinguishment of said note of hand retaining to himself a reasonable compensation for his trouble & expense
& should the the proceeds amount to more than the said note of hand, with Interest & Costs & expenses accruing under the deed in trust the surfeit to be paid over to me my heirs Executors administrators or assigns
& it is understood between the contracting parties that if the said note in hand is paid before or at the time it is requested to be paid by the said David Williams as aforesaid or his Executors or administrators then this conveyance & every part thereof is to be void
Given under my hand & seal this ninth day of April 1831
Wits: James H McClure
proved 11 April 1831
The debt was not paid, and the enslaved people were advertised for sale in April of 1832, auction to take place on 14 May 1832 in Tarborough. Note that sales did not always actually take place as advertised, however, it seems likely, given the back story, that this one did. One can only hope that the women were sold together with their children, but I have no further record of them.
I wonder if this may have had something to do with Miles Bembry giving his grandchildren several other enslaved people in September of that same year. Perhaps he was shielding part of his estate from debt collectors? That said, I have not found any court records or deeds to indicate that he was in particularly difficult financial circumstances when he sold off his land and moved to Pulaski County, Georgia two years later to join his somewhat better-behaved sons, William and Thomas Bembry.
It appears that while Kenneth’s shenanigans surely gave Miles Bembry plenty of heartburn, they were not the ruin of him.