Nansemond Connections

For the last few weeks, I have been working on Miles Bembry’s FAN club in an attempt to finally topple that Bembry brickwall. I’ve gathered a ton of information! But I am starting to confuse myself by now, and so I think I need to take a step back to properly organize and summarize it all.

As a side note, I am starting to feel the lack of a formal education in genealogy: I suspect that if I were to take proper courses in the subject, I would be able to go about this in a more efficient way! And I would have a better knowledge of the resources available. Perhaps a project for the future.

Sally Bembry

In 1820, a Sally Bembry (clearly spelled “Bembry”) is found on the Nansemond county census. While not, strictly speaking, a member of the FAN club, she is a free white female aged 45+, making her the only other Bembry I have found who is of Miles’ generation. She could be his sister, his sister in law, or if she is very elderly in 1820, his mother.

Unfortunately, the 1790, 1800, and 1810 census records for Nansemond are missing along with most other records for the county, due to several court house fires. I scanned Nansemond land tax lists from 1782-1815 as a substitute, but could not find one single mention of a Bembry–or any name resembling Bembry. However, as I understand it, individuals were only included on the land tax lists if they owned real estate. So, Sally Bembry could have been living in Nansemond the entire time, but if she (or her husband) didn’t own any land, there might be no official record other than the census. I am really missing those probate and deed records, my usual brickwall-breakers!

There is one other record which could very well be Sally. In 1785, Elisha Darden, a vestryman of Upper Parish, Nansemond, was paid 19 shillings by the parish for “sundries furnished to Sarah Bembra.” This language usually referred to the support of orphans, or possibly, of poor widows. Elisha would have either been the financial guardian of Sarah, or possibly, as vestryman, in charge of distributing goods to the poor.

Sally was a common nickname for Sarah in those days. Furthermore, Miles Bembry is referred to in multiple documents as Miles “Bembray.” His name didn’t truly settle into Bembry until after 1810. Bembra could well be a phonetic spelling of Bembray, and Sarah Bembra and Sally Bembray could easily be the same person.

In short, I believe this Sarah is almost certainly connected to Miles in some way.


Hertford County, North Carolina is on the Virginia border nearly adjoining Nansemond County, and the Elisha Darden mentioned above had interests both counties. In fact, on the Nansemond tax lists, he is referred to at least twice as “Elisha Darden NC,” meaning that he lived in NC while owning property (and attending church) in Nansemond. Hertford is another heavily burned county, however, tax lists do survive and include many Dardens.

In 1779, David Darden, likely brother of Elisha, sold a tract on Conoho Swamp and Indian Branch in Martin County to Thomas Wiggins, another member of Miles Bembry’s FAN club. In fact, Miles himself later held tracts on the Indian Branch, which forms the border between Martin and Edgecombe counties.

A final note on Dardens: the 1812 will of Lydia Hasty in Martin County mentions a daughter, Lydia “Bembray” as well another daughter, Amy Darden. I have been unable to discover anything else about these two women, but it could well be that this is because they lived in either Hertford or Nansemond, two counties with extensive record loss. In any case, Lydia Hasty’s will shows another connection between the Darden and Bembray families.


I already knew that Miles had worked as an overseer for David McKenzie Clark of Scotland Neck, NC, and that the Bembrys, for unclear reasons, appear to have adopted the Clark “origin story.” I outlined that connection in this post. But the Clarks are also another link back to Nansemond County.

David Clark’s grandfather, the Reverend John McKenzie of Suffolk Parish, Nansemond County, died about 1754, specifying that his slaves not be divided until all his children reached their majority. This division took place in Bertie County, NC court in 1775, and a share of the slaves, which included a boy or man named Miles (followed immediately by, and grouped with, a female named Sarah), were bequeathed to the Reverend’s son Kenneth McKenzie, a prominent merchant and delegate to the NC colonial assembly. However, in 1779, Kenneth reported no slaves to the tax collector. His will, written in 1784, does not mention “negroes,” and while I have found several deeds for land transactions, I have not found any deeds for slave transactions under Kenneth’s name.

It is therefore unclear whether Kenneth kept the slaves that he was bequeathed. He may have sold, or even freed, them. When the unmarried Kenneth died around 1789, he left his unspecified estate to his four nephews by his deceased sister Janet McKenzie Clark, who were being raised by Kenneth’s brother, William McKenzie in Martin County. If there were slaves included in the estate, they would presumably have been relocated to William’s plantation on Conoho Creek, very near the Needham Bryan clan. More details here.


Ann “Nancy” Bryan Bembray inherited a plot of land from her father in 1797. It was described as “the land where James Bellflower formerly lived now in possession of said Bembray.” Ann was a few years older than Miles, and I think it is possible that she was the young widow of James Bellflower. It is not hard to imagine a scenario in which Miles was working for James Bellflower (we already know he was an overseer, after all) and that after James’ death, Ann found it convenient to marry the man who was already managing her farm. However, I have no proof of this theory.

James Bellflower (often spelled Belflour or Belfour) appears to have been the son of a Reverend William Balfour of Upper Parish (near Suffolk Parish), Nansemond County. Balfour was dismissed in 1745 for “drunkenness, profane swearing and other indecencies” and died shortly thereafter. There were also other Balfours in the area: tax lists from the second half of the century show “Belfour & Barraund” as merchants in the town of Suffolk.

Most online trees have James Bellflower as the son of William (probably because he named his own son William) but I have not seen any actual proof of this relationship. However, given that the surname is a bit unusual, it does seem reasonable to assume that James Bellflower was one of this Nansemond clan of Balfour/Belfours.


I have never been able to establish any connection between the Benburys of Chowan County and the Bembrys of Martin County. Even the African-American Bembrys of Edenton appear to have drawn their name from the Benburys, arriving, apparently independently, at the same spelling as my family.

However, while throwing darts at the wall, so to speak, on Google, I discovered that a Dr. Bryant Bembury emigrated from Tipperary, Ireland to Hertford County. Per Colonial and state political history of Hertford County, North Carolina:

“Dr. Bryant Bembury, a celebrated physician, who emigrated to American in 1783 from Clonmel County, Ireland [this is actually Clonmel, Tipperary, Ireland] and located in Hertford County where his father and his family had preceded him. Dr. Bembury died in Murfreesboro, October 15, 1809 [1808] and is buried in Winton in the family burying-ground between the court-house square and the river.”

Bryan/Bryant Bembury is indeed found in records dating from 1789 to 1808 in Hertford County.

Also, from the same volume, “The old magistrate of St. John’s, John Bembury, married Jane, daughter of Captain Frazier.”

St John’s township is located in the southwest corner of Hertford, wedged between Northampton, Halifax, and Bertie counties. This John may be Bryan Bembury’s father. I have been unable to dig up any further information about him so far.

The 1800 Hertford census shows a Benjamin “Benberry” who relocated to Caldwell County, Kentucky by 1810. This Benjamin is the right age to be Bryant Bembury’s son. Interestingly, after his arrival in Kentucky, his surname settled into “Bembray,” one of the earlier spellings of version of Miles’ surname.

A search of Irish records reveals that there were in fact a few Bemburys in 18th century Tipperary. So, despite the similar name, these Bemburys do appear to be a completely separate family from the Benburys, who arrived much earlier from England. (It’s also worth noting that the names Bryant and Benjamin do not appear at all among the Chowan Benburys.)

If Miles Bembry, born about 1770, is a part of this Bembury family, then he is either a son of Bryant Bembury’s father (likely John Bembury) or a child of Bryant Bembury who emigrated with him from Ireland in 1783.

Section of 1860 map showing the location of Hertford and Nansemond counties. From the Library of Congress.


Ann Bryan descended from a Robert Bryan in Southampton County, Virginia, which adjoins both Nansemond County and Hertford County. Therefore, the most obvious members of Miles’ FAN club–his in-laws–came from the same general area as did these other connections.

What to make of all this

There are many other members of the Bembry FAN club: the Mayos, the Wiggins, the Cains, the Dickens, the Savages, etc. Nearly all of them trace back to what we now call Southside Virginia, as did most other people in the Martin County area in the latter half of the 18th century.

Honestly, I really can’t call any of this information conclusive. However, what I am wondering is if the reason that I have been unable to break down this brick wall for so long is simply that I have been looking for records that no longer exist! If Miles Bembry came from a county with extensive loss of records, such as Nansemond or Hertford, that in itself could explain a lot.

To be continued…

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