Sorting out the Benjamin Culpeppers of early
Edgecombe County, NC
By Lew Griffin
6 Apr 2001
Records in early Edgecombe County, NC, show that three men named
Benjamin Culpepper were living there at one time or another between the
late 1730’s and the mid-1750’s. One is known to have died in 1746,
since a fragment from his estate has survived. A second Benjamin died
there in 1772. A third Benjamin was mentioned in a deed with the second
one, in 1752, in which one was referred to as Benjamin, Sr., Ferryman,
and the other, as Benjamin, Jr.
The question, which has yet to be conclusively resolved, is how were
these three Benjamin’s related to each other, and to Joseph Culpepper
of early Edgecombe.
The theories postulated below replace the previous theory published July
1999 on this site under the title of "One or Two
Joseph was father of Benjamin d. 1746 and brother of Benjamin d. 1772
One possibility is that the Benjamin who died in 1746 was the son of
Joseph Culpepper. This would mean that the Benjamin who died in 1772
must have been the brother of Joseph, and the one called “Ferryman”
in the 1752 deed. And the one called “Ben, Jr.” in that deed, must
then have been the Ferryman’s son.
This version explains the facts well enough, and also allows the
placement of William Culpepper as Joseph’s son. William lived near
Joseph’s known sons, and often appeared in early records with them.
However, this theory also has its drawbacks. One is the complexity
that it generates. In order to include all known individuals in this
theory, it requires that Joseph, and his brother Benjamin who died in
1772, each must have had two wives, and a set of children by each wife.
While this cannot be disproved, neither can it be proved, as the records
are silent in this regard.
Furthermore, this theory does not fully explain all the land
transactions. It assumes, as would certainly have been possible, that a
couple transfers of land, between family members, were never recorded.
So while this theory is plausible, the complexity of relationships
that it presumes, without supporting evidence, and its failure to
explain all the land transactions, weighs against it.
Joseph was brother of Benjamin d. 1746
This brings us to a second, and to me, more likely theory. In this
theory, the Benjamin who died in 1746 was the brother of Joseph. Both
Joseph and his brother Benjamin had sons named Benjamin, and these were
the two individuals exchanging land in the 1752
deed. Unfortunately, it
is currently impossible to tell which cousin was selling land to which,
in this deed.
This theory does a better job of explaining all the land
transactions, as it assumes (without confirming proof, however) that
Joseph’s eldest son was Benjamin, and that he therefore inherited land
from Joseph by right of primogeniture1.
And likewise, it assumes that Joseph’s brother, Benjamin, also named
his eldest son Benjamin, and that this Benjamin also inherited land by
right of primogeniture from his father. This eliminates the need, as in
the previous theory, for assuming the transfer of land by unrecorded
While there are still no deeds recording the transfers of land, at
least there is a logical explanation.
More convincing is the simplicity of relationships this theory
permits. Both Joseph and his brother Benjamin are married only once.
Most or all the extra children from the era, who by necessity had been
assigned to unknown first wives in the previous theory, can now be
assigned to Benjamin who died in 1746.
Perhaps one drawback to this theory is that William is no longer a
son of Joseph. Since Benjamin was Joseph’s eldest son, and had
inherited his land by right of primogeniture, he should have been the
only child not mentioned in his mother Martha’s will. William’s
absence from that will suggests that he must have been the son of
Benjamin, or of Robert Culpepper, Jr. , who himself remained in Norfolk
County. However, his close association with Joseph’s family can still
be explained, by postulating that William married Joseph’s daughter,
Sarah. Sarah’s spouse is otherwise unknown, William’s wife was
indeed named Sarah, and marriages between first cousins were common at
the time. This would also help explain why naming conventions in
William’s family were similar to those in Joseph’s family.
Under Theory 2, which young Benjamin was which?
As mentioned above, the real dilemma with this theory concerns the
two young Benjamins, sons of Joseph and Benjamin, respectively. In a
perfect world, the deeds regarding the Culpepper family land on Fishing
Creek could have easily solved this problem for us. Unfortunately, one
of the key deeds, in
1741, has survived only in transcription. And
either it was so poorly recorded originally, or so badly transcribed by
a later clerk, that it fails to give an accurate and adequate
description of the land involved in the deed. So it is impossible to
tell if this deed represents the east half, or the west half, of the
original Fishing Creek property. And curiously enough, the identity of
the two young Benjamins could have been resolved entirely by this one
fact, which is missing.
So until further information comes to light, anyone’s guess is
probably as good as mine. My current opinion is that the Benjamin who
died in 1772 was the son of the Benjamin who died in 1746. And that he
was the “Ferryman” mentioned in the 1752 deed. This is pretty much a
matter of personal preference on my part, as the way the family story
unfolds, given this assumption, seems more likely and reasonable to me.
Also, this places the young Benjamin, whose family naming conventions
most closely match those of Joseph, as the son of Joseph. The name
“Joseph” does not occur at all in the family of Benjamin Culpepper,
This article is just a brief overview of some of the issues regarding
the Culpeppers of early Edgecombe County. Needless to say, it would be
difficult to cover both of the above theories, in the articles for each
individual mentioned, in the Family Tree section of our web site.
So I’ve chosen to present the material with a slant, based on my
own opinions and my own views of what is most likely. But all available
evidence will be included in each article after the April 2001 family
tree update, and anyone interested is encouraged to study our currently
Constructive new information and new ideas are always appreciated.
Please contact Lew Griffin.
Related Article: An Analysis of the Deeds
Relating to the Culpepper Tract on Fishing Creek in Edgecombe County, NC
1. In North Carolina, prior to an inheritance law
passed in 1784, if a deceased father had no will, his oldest son was
considered "heir at law" and thus inherited all the land under
what was called the "rule of primogeniture." [return]
|Copyright 2001, Lewis W. Griffin,
02 Jan 2015