Benjamins of NC
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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 Benjamins?".

Theory 1:
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.

Theory 2:
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 deeds.

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, “Ferryman.”


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 available records.

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

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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]

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Copyright 2001, Lewis W. Griffin, Jr.

Last Revised: 02 Jan 2015


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