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Edith Cumbo

Edith Cumbo, an independent and resourceful free black woman who lived in Williamsburg in the late 1770s, represents the challenges free blacks faced at the dawn of the American Revolution.

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Edith Cumbo (born ca. 1735) was born to a free black woman in Charles City County, Va. across the Chickahominy River from Williamsburg. Because children inherited the status of their mother, Edith was also free. She grew up with five brothers.


In the mid-1750s, Cumbo lived in Halifax County, where her son Daniel was born. She remained unmarried, but was successfully found not guilty when she was accused of having a child out of wedlock. By the late 1770s, Cumbo was living in Williamsburg as one of only a handful of free blacks living within the city. Independent and resourceful, Cumbo headed her household and may have used her housewifery skills to earn a living, perhaps as a domestic servant, laundress or seamstress.


In 1778, Cumbo took steps to protect her property and household when she took the initiative to sue Adam White for trespass, assault and battery. Her story illuminates the lives of free blacks during the American Revolution.

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