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My 5th Great Grandfather Samuel Berry – Runaway Slave

My 5th Great Grandfather Samuel Berry was born in Virginia some time around 1750.  Samuel was the son of James Cuttillo (whose name was later changed to “Old James Berry”), and a woman named Mary.  Samuel had 4 siblings :

  • James Berry, Jr. (b. 02 Oct 1719 · Charles Parish, York County, Virginia, USA) (d. abt 1800 · Elizabeth City County, Virginia, USA) – James was baptized on 06 Dec 1719 at Charles Parish, York County, Virginia.  Some time before 1740, he married Mary Hogge (b. abt 1720, d. 08 Oct 1784).  On 07 Dec 1762, James was granted administration on the estate of his deceased friend John George in Elizabeth City County, Virginia.  In August 1771, he purchased land in Elizabeth City County called Finches Dam, a tract from Martha Armistead (this land of which he transferred to his son Edward by 1780).  In 1771, James was the first Berry of African descent to become a successful landownerHe went on to assist the cause of American Independence by supplying the continental army with beef during the Revolutionary War.  James’ will was dated 07 February 1800 in Elizabeth City County.  It was proved on 27 February 1800.  He left his estate to his second wife Ann and named his son James Berry and Elizabeth Davis the executors of his estate.  James and Mary had 4 children including Elizabeth Berry Epps (b. 1743, d. 1810), Edward Berry (b. 1750, d. 1803), James Berry (b. 1769, d. unknown), and Frances Berry (b. 1777, d. unknown).
  • Elizabeth Berry (b. abt 1729) (d. unknown) – In August 1747, Elizabeth was described as a “mulatto” servant of Drury Stith in Brunswick County, Virginia. It was at this time that one of her sons, James, was bound by the Brunswick County, Virginia court as an apprentice to Elizabeth’s master.  This was common practice when a mother, especially if unwed, could not afford to care for her children.  On 28 March 1750, Elizabeth’s other child, Mary, was also bound by the court of Brunswick County, Virginia as an apprentice to Elizabeth’s master.  Elizabeth’s son James was born in 1747 and her daughter Mary was born in 1748.
  • Anne Berry Cuttillo (b. abt 1734) (d. unknown) – At the age of 16, Anne was taxable in Sarah Cuttillo’s York County household on 19 November 1750, assuming then that she was a servant to a family member. On 06 August 1754, Anne was described as, “a ‘free mulatto woman’ living in Spotsylvania County [Virginia]…when she bound her three-year-old daughter Mary Berry to Roger Dixon until the age of eighteen to learn to knit, spin and other household business.”    On 03 March 1771, Anne married Edward Cuttillo (b. 1729, son of Judith Cutillo and also Anne’s cousin).  Edward was the same man that was paid by the vestry of Elizabeth City Parish for boarding Anne’s father Old James Berry in 1765.  Anne and Edward had 6 children including Mary (b. 1751), Abraham (b. 1760, d. 1815), Edward, Jr. (b. 1763), James (b. 1767), Anne (b. 1770), and John (b. 1773).
  • Margaret Berry (b. abt 1735) (d. unknown) – It does not appear that Margaret was ever married. She had three children with the last name Berry including Anthony (b. 1754), John (b. 1756), and Thomas (b. 1757).

Records indicate that Samuel was taken as an indentured servant (not a slave) by the Harbert family in Virginia.  Samuel’s master, Mr. Harbert, was a horribly abusive man.  When Mr. Harbert died, the title to Samuel’s servitude passed to Mr. Harbert’s wife Judith, who was even more harsh and cruel.  After the death of Mr. Harbert, Samuel escaped servitude to run away and hide with the Powhatan Indians in the Tsenacommacah area of Virginia.  On 05 July 1771, there was a runaway slave advertisement in the Virginia Gazette newspaper placed by Judith Harbert of Hampton Virginia.  The advertisement depicted Samuel as a danger to society, demonizing him, and stating he was running about town committing robberies daily.  However, it was not uncommon at the time that false advertisements were posted about runaway slaves, portraying them as a robber or dangerous in some way in order to solicit help in locating them.  It may have been true, but very well may not have been.

Samuel is discussed in the book “Free African Americans of North Carolina, Virginia, and South Carolina (from the Colonial Period to About 1820), 5th Edition, Volume I” by Paul Heinegg (published by Clearfield in 2009).  If you don’t have it, I strongly recommend considering getting copies of both Volume I and Volume II.  Both can be found in the “Books” category of our online shop at

When Samuel arrived in Tsenacommacah some time in 1771, he is believed to have married a Powhatan Native American woman.    Samuel and his wife had two known sons that would have been ½ Powhatan, ¼ British, 1/8 Angola African, and 1/8 white of unknown origin :

  • Randal (twin) Berry (b. abt 1772 Virginia Beach, Princess Anne, Virginia, USA) (d. Florence, Rankin County, Mississippi, USA) – my 4th great grandfather
  • Donnell (twin) Berry (b. abt 1772 Virginia Beach, Princess Anne, Virginia, USA) (d. Mississippi, USA)


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