Sunday, November 4, 2012

Connecting Dots to President Obama and to People Who Lived in my Home County!

Grandma’s father, Paul Ealy (1859-1943) of Leake County (Lena), Mississippi
(Source of picture: Jennifer Smith)

Old family lore, that was written in a number of past Ealy Family Reunion booklets, stated that my great-great-grandfather, Robert “Big Bob” Ealy, was enslaved by “Masser Billy Ealy” who transported him to Mississippi.  When I was in high school, my paternal grandmother further shared with me that “Masser Billy Ealy” used her grandfather Big Bob as a breeder and he fathered many children.  According to the 1900 census, Big Bob was born in March 1814 in North Carolina.  Further research found “Masser Billy Ealy” to be William W. Eley, who was married to Frances Bass. According to census records, both of them were from North Carolina, too.  Therefore, based on oral history, when William and Frances migrated to Mississippi around 1836, they brought Grandpa Big Bob with them.  He was a young man in his early 20s at the time, and I imagine that he told his family about the journey from North Carolina to Mississippi.

Further research uncovered that William W. Eley was the son of Josiah John Eley, who died in 1820 in Franklin County, North Carolina.  Josiah Eley’s estate record revealed that on January 8, 1829, William inherited one slave, an enslaved girl named Hester.  Well, I pondered. How did "Masser Billy" come into the possession of Grandpa Big Bob?  That question quickly entered my mind when I realized that Grandpa Big Bob was not William’s inheritance from his father Josiah.  I further pondered. Maybe he was Frances' inheritance from her father, Jesse Bass of neighboring Nash County, North Carolina?  To see if this was the case, I obtained Jesse’s will and estate record from the State Archives of North Carolina in Raleigh. He had died in 1822, and Grandpa Big Bob was around 8 years old.  Low and behold, Frances had indeed inherited a slave named Bob.  Dated May 6, 1822, Jesse Bass' will documented the following:

“I give to my beloved daughter Frances Bass two negroes, John and Bob.”

Interestingly, Jesse bequeathed a total of 32 slaves to his wife Frances and 13 children.  I have little doubt that some of them were likely Grandpa Big Bob’s family members, although Jesse’s will did not provide any clues to determine which ones were his parent(s) and siblings.  The division contained the following:

Ned                        to wife, Frances Bass                        
John                       to daughter, Frances Bass (who married William W. Eley)
Gustus                   to son, Coffield Bass         
Tom                        to son, Council Bass          
Vol                          to son, Goodman Bass
Little Silva                  
Charles                  to son, Sion Bass
Hary                       to son, Jordan Bass
Big Mal                  to son, Gideon Bass
James                    to daughter, Penelope Wilhight
Dread                     to son, Edwin Bass
Fill                           to son, Isaac Bass
York                       to son, Edmon Bass
Jak                          to son, Jesse Bass Jr.
Jude                       to daughter, Elizabeth Bass             
Little Fill                    
Jinny                      to daughter, Leuzaney Bass

Jesse Bass (1768-1822) was the son of Isaac Bass and Nancy Bunch.  To my surprise, I discovered today that Nancy Bunch was from the same Bunch Family that President Barack Obama descends from on his mother’s side!  See New York Times article entitled “Obama Has Ties to Slavery….” in which researchers discovered that some of President Obama’s maternal ancestors were actually of mixed-raced ancestry who descended from John Punch, allegedly one of the first documented African slaves in the United States. President Obama’s distant relatives ‘owned’ my ancestors.  The following tidbit was noted about Nancy's father Henry Bunch (1710-1775):

According to Paul Heinegg's research on free people of color in North Carolina and Virginia, early members of the Bunch family were among the residents of North Carolina who were of mixed ancestry.  They were sometimes counted by tax assessors as white and other times as mulatto or of color. Further, Heinegg notes that Jeremiah Bunch and Henry Bunch were Bertie County slave owners who were taxed in Jonathan Standley's 1764 Bertie County list as free male mulattoes, but taxed as whites in his 1765 list and again as free mulattoes in 1766.
Digging deeper, I also obtained a copy of the will of Jesse’s father, Isaac Bass, the husband of Nancy Bunch.  He had died in 1801 in Nash County.  Dated December 27, 1800, Isaac’s will named 14 slaves who he bequeathed to his wife and children. One of the 14 enslaved people was named Bob!  Although Grandpa Big Bob was not born yet, perhaps this Bob was his father or uncle?  That’s a very strong possibility since many enslaved African American named their children after family members. Naming patterns are great clues in genealogy research.  The division of Isaac Bass’ slaves was the following:

Pomp                     lend to wife, Nancy (Bunch) Bass
Hall                         to son, Jethro Bass, after his mother’s death
Fill                        to son, Jethro Bass, after his mother’s death
York                        to son, Jesse Bass
Moll                        to son, Jesse Bass
Roger                     to son, Isaac Bass
Paciance               to son, John Bass, after his mother’s death
Bob                        to Augustin Bass
Pomp                     to Augustin Bass, after his mother’s death
Sesor                     to grandson, John Devinporte
Cate                       to daughter, Levise Lorrence

Now, take a look again at the names of Jesse Bass’ slaves above (1822).  Apparently, Jesse Bass had also gained “Fill”, in addition to York and Moll (Mal).  One can plausibly assume with reasonable certainty that “Little Fill” in 1822 was Fill’s son.  Well, another question entered my mind:  When William & Frances Eley transported Grandpa Big Bob to Mississippi, what happened to the rest of the Bass slaves?

In order to answer that question, I had to study the family tree of Jesse Bass’ children and determine their migration patterns.  I was able to garner information about the Basses from Internet sources.  Fortunately, I learned that when the Eleys settled in Leake County, Mississippi, some of Frances’ siblings settled in neighboring Madison County, Mississippi!  The amazing part about this discovery is that I grew up in Madison County in Canton. My parents made Canton, Mississippi their home when they moved there after college in the 1960s to teach school.  Could it be that some of Grandpa Big Bob’s potential family members, former slaves of Jesse Bass, ended up in my home county?  The answer is yes!

I learned that Frances’ older sister, Elizabeth Bass, married a man named Joseph Holland; they also migrated to Madison County. Elizabeth inherited Jude, Little Fill, and Peter. Just to see what I can find, I searched for any black Bass and Holland families living there in 1870.  My search yielded the following results:

(1)   “Little Fill” became Phillip/Phil Holland, who lived near Madison, Mississippi in Madison County in 1870 with his wife and children.  Chances are that Phil Holland may have been Grandpa Big Bob Ealy’s brother or a first cousin.     
(2)   “Pheraby”, who was bequeathed to Jesse Bass Jr., also ended up in Madison County.  In 1870, she was recorded as “Phebe Bass”, and in 1880, she was recorded as “Ferraby Bass”.

In 1870 in Madison County, Mississippi, Phebe Bass was in the household of Thomas & Martha J. Jones. Martha’s first husband was Isaac Bass, a brother of Frances Bass Eley.  The Jones’ next-door neighbors were Phebe/Ferraby’s son, Austin Bass, and his family.  Phebe’s birthplace was accurately reported as North Carolina.

In 1870 in Madison County, Mississippi, Phillip Holland was found with his wife and children in the same district.  His birthplace was accurately reported as North Carolina. In 1880, he was reported as "Phil Holland," age 65, and he had another daughter, Silva, who he undoubtedly named after "Little Silva" named in Jesse Bass' 1822 will.

Hopefully one day soon, I can find descendants of Phillip Holland and Ferraby Bass. Some descendants could very well be back in my home county of Madison County, probably people I already know but never knew about the possible familial connection!  Perhaps, if I find descendants, an autosomal DNA test may reveal a blood kinship? I will retain hope in solving this historical puzzle and digging further into the infamous Bunch family link.


  1. Wow! What a great post. I sure hope you are able to find those descendants.

  2. Excellent research. I bet you will find those descendants!

    1. Thanks, Sandra! Last night, I found a descendant of Austin Bass on! I sent him/her a message. Hope he/she responds!

    2. Well she did, that is my wife Allyson D. Bass McCollum. Austin would be her Great-Grandfather. We appreciate the research you have done. It is helping us further the research we have started. We are actually planning to go to Mississippi Archive this Spring and see what more we can find.

  3. You really do your homework and look at all avenues. You just opened up a whole new world of family. Continued Blessings on your Research! Good Read!

  4. Good work, as always, Melvin! I always had a feeling that your NC folks would end up being from my family's county of origin, or at least close by, and I was right! All of my folks originate from Franklin County, and we also have ties to Nash County. (My dad actually lived in Nash County with his uncle for a few years, and graduated from Nash County Training School.) :)

    As I've mentioned before, I aslo have Bass folks on my family tree, but I'm not sure of their family origins, since it's a "married into the family" situation. Donald Bass married my dad's cousin, Lucille Yarborough. I will check with another cousin to see if they know anything about the family of Donald Bass.


  5. As always I am in awe. Although, I've read and re-read this before and now I still find it amazing. Great research, Melvin. And thanks, I think the ancestors are waiting for us to all be assembled in one place before they will appear to give us the beginning of the end to this fascinating story!


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