Monday, July 1, 2013

The Ancestors Spoke: Another Longtime Brick Wall Crumbles!

State Archives of North Carolina, Raleigh, N.C.

I often tell people that when conducting genealogy research, you have to be patient yet determined.  I often say, “A major clue will often fall into your lap in due time. Don’t lose hope.”  I am thrilled to back my words up again with another major finding.  The ancestors know exactly when to send down a major clue and in a grand way. I have no doubt in my mind that the following events this past weekend were the works of the ancestors. 

In 1994, I easily traced one of my father’s family branches back to my great-great-grandfather, John (Jack) Bass, in the 1870 and 1880 censuses. He was in Hinds County (Jackson), Mississippi in 1870 and then in Warren County (Bovina), Mississippi in 1880.  According to the census, Grandpa Jack was born around 1845 somewhere in North Carolina.  My previous blog post, “Findings That Make You Go Hmmmm,” highlights the brick wall I encountered with Grandpa Jack, and how I hoped that the multiple surnames in his family will one day help me to unravel the mystery of his family roots and origins in North Carolina.

As a recap, I had found Grandpa Jack Bass’ Freedman’s Bank application back in February 2001, when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) of Salt Lake City, Utah released the Freedman’s Bank Records compact disc. (A copy of his application is in that previous post, “Findings That Make You Go Hmmmm.”)  On the application, Grandpa Jack named the following family members: father, Tom Bowden; mother, Bedy; one brother, Oscar Birdsong (a.k.a. Oscar Hatcher), and two sisters, Mimy Hatcher and Eliza Newman. Later censuses listed their birthplace as North Carolina, too. Who brought them to Mississippi? Under what circumstances? Interestingly, in 1870, two older men, who were next-door neighbors, lived near Grandpa Jack in/near Jackson: Senaker Hatcher and Jackson Bass. Senaker and Jackson were born in the mid 1810’s in North or South Carolina. Aunt Eliza Newman gave the name “Senaker” to her son.  So for over 12 years, the multiple surnames did not break down the “1870 Brick Wall,” despite the fact that a major clue was right there all along. But I chose to ignore it. Bad mistake. Let me briefly explain.

Back in 2001, I had researched the 1850 and 1860 slave schedules and censuses to see if any slave-owners with those surnames resided in Hinds and/or Warren County, Mississippi.  I had found several Basses and only one Hatcher in Hinds County. His name was Rhesa (Reese) Hatcher, who was the mayor of Jackson, Mississippi in 1869 and again from 1871-1872. I had discounted him as the possible slave-owner for two reasons: (1) He had migrated to Mississippi from Burke County, Georgia (not North Carolina), and (2) his wife Eliza’s maiden name was Coggins (not Bass, Bowden, or Birdsong), although she was also born in North Carolina. Discounting them turned out to be a mistake!

Well, I guess the ancestors knew that they had to provide more Visine eye drops, so to speak, to make me see the answer more clearly.  On Grandpa Jack’s 1871 bank application, he stated that his employer was Daniel Canon, whom I had speculated was Daniel Cameron since I did not find a “Daniel Canon” in the censuses. Daniel Cameron was born somewhere in North Carolina; therefore, my interest turned to him, even though he didn’t carry one of the surnames I had been looking for.  Was he truly the enslaver who brought Grandpa Jack, Uncle Oscar, Aunt Eliza, and Aunt Mimy to Mississippi?  The answer is a resounding NO!

Just two weeks ago, on Tuesday morning, June 18, while on break at work, the ancestors decided to nudge me. I had just written the post “Findings That Make You Go Hmmmm” two days earlier, and Grandpa Jack was still fresh on my mind. I got this sudden urge to google the name “Rhesa Hatcher,” whom I had discounted over 12 years ago.  Low and behold, the following deed transcriptions were found on the Hatcher Family Association’s webpage that was transcribed from the North Carolina Genealogical Society Journal (Volume VI, Number 1, February 1980). It was a huge eye opener!

BASS, Elizabeth of Hinds Co., Mississippi, 1 Aug 1849, appoints David A. Barnes of Northampton County, NC, attorney, to recover "a certain negro man slave for life named Henry aged about forty years which Counsel Bass late of the county of Northampton aforesaid deceased.." bequeathed to said Elizabeth for her "natural life with the remainder to my children, to wit -- Eliza J. P. Hatcher (formerly E. J. P. Coggins) [present husband of Eliza Hatcher is R. Hatcher], Mary H. Smith (formerly Mary C. Bass) and Elizabeth C. Bass.

HATCHER, Reese and his wife, Eliza J. P. (formerly Eliza J. P. Coggins, daughter of Elizabeth Bass), both of Hinds Co., Mississippi, 27 Dec 1847, appoints Elizabeth Bass of said Hinds Co., attorney, "to go to the County of Northampton in the State of North Carolina" to receive "the legacy bequeathed by Council Bass first to Elizabeth Bass during her natural life, and to the heirs of her body after her death..."

Did Elizabeth Bass’ legacy (or inheritance) include slaves to be brought to Hinds County, Mississippi in 1849?  I soon googled the name “Council Bass” and found the following excerpt in Google Books from Paul Heinegg’s book, “Free African Americans of North Carolina, Virginia, and South Carolina from the Colonial Period to about 1820” – “Will of Council Bass of Northampton County, N.C., Sept. 2, 1830. Probated Dec. 1830. Legacy to daughters, Martha Mayo, Elizabeth Bass, Charlotte Holloman, and granddaughter Susan Mary Ann Crisp, trustee Bryan Randolph; left 22 slaves to his heirs [Will Book 4:74].”

Well, who were the 22 slaves named in Council Bass’ 1830 will?  The answer to that question would be at the State Archives of North Carolina in Raleigh, North Carolina.  The timing couldn’t be any more perfect, thanks to the ancestors!  Last year, Eddie & Laurie Pratcher of Memphis, TN asked me to speak at the Pratcher Family Reunion, which was held this past weekend in Raleigh-Durham. Since I would be in town for the reunion, I decided to go early to find the answer to my question at the Archives.  Was it a coincidence that the Pratcher Family descends from a free Black man named Aaron Pratcher, who was born c. 1788 in the same county – Northampton County?!  I doubt it! You will see. It was the Pratcher Family’s first reunion in North Carolina, held over 170 years after Aaron Pratcher’s enslaved sons were taken away from North Carolina around 1840. One son Joseph was taken to Hale County, Alabama, another son David was taken to Panola County, Mississippi (Eddie’s branch), and another son Allen was taken to Lafayette Parish, Louisiana. 

I arrived at the State Archives of North Carolina on the morning of Friday, June 28. I had very high hopes. The archivist pulled a box of will records for Northampton County. They were the original papers. I retrieved the folder labeled “Council Bass, 1830”.  After 12 years, my brick wall had finally crumbled! Grandpa Jack’s mother Bedy and other names I recognized were quoted in Council Bass’ will!  I wanted to turn flips inside the Archives! On September 2, 1830, Council Bass wrote the following:

In the name of God Amen, I Council Bass being of sound mind and memory this the 2nd day of September in the year of our Lord 1830 do make and publish this my last will and Testament, as follows:

Item 1st: I give and bequeath unto my daughter Martha Mayo all my land on the north side of the Road leading from Bryans T Road to Rich Square to her and her heirs forever. I also lend unto her during her natural life the following negroes that is to say: Rose, Mima, Archie, Nancy, Alfred, Isaac, and Goodson and after her death I give and bequeath the above named Negroes to her surviving children to be equally divided amongst them to them and their heirs forever.

Item 2nd: I convey all of my land on the South side of the Road leading from Bryans T Road to Rich Square including my dwelling house with the following Negroes that is to say, Harry, Beady, Hezekiah, Jackson, and Willie unto Bryan Randolph in trust for the benefit of my daughter Elizabeth Bass during her life and after her death I give . . . the negroes Harry, Beady, Hezekiah, Jackson, and Willie unto her surviving children to be equally divided amongst them. . . . It is my will that the trustee Bryan Randolph pay unto my daughter Elizabeth Bass annually the amount of the rent of said land and hire of said Negroes after reserving what may be necessary for the support of the three old Negroes, Sharper, Rose, and Peggy which I wish to be maintained on the plantation as long as they live unto my daughter Elizabeth for her own use and benefit and the same be not subject to the order or use of her husband in any way whatever.

Item 3rd: I give and bequeath unto my granddaughter Susan Mary Ann Crisp negroes, Zina, Mary Jane, and Andrew to her and her heirs forever also one bed and furniture.

Item 4th: I give and bequeath unto my granddaughter Ann Eliza J.P. Coggins negroe Senica to her and her heirs forever, also one bed and furniture.

Item 5th: I give and bequeath unto Charlotte Holloman my daughter two negroe girls named Barsilla and Brittania to her and her heirs forever.

Item 6th: I leave all the balance of my estate that is not all ready given away to be sold by my executor for the payment of my just debts and it is my will and desire that all my Negroes remain in the care of my executor for the payment of my debts on year from the first day of January after my death, them to be delivered as heretofore mentioned after the payment of all of my just debts. It is my will and desire that the residue should there be any, in hands of my executor be equally divided between my daughters Martha Mayo, Elizabeth Bass, and my granddaughter Ann Eliza J.P. Coggins.

Original copy of Council Bass’ will, probated Dec. 1830, Northampton County, North Carolina

Making my mouth drop even wider, I also found the following petition among the estate papers of Council Bass’ father, Jethro Bass. Jethro had died in 1795 in Northampton County.  This 1795 petition was summoning Council Bass to appear before the court in regards to the estate of his late father.  The county clerk who signed the petition was a man named Eaton Haynes.  Why is Eaton important?  Eaton Haynes was the first enslaver of Aaron Pratcher’s wife Fannie and their sons.  I sat there in my seat frozen.  The ancestors had truly spoken!

Bass petition signed by Eaton Haynes, Sept. 7, 1795, Northampton County, North Carolina

Stay tuned for more posts. The Bass Family’s wills, estate papers, and other records revealed more as I reconstruct Grandpa Jack’s family tree!


  1. Wonderful, wonderful news! What a blessing and great find!

  2. It is so good when a brick wall comes tumbling down! Congratulations Melvin on your find!

  3. Congratulations Cousin Melvin, now I have to go back and begin to look anew at my North Carolina connections to see if that is a possible clue to our DNA link.

    Larry Hamilton

    1. Yes, if you have a NC connection, that may be how we are cousins. Share with me on 23andme your surnames from NC. Thanks!

  4. Melvin,

    Happy for you and your family! Must have been great news to share at your reunion. Was that Zina a lady or a man? Just curious because there have been several men in my husbands family with that name - Zena, Zeno. They are from Eastern North Carolina a couple of hours east of Raleigh.

    1. Hi Karen, Zina is female. Found her in Madison County, Tennessee, which is where Susan Ann Crisp had migrated with her husband, Lellewyn(sp?) Staton. I am not a direct Pratcher descendant, but I still shared with the Pratcher family how my Bass ancestors and their ancestor Aaron Pratcher were from the same county! ...and how their ancestor's enslaver signed off on the Bass Family's court records!

  5. Awesome... You keep me motivated to keep hitting on that brick wall.

  6. Amazing research! You are so right Never Give Up.

  7. Very impressive! The ancestral "gods" have smiled upon you once again!
    My parents, grandparents, great-grands, etc. all hail from North Carolina, in the Caswell and Rockingham county areas. I took my first trip to the NC Archives (& Raleigh) last summer. I could only stay about 4 hours because I was enroute to my class reunion in VA. But I found the staff there to be very helpful. I haven't gotten to wills, etc.yet but I've found in the 1850 and 1860 slave schedules my paternal relatives surname Gwynn [lots of variations of that spelling]. A slaveholder of the same name appears on the same page in the 1870 census as my GG grandfather, so I know I'm getting closer. I doubt if I'll have documentation in time for our upcoming Howard-Gwynn reunion the end of this month in Williamsburg, VA but I'm pretty confident that I'll have much more proof in 2 years. Surnames in Caswell and Rockingham counties are Gwynn, Howard, Badgett and Withers. To quote Michael Henderson's book title, I'm trying to get proof! Take care and keep searching!

    1. I also found the staff very helpful. Much success to you in your future research!

  8. Oh heavens, this makes me shiver! What serendipity that you had the sudden urge to Google "Rhesa Hatcher," which you had so understandably passed by 12 years ago. And all these matches came to light! Married surnames had been in the way, plus a misspelling (Senaker for Senica). And other coincidences -- that are clear only in retrospect. It all comes to light.

    Congratulations on your huge find! I'm thinking (hoping) that Google is smarter than it was 12 years ago. This is thrilling.

  9. Thank you for attending the Pratcher reunion in DC this past weekend. Your blog has be enlightening and has answered so many questions. Thanks again. Glen Fly - Cora Harper. (we were all sitting at the Nelson table - Jewel Nelson introduced us.)


Thanks for visiting and commenting on Roots Revealed!