Saturday, June 20, 2015

Striking Gold with Freedmen’s Bureau Records on Father’s Day Weekend


Yesterday was a great day twofold, and the focus was Freedmen's Bureau Records. First, in a press conference, announced the Freedmen’s Bureau Project, which proposes to digitize 1.5 million handwritten records about former slaves and make them available for free online on a new website called They will also launch a nationwide volunteer effort to make the records searchable by indexing them by 2016. This phenomenal project is a partnership between FamilySearch, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Afro-American Historical & Genealogical Society (AAHGS), and the California African American Museum. See Angela Walton-Raji’s blog post to learn more about the significance of these records. Alice Harris, the president of AAHGS - Central Maryland Chapter, excitingly expressed, “This is a big deal!”

Indeed, this is a big deal, and yesterday’s findings was a big indication that many researchers, especially researchers of African-American roots, can expect many discoveries about their family history from these records. You see, after hearing about the press conference, I decided to browse through the Freedmen’s Bureau Records that has already digitized for the state of Mississippi. These online records are Mississippi, Freedmen's Bureau Field Office Records, 1865-1872 that can be accessed HERE. I decided to browse through the Vicksburg records first because I had paternal ancestors who lived near Vicksburg in Warren County during and after slavery. More specifically, I looked at the record set entitled Vicksburg (agent for payment of bounties). In those records I saw the name JOHN BASS. My heart skipped a beat!

For a long time, I have always wondered if my father’s great-grandfather, John Bass, who was also known as Jack or Jackson Bass, had fought in the Civil War. But I had no documental proof and no oral history about him, even though a “John Bass” was in the Soldiers and Sailors Database as having fought with the 49th Regiment of the U.S. Colored Infantry. Interestingly, this regiment was heavily active in the Vicksburg area. Was this just a coincidence? Over the past few years, I have been fortunate to unearth more details about Grandpa John “Jack” Bass, and these details include the following:

·         John Bass was born around 1845 in Northampton County, North Carolina;
·         He was born on William Britton’s farm, but legally owned by Mrs. Elizabeth (Bass) Bass of Hinds County, Mississippi;
·         He, his mother Beady Bass, siblings, two maternal uncles, his maternal grandmother, and his great-grandmother were held by a legal trust set forth by the 1830 will of his mother’s first enslaver, Council Bass. Read “Four Generations of Enslaved Ancestors Held By One Trust” for more details about this huge finding;
·         He, his mother Beady Bass, and family members were transported to Jackson, Mississippi in or around 1849, after Elizabeth Bass petitioned the Northampton County, N.C. Court to transport her “legacy” to Mississippi, where she had been residing for at least 15 years;
·         His father, Thomas Bowden, was enslaved by a neighbor, Lemuel Bowden, and remained in North Carolina;
·         He married my great-great-grandmother, Frances Ann Morris, in 1869 in Warren County, Mississippi. She and her family had been enslaved on LaGrange Plantation owned by Col. John Hebron in Warren County;
·         He worked for Col. John Hebron’s son-in-law, Daniel Cameron, in 1871;
·         He filled out a Freedman’s Bank application on January 16, 1871 in Vicksburg. A scan of that application can be seen in this post.
·         He was able to read and write. He signed his own name on his Freedman’s Bank application, and the 1870 and 1880 censuses also indicated that he could read and write.
·         He died around 1885 in Warren County, Mississippi.

In those available Freedmen’s Bureau records on FamilySearch,org, I clicked on “Roll 62, Applications for bounties, A-M, Sep 1868-Mar 1872” and decided to scroll through the applications. Lo and behold, I found the following one for John Bass! Again, my heart skipped a beat. Is this my John Bass? Well, let’s compare the aforementioned details about him with the handwritten details from this record. The following record is also dated the same day that he filled out a Freedman’s Bank application – January 16, 1871!

1871 Bounty Application (source)

·         John Bass, Corpl, I, 49, USCI (which means Corporal, Company I, 49th Regiment of the U.S. Colored Infantry)
·         Lives on Col. Hebron’s Plantation on Jackson Road about 8 miles from city (Vicksburg)
·         Is about 24
·         Was born N.C. (North Carolina)
·         Enlisted at Milliken’s Bend after Vicksburg S., Capt. Griffith (I assume “S” means “siege”.)
·         Is identified by J.H. Parker and is believed to be OK
·         Cert. 538955. Amt. $254.42
·         Fees 12.50   $241.42
·         Was mustered in before the surrender of Vicksburg
·         No Discharge; lost his discharge on the boat going to Sunnyside Ldg (Landing)

His profile in the Soldiers and Sailors Database

Comparing the information to what I already knew, there is no question that this John Bass is one and the same person – my great-great-grandfather! I literally jumped out of my seat and started doing the Carlton Banks dance again. LOL! This Freedmen’s Bureau bounty application confirmed my second ancestor who fought in the Civil War, ironically during Father’s Day weekend. My first discovered Civil War ancestor was my mother’s great-grandfather, Edward Danner (1832-1876), who fought with the 59th Regiment.

So why did Grandpa John Bass and many others receive a bounty? The U.S. military employed a Federal bounty system that encouraged men to enlist, re-enlist, and to serve up to three years. From 1861 to 1865, about $750,000,000 in recruitment bounties were distributed. Congress authorized a $100 bounty in July 1861, to men enlisting for three years. When the Enrollment Act was passed on March 3, 1863, three-year enlistees received $300, and five-year recruits got $400. These amounts were divided up and paid in monthly installments with the soldiers’ regular compensation. However, African-American soldiers and their families were commonly not treated as fairly as whites, when it came to bounties. Nonetheless, Grandpa John Bass’ application stated that he received $241.42, in which he apparently deposited into a new Freedman’s Bank account. The Freedman's Savings and Trust Company was established in 1865, by an act signed by President Abraham Lincoln, with the purpose of creating an institution where formerly enslaved African Americans and their dependents could place and save their money.

Now, it is time for me to visit NARA to hopefully learn more about Grandpa John Bass and his brave service in the Civil War. Stay tuned! In the meantime, I caught the Metro today to the African-American Civil War Memorial in D.C. to find his name. Grandpa John, your accomplishments and bravery are now duly noted by your family! Happy Father’s Day from your great-great-grandson.

This re-enactor at the Memorial gave me an idea of how the soldiers were dressed.


  1. Cousin Melvin,

    What an awesome discovery!! You are truly blazing the trails of discovery!!

  2. Melvin this is awesome!!! I am so excited about the indexing of these records and hope it will aid in my research.

  3. My ancestor Robert Hunter was also in the 49th USCT. He was there in Vicksburg and fought in the battle at Millikens Bend. I wonder if they knew each other?

  4. Your excitement is contagious !! Congratulations on such an amazing find!

  5. Your excitement is contagious !! Congratulations on such an amazing find!

  6. Your excitement is contagious !! Congratulations on such an amazing find!

  7. I can't think of a better way to commemorate your GGGrandfather than to bring his story out into the light this Father's Day weekend. I know you will be down at NARA in the next couple of days reviewing his records. Congratulations Mel!

  8. As a descendant of many Confederates, I salute John Bass and congratulate you on your wonderful find! May we retire the flags of violence and raise banners of connection and collaboration.

  9. Hey Melly Mel, My maternal great-gramdfather was also in the 49th and fought at Vicksburg and Milliken's Bend. I puzzled as to how John Howard came to be in Mississippi from Henderson, KY unless sold "down river". His military papers give his place of enlistment as Grand Gulf, MS. He was in Company B of the 49th. was wounded and died in the Soldier's Home in Dayton, OH in 1919.


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