One of the most common mistakes found in genealogical research is conflating multiple people into a single person. In an earlier blog post about my 5th great-grandfather Sherwood Harris (son of Edward Harris and Sarah Chavis), I discussed how even the War Department conflated the records of multiple men who shared the same name: Sherwood Harris. So it is understandable that in Paul Heinegg’s massive research on all “free colored people” from colonial times in the American South, he would likely commit a few of these mistakes.
One such error comes from Heinegg’s discussion about a man named Willis Bass (b. 1792). (Heinegg suggests his birthdate is 1787 but I have records which indicate 1792). By carefully reviewing the records that Heinegg provided and finding additional records to corroborate my suspicions, I am able to update and correct important info on Willis Bass. If you are a descendant of Willis Bass or just researching him, you will definitely want to update your records after reading this blog post. Most researchers use Heinegg’s material so hopefully he will update his website with this new info that I have provided.
Heingg’s Research on Willis Bass (b. 1792)
James Bass (b. 1760) is who Heinegg suggests is the father of Willis Bass (b. 1792) of Granville County. Heinegg included a number of very helpful primary source documents for James Bass. We see he lived in Norfolk Co, VA for most of his life and later moved out to Tennessee where he filed a Revolutionary War pension application. What you do not see is a single record of James Bass in Granville Co, NC. Children do certainly move away from their parents at some point but to not have a single record for James Bass in Granville Co should immediately throw up some red flags. Let’s take a closer examination of the records.
We see that in the 1801 tax list for Norfolk Co, VA James Bass is listed with the names of members of his household. Included in his houshold is a Willis Bass, which is solid proof that James Bass had a son named Willis Bass. This tax list is the only record provided for the Willis Bass of Norfolk Co, VA. I do find James Bass in the Bedford Co, TN census records starting in 1820 and he is there along with several other “free colored” Bass head of households. These are most likely James Bass’ children and other close family members. If his son Willis Bass survived childhood and did move away from Norfolk Co, VA, he likely would have relocated with his family to Bedford Co, TN. So the Willis Bass of Norfolk, VA coming to Granville Co, NC just doesn’t make much sense or fit into the general trend for James Bass’ family. Let’s look at the records available for the Willis Bass of Granville Co.
Willis Bass (b. 1792) Apprenticeship Records
The earliest records that I found for Willis Bass are not included in Heinegg’s research. Ancestry recently made available to their members, Wills and Probate Records for North Carolina and included in the Granville County folder are also apprenticeship records. These records have been an incredible aide for me to verify or disprove genealogical relationships.
On 8 May 1801, Willis Bass, age 9 years, was bound out to John Irby. On the exact same day, Racey Bass, age 11 years, was also bound out to John Irby. John Irby (1780-1841) was a resident of the Abrams Plains district of Granville County. This is an important detail because Willis Bass and Racey Bass are later shown living in the Abrams Plains District after their indentured servitude was over.
The fact that Willis Bass and Racey Bass were bound out on the same day to the same person is strong evidence that they were siblings. Often times the courts would send out orders requesting that the children of a specific individual, be required to report to court to be bound out. But who were Willis and Racey’s parents? The Granville County court minutes, reveal that a few years earlier in May 1798, Racey Bass, was called the son of Milly Bass who was the wife of Pearson Hawley. The identified gender of Racey Bass is odd because the 1801 apprenticeship order to be bound to John Irby, identified Racey Bass as a female. However after reviewing additional primary source records, I can confirm that Racey Bass was a male.
So who was Milly Bass? According to the court minutes, Milly Bass (b. 1772) was the wife of a Pearson Hawley (b. 1770). This means that siblings Willis Bass and Racey Bass were born to Milly Bass before she married Pearson Hawley. Pearson Hawley was their stepfather, but not their biological father. And this explains why Willis Bass and Racey Bass were bound out because it was common for children born out of wedlock to be apprenticed out. Pearson Hawley is found in the Granville Co records beginning in 1791 and is in the 1800 census, head of a household of 5 “free colored” people. He is from the Saponi/Catawba Indian Hawley family that I previously blogged about here. The 1800 census is the last time I find Pearson Hawley in the Granville records, so I’m unsure of what later happened to him or his wife Milly Bass.
Milly Bass (b. 1772) was the daughter of Benjamin Bass (1722-1802) and his wife Mary Bass (born 1722). The Granville County bastardy bonds show that Milly Bass had children out of wedlock and that it was Jesse Chavis (1766-1840) who fathered those children. *** After initially publishing this blog post, I made additional discoveries that you can read here, which reviews the evidence that supports Jesse Chavis being the father of Milly Bass’ children. I highly recommend you read this update on the identification on Jesse Chavis. ***
On 5 Aug 1803, Willis Bass and Racey Bass were bound out again to John Irby. I’m not sure why multiple apprenticeship orders were needed but it shows the pattern of siblings being bound out on the same date.
Willis Bass (b. 1792) in the Granville Co Census and Marriage Records
So if Willis Bass was bound out as a boy in Granville Co in 1801 and 1803, how could he be the son of someone who was living in Norfolk Co, VA during that time? The answer is that Willis Bass was not the son of James Bass of Norfolk Co, VA. And the apprenticeship records and court minutes of Granville Co identify the mother of Willis Bass and Racey Bass as Milly Bass.
The next time we find Willis Bass in the records was on 4 Jan 1809 when he married Olive Chavis. He was then counted in the 1810, 1820, and 1830 censuses for Granville Co. He lived in the Abrams Plains district which is a district in far northern Granville Co, immediately next to the Virginia state border. And this is the same district that he lived in when he was bound out to John Irby. Willis Bass’ 1810 household consisted of three people – himself, wife Olive, and a child. His brother Racey Bass was enumerated right next to him, head of a large household of 9 people. Willis Bass’ 1820 household consisted of 9 people (himself, wife Olive, 5 boys and 2 girls). His brother Racey Bass does not appear in the census again after 1810 and I wonder if some of the children in Willis’ 1820 household may have been his brother’s children. Willis Bass’ 1830 household consisted of 12 people (himself, wife Olive, 5 young men/boys, and 5 young women/girls).
I also found that Willis Bass was twice the bondsman for marriages in Granville Co. He was the bondsman for the marriage between Joseph Peal and Jane Pettiford on 18 May 1822. Jane Pettiford was the daughter of Collins Pettiford and Polly Chavis (perhaps a family members of Willis Bass’ wife Olive Chavis). And Willis Bass was the bondsman for the marriage between Henry Bass and Eliza Hart on 26 Feb 1824. Henry Bass (b. 1800) is too old to be Willis’ son, but perhaps he was a close relative. Henry Bass relocated to Ohio, specifically Ross County which is a couple of counties over from where some of Willis Bass’ descendants relocated to.
Willis Bass’ (b. 1792) Descendants Filed Eastern Cherokee Applications
So the last time Willis Bass appears in Granville Co is in the 1830 census and we know from the size of the household that he had a large family. We next learn about what happened to Willis Bass from the Eastern Cherokee (Guion Miller) applications that his descendants filed.
If you’re not familiar with the Guion Miller roll, here is a blurb from familysearch:
The Guion Miller Roll is a list of Eastern Cherokees who applied for money awarded in 1905 because of a 1902 lawsuit in which the Eastern Cherokee tribe sued the United States for funds due them under the treaties of 1835, 1836 and 1845. Claimants were asked to prove they were members of the Eastern Cherokee tribe at the time of the treaties, or descended from members who had not been affiliated with any other tribe. Guion Miller, an agent of the Interior Department, was appointed as a commissioner of the Court of Claims to compile a list of claimants. He made an extensive enrollment of the Cherokees in 1907 and 1908.
Even though the applications for Willis Bass’ descendants were rejected, they are full of important genealogical information about his family. I will be doing a blog post hopefully soon about why so many of our families were labeled “Cherokee” despite not being tribally Cherokee. In that blog post I will explore that phenomenon more in depth but for now you should at least be aware that “Cherokee” was often synonymous for “Indian” in the Southeast.
Descendants of Willis Bass who filed Eastern Cherokee applications: grandsons: Elijah Bass Jr (#17657) and Peter Bass (#44383); great-grandchildren: two named Alice Revels (#14050 and #14118), Charles Bass (#14052), Malissa Roberts (#16153), Delia McCann (#16156), Matilda Bostwick (#16155), Martha J Bass (#17656), Mansfield Bass (#17659), Ransom Bass (#18015), Martha Anderson (#18350), Rosa Bass (#19825), Nora Thomas (#19826), and Matilda Newville (#15670); and great-great grandchildren: William Newville (#24366), Alice Elizabeth Carman (#24379), and Charley Newville (#32952). All applicants claimed descent from Willis Bass and Olive Chavis’ son Elijah Bass Sr. I won’t discuss each application because they are quite redundant. Instead I’ll focus on a couple of applications that provide the most pertinent info.
By the time of the Eastern Cherokee roll applications in 1907, some descendants of Willis Bass had relocated from Granville Co, NC to Lawrence Co, OH and finally to Vernon Co, WI. We learn from Elijah Bass Jr’s application, that Willis and Olive Bass had the following children: Elijah Bass Sr, William Bass, Henry Bass, Racey Bass, Ransom Bass, Nancy Bass, Polly Bass, and Delia Bass. Elijah Bass Sr was the only one to relocate to Ohio, while the others continued to live in North Carolina. We have already seen the name Racey Bass from the apprenticeship records which show that Willis Bass had a brother named Racey Bass. So it appears Willis Bass named his son Racey Bass, in honor of his brother.
Elijah Bass Jr states that he was born on 15 Oct 1835 in Granville Co but relocated with his father Elijah Bass Sr to Lawrence Co, OH a couple of years later. This is consistent with Elijah Bass Sr first appearing in the Lawrence Co, OH census in 1840. However, Elijah Sr’s marriage record to Matilda Dutton of Pennsylvania was recorded on 20 March 1835 in Lawrence Co, OH. It seems unlikely that Elijah Sr would go all the way to Ohio to marry a woman from elsewhere, return to Granville Co where his first son was born, and then a few years later go back to Ohio. In the 1850 census, Elijah Jr’s birthplace is listed as Ohio and every other census after that it was listed as North Carolina. I wonder if Elijah Jr thought he was born in North Carolina, when he was actually born in Ohio.
Another inconsistency is found when Elijah Bass Jr identified his grandparents as Willis Bass and Olive Stewart. We know from their 1809 marriage record in Granville Co, that Olive’s maiden name was Chavis. It’s possible that she born a Stewart, was first married to a Chavis, became widowed and then married Willis Basss. But I can find no marriage record for an “Olive Stewart”. The Stewarts were another large “free colored”/Native American family in the area, and I suspect that Olive’s mother was a Stewart and the reason why Olive was sometimes known as a Stewart. The Stewarts and Chavises intermarried a lot on both sides of the VA/NC border. Because I have not been able to identify Olive’s parents, I can’t say for certain how the Stewarts fit into her lineage.
In a letter dated 25 Feb 1908, Elijah Bass Jr writes directly to the Guion Miller commissioner to provide some additional background information about his family. There are some big inconsistencies in his narrative with what is found in the actual records. Elijah Jr states that his grandparents (Willis and Olive Bass) had to flee from Virginia into North Carolina in 1812 because they were driven out of their land by white people. And that his grandfather Willis Bass had previously lived on a (Cherokee) reservation in Virginia.
But we know from apprenticeship, marriage, and census records that Willis Bass was born in North Carolina and is in the Granville Co records before 1812. I think this misleading narrative is why Heinegg tried to force a connection between Willis Bass of Granville Co and the James Bass of Norfolk Co, VA. This is why examining the totality of all the records is vital when you have conflicting stories. I do not think Elijah Bass Jr fabricated this story completely and that there is likely some truth in there. The events that he is recalling, happened well before he was born, so that may partially account for the mistakes. But I also wonder if the story about fleeing Virginia for North Carolina was more about his grandmother Olive Chavis’ lineage. Willis Bass’ widow Olive Chavis was enumerated in the 1850, 1860 and 1870 censuses, and her birthplace is given as Virginia. And earlier on in the 1810, 1820, and 1830 censuses, Olive Chavis (counted in her husband Willis Bass’s household) lived close to Evans Chavis (1770-after 1860), Charles Chavis, and Isaac Chavis (1766-1831). These three men were originally from neighboring Mecklenburg Co, VA and perhaps were of some relation to Olive Chavis.
I can say with certainty that all the Basses in Granville Co all descend from two brothers: Edward Bass (1672-1750) and John Bass (1673-1732) who initially left Virginia for North Carolina in 1720 and whose descendants were in Granville Co by the 1750s. Edward and John Bass were the documented grandsons of British colonist John Bass(e) and his Nansemond Indian wife Elizabeth. If you’d like a good recap of the Bass family of Granville Co, read my previous blog post. So the Basses were well established in Granville Co before 1812.
When we look at Elijah Jr’s brother Peter Bass’ Eastern Cherokee application, we find some additional information. In the Guion Miller applications, there is space for respondents to write down their “Indian names”. Peter Bass lists his Indian name as “Peter Chavers” and lists his father Elijah Bass Sr’s Indian name as “Elijah Chavers”. So we can clearly see Willis Bass’ descendants were aware that they descended from the Chavers (Chavis) family, although Chavis/Chavers is not an “Indian name”. This pattern of identifying his paternal lineage with the Chavis surname, could be from knowledge that Jesse Chavis fathered Milly Bass’ children.
As stated earlier, all of the Eastern Cherokee enrollment applications for Willis Bass’ descendants were rejected. On Alice Revels’ (#14050) application, the Guion Miller commission provided the exact reason why the family’s applications were rejected. The Willis Bass family was never listed on any previous Cherokee rolls, never lived with the Cherokees, and Granville Co was never part of original Cherokee territory.
In February 2016, Paul Heinegg updated the Bass section of his website with some of the corrected information I discussed above. He no longer has the Willis Bass who was the son of James Bass b. 1760 of Norfolk CO, VA and Bedford Co, TN as the same Willis Bass of Granville Co who was actually the son of Milly Bass and Jesse Chavis. Heinegg also provided additional records for the James Bass b. 1760 of Norfolk Co, VA and Bedford Co, TN so if you are a descendant of the this branch of the Bass family, it is worthwhile to revisit Heinegg’s Bass section: