Hidden Influences on Migration: The Hall & Nickens Families

On my first research trip to North Carolina, I went to the Camden County Register of Deeds and searched for one surname—Bass. I am a Bass and I had a list of verified Bass ancestors, so it was the natural thing for a new genealogist to do. As I processed the information from deeds (i.e., grantees, grantors, witnesses, and adjoining landowners), certain people were noted as neighbors over and over again. I soon realized I needed to explore these recurring surnames. In Camden County’s earliest record collections (after its formation in 1777), the family that always appeared with the Basses was the Halls.

Bass Sykes 1801 Deed 2
John Sikes to William Bass, David Hall’s Line Referenced (Deed Book I, Page 148)

William Bass’ (b. 1755) first land purchase in Camden County, made on April 10, 1801, was for a 125-acre parcel adjoining David Hall’s (b. 1760) land. This was the first time these two men were referenced in the same document but their families continued to live together for many decades. They were 2 of only 30 free people of color counted in Camden County during the 1790 Federal Census (most of which were not heads of their own households as William and David were).

I expanded my search to include the Halls and, to my surprise, I found twice as many deeds for Halls as Basses. The records revealed that an Absalom Hall predated David Hall in the area. Absalom and his wife Rachel (Nickens) Hall sold a 50-acre parcel (inherited by Rachel from her father Richard Nickens) in 1780. David Hall made his first Camden County land purchase the following year with an 80-acre parcel in 1781.

William Jones David Hall 1781 Deed
William Jones to David Hall (Deed Book B, Page 174)

Were the Basses and Halls related?

These discoveries led me to search for potential connections between the Basses and the Halls. Free people of color generally moved in groups and, compared to the surrounding counties in North Carolina, Camden had a relatively small community. I began by using Paul Heinegg’s abstracts to outline the Hall family. These relationships were used only as guides as I continued to collect my own records.

It was immediately apparent that the Basses and Halls were closely connected, so I decided to develop a matrix to integrate data for several generations (i.e., cohorts born around 1700, 1725, 1750, and 1775). Three distinct locations emerged through this process. These Basses and Halls originated in Norfolk, VA but had connections to Bertie (later Hertford), NC through family and many neighbors. These two families also had connections in Pasquotank (later Camden) and Currituck, NC.

This is an overview of some of the Halls who appeared to have relationships in multiple counties:

NameApproximate Birth YearCounties of ResidenceRelationships
Thomas1738Bertie, NC
Norfolk, VA
Hertford, NC
Father of Nathaniel*, Joseph (Married Elizabeth Bass), Lemuel (Moved to Pasquotank, NC), Margaret (Peggy), David* (Moved to Camden, NC), and Anthony
Ebenezer1740Norfolk, VABought a 90-acre share of the Bass-Kinder patent from John Bass and his wife Elizabeth of Portsmouth Parish on 14 May 1764
Stephen< 1746Bertie, NC
Norfolk, VA
Naomi< 1746Bertie, NC
Norfolk, VA
Thomas Bass’ son William Bass (b. 1725) was living with John Bass (his first cousin, the son of William Bass). William Bass married Naomi Hall < 1765
Isaac> 1746Hertford, NC 
Jemima1750Norfolk, VA 
Absalom Hertford, NC
Camden, NC
Married Rachel Nickens < 1780 (Her father, Richard Nickens, left a Currituck, NC will leaving her land in Camden, NC)
Mary (Polly) Hertford, NC 
Descendants of Joseph Hall (b. 1710) & Margaret (Peggy); *Revolutionary War Patriots

These relationships made it clear that the children of Joseph and Margaret Hall were a bridge between Norfolk, VA and Pasquotank (later Camden) and Currituck, NC. Three of these children had relationships of specific genealogical interest.

Thomas Hall’s Family

Thomas Hall seems to have had strong connections to Pasquotank (later Camden), NC. As previously discussed, his son David was one of the earliest free people of color in Camden County and his son, Lemuel, was a landowner in Pasquotank County. Lemuel’s land bordered Great Flatty Creek in the lower end of the county near Weeksville which was a trading community located at the end of the road from Norfolk to/from Nixonton.

David Hall b 1755-1765 Timeline
Lemuel Hall's Land
Petition to Sell Land by Burdock Overton (Son-in-Law of Lemuel Hall), Pasquotank County, 1822
Great Flatty Creek
Map of Big Flatty Creek in Lower Pasquotank County. Notice the recurrence of common Norfolk County road names (e.g., Deep Creek Road and Gaulberry Road). Joseph Hall’s land was located in Great Bridge (eastern Norfolk County) which was the northern end of the road to/from Nixonton that ended here.

Naomi Hall’s Family

Of all the Halls of interest, Naomi Hall may be the most important to this story. She appears to have been the wife of William Bass (b. 1725) of Norfolk County and they are believed to have been the parents of James, JosephThomas, William, and Willis Bass.

Although they have been studied by a number of great historians and anthropologists, the Norfolk County Basses repeatedly used many of the same names. The Camden County Basses, just 20 miles away, have been left out of a number of studies that included the Norfolk Basses (e.g., Bass Families of the South) likely due to the inability of researchers to place them in the broader family structure. Within this group there were several longstanding conflations that are now being resolved by emerging records that enable the differentiation of individuals.

William & Neomy Bass to John McLochlin 1771 Deed
William & Neomy Bass to John McLochlin, Norfolk County, VA, May 16, 1771 (Deed Book 25, Page 100)

In my previous post on the Nansemond of the Great Dismal, I briefly discussed the relationship between William Bass and Willis Bass (whose marriage bonds were both recorded in Norfolk County, VA on 18 December 1786). William Bass married Ann (Nancy) Sammon (likely of the Sammon(s) family of Lower Norfolk and Princess Anne Counties) with Willis Bass as his surety and Willis Bass married Jemima Nickens (of the same Nickens family as Richard Nickens) with James Nickens as his surety.

1786 bonds.pdf
Although Willis Bass and Jemima Nickens’ children were mentioned in Albert Bell’s Bass Families of the South, it does not appear that he actually saw the original 1786 marriage bonds which explains why William Bass and Ann Sammon’s marriage was not in his book (or any other publications). This record came to light this year thanks to the extraordinarily dedicated researchers at the Family Research Society of Northeastern North Carolina.
William Bass b 1755 Timeline

I have also written about the life of Joseph Bass in Camden County. He left few records behind but his proximity to William Bass and the relationships between their children may provide new information as my research continues. Thomas Bass (which was the name of William Bass’ brother and son) was taxed in Camden County in 1815 but due to the lack of an associated age it is impossible to tell which Thomas Bass it was.

James Bass, who remained in Norfolk County, ultimately relocated to Bedford County, TN with many other members of the same Hall family that lived with the Bass family in Norfolk County, VA and Camden County, NC. In 1832, James appeared before the court to apply for a pension for his service in the Revolutionary War.

Name1820 Federal Census1830 Federal CensusRelationships
Henry Bass10  
James Bass97Son of William Bass & Naomi Hall
John Bass79 
Lemuel Bass 10Son of James Bass & Unknown Mother
Samuel Bass5  
Thomas Bass 10 
James Hall 4 
John Hall 7 
Joseph Hall 10  
Joseph Hall 11  
Free Colored Persons in Bedford County, Tennessee

Absalom Hall’s Family

Absalom Hall’s marriage to Rachel Nickens is a pivotal part of this story because much of the land the Halls and Basses owned in Camden County appears to have originally been owned by her father. Though land descriptions were frequently based on transient natural features, Richard Nickens’ Pasquotank County land deeds and Currituck County will left enough information to see a direct comparison.

On March 26, 1751, Richard Nickens purchased a 70-acre parcel on the south side of the Great Swamp near the Great Swamp Bridge (Pasquotank County, Deed Book B, Page 144). He went on to purchase several parcels of adjoining land extending into Currituck County (Currituck County, Deed Book 2, Pages 44, 135, 318).

In his 1774 will, Richard Nickens left his daughters Leah Rael and Margaret Nickens a parcel of land called “Overtons” (indicating that the property was formerly owned by an Overton). In David Hall’s 1781 land purchase (Deed Book B, Page 174) and William Bass’ 1801 land purchase (Deed Book I, Page 148) we see similar references to Thomas Overton’s land on the edge of the swamp.

Thomas Overton's Line
Thomas Overton’s Land on the Edge of the Swamp Referenced

At the time this land was in Pasquotank County, but when the lines changed in 1777 it became a part of Camden County. In Heinegg’s abstracts, David Hall is a nephew of Absalom and Rachel Hall but their closeness in Camden County records leads me to wonder if their was more to their relationship.

After Absalom and Rachel Hall sold Richard Nickens’ land in 1780, Absalom remained in Camden County through at least 1782 when he was taxed on 1 horse and 10 cattle yet no land. In the same 1782 Tax List, David Hall was taxed on 80 acres and 2 cattle. At this time, Absalom Hall and David Hall were the only Halls in Camden County.

The Halls and Basses remained on this land for over a century and my family still owns land on the south side of the Great Dismal Swamp near River Bridge today. See the Basses of the Great Dismal map to see approximations of where people lived over time.

Are you a Bass, Hall, or Nickens descendant?

In genealogy, discovery is rarely linear and it can be difficult to write about the process without worrying about sharing incomplete—or worse, incorrect—relationships. The story of the Basses, Halls, and Nickens is one of three closely interconnected families whose relationships influenced their migration across several counties and states. I am actively collecting additional records related to this story but I thought it was worth sharing an overview of what I have today.

Hertford County

If you believe you may be related to any of the people in this post, you may also be interested in Warren Milteer, Jr.’s new novel, “Hertford County, North Carolina’s Free People of Color and Their Descendants,” which documents the lives of many Bass, Hall, and Nickens descendants who settled in Hertford (formerly Bertie) county. These are people with common origins who dispersed in different directions yet shared many of the same experiences in American history. In addition to this book, Milteer has also published a number of insightful articles (some of which have been referenced in other posts).

24 Comments on “Hidden Influences on Migration: The Hall & Nickens Families

  1. I think this was great research Nikki. I am very familiar with Willis Bass and this information helped me with who his parents were, Naomi and William. I was familiar with Willis marrying Jemima Nickens. Its very interesting that James came to Tennessee, evidently when my Nickens came to Tennessee also in the Revolutionary period. So this gets me closer to having a good idea of who Francis Bass’s parents are. She married a Nickens also, which was William Nickens. William also had a brother named James Nickens that came down with him from Hertford County. I was also told that William and James’s father was a Richard Nickens. Thanks for the info, you have been a great help. Maybe eventually Francis will appear and I will find out who her parents were. There are still alot of Bass’s in Wilson County, TN.
    Thanks again, Eddie Nickens.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nikki, Willis and Jemima were my 4 times great grandparents. Their son, William, is my line. William married Jerusha Weaver and their daughter, Mary Ellen, was my great grandmother. Mary Ellen married James Edward Bond, Jr and they had about ten children one of which was my grandmother, Ellen Gertrude born in 1874 on Bass land (Gallberry Road) in Norfolk County. Ellen Gertrude married, George Washington Scott in Norfolk County and their son, George Edward was my father. I have been following your research with great enthusiasm and enjoyment. I hope that at some point you will stumble upon and write about my line of Weavers as I know nothing of them. Jerusha died fairly early and my great grandmother, Mary Ellen, was raised by WIilliam’s second wife, Elizabeth. Apparently they were close as Mary Ellen signed Elizabeth’s death information as her daughter.

    I always look forward to receiving your post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alice, thank you so much for visiting! One of my greatest hopes in building this site was to find relatives who could benefit from my research. I would love to write a post about the Weavers and I have actually already begun to explore their relationship with the Basses in my post on Pioneer Life. It is so interesting that you mentioned Gallberry Road because (for me) that road name has become synonymous with Bass property. I have traced Basses living on Gallberry Roads in Norfolk, Camden, Pasquotank, and Halifax counties. Thank you again for sharing and for the new motivation to write about the Weavers!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hello Nikki, I know the article about the Weavers are going to be interesting. They have intertwined into the family (Hall) and various families of northeastern North Carolina.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nikki,

      Thanks so much for your connection with the families of Hertford county. I am of Nickens/Weaver decent. Eddie and Warren are my beloved cousins. I do research of the Henry and Jane NIckens side. I live in Woodbridge, Va. Would love to talk to you. Here is my email address. chefliselcb@outlook.com.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I would love any info you have on Absolam Hall. My husband is a direct descendant through his son David.


    • I too am a descendant of Absalom Hall, through son Stephen and grandson Thomas Hall. I would love to hear more about Absalom’s parents, if any information is available and more about Richard Nickens grandparents. Thanks!


  5. hi nikki, I am a direst descendant of the halls , my mother’s maiden name is hall her grandfather was Louis Thomas hall, his father was William h hall, his father was Thomas Jefferson hall and his father was David hall and his parents were Absalom and rachael, I have been told we are related to Jesse and Frank James, teddy Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt-roosevelt and Spanish American war hero Andrew summers rowan, he took the message to Garcia. thank you my name is Kelly Jean forrest and my paternal geneology of the deforest family would absolutely blow your mind. and there are some people in my hall family that dont believe the halls were free black people back then as we have all become white since then.


    • Kelly – my mother’s grandmother Alcy/Elsie Hall was the younger sister of your mother’s grandfather Louis Thomas Hall.

      If you have personal records or can point me to records of Thomas Jefferson Hall’s parents and grandparents I would appreciate it. I know he belongs to the family by tracing his proximity to them from Tennessee to Arkansas, but I have not been able to find direct records of his parents.


    • I would like to speak with you abt the Hall family Please. Annette Maichen


  6. Hello Nikki , thank you so much for the post. I am a direct descendant of Mary Polly I have information on titles and deeds from her son Jacob my ggggfather through his son Henry Roundtree… Mary conceived children number a Wilder or Wildo Mitchell gates county North Carolina. I look forward to future post and I would appreciate any information you could assist me with.


  7. Hi Nikki, Thanks so much for your posts, as it has unlocked several brick walls for me. In particular, that of daughter Rachel who married A. Hall. I too, am from this Magical line of the Nickens Family. Question, have you or anyone reading this taken the Ancestry DNA test? Not to question to validity of anyone, just to be used as a tool/aid in researching … when you do hit the brickwalls. I have several distant cousins that for the life of me, I can’t figure out where they fit in. My email is: candybrockett@gmail.com; would love to collaborate.


  8. I just had another look at this today. I realized that there is a Thomas Hall listed in the 1772 Norfolk tithables list for the Western Branch. Joseph and Naomi Bass, and Elizabeth and William Bass, are in the same list, as is my ancestor Thomas Collings.


  9. Greetings Nikki,
    This is fascinating information. I have been researching my family pedigree chart and in the process I have discovered that Joseph Hall (ca.1764) and Elizabeth Hall (Bass) are be my 4X grandparents. It would be greatly appreciated if you could assist me with any information you have on them and their children. In advance, I would like to thank you for your response. My email is: lngstnhall@aol.com



  10. Greetings Nikki,
    This is fascinating information. I have been researching my family pedigree chart and in the process I have discovered that Joseph Hall (ca.1764) and Elizabeth Hall (Bass) are my 4X grandparents. It would be greatly appreciated if you could assist me with any information you have on them and their children. In advance, I would like to thank you for your response. My email is: lngstnhall@aol.com


  11. My 3rd great grandfather is Thomas Jefferson Hall. In the face of increasing legal restrictions for free people of color in Tennessee, the Halls of Bedford County largely left for Arkansas about 1819. Thomas Jefferson Hall stayed for longer, and his approach was to swear out an “affidavit of race” in 1835 in Maury County TN, claiming to be Portuguese, which he and his descendants used in order to “pass” for generations.


    He may have even believed this claim to be true, however, as described below, he consistently lived among the Hall family, none of the rest of whom protested their African descent.

    I have not been able to find exact information on this Thomas’ parentage to know exactly how he ties to the Hall family of Bedford County TN (and previously NC and VA). However, Maury County and Bedford county were neighboring at the time when Maury County was created in 1807, and Thomas J Hall eventually followed the Hall family from TN to northern Arkansas.


    This same Thomas Hall (who can be traced to this community in AR by the filing of his “affidavit of race) and his family appear in the 1840 census in the Little North Fork community in Marion County AR, along with the following families, all listed as “free colored persons”: David Hall Sr, David Hall Jr, Willoby (sic) Hall, James Atkinson, John Farmer, Peter Caulder (who married David Hall’s daughter Eliza and is the subject of a book which refers to many of the aforementioned: https://www.amazon.com/Stranger-Sojourner-Frontiersman-Antebellum-Arkansas/dp/1557288054)

    AND probably of particular interest to you, a Sarah Bass and family

    The area of this settlement is now beneath the waters of Bull Shoals Lake.

    I’m not sure if you can view it at the following link without an account, but if not, I have a copy of this census page that I could send to you.


    I have not been able to find documentation to determine exactly which Hall was Thomas’ father, or even a reliable date and place of his birth. Census records estimate between 1797 and 1805 in Tennessee. However, his presence among the Hall family helps to verify this same family’s migration from Tennessee to Arkansas, and eventually Missouri


  12. Hello. Found this to be very interesting. I am 60 years old now, and for 59 of those years I was raised up believing my great grandmother on my fathers side was “Indian”. Her name was Mary Polly Riggs Godfrey. After my daughter did a dna test, no “ Indian” blood was present. Nigerian blood was though. I found out a few of my cousins have had dna test done also, all show Nigerian. After a little digging and help from my daughter’s dna results, I found that my grandma Polly s mothers name was Elizabeth Betsy Hall Riggs, wife of Lemuel Riggs. This is where it gets shaken., and I would love to find concrete evidence of this, but I believe Betsey hall Riggs was the daughter of David Hall, of whom you have written. My grandmother , many of her brothers and sisters and her dad were members of McBride Methodist Church in Burnt Mills, not far from the river bridge area of Camden county nc. Any help or insight you might have would be a true blessing to me as I would love to build this branch of my family tree correctly and dispose of the fairy tales. Thank you


    • well hello halls and nickens and basses and the hundreds in the usa connected by segments of dna tracers. It was a surprise for me since I was adopted, but the history is webbed in a way that makes sense in the US from 1600’s to now. My Dna is from David Hall Sr of Marion County via one of Abselom offspiring. I did connect with Halls in Oklahoma, my birth fathers family. Imagine if every family had 10 kids decades ago, and now in the year 2021: how many connects there truly are? I would love to help decipher and also know as much as I can… My birth father is Jimmy John Hall from Shawnee Oklahoma, never met him. We are blessed, aren’t we!


      • Yes we are. It was a total surprise to me. I am a white guy, raised in the 60s and early 70s in the south, so you know what that means, however I was pleased to find this out. David Hall was a man from what I’ve read that we can all be proud of. Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t Absalom either a sibling of Thomas Hall, David’s father or a cousin. Do you know? Also I would like to know two things. 1) does anyone know where David is Buried? 2) I am descended from his daughter Elizabeth Betsy Hall, does anyone know where she is buried? She married Lemuel Riggs of Camden county no. Does anyone know who David’s Wife was? Is she Betsey s mother?
        Ok that’s four questions, I guess I am more curious about them than I thought


  13. I was thoroughly engaged in your article. I have Bells book and Al Bass’s book. But Stephen 1805-1812 Wayne, death 1874 Johnston County, maybe…is just an enigma. However, Stephens Will, filed in Wayne attaches my Grandfather Gilbert Green Bass, appx 1840 and at least 2 aunts, 1840 appx, .. to my deceased son John’s children.” Gilbert’s son Jesse Leslie 1901-1965, to my father Jesse Leslie Bass 1927-1997. I finally pitched all my reference notes from sheer frustration yesterday. As and have contacted an Australian company about latent dna from his love letters to my mother when he was military.im to the point of desperation. I help many with their research, yet can’t find my own,


  14. Hello Nikki,

    This is truly tremendous work. I came here from learning there may be connection to Anthony Hall which I have yet to solidify. It is believed that Anthony Hall may be the father of Dennis Hall my 2nd great grandfather. I have traced Dennis Hall to 1870 census finding that the family lived in Rose Hill, Duplin County at the time.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: