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.
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.
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:
|Name||Approximate Birth Year||Counties of Residence||Relationships|
|Father of Nathaniel*, Joseph (Married Elizabeth Bass), Lemuel (Moved to Pasquotank, NC), Margaret (Peggy), David* (Moved to Camden, NC), and Anthony|
|Ebenezer||1740||Norfolk, VA||Bought a 90-acre share of the Bass-Kinder patent from John Bass and his wife Elizabeth of Portsmouth Parish on 14 May 1764|
|Stephen||< 1746||Bertie, NC|
|Naomi||< 1746||Bertie, NC|
|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||> 1746||Hertford, NC|
|Married Rachel Nickens < 1780 (Her father, Richard Nickens, left a Currituck, NC will leaving her land in Camden, NC)|
|Mary (Polly)||Hertford, NC|
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 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.
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, Joseph, Thomas, 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.
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.
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.
|Name||1820 Federal Census||1830 Federal Census||Relationships|
|James Bass||9||7||Son of William Bass & Naomi Hall|
|Lemuel Bass||10||Son of James Bass & Unknown Mother|
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.
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.
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.
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).