In the 1800 Federal Census, William Bass (b. 1755) was listed with a household of seven—one male over 45 (born before 1755), one female 26-44 (born between 1756 and 1774), one male 10-15 (born between 1785-1790), and four females under 10 (born between 1790-1800). The current collection of evidence suggests that Thomas Bass was the young male in William Bass’ household and he was likely his only son.
Thomas Bass was first documented by name in Camden County in the 1815 Tax List (Treasurers and Comptrollers Papers, Camden 1791-1815, NC State Archives). He was taxed on 1 Free Poll and was a part of Captain Jones’ District Number 7 (Returned by George Ferebee, Esquire). At the time North Carolina taxed all free males over 16, so this record supports that he was born before 1799 and that he was not a property owner yet.
On April 26, 1816, William Bass sold the last of the family land to Joel Sawyer (Deed Book R, Page 112) and he appears to have died shortly thereafter. It is unclear where his wife and children moved but, by the 1820 Federal Census, Thomas was listed with a household of 5 free colored persons including one male over 45 (born before 1785), one female 26-44 (born between 1776-1794), one male 14-25 (born between 1775-1806), and two females 14-25 (born between 1775-1806). Some of his direct neighbors were Pool Smith, Gray Berry, Thomas Linton, and William Williams.
Newspaper articles from the 1820s describing elements of life
around the south end of the Dismal Swamp Canal.
Ten years later, in the 1830 Federal Census, Thomas’ household had increased to 8 free colored persons with one male 36-55 (born 1775-1794), one female 36-55 (born 1775-1794), two males 10-24 (born 1806-1820), one female 10-24 (born 1806-1820), two males under 10 (born after 1820), and one female under 10 (born after 1820). Some of his direct neighbors were Fanny Edney, John Spence, Sr., Dolley Sawyer, and Lovey Sawyer (note that Dorothy “Dolly” (Riggs) Sawyer was the wife of Pharoah Sawyer who bought William Bass’ land).
The 1837 estate record for John Spence, Sr. (one of Thomas’ neighbors) contained a May 24, 1834 judgment against Thomas Bass for a debt of $2.16 (to be collected by John’s administrator Thomas P. Hinton). It appears that Thomas did not pay his debt because there was a warrant for his arrest dated August 22, 1840. John’s estate record contained a number of judgments against people in the area which suggests that he may have owned a store at Canal Bridge (which was located at the south end of the Dismal Swamp Canal).
In 1841 Thomas P. Hinton petitioned the court for direction in the division of John Spence, Sr. estate. He stated that there was more than $15,000 cash to be divided and that the will was not clear. The court gave $1,037.46 each to Ira Jones and wife, Benjamin Jones and wife, Edward Spence, Silas Spence, James Spence, Anderson Brite and wife, Joseph Edney and wife, William F. McPherson and wife, Doctor J. Burnham and wife, Miles Sawyer, Mathias Sawyer, John Sawyer, Isaac Sawyer, Mariah Sawyer, Willis Powers, James Powers, Henderson Abbott, Edwin Abbott, William R. Abbott and John Whitehurst. (Camden County Estate Record Notes, Carolina Trees & Branches, Volume XIX, Number 4, October 2010, Page 102)
The 1840 Federal Census is missing a significant amount of information but by the 1850 Federal Census enumerated all households by name. In this year, Thomas was a part of “E Simmons” (45, female, white) household which included “Thos Bass” (57, male, mulatto), “Willoughy Bass” (14, male, mulatto), “Hol Bass” (21, male, mulatto), “J Griffin” (25, male, mulatto), “N Bass” (21, female, mulatto), and “Polly Bass” (1, female, mulatto). Some of their direct neighbors were H James, W Saywer, H Nosay, and Alson Brothers.
The relationship between Thomas Bass and E Simmons (of Pasquotank County) is undocumented but this collection of census records provides the following information about Thomas Bass’s family composition and life:
- He may have had a wife born between 1775-1794 (possibly E Simmons).
- Based on listed ages, he likely had other family members (i.e. siblings, cousins, nephews, and/or nieces) living with him in addition to his own children.
- He may have died between 1850-1860 when he disappeared from the census.
(Brothers, Sons, Nephews?)
(Sisters, Daughters, Nieces?)
|1 Born 1775-1806||2 Born 1775-1806|
|2 Born 1806-1820||1 Born 1806-1820|
|2 Born After 1820||1 Born After 1820|
Comparing this information with the influx of Basses in the area, I believe that the 2 females born between 1775-1806 living with Thomas Bass may have been his sisters (?) Lydia and Polly Bass. They were too close to Thomas’ age to be his children and they are the only females from the turn of the century cohort who were listed in later federal censuses but not in 1830. The other potential sisters (Fanney, Lovey, Nancey, and Salley) were the only females of matching age in their households (ruling out the possibility of Lydia and/or Polly living with them).
In addition to age and family composition, there are some geographical clues about Thomas Bass. The 1830 Camden County Census (Compiled by W. W. Forehand and S. F. Sawyer) placed Thomas Bass at Basses Lake. Sally Bass was also living at Basses Lake and her household consisted of 4 free colored persons—1 female 55-99 (born 1731-1775), 1 female 24-35 (born 1795-1806), and 2 females under 10 (born after 1820).
In the 1850 Federal Census, several members of the Bass family were living next to Silas Spence (a nephew and heir of John Spence, Sr.—recorded with $1000 in real estate which is the amount he inherited). John Bass (b. 1840) was recorded as part of the same household as Silas and his family. This indicates that John Bass, a son of Lydia Bass (b. 1820) (Thomas Bass’ niece), was living among the same neighbors as Thomas Bass (and supports the hypothesis that Lydia Bass (b. 1797) was living with Thomas Bass).
Later records reveal more information about Thomas’ sons. Holloway Bass enlisted in the Navy in Norfolk, VA in August 1856. He re-enlisted in August 1859 and was described as a mulatto, 5’9” tall, landsman in the African American Civil War Sailor Index (1861-1865). Willougby Bass was recorded in the 1860 Census in Camden with a child named John Bass (5 years old) in his household. He was also recorded as an attendee of McBride Church on the 1858-1860 church roll.
Thomas Bass was not recorded in the Federal Census for Camden County after 1850 and likely passed away some time between 1850 and 1860. There are still a number of questions to answer about him and I will continue to update this brief overview of his life as new information becomes available.