When I first started researching my Camden County, NC ancestors it was clear that they had connections to the Nansemond community in Norfolk County, VA but it seemed like an impossible feat to demonstrate how the two groups of people were related. There were numerous individuals with the same names, same general places of birth and residence, and even the same approximate ages.
Despite this complexity, I eventually learned to individuate conflated lineages by using land as foundation of identity. For indigenous people in particular, land and its natural features literally define identity (so much that most tribes are named after the rivers they lived along). As tribal communities were displaced from ancestral land by the influx of colonists in the 1600s, land remained an integral part of tribal history.
In this article, I will add depth to the story of the Nansemond homestead at Deep Creek by mapping out familial land in Norfolk County, VA and highlighting families that lived on it with a focus on the Basses, Prices, and Halls. Clearly defining relationships in this area demystifies many relationships between individuals who migrated out of the area yet remained part of the same kinship groups.
Established Nansemond Lineage
In earlier articles I have discussed the present Nansemond Indian Tribal Association’s (NITA) lineage. While all descendants of William Bass (b. 1654) and Catherine Lanier (b. 1650) have Nansemond ancestry through William’s mother, Elizabeth (a full blooded Nansemond woman), not all descendants have the same documentation of Indian ancestry. A primary objective of this article to demonstrate that gaps in records do not equate to gaps in relationships and that sharing a single homestead across several generations is a stronger indicator of family (and perhaps displaced tribal) cohesion.
The table below contains a collection of information related to the taxation of documented Nansemond Indians and their respective purchase(s) and sale(s) of land. These details reveal how the Nansemond homestead formed and how it changed across generations. Below this table, I present a series of maps to provide geographic context for the information contained within. (New readers starting here may better understand the table by reading my previous article on Nansemond ancestry first.)
|DEFINING THE NANSEMOND HOMESTEAD|
|Nansemond Patriarchs||Tax Information||Land Gained (+)||Land Lost (-)||Notes|
|William Bass (b. 1654 d. 1741) & Catherine Lanier (b. 1650 d. 1691)
In this generation, the family homestead was on the Western Branch with new relationships developing on the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River. Ancestral Nansemond land was long the Nansemond River (around Chuckatuck) and the migratory pattern of the Christianized Nansemond community was southeast toward the northeast edge of the Great Dismal Swamp.
|1730-1731: William Bass, Sr. was taxed on the Western Branch with his youngest son Thomas Bass in his household.
1732: He was taxed with William Horse(y) in his household.
1733-1736: He was taxed near several members of the Price family (Richard, William, and their respective spouses).
|17 March 1726: William Bass, Sr. claimed rights to land near the Dismal Swamp which was used by his Nansemond forebears since before English governance in Virginia. Rights to this land were contingent upon Indian ancestry (under the Treaty of 1677) and William received a certificate of Nansemond descent which included his sons William Bass, Jr., Joseph Bass, Thomas Bass, and his daughter Mary Bass.
6 January 1729: William Bass, Sr. (of the Western Branch) bought 103 acres at the head of “Deep Branch” from James Elliott (also of the Western Branch).
|1 October 1740: William Bass, Sr. wrote a will leaving all of his land to his daughter Mary Bass, a spinster, uncertain if she could save it.
It is unclear what happened to the land referenced in his will but it appears that Mary may have died before her father’s will proved (she was 60 years old at the time) and the land may have gone to her brother William Bass, Jr. (who appeared in court 3 days after their father’s will proved to acquire a certificate of Nansemond descent).
|Thomas Bass (b. 1687) lived with his father on the Western Branch. On 22 June 1724 he married Martha Willis. They had two sons—William (b. 1725) and Thomas (b. 1726)—who were born on their grandfather’s land.
Martha died in childbirth with Thomas and, on 2 May 1729, Thomas married Tamer Spivey, the granddaughter of John Nichols. This, along with several other records, indicates that William Bass, Sr.’s home on the Western Branch was neighboring the home of the deceased John Nichols.
|William Bass, Jr. (b. 1676 d. 1751) & Sarah Lovina (b. 1682 d. 1762)
In this generation, the family homestead shifted toward the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River with William Bass, Jr. as the oldest (local) son and primary landowner.
|1730-1732: William Bass, Jr. was taxed on the Southern Branch with John Staple in his household.
1733-1736: He was taxed with his wife, Sarah, and son, John, in his household.
1750: He was again taxed with Sarah and John in his household (his daughter Sarah received an exemption).
|13 January 1726: William Bass, Jr. leased 150 acres on the Southern Branch from William Lovina. This lease was acknowledged in court on 17 March 1726–the same day as William Bass, Sr. claim for rights to ancestral land. He bought this land from William Lovina on 13 November 1728.
20 April 1729: He married Sarah Lovina, heiress of 200 acres adjoining the land he bought from William Lovina. Under coverture, he became the legal owner of the full 350-acre tract of land (originally patented by Richard Batchelor) John Nichols left to his children by Jean Lovina.
|18 March 1736: William Bass, Jr. and his wife Sarah sold 48 acres (of her 200-acre inheritance from John Nichols) to Thomas Deal.
14 March 1757: Sarah Bass (William’s widow), her son John Bass, and his wife Elizabeth sold 50 acres of land (from her 200-acre inheritance from John Nichols) to William Brackett. This tract was adjoining John Bass’ land (the 50 acres he re-purchased from Thomas Deal).
This land was likely sold to acquire funds to settle debts from William Bass, Jr.’s estate (which was appraised on 19 July 1756).
|20 September 1742: 3 days after his father’s will proved, William Bass, Jr. appeared before the county clerk to obtain a certificate of Indian ancestry similar to the one received by his father.
THIS IS AN IMPORTANT ACTION. The flow of land from William Bass, Sr. to William Bass, Jr. despite the survival of Edward Bass (believed to be the oldest surviving son and next heir under primogeniture) raises questions about relationships and the law of the time (specifically inheritance law related to treaties).
|John Bass (b. 1731 d. 1771) & Elizabeth Tucker (b. ____ d. >1778)
In this generation, a number of family dynamics came to light that are not explained by the present set of records.
Sarah Lovina died in 1762 and family debt problems escalated shortly thereafter in 1764. Why would both John Bass (son of William Bass and Sarah Lovina) and William Bass (nephew of William, Sarah’s husband) be sued for debt together? Were there unresolved financial matters related to their grandfather? Or perhaps Mary Bass’ inheritance from their grandfather?
|1751-1761: John Bass was head of his household on the Southern Branch from Batcheldor’s Mill to Portsmouth near William Bass (b. 1725, son of Thomas Bass).
1752: John Murer was taxed in his household.
1756-1757: John Price was taxed in his household.
1761, 1765: He shared a household with William Bass.
1766-1767: John, Elizabeth, and Joseph Bass were taxable on 100 acres in Portsmouth to New Mill Creek (with John’s daughter) Sarah Bass in 1768, and by himself in 1770.
|8 July 1742: John Bass re-purchased the 50-acre tract of land his parents sold to Thomas Deal.
30 August 1763: John Bass and Robert Kinder received a patent for 181 acres in Norfolk County near the head of Deep Creek adjoining John Bass’ land.
|14 May 1764: John Bass and his wife Elizabeth of Portsmouth Parish sold their 90-acre share of the Bass-Kinder patent to Ebenezer Hall.
On the same day they sold a 50-acre tract adjoining this land to Ebenezer Hall on. (This appears to have been the land John re-purchased from Thomas Deal).
16 November 1764: John Bass and William Bass were sued for debt in Norfolk County by Solomon Hodges.
|Thomas Bass’ son William Bass (b. 1725) was living with John Bass (his first cousin, the son of William Bass). William married Ebenezer Hall’s sister, Naomi Hall.
The Prices, another Indian family, were also living and working on Bass family land.
John Bass died 11 March 1771 (possibly intestate) and his wife, Elizabeth, was taxable that year on a tithe and 100 acres and taxable in 1772 with (their son) William Bass.
At this time the 150-acre tract of land adjoining Sarah Lovina’s 200-acre tract was gone. It is unclear what happened to this land but it may have been lost to debt.
|William Bass (b. 1755 d. 1809) & Lucy __________ (b. ____ d. >1809)
In this generation, family dynamics continue to raise questions. Joseph Bass and Willis Bass (brothers) were both sons of William Bass (b. 1725)—who was born to Thomas Bass on the land of his grandfather William Bass (b. 1654).
|William Bass was taxable in the household of his mother Elizabeth Bass in 1772 and 1774, and in his own household in 1780.
He was taxable in Norfolk County from 1782-1810.
He was head of a Norfolk County household of 7 persons in 1785 and 8 “other free” persons in 1810 (called William Bass, Sr.).
|24 August 1797: He sued Joseph Bass, his tenant on 60 acres of land, over the right to the land and a jury found in his favor.
His will proved 17 July 1809. He left his son John Gibbs (Bass) the upper part of his land, his sons William Bass and Andrew Bass half his manor plantation each, his daughter Elizabeth Gibbs (Bass) personal items, and his wife Lucy Bass her dower (which was to be divided between his sons after her death).
|William Bass was living in Portsmouth Parish on 19 July 1798 when he made a Norfolk County deed of gift to Willis Bass “of Hertford County” for 30 acres at the head of the Southern Branch and Deep Creek near the main road and the dividing line between the land of Willis Bass and John Gibbs (Bass).||The fact that Joseph Bass was a tenant on William Bass’ land suggests that he may have been living on land that his father was previously living on (with family) that went under lease.
The land that was given to Willis Bass was located in Deep Creek and had one of two possible origins—part of the 103-acre tract bought by William Bass, Sr. (b. 1654) OR part of the 200-acre tract (decreased to 100 acres) owned by William Bass, Jr. (b. 1676) through Sarah Lovina.
|William Bass (b. 1784 d. 1848) & Elizabeth Perkins (b. 1786 d. ____)||15 July 1833: William Bass registered in Norfolk County on as a “man of Indian descent.”
19 August 1833: The Norfolk County court certified that Eliza Bass (“wife of Wm Bass, son of Wm Bass”) was “not a free negro or Mulatto but of Indian descent.”
|William left a 2 March 1847 Norfolk County will (proved 21 February 1848) leaving 18 acres of land adjoining Andrew Bass to his daughters Elizabeth and Bethsada Bass and the remainder of his land to his son James Michael Bass.||James Michael Bass was the father of Augustus Bass and Jesse Lindsay Bass—the first recognized Nansemond Chiefs of the present NITA. Elizabeth Bass, who inherited half of 18 acres from her father, married Joseph Bright who ultimately used her land to establish the Indiana Methodist Church.||Several descendants of Thomas Bass, through his son Willis Bass, also received certificates of Indian descent in 1833 (along with several Prices). They were named among their cousins who all lived at the Nansemond homestead.|
This table was developed using a combination of personally collected court records and deeds from the Library of Virginia and Paul Heinegg’s abstracts on FreeAfricanAmericans.com. Heinegg’s website provides an invaluable introduction to many families; however, there are several areas where I have found conflicting information. Presentation of this information is merely a reference to it—in its current form—as a secondary source of material. I encourage all researchers to retrieve and review original records.
The evolution of the Nansemond homestead at Deep Creek reveals many of the dynamics of colonial life. Retaining land was not easy for indigenous people and free people of color. These people, who faced similar sociopolitical pressures, formed small communities to support each other and kinship groups developed from their widespread intermarriages.
Many people who were recorded as part of someone else’s household (frequently family members or friends) were employees. The employer, or owner of the property, lived in one house and the employees lived in other house(s) on the land. At tax time, property owners paid the taxes for the people on their land and reported them on the census as living together even though they did not usually cohabitate in one home. In early colonial life, when currency was scarce and unreliable, this was a convenient arrangement for many people.
This dynamic was evident through William Horse(y), John Staple, John Murer, and John Price who lived on Bass family property at different times. In the case of the Prices, another documented another Indian family that neighbored the Basses for generations, there were several intermarriages. Note that many later families (in the 1800s) assumed an Indian identity through intermarriage with the Basses but the Prices were referred to as Indian prior to any known Bass intermarriage.
Clarifying these relationships at the Nansemond homestead in Norfolk County, VA explained numerous relationships across the state line in Camden County, NC. William Bass (b. 1755), the great grandson of William Bass (b. 1654) who relocated to Camden County, NC, was recorded in the census next to Demsey Price, the great grandson of Elizabeth Price—a documented neighbor on the Western Branch of the Elizabeth River and on Deep Creek. Aaron Price, Demsey’s brother, was nearby in Pasquotank County where he married and was counted with a family in the 1810 Federal Census.
In addition to the Prices, the Halls (relatives of Ebenezer Hall—adjoining land owner of the Bass family homestead) also moved to Camden County, NC. Absalom Hall, Ebenezer’s brother, married Rachel Nickens—heiress of Camden County, NC land (through her father Richard Nickens) which they sold in 1780. Ebenezer’s nephew, Joseph Hall, married Elizabeth Bass and remained in Norfolk County while another nephew, David Hall, moved to Camden County, NC and lived a parallel life to that of William Bass (his cousin).
In conclusion, there is currently irrefutable evidence that the Basses, Prices, and Halls of Norfolk County, VA migrated over the state line to several nearby counties in North Carolina—specifically Currituck, Pasquotank, and Camden counties. While many researchers have struggled to deconflate individuals and determine migratory patterns, a careful study of the Nansemond homestead at Deep Creek reveals the origin of countless relationships. One migrant alone is not strong evidence but an entire interconnected group (with documented relationships) is.
While some researchers have focused exclusively on the small set of documentation in which individuals have been explicitly described as “Nansemond” or “Indian”, it is clear that there are other strong forms of evidence of Nansemond ancestry. The combination of: 1) lineal descent from documented Nansemond ancestor(s), 2) multi-generational residence on a shared homestead with other documented Nansemond people, and 3) shared legal actions (e.g. the sale of family land between cousins) presents a much broader perspective of the full Nansemond community at Deep Creek.
I am a descendant of Basses, Prices, and Halls who were documented as Nansemond Indians and/or lived on the Bass family homestead. In this article I have introduced a number of legal questions that have remained unanswered for decades. In upcoming articles, I will explore these issues further along with Nansemond relationships to other nearby tribal communities to provide a unique perspective of life in indigenous, mixed race communities along the colonial Virginia/North Carolina border.