This is my photo collection from the Nansemond Indian Pow Wow held at Mattanock Town (1001 Pembroke Lane, Suffolk, VA 23434) on August 20, 2016. The day before the event we visited Norfolk and Camden counties and, by traveling across U.S. Route 158 and up North Carolina Highway 32 (through Gates county), we were able to see all four corners of the Great Dismal Swamp before arriving in Suffolk for the Pow Wow.
This is my photo collection from our driving tour of Pasquotank, Camden, and Currituck counties on August 19, 2016. Some of the sites we visited were for research purposes while others were for familial significance. Our tour was led by Anne Burgess Jennings, author of Camden County (Images of America) and Currituck County (Images of America). Brief descriptions are provided below.
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).
Paul Heinegg’s website is frequently used as a genealogical reference but it also contains a collection of invaluable narrative history. Recently I stumbled upon the autobiography of Thomas P. Weaver, born in Guilford County, NC in 1841. The awe-inspiring account of his life as a pioneer from North Carolina to Indiana covers more than eighty years of American history. While Weaver’s experiences were unique, I was fascinated by their similarity to those of several of the Basses of Camden County, NC.
Weaver provided a human voice to many of the stories I have been piecing together with simple primary sources. This post will explore the lives of two Camden County, NC women whose children lived pioneer lives much like Weaver’s and I will use his sentiments to reveal how they might have felt as they followed parallel paths.
Lydia and Polly Bass were born in Camden County, NC in 1797. They were the daughters of William Bass and Nancy Sammon and it is possible that they were twins (as their ages were always exactly the same). They were recorded in their parents’ household through 1810 but, after the death of their father (between 1816 and 1820), they appear in their brother Thomas’ household (possibly the same location) where they were recorded in 1820.
Although Lydia and Polly lived most of their lives undocumented, later records contain information about their youth. Some time around 1820, Lydia met Armor Leary, who appears to have been enslaved. It was illegal for free people to marry slaves but it was not uncommon for relationships to form. This left enslaved fathers as invisible influences on many families. In the early 1820s, Lydia and Armor had two daughters, Lydia (b. 1820) and Alcia (b. 1824). After their daughters they had three sons: John (b. 1827), Willis (b. 1831), and George (b. 1840). Although there is no record of his name, Polly also appears to have had a relationship with an enslaved man. She had three sons: James (b. 1820), Thomas (b. 1823) and Louis (b. 1824).
This is an important part of the story. Lydia and Polly Bass were free women of color (of European, African, and Indian ancestry). In 1820 there were only 117 free people of color in Camden County, NC compared with 4,565 whites and 1,749 slaves (54 of the 117 free people of color were under the age of 14). This meant that when Lydia and Polly were of age, their chances of pairing with an enslaved male were significantly higher than their chances of finding an unrelated, adult, free man of color.
|1820 US Federal Census of Camden County, NC||White||Slave||Free Colored|
This social dynamic continued and may have been part of the reason why Lydia’s daughter, Alcia, and Polly’s son, James, ended up marrying in 1841 despite being first cousins. In 1847 Lydia, still an unmarried female (referred to as a “feme sole” under the laws of coverture) purchased 100 acres of land for $400 from David Pritchard. The parcel was described as lying in the upper part of the county on the south side of Joys Creek bounded by the property of Fanny Edney, Lemuel Edney, Samuel Edney, and Dr. Ferebe.
It is unclear how Lydia got the money to buy this land but in the 1850 Federal Census she was the head of her household with her three sons and her sister Polly living on her land. James (32) and Alcia (26) were living nearby with their children Fanny (7), Armor (5), Oliver (3), and Caleb (0). Polly’s son Thomas (27) and his wife Mariah (32) were living next to James’ family with their children Eliza (12), Levi (4), and Lydia (2). In the neighboring household, another of Polly’s sons, Louis (26), and his wife Mariah (23) were living with their children, Wilson (15), Andrew (13), Cason (11), and Nehemiah (5).
The following year, on December 2, 1851, Lydia made a deed of gift for all of her land to her oldest son John. This was Lydia’s last transaction and it appears she passed away shortly thereafter. After receiving his mother’s land, John Bass made a number of transactions—on January 7, 1853 he sold the land his mother gave him for $550 to Elizabeth and Polly McCoy (Deed Book Z, Page 449) and on the same day he bought 27 acres for $700 from Henry Chamberlain (Deed Book Z, Page 440). Two years later, on August 13, 1855, John sold this newly acquired land to his two cousins, Thomas and Louis Bass, for $250.
According to family accounts, life became increasingly difficult in Camden County, NC with the impending Civil War. Though Lydia and Polly were free, their close relationships with enslaved people gave their children a dual perspective—they were free but their families were not free. Some time after 1855, John Bass left South Mills in Camden County, NC for Xenia in Greene County, OH where he was recorded in the 1860 Federal Census in the household of Francis Ritter, an Austrian musician.
This was the first common point of migration I noticed between the Weavers and the Basses. Wilberforce in Xenia was a community established on progressive principles. It offered better living conditions and job opportunities that attracted people of color and white abolitionists throughout the south. In 1856, Wilberforce University was founded through a conference of African American religious leaders and state government officials to support advanced education for people of color.
John’s siblings, Polly, and all of her children were recorded in South Mills in the 1860 Federal Census but several soon joined John in Xenia to escape the rising social and political tension in the South. They did not want to leave, and considered returning to be with their family, but they ultimately decided that it was safer in the North. Of the original South Mills cohort, Lydia’s children, Alcia and John, relocated to Xenia while Lydia (the younger) and her two youngest children, Willis and George remained. Polly and her two oldest children, James and Thomas, also relocated while her youngest, Louis, remained.
Although Weaver was free from slavery in Ohio, his story reveals that his life was still wrought with struggle. When the Civil War began, he did not hesitate to volunteer. John Bass also joined the military in 1863 as a private in Company A of the 16th Regiment U.S. Colored Infantry. He was a single carpenter at the time and was described as 5’5″ tall with a yellow complexion, black hair and black eyes. John’s brother George, who remained in North Carolina, also enlisted. He was a private in the 36th U.S. Colored Infantry and was described as 5′, 4″ tall with a brown complexion, black hair and black eyes. There is no record of Thomas Bass having served in the military but he passed away at the age of 41 in 1864.
By the 1870s, the Civil War was over and the Reconstruction Era was underway. Polly was a domestic servant for a white woman named Sophia Parry in Xenia. James and Alcia were living with their children nearby, as were John and his wife Eliza and Mariah, Thomas’ widow. They each owned a considerable amount of real estate at this time. In Camden County, NC, Louis remained on the Bass family land and owned $1730 in real estate as did his oldest son Wilson.
Polly appears to have died some time around 1875. While many of the Basses remained in Xenia, James and Alcia continued their pioneer journey to New Garden in Wayne, Indiana where they were recorded in the 1880 Federal Census. Weaver wrote of his migration to the same town which was home to a large group of Quakers who provided a significant amount of support to free people of color. Early Meeting records document Quakers providing food, clothing, employment assistance, and even paying the legal expenses of free people of color who had been kidnapped and sold into slavery. Interestingly, when James and Alcia arrived in their new home they went from being labeled as “Mulatto” to “White.”
James and Alcia, the children of Polly and Lydia Bass, ended their pioneer journey in Arlington in Van Buren, Michigan, 900 miles away from where they were born. They left a number of essential records that shed light on their journey, including the 1900 Federal Census which recorded that they were married in 1841. Their 61 year marriage and migration through four states covered several important locations and moments in American history.
The 1948 obituary of James and Alcia’s son, James Franklin Bass, provides a testament as to why their family left Camden County, NC in the 1860s. It reads, “Bass was born in Zenia, O., the son of James and Alcia Bass. His parents, born in slavery in North Carolina, had made their escape through the underground railroad to Ohio.” Although it is historical fact that neither James nor Alcia was born into slavery, their fathers were enslaved and this statement reveals how they felt living in the South.
There is much more to discover about the lives of the pioneer Basses and their relatives who remained in South Mills through the 1900s but one thing is clear—regardless of being born free, people of color lived through grave dangers. Their freedom could have been stolen at any time and countless families moved from place to place to avoid the threat of being enslaved. These shared experience formed many communities of white abolitionists, African Americans, and people of mixed race who banded together to survive.
Thomas P. Weaver’s words about the pioneer life resonate to this day:
“…may God lay out for me a more beautiful pathway than I have traveled, beaten about from post to pillar as a cast away far from home and in a strange land and with strangers, perhaps to the end of my days. After going through the dangers, trials and tribulations, I can only say, praise God that He has brought me safe thus far…“
Primary Sources Supporting Lydia Bass’ Story:
Primary Sources Supporting Polly Bass’ Story:
The Nansemond are a Native American tribe whose ancestral land surrounds the Nansemond River in southeastern Virginia. During the early 1600s, the tribe was briefly part of the Powhatan Paramount Chiefdom along with approximately thirty other Algonquian-speaking tribes in the area. The arrival of English settlers and the subsequent Anglo-Powhatan Wars led to land loss and displacement for thousands of native people.
The majority of the tribe’s present membership traces its ancestry to the early intermarriage of a Nansemond woman, Elizabeth, and an English settler, John Bass, in 1638. While some Nansemond resisted English culture, many tribal members—including Elizabeth—converted to Christianity and assimilated. The complex history of colonial and post-colonial Nansemond life has been most thoroughly documented by anthropologist Helen Rountree.
Elizabeth and John Bass’ descendants spread throughout Virginia and North Carolina but the tribal core remained in a community called Bowers Hill along the northern perimeter of the Great Dismal Swamp. If you ask people in Camden County, many are familiar with the Bass family. In fact, the current chief of the tribe, Earl Bass, lives in South Mills but most people view the Nansemond as close Virginian neighbors rather than locals.
A brief study of the geography and development of Norfolk and Camden counties reveals the basis for a relationship much closer than neighbors. Though people frequently traveled across the Virginia-North Carolina border, the construction of the Dismal Swamp Canal created a direct connection between the communities of Deep Creek (at the northern edge of the Great Dismal Swamp) and South Mills (at the southern edge). U.S. Route 17, a causeway road, opened in 1790 and construction on the Canal began in 1793.
The Canal was dug from the ends to the middle and, when it was completed in 1805, it connected the Elizabeth River to the Pasquotank River—which further connected the Chesapeake Bay to the Albemarle Sound. This significant internal development transformed regional transportation and, before it was even in use, changed the composition of families in the area. Many communities long established north of the state border began to shift south.
One year after construction of the Dismal Swamp Canal began, a William Bass signed a six year lease (January 1, 1794 – January 1, 1800) with John Jones, Sr. for a plantation of 60 acres located on the east side of the Pasquotank River in Camden County. Indian corn and apples were noted as produce from the plantation and William was required to share a portion with John. By the 1800 Federal Census, William was listed with a household of seven–one male over 45 (born before 1755), one female 26-44 (born 1756-1774), one male 10-15 (born 1785-1790), and four females under 10 (born 1790-1800).
One year after the end of his lease, on April 10, 1801, William Bass purchased 125 acres of land from John Sikes. This land was also located on the east side of the Pasquotank River, opposite of Richardson’s Landing, and bounded by the land of Pharaoh Sawyer, David Hall, Thomas Overton, and Joel Sawyer (Deed Book I, Page 148). Six years later, a Joseph Bass purchased 6.20 acres from Mathias Etheridge on March 28, 1807. This land was located in Areneuse Creek and his neighbors were Demsey Etheridge, Peter Marcus, Esquire, William Pugh, and Thomas Ferrell.
In the 1810 Federal Census, Joseph was head of a household of four with one male 26-44 (born 1766-1784), one female 16-25 (born 1785-1794), one female under 10 (born after 1800), and one slave. William appears to have died some time between 1816 and 1820 (when his transactions ended and he stopped being recorded in the Federal Census), but his wife and children remained in the area. Joseph was also never documented in Camden County again but he too left family behind.
In the 1820 Federal Census, a Nancy Bass was head of a household of nine including one female over 45 (born before 1785), three females 26-44 (born 1776-1794), two females 14-25 (born 1775-1806), one female under 14 (born after 1806), and two males under 14 (born after 1806). Nancy, William’s widow, appeared to have been living with their daughters (and perhaps some grandchildren) but their only son moved out.
Thomas Bass‘ household of five included one male over 45 (born before 1785), one female 26-44 (born 1776-1794), one male 14-25 (born 1775-1806), and two females 14-25 (born 1775-1806). Based on order in the census and the names of neighbors it appears that Thomas’ household was close to Nancy’s and it is possible that some of his siblings were living with him.
From this core family, the Basses established themselves in Camden County just 20 miles south of the Nansemond Bass family of Norfolk County. Interestingly, the core of the tribal community lived around Galberry Road in Norfolk and the relocated Basses established a new Gallberry Road in Camden (see the full map here). Collectively, they owned hundreds of acres of land, held a number of different jobs, served in the military, and a road—Bass Lake Road (near McBride Church, which the family attended)—still exists in their memory. Some major questions remain to be answered about this family:
Although his birthplace is currently undocumented, William Bass (b. 1755) married his wife, Ann (Nancy) Sammon in Norfolk County, VA in 1786. Willis Bass (a likely relative) was the surety for William’s marriage and he married Jemima Nickens around the same time (both marriage bonds were dated December 18, 1786). While William established his family in Camden County, NC, Willis remained in Norfolk County, VA.
Nancy Sammon’s lineage is unclear but there is strong evidence that she descended from the Salmon/Sammon family of Lower Norfolk and Princess Anne counties. The Sammons owned land in an area called Pungo Ridge which was close to where the Norfolk Basses were living on the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River near Great Bridge.
Rather than a lack of evidence of William Bass and Joseph Bass’ presence in Norfolk, the problem is an abundance of evidence related to multiple people by the same names. In fact, there were Basses of these names and ages in counties throughout Virginia and North Carolina. Until William Bass and Joseph Bass of Camden County can be differentiated from those in other locations, their relationships are an indirect means of studying their origins.
David Hall (b. 1755-1765) was a likely relative of William Bass. They may have been cousins and they may have had connections to the same Salmon(s)/Sammon(s) family (William Bass’ wife was Nancy Sammon and David Hall’s son was Willoughby Sammons). The Basses and the Halls lived together in Virginia, North Carolina, and those who received bounty land warrants for military service in the Revolutionary War moved together to Tennessee. David Hall and William Bass shared many familial connections and owned adjoining land for most of their lives in Camden County.
The Price family was also closely connected to the Bass family in both Norfolk and Camden. The descendants of Elizabeth Price (b. 1675) dispersed between the two counties and they intermarried so much that Price became a common surname of the Nansemond tribe. Sally Price married John Gibbs Bass in 1812 and Nancy Price married Nelson Bass in 1817. Asa Price, who married Sally Bass, received a court order certifying that he was of Indian descent and was ‘not a free negro or mulatto’ in 1833 (Norfolk County, Quarterly Superior Court, Minute Book 24, Pages 27-28).
Willis Bass and Jemima Nicken’s children were recorded in the Bass Family Bible—which is one of the primary records used to verify lineage for tribal enrollment with the Nansemond. Several of their children also went on to be certified as ‘not free-Negroes or Mulattoes’ but ‘of Indian descent’ in 1833.
These records, based on the testimony of friends, were the result of the ‘Not Negro Law‘ passed by Norfolk, VA legislator John Murdaugh. The law was intended to protect prominent people of mixed race (generally a combination of European, African, and Indian ancestry) from emerging anti-Black legislation after Nat Turner’s Rebellion. Many families of identical origins throughout the state of North Carolina do not have these records because this law was not passed in North Carolina.
The Camden Basses were documented as ‘White’ in the early 1800s but were often documented as ‘Mulatto’ and/or ‘Negro’ in later years. Though there was little consistency in their racial descriptions, this pattern was entirely consistent with the manner in which other Indian people—including the Norfolk Basses—were documented at the time. Several descendants of William Bass (of Camden County) traveled to Norfolk and several descendants of Willis Bass (of Norfolk County) relocated to Camden.
A number of other families from the Nansemond core followed similar migratory patterns. The two earliest surnames associated with the tribe were Bass and Weaver. Some surnames that later became associated with the tribe (primarily through intermarriage with people of European ancestry) are: Bateman, Bond, Brady, Bright, Cable, Collins, Craigins, Gaylord, Gray, Green, Harmon, Holloway, Howard, Jones, Okay, Osborn, Porter, Price, Rowland, Sawyer, Scott, Sebastian, Simcoe, White, Wilkins, and Williams.
Though the current evidence of the origin of the Camden Bass family is strong, more information must be collected to verify their lineage. This is a complex story and one must be adamant about supporting all statements with records. The Bass family and most other free families of color migrated in a number of directions and it is a challenge to keep chronologies and identities clear.
Through my exhaustive research of the Camden Basses, I have discovered a number of other potential Indian families living around them. Have you heard stories of Indians in your own Camden County research? I would love to collect oral history from others with similar ancestry. Stay tuned for new posts about the lives of William Bass’ descendants.
The featured image on this post is a custom map overlay I made using “Dismal Swamp Canal connecting the Chesapeake Bay with Currituck, Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds and their tributary streams, by D. S. Walton, Civil Engineer, 1867.” The original map was made after the migration of the Basses from Norfolk to Camden but it contains detailed information about early infrastructure.
In my early research, the life of Joel Newsom (b. 1818) was on the periphery. As the suspected brother of my third great grandfather, Henry Newsom (b. 1812), he was always a person of interest but never the focal point. After collecting a wide variety of records and slowly integrating decades of information, I came to see the life of Joel Newsom as the clearest path to the probable father of all the Camden Newsoms—another Joel Newsom. The stories of Joel Newsom, Sr. and Joel Newsom, Jr. touch upon a number of family members who provide insight into the lifestyles and motives of nineteenth century free people of color.
Joel Newsom, Sr. was born in Northampton County, NC between 1776 and 1794 to Moses Newsom (b. 1735) and an unknown mother. There is little information about his early life but his father was a relatively well established Revolutionary War patriot with a large amount of land. Some time before 1807, Joel Newsom, Sr. married Penny Walden, the daughter of Winnifred Newsom (his step-mother) and her previous husband, John Walden. It is possible that Joel had a previous wife, but together he and Penny had at least two, possibly three sons—Henry, Andrew, and Joel Newsom, Jr..
There were no Northampton County deeds for Joel Newsom, Sr., so he and his family may have lived on the land of his father or that of another relative. Together the Newsoms owned hundreds of acres in Kirbys Creek just south of the Virginia line and the Meherrin River near present day Conway, NC. In the 1810 Federal Census, Joel was listed with many other Newsoms. Amos, Henry, James, Moses, and Nathaniel Newsom were all close relatives and neighbors. In the 1820 Federal Census, Henry and James Newsom had moved to Ohio but Amos, Moses, Nathaniel and several other Newsoms remained in the area.
It is unclear why some of the family chose to stay while others chose to leave, but it could have been money related. Moses Newsom left his youngest sons, Henry and James Newsom, a large amount of land in his will (proved 1805) which they were able to sell for money to purchase land elsewhere. The brothers moved to Ohio with the Marmon family (which was spelled Merrimon in Northampton County) shortly after their father’s death. They were likely pursuing a better quality of life away from the increasing social tensions for free people of color in North Carolina.
Some time between 1820 and 1830 Joel Newsom, Sr. passed away. Henry would have been around 20 years old at this time but Andrew and Joel were still teenagers and this left their mother Penny in a difficult situation. Records do not reveal how and why she went to Pasquotank County, but in 1830 she bound her youngest son Joel into an apprenticeship there with Vincent McPherson (in 1833 Joel was bound out again to Miles White). Shortly after 1833 Penny Newsom also passed away and Andrew, who was still a minor at the time, was bound into an apprenticeship with Ambrose McPherson.
Throughout the 1830s-1840s, the heirs Joel Newsom Sr. were mentioned in James Newsom’s estate distribution cases in Champaign and Logan Counties (rather than Joel himself) further indicating that he was deceased by 1830. In these cases his heirs were named as Moses Newsom, Henry Newsom, Angelina Artist (wife of George Artist), Lucy Hunt (wife of James Hunt), and four unknown heirs.
Although there are no records to place Joel Newsom, Jr. in 1840, in the 1850 Federal Census he was out of his apprenticeship and living in Camden County with his wife Matilda and their children Mary Jane, Sarah, and Martha and Mary Sexton (of unknown relationship). Henry Newsom was living in the neighboring household with his wife Eliza and their children Martha, Mary, Ann, and Elizabeth. At the time, Henry owned a 30 year old male slave and a 15 year old female slave.
Joel and Henry were likely farmhands on the farm of William W. Sanderlin which was located in Belcross. Neither one of them owned real estate; however, in fall of 1854 Henry Newsom and his son-in-law, Theophilus Cartwright, bought 55 acres from Caleb Waterfield. In that same year, Joel Newsom, Jr. and other heirs of Joel Newsom, Sr. were documented in a Champaign County lawsuit against Abraham Colwell. Was it a coincidence that Henry Newsom had the money to purchase land right after the heirs of Joel Newsom, Sr. received a settlement in spring of 1854?
In the early 1850s, Joel and Matilda Newsom moved to Philadelphia, PA. They did not appear in the census because they moved there in between census years but their relatively brief period of residence was captured in the death certificate of their son Eli Newsom. Eli, whose surname appears to have alternated between Newsom and Sexton, was born in Philadelphia in 1855.
It does not appear that Joel Newsom, Jr. was in Philadelphia, PA alone. His uncle, Nathan Newsom, was documented there as early as 1820 in Northern Liberties—an area densely populated by Quakers and free people of color. In 1828, Nathan Newsom and his wife (?) M Newsom were recorded on a Pennsylvania Passenger and Crew List. They traveled from Cap-Haitien, a port in Haiti, back into Philadelphia on the schooner MacDonough.
Nathan’s journey happened around the time that some members of the American Colonization Society—a group dedicated to the repatriation of free African Americans—were shifting their focus from a colony in Liberia to a colony in Haiti (which was a closer, faster point of relocation). With the approval of Haitian president Jean-Pierre Boyer, an estimated 6,000 free African Americans emigrated to Haiti from ports in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York.
In theory, free African Americans would have a better quality of life and be out of the sight of slaves who may have been roused to rebellion due to a desire to be free as well. Unfortunately for many who invested in this plan, emigration was a disappointment. Life was not better (for most) in Haiti and there was also a language barrier. This led many free African Americans to return to their home states and it is quite possible that Nathan Newsom and his wife were a part of this venture.
Nathan Newsom was noted as living in Pennsylvania (while others were in North Carolina or Ohio) in each of the Newsom family estate distribution court records (1830s-1840s). He was still living in Northern Liberties during the 1847 African American Census sponsored by the Pennsylvania Abolition Society.
Some time between 1856 and 1860, Joel and his family moved from Philadelphia, PA to Logan, OH. In the 1860 census, Joel, Matilda, Mary, and Sarah Newsom along with four Saxton children (William, Martha, Eli, and Joseph) were all living in Jefferson Township. Dorothy Newsom, the widow of Joel’s uncle Henry Newsom, was living in the neighboring household with her sons Nathan, Henry, and Isaiah Newsom.
Joel went from having no real estate in NC to having $1800 in real estate and $400 in personal estate in OH. Nathan Newsom’s real estate was valued at $3650 and his personal estate was also valued at $400. In the following census year of 1870, Joel remained in Bellefontaine, OH but his real estate value went down to $400 while Nathan’s went down to $700. It is unclear what happened to cause these values to fluctuate so drastically.
After over a year of collecting individual records to tell the story of Joel Newsom, Jr.’s life, I found an obituary in the October 20, 1899 edition of The Bellefontaine Republican that verified many of the details I placed together. He was born on March 3, 1818 in North Carolina. His father died leaving his mother (Penny) impoverished and forced to apprentice him with someone with the money to care for him. At the end of his apprenticeship he moved to Philadelphia, PA and then continued on to Logan, OH. He experienced a significant amount of loss in his life but remained an honorable man of good character.
Joel Newsom, Jr.’s travel exposed him to life in three states and the perspectives of many different people. His familial relationships also established a bridge from the Camden Newsoms to the Northampton and Logan Newsoms. My current research goal is to locate additional records related to the inheritance of Joel Newsom, Sr.’s heirs to complete this branch of the family.
In genealogy, the last will and testament is a fundamental record. It generally names an individual’s spouse, children, and sometimes other relatives and friends. Unfortunately, many more people die intestate (without will) than testate (with will)—forcing genealogists to search for other types of evidence to prove familial relationships.
So, what is the next best thing to a last will and testament? In the case of the Newsom family (and many others), the answer is estate distributions. Probate records describe a deceased person’s estate and name each heir entitled to a portion of it. In the past, estate distributions frequently spanned years and sometimes multiple generations, often proving relationships between people who were not even alive at the same time. In my journey to identify the parents of the Camden Newsoms, I have relied heavily on estate distributions stemming from the patriarch, Moses Newsom.
Moses Newsom (b. 1735) died in November 1805. His September 1805 will left a parcel of land on the Little Swamp in Northampton County near the Roanoke River to his wife Winnifred Newsom. He left one dollar to George Artist and his heirs and one dollar to the heirs of his daughter Tabitha Cumbo (Jinny Cumbo, Henry Cumbo, and John Cumbo). Moses left his cooping tools to his son Henry Newsom and forty shillings Virginia money to his son James Newsom. He left the remainder of his estate to be divided equally between each of his children (except those mentioned) by his son Nathaniel Newsom (his executor).
In November 1805, promptly after Moses Newsom’s will proved, Winnifred Newsom filed a petition with the court stating that her late husband did not provide for her in his will. She added that Moses “in order to defeat your petitioner of her just right of dower fraudulently, covenously, and surreptitiously granted and conveyed all his real estate to his infant sons James and Henry.” The land that Winnifred wanted apportioned for her dower was described as 600 acres in Northampton County on Kirby Creek, Angelica Branch, meted and bounded by the land of Exum Hollimon and Nathaniel Newsom. Nathan Newsom, an adult brother of James and Henry Newsom, was appointed guardian of the two minors pro hac vice (for this occasion only) so that the case could be settled.
Winnifred’s accusation is supported by several Northampton County records:
The Northampton County sheriff ordered a jury to meet to set aside one third of the 600 acre parcel of land for Winnifred Newsom, including the “mansion house and outhouses.” It is unclear why Moses left Winnifred land on the Roanoke River (which defines the southern border of Northampton County) rather than land on Kirby Creek (which is in the northeastern part of Northampton County) but it appears that this was a point of conflict in the family. The court ultimately awarded Winnifred the land she requested in January 1806. There are several genealogical clues in the handling of this petition:
In the early 1800s, Henry and James Newsom—along with many other free families of color from Northampton County, NC—moved to Ohio1. Henry Newsom, documented as Logan County’s first settler of color2, purchased his land from the Marmons who were members of the Society of Friends and active abolitionists. While Henry’s land was located in Logan County and Mercer County, his brother James’ land was located in the neighboring counties of Champaign, Delaware, and Union. When Henry and James moved to Ohio, some of their siblings remained in North Carolina and their brother Nathan moved to Pennsylvania.
In the mid 1820s, James Newsom died intestate in Champaign County without a living wife or child to inherit his estate. This led to his brother, Henry, being named as his administrator to oversee the equal distribution of his estate between his living siblings and the heirs of his deceased siblings. The subsequent cases are of great genealogical value because they identify the children, grandchildren, and even some great grandchildren of Moses Newsom (information that would rarely, if ever, be included in a will).
In order to distribute James Newsom’s estate between his heirs, Henry Newsom filed a chancery suit in the Champaign County Court of Common Pleas in July 1832. At this point in time, James Newsom’s named heirs were:
The court ordered the sheriff of Champaign County, at the time Frederick Ambrose, to sell James Newsoms’ land which included 200 acres of land in Champaign County (part of the 1100 acre tract of land that was Military Survey Number 4814 in Rush Township) and four lots (numbers 12, 17, 30, and 34) in the town of Milford of Union County (formerly part of Delaware County). The lots in Milford sold within a year but the land in Champaign remained on the market for several years—including a sale and foreclosure that drew the case out even longer.
In October 1838, Jason Hicks was appointed special commissioner to receive the distributive share of money from the sale of James Newsom’s land on behalf of John and Henry Cumbo (heirs of Tabitha Cumbo) whose state of residence was unknown. John Newsom, their brother-in-law, was the security. In October 1840, Peter Byrd was appointed special commissioner to receive the distributive share on behalf of Nathan Newsom who was living in Philadelphia, PA at the time.
Before there was full resolution to the distribution of James Newsom’s estate, Henry Newsom died in October 1841. He named his son, Nathan Newsom, and family friend, Joshua Marmon (an experienced trustee), as executors of his will. Nathan declined to act in the role, so Joshua was left as the sole executor. Given that many of the descendants of Moses Newsom had relocated to Ohio, some difficulties arose in the distribution of land and money to heirs who were out of state. Furthermore, Henry Newsom—the administrator of James Newsom’s remaining estate distribution—was now deceased so the responsibility for these unsettled matters shifted to Joshua Marmon.
In April 1847, Michael (also known as Micajah) Ran—the widow of James Newsom’s sister Chloe Ran—filed a suit against Joshua Marmon—Henry Newsom’s administrator. In the suit Michael indicated that Henry Newsom—James Newsom’s administrator—agreed to collect Chloe’s portion of James Newsom’s estate while she was out of state (in Halifax County, NC). This would negate the need for the out-of-state resident security Chloe would have had to pay to collect her inheritance. Before the money could be transferred to Chloe, both Chloe and Henry Newsom died. Michael argued that he was entitled to receive the inheritance owed to his deceased wife.
The details of this case spanned 22 pages and ultimately set a legal precedent in Ohio for out-of-state resident securities in chancery law. The court ruled in Michael Ran’s favor but it is unclear who—if anyone—ever collected Chloe Ran’s inheritance. Nonetheless, it is clear that other out-of-state heirs of James Newsom benefited from Michael Ran’s legal action. After the July 1848 ruling, other heirs came forward.
In April 1854, the heirs of of Joel Newsom filed a suit against Abraham Colwell for their father’s portion of James Newsom’s estate. Abraham Colwell was the master of chancery in Champaign County at the time of Michael Ran’s supreme court case and—like the Rans—the heirs of Joel Newsom were all living in North Carolina and authorized Henry Newsom as power of attorney to receive their portion of the money collected from the sale of James Newsom’s land until it could be collected in person.
When I began this search, I seriously struggled with finding the right place to point the magnifying glass. Which details were important? Which details were irrelevant? After collecting countless records from multiple states and counties—wills, estates, chancery records, newspaper articles, supreme court records, and more—the story has finally crystalized. However, additional records remain to be collected to fully document Moses Newsom’s legacy.
Here is what you can expect to see in future posts:
1Purgatory Between Kentucky and Canada: African Americans in Ohio
Edited by Marsha R. Robinson
2History of Logan County and Ohio
William Henry Perrin, J.H. Battle, O.L. Baskin & Co
Although Joel Newsom is documented as a son of Moses Newsom, information about his life is relatively sparse. In the 1810 Federal Census, Joel was the head of a household of 7 other free persons in Northampton County, North Carolina. By the 1820 Federal Census, his household increased to 9 other free persons including 4 males under 14, 1 male 14-25, 1 male 26-44, 2 females 14-25, and 1 female 26-44. Based on this record, Joel was born some time between 1776-1794.
When Joel’s father Moses died in 1805, Joel was not named individually in his will (but presumably included in the group of living children who were to receive the residue of his estate). The first probate record to name Joel Newsom was the 1807 will of his father’s widow, Winna (Winnifred) Newsom. Within the will, Winna left the money acquired from the sale of her livestock to be “divided between Howell Wade’s children and Joel Newsom’s children—the money put out upon interest until they come of age or marry.”
Joel Newsom, Penny Newsom (named as Winna’s daughter), and Lucy Newsom (named as Winna’s granddaughter) were the only Newsoms named in the will. Given Winna’s marriage to Joel’s father, it is documented that Winna was his step-mother but where are her other known step children in her will? This raises the question, “How was Joel’s relationship to Winna different than that of his siblings?“
There are two potential genealogical answers:
Later records reveal the names of Joel’s children. Around 1832, James Newsom—a brother of Joel—died inestate without a living wife or child to inherit his estate. In that same year, Henry Newsom—another brother of Joel—filed a petition in Champaign County, Ohio to partition the land of their deceased brother. This suit named each of the living heirs of James Newsom (including Nathaniel Newsom who was the executor of their father, Moses’s, estate). The fact that Joel’s children were named indicates that he was deceased in 1832 (he was also missing from the census in 1830). Joel’s children were identified as:
Later records also reveal the names of Penny’s children. Around 1830 her two sons, Andrew (born in 1816) and Joel (born in 1818), were apprenticed by the Justices of the Peace (indicating that Penny was deceased or too poor to care for them herself) in Pasquotank County, North Carolina. Penny was not named in earlier censuses (as she was likely under a male head of household), so it is difficult to determine where she lived and why her children ended up in Pasquotank County rather than remaining in Northampton County with the Newsom family core.
For the three Newsoms of Camden County, NC, this leaves two distinct possibilities:
Resolution to these questions lies in the details of the many Newsom estate distributions spanning from Northampton County, North Carolina to Logan County, Ohio and across three generations. In my next post, I will share more about what I have come to call the “cascading cases.”
1Note the early presence of Hunts in Pasquotank County, North Carolina.
Henry Newsom (b. 1812) is my third great grandfather and the journey to locate his family has taught me more about genealogy than any other ancestor I have researched so far. If you want to learn about Revolutionary War Patriots, bounty land warrants, estate distributions, Quaker relationships with free people of color and more, this series of posts is for you.
In the 1850 Federal Census, there were three Newsoms living along the Pasquotank River. Henry Newsom (b. 1812) and Joel Newsom (b. 1818) were living side-by-side in Camden County. They were both farmers, likely employed by “Wm Sanderlin” (the owner of a neighboring farm). Andrew Newsom (b. 1816) was living nearby in Pasquotank County. He was also a farmer and was counted in the household of “M Sanderlin” where he was likely a farmhand. The proximity, closeness in age, and similarity in community relationships led me to believe that these Newsoms were brothers—but proving that turned into a genealogical odyssey.
One of my earliest realizations was that these three Newsoms were not born in Camden County. Their birthplaces were always listed as “N.C.” (rather than Camden) and there were no living, older Newsoms in the county to associate them with. Paul Heinegg’s Free African Americans contained a detailed account of the Newsom family of Northampton County but I had no records to connect the two groups of people. I spent months searching for information with no leads—part of the challenge being the many spellings of the name “Newsom” (which can be spelled Newsam, Newsome, Newson, Nusan, Nusene, Nusom, Nuson, Nusum, Nusun, Hewsom, Hewson, etc.).
Unexpectedly, after researching these Newsoms for over a year, I stumbled upon a Pasquotank County apprentice bond for Andrew Newsom, son of Penny Newsom1, to Ambrose McPherson. The year was not legible on the bond but I soon found another Pasquotank County apprentice bond made in 1830 for Joel Newsom, son of Penny Newsom, to Vincent McPherson. The records revealed that the boys’ mother was deceased when they were teenagers. Henry, as the oldest, did not appear to have been apprenticed—possibly because he was an adult (over 21) when their mother died.
This revelation did more than identify a parent—it established a connection between the Newsoms of Camden County and the Newsoms of Northampton County. Penny Newsom was noted in Heinegg’s research as the daughter of Moses and Winnifred Newsom. Both Moses and Winnifred had previous marriages so their combined family was quite large (and complex from a genealogical perspective).
This timeline of Moses Newsom’s life is based on his 1805 will and estate and an 1832 chancery suit filed by his youngest son Henry to partition the land of his brother, James, who died without a living wife or child (leaving his siblings as his heirs). The ages of the children suggest that Moses Newsom and Winnifred Walden did not have any biological children together (Henry, the presumed youngest child was born around 1780 which was more than 10 years before their marriage).
This timeline of Winnifred Walden Newsom’s life is based on her 1807 will and details from her first husband, John Walden’s life. By naming Harwood Walden and Penny Newsom as her children (not named in Moses Newsom’s will as children), she reveals that Penny may have not been born a Newsom. Both Harwood and Penny had children who were alive at Winnifred’s death in 1807 (Winna and Lucy), meaning they would have been at or close to adulthood in 1807 (born at least 5-10 years before Winnifred married Moses).
Though the family of Moses and Winnifred was large and complex, they left a large number of records which can be used to prove relationships–both directly and indirectly:
Heinegg’s research presents a detailed account of the Newsom family; however, my ancestral line reveals an unexplored part of the Newsom story. My objective is to use this collection of records and some crucial new records to answer the following questions:
Proving genealogical relationships is a non-linear process. One can only put facts in clear, chronological order when the story is “done.” In this case, the story is in progress so I will present evidence from a variety of time periods and places to highlight familial connections. The foundation of this story is the three Newsoms of Camden County; so, before proceeding, here is a table with the key facts that connect the Newsoms of Camden County to the Newsoms of Northampton County:
|Three Newsoms of Camden County, NC|
|Henry Newsom (b. 1812)||Andrew Newsom (b. 1816)||Joel Newsom (b. 1818)|
|1830||In 1830 Andrew Newsom, the son of Penny Newsom, was ordered by the court into an apprenticeship with Ambrose McPherson of Pasquotank County, NC. Andrew was 14 years old at the time and the apprenticeship was to last until he was 21 years old (1837).||In 1830 Joel Newsom, the son of Penny Newsom, was ordered by the court into an apprenticeship with Vincent McPherson of Pasquotank County, NC. Joel was 12 years old at the time and the apprenticeship was to last until he was 21 years old (1839). In 1833 Joel’s apprenticeship was transferred to Miles White, also of Pasquotank County.|
|1840||No Records||No Records||No Records|
|1850||In 1850 Henry Newsom (45 years old) was living in Camden County, NC with his wife Eliza (30 years old) and their children Martha (11 years old), Mary (9 years old), Ann (5 years old), and Elizabeth (11 months old). He owned a 30 year old male slave and a 15 year old female slave. Joel Newsom and his family lived in the neighboring household. (He and Joel were likely farmhands on the farm of Wm W Sanderlin which was located next to their households). In 1854 Henry Newsom and Theophilus Cartwright bought 55 acres from Caleb Waterfield for $800. The land was bounded by the land of David Hall and Ammon Brite’s Mill Pond. (Theophilus Cartwright (b. 1830) was the mulatto son of Nancy Cartwright (b. 1789) and a negro man named Joseph.)||In 1850 Andrew Newsom (36 years old) was living in Pasquotank County, NC in the household of M (Maximilian?) Sanderlin. He was one of several laborers but only two free people of color in the household.||In 1850 Joel Newsom (34 years old) was living in Camden County, NC with his wife Matilda (21 years old) and their children Mary Jane (6 years old), Sarah (3 years old), Martha (3 months old), and Mary Sexton (8 years old). Henry Newsom and his family lived in the neighboring household. (He and Joel were likely farmhands on the farm of Wm W Sanderlin which was located next to their households). In 1855 Joel Newsom and his family were living in Philadelphia, PA–possibly with Nathan Newsom (who may have been his uncle). At least two children, Eli and David, were born while Joel’s family lived there.|
|1860||In 1860 Henry Newsom (50 years old) was living in Camden County, NC with his wife Eliza (40 years old) and their children Ann (13 years old), Elizabeth (11 years old), Jane (9 years old), Elijah (5 years old), Theophilus (4 years old), Ailsey (5 months old), and Isaac (21 years old). His real estate was valued at $1000 and his personal estate was valued at $568. Theophilus and Ailsey Cartwright were in the neighboring household.||In 1860 Andrew Newsom (45 years old) was living in Camden County, NC with his wife Eliza (40 years old) and their children Henry (17 years old), Quinton (4 years old), Calvin (4 years old), Henry (3 years old), and Mary (9 months old). It is possible that some of the young ones in the household were grandchildren. Andrew and Eliza (?) attended McBride Church in South Mills around 1860.||In 1860 Joel Newsom (40 years old) was living in Logan County, OH with his wife Matilda (31 years old) and their children Mary (14 years old), Sarah J (12 years old), William Sexton (10 years old), Martha Sexton (10 years old), Eli Sexton (6 years old), and Joseph Sexton (6 months old). His real estate was valued at $1800 and his personal estate was valued at $400. They lived in the neighboring household to Dorothy (Byrd) Newsom (69 years old)—widow of Henry Newsom—and her son Nathan Newsom (49 years old).|
|1870||In 1870 Henry Newsom (60 years old) was living in Camden County, NC with his wife Eliza (50 years old) and their children Elijah (17 years old), Theophilus (11 years old), and Alicy (9 years old). His real estate was valued at $1200 and his personal estate at $130. Theophilus and Ailsey Cartwright were still living nearby.||In 1870 Andrew Newsom (58 years old) was living in Camden County, NC with his wife Eliza (50 years old) and their children Calvin (18 years old), Quinton (18 years old), Andrew (14 years old), and Mary Ann (12 years old). Sometime between 1870 and 1875, Ailsey (Newsom) Cartwright died and Theophilus Cartwright married Mary Ann Newsom, the daughter of Andrew Newsom and Eliza (Lindsay) Newsom.||In 1870 Joel Newsom (50 years old) was living in Logan County, OH with his wife Matilda (40 years old) and their children Elias (15 years old), David (10 years old), Testimony Sexton (16 years old), and George Carter (3 years old). His real estate was valued at $400.|
|1880||In 1880 Henry Newsom (68 years old) was living in Camden County, NC with his wife Eliza (57 years old) and their son Elijah (23 years old), his wife Mary (19 years old), and their children Parthena (3 years old) and John (1 year old). Eliza (Lindsay) Newsom, wife (possibly widow) of Andrew Newsom, was living in a neighboring household.||In 1880 Joel Newsom (63 years old) was living in Logan County, OH with his wife Belle (52 years old) and his son David Newsom (21 years old).|
Stay tuned for subsequent posts as I answer each of these questions with as much context as possible. I will share details of the methodology used to analyze various records and I hope that this series will be useful to other developing genealogists. A smooth sea never made a skillful sailor, and a clear family lineage never made a robust genealogist. My Newsom ancestors have taught me that the biggest family mysteries are the biggest opportunities to learn.
1There were two other Penny Newsoms in North Carolina at this time (Penny Parker Newsom and Penelope (Penny) Newsom Stephenson) but I was able to eliminate them as the “Penny Nusum” of the apprentice bonds based on age and relationships.
After a few productive research trips in North Carolina, I finally had enough information to extend my search into Virginia. From a physical perspective, it is closer to where I was raised but, from a chronological perspective, Virginia has always been a little further from my documented family relationships. It was exciting to have specific people to research, so I spent a day at the Library of Virginia in Richmond.
The Library of Virginia is much larger and more technologically advanced than the State Archives of North Carolina. Within an hour, I realized the magnitude of the collection of information and accepted that I would have to return several times to retrieve all the records I need. This is the humbling reality of genealogical research.
Using libraries to their full potential requires a different skill set than using the Internet. Do you remember learning to use the card catalog at the library as a child? I do—but I also remember it being replaced by computers. Most—if not all—historical archives still use this system. Have you ever used microfilm? Many records are exclusively available in this form and learning to use readers requires some practice.
In my previous post about developing a research strategy I shared a number of general recommendations. After this trip, I can add two more:
In addition to learning what is on-site, learn exactly how it is organized and the terminology used to describe various resources. For the Library of Virginia, this information is available here: Using the Collections. If you are unsure about how to find a record, call the library and consult with an archivist before you go. I learned on this trip that librarians and archivists have unique roles and not all librarians are familiar with old, rare records.
The quality of the records you find is more important than the quantity. On this trip, I spent time searching for records for a number of surnames but left without answering longstanding questions for any of them. In hindsight, my time would have been better spent collecting one crucial record rather than 10 or 20 inconsequential records. Prioritize your research needs and collect the most important records first—even if they are more difficult to access.
I was able to collect a number of 18th century records for the Basses of Norfolk County and the Salmon(s)/Sammon(s) of Princess Anne County on my trip. I will need time to integrate new information into these developing stories, so I will save updates for subsequent posts. I was also able to see a number of old maps of coastal, colonial Virginia. This information will be available in the new “Transportation” tab.