Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Part 2: I Found the Slave-owner’s Will, Now What?

What happened to Grandma Annie and her children?

Fortunately for a researcher, family drama over an estate can create a lot of documentation.  Add in the fact that an estate involved the deceased’s widow, his children from a former wife, his children by the widow, and the widow’s new husband. Whew! My cousin Ruth in Memphis, who is a successful realtor, expressed to me recently that when someone dies and there’s an estate, unfortunately there will be drama most of the times. Although she referenced her opinion and professional experiences to modern times, I realized that this type of drama always occurred, even in the 1820s in North Carolina.

In Part 1, I presented how a preponderance of evidence led me to determine that the mother of my great-great-grandfather, Robert “Big Bob” Ealy of Leake County, Mississippi, was likely a woman named Annie (aka Ann or Anna). Click here to read Part 1. They had been previously enslaved by Jesse Bass of Nash County, North Carolina. In his 1822 will, Jesse bequeathed Grandma Annie and an enslaved man named Ned back to his wife, Francis Pearce Bass, who had inherited them from her father, Benjamin Pearce of Halifax County, North Carolina, in 1810. They became Jesse’s legal property when he married Francis in 1818. Recently, I found Francis Pearce Bass’ estate record on familysearch.org. She had died in Nash County in the 1830s. Oh boy! Her estate record revealed a lot of family drama and the possible sad fate of Grandma Annie.

I discovered from her estate record that shortly after Jesse Bass’ death in 1822, Francis remarried to a man named William Hunt on September 25, 1823. Oddly, her two young children by Jesse, namely Francis Bass Eley and Coffield Bass, had been placed under the guardianship of their older half-brother, Isaac Bass. Her estate record also revealed that this marriage seemed to have caused a lot of drama between William, Francis, and her former stepchildren – Jesse Bass’ children by his previous wife. Interestingly, it disclosed that a day prior to her marriage to William Hunt, she got a deed of gift that basically stated that all of her property, including Ned, Grandma Annie, and Lazarus (who I believe is Grandma Annie’s new son born after 1822) go to her two children, Francis Jr. and Coffield, after her death. Was this slick or what? Francis was likely aware that once she said “I Do” to Hunt, all of her property became his legal property due to the laws of the time. This is that deed:

Excerpt: “ . . . . do give and grant unto the said Francis Bass and Coffield Bass all and singular my property and goods of every description as followeth: Three Negroes Ned, Anny, and Lazarous, my stock of cattle hogs sheep and two horses . . . .” Witness, Isaac Bass. Click image for larger view.

Nearly a year later, William Hunt learned of this deed that Francis had kept a secret. Oh, he was livid! So much so, that he filed a formal complaint on Sept. 4, 1824 in the Nash County Court for the deed of gift to be annulled. He claimed that she was “combining and confederating with some wicked and evil dispersed person…for the purpose of deceiving, imposing on defrauding him out of his then intended marital rights . . .” He also argued that he inherited his wife’s debts that were incurred during her marriage to Jesse Bass. He basically wanted legal rights to the property in order to sell and settle their debts. Things in their household were not pleasant. This estate document disclosed this drama (page 1):

Excerpt: “ . . . . Your orator further represents unto your honour that on the 24th day of September 1823, the day previous to his marriage with the said Mrs. Francis Bass she combining and confederating with some wicked and evil dispersed person to your orator unknown and for the purpose of deceiving, imposing on defrauding him out of his then intended marital rights – made a deed of gift of all of her chattel estate of every description to her two children Francis Bass (Junr.) and Coffield Bass each of which had been before will provided for by their father Jesse Bass, the first husband of the wife of your orator – since which time Isaac Bass has by the County Court of Nash been appointed their guardian . . . .” Click image for larger view.

Well, there’s more. In 1822, Jesse Bass had bequeathed Esther and Gustus, who I strongly believe were also Grandma Annie’s children, to his and Francis’ young son, Coffield Bass. I discovered that Coffield died shortly in 1825 at a young age. What happened to Aunt Esther and Uncle Gus? Well, his estate record, which I also found recently on familysearch.org, revealed that they were sold for $803 to Ira Jackson on December 31, 1825, on a credit of 12 months by the estate administrator, William Hunt. This is that estate document:

Account of Sale of Slaves, Dec. 31, 1825, Estate of Coffield Bass, Nash County, N.C.

However, something became rather confusing amongst the drama. According to an account of sale in Francis’ estate record, dated March 15, 1828, Esther and Gus (aka Gustus or Augustin) were part of her estate in 1828. However, the 1825 account of sale above shows them being sold to Ira Jackson from Coffield’s estate. What happened? Was the sale rescinded? Did Ira Jackson fail to pay the full amount and thus Aunt Esther and Uncle Gus were repossessed? I have yet to uncover the answer to those questions.

Nevertheless, the following 1828 account of sale document also shows that William Hunt’s “slave property,” namely Ned, Grandma Annie, and her child (probably Lazarus), were all sold to Moses R. Moore by Francis’ step-son, Edwin Bass, for $77.75. The 1830 census revealed that Moore also resided in Nash County, North Carolina. This account of sale also shows that Aunt Esther was sold (or resold) to Jesse’ son, Edmond Bass, and Uncle Gus was sold (or resold) to Jesse’ son, Isaac Bass, who both migrated to Madison County, Mississippi around 1835. Apparently, William Hunt won his case, and Ned, Grandma Annie, and child Lazarus were considered his legal property. Also, a Negro woman named Fariby was sold to William Savage for only $4.50. I speculate that Fariby (aka Phebe or Ferriby) may have been Grandma Annie’s mother (future blog post after more research) who had also come from Benjamin Pearce’s 1810 estate.

Account of Sale of Slaves, March 15, 1828, Estate of Francis Pearce Bass Hunt, Nash County, N.C.

But when William Hunt gained the legal rights to the property Francis wanted to leave for her two children, this seemed to have separated Grandma Annie from most of her children forever. Grandpa Big Bob Ealy was taken to Mississippi when Jesse Bass’ children, Isaac, Edwin, Edmond, Elizabeth, Gideon, Council, Francis Jr., and her husband Billy Eley, decided to leave Nash County, North Carolina around 1835. They all settled in Madison County, Mississippi, and the Eleys soon moved over into Leake County, Mississippi by 1840. Council Bass established a plantation in Washington County, Mississippi. Grandma Annie’s children, John, Esther, and Gus, may have been taken to Mississippi, too, while she and her youngest child, probably Lazarus, may have remained in North Carolina and enslaved by Moses R. Moore.  More research will be done to uncover more facts. Stay tuned.


  1. Nice work Melvin! I'm looking forward to see what you uncover on Fariby/Phoebe!

  2. Wow Melvin, I enjoyed this saga and how using current methodology to uncover yesterday. Well done.

  3. This is incredible research - I definitely want to stay tuned to read the next part.

  4. Wow! I can't wait to read about what you find out on Annie and Lazurus. Great Research. Looking forward to your next installment.

  5. Great to have the records and the more and more information.
    Very sad to think of the impact on your family way back then.


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