Matilda Dutton Bass: Doubts and Questions

I’ve been working on a lengthy and detailed post about establishing firm dates and birth order for the children of Zachariah Dutton Sr., based on the available sources. The first time that post was derailed by Zachariah Dutton Jr. and the stunning revelation about his slaveholding. Now it’s been derailed again by the same family. Here is the problem.

Matilda Dutton

1790 Census, Charles County, Maryland: Zachariah Dutton
Zachariah Dutton on the 1790 U.S. Census, Charles County, Maryland, page 17. He listed as 1 white male over 16, 5 white males under 6, 2 white females over 16, and 3 slaves.

We have always assumed, since Darlene Cole’s early speculation sheet on which I based my own research, that Matilda Dutton, daughter of Zachariah Dutton Sr., was his oldest child, born ca. 1774/75. In the 1790 census listing for Zachariah in Charles County, Maryland, there are two females over the age of 16, one presumably his wife and one an older daughter.

Matilda Dutton at Zachariah Dutton estate sale
Matilda Dutton’s purchases at Zachariah Dutton’s estate sale: 1 quart jug, 1 old walnut table, 1 blue cupboard, 1 bed quilt.

Little is known about Matilda Dutton. She appears in the list of buyers at the sale of Zachariah’s estate in 1829. I always imagined an older lady in her fifties, a spinster who never married. In 1830 Matilda has her own census listing in Granville County, North Carolina:

Matilda Dutton
1 free white male under 5
1 free white female 10-15
2 free white females 20-30
1 free white female 60-70
1830 NC Granville: Matilda Dutton
1830 federal census of Granville County, North Carolina, showing Matilda Dutton.

And it was this that caused me to pause. I reasoned, and it felt a little like a stretch, that the older lady between ages 60 and 70 (born ca. 1760-70) was Matilda, though this is a bit old for her. She should have been born, at the earliest, ca. 1774. The other females in the household were two women aged 20-30 and one girl aged 10-15. Surely the older lady is the head of household, I thought?

And then my eyes fell on the name two lines above: Henry Bass.

I had a sinking feeling. Uh oh.

Matilda Dutton Bass

Elijah Bass Cherokee application, page 4
Elijah Bass’s Eastern Cherokee application, the next page, naming Matilda Dutton’s parents as Zachariah and Mary.

As I’ve written previously, it was only through DNA evidence that we discovered the family of Matilda Dutton, who married Elijah Bass in about 1835 and moved to Ohio and eventually Wisconsin. The DNA — numerous, repeated matches between our Duttons in Alabama, North Carolina, Louisiana, and Texas and the descendants of Matilda Dutton Bass — certainly indicates she was a descendant of Zachariah Dutton. The document tying her to the family names the parents of Matilda Dutton as Zachariah Dutton and Mary Dutton.

Matilda Dutton Bass was born in about 1807 in North Carolina, per the 1850 census. Surely, then, her father must be Zachariah Dutton Jr., who moved to Brunswick County, North Carolina, about 1810 and then disappeared, rather than Zachariah Sr., who was surely done having children by 1807. I made this connection without much thought, and was overjoyed to have reconnected a “lost” line of the family.

A few things don’t add up, though. In the 1810 census of Brunswick County, Zachariah Jr. lists a son under the age of 10, not a daughter. Perhaps her birthdate is off by a few years, I thought, and she was actually born after 1810; perhaps it’s simply a mistake. Then, in researching the Basses, I realized that the Bass family hailed from Granville County, North Carolina, same as the Duttons — which left me to wonder how the infant daughter of Zachariah Dutton Jr. came to be back in Granville County to meet her husband. Perhaps, an orphan, she went to live with her grandfather’s family?

Having to speculate bothered me. Even as I was writing the other post, it occurred to me: What if we have the wrong Matilda Dutton? I pushed the thought aside, until writing the birth order post, I was struck: Matilda Dutton on the 1830 census lived near Basses.

Oh, I thought. Maybe the Duttons had been acquainted with the Basses for a long time, and that’s how the other Matilda Dutton met her husband. But then it sank in deeper, and serious questions started to form.

What is there isn’t an “other” Matilda Dutton? What if Matilda Dutton Bass was actually Matilda Dutton, daughter of Zachariah Sr., much younger than we thought she was? Do we really have any evidence that she was Zachariah Jr.’s daughter, or that he even had a daughter? Let us examine some of the questions at issue.

Questions

  1. How sure are we that Matilda Dutton was the oldest child of Zachariah Sr.? The truth is, not at all. This is an assumption based on several facts that have more than one interpretation: the existence of the second female older than 16 in Zachariah’s household on the 1790 census, and the listing of Matilda as the first child in Zachariah’s will. The first one is a guess; the second one is possibly not even significant. As I’ll detail in the birth order article, it’s difficult to follow Matilda through the 1810 and 1820 censuses: if she were an old maid born ca. 1774/75, she was apparently not living in her father’s household then. All we can say with any certainty, from Zachariah’s will and estate, is that Matilda Dutton lived to adulthood and was apparently unmarried in 1829.

  2. How sure are we that Zachariah Dutton didn’t have children by second wife Judith Parrish? The answer is, again, not very. I’ve always simply assumed, based on an apparent “prenuptial agreement” between Zachariah and Judith found in the court records of Granville County, that the two did not plan to have children together. I don’t have the actual text, and think I’ve only ever actually seen an abstract, but the gist seems to be that at their deaths, the children of each spouse’s first marriage, Zachariah’s by his first wife and Judith’s by her first husband Claiborne Parish, would get the property belonging to their respective parents. This arrangement would only complicate things if they expected there to be children by the second marriage, and there is no evidence of any provision for this in Zachariah’s will or the proceedings of his estate. In fact, there does not seem to be any provision at all for Zachariah’s second wife Judith or her children. Which leads to the next question…

  3. How sure are we that Judith survived Zachariah? The answer, again, is not really at all. I always assumed she did, since she was apparently younger, or perhaps I didn’t pay much attention. But she does not seem to be present at the time of Zachariah’s death. Indeed, there seems to be no trace of her in Zachariah’s estate proceedings. Neither Judith nor her children were buyers in the sale of the estate. She is not mentioned in either the will or any other estate record. This has bearing on the next question…

  4. Who is the older lady, aged 60-70, living in the household of Matilda Dutton on the 1830 census? I’ve always assumed it was Matilda herself, with the date fudged slightly: if our assumption that she was the oldest child were correct, she would be about 56. When I began to question this assumption, I wondered if maybe the older lady were not Zachariah Dutton’s widow, Judith Parrish Dutton — Matilda’s stepmother, or, if it turned out that Matilda was younger than we think, her mother. Judith otherwise, according to the 1800 census, appears to have been born between 1756 and 1774 — that is, if she were alive in 1830, between 56 and 74. Whether or not she was alive in 1830 is therefore an important question.

  5. Could Judith Parrish Dutton even have more children? How old would she have been when she and Zachariah married? If she was born between 1756 and 1774, she would have been between ages 24 and 42. This date could probably be clarified if we knew the birthdates of her sons, but we don’t. If Matilda Dutton Bass was born in 1807, then Judith would be between 33 and 51 when she was born — the older age pushing past the limits of her possibly being Matilda’s mother.

  6. How sure are we that the Matilda Dutton who bought in Zachariah Dutton’s estate and is listed on the 1830 census is the daughter of Zachariah Sr.? We aren’t really, but it seems a reasonable assumption. We can’t tell anything from this about the buyer’s age. It is entirely possible that Matilda Dutton the buyer is a younger woman, or even that she is Zachariah’s granddaughter rather than his daughter.

  7. How sure are we that Matilda Dutton Bass is the daughter of Zachariah Dutton Jr. and not Zachariah Dutton Sr.? The answer depends almost entirely on how we answer these preceding questions. If we can accept as fact that Zachariah and Judith were not going to have children together, then Matilda Dutton Bass, born ca. 1807, could not have been the daughter of Zachariah Sr. If she were the daughter of Zachariah Sr., then her mother would have been Judith Parrish, and Elijah Bass Jr. was wrong in his statement that his grandparents’ names were Zachariah and Mary (granted, he probably never knew his grandparents). The truth is we don’t have any evidence besides this assumption that Zachariah Dutton Jr. even had a daughter named Matilda, or that there even were two Matilda Duttons.

    If we can accept that the older lady in the household of Matilda Dutton in 1830 is Matilda Dutton, then all our assumptions about her being the oldest daughter of Zachariah Dutton Sr. hold firm and Matilda Dutton Bass is probably the daughter of Zachariah Dutton Jr. If the older lady is not Matilda Dutton, then one of the younger ladies aged 20-30 must be — and she may the Matilda Dutton who married Elijah Bass.

There may not be any way to work out these questions with certainty. We are already treading on a paper-thin documentary trail connecting Matilda Dutton Bass to this family at all. And the DNA evidence involves so much randomness as to be inconclusive: matches between Bass descendants and the rest of the Duttons range between 20 and 60 centiMorgans, and seem to be largely unaffected by generational levels or the fact that some cousins are “double-descended” from more than one line of Duttons. My personal opinion is that the matches ought to be stronger than this if it were four generations and not five between the Bass cousins who tested and Zachariah Dutton, but this is entirely subjective.

It appears possible from the DNA that Bass descendants might have Parrish in their ancestry, which they would if Judith Parrish were their ancestor, but the matches that suggest this are neither very consistent nor very conclusive. There were a lot of Parrishes in Granville County, who might have intermarried with the Basses or Duttons, or for all we know, Zachariah Dutton Jr.’s wife was a Parrish. The matches who have Parrish ancestry could have Bass ancestry too, or any other connection is possible, with families who lived in the same county for generations.

Without any additional evidence, I am inclined to leave things as they are, with Matilda Dutton Bass the supposed daughter of Zachariah Dutton Jr., whose wife was apparently named Mary. But I wanted to be frank about this uncertainty. There is more than one way to interpret this evidence.

A Lost Son Comes Home: Callis Dutton

Hand-crank microfilm readerI count myself blessed in many ways for having gotten into genealogy at such an early age. One thing I consider a blessing that others might not expect is my exposure to research methods now less common in this age of online records: the thrill of road trips to investigate cemeteries, not knowing what I would find; days spent in dusty courthouse vaults hunting records; and perhaps the most nostalgic and most antiquated, hours spent hand-cranking microfilm readers in libraries to experience the census. In this day and age, every name in the census is indexed online, and a genealogist can go straight “to” the person they’re looking for — though many names are misread or mistranscribed, leading to people who are “lost” in the census. (I am pleased to see Ancestry.com and other services re-create the “filmstrip” to nearly approximate this experience.) In those early days, especially for later censuses like 1900, I had no access to an index, and instead started at the beginning of a county and scrolled through every page reading the names until I found someone of interest — often not even knowing who I was looking for, but in the case of the Duttons, seeing who I might find. It gave the experience of walking down roads and through neighborhoods, “meeting” these people and their communities as I went.

That was my experience the day at the Decatur library I investigated the 1900 census of neighboring Lawrence County, Alabama. By that time I’d been researching the Dutton family for probably a year or more. I felt, with a little pride, that I “knew” the Duttons and could identify families as I found them. I remember well the confusion I felt, and the intrigue, when I encountered Callis Dutton. I think I had first seen his name in a printed listing of Moulton City Cemetery, and didn’t readily know who he was or who he connected to. That day in June 1900, I met him as a child, and met his mother.

Lee Dutton

Lee Dutton was a single mother of two sons, unwed, age 32 (born June 1867), living as a housekeeper in the home of Mary Simmons in Moulton. She had two sons, according to this census, Callus L. born July 1895 and James L. born March 1900. I suspect the middle initials here are the result of a transcription mistake: later records show the full names of these sons to be Reeder Callis Dutton and James Riley Dutton. The census states that Callis was born in Mississippi and Riley in Alabama; the birthplace of the fathers of both is unknown. Lee states that her own father was born in North Carolina and her mother in Alabama.

1900 Federal Census, Lawrence County, Alabama: Lee Dutton and sons.
1900 Federal Census, Lawrence County, Alabama: Lee Dutton and sons.

Who was Lee Dutton? Why was she living apart from any other Duttons? Why was her son born in Mississippi? I envisioned a pregnant daughter running away in shame to have her child and later returning. I did not know who she was, did not know for certain that she even belonged to my Duttons (though, in the early days, I tended to assume that), but still, I felt a kinship with her.

A Speculative Connection

The fact that Lee said her father was born in North Carolina stood out like a beacon to me. Our Dutton family was, of course, from North Carolina, but more important than that, of the Duttons who came to Alabama from North Carolina, every one that I knew of arrived by about 1832. The vast majority of Dutton men of the Zachariah Dutton family living in Alabama in 1867 would have been born in Alabama: only the older men of the third generation like Thomas Dutton and William Zachariah Dutton, whose children were well known, were born in North Carolina. And there was one other, an outlier, to whom my mind soon went.

1870 AL Morgan: Alexander F. Dutton
The 1870 census of Morgan County, Alabama, showing Alexander F. Dutton and his family.

Alexander F. Dutton was a son of Samuel Sneed Dutton, the Dutton brother who remained in Anson County, North Carolina, when the rest went to Alabama. Alexander was born in ca. 1826 in North Carolina. Yet for some reason, he appeared in Alabama in the 1860s and joined the communities of his Alabama cousins. He appeared on the 1870 census of Morgan County, Alabama, living in Danville nearby other Duttons, and it took a bit of early detective work to identify him also.

1870 AL Morgan: Lee Ann Ryland
The 1870 census of Morgan County showing “Lean” Riland, otherwise known as Lee Ann Ryland.

In 1870, Alexander and his wife Dortha had three young children: Christopher, born ca. 1861; Frances born ca. 1866; and Lean (sic), a daughter, born ca. 1868. “Lean?” That was how I had the name entered into my database for several years, with a question mark. Later, looking around elsewhere in Morgan County on the same census, I found the name “Lean” referring to a girl at least one other time, in the hand of the same census enumerator (our kinsman David Day) — when the person referred to was otherwise identifiable as being named “Lee Ann.”

So I was able to conclude that Alexander F. Dutton, born ca. 1826 in North Carolina, had a daughter named Lee Ann Dutton, born ca. 1868. I soon identified Lee Dutton, the mother of Callis Dutton, born June 1867, whose father was born in North Carolina, with Lee Ann Dutton, daughter of Alexander F. Dutton. I was not sure — I had little proof besides the name, the similar dates, and the North Carolina connection — but it was the best I had for nearly twenty years.

There is a lot more to tell about Alexander F. Dutton and his family. He apparently disappears and I can no longer find him on the census after 1870. Tragedy befell him in 1891 — a sensational tale I will save for another day — and his family was scattered. In truth, Lee Dutton was probably living on her own because she had no one else, making her situation all the more desperate and vulnerable. In addition to Lee Dutton in Lawrence County, I find several other unidentified Dutton young people born of a North Carolina father living in various households in Cullman County, Alabama, in 1900. Through years of picking away, one of the most mysterious characters of Zachariah Dutton’s family tree has become one of the most compelling. I look forward to writing more about him.

Callis Dutton and Riley Dutton

Lee Dutton apparently never appears on another census after 1900. She died when her sons were young men and is buried near Moulton. In 1910, Callis and Riley Dutton are shown living as boarders in the home of John H. Brewer in Moulton.

1910 AL Lawrence: Callis Dutton and Riley Dutton
1910 census of Lawrence County, Alabama, showing Callis and Riley Dutton in the home of John H. Brewer.

By 1920, both sons were living in Chattanooga, Hamilton County, Tennessee, working as harness makers for the Southern Saddlery Company in the burgeoning southern city.

1920 census of Hamilton County, Tennessee, showing Callis Dutton and Riley Dutton.
1920 census of Hamilton County, Tennessee, showing Callis Dutton and Riley Dutton.

Callis soon returned to Moulton, where he married Minnie Helen Brewington on 28 December 1921. Riley remained in Chattanooga, where he married Gussie Mae Waller on 2 March 1921. Callis lived in Moulton for the rest of his life, and died on 3 March 1966. Riley eventually moved to Phoenix, Arizona, about 1942, and died there on 6 December 1959.

Callis Dutton and Riley Dutton never knew anything about their Dutton family. Though they grew up around other Duttons in Lawrence County, Alabama, they never knew how they connected to them. They raised their own families and went to their graves not ever knowing.

Coming Home

Callis Dutton
Callis Dutton, a photo Kelli Barrett shared with me.

In March of last year, Kelli Taylor Barrett of Moulton contacted me. I had published on my website that I thought Lee Ann Dutton, daughter of Alex F. Dutton, was the same Lee Dutton who was the mother of Callis Dutton. Kelli told me that Callis was her grandfather and that she thought this was her connection.

I had been hoping to get in contact with Callis’s descendants for years, but had never reached out. I wondered if they knew anything about his ancestry, anything that might help connect him, with any more certainty than this bald speculation I had been making for so long. Kelli said that they did not; that he never knew himself. He did know rumors about his father: Kelli said that Lee Dutton had reportedly been a housemaid for the Brewer family and that one of the Brewers was the father of both of her sons.

I encouraged Kelli to do a genealogical DNA test to see if we could confirm Callis’s connection to the Zachariah Dutton family. It wasn’t until this past month that I followed up with her. She shared her DNA results with me and I spent some time poring over them.

Kelli Dutton chromosomes
Kelli has a good chunk of very old Dutton DNA, especially on Chromosome 3!

It wasn’t long at all until I was able to confirm: Callis Dutton does belong to the Zachariah Dutton family. Kelli not only matched several confirmed descendants of Zachariah Dutton in Alabama and North Carolina, but she also matched Mike Dutton of the Maryland Duttons, only the fourth of our tests to do so, further bolstering that connection. Her closest match was to the daughter of Riley Dutton.

This confirmed the connection to Zachariah, but was it enough to confirm my speculation, connecting Lee Dutton to Alexander F. Dutton? How could we confirm this? I dug a little deeper into the results. I found, to my delight, that Kelli had close matches to a descendant of John Wakefield (1755-1845) and his wife Dorothy. Alexander F. Dutton’s wife, I had reasoned out, was Dorothy Ann Wakefield, a granddaughter of John Wakefield (more on that when I write about them). This match seems to confirm both Lee’s connection to Alexander F. and my identification of her mother with this Wakefield family.

Kelli Brewer chromosomes
And some BIG, recent chunks of Brewer DNA.

The last question I asked was about Callis’s father, rumored to be a Brewer. And sure enough, the DNA results seem to confirm this. One of Kelli’s closest matches was to a descendant of John Henry Brewer (1855-1933). This is, I did not even realize until I was writing this post, the man with whom Callis and Riley were listed as “boarders” in 1910 following the death of their mother. Could it be that John Henry Brewer was their father, and was now taking responsibility for his sons? The DNA cannot confirm that with certainty, but it does give strong evidence that their father was in fact some Brewer.

From having little but an uncertain connection and a speculative identification of Callis’s mother, just a few minutes with DNA allowed me to break through these walls and state with a fair degree of certainty: Callis and Riley Dutton were the sons of Lee Ann Dutton, the daughter of Alexander F. Dutton and Dorothy Ann Wakefield. The experience of early and simple genealogical tools helped begin this journey of speculation for me, but the perspective and tools of a modern genealogist, able to look out across all the records that would not have been readily available in one place several generations ago, and armed with such technological wonders as the Internet and genealogical DNA testing, helped power through to this conclusion.

The Mystery of Zachariah Dutton Jr.

In the course of writing another post about the children of children of Zachariah Dutton Sr., I happened upon some stunning facts I had not noticed before.

Zachariah Dutton Jr. is one of the most elusive figures in the genealogy of this family. We perhaps would not know about him at all if not for his naming in Zachariah Sr.’s will*. For years, the only other record I could find of who appeared to be Zachariah Jr. was an enumeration in the 1810 census of Brunswick County, North Carolina: Z. Dutton. In that census, he appeared to have a young wife and one son. There was apparently no other trace of him after that: no more censuses, no indications that he had any surviving descendants.

* Note that the suffixes “Sr.” and “Jr.” were not used in historical sources and I am only applying them to distinguish the two men.

War of 1812 pay vouchers, Brunswick County, N.C.
War of 1812 pay vouchers showing Zachariah Dutton’s and William Dutton’s militia service. (North Carolina State Archives [2])

Over the years, a few more facts have emerged. We do know that this man was named Zachariah Dutton and not some other “Z.”. He apparently went to Brunswick County early, and appears on a 24 July 1810 list of letters remaining in the post office in the Wilmington (N.C.) Gazette. Wilmington is in New Hanover County, adjacent to Brunswick County. Zachariah appeared in court minutes in Brunswick County in October 1813. He served briefly in the North Carolina Militia during the War of 1812, for a matter of a few months in 1814. To my surprise, I learned that apparently Zachariah’s brother William, my own ancestor, was in Brunswick County with him and served alongside him. We, the descendants of William, had never heard of this.

William eventually went on to Anson County, North Carolina, by 1820, where we suppose he settled near his youngest brother Samuel, before eventually going to Alabama in the 1830s. But Zachariah never appears in a census again, at least not that I have ever identified. What became of him? Did he die a young death sometime in the decade of the 1810s? If so, what became of his wife and child? The great temptation was to presume that the line simply died out. In any case, with no records pointing to it, it seemed to be lost to us forever.

Enter DNA

Elijah Bass Cherokee application, page 4
Elijah Bass Jr.’s Eastern Cherokee application, naming his mother as Matilda Dutton.

Until DNA. After our initial entrance into DNA research, I was not able to pay as much attention to it as I would have liked, so I depended on my Hogan cousins, the administrators of the Hogan Family Finder Project at FTDNA, to keep me updated. I was astounded one day when they contacted me with the news of a DNA match to a cousin, Anthony Di Dio, who appeared to be the descendant of Zachariah Dutton Jr., and with a record to back up the connection! Apparently, Zachariah had a daughter, Matilda, who married Elijah Bass, who claimed to be a descendant of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. I say “claimed” because the application made by their son, Elijah Bass Jr., was rejected. But it is this application that names Matilda Dutton as the wife of Elijah Bass Sr., and names Zachariah Dutton and Mary Dutton as the parents of Matilda.†

† It occurs to me as I write this that the identification of Matilda as the daughter of Zachariah Dutton Jr. isn’t completely bulletproof. Zachariah Dutton Sr. also had a daughter named Matilda. Could it be that this is the older Matilda, and this record actually names the wife of Zachariah Sr.? No, I don’t think so. This Matilda was born, according to the census, about 1807 in North Carolina. Zachariah Dutton Sr.’s first wife died ca. 1798, and all indications are that he had no children by his second wife Judith Parrish, per a prenuptial agreement separating his estate from that of his wife’s late husband and putting their estates aside for their respective children.

Elijah Bass Cherokee application, page 4
Elijah Bass’s Eastern Cherokee application, the next page, naming Matilda Dutton’s parents as Zachariah and Mary.

The paper trail was literally paper-thin, bound to a single reference in a single document. The document states that Matilda Dutton was born in North Carolina, but makes no definite connection to Zachariah Dutton Jr. in Brunswick County, Granville County, or anywhere else. (It is worth noting that the Bass family was from Granville County.) Zachariah Jr. in 1810 listed a son, not a daughter. Despite this document, other descendants of Elijah Bass and Matilda Dutton claimed Matilda was born in Pennsylvania, and made no connection to the family of our Zachariah Dutton. Until DNA, there was little to firmly attach even this document to — but the DNA evidence is unmistakable. Anthony Di Dio and at least two other tested Bass cousins each match a half-dozen other descendants of Zachariah Dutton Sr.

1850 Federal Census, Lawrence County, Ohio: Elijah Bass
The 1850 census of Lawrence County, Ohio, showing Elijah and Matilda Bass.

Elijah Bass and Matilda Dutton moved to Lawrence County, Ohio, in the 1830s. They appear there in the 1850 census, stating that they were both born in North Carolina, as were all their children. This latter fact, that all the children were born in North Carolina, is unlikely: Elijah likewise appears in the census in Lawrence County, Ohio, in 1840. They were apparently there by 1835, where a Lawrence County marriage record dated 20 March 1835 shows the marriage of Elijah Bass and Matilda Dutton. The 1850 census shows their oldest son, Elijah Jr., born ca. 1834 in North Carolina; he reports in other censuses too (cf. 1870) and in his Cherokee application that he was born in North Carolina.‡ So I strongly suspect that Elijah and Matilda were married in fact in North Carolina, but only recorded it legally after their move.

Elijah Bass Jr. and Elizabeth Arnold
Elijah Bass Jr. and Elizabeth Arnold. Elijah Jr. was the son of Elijah Bass and Matilda Dutton, the long-long daughter of Zachariah Dutton Jr.

‡ Elijah Jr. gives the birthdate 15 October 1835 in the Cherokee application. That’s possible, but not consonant with his recorded age of 16 in 1850. It would place his birthdate after the recorded birthdate of his parents, simplifying that problem, but would mean they traveled back and forth between Ohio and North Carolina in the span of a few months. Again, it’s possible, and probably not as far a distance as my Southern brain tends to make it: Lawrence County is in extreme southern Ohio (and below the Mason-Dixon Line!).

Elijah Bass Sr. and the rest of the family eventually ended up in Vernon County, Wisconsin. It is unclear to me when and where Matilda (Dutton) Bass died. I have been unable to locate her in any later censuses. If anybody else can, I’d appreciate the reference. It was a narrow shave: these people very nearly slipped through the historical cracks and were disconnected from their ancestral family for good.

More Mystery

Zachariah Dutton Jr. still bothers me intensely. I still have so many questions. Did he really die in Brunswick County ca. 1815-20? What became of his widow and who was she? Did he have any other sons or daughters? It bothers me that a son is listed for him in the 1810 census and not a daughter, as it should have been if Matilda was born ca. 1807 as indicated in the 1850 census. Is the 1810 census in error, or was her recollection of her age? Elijah Bass was born ca. 1810. If Matilda was born later than 1807, perhaps ca. 1810, then this would at least explain that.

Wondering these things, I decided to go back and check the 1810 census again. What I found made my jaw drop. I checked and re-checked the record.

Z. Dutton
1 white male under 10
2 white males aged 26-44
1 white female aged 26-44
38 slaves (!!!???)
1810 Federal Census, Brunswick County, North Carolina: Z. Dutton
1810 Federal Census, Brunswick County, North Carolina: Z. Dutton. (This image is manipulated to add the headers.)

Sure enough, Zachariah Dutton Jr. owned 38 slaves. That he was a slaveholder was not a terrible shock; his father Zachariah Sr. appears to have owned a few slaves throughout his life, from the earliest records of him in Maryland to his death and estate in North Carolina. But 38 slaves? This is an astounding number, more than all the other descendants of Zachariah Sr. everywhere ever owned combined. The Duttons, by and large, appear to have been yeoman farmers, owning their own land but generally, after Zachariah Sr., few if any slaves. But here is a record, if true, that challenges that entire notion. Is it true? Could it be in error? It is possible, but the record says what it says.

Hoeing rice
O. Pierre Havens, Upland rice (Hoeing rice). (Wikimedia Commons)

38 slaves would have been valued at something around $15,000 in 1810; this is not to mention the value of the land and crop one surely would have owned to need to employ that many laborers. It would place him in a class with the wealthiest men in the South: historians generally draw the boundary between a farmer and a planter at ownership of 20 slaves. It gives a strong indication to me of what Zachariah — and I suspect my own William, who was probably the other white adult male with Zachariah in 1810 — were up to. Brunswick County was and is a leader in rice production. Rice production, involving extensive systems of dikes and irrigation, was an especially labor-intensive and messy business, lucrative but risky.

Did Zachariah own this farm and all these slaves? Or could he have been an overseer or manager on someone else’s plantation? The 1810 census does not indicate. If he did own a rice plantation, it raises questions of how he came by the resources to do this, and more important, why there is so little record of him surviving. Surely someone with this much to lose would have left a will or some other estate record, but nothing like this has ever been found.

Perplexed, I wondered if there had been some record loss. And then I realized what must have happened. The courthouse of Brunswick County, North Carolina, was burned by federal troops in 1865, leading to a loss of some, but apparently not all records. It could be that records still survive to be found, and that no one has found them yet. We are probably lucky to have any record of him at all. Zachariah Dutton Jr. remains a mystery, one I will continue to chip away at as I am able.