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.


  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.

Author: Joseph T. Richardson

Joseph has been researching the Dutton family for over 20 years, and has had this website almost as long. He applies his background in history and computer science to unraveling genealogical mysteries. He lives in Danville, Morgan County, Alabama, not far from where his Dutton ancestors first settled in the 1830s.

4 thoughts on “Matilda Dutton Bass: Doubts and Questions”

    1. No, we’re still waiting for yours. It just neither the DNA nor the documents are clear about how these other people connect to Zachariah. They are a recently discovered branch of the family in Wisconsin and other places.

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