Nestled in the rural southwest corner of Madison County, Mississippi is a 200-acre lake called Lake Cavalier. Until 29 December 2018, I had not seen it, but I always knew that it was there from county maps. Located a mile from the Hinds-Madison County line, Lake Cavalier sits just 16 miles southwest of Canton, my hometown. I never knew until recently that my family history is connected to this lake. It was once the plantation of Edwin Bass (1798-1863).
After college, my parents, who hailed from other counties in Mississippi, both moved to Canton in 1961, to teach in the public school system. Canton is the county seat of Madison County. There they met, married, had children, and remained there. We presumed that we had no ancestral ties to Madison County. Turns out, we actually do. I recently found the following newspaper notice that confirmed that Edwin Bass had indeed brought some members of my family to Madison County during slavery.
In 1842, Edwin Bass apparently got into some legal trouble. I haven’t uncovered the details of the lawsuit yet, but he was on the verge of losing his plantation to settle the case. A marshal’s sale notice was placed in the Jackson, Mississippi’s Southron on 28 December 1842. Fortunately, the newspaper notice named his 21 slaves and the land description of his plantation. At least 11 of them (in bold below) were family members.
When I mapped the location on a county map, I discovered that Lake Cavalier is where much of his 500-acre plantation was once located. See aerial map below. The blood, sweat and tears of my enslaved family were absorbed in that excavated soil.
Edwin Bass had died there around 1863. The land description of his plantation in his probate record match the location in the newspaper notice. Also, the 1850 Slave Schedule reported that he owned 30 slaves in Madison County. These findings confirmed that he didn’t lose his property after all. Edwin had departed Nash County, North Carolina and settled nearby in Hinds County by 1835. His earliest land deed is dated 25 Sept 1835, when he acquired the first 40 acres for his Madison County plantation. Subsequent purchases of adjacent land garnered him a total of 500 acres.
According to the 1840 U. S. Federal Census, twenty (20) enslaved people lived on Edwin’s plantation that year. One of those 20 people was probably my 3X-great grandmother, Annie, the mother of my father’s great grandfather, Robert “Big Bob” Ealy of Leake County, Mississippi. In 1822, Edwin’s father Jesse Bass wrote his will and bequeathed Grandpa Big Bob and his brother John to his youngest daughter, Frances Bass Jr., Edwin’s half-sister. They both were under 10 years old at the time. By 1835, Frances married William “Billy” Eley, and they moved to Leake County, taking Grandpa Big Bob with them. Genealogy research and DNA technology revealed that Uncle John Bass was eventually sold to Frances’s half-brother, Jordan R. Bass, who took him to Gonzales County, Texas.
However, the North Carolina Supreme Court, in the case of William Hunt vs. Edwin Bass et al, December 1832, determined the fate of Grandma Annie and the rest of her children, Gus, Ester and Lazarus, who was also known as Elazarus. Edwin was ordered to pay Hunt their “value” and labor after he had purchased them from an illegal estate sale. Hunt was the new husband of Jesse Bass’s widow, Frances Pearce Bass. Research has confirmed that Edwin kept them, and he eventually moved to where Lake Cavalier is now located. Ester, Lazarus, and their young families were among the 21 enslaved people named in the 1842 newspaper notice. Grandma Annie wasn’t. I presume that she may have died by then.
Perhaps Grandpa Big Bob Ealy got a chance to see his mother and siblings periodically. Since he was the only adult male slave that William & Frances Eley owned, perhaps he was the carriage driver if Frances visited Edwin and the rest of her half-siblings who lived near him in Madison and Hinds County. I also can’t help but wonder if a slave cemetery and bones were discovered when Lake Cavalier was constructed in the late 1950s.
Newspaper research revealed that ads for waterfront plots along the lake began appearing in 1960. Beautiful homes on private waterfront properties now vastly surround the lake, with a small dam on the west side. “No trespassing” signs are abundant, and only lot owners can access the lake. Nonetheless, whenever I see Lake Cavalier now, I’ll be thinking, “My ancestors’ bones could be in that lake.”
Special Note: My father shares a good amount of DNA with at least five people whose family roots are from southern Madison County and northern Hinds County. They also share DNA with other descendants of Big Bob Ealy. Our exact connection hasn’t been determined, but I plausibly assert that the connection may be via one of Grandma Annie’s children enslaved on Edwin Bass’s plantation.
One thought on “Fishing for Roots in a Lake”
This is such a great post, Melvin. It brings together such a wide array of sources and skills from newspapers to court records to probate to maps. Its sad how the sites of so much pain for our ancestors are later transformed into sites of leisure and pleasure. I wonder how many of the owners know this history or better yet–care?
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