• I was just reading your page about Dr. Adonijah Bass.
I'm interested in comparing notes. I'm researching Bass's grandson Samuel Bass, b. 1807.
Samuel Bass was the carpenter who helped Solomon Northup regain his freedom in Louisiana. I'm ultimately trying to find out if there are any living descendants of Samuel.
However, I find it interesting that the Bass family may have lived in Hoosic, New York. Solomon Northup's father resided there in late 1790s.
Any ideas/assistance would be appreciated.760
• Thanks for the response. Yes, that was the page I saw.
I have put in years of research into the life of Solomon Northup before he was sold into slavery, and after his rescue. I self-published a short book last year, and have a more complete work coming out soon, which I worked on with some other people. See http://solomonnorthup.com
I am now following up by looking into Samuel Bass. He was working as a carpenter in Louisiana, became acquainted with Northup, and wrote letters on his behalf which resulted in Northup's being restored to freedom (after which he wrote a book, Twelve Years a Slave).
Northup's book says that Samuel Bass was an old bachelor, but this turns out to be incorrect. Another Northup researcher, the late Dr. Sue Eakin, had access to a diary which mentioned the death and kin of Bass. Attached is the note from a book she did which gives the nitty gritty. I've attached hastily scanned, but readable, images.
I think you will find it of interest. An Annis [Nettleton] Martin apparently was in possession of some of Bass's documents. The brother-in-law referred to, Freeman Woodcock, I find to have been the husband of Elizabeth Bass, a sister of Samuel. So far I don't quite understand why Annis had Samuel's papers. Annis was married to a John Martin, I believe.
Of further interest is the fact that Solomon Northup's father, Mintus, who was a slave belonging to Capt. Henry Northup (or Northrup), lived in Hoosick Falls, probably after 1790. Capt. Henry was a loyalist who stayed in U.S. So the fathers of Solomon Northup and of Samuel Bass probably missed residing in the same area by a few years, it looks like.358
• Today about twelve o’clock Samuel Bass died in Marksville, at the home of Justine Tounier, f.w.c. His disease was pneumonia. He was 48 years of age and was born in upper Canada where he has a wife and four children. He had been separated from his wife for 12 or 15 years. His only complaint against her was that she had such a temper as to preclude any man from… [goes to next page]358, p 3
• He had a brother-in-law residing in Ogle County, Illinois near Daysville. Annis Martin in that vicinity has his land titles & many other valuable papers in her possession. He says that his above mention Brother-in-law Freeman Woodcock knows where Annis Martin resides.358, p 4
• While held by Epps, in 1852 Northup secretly befriended Samuel Bass, an itinerant Canadian carpenter working for Epps. Bass wrote to Northup's family with details of his location at Bayou Boeuf in hopes of gaining his rescue. Bass did this at great personal risk; in the bayou country, he likely would have been killed had the secret become known before the intervention of authorities.761• TORONTO – A Canadian connection to the harrowing film “12 Years a Slave” has the real-life descendants of one courageous character beaming with pride.
The unflinching big screen account of slavery in the Deep South – already considered a frontrunner for awards season glory – is based on the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man lured from his home in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., in 1841 and sold into slavery. Played in the film by Chiwetel Ejiofor, Northup ends up forced to toil on a series of punishing Louisiana plantations where he’s stripped of his papers, freedom and even his name.
His torment ends only after a chance encounter with an enlightened Canadian carpenter Samuel Bass, played by Brad Pitt, who agrees to help him contact friends who can vouch for his identity. Pitt’s character is based on a real-life figure from Ontario’s Augusta Township, and 160 years later, his descendants say they are amazed to learn of their forefather’s brave response to a man in need.
“The movie is about Solomon Northup, right? But we would never have heard of him, I guess, if he hadn’t met my great great great great grandfather,” says 50-year-old Kenora, Ont., resident Laurie Morris, whose mother is descended from Bass’s second daughter Hannah. “For the Canadian side of things, it shows we’re good people. I just imagine being down there and being the only Canadian with an opinion like that.”
Morris and other descendants say they are only now discovering details about Bass, who left Canada sometime around 1840 and took on a series of carpentry jobs throughout the United States.
It turns out that other aspects of his life were not so honourable – census records show he left behind a wife, Catherine Lydia Lane, and four daughters: Catherine, Hannah, Martha Maria and Zeruah Bass, says Bonnie Gaylord of the Grenville County Historical Society in Prescott, Ont. Morris’ 75-year-old mother says that could be why she had never heard of Samuel Bass until “12 Years a Slave.” “He wasn’t talked about in our family, I guess it was because he was never around,” says Rae Moulton Todd of Prescott, located about 100 kilometres south of Ottawa, near the original Bass family farm. “It is kind of exciting. And then I turn around and I think, ‘He really was a big jerk.’ He left his wife and four daughters here to be looked after by whoever.”
This past summer, historian and author David Fiske traced the wandering Bass to southern Ontario. He says he became curious about the man’s background after doing some broader research on the book “Twelve Years a Slave” for Fox Searchlight’s marketing department in advance of the film’s release. He found the link in Sue Eakin’s 2007 book “Solomon Northup’s ’12 Years a Slave’ and Plantation Life in the Antebellum South,” which included material from the diary of a lawyer Bass hired to draw up a will. “Bass had told him about some of his family in Canada and about different relatives that he had, some that were living in the United States, and that he still had a wife in Canada,” says Fiske, author of “Solomon Northup: The Complete Story of the Author of ‘Twelve Years a Slave.’” “He gave her name, and he gave names of two of his daughters and so forth, and from that information from the diary … I realized that this matches up with the Samuel Bass that was born in August 1807 in Augusta (Township).” He notes that John Pamplin Wadill’s diary also offers clues to why Bass left his family. “He had been separated from his wife for 12 or 15 years,” Wadill states in an entry dated Aug. 30, 1953, which also lists Bass’s wife’s name as Lydia Catlin Lane. “His only complaint against her was that she had such a temper as to preclude any man from living with her.”
The diary also raises the possibility that Bass may have had a second family in Louisiana, says Fiske. The diary notes Bass died of pneumonia at the home of a free woman of colour in Marksville, La., named Justine Tounier. It says Bass passed away Aug. 30, 1853, just months after Northup regained his freedom. “I suspect that there was a relationship (with Tounier) but the diary doesn’t say,” says Fiske, adding he also discovered the death record of a woman who appears to list Bass and Tounier as parents. “There’s some evidence that Samuel Bass may have descendants that were in Louisiana, and maybe still has descendants in Louisiana.”
Many details about the Bass family in Canada are stored at the Grenville County Historical Society, says Gaylord, noting that includes census records, letters and other documents detailing the sprawling Bass family. She notes that Samuel Bass’s grandparents were from the United States, and that may have been why he headed south. His grandparents Adonijah Bass and Lydia Draper were United Empire Loyalists who lived in Walloomsac, near Hoosick, N.Y., at the time of the American Revolution, she says. After Adonijah died in the late 1770s, his wife and children moved to Canada, where Bass’s father John married Hannah Lakins and had 12 children.
Shortly before Bass was born in 1807, Upper Canada (now Ontario) abolished slavery in 1793, adds Gaylord, suggesting the fact Bass grew up amid that sea change may have influenced his ardent anti-slavery views. Fiske says Bass was certainly passionate in his opposition to slavery, often speaking out against the practice even though few seemed to share his views at the time. “They kind of got a kick out of him because there weren’t that many people that were berating slavery in Louisiana. They would say, ‘Oh, there goes Samuel Bass again, going on about slavery,’” says Fiske, adding that it’s not known if Bass helped any other slaves. “It was dangerous for him to have written the letters (for Northup) in the first place because, obviously somebody that was opposed to slavery or helping slaves in Louisiana was not going to be looked at kindly by the other people. But he was willing to go even (further) because he was willing to travel all the way to New York State to actually bring direct word and find somebody in Saratoga that knew Northup and would be able to get him freed. As it turned out he didn’t have to do that.”
The fact much of Bass’s past appears to have been purposefully obscured makes it difficult to accurately piece together his story, Fiske and Gaylord add. Gaylord notes that Northup’s memoir describes Bass as an “old bachelor,” while Fiske refers to a New York Daily Times story at the time that is suspiciously short on details about the person who helped Northup write letters. Fiske says it’s possible Northup declined to share details in his interview about his Canadian friend, fearful it could cause trouble. “He doesn’t want people to go and blame Samuel Bass for this and get him in trouble because he realizes there could be repercussions for Bass,” says Fiske, speaking from his home in Ballston Spa, N.Y., near Saratoga Springs. “When he did his book he revealed a lot more, but that was some months later.”
The film “12 Years a Slave” diverges from the book in one key aspect involving another Northup ally, says Fiske. In the film, a storekeeper from Saratoga Springs travels to Louisiana to rescue Northup. In fact, the storekeeper passed the letter on to other people and an attorney named Henry B. Northup actually went south, he says. “There are descendants of Henry B. Northup that I think are going to be a little bit disappointed that his character was written out of the movie,” says Fiske, guessing that filmmakers thought it would be too confusing to have another character named Northup. He says Henry B. Northup was a descendant of the family that originally owned Solomon Northup’s ancestors.
And as to whether Bass looked anything like Pitt, who plays him in the movie, Gaylord says she has yet to come across any photos of the man. But she does note that the A-lister’s tenuous connection to a local family has made the community excited and interested in its own history. “So many people have been asking me if Brad Pitt came to our archives,” chuckles Gaylord, a distant Bass relative by marriage. “Unfortunately not.”
Donna Geary of Peterborough, Ont., who says Bass is her great great great uncle, says she caught wind of a family connection in the summer when a cousin noticed the film was heading to the Toronto International Film Festival. That eagle-eyed film fan actually recognized the name Samuel Bass in the film’s synopsis and quickly spread the word. “It started quite a buzz,” says the 54-year-old Geary, a marketing consultant who also teaches at Toronto’s Seneca College. “It was a shock to everyone in our family.” She sent out a general tweet about her family ties, admitting: “I thought Brad Pitt might reply but I couldn’t find him on Twitter.”
Further east in Prescott, Todd says she, too, was especially tickled to learn Pitt would play her ancestor. “I was pretty neared floored – Brad Pitt!” she exclaims. “I almost jumped over myself.” It didn’t take long for her to spread the word to other relatives, who all seemed equally excited about the discovery. “We sent it out to everybody, everybody we know. It’s all gone on the Internet and all our relatives all over the place,” says Todd, who dug into her own stash of family photos and was stunned to find images of her great great grandmother Hannah and Hannah’s husband David Nelson Brown.
Since learning of the story, Todd says she and her husband went out to the old Bass property to check out the house Bass grew up in – now empty – and an old barn that still stands. She admits to bringing a hammer to get a souvenir for “the Sam Bass museum in my basement.” “I got myself some commemorative things out of there,” she says. “Just an old door hinge and a pull off a door…. Any little thing that happened to be laying on the floor, mostly.” “It is exciting and it’s great. That (this) can happen in a little town like this…. We may start a Sam Bass day.”762
• [excerpt from 12 Years A Slave, by Solomon Northup, Chapter XIX, pages 263–273 in the original]
In the month of June, 1852, in pursuance of a previous contract, Mr. Avery, a carpenter, of Bayou Rouge, commenced the erection of a house for Master Epps. It has previously been stated that there are no cellars on Bayou Boeuf; on the other hand, such is the low and swampy nature of the ground, the great houses are usually built upon spiles [DWM: a post used as a foundation]. Another peculiarity is, the rooms are not plastered, but the ceiling and sides are covered with matched cypress boards, painted such color as most pleases the owner’s taste. Generally the plank and boards are sawed by slaves with whip-saws, there being no waterpower upon which mills might be built within many miles. When the planter erects for himself a dwelling, therefore, there is plenty of extra work for his slaves. Having had some experience under Tibeats as a carpenter, I was taken from the field altogether, on the arrival of Avery and his hands.
Among them was one to whom I owe an immeasurable debt of gratitude. Only for him, in all probability, I should have ended my days in slavery. He was my deliverer — a man whose true heart overflowed with noble and generous emotions. To the last moment of my existence I shall remember him with feelings of thankfulness. His name was Bass, and at that time he resided in Marksville. It will be difficult to convey a correct impression of his appearance or character. He was a large man, between forty and fifty years old, of light complexion and light hair. He was very cool and self-possessed, fond of argument, but always speaking with extreme deliberation. He was that kind of person whose peculiarity of manner was such that nothing he uttered ever gave offence. What would be intolerable, coming from the lips of another, could be said by him with impunity. There was not a man on Red River, perhaps, that agreed with him on the subject of politics or religion, and not a man, I venture to say, who discussed either of those subjects half as much. It seemed to be taken for granted that he would espouse the unpopular side of every local question, and it always created amusement rather than displeasure among his auditors, to listen to the ingenious and original manner in which he maintained the controversy. He was a bachelor — an “old bachelor," according to the true acceptation of the term — having no kindred living, as he knew of, in the world. Neither had he any permanent abiding place — wandering from one State to another, as his fancy dictated. He had lived in Marksville three or four years, and in the prosecution of his business as a carpenter; and in consequence, likewise, of his peculiarities, was quite extensively known throughout the parish of Avoyelles. He was liberal to a fault; and his many acts of kindness and transparent goodness of heart rendered him popular in the community, the sentiment of which he unceasingly combated.
He was a native of Canada, from whence he had wandered in early life, and after visiting all the principal localities in the northern and western States, in the course of his peregrinations, arrived in the unhealthy region of the Red River. His last removal was from Illinois. Whither he has now gone, I regret to be obliged to say, is unknown to me. He gathered up his effects and departed quietly from Marksville the day before I did, the suspicions of his instrumentality in procuring my liberation rendering such a step necessary. For the commission of a just and righteous act he would undoubtedly have suffered death, had he remained within reach of the slave-whipping tribe on Bayou Boeuf.
One day, while working on the new house, Bass and Epps became engaged in a controversy, to which as will be readily supposed, I listened with absorbing interest. They were discussing the subject of Slavery
”I tell you what it is Epps," said Bass, "it's all wrong — all wrong, sir — there's no justice nor righteousness in it. I wouldn't own a slave if I was rich as Croesus, which I am not, as is perfectly well understood, more particularly among my creditors. There’s another humbug — the credit system — humbug, sir; no credit — no debt. Credit leads a man into temptation. Cash down is the only thing that will deliver him from evil. But this question of Slavery what right have you to your niggers when you come down to the point?”
"What right!" said Epps, laughing; "why, I bought 'em, and paid for ‘em."
Of course you did; the law says you have the right to hold a nigger, but begging the law's pardon, it lies. Yes, Epps, when the law says that it's a liar, and the truth is not in it. Is every thing right because the law allows it? Suppose they'd pass a law taking away your liberty and making you a slave?”
"Oh, that ain't a supposable case," said Epps, still laughing; "hope you don't compare me to a nigger, Bass.”
"Well," Bass answered gravely, "no, not exactly. But I have seen niggers before now as good as I am, and I have no acquaintance with any white man in these parts that I consider a whit better than myself. Now, in the sight of God, what is the difference, Epps, between a white man and a black one?”
"All the difference in the world," replied Epps. "You might as well ask what the difference is between a white man and a baboon. Now, I've seen one of them critters in Orleans that knowed just as much as any nigger I've got. You'd call them feller citizens, I s’pose?" — and Epps indulged in a loud laugh at his own wit.
"Look here, Epps," continued his companion; “you can't laugh me down in that way. Some men are witty, and some ain't so witty as they think they are. Now let me ask you a question. Are all men created free and equal as the Declaration of Independence holds they are?”
"Yes," responded Epps, "but all men, niggers, and monkeys ain’t” and hereupon he broke forth into a more boisterous laugh than before.
"There are monkeys among white people as well as black, when you come to that," coolly remarked Bass. "I know some white men that use arguments no sensible monkey would. But let that pass. These niggers are human beings. If they don't know as much as their masters, whose fault is it? They are not allowed to know anything. You have books and papers, and can go where you please, and gather intelligence in a thousand ways. But your slaves have no privileges. You'd whip one of them if caught reading a book. They are held in bondage, generation after generation, deprived of mental improvement, and who can expect them to possess much knowledge? If they are not brought down to a level with the brute creation, you slaveholders will never be blamed for it. If they are baboons, or stand no higher in the scale of intelligence than such animals, you and men like you will have to answer for it. There's a sin, a fearful sin, resting on this nation, that will not go unpunished forever. There will be a reckoning yet — yes, Epps, there's a day coming that will bum as an oven. It may be sooner or it may be later, but it's a coming as sure as the Lord is just.”
"If you lived up among the Yankees in New-England," said Epps, "I expect you'd be one of them cursed fanatics that know more than the constitution, and go about peddling clocks and coaxing niggers to run away.”
"If I was in New-England," returned Bass, "I would be just what I am here. I would say that Slavery was an iniquity, and ought to be abolished. I would say there was no reason nor justice in the law, or the constitution that allows one man to hold another man in bondage. It would be hard for you to lose your property, to be sure, but it wouldn't be half as hard as it would be to lose your liberty. You have no more right to your freedom, in exact justice, than Uncle Abram yonder. Talk about black skin, and black blood; why, how many slaves are there on this bayou as white as either of us? And what difference is there in the color of the soul? Pshaw! the whole system is as absurd as it is cruel. You may own niggers and behanged, but I wouldn't own one for the best plantation in Louisiana.”
"You like to hear yourself talk, Bass, better than any man I know of. You would argue that black was white, or white black, if any body would contradict you. Nothing suits you in this world, and I don't believe you will be satisfied with the next, if you should have your choice in them.”
Conversations substantially like the foregoing were not unusual between the two after this; Epps drawing him out more for the purpose of creating a laugh at his expense, than with a view of fairly discussing the merits of the question. He looked upon Bass, as a man ready to say anything merely for the pleasure of hearing his own voice; as somewhat self-conceited, perhaps, contending against his faith and judgment, in order, simply, to exhibit his dexterity in argumentation.
He remained at Epps through the summer, visiting Marksville generally once a fortnight. The more I saw of him, the more I became convinced he was a man in whom I could confide. Nevertheless, my previous ill-fortune had taught me to be extremely cautious. It was not my place to speak to a white man except when spoken to, but I omitted no opportunity of throwing myself in his way, and endeavored constantly in every possible manner to attract his attention. In the early part of August he and myself were at work alone in the house, the other carpenters having left, and Epps being absent in the field. Now was the time, if ever, to broach the subject, and I resolved to do it, and submit to whatever consequences might ensue. We were busily at work in the afternoon, when I stopped suddenly and said —
"Master Bass, I want to ask you what part of the country you came from?”
"Why, Platt [DWM: the slave name of Solomon Northup], what put that into your head!” he answered. “You wouldn't know if I should tell you.” After a moment or two he added — "I was born in Canada; now guess where that is.”
"Oh, I know where Canada is," said I, "I have been there myself.”
"Yes, I expect you are well acquainted all through that country,” he remarked, laughing incredulously.
"As sure as I live. Master Bass," I replied, "I have been there. I have been in Montreal and Kingston, and Queenston, and a great many places in Canada, and I have been in York State, too — in Buffalo, and Rochester, and Albany, and can tell you the names of the villages on the Erie canal and the Champlain canal.”
Bass turned round and gazed at me a long time without uttering a syllable.
"How came you here?" he inquired, at length, "Master Bass," I answered, "if justice had been done, I never would have been here.”
"Well, how's this?” said he. "Who are you ? You have been in Canada sure enough ; I know all the places you mention. How did you happen to get here! Come, tell me all about it.”
"I have no friends here," was my reply, "that I can put confidence in. I am afraid to tell you, though I don't believe you would tell Master Epps if I should.”
He assured me earnestly he would keep every word I might speak to him a profound secret, and his curiosity was evidently strongly excited. It was a long story, I informed him, and would take some time to relate it. Master Epps would be back soon, but if he would see me that night after all were asleep, I would repeat it to him. He consented readily to the arrangement, and directed me to come into the building where we were then at work, and I would find him there. About midnight, when all was still and quiet, I crept cautiously from my cabin, and silently entering the unfinished building, found him awaiting me.
After further assurances on his part that I should not be betrayed, I began a relation of the history of my life and misfortunes. He was deeply interested, asking numerous questions in reference to localities and events. Having ended my story I besought him to write to some of my friends at the North, acquainting them with my situation, and begging them to forward free papers, or take such steps as they might consider proper to secure my release. He promised to do so, but dwelt upon the danger of such an act in case of detection, and now impressed upon me the great necessity of strict silence and secrecy. Before we parted our plan of operation was arranged.
We agreed to meet the next night at a specified place among the high weeds on the bank of the bayou, some distance from master's dwelling. There he was to write down on paper the names and address of several persons, old friends in the North, to whom he would direct letters during his next visit to Marksville. It was not deemed prudent to meet in the new house inasmuch as the light it would be necessary to use might possibly be discovered. In the course of the day I managed to obtain a few matches and a piece of candle, unperceived, from the kitchen, during a temporary absence of Aunt Phebe. Bass had pencil and paper in his tool chest.
At the appointed hour we met on the bayou bank, and creeping among the high weeds, I lighted the candle, while he drew forth pencil and paper and prepared for business. I gave him the names of William Perry, Cephas Parker and Judge Marvin, all of Saratoga Springs, Saratoga county, New-York. I had been employed by the latter in the United States Hotel, and had transacted business with the former to a considerable extent, and trusted that at least one of them would be still living at that place. He carefully wrote the names, and then remarked, thoughtfully —
"It is so many years since you left Saratoga, all these men may be dead, or may have removed. You say you obtained papers at the custom house in New-York. Probably there is a record of them there, and I think it would be well to write and ascertain.”
I agreed with him, and again repeated the circumstances related heretofore, connected with my visit to the custom house with Brown and Hamilton. We lingered on the bank of the bayou an hour or more, conversing upon the subject which now engrossed our thoughts. I could no longer doubt his fidelity, and freely spoke to him of the many sorrows I had borne in silence, and so long. I spoke of my wife and children, mentioning their names and ages, and dwelling upon the unspeakable happiness it would be to clasp them to my heart once more before I died. I caught him by the hand, and with tears and passionate entreaties implored him to befriend me — to restore me to my kindred and to liberty — promising I would weary Heaven the remainder of my life with prayers that it would bless and prosper him. In the enjoyment of freedom — surrounded by the associations of youth, and restored to the bosom of my family — that promise is not yet forgotten, nor shall it ever be so long as I have strength to raise my imploring eyes on high.
“Oh, blessings on his kindly voice and on his silver hair,
And blessings on his whole life long, until he meet me there.”
He overwhelmed me with assurances of friendship and faithfulness, saying he had never before taken so deep an interest in the fate of any one. He spoke of himself in a somewhat mournful, tone, as a lonely man, a wanderer about the world — that he was growing old, and must soon reach the end of his earthly journey, and lie down to his final rest without kith or kin to mourn for him, or to remember him — that his life was of little value to himself, and henceforth should be devoted to the accomplishment of my liberty, and to an unceasing warfare against the accursed shame of Slavery.763