Sunday, June 28, 2015

Finding Mitchell Bass in the Early Days of Freedom

Louis Mitchell Bass, Horatio Arkansas

     I recently, had one of those genealogy “happy dance” moment while researching records from the Freedmen’s Bureau. Now, I have been looking at the these for many years, but until recent months the search has always been on microfilm. That usually involved a trip to the National Archives, threading the microfilm reader, and sitting down to scroll page after page. But in recent years, two online web sites have digitized these records: the Internet Archive, and most recently Family Search.  And as a result, research can be conducted without travel to Washington, but from the comfort of my own home.

     One of my ancestral communities is southwestern Arkansas, in Sevier County. There was a field office of the Bureau, located in that part of the state, in the town of Paraclifta, Arkansas. So, recently, I sat down to inspect the records from that county.  My ancestors lived in a tiny hamlet called Horatio Arkansas during those post civil war years, and I was not even sure that my ancestors would have made it to the town of Paraclifta, or that their names had been recorded by the Bureau at all. But nevertheless, I looked.

     While going through pages, I came upon a set of pages that contained the names of plantation owners from Sevier county where the my great grandparents lived. I saw one letter from bureau staff, that a circular had been sent to the plantation owners to reply to the bureau stating what their agreements were that had been made with freedmen, now that the War was over and that slavery was abolished.  

So, my eyes scanned the names, of plantation owners, and then I saw the name of one that made we stop:  H. C. Pride. 

National Archives publication M1901 Roll 18, page 1007
Internet Archive Image Image on page 1007
     I knew that name! 

     Henry C. Pride, of Sevier County Arkansas, was always said to have been the slave holder of my great grandfather, Mitchell Bass. And there was H.C. Pride’s name as a plantation owner to whom, letters had been sent from the Freedmen’s Bureau. A circular had been sent for him to record the names of the Freedmen employees, and state their wages.

     But after seeing Pride's name, my next question was, “Did he reply, and would I see Gr. Grandpa Mitchell’s name as now an employee?”  Or, I wondered, did my ancestor Mitchell leave and find employment with someone else now that freedom had come?

     The next set of pages consisted of names of a Roster of  Freedmen and notes pertaining to the employer and wages to be paid. I could only hope that H.C. Pride would respond to the circular sent to him by the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands.  I carefully examined each page looking for those enslaved by H.C. Pride. And then came page 9.

     There was Pride, and whoa!! There was my great grandfather Mitchell!  He was listed along with others now “employees” of Pride.

  And as I looked at their names, I could not help but also notice Susan. Was this possibly the same Susan who was also part of our family? Grandpa Mitchell married a Susan after the war. In fact in the 1870 Federal Census, Mitchell was enumerated with his wife Susan and their children. Could this be the same Susan? I am not certain of that, but both names truly caught my attention. But I knew with certainty that this Mitchell was MY Mitchell.

     The heading of the page recorded the names of the Freedmen, the employer, an employee number, date, and wages paid.


     Every entry on the page and on all of the pages of the register consisted of the same payment: B. C. and Med. Att. This meant “Board, clothing and medical attention.” The date of this register was July 1865 and the war had not long been over.

     I could not help but notice however, no money was paid for labor.

     However, seeing Mitchell’s name on this roster, I know was the earliest record of my great grandfather! Mitchell would not keep the surname Pride, and by 1870 five years later, he was using the name that he attributed to his parents from whom he was separated years before. He had once lived with his family who lived and worked as enslaved people on the Bass estate, in Giles County Tennessee.

      By 1870, in an effort to reclaim his tie to his own family from whom he was taken in 1860, he chose to use the surname of his parents, which was Bass.  Mitchell would forever be known as Louis Mitchell Bass, reclaiming the name of his own family, and not that of the last slave holder.

     By 1870 he was a farmer on his own, and within a few years, he would purchase land as a homesteader in Sevier County, Arkansas. He would raise his children there, including a daughter, my grandmother Sarah Ellen Bass. 

     The document from the Freedmen's Bureau, tells a lot. It shows that he remained in the same community after freedom came, and he, like many others did, worked but was not paid cash at that time. And as the document reflected, his name was not yet inscribed with a surname. But a mere five years later, he would be recorded in the federal census as Louis Mitchell Bass with wife Susan and family.

     A lot is still to be known about how freedom actually came to Mitchell, Susan and the others, but oh, what a joy to find great grandpa Mitchell’s name, in the bureau records, in the early days of freedom. He was a survivor, and he did make it to see a brighter day.

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