Lewis Bass, Co. C, 14th United States Colored Heavy Artillery.

“Birthplace, Wilson, N.C.; age, 66 years; height 5 ft. 11 in; weight 175 pounds; complexion, dark; color of eyes, Black; color of hair, Black; occupation, farmer.”

Relationships forged during slavery complicated the pension claims of Lewis Bass and his widow Frances Hassell Wiggins Bass.

Lewis Bass was born enslaved in Wilson County around 1835. Prior to the Civil War, he married a woman (who is not named in his pension file) and had a daughter named Benzona (whom I have not been able to identify in records). Bass never returned to Wilson County after the war, settling instead in Pamlico County, North Carolina. As Frances Bass told it in her pension application: “Lewis Bass told me that he had a woman in slave days. He did not tell me her name but told me he had a child by her; said his child’s name was Benzona. Lewis Bass said he never saw his slave wife after he left for the army as he never went back to that locality; said as soon as he was discharged he came right down here ….”

About 1866, Lewis Bass married Martin County, N.C., native Frances Hassel Wiggins, who had been married to Isaac Wiggins during slavery. Like Bass, Wiggins enlisted in the United States Colored Troops — Company F, 1st U.S.C.T., in his case — and never returned home. (“We were married so long before the war that we had a son who was large enough to go in the army. His name was Daniel Wiggins and he was a flag bearer in his father’s company so I heard. I have never laid eyes on either my husband or son since they left me to join the army.”) Frances assumed he was dead and went on with her life. She initially applied for Wiggins’ widow’s pension and swore — per lawyers’ advice, she said — that she had never remarried. applied for Bass’ widow’s pension, however, the question had to be settled — was she Bass’ widow or Wiggins’?

File #728893, Application of Lewis Bass for Pension, File #766477, Application of Frances Wiggins for Widow’s Pension, National Archives and Records Administration.

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