The Devil in Uncle Watt

Uncle Watt bit off the head of a big, fat, juicy green tobacco worm, peed on his deaf cousin, and poked mules in the ass with a sharp stick just to see ‘em kick. Oh, yes, he was full of the Devil. Yes, he was! So people said, and thus my efforts to untangle dead ancestors one from the other to find the truth lured me down into a genealogical exorcism.

“Oh my Lord, he done got the Devil in ‘im BAD,” Raffie, an ancient-looking man who said he used to work beside Uncle Watt on the farm once told me back when I was a young lad. “Yeah, Lord, I’m tellin’ ya, it’s BAD!” As late as July 2009, Helen, one of my beloved aunts and a Beatnik artist in her 80s, when reminded of Uncle Watt called him “quite a character.” And so I tumbled down the dumbwaiter chute of a family mystery. Who was this “Devil?”

My Dad told me stories. Raffie told me stories. Uncle Willy told me stories. Even Uncle Aumon who got peed on told me stories. Willy and Aumon were brothers, and as they were also my Dad’s uncles they were really my paternal great-uncles. All of them would shake their heads with bemused dismay and chuckle. They could laugh simply because Uncle Watt was dead. He died young and wasn’t around anymore to torment anyone with all his foolishness. I never got to meet him. Dad said, “Uncle Watt died before you were born, Son, long before you were born.” He didn’t remember what of, tho.

“You don’t remember what he died of?” I asked all eaten up bug-eyed in impatient dismay.

“No, I don’t recall anything,” Dad replied. “Wait. Something about his toe. His big toe, maybe? Hell, I don’t know. Can’t help ya there. Got work to do now. Don’t you?”

Turns out Uncle Watt died long before my Daddy was born, too, as in a little over two decades before Dad’s birth. The strangeness about Watt Bass includes those who told all those crazy wild tales about him spoke as if they were there running alongside him in the same window of time. Whenever I asked way back then how long ago did those events happen not one person seemed to know. Asking a few questions turned into an unexpected adventure in genealogy as I dove into the rabbit hole of fading memories, cryptic notes on faded paper, and incomplete information online.

He was a fun-loving guy who apparently was constantly pushing people’s buttons, telling jokes, and playing pranks like biting off the head of a giant caterpillar to pee all over Uncle Aumon, who was but a laddie-lad, too. He lived life on the wild side. Chased pretty girls but never married. Or so I was told. Which I found out was wrong, wrong, wrong as he certainly did marry. Unless I stumbled upon the tombstone of the wrong Uncle Watt. Turns out I didn’t as the correct tombstone was also the same shared with his now-deceased wife.

Sometimes, however, people said he was “mean,” or he could be mean, mean as in being comical at another’s expense. Today we would call it bullying, yes, bullying. Then again Uncle Watt was such a clown and such a daggone goofball yet all dead serious all at once, as to be popular despite his mean streak.

I imagine perhaps he worked hard to prevent himself from being pigeonholed.  Maybe he dreaded being labeled and put in a big glass jar with a strip of old, yellow masking tape strapped on the side with his name scribbled upon it like the lab specimen of some mad scientist way down in the woods making Frankenstein moonshine out back of the corn crib. Great-Uncle Aumon actually kept a glass jar with a big scab from a weird lesion on his anterior lower leg. Kept the lid screwed on tight, too. The scab was a crusty, yellow-brown membrane, scary as hell, perfectly round, and about as large as a JFK half-dollar coin. It also looked too much like grilled, crispy, cheddar cheese. We all swore it must be cancer as the sore never healed. Had it for years. Aumon taped a strip of masking tape to the outside of the jar and labeled it with the date. I don’t recall the date, but I do remember he scribbled down, “Scab from leg.” The jar with the scab set on a dark shelf in a pantry within the old, empty family farmhouse for decades after Uncle Aumon’s death from pneumonia in 1984. Finally I tossed the whole thing, jar and all, to bring closure to this unpleasant legacy and, hell yeah, keep some mad scientist from cloning a diseased Uncle Aumon from “Scab from leg.” Because every time I saw it I thought of Uncle Watt and the time he peed all over Uncle Aumon.

Those stories about Uncle Watt would unwind like clockwork whenever his name came up. It seemed everyone knew him even tho no one did. Funny how untangling what seemed like tall tales led into a briar patch of conflicting opinions when it came to untangling family genealogy to determine the history of a man, a place, a time, and of families slipping thru spacetime.

“Uncle Aumon and Uncle Watt, they were pickin’ tobacco away over yonder in what’s now that corn field way down there by the river,” the storytellers would say each time they told the tale. Black or White, they told the same wicked ass tales about Uncle Watt chasin’ tail. They would point over toward a large plot of cultivated land down there behind the barns toward Little Sandy River.

We were on Riverview Dairy Farm, one of two surviving Bass family farms in Prince Edward County, Virginia. The other was Sunnyside Farm on the other side of Rice, a farming and railroad village up back on the hills from Sandy River. Riverview was in the rolling Piedmont country south of the James River known as Southside Virginia. Riverview Farm was the one I grew up on, too. My Dad’s Uncle Willy, William Beverly Gates, was in his early 30s when he took over running the farm from his daddy, my great-grandfather Charles Meigs Bass, after Charles died on Thanksgiving 1927. Uncle Willy ran the farm until his own death in April 1973. A bachelor without kids, he’d groomed my father to own and operate the farm. Dad stepped up and took over Riverview Dairy, finally realizing one of his big dreams upon leaving the U.S. Navy back during the early Cold War. The stories about Uncle Watt being full of the Devil, however, continued unabated.

It didn’t matter whether the storytellers were my old Uncle Willy, or my Dad, or Raffie, or someone else who knew him as “full of the Devil as all git-out.”

“Uncle Watt and Uncle Aumon were cousins. They were young men back then. Back before the World Wars. They were bent over in the fields pickin’ and pullin’ tobacco. It was hard, hard, nasty work. And hot. Hot, nasty work.”

Country people often pronounced “tobacco” as “bakker” or “bakka,” as in, “You better put on some long-sleeve shirts and long pants befo’ you go out there under that hot ass sun pullin’ bakka or you gonna git sick and throw all up ever whicha way. Yeah, you be absorbin’ all that bakker sap right through yo skin, that nicotine tar is gummy like creosote is, and it’s gonna make you feel so terrible sick you gonna throw up again! Gonna feel like you drank a whole fiftha likker last night, too. And with no mornin’ coffee the next day, either. So y’all go put on some britches before you git all nastified now!”

I knew Uncle Aumon. Robert Aumon Bass, born Monday 7 December 1885, 57 years to the day before the Japanese Empire attacked American military bases at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in the Second World War, and died Sunday 12 February 1984 at age 98 from pneumonia. I grew up with him next-door. He had been deaf since age 12 from a double infection of diphtheria and whooping cough. Such a long life bookmarked by diseases.

Uncle Aumon taught for many years at the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind in Staunton, a small city in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. He retired back to Riverview in 1959, the year I was born. Although he was my great-uncle, he felt more like a grandfather to me as my paternal granddaddy, his younger brother Carroll, died of cancer back when I was about 12 years old. We had a connection and were fond of each other as I was profoundly hard of hearing in both ears and took me almost six years of speech therapy to learn how to unmangle the English language. He took turns along with both my father and Uncle Willy driving me once a week every Monday all the way from Riverview Farm to and thru Downtown Richmond to the Medical College of Virginia where I worked with speech therapists and audiologists during those years.

There were a number of different branches of the family tree to scoot back and forth along and in between. Aumon, two years older than his cousin Watt, was my Daddy’s uncle and my grandfather’s brother. My paternal grandfather was Carroll Melvin Bass (1893-1971), who joined the U.S. Navy in World War I and dropped depth charges on Imperial German U-Boats as he hunted enemy submarines across the freezing, stormy North Atlantic. We grandkids called him “Pop.”

After the Great War he got out of the Navy. Pop became a botanist and fell in love with daffodils and grafting roses onto apple trees. Uncle Aumon and my Granddaddy Pop were tall, strong man, and like their brothers and cousins, one of the Bass six-footers (I wasn’t). Back in his youth Aumon would spend summers working on the farm. Tobacco was a common crop back then used to supplement money made from the dairy.

“Watt, being such a goddamn devil, played a trick on Aumon. He knew Aumon couldn’t hear well and had to see everything to know anything. Watt plucked off a tobacco worm, one of those giant, green caterpillars.

“Come here!” he shouted at Aumon and waved him over. Watt showed him the giant tobacco worm in his hand. Aumon came over, curious, and peered down through his large eyeglasses at the caterpillar.

Have you ever seen tobacco worms? They’re beautiful creatures. These large, emerald green caterpillars have seven diagonal stripes and a row of little fake-eyeball dots along each side. From their rear end arises a curved spike, their rhino horn. In fact, while we called them “tobacco worms,” their official common name is the tobacco hornworm, due to their unicorn rump.

After a pupal stage, they metamorphosized into a large, brown moth called Manduca sexta. Poor things only live about 30 to 50 days, too, but this plump, juicy hornworm squirming in Uncle Watt’s hand was doomed to an even briefer life.

“I’m gonna bite this bakker worm’s head plum’ off!” Watt declared. “Just you watch, Aumon!”

He got ready to do it, too. Put that damn, wiggly ass worm in ‘is mouth.

“While he had Aumon lookin’ at that big ol’ puffy worm slidin’ around between his lips, Watt pulled out his pecker and pissed all over ‘im. Yep, he pissed all over Aumon while Aumon just stared at Watt’s mouth like he was hypnotized. Aumon didn’t even realize he’d been peed on until he felt all wet. Then Watt jumped away and took off a runnin’ hard across the field. Aumon chased him down and beat the shit outa him. Lord a’mighty, that Uncle Watt sure had the Devil in ‘im. Brought out the Devil in Uncle Aumon, too. Cuz he had a temper!”

Another story oft told about Uncle Watt was how he liked to agitate the mules. Loved to watch ‘em kick. While the mule stood in its stall facing the food trough, Watt would lay on his back in the gutter and scoot along till he was under the hind end of the mule. Then he would take a long, sharp stick he had with him and poke that mule in the ass.

Every time that mule jumped and kicked, slamming hooves through the air, Watt would just laugh and shout. Freaked that mule out. I don’t understand why that mule simply didn’t piss and shit all over Uncle Watt.

Surely he must’ve thought that was a possibility or maybe getting his face stove in was, but apparently none of those deterred him in the least. Or maybe he reached through the openings between boards from the other side without getting his hand broken all to bits. But he would jab that mule to make it kick like hell.

Otherwise Uncle Watt remains a mystery. Even untangling his past, which is part of my past, was like wading into a blackberry patch and reaching too far to pluck the plumpest fruit. Uncle Watt’s full name was Watson Emmett Bass, Jr. He was the son of Watson Emmett Bass, Sr. and Sarah Elizabeth Bruce Gates Bass. She was known as “Bettie Bruce.” Watson Sr. was this particular Bettie Bruce’s second husband.

Bettie Bruce was also the widow of William Beverly Gates, with whom she had children, too, and thus one of several “bridges” connecting the Bruce, Gates, and Bass farming families in Southside Virginia. Our families formed a large clan with multiple farms across the Green Bay – Sandy River – Rice area of Prince Edward County and helped anchor several rural churches. Bettie Bruce was a powerhouse of a woman, too, as I found out later. Her name lives on as the name of one of my Dad’s two sisters, Bettie Bruce, who was younger than my Aunt Helen.

Thus this guy who poked mules in the ass with sharp sticks was a half-brother to one of my Bass great-grandmothers. An elderly aunt told me Watt’s father was the brother of a Bobby Bass, Robert Emmett “Bobby” Bass. If, and I say if, I got the right Watson Bass and she the right Robert Bass, that is. Turns out later this was a mix up. This Bobby Bass, Robert Emmett “Bobby” Bass (1867-1903) was the younger brother of my great-grandfather Charles Meigs Bass (1859 -1927) and died less than four months shy of turning 36. There was a distant cousin also named Bobby Bass, a Robert Gates “Bobby” Bass (1925-2015). That particular Bobby Bass was the younger brother of Beverly Calvin Bass (1910-2003). The latter two Bass brothers became locally and regionally renowned in their own rights, but the similarity of names in overlapping generations of different branches and trunks of the family forest leads to a lot of head scratching and scratched-out lines between names on pieces of paper.

Instead Uncle Watt’s father, Watt, Sr., was the son of Robert Bass (1793-1870), whom I shall refer to here as RB#1 as “Sr.” and “Jr.” weren’t used for this set of Basses. Watt, Sr., was also the brother of the more famous Dr. Robert E (unknown but most likely stands for “Emmett”) Bass (RB#2) (1831-1908). Dr. Bass, RB#2, was also the father of Robert Emmett “Bobby” Bass (RB#3) and grandfather of both my grandfather Carol and my great-uncle Aumon. Robert Bass is the grandfather of Watt, Jr., but the great-grandfather of Aumon Bass, who is, if you may recall, actually Robert Aumon Bass (RB#4). Thus Aumon is the son of Watt, Jr.’s cousin Charles Meigs Bass even though Aumon and Watt, Jr. were only two years apart in age. This makes the other distant cousin, Robert Gates “Bobby” Bass RB#5 while I figure this out.

For a while I didn’t know when or where Uncle Watt was born and died. Couldn’t remember the other details of his relatively short life. Hours spent googling didn’t help much. Finally, I happened upon a treasure trove of websites where people post photos of tombstones with the information copied from gravestones.

It felt humbling. Seeing those graveyard photos online was the closest to being there, and, yes, it was somewhat humbling. Seeing such made the legend all too human, especially as he was dead.

Uncle Watt, or Cousin Watt, take your pick, was born Wednesday 5 September 1883 somewhere in Eastern-Central Virginia. About sever years later I stumbled upon a website and learned he was born in Rice. Most likely on one of the Bass farms. But was the website accurate? I discovered different websites listed different years of birth for some individuals. I took gravestones as truth, however, tho I suppose even those could lie in some rare cases. We do, however, know for sure when he passed away. Watt Bass died at age 28, not quite 29, on Thursday 30 May 1912. He passed away in the City of Richmond, Virginia, and is buried there in Oakwood Cemetery, which swallowed many a dead Confederate soldier toward the end of the American Civil War.

I discovered the following graveyard photo online at

Watt & Tele’s Tombstone in Oakwood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia, U.S.A.

That’s when I discovered he had a wife, Sarah Lucile “Tele” Betts Bass. She was born Friday 10 September 1886, in Halifax County, Virginia, and was three years younger than her husband with the Devil in him. Tele lived to be 81, almost 82, when she died on Friday 26 April 1968. She lived 56 years longer than her husband, and almost 9 years after I was born. So I may have met her once upon a time. I know I did as I have faint memories of a smiling, elderly White lady named “Aunt Tele.”

Being a widow was especially tragic and difficult back in those days. In the Southern Baptist religion so dominant in those branches of my family divorce was a sin up there with dancing and drinking and so, too, unfortunately, was a widow to remarry. No one ever spoke of Aunt Tele as being Uncle Watt’s wife in those old tales of way back when. No mention was made of Lucile Tele Bass by those who laughed and told jokes about her husband putting a tobacco hornworm in his mouth as he slipped out his penis to piss all over Uncle Aumon. Watt and Tele share the same headstone in Richmond’s old, Civil War-era cemetery. No children are listed, so they probably didn’t have any kids.  Then when she died it was the end of their particular biological line. You can see more about “Aunt Tele” at this link here at

Wait! Wait a moment. Back to Raffie, Raffie Stokes, the elderly Black farmer who was my very first mentor…Mr. Stokes, whom everyone called Raffie, pronounced “Ray-fuh,” was a natural-born psychotherapist and storyteller supreme. Raffie never got past First Grade before he had to leave school to go work a job. He claimed to’ve work beside Uncle Watt, or knew Uncle Watt, and told stories as if he was right there filming the demise of that poor, wiggly ass tobacco worm himself.

Raffie, however, was born in 1909 in Prince Edward County and Uncle Watt died in 1912 over in Richmond. Expert storytellers, however, recall each myth, legend, and historical event with expert precision and retell old stories as if you right there in them. What is likely to have occurred is I misunderstood Raffie as I am profoundly hard-of-hearing. He clearly spoke with the conviction of knowing the story so well I unconsciously made up in my own mind Raffie must have indeed worked alongside Watt Bass altho he never did. So…how to separate out the stories about Uncle Watt from the people telling the stories from the people in the stories?

Mr. Stokes passed away in 1997 several years after I had moved West to Seattle, Washington. I dug around in old documents and inside a more than one hundred year old Bass Family Holy Bible that survived my March 2010 house fire. I found out more information, piece by piece, as I placed together a sort of digital jigsaw puzzle of a now-extinct family line. Slowly, then quickly, a fuller picture emerged of my long-dead relative and his more immediate relations. That particular family Bible had been passed on to me by my Aunt Helen Bass Whitehead the artist and former Beatnik as she knew of my love of history. She also was aware of my devotion to building and maintaining family archives.

This old Bible was large and the kind people wrote in the margins of births and dates and who beget whom. It arrived inside an old wooden box made of Virginia hickory and iron nails. We called this “the Bass Family Bible Box.” Hickory is a hard, heavy deciduous wood and served to protect the contents of the Bible Box. The wood of the box was badly burned during the 2010 house fire and wasn’t salvageable. All of the contents survived in relatively great condition albeit a little bit smokey. Sometime later I handed off this old, old Holy Bible to my niece Lydia, another head strong and independent minded Bass who while devoted to family doesn’t tow the mainstream family line as she experiences life in her own unique way.

Uncle Watt’s father, Watson Emmett Bass, Sr., was born in Chesterfield County, Virginia on Monday 9 February 1846, less than three months before the U.S.-Mexican War broke out. His father, Uncle Watt’s grandfather, was Robert Bass, born Tuesday 8 October 1793, also in Chesterfield County. Robert Bass was born 10 years after the end of the American Revolution. At the time of his birth Chesterfield was rural farm country outside and around part of the City of Richmond, the state capital. Nowadays Chesterfield is a heavily urbanized extension of Richmond.

Robert Bass married three times (like me!) and fathered 18 children (NOT like me!). His second wife was Martha Elizabeth Gates, the mother of Watson Emmett Bass, Sr. I’m wasn’t certain as the blurred numbers were hard to read, but I thought his date of death was Monday 30 December 1850, in the midst of the Winter Holidays. Wow, he only lived 57 years! Wrong, Wrong, WRONG! I finally determined after pulling out a few tufts of hair it was really Martha Elizabeth Gates Bass, born on Friday 7 February 1812, (remember the War of 1812, part of the Napoleonic World Wars?) who died on Friday the 30th of December in 1850 at age 38, well, almost 39. Her husband, Robert Bass, actually passed away in October of 1870 at the age of 77.

There was confusion for years as I wasn’t able to determine exactly how I am related to my distant uncle/cousin Watt, Jr. There are different lines of Robert Basses and Emmett Basses and so many Williams and Betty Bruces. There were so many Marthas and so many Bruce Gates Basses. Dug through many old records trying to find out who was what when to whom and where. Oh, how I grinned and scowled and grumped and smiled!

Discovered my great-great-grandfather was Dr. Robert E. Bass (Thursday 17 March 1831 – Monday 20 July 1908), but his dad was Robert Bass (1783 -1870) and thus my great-great-great-grandfather. Wasn’t his middle name Emmett, too? No, it wasn’t. He’s really a Robert Henry Bass, but didn’t seem to ever use his middle initial. There were more Roberts than Emmetts. Which is why I began using RB#s 1-5 to help me keep track of all these RBs as I untangled one man in a grave from another. Each one I untangled left me wondering about their personalities, dreams, fears, hopes, sorrows, joys, and everyday life. Felt as if I was untangling hundreds of bones from among dozens of skeletons.

Dr. Bass was a locally famous physician and church and community leader in the Rice area of Prince Edward County. He was always referred to as “Dr. Robert Bass” or sometimes “Dr” British-style without a period. He was another Bass who didn’t use his middle name, which was Emmett. He had a small farm near the overgrown ruins of the old Appomattox riverside village of Jamestown (not the 1607 English colony). Ashcake was the name of his horse, although he never learned to saddle it himself.

Decades ago my Dad would take me to the location of the former Bass farm to show me “where Dr. Bass lived.” The Doctor’s stately home had burned to the ground on the day before Thanksgiving 1933. What I saw was a much smaller replacement. Although still lovely, the old but empty farmhouse felt both charming and sad. I was enchanted with a tight corkscrew of wooden stairs. Sunbeams cut through the window upstairs in shades of nostalgic yellow. My great-great-grandfather’s yard was overrun by enormous, shaggy boxwoods and inbred daffodils and littered with fallen trees. The shadows are stained with slavery, as some of the pre-Civil War Basses including Dr. Robert Bass once owned slaves and servants. Turned out the reason my great-great-grandfather didn’t saddle his horse was because his slaves did it for him. His wife, my great-great-grandmother Martha, didn’t even brush her own hair as she had slaves do it for her. I felt horrified, embarrassed, and ashamed to learn of these things, and I am not surprised.

With my great-great-grandmother Martha Susan Bruce Bass (Sunday 25 November 1838 – Thursday 12 December 1850), Dr. Robert Bass had several children including sons Robert Emmett “Bobby” Bass (Friday 16 August 1867 –  Thursday 16 April 1903) and my paternal great-grandfather Charles “Charlie” Meigs Bass (Thursday 3 March 1859 – Friday 25 November 1927). The six sons and six daughters of Charlie and his wife Maria Thomas Bruce Gates Bass (Saturday 17 June 1865 – Saturday 10 December 1938) included my Grandpoppa Pop, Carroll Melvin Bass, and his brother, my great-uncle Robert Aumon Bass, who got pissed off after he got pissed on by the Devil in Watt. Carroll and Aumon and their siblings were supposedly nephews of Watson, Sr. and cousins to the man my Daddy called Uncle Watt, until I found out it wasn’t quite that level a line between the two branches. It was a bit off-kilter due in part to certain individuals living longer lives while others died much younger.

Watson, Sr. married, as I determined above, Sarah Elizabeth “Bettie” Bruce Gates. They married on Tuesday the 15th of January 1878 when they were both 30 years old. Maybe they were in a hurry to catch up. And I discovered their son, Watson Emmett Bass, Jr., aka “that Devil Uncle Watt,” was born outside the village of Rice near Sharon Baptist Church, Sandy River area, Prince Edward County, Virginia. Sadly, he was born a little over four months after his father died. His mother, now known as Bettie Bruce Bass, purchased the large tracts of fields and woods in Prince Edward County that was later divided between the Gates and Bass clans into separate farms. She initially, however, ran this territory as one farm for years.

Watson, Sr. passed away on Sunday 29 April 1883, which was eerie for me to read as I was born on Tuesday 28 April only 76 years later. Watson, Jr., was born on Wednesday 5 September 1883. Apparently his Daddy perished from pneumonia at age 37 and left Bettie Bruce pregnant.

With a sad joy I discovered the date of his marriage to his sweetheart Tele. They married each other on Wednesday 29 June 1910. They just weren’t married long enough. Their marriage lasted just over two years before Watt died. As noted earlier, they did not have any children. When Uncle Watt died he was described as a “storekeeper/owner in South Richmond up to his death.” The northern part of Chesterfield County bordered the southern perimeters of the City of Richmond. Apparently Tele ran the store for some time.

Watson, Jr., was born about two years before his distant cousin Aumon Bass, the man he peed on as he ate a tobacco hornworm. Aumon, however, lived 72 years beyond Watt’s death. Aumon married Mary Scott Bass, a deaf woman from Jetersville, Virginia. As were Watt, Jr., and his wife, Tele, Aumon and Mary were also a childless couple. Thus when they died they were end of line as well.

What did Watt Bass die of at the young age of 28? The yellowed, photocopied old newspaper clippings and handwritten scribbles were terse: “Cause of Death: Operated on Goiter.” Goiter?

One hardly hears of goiters anymore, but these different types of tumors and growths on the thyroid gland were once quite common. The introduction of iodized salt in America began in the early to mid-1920s, which was quite some time after Watt died in 1912. Iodized salt dramatically reduced the prevalence of goiter diseases in the United States. Look how genealogy spills over to include so many different topics. One can study the history of health and diseases, government initiatives for healthcare, and the capitalist corporatization of healing, as in the case the rise of the Morton Salt Company. Now we have an overabundance of salt in our diet, and corporate food packagers and distributers profit from too much salt in the diet. The influx of salt made it easier to dump more and more sugar into processed food as food processing took off after the end of the Second World War.

Common, simple goiter is easily preventable by increasing iodine in the diet. Goiter which becomes malignant and cancerous is much more challenging, although surgery at an early stage is increasingly effective. Exophthalmic goiter, however, is caused by thyroid gland hyperactivity, and is more commonly referred to as Graves’ Disease. I don’t know which type Uncle Watt suffered from. Online search engines turn up many old fotos of people suffering from goiter exhibiting large, swollen thyroid tumors on their necks. Their necks looked as if pregnant.

Turns out Dad and then later me had confused the word, “goiter” with “gout.” Gout is a form of arthritis characterized in part by the formation of broken-glass sharp crystals of monosodium urate or uric acid crystals form within joints. Gout is extremely painful and is often associated with swollen big toes where acid crystals as sharp as jagged glass makes one unable to stand and walk. Turns out goiter will also, tho in a different way, cause pain and numbness in the joints and digits of both feet and hands. It’s no wonder Dad kept fixating on big toes in his broken tape-loop memories of stories passed down to him about Uncle Watt.

I did read, however, that complications of exophthalmic goiter used to commonly arise with a sudden onset of symptoms following thyroid surgery or even a neck injury. Among these complications were sudden death from heart failure and thyroid crisis. Perhaps this was the real Devil in Uncle Watt. Perhaps, too, this is what happened to young Uncle Watt one hundred years ago.

Sometimes I feel his presence, the ghost of his cultural meme, kept alive through storytelling. Feel a bit of him somewhere in me, enough that my mother once wrote a poem about me called “Angel or Devil.”

When we die, often all that’s left are stories other people remember. How much is true I don’t know anymore. Eventually they all pass on; these people, my ancestors, even learning the oldest known Basse individual was a French Huguenot man with a French-Italian wife who together followed the Normans to England while others veered off into Germany. I learned a number of Basses in Virginia and the Carolinas married into Native American tribes associated with or were neighbors of the Powhatan Confederacy. The most famous of these tribes from a Basse pont of view were the the Nansemonds. Many of these tribes were in turn absorbed into European-American culture and ethnicity or went extinct from warfare, conquest, enslavement, and epidemics. Others merged into other tribal remnants. A few small Native reservations remain today including reconstituted ones. In addition there were interracial sexual mingling in general between Whites, Reds, and Black slaves of African and Afro-Caribbean ethnicity. New and exacting standards of DNA testing hints at the see-saw zigzagging between romance and genocide. Our stories take on their own lives, sparkle in the tales of a few generations, then grow fuzzy and dim till nothing is left, not the truth, not even the lies.


William Dudley Bass
Thursday 1 October 2009
Shoreline, Washington
Revised Tuesday 27 March 2012
Thursday – Monday 7 – 11 June 2012
Revised Thursday to Thursday 22 – 30 September 2016
Seattle, Washington
A long ways from Virginia

NOTE: This essay was originally published on my older blog, Cultivate and Harvest, @ <>. Eventually I edited, revised, and expanded it to repost here. I still struggle to untangle who’s related to who and just how and when. Thank you.

Appendix 0.01

A few Branches of the Bass Family Tree
From my Perspective

This “tree” is limited only to those named in this article, & thus does not include any of the many other relationships. There are siblings, parents, grandparents, children, spouses, ex-spouses, and cousins, among others not named in this specific narrative and thus not named below. Why, pray tell? “The Devil in Uncle Watt” is about Uncle Watt and my attempts to learn who and what he was. The intention here is to keep the relationships between those named in the story in correct alignment. This was a challenging and at times confusing task, so I likely made a few mistakes here and there along the way.

Often, for example, one record would show a different date for a birth or death than another record for the same person. Usually if multiple records several would share the same data but one or two would demonstrate a different date. Many of these may well be copy errors as different scribes took the time to type such information into online data bases. Once I saw where middle names were mixed up such as my great-grandfather Charles Meigs Bass, the father of my grandfather Carroll Melvin Bass, is erroneously listed in as Charles Melvin Bass. Then I found out there really is a Charles Melvin Bass, but in a different state of the Union and in a different time period. One has to untangle the William Beverly Gateses from William Beverly Basses and Bruces. The name of a deceased baby would sometimes be reused without any change. Sometimes the paper record and/or digitalized or film versions of old paper records are difficult to discern. Sometimes another person comes along and copies the date, correct or erroneous, down into yet another data base.

If you spot any errors or feel something important is left out, please contact me in the comment section below. Again, my focus in this article is on clarifying the story of Uncle Watt, not getting everyone’s relations straight. Those are another piece of work. Thank you.

DOB = Date of Birth
POB = Place of Birth
DOM = Date of Marriage
POM = Place of Marriage
NOC = Number of Children known & recorded
DOD = Date of Death
POD = Place of Death
POB = Place of Burial
POC/PAS = Place of Cremation/Place Ashes Scattered

OK, here we go down the genealogy rabbit hole:
Thomas Bass (1752 – 1832 also 1745 – 1827) + Mary Mosely (c. 1760 – c.1818 but also 1759 – 1818 is listed), DOM: Thursday 19 Nov 1778
Robert Henry Bass (1793 – 1870) aka Robert Bass (RB # 1)
DOB: Tuesday 8 October 1793
POB: Hornsea, Yorkshire, England, UK
Spouse # 1: Ann P. Ellett Bass
DOM: ?
POM: ?
NOC: 0
Spouse # 2: Martha Elizabeth Gates Bass
DOM: ?
POM: Virginia, USA
Spouse # 3: Mary A. Atkinson Bass (? – Thursday 30 June 1898)
NOC: 16 total
DOD: Wednesday 12 October 1870
POD: Powhatan, Virginia, USA
Spouse # 2: Martha Elizabeth Gates Bass (1812 – 1850)
DOB: Thursday 6 February 1812
POB: Chesterfield, Virginia, USA
Spouse: Robert Henry Bass
DOM: ?
NOC: 13
DOD: Friday 20 Dec 1850 (DOD of Monday 30 December 1850 also
given via tombstone registry)
POD: Powhatan, Virginia, USA
POB: Liberty Church Cemetery, Powhatan, Virginia, USA
|                          Son
|                            |
|                            |
|        Robert Emmett Bass (1831 – 1908) aka Dr. Robert Bass (RB # 2)
|        DOB: Thursday 17 March 1831
|        POB: Virginia, USA
|        Spouse: Martha Susan “Pattie” Bruce Bass
|        DOM: 1856 (He was 24 or 25; she 17 or 18.)
|        POM: Virginia
|        NOC: 7 or 12
|        DOD: Monday 20 July 1908
|        POD: Rice, Virginia, USA
|        POB: Pisgah Baptist Church Cemetery, Rice, Prince Edward
|        County, Virginia, USA
|         +
|        Spouse: Martha Susan “Pattie” Bruce Bass (1838 – 1920)
|        DOB: Sunday 25 November 1838
|        POB: Chesterfield County, Virginia, USA
|        DOM: 1856 (She was 17 or 17; he 24 or 25.)
|        DOD: Sunday 12 December 1920
|        POD: Virginia, USA
|        POB: Pisgah Baptist Church Cemetery, Rice, Prince Edward
|        County, Virginia, USA
|        Notes: Among their children were two sons: Charles Meigs Bass
|        and Beverley Gates Bass, brothers. Charles was the father of
|        Carroll Melvin Bass who was in turn the father of William Merritt
|        Bass, who was my father. Beverley Gates Bass was the father of
|        Beverly Calvin Bass and thus cousin to my grandfather Carroll.
|        Charles Meigs Bass is also the father of Robert Aumon Bass (RB
|        # 4) and William Beverly Bass.
Watson Emmett Bass, aka “Watson Sr.”*
DOB: Monday 9 February 1846
POB: Chesterfield County, Virginia, USA
DOD: 29 April 1883 (one record says 19 April 1883)
POD: Liberty Church, Powhatan, Virginia, USA
Spouse: Sarah Elizabeth “Bettie” Bruce Gates Bass**
*(Watson, Sr. was the second husband to Bettie Bruce)
**(Bettie Bruce was also the widow of William Beverly Gates. They had married on Thursday 1 September 1864 and had children, too.)
Notes: Dr. Robert Emmett Bass (RB # 2) and Watson Emmett Bass, Sr., were brothers. Dr. Bass’s son Charles Meigs Bass is the father of Robert Aumon Bass (RB # 4) as well as the father of my paternal grandfather Carroll Melvin Bass. Thus Charles Meigs Bass and “Uncle Watt” were cousins, i.e. Watson Emmett Bass, Jr., was the cousin of “Uncle Aumon’s” father.
Watson Emmett Bass, Jr., aka “Uncle Watt”
DOB: Wednesday 5 September 1883 (One record shows DOB as 1884, most likely an error as gravestone shows 1883.)
POB: Rice, Virginia, USA
Spouse: Sarah Lucile “Tele” Betts Bass
DOM: Wednesday 29 June 1910
POM: Richmond, Virginia, USA
NOC: 0
DOD: Thursday 30 May 1912
POD: Richmond, Virginia, USA
POB: Oakwood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia, USA
Sarah Lucile Betts Bass, aka “Aunt Tele”
DOB: Friday 10 September 1886
POB: Halifax County, Virginia, USA
DOM: Wednesday 29 June 1910
POM: Richmond, Virginia, USA
NOC: 0
DOD: Friday 26 April 1968
POD: Richmond, Virginia, USA
POB: Oakwood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia, USA

My Direct Paternal Line
Great-Great-Great-(?)-Grandfather: Robert (Henry) Bass (1793-1870) (RB # 1)
*another layer?
Great-Great-Grandfather: Dr. Robert Emmett Bass (1831-1908) (RB # 2)
Great-Grandfather: Charles Meigs Bass (1859-1927)
Grandfather: Carroll Melvin Bass (1893-1971)
Father: William Merritt Bass (1930-2004)
Son (Me): William Dudley Bass (1959 – )

The RBs
RB # 1 – Robert Henry Bass aka Robert Bass (1793-1870)
RB # 2 – Robert Emmett Bass aka Dr. Robert Bass (1831-1908)
RB # 3 – Robert Emmett “Bobby” Bass (1867-1903)
RB # 4 – Robert Aumon Bass aka Aumon Bass(1885-1984)
RB # 5 – Robert Gates “Bobby” Bass (1925 – 2015)

Owner-Operators of Riverview Farm
(Often referred to as Riverview Dairy Farm.)
1) Charles Meigs Bass (1859-1927), my Great-Grandfather. People called him “Charlie.”
2)William Beverly Bass (“Uncle Willy”) (1895 – 1973), my paternal Great-Uncle and son
of Charles Meigs Bass.
3) William Merritt Bass (1930-2004), my Father. People called him “Billy” as a boy and “Bill” as an adult.
4) Dorothy Elizabeth Ussery Bass (1932-2006), my Mother with her children especially
my siblings and their spouses. People called her “Dot” as an adult, and she signed her cards and letters to us children as “Mama.”

A Simplified Family Tree (leaves out many relations)
Thomas Bass + Mary Mosely
Robert Henry Bass aka Robert Bass (RB # 1) + 2 of 3) Martha Elizabeth Gates Bass
|                                                                     |
Dr. Robert Emmett Bass (RB # 2)                 Watson Emmett Bass, Sr.
+                                                                                       +
Martha Susan “Pattie” Bruce Bass           Sarah Elizabeth “Bettie” Bruce Gates Bass
|                                                                   |
Charles Meigs Bass  <—–cousins—–>  Watson Emmett Bass, Jr., “Uncle Watt”
+                                                              (1883 – 1912) +
Maria Thomas “Bruce” Gates Bass           Sarah Lucile “Tele” Betts Bass
|                                                                (1886-1968)
|- Robert Aumon Bass (1885-1984) RB#4                   |
|               +                                               No known children. End of line.
|    Mary Scott Bass (1885-1973)
|               |
|    No known children. End of line.
|- William Beverly Bass, “Uncle Willy”
|- Carroll Melvin Bass + 1) Mary Frances Yeatts Bass, then +
|                                      2) Martha Louise Campbell Jones Bass
|- William Merritt Bass + Dorothy Elizabeth Ussery Bass
*|- William Dudley Bass 2 of 3) Gwendolyn Valentine Hughes
**|- Morgan Hannah Hughes Bass



Private papers: “Family Record” from the old Bass Family Holy Bible with handwritten notes.,

Robert Bass:

Robert Emmett Bass:

Watson E Bass:

“Calendar for Year,” Time and Date,

Family Search

Watson E. Bass:

Find A Grave,

Carroll Melvin Bass, my paternal Grandfather:

Charles Meigs Bass, my Great Grandfather:

Dorothy Elizabeth Ussery Bass, my Mother:

Dr Robert E Bass, my Great-Great Grandfather aka RB # 2:

Maria Thomas “Bruce” Gates Bass:

Martha Susan “Pattie” Bruce Bass, my Great-Great Grandmother:

Mary Frances Yeatts Bass, my paternal Grandmother:

Mary Scott Bass, wife of R. Aumon Bass & my Great Aunt:

Robert Aumon Bass, aka “Uncle Aumon” aka RB # 4, my paternal Great Uncle & husband of Mary Scott Bass:

Sarah Lucile Betts Bass, aka “Aunt Tele” & wife of “Uncle Watt”:

Watson Emmett Bass, Jr., aka “Uncle Watt” & husband to “Tele”:

William Beverly Bass, aka “Uncle Willy” & my paternal Great Uncle:

William Merritt Bass, my Father:

My Heritage, Robert Emmett Bass, 1831 – 1908,

“Liberty Church Cemetery,” Powhatan County, VA – Cemeteries

*  *  *

Copyright © 2009, 2012, 2015, 2016 by William Dudley Bass. All Rights Reserved until we Humans establish Wise Stewardship of and for our Earth and Solarian Commons. Thank you. 

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