Select Bass Surname Genealogy
In England the Bass surname originated from the French word basse, meaning “broad” or “thickset,” brought over by the Normans. It probably began as a nickname for someone of that description.
The Basse spellings have persisted in France and Germany. The Jewish Bass surname – found in Polish and Ukraine Yiddish circles – was an occupational one for a maker or player of bass viols. The 17th century Shabbethai ben Joseph Bass, born at Kalisz in Poland, is considered to be the father of Jewish bibliography.

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Select Bass Ancestry

England. The first record of Bass as a surname in England was that of Aelize Bass in the Warwickshire rolls of 1180. Basse was an early spelling, found in 1273 in Oxfordshire and Cambridgeshire.

Later sightings in the 16th century were in the counties to the north of London – in Bedfordshire (Biddenham, Cranfield and
Henlow) and in Essex (Saffron Walden mainly). Saffron Walden, like much of the surrounding area, was strongly Puritan at that time and contributed Bass emigrants to the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

By the time of the 1881 census, the Bass name was to be found mainly in London and in these two counties:

  • Bedfordshire totaling 223, including 78 in Luton.
  • and Essex 456, including 36 in Barking, 43 in Debden, and 41 in Thaxted.

But the most famous Bass name came from further north, possibly from Leicestershire. William Bass founded the brewery that bears his name in Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire in 1777. His descendants, the Bass brewing family, had made Bass the largest brewery in the world by the late 19th century.

America. Virginia was the starting point for a notable Basse/Bass line.

Virginia and North Carolina. Captain Nathaniel Basse was an influential leader of the Jamestown settlement. He had patented land at Jamestown in 1621 at what came to be called Basse’s Choice. There he helped fend off the Indian attacks a year later.

Who he was has been a matter of much dispute. Some have him of English Huguenot roots; while others have disputed this connection, including the Jamestown Society. Meanwhile his reputed son John Basse has left behind a varied descent that included Native Americans (through his marriage to an Indian woman) and also African Americans (through later marriages).

One Bass line spread into Dobbs later Wayne county, North Carolina in the 1730’s. Andrew Bass, physician and planter, was in fact one of the promoters of the establishment of Wayne county in 1779. From there came:

  • William Bass who was the founder of the Black Creek Primitive Baptist church there in the 1820’s.
  • Esau Bass who was a soldier in the Revolutionary War. He moved to Georgia in 1799 and Alabama in 1824. His son Esau settled in Mississippi.
  • and another Bass line which led to Alabama in the 1820’s and then to Marion, Louisiana.

Possibly related was Rice Bass, a notorious Loyalist and rabble-rouser in Duplin county, North Carolina during the Revolutionary War. His descendants moved onto Georgia and Florida.

Some of the other lines from North Carolina led to Texas. Descendants here included E.P. Bass, a Wichita Falls oilman in the 1930’s, and Roy Bass, the mayor of Lubbock in the 1970’s. Roy’s line came via Cedar Bass in Tennessee in the early 1800’s.

Texas. The Ballad of Sam Bass began:

“Sam Bass was born in Indiana, it was his native home,
And at the age of seventeen young Sam began to roam.
Sam first came out to Texas a cowboy for to be
A kinder-hearted fellow you seldom ever see.”

His grandfather appears to have been an English immigrant into Indiana in the early 1800’s. Orphaned at the age of ten, Sam soon learnt the ways of an outlaw. His life was short. He was gunned down in 1878 at the age of 27. Afterwards the legend of Sam Bass grew way out of proportion to his actual deeds.

Harry Bass from Enid, Oklahoma started investing in the oil and gas business in the 1920’s, first in Oklahoma and then in Texas where he moved in 1932. His son Harry junior inherited his father’s holdings. He was also a leader of the Texas Republican party in the 1950’s, an early investor in Colorado ski resorts, and the possessor of one of the world’s greatest coin collections.

Perry R. Bass (the son of E.P.) worked with his uncle Sid Richardson, a rancher and oil wildcatter, in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Upon his uncle’s death in 1959 he inherited his large fortune. Based in Fort Worth, he and his wife Nancy raised four sons – Sid, Lee, Ed, and Robert – who expanded this fortune in different ways.

Elsewhere. Samuel and Anne Bass from Saffron Walden in Essex immigrated to Massachusetts in 1634, eventually settling in Braintree. Samuel served as the deacon at Braintree for the space of fifty years. They both had long lives, Anne living to 92 and dying in 1693 and Samuel living to 94 and dying in 1694.

“Samuel was the father and grandfather and great grandfather of a hundred and sixty and two children before he died.”

One line from Samuel Bass led to Perkins Bass, born in Vermont, who practiced law in the Chicago area in the 1850’s and was a friend of Abraham Lincoln. His son Robert P. Bass became Governor of New Hampshire in 1910. Another line in Maine led to George Henry Bass who started the G.H. Bass Shoe Company there in 1876.

Yet another line led to Dr. Adonijah Bass, a Loyalist in Boston at the time of the Revolutionary War. His family decamped to Canada. The doctor’s grandson Samuel Bass, born there in 1807, was a central figure in the book and film Twelve Years a Slave.

Jewish. Bass ship arrival records into America show Bass numbers coming from Germany and Russia. Probably many of them were Jewish. Benny Bass, for instance, came as a young boy with his family from Ukraine to New York in 1913.

“The Bass family traveled on a ship which was wrecked at sea. They were rescued, then transported to Queenstown in Ireland where they stayed temporarily until they could get to America.”

Benny’s father found work in New York as a shoemaker. Benny boxed. He turned professional in 1921 and won the world featherweight title in Philadelphia in 1927.

Australia. George Bass who hailed from Lincolnshire was an early name in Australian history. In 1796 he and his friend Matthew Flinders explored the coastline south of Sydney in a tiny open boat named Tom Thumb. Two years later they returned with a larger boat and sailed round Tasmania, proving that it was an island. This was to be their last voyage together. Bass then disappeared mysteriously in the Pacific. The Bass Strait was later named in his honor.

Select Bass Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:

Select Bass Names

William Bass founded the Bass brewery in Burton on Trent in 1777.
Benny Bass
was a Jewish boxer who won the world featherweight title in 1927.
Perry R. Bass
built an oil fortune in Texas with his uncle Sid W. Richardson during the 1940’s and 1950’s.
Ralph Bass
, born Ralph Basso into a New York Italian family, was
record producer and talent scout and a pioneer in bringing black music into the American mainstream.

Select Bass Today

  • 6,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 21,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 4,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)



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