My great-grandmother Mama Kelly (Mary Pearl Harrison Kelly) had a really interesting family tree that can be traced way back to Renaissance Italy.
Mama Kelly’s 10th great-grandfather was Jeronimo Bassano, a musician and instrument maker who was born in the town of Bassano del Grappa, near Venice, Italy.
Much has been written about this Bassano family, and some of it is contradictory. So, I’ll stick to the bare facts.
Jeronimo moved to Venice as an adult, and became a musician in the court of the Doge of Venice. That would be the guy who lived here ↓
Jeronimo’s line originally came from Spain and historians debate whether the family were actually Sephardic Jews that fled the Inquisition for the relatively tolerant atmosphere of the Veneto. I won’t get into all the details, but it seems to me that the case for their being at least hereditary, if not actually practicing, Jews is pretty convincing. Google “were the Bassanos Jews,” read the articles that pop up, like this one, and decide for yourself.
If they were, in fact, Jewish, that would partly account for my DNA being approximately 10 percent Middle Eastern, and the fact that my mother shows a higher percentage would indicate that her line is the source of that connection (Mama Kelly was her grandmother). So, I’m going with the Jewish theory for now.
Jeronimo had five sons, Antonio, Jacomo, Alvise, Gasparo, John and Baptista, who were all musicians and instrument makers. They moved to London around 1540 to become court musicians to Henry VIII. They were given lodging in the Charterhouse, a former monastery then just outside the city of London that had been confiscated by Henry VIII.
The brothers were forced out of the Charterhouse around 1552, after a legal battle with Sir Edward North, who took it to convert into a palace. They moved to Mark Lane in a then-Italian neighborhood adjoining Tower Hill in the east end of London.
Mark Lane is now buried in the office blocks of the modern City, but to get a feel for what Tudor London was like, check out this amazing animation done by students at a British university.
Baptista was the father of Emelia (Amelia) Bassano who married Alfonse Lanier and became the first famous female poet in English history. She is also reputed to be the “dark lady” of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Read more about her here.
Antonio (Anthony), our ancestor, died in 1574 leaving a will:
To Ellyn, my wife, household belongings, jewels, plate etc. in England and everywhere (he held belongings in Venice, Italy) and after to my sons.
House to Ellen for life and then to sons, Mark Anthony, Arthur, Edward, Andrew, Jerome Bassano equally, “so they all dwell there” and if any try to sell their patrimony, they are disinherited.
To the use of my daughter, Lucras, 50 lbs. which I proimised her, at such time as the same Lucrece shall have occasion to_____________ the same, and when my wife may pay the same at her commoditie.
And I will that her husband shall put in good sureities, that the same shall remain in good men’s hands to the use of my said daughter and her children.
My daughter, Elizabeth, shall dwell in my house during her natural life, if her husband repair not to her. My wife and sons are to care for her.
Ellen, executor, with brother, Baptista as overseer.
Antonio Bassano and his wife, Elena DeNazzi, are buried in the churchyard at All Hallows Church, Barking, now known as All Hallows by the Tower, the oldest church in the City of London. Their known children are Isabella, Elizabeth, Mark Anthony, Arthur, Nicholas, Edward, Andrea, and Lucretia.
Their youngest daughter (Lucreece in the will, above), married a French-born courtier and artist named Nicholas Lanier the Elder. She became the step-grandmother of the artist/musician Nicholas Lanier of this Van Dyck portrait.
We are descended from another of her sons, the youngest, Clement Lanier. Other known children are Alfonse, Innocent, Ellen, Katherine, Andrea, and Jerome, most of whom also became musicians.
Clement was named Gentleman of the King’s Chamber to both James I and Charles I. According to Wikipedia:
“When Charles I was executed, the Laniers suffered financial setbacks and hardships while they supported the Prince of Wales (later Charles II) and his struggles to regain the throne. Clement’ s cousin Nicholas Lanier (son of John and Frances) had assembled a great art collection for their sovereign Charles I. During the The Protectorate, the collection was dispersed at auction. Clement and his brother Jerome Lanier were able to purchase some of the paintings. After the English Restoration, the Laniers were able to regain some of their fortunes.”
Clement died in 1661 and is buried with his wife, Hannah Collett Lanier, at St. Alfege’s Church, Greenwich, London.
Clement and Hannah had 12 known children: Hannah, John, Susanna, Nicholas, Lucretia, Charles, Robert, Lionel, Frances, William, and Elizabeth.
Our ancestor, Robert, married Alice and emigrated to Barbados in 1680. Little is known about their life in Barbados, other than that they were residents of St Michael’s Parish in Bridgetown and baptized at least two children there, Hannah and John. It is unclear whether Alice is the mother of the older son, Robert II. Some sources have his mother as Julian Dunkle.
After Robert’s death in 1693, and sometime before 1717, Robert II with his wife Sarah Barker, emigrated to Chowan County, North Carolina. They had at least seven known children: William, Jean, Elizabeth, Annanzah, Grace, Samariah, and John. Robert II left a will in 1744 in Tyrell District. I have seen the abstract but not the will itself (yet).
Robert II’s oldest son William, married Ann Martha Hill in Beaufort County, and had four known children: Seth, John, William II and Robert. Little else is known about him.
Continuing the inexorable move west, William Lanier II married Penelope Buchanan and went to Davidson County, Tennessee some time between 1807 and 1811. The trip must have been hard on him, because he produced a will almost immediately after arrival:
The will of William Lanier of Davidson county, this Feb 7, 1811. To my five sons, to wit, William Lanier, John Lanier, Robert Lanier, Garrison Lanier and Churchill Lanier my two plantations, the one on which I now live, the other lately purchased from Willis Barrow, both contains 250 acres of land to be equally divided among them. To four of my sons and four of my daughters, to wit, John Lanier, Robert Lanier, Garrison Lanier, Churchill Lanier, Susannah Parker farmely Susannah Lanier, Penelope Lanier, Lemiza Lanier, and Martha Lanier the following negroes, to wit, Tom, Adam, Joe, Alfred, E, and Fanny, Patt, Barishaba, Lucinda, and Peggy to be equally devided. To my youngest daughters Penelope Lanier, Lemiza Lanier and Martha Lanier each one feather bed and furniture. To Charles Parker, son of William Parker, a negro boy named Edmond. I appoint David Parker, William Parker and my son John Lanier executors.
The will shows him to be a man of property, and indeed, over the generations, the Laniers tended to be well-off. They were literate, signing their their own names to documents, and often left wills listing a fair amount of property. This is unusual in my family history!
John Lanier was a miller in Davidson County. He married Dicey Parker, and their known children were: William, David P, Mary Ann, Martha, and Jesse Parker Lanier.
William, also known as William George Washington Lanier or “G.W.”, married first Pauline Stogner, then Lucinda Frances Peay and moved to Sumner County, Tennessee by 1880. Lucinda’s children were Laura, Mary Elizabeth, George Parker, James David, and S Oscar Lanier.
I find it very interesting that on the 1880 census, George lists his parents’ birthplace as “France.” This is a very odd thing for a Tennessee farmer to say. I think he must have had some idea of his family’s origins and history. He may have even had “airs” about it.
This William Lanier died in 1905. He is buried at Friendship Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery in Walnut Grove, Sumner County. His obituary tellingly refers to him as “Esq” or “Esquire,” a term of respect which may also indicate that he had some training in the law.
Gallatin Sumner County News, November 1905
Death of an Old and Widely Known Citizen.
Esq. William G. Lanier, who resided above Cotton Town, died Thursday and was buried yesterday at Friendship Church. Mr. Lanier was probably the oldest citizen in his section of the county, he having been ninety years old last January. He was a native of Davidson County but moved to Sumner in 1860. For a while he lived at Gallatin and was jailor here under Sheriff Hobdy. He was later a member of the county court, serving in that body a number of years. The deceased was a member of the Christian Church and had been a member of the Masons for a long number of years. He was a man of excellent character and had much influence in the community where he resided. He is survived by his wife and six children, one of whom is Dr. T. L. Lanier, of Portland.
William’s daughter, Laura Lanier, married Alexander Harrison and was Mama Kelly’s mother. She died fairly young in 1892, was certainly educated, and was known to be a woman with some opinions. Though she had married into a firmly Methodist family, she attended the Baptist church, and insisted that she be buried at Friendship Primitive Baptist cemetery, with her own people. Her reputation was such that I was told this story over a hundred years after her death by a cemetery custodian at Walnut Grove Methodist Church, where her husband is buried with his second wife (also Mama Kelly’s sister-in-law–long story) Carrie Kelly.