The Bassanos and Laniers

My great-grandmother Mama Kelly (Mary Pearl Harrison Kelly) had a really interesting family tree that can be traced way back to Renaissance Italy.

Mary Pearl Harrison Kelly (Mama Kelly) as a child
Mary Pearl Harrison Kelly (Mama Kelly) as a child

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.

Bassano del Grappa (sigh)

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 ↓

Palazzo Ducale, Venezia
Palazzo Ducale, Venezia

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 Charterhouse
The Charterhouse

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.

Nicholas Lanier the Younger
Nicholas Lanier the Younger

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.

Laura D Lanier Harrison, Friendship Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery, Sumner County, Tennessee
Laura D Lanier Harrison, Friendship Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery, Sumner County, Tennessee

35 thoughts on “The Bassanos and Laniers

  1. THIS is completely fascinating. My other side of the family has about as Jewish a history as you can get. SO COOL that it’s on both sides!!


  2. It seems as if your relative, Amelia Bassano, was actually Shakespeare! She has been added to the official list of possible author’s.
    After researching it myself I am convinced of it . She even signed the plays as is mentioned in the video above. Oh by the way you are also royalty. Amelia was Lord Hunsdon’s (Henry Carey) mistress and as soon as he impregnated her, he forced her to marry her first cousin Alphonse Lanier. Henry Carey’s mother was Mary Boleyn.


    1. This is very interesting, thanks! She’s not my direct ancestor–I am descended from Baptista’s brother Antonio. But it’s still a very cool connection!


  3. I enjoyed visiting your site. Lovely presentation. I am supposed to be the oldest living Bassano descendant, according to Dr. Peter Matthews of Australia, author of “Shakespeare Exhumed Bassano Chronicles”. If you want to know more of your early Bassano history, a must read. His next book will be out early 2016 about our ancestry, which he has expertly, first hand, researched and sourced.

    Dr. Peter Bassano, London musician and conductor of renown is on line and on our family tree.

    We have remarkable genes!

    Dr. Matthews is a Philosopher and author of good reputation.


  4. Amazing! I’m from Clement Lanier, but through his son, John down to Benjamin Lanier. Did you come across anything on that line?


  5. i’m also a descendant of clement and hannah lanier. their son john (and lucreece) and their son john (and sarah edmunds). i was just reading about tennessee williams and so i looked up how he was related and found this page. thanks for all the info you had found on the lanier/bassano line.


    1. what do you think of the two lucreece bassanos? do you think (or know) if they are both named that? it is kind of “odd” that nicholas is married to lucreece bassano and their grandson john is married to a lucreece bassano. granted they did marry cousins back then so it is possible that the two lucreeces are related.


  6. This is very interesting. I’m wondering if Your might also be related to Bartolemeo Taliaferro who all these families seemed to know one another. I believe he was married to lady name Jane Lanier. Anyway your site is really interesting.


  7. My paternal Grandmother was a Lanier. Her father was William A. Lanier who was my great grandfather. He was born in Twiggs County Georgia in 1856. His father was Avery Lanier who fought in the Confederate army and was killed in Virginia in May of 1864 and was buried in a mass grave. As a child he was orphaned and I cannot get beyond him in trying to connect him to the poet Sidney C. Lanier of Macon, Georgia. My grandmother said he was a second cousin but she was proud of the Lanier name and might have been boasting a wee bit. I have read that all of the Laniers in the USA are descended from two brothers. John Lanier who immigrated to Virginia and Robert Lanier who immigrated to Barbados. Virtually all of my Aunts, Uncles and cousins on my father’s side of the family play and sing and are very musical. I also have been a musician from a wee boy. I sometimes wonder if there is such a thing as a musical DNA. It would seem so being descended from the Lanier and Bassano family.


    1. I definitely think there is such a thing as musical DNA. My line is from Jeronimo’s son Alvice, to Lodivico, to Elizabeth Bassano who first married a Lupo and then married a Chandler in Virginia. our line later migrated into Louisiana and my 3x great grandmother and her children were all very musical and all played instruments and even made instruments. I have some very, very old photos of one of them surrounded by musical instruments laid out all around him…instruments I do not recognize. I had never seen a photo like that. A grand daughter of his sang live on KALB Radio while her brothers played their instruments. They were the Bluebirds of White Top. I always knew our family history was very musical and then when I discovered our Bassano connection, I just laughed and thought, of course… That explains everything!


  8. I am also a descendant of Clement through his son John who is called John the Immigrant. I found that I share grandparents with George Washington through this Lanier line. Thank you for posting. I continue to research and findings by others to collaborate my findings is always welcome!!
    Mariann Tilford Grove


    1. marion who are you related through after john the immigrant? i’m related through his son john and then sampson and elizabeth (washington). i’m assuming you are also related thru sampson and elizabeth since you said you are related to the washington line. after sampson and elizabeth i go through thomas and ann.


      1. denise, i’m related through Sampson and Elizabeth’s son, Lemuel Lanier and his wife Elizabeth Bird…they moved to Georgia, where Lemuel died in 1786. The family stayed in Burke County, GA where my grandfather was born in 1899.

        Lemuel’s grandson Bird Thomas Lanier had a daughter, Susannah, in 1794. Her great-great granddaughter, Ada Lavinia Bargeron, was my grandfather’s mother.

        (Also, separately, I have zero Jewish or Middle Eastern markers in my DNA test, but do have French, German, British, Native American and a little Scandinavian)


  9. Can anyone definitively tell me the parents of Elizabeth Bassano born 1593 in England and died 1635 in Virginia and was married to John Chandler? This Chandler line then moved into the Louisiana area. There seems to be a war on Family Search between Elizabeth Bassano being the daughter of Jeronimo Bassano & Dorothy Symonds or the daughter of Lodowick Bassano & Elizabeth Damon. Any help on this topic would be greatly appreciated.


  10. I am almost certainly related to you through the Bassano-Lanier line as my family tree has several of the same family members. I would love to compare notes if you would like to contact me. One interesting tidbit (at least in my line) was that my great….great Grandfather Anderson apparently gave title to the area that is now East Nashville to Francis Nash (which he had been given for his service during the Revolutionary War). I have a copy of the deed which, again interestingly, was from North Carolina at the time. I have put my contact information below.


    1. Great question! I do not show Jewish ancestry, and my mother doesn’t either. But we do show a small percentage of South Asian. So, maybe the Bassanos were Roma? (Or it could be that we just didn’t inherit those segments.)


    2. i’ve done 23 and me. it shows the jewish and spainish ancestory. i believe those are both from the bassano line


      1. Hi, did it specifically say Jewish and Spanish or did it just say southern European or something? I’m wondering, I have the Lanier/Bassano’s on both my mother and father’s side (guess I’m a little inbred, lol), but it’s so far back, I didn’t even know DNA tests went back that far.


  11. Hi: My name is Burns Lanier Matkin and both Jeronimo Bassano and Nicholas Lanier the Elder are my great x6 and x8 or something grandfathers.
    Nicholas Lanier (the younger) actually recruited van Dyck from Holland to England to paint in the court of Henry VIII.
    There are a number of painting of both the Bassano family and the Laniers.
    My Lanier came from Mary Lucinda Lanier from the N. Carolina area.


    1. i’m wondering who mary lucinda is? is she a child of thomas and lucinda lanier from hickory grove south carolina?


      1. it is good to hear back from you. your great great…….grandpa thomas bird lanier is my great great…..grandpa thomas lanier’s first cousin. many people get them confused on genealogy sites. some people even try to make them the same person. i think that would make us maybe 9th cousins. 😀


  12. I am descended from the Lanier/Bassano’s on both sides of my family! I knew about it on my dad’s side for a long time as his family had all kept track of it and he grew up knowing about it, but I just recently found it on my mother’s side as well, and I was pretty shocked! Guess it makes sense though, they were from similar places in Georgia. But I’m inbred! haha.


  13. William Lanier and his wife, Penelope, were my fourth great grand parents through their son, Buchanan. As you mentioned, Buck must have been “in the dog house” at the time William died. As a result of the jury trial, Item 7 of William’s will granting Buchanan fifty dollars was ordered omitted, and he got stuck with court costs! I’m not surprised the story behind this would not have been passed down through Buchanan’s children, but have wondered about his sibs and their descendants. Would love to know what happened between this father and his oldest son. Really enjoy your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Hello cousins! I am descended through John the Immigrant and Sarah Edmunds. They are my 10 times gr grandparents. My Sephardic Jewish Heritage sometimes shows up in Ancestry, 23 & me or FamilyTreedna. However, all reports change every few years! My family has been pretty musical or artistic in some way. However our daughter is an opera singer. She has sung at the Met, San Francisco, all over Europe and the US etc. The rest of us are church choir soloists etc., artists of no renown, I know there is a famous poet somewhere, but I can’t find him at the moment. Most of this family stayed in VA, until my father who found a job after WWII in PA. Best to all.


  15. Fascinating!
    I too am a descendent of Antonio Bassano and Elena di Nesi through their daughter Lucretia.
    My beloved many times great grandparents. And I have been a violinist all my life.
    I am thrilled to know of my ancestry in this line of my father’s great grandfather’s.
    Thank you!


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