The Bess Family of Sycamore Mills

Lydia Meador and John Best

My search for the parents of Elizabeth Bess, my fourth-great-grandmother, started years ago when I built my first family tree. I had zero to go on. Family trees online were no help either, as none of them listed her parents. I truly started from scratch.

Bess is a unique last name, so I examined where she lived and if there were any other Bess families in the area. Elizabeth married William Bennett in Sycamore Mills, Tennessee. It was then considered Davidson County but is now part of Cheatham County. My search in Davidson County did turn up some other Bess/Bests whose descendants also showed up in my uncle’s Ancestry DNA test matches. (He is my paternal grandmother’s brother and kindly took the DNA test in her place since she passed away.) John Bess and Sarah Catherine Bess/Best Chesser were two I focused on as likely siblings to Elizabeth.

The National Archives in Washington DC has a case file for John R. Binkley, son of Henry Binkley and Mary Bennett. He was investigated for withholding his stepmother’s (Drusilla Binkley) pension. Marriage records tell us that Drusilla’s last name at the time of marriage was Best or Bess. Noted as witnesses in the case were Elizabeth Bess and William Bennett. In the case notes, Elizabeth Bess identified as Drusilla Binkley’s sister-in-law. Elizabeth’s maiden name was Rose and she was married to John Bess. William Bennett stated he was a brother-in-law to Drusilla Binkley, as he had been married to Elizabeth Bess who had passed away by 1885/1886.

This case file corrects the error in the 1880 census records that names Drusilla Binkley as the mother of John Bess. She was actually his older sister. The case file establishes that John, Drusilla and Elizabeth Bess were siblings.

On the 1840 census in Sycamore Mills, Tennessee, there is a John Bess living next door to a Mary Bennett, mother of William Bennett, husband of Elizabeth. This was only three years after William and Elizabeth married. There is a man 50-59 years old and a woman  50-59 years old among several other people in John Bess’s household. Sycamore Mills was a rural area and I believe this close proximity hints at John Bess being Elizabeth’s father.

Going back further, the 1830 census for Davidson County lists a John Best, the right age to be this man. This census is not in order of household, but in alphabetical order by the last name in each community. John Best is listed among the Binkleys, who are numerous in Sycamore Mills.

On the 1820 census, there is a John Best living in Sumner County, Tennessee, who is also most likely the same man. I’ve seen the names Bess and Best used interchangeably, and due to accent, they sound very similar. The 1824 Sumner County, Tennessee tax list also lists John Best by Samuel Best. This would indicate a relationship such as a son, brother, father, etc.

1824 Sumner County, Tennessee tax list

I found a Samuel Best that was said to have married a Mary Rider in Sumner County, Tennessee, with some of his older children being born in Sumner County. He died around 1840 in Missouri without leaving many records. Family trees list him as the son of a Pennsylvania Best family, but I disagree. There is nothing linking them. In fact, I found a few of Samuel’s descendants in my great uncle’s Ancestry DNA test matches with shared matches to known descendants of Elizabeth, John and Catherine Best. This indicates to me that there is a close tie to my Best family and the John and Samuel listed here. My first guess was that John is either the older brother or father of Samuel, but further DNA match research indicates Samuel is John’s son.

I’ve spent a lot of time on using their new categories feature for DNA matches. I’ve assigned all known Bess descendants a color category and I can easily scroll through our shared matches to see who else is on the list. I know DNA is an important tool and I could tell there were many matches we shared that I could not identify. I spent a long time working on finding the pattern – the common last name or family that I could link these matches back to.

To coincide with my DNA research, I also turned to records and my friend Google to search for people with the last name Bess or Best in Sumner County, Tennessee. What I found was even better. Those keywords triggered multiple websites about the Meador family, some members who settled in Smith County/Macon County, Tennessee. The Joel Meador family of Smith County, Tennessee caught my attention, since they had a daughter, Lydia Meador, who married John Best in Franklin County, Virginia. They also had a son, Joel Joseph Meador, who is said to have married in Sumner County, Tennessee and lived there a while.

Amy Cowden from Historical Southern Families
A passage from Historial Southern Families.

The Sumner County, Tennessee connection was intriguing, as often families migrated and lived near each other.

Next, I turned to DNA to see if I could find any Meadors in my great uncle’s DNA matches with the Bess family…and I did. I found many, actually. The highest shared 96 centimorgans with my great uncle and descends from Sally and Joel Meador, Lydia’s parents. It turns out that my great uncle inherited quite a bit of Meador DNA as I have identified more than 50 Meador family matches that also have shared matches with Bess descendants (including those of Samuel Best of Sumner County, mentioned above).

I can confidently say that John Best and Lydia Meador are my fifth-great-grandparents and the parents of Elizabeth Bess Bennett. 

There has been a lot of research done on the Meador family which I am so grateful for. I’m sure I’ll spend many hours reading over it and “meeting” my newfound ancestors.

As for John, I felt like this gave me a boost to figure out where he was from. We know that he married Lydia Meador in Franklin County, Virginia, but that the Meadors were from Bedford County, Virginia.

The 1810 census lists John Best next door to Levi Best in Bedford County, Virginia. He is also the right age. I searched for Levi Best, since it’s a unique name, and discovered the Best family of Bedford County consisted of John Best and Drusilla [Bradley or Banks]. This was exciting, as I know MY John Best has a daughter named Drusilla, likely named after his relative — possibly his mother. This Best family had a daughter named Polly who married Jacob Uhle who moved to Smith County, Tennessee.

I decided to search my great uncle’s DNA for this Best family, and although the matches weren’t as numerous as the Meadors’ descendants, he does have Best matches.

The minor issue is that if you look at Ancestry family trees, several people credit John Best and Drusilla as having a son named John who lived in Kentucky. I researched this John and could not find any clear ties to this Bedford County, Virginia family. I do not know who his parents were, but I do not believe they were John and Drusilla.

Due to location, dates, and DNA, I believe my John Best was the son of John Best and Drusilla of Bedford County, Virginia. I will research this family more in the coming months.

I hope this article is helpful to Bess/Best family descendants, along with Meador descendants, as you now know what happened to Lydia Meador Best.

Using records, I have compiled a list of John and Lydia’s probable children. An asterisk (*) designates a proven child.

Children of John and Lydia

Samuel Best,  Abt. 1802–1841
Keziah Best, Abt. 1803–
*Sarah Catherine Bess, 1806–1869
*Druscilla Drusy Bess, 1810–1882
*Elizabeth Lizzie Betsey Ann Bess, 1816–1880
Lydia Bess, Abt. 1821–
Malinda Milley Bess, Abt. 1818–1888
*John Bess, 1821–1912

Below is a traditional timeline of John and Lydia’s documentation.


About 1780 – Approximate birth year of John Best/Bess. He would have been around 20 when he married Lydia. In 1810, he would have been 30; in 1820, he would have been 40; in 1830, he would have been 50; in 1840, he would have been 60. This loosely aligns with census records.

1785 – Approximate birth year of Lydia Meador according to family trees. This would make her 16 when she married John. It would make her 25 in 1810, which aligns with the census.

19 May 1801 – John Best marries Lydia Meador in Franklin County, Virginia. (Source: Virginia Marriages)

1810 – Bedford County, Virginia census

Name: John Best
Free White Persons – Males – Under 10: 2 [Samuel and ?]
Free White Persons – Males – 26 thru 44: 1 [John]
Free White Persons – Females – Under 10: 2 [Keziah and Sarah Catherine?]
Free White Persons – Females – 16 thru 25: 1 [Lydia]

7 Sep 1819 – Keziah Best marries Richard Cope in Sumner County, Tennessee. They were married by James Gwin J.P. and the bondsman was Thomas White. [Source: Tennessee Marriages]

1820 – Gallatin, Sumner County, Tennessee census

Name: John Best
Enumeration Date: August 7, 1820
Free White Persons – Males – 10 thru 15: 1 [?]
Free White Persons – Males – 16 thru 25: 1 [Samuel]
Free White Persons – Males – 26 thru 44: 1 [John]
Free White Persons – Females – Under 10: 4  [Lydia, Elizabeth, Malinda Milley and ?]
Free White Persons – Females – 10 thru 15: 2 [Druilla and Sarah Catherine?]
Free White Persons – Females – 26 thru 44: 1 [Lydia]
Number of Persons – Engaged in Agriculture: 1
Number of Persons – Engaged in Manufactures: 2
Free White Persons – Under 16: 7
Free White Persons – Over 25: 2

1824 – The Sumner County, Tennessee tax list lists John Best and Samuel Best beside each other.

1830 – Davidson County, Tennessee census, likely in the Sycamore Mills area

Name: John Best
Free White Persons – Males – 5 thru 9: 1 [John Jr.]
Free White Persons – Males – 20 thru 29: 1 [?]
Free White Persons – Males – 50 thru 59: 1 [John]
Free White Persons – Females – Under 5: 1 [?]
Free White Persons – Females – 5 thru 9: 2 [Lydia and Elizabeth? Ages incorrect]
Free White Persons – Females – 10 thru 14: 1 [Milley]
Free White Persons – Females – 15 thru 19: 1 [Drusilla]
Free White Persons – Females – 40 thru 49: 1 [Lydia]
Free White Persons – Under 20: 6
Free White Persons – 20 thru 49: 2
Total Free White Persons: 9
Total – All Persons (Free White, Slaves, Free Colored): 9

15 Sep 1830 – (Sarah) Catherine Best marries James Chesser in Davidson County, Tennessee. Bondsman was Nimrod Lowry.

22 Feb 1832 – Malinda “Milley” Bess marries William Walker in Davidson County, Tennessee.

21 Dec 1836 – Lydia Bess marries Robert Capps in Davidson County, Tennessee.

16 Dec 1837 – (Elizabeth) Betsey Ann Bess marries William Bennett in Davidson County, Tennessee.

1840 – The family is living in Davidson County, Tennessee in the Sycamore Mills area. They are next door to Mary Bennett, mother of William Bennett, husband of Elizabeth Bess. I am unsure about the people living with the Bess family in 1840; they might be one of their children and their family.

Original census listing John under Mary. The odd letters at the end of the name Bess signified a double “s”.

Name: John Bess
Free White Persons – Males – Under 5: 1
Free White Persons – Males – 5 thru 9: 1
Free White Persons – Males – 10 thru 14: 1
Free White Persons – Males – 30 thru 39: 1
Free White Persons – Males – 50 thru 59: 1 [John]
Free White Persons – Females – 10 thru 14: 1
Free White Persons – Females – 15 thru 19: 1
Free White Persons – Females – 20 thru 29: 1
Free White Persons – Females – 50 thru 59: 1 [Lydia]
Persons Employed in Agriculture: 8
Persons Employed in Manufacture and Trade: 1
No. White Persons over 20 Who Cannot Read and Write: 4
Free White Persons – Under 20: 5
Free White Persons – 20 thru 49: 2
Total Free White Persons: 9
Total All Persons – Free White, Free Colored, Slaves: 9

30 Dec 1849 – Drusilla “Drusy” Bess marries Henry Binkley in Davidson County, Tennessee.

1840 – 1850 – Lydia and John must have died between the 1840 and 1850 censuses as they are not listed in 1850.

2 Dec 1857 – John Bess (Junior) marries Elizabeth Rose in newly formed Cheatham County, Tennessee.

If you have more records or information to add, please contact me at If you’re a cousin, I’d love to hear from you too!

Originally posted 8 Nov 2019

2 thoughts on “The Bess Family of Sycamore Mills

  1. Thomas Hunter

    Richard Bess b. ? – d. 1857 Williamson county, Illinois
    Married to Mary Bess ca. 1811 Tenn. d. 1887 Williamson County, Illinois
    Married 2nd time to Manuel Hunter 1787 SC – d. 1874 Williamson County, Illinois

    Don’t know if this helps or not, but the Hunters are from the Cheatham County area.


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