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Sort and rinse the beans. Beans do not need to be soaked.
Place the beans into a large saucepan with enough water to cover the beans by an inch or two.
Place the pan of beans over high heat and cook just until boiling.
Remove the beans from the heat and cover with a lid and allow the beans to sit for at least one hour.
Drain the beans and rinse again.
Place the beans back into the pan and cover with water to cover.
Place the beans back on the stove and bring to a boil. When the beans begin to boil reduce the heat to a simmer.
Add the remaining ingredients, except ham if using, and stir well to combine.
Allow the beans to simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until the beans are tender, stirring occasionally and adding water as necessary.
If using ham, allow the beans to cook at least an hour before adding the ham.
When beans are tender, remove from heat and serve with cornbread or over rice for a complete meal.