Belinda Brown & Family

What we know about Belinda Brown, including the text on her gravestone here in the cemetery, comes mostly from the perspective of the Ball family, who saw her, like most of the people they enslaved, as extraordinarily loyal and devoted to the welfare of their enslavers.  The basic information the Balls relay here and in William Selwyn Ball’s memoir, written c. 1930, seems to be accurate, but there are notable gaps in the record.  

For instance, this is one of the few stones in the cemetery without birth or death dates, suggesting that the Balls either didn’t know when Belinda was born, or didn’t consider that information significant. Similarly, there is no direct mention on the stone or in William Selwyn Ball’s memoir of Belinda’s parents or children, though he mentions two marriages, and includes at the end of the volume a transcription of a letter sent by Belinda to William Selwyn’s sister Rebecca while Belinda was visiting her children in Richmond.   

What does seem clear is that Belinda worked as a nurse in several Ball family households, that she lived on the Ball property after the war, and that she had a family of her own, including husbands named Silas Pierson and John Brown, and children who were living in Richmond in 1892.  Finally, while William Selwyn Ball described Belinda as one of the Ball family’s loyal slaves, it is possible – though by no means  certain – that she was in fact a free woman, working for the Ball family in part so that she could stay close to enslaved kin. 

William Selwyn Ball relates that Belinda worked as a nurse, raising children in the families of Spencer Mottrom and Mary Dulany and William Waring and Dorothy McCabe Ball.  After William Waring and Dorothy’s oldest daughter Mary Gray Ball Judkins, beside whom Belinda is buried, died in 1858, Belinda also helped raise Mary’s son William Judkins.  William can be found living with his grandmother and aunt, Martha and Lucy Ball, in the 1860 census.  In 1870, the first year that formerly enslaved people appeared in census records as citizens rather than property, Belinda, 38, with the last name Johnson (which seems to have been her family name), shows up, living in a household that included Dorothy McCabe Ball and six of her seven surviving children.   

According to both official records and William Selwyn Ball’s account, Belinda had a first, prewar, marriage with a man probably named Silas Pierson (official records provide the last name Pierson; William Selwyn Ball provides the first name Silas).  William Selwyn notes that “they had a lovely ‘white people’s wedding’ and went with the family when they refugeed” south during the war.  However, “just before the close of the war,” Silas committed what William Selwyn saw as an act of “treacher[y]”: “he took the single wagon and horse and went around the neighborhood in Albemarle, begging for provisions for Miss Dolly [Dorothy McCabe Ball], and immediately set out for Washington, sold the horse and wagon in Culpeper Court House, and was never more seen.” 

In short, like many enslaved people before and during the war, Silas claimed his freedom by leaving his enslavers.  William Selwyn writes that Belinda, whom he calls “Beedy,” “was greatly grieved at her husband’s conduct and never wanted to see him again.” He does not seem to consider that Belinda might have been upset at Silas for leaving her behind rather than because he left the Balls (or took the horse and wagon). 

After Belinda returned to Fairfax County with Dorothy McCabe and family, she (like they) lived in one of the cabins built during the war as quarters for soldiers within a fort that was erected on the Ball property.  She also met and eventually married John Brown, whom William Selwyn called “a fine man, and suitable to her age.”  William Selwyn portrays Belinda as concerned about remarrying without first divorcing her first husband (it’s interesting to note that in the same postwar period Mary Lee Jones Beall, who lived nearby, was seeking a divorce from her long-estranged husband William; Belinda may have been aware of this). 

Apparently the Balls assured Belinda that “a law had annulled all slave marriages” (which was not the case; in fact, the Freedmen’s Bureau was recording marriages contracted during slavery to make them official), and she and John Brown married in 1870, soon after the census was taken – another place where the official record and William Selwyn Ball’s account coincides. 

Belinda and John Brown apparently lived in a cabin on the Ball property, possibly built by John, for the rest of her life.  Two letters, dated  1892 and 1894, preserved by William Selwyn’s sister Rebecca, who lived in Richmond with her husband, provide us the most direct access to Belinda’s own voice (though we still have to take into account that she was writing to a particular recipient, and that she apparently had to dictate her letters, though it appears that, at least in the case of the 1892 letter, her scribe was one of her own children). 

The 1892 letter finds Belinda staying at 1302 30th St. in Richmond, apparently the residence of one of her children, during a 3-week January visit.  While she expresses interest in seeing “Miss Rebecca” while she is in town (either again, or at all; it’s not clear; both women have been sick, and there’s some indication that Rebecca’s husband isn’t entirely comfortable with Belinda visiting), the main focus of Belinda’s visit seems to be her own family: her “dear children” and “kin folks here from the country.”  Belinda does not name the children she has been visiting in the letter (but mentions at least two, or maybe a child and his or her spouse), but she does say that she has “had a happy time” with them, even though she has been sick.

She also answers what was apparently an inquiry by Rebecca into her spiritual welfare, which probably included encouragement to formally join a church: “I am striving to be as good as I can, but you know the African race is not as bright as yours & of course there cannot be as much expected of them, but I am trying the best I know how, to live differently and feel that this is a change.” 

“But Confirmation is a very serious thing,” she continues, “I do not think it is the form but the feeling that makes us good, so I want to make sure that before I act – that – I am safe in doing so.”  This second sentence, which contains some fairly sophisticated theological reasoning (couched in language which, like the rest of the letter, suggests that Belinda and/or her amanuensis were comfortable communicating in a linguistic register similar to that used by the Balls), belies Belinda’s earlier statements about the capabilities of “the African race” – a reminder of just how complex the communication between these two women was.  Belinda seems willing to answer the inquiry, perhaps for the sake of maintaining a relationship with someone she believes means well, but she also clearly has her own well-considered ideas about her faith, and is comfortable asserting them, and following her own judgment about whether she should formally join a church. 

The second, 1894 letter is written from Woodbury, and there is no indication of who took Belinda’s dictation (though it appears that that person may have added some comments of his or her own in parentheses).  She reports that she is in “middling” health, and that “my own children & my neighbors are so kind and do not let me suffer for anything.  Miss Martha [William Selwyn’s wife] came over early Sunday and brought me fresh fish – hot green tea with real cream in it – & some of my own kind of corn bread made by her own dear hands, so you know I must have enjoyed it.” 

So it seems that the Balls did care for Belinda in her old age, just as she had cared for them in their youth, and during what was, in fact, a very difficult time for all of them after the war.  Still, questions remain about their relationship: when Belinda writes “my own children” does she mean the members of the Ball family she helped raise, or are they “my neighbors”? Do Belinda and/or John have children or stepchildren living in the area, and are they also participating in her care?  If so, what did they think of their mother’s relationship with her former enslavers, and, if they know about it, of their plan to bury her in the Ball family plot, “beside,” in William Selwyn Ball’s words, “her beloved Miss Mollie, whom she idolized”?  And when, exactly, did Belinda die?  William Selwyn records her death and burial, but, like the gravestone, does not provide a date. 

Finally, there is the tantalizing question of whether Belinda was, in fact, enslaved, at least in 1861.  William Selwyn records that, when after the war’s end Belinda “was visited by some of our Yankee neighbors with the information that she was now free and could be educated and have her own home,” “she dismissed them with scorn.  ‘I thank you,’ she said, ‘but I have always been free and have my own home, and that I am not educated is entirely my own fault.’” He seems to take this as a description of  Belinda’s feelings about her relationship with the Ball family despite her enslavement, but it’s possible that it reflected her legal status.    

Dennis, Dolly, and “Nurse Mary,” whom William Selwyn Ball identifies as Belinda’s siblings, all show up in the inventory of Mottrom Ball’s estate.  Unless she is listed under another name, Belinda does not. There is, however, a Belinda named among the people to be freed in Elizabeth Lee Jones’ will.  Since Belinda Johnson Pierson Brown was born c. 1832, ten years after Elizabeth Lee Jones died, she is almost certainly not that Belinda. She could, however, be that Belinda’s daughter.  In that case, she may have been a free woman who negotiated her employment by the Ball family in ways that allowed her to remain near enslaved kin. 

If such an arrangement existed, it’s possible that younger members of the Ball family, including William Selwyn, were not aware of it, and so simply saw “Bedie” as one more of the family’s loyal slaves.  An arrangement of this kind — and the events that secured the freedom of Belinda and/or her mother — could also shed additional light on the sources of Belinda’s loyalty to the Balls, to the extent it existed, as well as on the clear sense of independence that she exhibited, even in the highly mediated accounts we currently have of her life. 


Archy’s story is one of the most direct examples we have of resistance among people enslaved by early Lewinsville members: while Mottrom Ball’s estate was being settled, Archy ran away twice from the people to whom he was hired.  The response of the administrator, Lewinsville land donor Spencer Mottrom Ball, reminds us of the very real power he and other enslavers held over the people they enslaved: in Sept. 1846, the estate sold Archy for $725 to the slave trading firm of Bruin and Hill.  At that time, Bruin and Hill were sending regular shipments of human property from Virginia to states farther south.  While we cannot be sure, that is probably where Archy ended up, far from friends and family. 

The first record of Archy I have found is in the inventory that William Swink and others conducted of Mottrom Ball’s estate on Dec. 29th, 1842.  Archy is one of 20 “Negroes” included in the inventory along with livestock and household and agricultural equipment. No ages are provided, but at $375 he is valued toward the top of the range, which extends from $0 for older people, including Sandy, “Old Charlotte,” “Old Nancy,” and “old John,” a carpenter, to $400 for a man named William, who may have had particular skills, or just have been recognized as a particularly effective laborer.  Archy’s relatively high valuation suggests that he was probably at the height of his physical powers, and therefore his value as a laborer, in 1842 – an older teenager or younger adult. 

Many of the enslaved people listed in the inventory were hired out in the years that followed: in other words, they worked for various people, and their wages were paid to the estate, increasing the wealth that would eventually be distributed to Mottrom Ball’s heirs.  Some of the hiring took place within the Ball family (before Martha and her children divided up the legal ownership of the people listed when the estate was finally settled); some was to others in the community. 

Archy was hired to Spencer M. Ball, apparently without incident but for a relatively low amount ($20 a year, in comparison to the $35-$45 the work of other enslaved people brought), for 1843.  In 1844, he was hired to S. Cutts, but the estate only received $13 because he ran away.  Apparently he was recaptured, because in 1845 the estate received $40 for his hire to F.A. Dickens.  He was hired to F.A. Dickens again in 1846, but ran away; the estate accounts show that $13 was received for the work he performed. 

We don’t know why Archy ran away.  The most likely explanation, especially if he was a young single man without children (or had already lost people to whom he was close to sale or relocation), was that he was hoping to free himself by reaching the northern states (which were not yet bound by the Fugitive Slave Act in the mid-1840s, though they would be after 1850).  It is also possible that he was trying to get closer to people important to him: a partner, child(ren), sibling(s), parent(s), or friends.  Since he ran away from two different men who hired his labor, it seems unlikely that he was responding to the labor or living conditions in a particular workplace.  

Whatever his motives, he seems to have taken what he saw as a chance to improve his situation, and instead experienced the consequences of challenging the unjust but very real legal power of people who considered him property. Though we have no record of what happened immediately after his recaptures, it is very likely that he was whipped or physically punished in some other way.  After his second escape and recapture, in September 1846 (one month before Lewinsville celebrated its formal founding), he was sold to Bruin and Hill, a slave trading firm in Alexandria.  At the time, Bruin and Hill were actively shipping enslaved people from Virginia, which had more laborers than lands worn out by several centuries of unsustainable agricultural practices required or could support, to areas farther south that people of European descent were only beginning to colonize and cultivate using enslaved labor.  

Being sold south was one of the threats, explicit or implicit, that enslavers in Virginia could use to exact obedience from those they enslaved.  The word of Archy’s sale may have spread immediately among members of the enslaved community surrounding Lewinsville, or it may have trickled out more gradually, perhaps during the week after Christmas 1846, the part of the year when enslaved laborers had the most freedom to meet and socialize with friends and relatives who lived at some distance.  In any case, it seems likely that the enslaved people who occupied the gallery of the newly-built Lewinsville sanctuary would have been recently reminded of the very real power those who gathered for worship on the floor below held over their lives, and of their willingness to exercise that power.    

Archy’s sale contributed $725 to the total value of Mottrom Ball’s estate.  That amount, and the amounts paid to hire Archy and other enslaved laborers listed in the estate accounts, serve as reminders of just how directly the labor of enslaved people, and on occasion the profits of selling them as property, contributed to the wealth that made the Balls’ land donation, and hence the formal founding of Lewinsville Presbyterian Church, possible. 

For comparison, when Lewinsville pastor Franklin Gillespie was researching the history of the church in 1946, he found an 1847 report to the Board of Domestic Missions recording that Lewinsville’s “house of worship was erected at an expense of $650.”  It’s not clear whether that amount included materials, labor, or both, but it gives us some idea of what $725 could buy in 1846 (apparently that amount was more than the equivalent of a building campaign, at least for the materials of what the report described as a “comfortable” sanctuary).  It also gives us some idea of the sort of independent life Archy could have made for himself and those he cared about if he had been able to claim the $40 a year at which the Balls and their neighbors valued his labor. 

Martha Corbin Turberville Ball & Family

Martha Corbin Tuberville Ball, her adult children, and their spouses donated the land on which Lewinsville Presbyterian Church is located, allowing the formal church to be founded and a sanctuary to be built in 1846/47.  The Balls, like the Jones family, were originally from the Northern Neck of Virginia, and their wealth was built through the exploitation of enslaved laborers.  At least 20 enslaved people appear in the estate inventory for Mottrom Ball, Martha’s husband, who died in 1842. 

Members of the Ball family supported secession.  At least seven of Martha’s grandsons fought on the Confederate side, two died during the war, and several more were seriously wounded. Martha herself, along with her son William Waring and daughter Lucy, fled south during the early days of the Civil War.  All three died while away from home.

The members of the Ball family who did return to Northern Virginia, including William Waring’s widow Dorothy and her surviving sons and nephews, found the family home destroyed.  According to a memoir written by one of them, William Selwyn, and to records of the Freedman’s Bureau, the young men of the family reacted badly to the trauma of war and defeat, drinking, engaging in dangerous behavior, and in at least one case terrorizing freedpeople gathered for worship in the home of a neighboring farmer. 

Martha Corbin Turberville Ball was the younger sister of Thomas and Elizabeth Lee Jones’ mother, Lettice Turberville Jones.  Like them, she was born on the Northern Neck, where she began married life with Dr. Mottrom Ball (who shared an ancestor with George Washington’s mother).  According to a memoir written by their grandson William Selwyn Ball c. 1930, Martha and Mottrom fled suddenly to Fairfax County during the War of 1812.  The move became permanent when their home on the Northern Neck was destroyed by the British. 

After Mottrom Ball’s death in 1842, Martha joined with her adult children Spencer, William Waring, and Lucy, and Spencer and William’s wives Mary and Dorothy to donate the land on which Lewinsville Presbyterian Church currently stands.  Mottrom had been an active member of the Episcopal church, and it appears that some members of the family remained active in The Falls Church.  Judging by burials in the respective church’s cemeteries and other information, including the 1852 friendship quilt, it appears that Martha, Lucy, William Waring, Dorothy, and their children probably played a part in congregational life at Lewinsville, while Spencer, Mary, and their children probably attended the Falls Church.

The Balls relied on enslaved laborers to work their land and to perform household labor, and probably also received income from the practice of hiring out enslaved people to their neighbors. The records of Mottrom Ball’s estate name at least 20 enslaved people, and record that a number of them (including Archy, the subject of a separate entry) were hired out during the period when the estate was being settled (which means that their wages were paid to the estate).  William Selwyn especially recalls four siblings: Dennis, a coach driver, and his sisters Dolly, “Nurse” Mary, and Belinda.  Both William Selwyn’s memoir and estate accounts record that Dolly was regularly hired out.   Mary worked in Mottrom and Martha’s household, probably caring for children, while Belinda, who is buried in the Lewinsville cemetery, did similar work, probably mostly in the household of William Selwyn’s parents, Spencer and Mary Ball. 

Spencer and Mary Ball died before the Civil War, in 1856 and 1859 respectively.  As tensions over slavery and secession rose, William Waring played a public role in the debates.  In Feb. 1861, he wrote a letter to the editor of the Alexandria Gazette expressing hope for “an honorable and satisfactory adjustment of the unfortunate difficulties that now exist between the slave and free states,” and also confidence that, should war come, that members of the “Northern families” in his neighborhood would not “desert us in the hour of peril and danger, and prove traitors to the land of their adoption.”  “I solemnly believe,” he wrote, “that nine-tenths of them, in vindication of their rights and ours, would shoulder their muskets and march side by side with our native born citizens to the battle field, and pour out their heart’s blood in asserting and maintaining those rights.” 

William Waring Ball seems to have based these predictions on two factors: (1) the observation that many of his neighbors born in the north had strong financial ties to Virginia – “a large majority of them” “have” “invested their last dollar in our lands” – and (2) the fact that they had not voiced any opinions on slavery or secession, at least in his hearing – they “attend to their own business, and let that of their neighbors alone.”  Assuming William and his family were active at Lewinsville, this suggests that Lewinsville members were not actively discussing slavery or secession, at least with fellow-congregants they suspected might have different views. 

Presumably William Waring Ball was both surprised and disappointed a few months later, on April 17, 1861, when a number of those neighbors, including Lewinsville leaders Francis Crocker, William Woodworth, and John Gilbert, as well as other male members of the extended Crocker/Woodworth family, voted at the Lewinsville precinct to reject the ordinance of secession, and even unhappier when Francis Crocker and his sons aided the US Army.  William himself voted in favor of secession, as did his son Mottrom M. and his nephews Mottrom D. and William Selwyn.

The Ball family suffered heavy losses during the war.  At the opening of the conflict, Martha Ball had two living adult children, Lucy and William Waring, at least eleven living grandchildren by William Waring and her deceased son Spencer Mottrom, and at least one great-grandchild, William Judkins, son of her deceased granddaughter Mary Ball Judkins, who was living with her at the time of the 1860 census.  By the end of the war, two of Martha’s grandsons had died fighting for the Confederacy, and Lucy, William Waring, and Martha herself had all died at various places in southern Virginia where they had fled in an attempt to escape the worst of the conflict.   

They were joined in this flight, voluntarily or not, by some of the people they enslaved.  Letters written at the time, as well as William Selwyn Ball’s memoir, record the presence of a number of enslaved people on the journey: Margaret, his sister Rebecca’s maid; William Lee, described as “my father’s faithful old servant”; “Nurse Mary”; and Belinda and her husband Silas.  While the Balls rode in a wagon, and some eventually transferred to a train, most of the enslaved people walked.  

This arrangement led Mary to rebel, declaring that her rheumatism precluded her walking, and that she would stay at a house where they had stopped near Manassas. A contemporary letter suggests that Mary’s decision was especially unsettling to Martha, who asked a relative to communicate Mary’s whereabouts to other family members.  By the time William Selwyn wrote his memoir, the story of Mary’s rebellion had transmogrified into a very different one picturing Mary as a faithful servant who was prevented by Union soldiers from rejoining the family and died fearing that they thought she had abandoned them.  Another rebellion, by Silas, who freed himself by leaving with a horse and wagon during the war, seems to have come through in less-altered form (though William Selwyn’s account is clearly disapproving, and suggests that Silas’ wife Belinda agreed with the Balls’ perspective).   

At least seven of Martha’s grandsons fought for the Confederacy, and two, Summerfield and John Henry, both sons of William Waring and Dorothy McCabe, died of injuries suffered in battle. Like their older relatives who fled southward, they are not buried at Lewinsville; as William Selwyn Ball wrote of his cousins, “no one knows where any of these soldiers really were buried.” 

Several others, including William Selwyn himself and his brother Mottrom Dulany (known as “Mott”), sons of Spencer Mottrom, were seriously injured but survived.  According to William Selwyn’s memoir, the surviving male cousins were shocked by the outcome of the war. He remembers finding them, “just from Appomattox,” “sprawled out on the lawn” of Dorothy McCabe Ball’s temporary home outside Charlottesville, “dazed and unable to realize that actually all was lost.”

When the Balls returned to Fairfax, they found that the family homes, Woodbury and Elmwood, had been dismantled, “pulled down for the material in them.”  Extensive areas of timber had also been cut down, and some was still waiting to be carted away.  Dorothy and her family were living in cabins built as part of a Union fort, and William Selwyn and several of the other Ball cousins joined them. 

Official records treat the oldest male living on the property as the head of the Ball household.  In the 1870 census this was Dorothy’s son Mottrom McCabe Ball; by 1880, it was William Selwyn, who married William and Dorothy’s youngest daughter (his cousin and their grandmother’s namesake), Martha Corbin Turberville Ball, in 1879. 

However, documents from the postwar years, as well as William Selwyn’s own memoir, indicate that Dorothy McCabe Ball stepped into the role of matriarch.  In the years immediately after the war, she took the lead in trying to recover ownership of the land, which had been used by Federal government to at least temporarily settle displaced freedpeople during the war, and that valuable felled timber.  (In Fairfax County as further south, there seems to have been at least preliminary discussion of permanently transferring land from former enslavers who had supported secession to formerly enslaved people, but the idea does not seem to have gotten beyond the discussion stage). 

Dorothy was in regular correspondence with agents of the Freedman’s Bureau and at least once with Pres. Andrew Johnson, arguing that the family had not willingly abandoned its property, that she needed to support the members of her household, and that the Balls owed debts to loyal neighbors, which they could not repay if their property was not returned.  William Selwyn, looking back on this period, wrote “I wish I could portray the indomitable courage, energy and faith of Aunt Dolly in that year following the close of the War when we boys were not what we should have been.”  He also recalls Dorothy holding family prayer meetings on a daily basis, and notes that her favorite hymn during this period, when food was often scarce, was “Day by day the manna fell.”

William Selwyn Ball’s recorded memories of the male Ball cousins not being “what [they] should have been” in the year after the war center mostly on drinking, pranks played (often on elderly relatives and family friends), and risky behavior involving horses and various built and landscape features in the immediate area (including Chain Bridge, where he came close to hitting his head on the frame of a door installed on the Virginia end to help with the defenses of Washington while riding at high speed; instead, the door frame hit his hat).  He also recalls “charging” with his brother Mott through “a fort at the top of the Falls. . .manned by colored troops,” “giving the rebel yell at every jump.”  “Why we were not shot down,” he writes, “has ever been a wonder to me.” 

An 1866 report from Freedman’s Bureau agent O.E. Hine paints an even darker picture of the activities of William Selwyn’s older brother, Mottrom Dulany “Mott” Ball.  According to Hine, Mott Ball was one of a “gang of ruffians” who “annoyed disturbed and attempted to break up the religious meetings held at the house of Robert Gunnell (colored) in Langley.”  Hine reports a number of these “outrages committed by whites against Freedmen,” including severe damage to “the school-house near Lewinsville” by unidentified persons who broke in and destroyed windows and furniture.  It is not clear whether one or more of the Ball cousins were among the perpetrators in any of these other incidents, but it does seem that what William Selwyn describes as a year of “sowing wild oats” sometimes included not only harassing their own relatives but also terrorizing their newly-free neighbors. 

Reading only slightly between the lines of William Selwyn’s decidedly rose-colored account of the Balls’ relationships with the people they enslaved, it becomes clear that, since Dorothy Ball was often away during the first year after the war, Belinda Johnson (soon to be Brown) was often left to manage a household full of traumatized young White men who were doing only enough work to keep themselves in alcohol and food and participating in attacks against their African American neighbors.  The years immediately after the war must have been even more difficult for Belinda than for her young-adult charges, but William Selwyn does not express the same concern for the impact of the cousins’ behavior on Belinda as on his aunt Dorothy. 

While the Ball cousins eventually went on to more responsible lives – William Selwyn worked in the Treasury Department, and Mottrom Dulany “Mott” Ball as Collector of Customs in Sitka, Alaska – the effects of their behavior immediately after the war, and the larger effects of their family’s practice of enslavement, undoubtedly lingered in the lives and memories of their African American neighbors.