Martha Swink Alvord and Henry Elijah Alvord

Martha Swink, who grew up in a household that included enslaved people (including, in 1843-44, Sam, hired from the estate of Mottrom Ball), was active in the Lewinsville Presbyterian Church congregation in the 1850s.  She would have been around 18 when she signed the 1852 friendship quilt.  She was a participant in a postwar North/South romance: in 1866, she married Henry Elijah Alvord, who served in the Second Massachusetts Cavalry (which spent time in Virginia).  They lived in a number of places while he pursued a career in Agricultural Science, but maintained a home, Spring Hill Farm, in Fairfax County.  Henry is buried in Massachusetts; it appears that Martha is buried (or at least memorialized) here, along with her sister and parents. 

Elizabeth Lee Jones & the People she Enslaved

Although she did not live to see the formal founding of Lewinsville Presbyterian Church in 1846 (and is not buried in the Lewinsville cemetery), Lewinsville members recognize Elizabeth Lee Jones as one of our founding mothers – one whose choices form a complicated and often puzzling picture. 

Elizabeth was apparently the first participant in the Salona house church to take practical steps toward forming a formal congregation by leaving land for a “church and church yard” in her 1822 will.  While that will was disputed and Lewinsville currently sits on a different portion of the Turberville land grant, Elizabeth’s bequest probably helped inspire the later land donation that made the formal founding of Lewinsville Presbyterian Church possible. 

She was also, like other White members of the early congregation, dependent on the labor of enslaved people for her livelihood.  In her will, she sought to leave those she enslaved to the recently-formed  American Colonization Society (ACS).

The ACS was a sometimes-uneasy coalition of White Americans with varying beliefs about slavery who agreed on the project of transporting free Black people from the United States to a colony in Africa that ultimately became Liberia.  It is unclear what Elizabeth’s own views on slavery were, though she does seem to have supported the portion of the ACS mission that involved including Christian missionaries among the colonizers. 

Elizabeth was born to Lettice Corbin Turberville Jones and Catesby Jones on the Northern Neck of Virginia.  The exact birth dates of some of the couple’s seven children are hard to determine, but sources seem to agree that Elizabeth was born sometime between 1778, when her parents married, and  1786, before their first son, Roger, was born. 

If, as some evidence suggests, Elizabeth was her parents’ oldest child, she was probably very close in age to her aunt (Lettice’s considerably younger sister), Martha Corbin Turberville Ball.  In any case, they were closer to being contemporaries than their niece/aunt relationship might suggest.  All sources seem to agree that Elizabeth was Roger’s (and Thomas ap Catesby’s) older sister.  Both of their parents died relatively young: Catesby in 1801 and Lettice in 1804.  By that time, Elizabeth would have been an adult, but still quite young herself. 

Like Martha and Mottrom Ball, Elizabeth moved to Fairfax County, settling on part of the Turberville land grant there, sometime in the eighteen-teens.  She, too, may have been fleeing British attacks on the Northern Neck during the War of 1812.  In any case, she had arrived by 1815, when Thomas stayed with her while recovering from wounds received in that war. 

Elizabeth apparently maintained a household separate from those of her relatives, and is often credited with arranging for the building of Sharon, the house she, and later Thomas and Mary Jones and their children, occupied (the notice of Elizabeth’s death that appears in several ACS publications, which describes her as having “died at the seat of her brother, Thomas ap Catesby Jones,” obscures which sibling first called Sharon home). 

An 1819 letter written by Harriotte Maffitt, daughter of Rev. Maffitt, mentions seeing “Miss Betty Jones” at Salona on the preceding Sunday, suggesting that she attended services there.  It certainly seems that Elizabeth valued the chance to participate in worship, and wanted to offer that opportunity to others.  When she wrote her will in April 1822, she included a bequest of “four acres of . . .land . . .as a site for a church and church yard,” “to be improved and dedicated to the uses and purposes of divine worship in such manner. . .as. . .may . . .be prescribed by the Rev[eren]d William Maffitt” or another Presbyterian pastor from a list she supplied. 

Elizabeth’s financial support came from inherited wealth, including the labor of over a dozen enslaved people, some of whom did the work of her household, and some of whom may have been hired out, with the money they earned adding to Elizabeth’s income.  We have some information about these people (though not as much as many of us would like) from Elizabeth’s 1822 will because her bequest to the ACS, and the arrangements she made for them until the ACS was ready to carry out its plans, required her naming them and in some cases describing their family relationships, ages, and occupations.   

“In the meantime,” she specified, “said slaves. . .shall serve my relations” and “shall receive such moral and religious instruction and be as habituated to the useful arts of domestic life as to prepare them as well as circumstances will allow for their ultimate destination of emancipated colonists.”  She also recommended to the ACS trustees that “my boy Davy, son of Nancy,” “be immediately put to school. . .to be educated as a missionary to Africa, or as minister of the Gospel to be settled in the proposed colony in Africa.”  If the ACS was unable to carry out its colonization plans within ten years of her death, she wrote, the enslaved people divided among her relatives “shall be absolutely and unconditionally emancipated and free.” 

Finally, she specified that “the three old women Letty (commonly called Spinning Lett), Amy, and Nancy, considering them too old either for the purpose of colonization or of intermediate service. . .be permitted to go free,” and charged her brother, Thomas ap Catesby Jones, to whom she had left her home and the bulk of her land, with “continu[ing] to Amy and Nancy the asylum they now enjoy of the house and garden” on that land. 

This suggests that at the time of her death the Sharon farm included both a main house and outbuildings that housed enslaved (or, in this case, freed) people, and that at least some of the people enslaved in her household had the opportunity to cultivate food for their own use (a fairly common arrangement which had benefits for both enslaved and enslaver). 

Other enslaved people listed in Elizabeth’s will include Edmond, a blacksmith; unnamed children of Nancy; Arianna and her unnamed children; the “remaining women and girls” Maria, Belinda, Mima, and Kitty; and Harriet and “her child of future issue” (perhaps in utero or yet to be conceived at the time of writing). 

Because of legal disputes over the estates of several generations of the Turberville family, Elizabeth’s will was not carried out as written. The land on which Lewinsville Presbyterian Church currently sits is several miles away from the plot she had surveyed for the purpose.  Nevertheless, the provisions of her will probably helped inspire the land donation by Elizabeth’s aunt, niece, and nephews that made the formal founding of Lewinsville Presbyterian Church possible.   

It is also unclear whether all of the enslaved people named in Elizabeth’s will were, in fact, freed, and whether any of them traveled to Africa.  In part because Elizabeth divided the people she enslaved among so many of her relatives (in some cases leaving who went where up to the relatives, or even the drawing of lots), tracing what happened to each individual requires considerable research (currently a work in progress).

There is, however, some available information.  The Fairfax County Registrations of Free Negroes describe two women, Judy Dobson and Harriet Conway, as being freed by Elizabeth Lee Jones’ will, and record that their children, all of whom appear to have been born after Elizabeth’s death, shared their free status.

Based on her age and other information in the registration, Judy Dobson, who was 29 when she registered in 1848, is probably one of the unnamed children of Nancy included the will.  The somewhat unusual wording in her registration – she is described as “Daughter of Nancy a free woman of colour, and Emancipated by the Last Will and Testament of Elizabeth L. Jones deceased” – may indicate that both she and her mother were freed by that will. 

By 1848, Judy had five children: David (10), Emanuel (9), Thomas (6), Silas (3), and Nancy (1).  The repetition of family names provides further confirmation of her connection to family members named in the will (and, although Judy’s son David is too young to be the Davy named in the will, he may be the older Davy’s nephew). 

Harriet Conway, who was 46 in 1848, may be the Harriet assigned in the will to serve Martha Corbin Turberville Ball until the time comes for her emancipation.  Registrations show that at least one woman named Harriet who was freed by Elizabeth Jones’ will (sometimes given the last name Conway, sometimes not) appeared with her children and grandchildren at the 1848 court session to document their free status. 

Harriet’s descendants included Armistead Reed (25), Joe Reed (23), Susan Parker (20) and her children Richard Henry (2) and Ann (3 mo.), Fanny (13), and Thomas (6).  In 1849, two more sons of Harriet Conway, James (18) and Ellick (16), registered. 

Armstead Reed, Richard Henry Parker, and two other Parker siblings, Mary (12) and Ada (10), show up in a shared household on the 1860 census as “free inhabitants of Washington, D.C.” The same household includes Armstead’s wife, Sarah, Frances Reed (26), a washerwoman (who could be the Fanny registered in 1848), Thomas Reed (18) and William Harris (13).  While Armstead, Sarah, and Frances are described as being unable to read and write, Richard, Mary, and Ada have all attended school in the last year, and the younger adults appear to be literate. 

Since they could claim the proceeds of their labor, this family was able to build some wealth.  Armstead, who was a huckster in 1860 with real estate worth $1400 and personal property worth $100, is listed on the 1870 census as keeping an “Eating House” and owning real estate worth $5000 and personal property worth $300. 

Even as we are able to track some of the positive effects of Elizabeth’s bequests, the will’s provisions raise other questions:

Did Elizabeth Lee Jones seek to free the people she enslaved and send them to Africa because she genuinely believed in the mission of the American Colonization Society, or because it was the best she could do for them given her and their circumstances, including Virginia laws limiting manumission?  In other words, was her decision to include the ACS in her estate plan driven primarily by her relationships with other members of the White elite, by her relationships with the people she enslaved, or perhaps by some combination of the two? 

Was she aware that many of the American Colonization Society’s members were at least as interested in removing free Blacks from the United States as in emancipating those who were enslaved? 

What role did Elizabeth’s faith play in her decisions regarding the people she enslaved, both during her lifetime and as she prepared for death? 

Was she conscious of the irony of describing women and girls who were currently doing the labor that kept her household running (or, for that matter, a man with the highly-valued skills of a blacksmith) as in need of training in “the useful arts of domestic life”? 

What did she envision happening to Nancy, whom she judged too old to join the colonization project, once Nancy’s children left for Africa?  Did Elizabeth think that Nancy, being free, could make her own decision when the time came?  What did Nancy and Davy think of the plan to train Davy as a missionary or minister? Had he shown a desire or aptitude for such work?   Was he interested in going to Africa? 

And how would they have felt about Elizabeth calling Davy “my Davy”?  Is that a term of affection, a claim of ownership (including a claim of greater right to determine the direction of Davy’s life than his mother or Davy himself), or, quite possibly, a bit of both? 

Thomas ap Catesby Jones, Mary Walker Carter Jones, and Family

Thomas ap Catesby and Mary Walker Carter Jones were founding members of the Lewinsville Presbyterian Church, and participants in the house church that preceded it.  Mary’s stepfather, Rev. Maffitt, married them at Salona in 1823.  They, their children, and grandchildren remained active participants in the Lewinsville congregation in the 1850s and beyond.   

Thomas had died by the time the Civil War broke out.  Their oldest son, Patterson, continued to serve in the United States Navy, while their three younger children, Mary, Mark, and Martha, supported the Confederacy, but did not fight.  The family of Thomas’ brother Roger, who lived nearby, was even more sharply divided, with brothers fighting on opposite sides. 

Mary and her younger children took refuge in Prince William County during the first year of the war, then returned to live at Sharon, surrounded by federal troops that often appropriated farm produce and farm buildings to their own use.  At least in part because of the damage Sharon suffered during the war, Mary was forced to sell the farm in 1872. 

Thomas was among the first trustees of Lewinsville.  He was born on the Northern Neck, fought and was wounded in the War of 1812, and, despite a resulting disability, had a long and eventful career in the Navy (covered in several full-length biographies, including one by Lewinsville historian Frank Gapp).  He eventually rose to the rank of Commodore. 

He was among Lewinsville’s first trustees (often considered the first trustee, since his name appears at the head of several such lists) and served for a time as Superintendent of the Sunday School.  As a trustee, he signed notes for debts the church incurred during its building campaigns in the 1850s.  In his will, he sought to pay off the remaining debt from one of those efforts.  Rev. McKee’s diary reveals that in 1857, toward the end of his life, Comm. Jones was still playing an active role in supporting the church, periodically sending to the parsonage food to feed the McKee family and laborers to help with various tasks. 

Thomas was accompanied on several of his voyages by his enslaved manservant, Griffin Dobson.  At his farm, Sharon, he relied on the labor of several dozen enslaved laborers, including Peter Gibson, to further the project of “improving” the “worn-out” land he inherited from his Turberville ancestors (an endeavor about which he wrote several articles, one of which won an award). 

Thomas died in 1858, but men who had served under him, including his son Meriwether Patterson Jones, his nephew Catesby ap Roger Jones, and other relatives fought for both the United States and the Confederacy during the Civil War.   Meriwether spent most of the war on ordnance duty, probably at the Navy Yard, where his father also spent a substantial amount of his career. 

Catesby ap Roger, who had sailed with both Thomas and Meriwether, commanded the Virginia (formerly the Merrimac) during the second day of its famous battle with the Monitor. His family was even more sharply divided: he had two other brothers, Charles Lucian and Thomas Skelton, who fought for the CSA, while another brother, Roger, continued a successful career in the US Army. 

While we have no evidence that Roger Jones’ family was active at Lewinsville, he owned land across the road from Thomas and Mary, and the families probably knew each other well.  While the Jones cousins do not seem to have met in battle, they must have been keenly aware of each others’ presence in the opposing military force. 

Meriwether died suddenly while on active service (but not in battle) in 1866.  In a memorandum concerning a life insurance policy that apparently served as his will, he left legacies to his mother, siblings, and nieces, and also one hundred dollars to “our faithful servant Rachel as a reward for her great fidelity in the trying scenes that she has passed through,” suggesting that Rachel stayed close to Mary Walker Carter Jones and/or Sharon during the war (and also suggesting that Meriwether recognized that Rachel either already was or soon would be legally free). 

Mary Walker Carter Jones was a descendant of the Carter and Lee families (and so, like several early Lewinsville members, a cousin of some degree to Confederate General Robert E. Lee).  She managed Sharon during Thomas’s long absences while also attending to household affairs and bringing up Meriwether, their oldest son, and his three younger siblings, Mary Lee, Mark Catesby, and Martha Corbin.  Like her husband, Mary relied on enslaved labor to complete much of the work she oversaw; for instance, we know from the account of William Dotson, son of Rachel Dotson, that his mother played a central role in raising the three younger Jones children. 

As Mary initially responded to interviewers for the Southern Claims Commission inquiring into her “sympathies” during the war: “I reckon they were on both. I don’t know.”  This answer was too honest to be expedient in the context (she needed to establish her loyalty to the United States in order to receive compensation for the damage done to her property by Union troops during the war), but it was probably an accurate description of her feelings. 

Mary told the examiners that she opposed secession.  However, once the war began, she found herself very much in the middle of the conflict, physically and psychologically.  While Meriwether continued his service in the US Navy, many of Mary’s other relatives, including her three younger children and her sister and brother-in-law, supported the Confederate cause (Mary’s younger son Mark voted in favor of secession, but at her urging did not join the CSA troops). 

Mary fled Northern Virginia during the first year of the war and stayed with her sister, Susan Carter Balch, in Prince William County, VA. Susan’s husband, Rev. Thomas Bloomer Balch, mentions Mary’s presence as a “refugee” in his household after the first battle of Bull Run/Manassas (July 1861) in My Manse During the War.  Commission examiners found this move suspicious, since most Union loyalists fled to Washington; Mary insisted she was in poor health and simply looking for a quieter, more peaceful place to stay. 

She returned to Sharon in 1862.  At this point, the farm was firmly within Union lines and Union soldiers had already seized its horses and cattle for military use.  Over the course of the war, they would also appropriate crops, wood, fencing and other building materials, dismantling and carting away the components of most of the outbuildings.  

For the duration of the war, Mary lived with pickets in her yard, welcomed officers into her home, sent food and other provisions to the local hospitals, and traveled back and forth to Washington on a regular basis, carrying a pass that confirmed her loyalty and allowed her to cross over the Chain Bridge.   

When Mary formulated her petition to the Claims Commission in 1871, she included the information that her land was heavily mortgaged, that she was unable to pay the interest because the farm was no longer in working order, and that she was thus in danger of losing it to foreclosure.  The land was, indeed, sold by order of the court in 1872. 

Mary and her family may have moved into the Lewinsville parsonage, also heavily damaged during the war, after leaving Sharon; her daughter Martha recalled living there for a time “some years after the war.”  According to Frank Gapp, Mary also lived with relatives between 1872 and her death in February 1885.  Mark survived her by only a few months, dying in June 1885.  While there is no marker, family tradition holds that Mary is buried near her husband in the Lewinsville Cemetery. 

Mary’s younger daughter, Martha, testified that she stayed with her mother throughout the war.  In the 1880s, she became a key witness for the church’s own claim for damages caused by Union troops.  Martha recalled that the parsonage and school house were stripped to their frames, and the stable completely destroyed. 

The sanctuary was also stripped of much of its siding and all of its furniture; Martha recounted that when she received an invitation to a service that a “Captain in the Federal Army” was planning “for the boys,” she refused, saying that, without seats, the sanctuary was “no fit place for a Lady.”  Martha died in 1915 in Washington, D.C. 

The Jones’ older daughter, Mary Lee, and her daughters, Mary Catesby Beall and Ida P. Beall, also lived with Mary Walker Carter Jones during the war.  Mary Lee had married William Beall, a doctor, in 1848, and lived with him in Fairfax County and later in Baltimore.  By 1851, William’s “indolent and intemperate habits” led her to return to Sharon with her children.  She signed the friendship quilt in 1852, and presumably participated, with her parents, siblings, and daughters, in the life of the congregation during the 1850s.  She eventually sued William for divorce in 1866. 

Mary Catesby Beall married her cousin, Charles Tebbs Ball (a son of Dorothy McCabe and William Waring Ball), in 1877, had two daughters, and died in 1934.  Ida Beall worked as a journalist and veterinarian, shared her memories of the early days of Lewinsville Church with Mrs. Albert Mack in 1924, and died in 1932. Both of the Beall sisters are buried in the Lewinsville cemetery. 

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.