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. 

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