Broken Promises

The lives of our ancestors are often seen as distant and not relevant to our contemporary lives. They are merely names and dates, words on a piece of paper or computer screen. Chancery causes, such as those preserved digitally at the Library of Virginia, can reveal much about long-ago family members: desires, passions, habits, even their health.

Cumberland County taverns were probably buzzing with rumors about the Hendricks and Womacks in 1779. The Hendricks were well known tavern kee

womack descendant chart_web

pers and William Womack was a prosperous Cumberland County farmer. The families were joined on November 20, 1777, when John Hendrick married Judi

th Womack. John was at least 22 years-old, and Judith was about 20 and the youngest daughter of William Womack. The young couple lived with William for a little over a y

ear after their marriage. Their departure resulted in litigation, making their private troubles public gossip.

John and Judith Hendrick filed a chancery cause against William Womack in 1779. The Revolutionary War was being fought across Virginia but John and Judith were litigating broken promises. They alleged that William had promised them, on the condition of marriage, three slaves, Sampson, Fam and Dinah or Rachel. He also promised that upon his death they would receive his land on the south side of Da

venport Road, and more than half of his estate. Their written statement says they married on the basis of this promise and John’s “tender and affectionate love” for Judith, and “lived together in the greatest harmony and most peaceful happiness.” Since their marriage, the couple had asked William “in a dutiful and friendly manner” to comply with his promises. So far, William had only delivered Dinah, and John and Judith were not satisfied.

Friends and neighbors were called to court to testify. Joseph Starkey was deposed on June 26, 1780, but the deposition is too faded to read. The testimony of John Davis, taken in 1780, is also hard to read, but describes an evening in 1777 he spent in the company of John Hendrick and William Womack. The men were drinking, perhaps coffee, laughing and talking.

John Langhorne recalled an evening with William in 1776, “I expect it will not be long before my daughter Judith be married… I have no Objection to John Hendrick. I suppose when I die I may give her near half that I have.”

Richard Allen described an evening in the company of Bernard Gains and William Womack. This was a few days before John and Judith’s wedding. “The said William further declared that he would make them, the said John & Judith, worth eight hundred pounds on the day of their marriage” by giving them three negroes. He also intended to give the young couple his land on the south side of Davenport Road. “The said John was to live with him and take care of him during his Life, this deponent further said the said William appeared to be in liquor & appeared much pleasured with his daughters intended marriage.” Bernard Gains confirmed much of this statement in his testimony.

Finally, John Howell relayed that John Hendrick told him about the gifts promised by William Womack and indicated that he and Judith would be living with William. However, John also said that he did not understand that the Hendricks were bound to live with Womack in consideration of the gifts.

When this suit was brought against him, William Womack was an old man of about seventy years, considered quite elderly in those times. He readily agreed that he had consented to Judith and John’s marriage, but denied there was a marriage contract or that he had promised them slaves or land before his death. “This Respondt. readily admits that he had made his Will & bequeath’d the Negroes aforsaid to his Daughter Judith on his death previous to her marriage, but as a condition to be perform’d on her part, She was to Continue to live with This Respond’t during his life, and to discharge those duties which a Parent hath aright to demand of a Child, and which this Respond’t call’d forcibly for, being not only subjected to the infirmitys incident to old age, in general, but also laboring under the inexpressible misfortune of the loss of his sight.”

William further explains this was made clear to John prior to the marriage. “Your Respondent further answering that although his said Daughter had repeatedly promised him to live with him, & take proper care of him during life,… yet, the said Judith regardless of her said promises, which the common dictates of Humanity should have prompted a strict compliance with, has in violation of filial duty, departed from this Respondents House, in about a year or little more after marriage, altho he the said Respondt gave her no sufficient cause, and left him in the most disconsolate, & Solitary situation.”

As the youngest daughter of the widowed, infirm and blind William Womack, Judith was expected to care for him the rest of his life. In return, she expected slaves, property and more. John Hendrick said the gifts were promised upon marriage. William Womack viewed the gifts as a conditional inheritance.

When the depositions were done, John Hendrick notified the Court that he had reached a private settlement with William Womack without disclosing the agreement details. When William Womack died eleven years later in 1791, he only left to daughter Judith, one slave, Dinah, who was already in her possession. The remainder of his substantial estate was divided between his other six children. It appears the litigation and broken promises created a lasting rift between father and daughter.

William Womack is my 6x great-grandfather. John Hendrick and Judith Womack are my 5x great grandparents. Their daughter, Sally Hendrick, and Isham Ball are my 4x great-grandparents. Following Judith’s death, John Hendrick married Isham Ball’s younger sister Martha Ball. Hendrick and Ball were affluent farmers and innkeepers.

logoWilliam Womack is a DAR patriot for his support of the troops with supplies.

John Hendrick is a DAR patriot for his service as a soldier.

Descendants of these men are eligible for DAR membership.

Quotes and facts in this article are from 1781-001 Cumberland Chancery Causes, John Hendrick and Wife vs William Womack, Library of Virginia.

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A New DAR Patriot

logoMy fourth great-grandfather James Ball’s patriotic service to the American Revolution was verified by the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) on October 13, 2017. The DAR sets a high bar for confirming new Patriots and I’m delighted that now other female descendants of James Ball can honor and remember his service to the American Revolution with a membership in the DAR.

James Ball was born about 1733, probably in Middlesex County, Virginia, the second child of Valentine Ball and Susannah Lewis. He operated a tavern in Henrico County prior to moving to Chesterfield County about 1767. Donna Rachal Mills writes in Some Southern Balls, “There in Chesterfield he rose in society—serving numerous times as county jailer, road surveyor and keeper, jury member, and public safety commissioner (during the Revolution) as well as operating two large and extremely profitable plantations.”

James earned his Patriot status by serving as Public Service Commissioner during the War, contributing goods to the cause and signing petitions–all treasonous acts for Virginia residents. His son, Valentine, is a DAR patriot for military service and his son, Daniel, received a Revolutionary War pension for his military service. Daughter Nancy received a pension for the military service of her husband, Samuel Miller.

He was the father of nine children: Valentine; William; Nancy; Daniel; Martha; Elizabeth; James; Archer and Isham.

Thank you, James Ball, for your contributions to the American Revolution. It’s an honor to live in this great nation founded through the efforts of extraordinary men and women like you.

The Juicy Details of a Household Inventory

Look around your home and take a mental inventory of all of your possessions. Imagine listing every dish, piece of silverware, pot, or tool you own. What would that list reveal about you? Would we learn your occupation, financial status, hobbies and more?

The inventory prepared for Peter Ogilby’s bankruptcy is an interesting document, full of juicy little details for descendants and curious genealogists. Most of our ancestors do not leave diaries or letters to provide first hand accounts of their lives. Instead we turn to documents like Peter Ogilby’s inventory. Studied together with other documents such as census records and chancery causes, it is possible to enrich our understanding of Peter and Harriett’s life together.

In 1825, when this inventory was taken, Peter Ogilby was 33 and in the prime of his life. Harriett Ball Ogilby (my 4x great-aunt) was 25. This is a relatively small number of household goods, but the items therein reflect a comfortable life. Note many of the items are domestic household items. As a married woman, Harriett owned nothing. By law, everything belonged to Peter and was part of the inventory.

Legatee of Mrs. Hendrick’s Estate
Had I not already known that Harriett’s mother was a Hendrick, this item would have sent me on a search for the Hendrick link. Harriett’s mother, Sally Hendrick, died before 1808. Harriett was named in her grandfather’s (John Hendrick) will of 1814. However, John Hendrick had married late in life, a second time, to her father’s (Isham Ball) sister, Martha, who died in 1816, leaving several minor children. The estate would not be settled until 1831. Meanwhile, desperate for cash, Peter Ogilby had already sold his wife’s inheritance to J. W. Nash.

One Cradle and Furniture
Did this cradle hold a baby in 1825?  Harriett and Peter had a daughter, Sarah, about 1820. The next recorded child is Peter, born about 1830. Most couples of this time frame had a child every other year. The 1830 census records five children living in Peter’s household, so the unfortunate couple must have lost three children between 1820 and 1830. It is likely an unknown Ogilby baby was sleeping in the cradle in 1825.  The cradle furniture is the mattress, linens, blankets and perhaps a canopy or tester.

Two Cows and One Calf, Churn, Three Butter Pots
Butter-making was a routine household task requiring some skill. Virginia’s hot summers could sour the milk or spoil the cream and any contamination could prevent the curdle necessary for butter. Churning the cream takes about an hour and then the butter had to be kneaded to release moisture. It was placed in a ceramic butter pot and covered with gauze. Two cows would barely provide the milk for the household’s dairy needs.

Two Feather Beds and Furniture
These were a real luxury and considered family heirlooms. Poorer households did not possess one feather bed, much less two. Once again, furniture here means the blankets, pillows, linens and draperies as the bed may have been canopied. Heavy drapes provided privacy and warmth in winter. Come summer the bed was draped with a lighter fabric to keep out flying insects.

Spinning Wheel and Cotton Cards
These implements indicate Harriett was spinning cotton into thread. Milled fabrics were available by this time, so it is possible these implements were already family heirlooms. Harriett may also have been practicing thrift by spinning and weaving some of her own fabrics. Note there is no loom mentioned here.

Tea Board with Its Contents, One Tea Kettle, Coffee Mill, Coffee Pot, Salt Cellar, Pepper Box
A tea board was a large tray, sometimes on a stand, where hot beverages like coffee and tea were served. Coffee, tea and pepper were imported to Virginia and were considered little luxuries, available only to those with the cash to purchase them.

Grid Iron, Tribbet, Iron Pot, Iron Pot Rack
The cooking in this household was done over an open fire. A grid iron supported pots over the fire. A tribbet or trivet was generally a three-legged stand to support a kettle near an open fire.

One Bay Mare
Peter had one horse, and it had a debt against it.

Two Trunks
Chancery causes prior to 1825 refer to Peter living out of state or in Georgia. Perhaps the trunks were a part of Peter’s wandering life.

One Looking Glass, One Dressing Box, Clothes Brush, Wash Bowl, One Chamber, Pair Flat Irons
A looking glass (mirror) and dressing box imply status and luxury. A woman may have kept cosmetics, combs and brushes in a dressing box. Harriett may have brought these items to the marriage. Flat irons were heated in a fire and used to press clothes. Chamber here may refer to a pot used to collect overnight urine and avoid a trip outside in the night.

What’s Missing?
A household inventory in rural Powhatan in the early nineteenth century would have included many more tools and farm implements. It would also have included a number of slaves to assist with the household tasks and farming. The 1830 census for Peter Ogilby includes several slaves, indicating that perhaps Harriett’s father, Isham Ball, “loaned” a few of his slaves to the couple. This provided help for Harriett and insured they wouldn’t be sold to pay Peter’s debts. Truly luxurious items like silver, crystal, clocks and even a buggy are also missing.

Summary
Harriet and Peter lived a comfortable life above their means. Peter did not farm on a big scale; there was probably only a kitchen garden to supply the family’s needs. Peter was a minister later in life, and he may have already been preaching by the time of this inventory in 1825. The inventory is available online at the Library of Virginia, Amelia County, 1839-010, John O. Hundley, etc vs Heirs of Richard Ogilby.

Peter Ogilby Estate

A Mystery Solved

When my ancestor Isham Ball died in 1860 in Powhatan County, Virginia, his will made very specific provisions regarding the inheritance of his daughter, Harriett Ball Ogilby.  Isham wrote, “The Share of my daughter, Harriett Ogilby, wife of Peter F. Ogilby under this item, I do hereby direct shall be held in Trust by Wm C. Netherland of Powhatan County for the use and benefit of my said daughter Harriett during her life and that of her children in such manner that the said Peter F. Ogilby shall have no control over the property or the profits thereof in any way whatsoever.”1

I wondered, in a prior blog post, why Isham directed that his son-in-law have no control over Harriett’s inheritance. I found the answer in the online chancery files at the Library of Virginia.2

Peter incurred a debt of $124.00 on 4 March 1820. When Peter failed to pay the debt as ordered in a judgment against him, he was arrested on 27 August 1825. There had been other financial challenges and Peter apparently could not raise the cash and declared insolvency. The Sheriff put all of Peter and Harriett’s unencumbered possessions up for sale and Isham Ball bought them and paid Peter’s debt. In exchange Peter granted Isham all of his interest in the estates of his brother Patrick, and parents Judith and Richard Ogilby of Amelia County, Virginia. When the estates were settled in Amelia County in 1838, Isham Ball presented the agreement to the Court and received the share of his son-in-law, Peter Ogilby.

Isham Ball notably stepped in to protect his daughter and grandchildren from Peter’s financial difficulties and Peter was released from the Amelia County jail. Certainly Isham Ball considered this episode and others when he wrote his will. He was prudent to protect Harriett’s interests.

Peter and Harriett’s assets were listed as part of his insolvency declaration. I can only imagine Harriett’s dismay at seeing her child’s cradle, her pots and pans, spinning wheel and coffee pot auctioned off to pay her husband’s debts. Fortunately they were purchased by her father and the couple retained possession of their belongings.

The list of items provides a snapshot of how Peter and Harriett were living in 1825.3 A copy was included in the 1838 division of Judith, Richard and Patrick Ogilsby’s estates. The young couple didn’t own a lot, and the belongings indicate a middle class life. A looking glass and books indicate someone who could read and who cared about appearances. Feather beds were coveted household possessions. There were a few tools but not enough for serious farming. Perhaps Peter had already started preaching.

And do take note of the clerk’s beautiful penmanship.

Peter Ogilby Estate


  1. Isham Ball’s Will, 1 Oct 1860, Powhatan County, Virginia, Will Book 15, pages 467 – 468. County Clerk’s’s Office, Powhatan, Virginia.
  2. “Virginia Memory: Chancery Records Index.” Amelia County (Va.) Chancery Causes. John O Hundley ETC vs HEIR(S) OF Richard Ogilby BY ETC, 1839-010. Local Government Records Collection, Amelia Court Records. The Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia. Web. 2 April 2017.
  3. Hundley vs Ogilby, page 22

A Very Poor Apology for a Wife

samuel-thomas-millerIn the dispositions and characters of my uncles and aunts there was, I presume, a considerable difference; some were openhearted, affectionate and generous, others were close and selfish. Some were frugal, others were loose-handed. Those most cherished by my mother were Uncles William, Daniel and Archer and Aunt Betsey. For my uncles, James and Valentine, she retained neither respect nor affection. For Uncle Isham she had more regard for his good management than love for his generosity; for in the latter quality he was singularly deficient.  Life of Samuel Thomas Miller, page 17

Most of what I know about my ancestors is derived from dry courthouse records like wills, deeds and chancery causes so I was delighted when I recently came across a beautifully written memoir by Samuel Thomas Miller, son of Ann Ball. Ann was sister to my 4x great grandfather Isham Ball of Powhatan County, Virginia. Much of Miller’s childhood was spent shuttling among his Ball aunts and uncles, and his memoir is surprisingly frank. Miller calls Sally Hendrick Ball, my 4x great-grandmother, a very poor apology for a wife (page 17).

Even if I weren’t related to all the Balls in this book, I would still find it fascinating reading. It provides a first hand glimpse of life in Chesterfield and Powhatan County in the 1800’s. Some things apparently never change; there are abused wives, alcoholics, mischievous children, gamblers and scholars who worked, played and loved very close to where I grew up. There was even a Ball race track at Broad Rock. Written in 1911, the book has no copyright and you may download it here. Happy reading!

The Seven Daughters of Isham Ball

7 daughters isham ball_edited-1Isham Ball’s will and his obituary reveal Ball to be a man of strongly held religious beliefs who cared deeply about his daughters and their children. He was careful in the wording of his will, clearly stating that the husbands of his daughter, Harriett, and granddaughter, Elizabeth, were not to benefit from their inheritances. Why did Ball feel so strongly about this? Were there questions of character?

Harriet Ball and her husband, Peter Ogilby, moved west and by 1843 were living in Union County, Kentucky, where Ogilby was a leader of the Zion Church. A church history indicates that Ogilby had differences with another member and in 1844 this “finally resulted in the exclusion and publication of Peter F. Oglesby as an impostor.” The 1850 census lists Ogilby as a clergyman in Caldwell, Kentucky where he died in 1866. Like Isham Ball, Ogilby was a deeply religious man with strongly held beliefs, and it is likely the two clashed over theological differences, leading Ball to put Harriett’s inheritance into the care of a trustee.

Sarah Elizabeth Taylor was the daughter of Isham Ball’s deceased daughter, Martha. Martha had married Richard Taylor and lived just a few miles from her father. In 1850 Elizabeth married her cousin, Joseph Taylor, son of Daniel Taylor. They lived in Powhatan County and Isham would have known the couple well. There is no direct evidence to explain why Isham felt compelled to exclude Joseph in his will, but it is noteworthy that Daniel Taylor passed over Joseph and  chose his youngest son George as executor of his estate.

Joseph Taylor went to court in 1861 and 1868 to compel the trustee, his cousin, William D. Taylor, to release the inheritance to his family. Sadly, the funds were invested in Confederate dollars in a Richmond bank and by 1868 the Confederate money was worthless.

Ball’s daughter Susan is not mentioned in his will. Susan married a neighbor, Archer Stratton in 1827. The 1850 census shows Stratton in Rankin, Mississippi and married to Eliza. Presumably Susan Ball died without children as Ball does not list any Stratton grandchildren in his will.

Ball divided his land between his three youngest daughters. It is likely that he had already given the older girls property when they married. Julia died in 1856 of a brain inflammation. Her husband, John and their children lived next to Isham. Daughter Emmaline and her husband James Eggleston also lived in Ballsville.

Sarah Jane Ball’s husband, Samuel Drake, died quite young and the Drake family lived with Isham Ball. The Drakes were closely allied with the Taylor family in many ways, including marrying the daughters of Isham Ball. Samuel Drake’s grandmother was Martha Taylor, sister to Robert Taylor. The Drakes and Taylors were neighbors on Bell Road.

I’m reading The Home Place by Robert Drake, great-grandson of Sarah Jane Ball Drake, great-great grandson of Isham Ball and Taylor descendant. This branch of the family moved to Tennessee after the Civil War but never forgot their ties to Ballsville, Virginia. Robert Drake shares his family tales and memories with great style and charm. Look for the 1998 version on Amazon.

Thank you great-great-great-great grandfather Isham Ball for this interesting will and legacy. I’m glad I found you and your seven daughters.

 

 

 

 

 

The Final Will of Isham Ball

I adore old wills. Discovering the will of an ancestor is better than Christmas Day and my birthday rolled up together. Wills provide a glimpse into the life of an ancestor, revealing loved ones and familial relationships, property, and even family rifts. Sometimes what isn’t in a will is important too. All of this and more can be found in the will of my 4th great-grandfather Isham Ball.

7 daughters isham ball_edited-1In his will Ball mentions five daughters: Sarah Drake, Emaline Eggleston, Amanda Spears, Harriett Ogilby, and Martha Taylor. He specifies that Amanda and Martha are deceased, and names his Spear grandchildren.

Powhatan County marriage records show two more daughters, Susan H. Ball who married Archer M. Stratton in 1825 and Ann who married William Netherland in 1817. There’s a Netherland in the will but no mention of Susan or any Stratton grandchildren creating a little mystery for the family historian. What happened to Susan?

Why doesn’t Isham want son-in-law Peter Ogilvy or granddaughter Elizabeth Taylor’s husband, Joseph, to control their inheritance?

Ball implies trust in the judgement of sons-in-law John Spears and James Eggleston, making them executors of his estate. He does not mention the husbands of Martha Taylor or Sarah Drake. Why?

Ball does not treat all his daughters and grandchildren equally, giving some a share of his land and others only a share of what remains. Why?

I’ll take a look at these questions in a future post. For now, read my transcription of the last will and testament of Isham Ball. Does it raise any questions for you? Any sense of Ball’s personality? Share them in comments!


In the name of God Amen! I Isham Ball of the County of Powhatan being of sound mind and memory do make and ordain this to be my last Will and Testament in manner and form following.

In the first place I direct that all my just debts be paid.

Item. I give and devise to my daughters Sarah Drake and Emaline Eggleston and my grandchildren John W. Spears, Susan J. Spears, Willie B. Spears and Clara S. Spears my tract of land on which I reside in the County of Powhatan to be divided into three parts between them. One third to my daughter Sarah, one third to my daughter Emaline and the other third to my said grandchildren. And I direct that their third shall be laid off adjoining the land of their father John Spears- the said land to be divided so as to make each share equal in value. All of which I give and devise to my said daughters and grandchildren in fee simple to them and their heirs forever.

Item. All the balance of my estate of every kind, I direct shall be equally divided between my children living at my death and the descendants of such of my children as may be dead, the descendants of any deceased child or children taking the share in which their parent or parents would be entitled if living.

And I do hereby direct that in the division of my slaves an old negro woman Polly shall be included in the share of my grandchildren John W. Spears, Susan J. Spears, Willie B. Spears, and Clara S. Spears, children of my deceased daughter Amanda Spears, on account of their great attachment to the said old negro Polly.

The Share of my daughter, Harriett Ogilby, wife of Peter F. Ogilby under this item, I do hereby direct shall be held in Trust by Wm C. Netherland of Powhatan County for the use and benefit of my said daughter Harriett during her life and that of her children in such manner that the said Peter F. Ogilby shall have no control over the property or the profits thereof in any way whatsoever. The ___ and profits of the share of my daughter Harriett to be applied to the use and benefit of herself and children during her life, and at her death all of the said property and profits then remaining shall be equally divided between the children of my said daughter Harriett then living and the descendants of any such child or children as may be dead, and descendants taking the share of their deceased parent.

If any of the children of my deceased daughter Martha Taylor shall die under age or unmarried I direct that the share of such child or children so dieing shall go to the survivors of said children and the portion which my granddaughter Elizabeth Taylor, wife of Jos. S. Taylor, may be entitled to under this item, I do hereby direct shall be held in trust by Wm. D. Taylor for the use and benefit of the said Elizabeth Taylor and her children during her natural life and at her death the same shall be equally divided between her children then living and the descendants of any who may be dead. It being my intention that the said Jos. S. Taylor shall have no control over the share of my said granddaughter Elizabeth Taylor.

In the division of my Estate under this Item, I direct that the advancements made to my said daughters or their husbands shall be accounted for and can be ascertained from my papers. The bonds of Wm. C Netherland which I hold are to be considered as a part of the advancement to him. And I consider that I have advanced to my daughter Harriett Ogilby and her husband money and property to the value of at least Two thousand six hundred and fifteen dollars.

Lastly. I do hereby constitute and appoint my sons –in-law John Spears and James R. Eggleston Executors of this my last Will and Testament and having the utmost confidence in them, I do hereby direct that they shall not be required to give security upon their qualifications as Executors. In Witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and affixed by Seal this 5th day of February 1856.
Isham Ball

Witnesses: R.F. Graves, Josiah Smith, J.W. Bryant

Codicil to the foregoing Will
If either of the children of my deceased daughter Amanda Spears, should die under age and without issue I direct that the share of the one so surviving shall go to the survivors of said children. And I direct that the bonds of John Spears and James R. Eggleston which I hold shall be considered as advancement to them or their wives. Witness my hand and Seal this 5th day of Feby. 1856.

Isham Ball
Witnesses: R.F. Graves, Josiah Smith, J.W. Bryant

At a Court held for Powhatan County at the Courthouse thereof on Monday the 1st day of October 1860. The foregoing last Will and Testament of Isham Ball deceased was presented in Court with the Codicil thereto annexed and said Will and Codicil were proved in due form by the Oaths of R.F. Graves and J.W. Bryant two of the subscribing Witnesses to the same and ordered to be recorded. And on the motion of John Spears and James R. Eggleston the Executors named in the said Will who made oath thereto according to law and entered into and acknowledged separate bonds in the penalty of Ninety Six thousand dollars each without Security (the Will so directing) conditioned as the law directs, a certificate granted them for obtaining a probate of the said Will in due form.
Teste
R.F. Graves


This will is from Powhatan County Will Book 15, pages 467 and 468. Vanessa Crews transcribed the document and added paragraphs and punctuation for clarity.