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

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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.

 

 

 

Isham Ball, A Remarkable Man

Isham Ball (my 4th great-grandfather) was born in Chesterfield County about 1778 during the Revolutionary War. He was the youngest of James and Susannah Ball’s 11 known children. James had been a tavern keeper and when he died in 1781, he was the owner of several successful plantations in Chesterfield County.

isham ball_edited-2Some Southern Balls by Donna Rachal Mills is a wonderful book about the Ball family roots in Virginia. She has recently published a subsequent study proposing that the Ball immigrant ancestor is Henry Ball, who immigrated to Virginia prior to 1661 from the London parishes of St. Bride, Fleet Street, and St. Andrew, Holborn. You can read the study online here. Curiously, this is my favorite area of London – I visit it every trip.

George Washington’s mother was a Ball and many family historians (and residents of Ballsville) try to connect the two Ball families. Ms. Mills definitively asserts there is no evidence to support a familial connection, so please don’t claim George Washington as a member of the family!

Isham married Sally Hendrick, daughter of John Hendrick and Judith Womack, in Chesterfield County on August 13, 1798. John Hendrick ran an ordinary in nearby Cumberland County, so it is not surprising that Isham was operating the Ball Tavern in Powhatan County by 1810. Soon he was the owner of 760 acres near Ballsville in Powhatan County.

Isham and Sally had four daughters, including my 3rd great-grandmother, Martha, wife of Richard A. Taylor. Sally died about 1808 and Isham next married Jane Morris with whom he had three  more daughters.

He must have been well-regarded in the community because his name can be found often in Powhatan County public records where he was appointed as a road surveyor, tavern keeper, jury member and more. I was delighted to see that Isham Ball served as a school board member, as I was a school board member for nine years. He was also the first postmaster of Powhatan County.

The Religious Herald published Isham Ball’s obituary on October 25, 1860. I located a copy at the Virginia Baptist Historical Society at the University of Richmond. I’ve added paragraphs for reading ease.

“Died, in his 82nd year, at his residence, in Powhatan, on the 12th of September, 1860, Mr. Isham Ball. In many respects, the subject of this notice was a remarkable man, and a remarkable Christian. From his temperament he could never be or do anything by halves.

Until past the middle of his life, he was a confirmed infidel. The circumstances of his conversion are deeply interesting. While keeping tavern at Ballsville, a pious lady, who was traveling, spent a Sabbath with him. In searching over the books of the house, for something to read, she found an old dusty volume with which she was greatly delighted. On leaving Monday morning, she obtained from Mr. Ball a reluctant promise that he would read the book that had given her such comfort. This he felt more inclined to do, as he found it was a book that had been left him by his mother. He read it, and the result was that all of his infidelity was swept away; he was awakened to a sense of sinfulness, and was most happily converted.

This book he prized next to his Bible and kept it til his death. The title page had been lost and consequently, the name of the author is not known. It was Mr. Ball’s anxious inquiry of all the ministers to whom he was in the habit of relating his conversion, to learn the name of the writer who had been the means of his salvation. He never learned it on earth. He has met and learned the author’s name, before the divine throne on high.

This was in the year 1822, when Mr. Ball made a profession of religion by being baptized into the fellowship of the Grub Hill church, by Elder E. Baptist. Not long after, he became a member of the Muddy Creek church in Powhatan, of which, till his death, he remained an endeared and useful member.

In all matters pertaining to the church he was uniform and active. He was just such a church member as to be greatly missed now that he is gone. His leading traits as a Christian, were his strong faith and abiding happiness. For years he seemed to have attained this assurance. He was a constant and careful reader of God’s word. Religion was his every day theme. He was always ready to speak of the things of Christ and give a reason for the hope that was in him.

He had the pleasure of knowing before his departure, that all of his children and most of his grand children had embraced the Saviour! who was all his hope and all his desire. A few days before his death, he attended a meeting at which time two of his grand children were converted; one whose baptism he witnessed just before his brief sickness; and the other one was baptized just after his funeral was preached. His end was one of peace.”

 

Powhatan Road Trip: The Ball Tavern

The marriage of Martha Ball and Richard A. Taylor (my 3rd great-grandparents) on March 5, 1825 in Powhatan County, Virginia was surely viewed with great favor by both families. Richard was the only son of Blagrave and Judith Anderson Taylor. His parents had already given him land and slaves, and on their deaths he would inherit all of their property. Martha was one of seven daughters of Isham Ball (my 4th great-grandfather), a prosperous tavernkeeper in Powhatan County and she probably brought a comfortable dowry to the marriage.

Isham Ball’s tavern is documented in the Virginia W.P.A. Historical Inventory project. View the record online at the Library of Virginia. When Louise C. Palmore visited on January 25, 1937 she wrote,

“Typical of the 1700 period. The yard has several huge box-woods and many old garden shrubs. There is a fence around the yard. There is a square Colonial porch in front with nine steps and square columns. Long benches on either side of the porch with slat-like seats. The house from the exterior seems to have from seven to nine rooms; there are at least three or four on the fist floor. There is a dormer upstairs and several front dormer windows. There is a large basement partially above ground with several half size windows. It is a very interesting old place. Isham Ball was the first postmaster and this was the first post office in Powhatan County.”

0181A photograph taken by Elizabeth A. Rust accompanies the report but the pictured dwelling does not match the tavern described in the report- there are no porch, columns or dormer windows. Perhaps this is the back of the tavern, or it could even be of an entirely different dwelling. In most cases, the photographer and report writer are the same, not different as in this case. I could not find a Mutual Assurance record for a Ball property in Powhatan County.

I have not located Isham Ball’s tavern; it was probably torn down years ago. Palmore’s 1937 report located the property in the town of Ballsville on the north side of Route 13. Both the town of Ballsville and Old Ballsville are shown on the 1864 Gilmer map of Powhatan County and the 1880 Laprade map. Take a drive on the Old Buckingham Road (Route 13) between Ballsville and Tobaccoville (formerly Old Ballsville) and enjoy the beautiful countryside named for Isham Ball.

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Detail from 1880 Laprade map of Powhatan County located at the Library of Virginia.