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.