Our African Ancestor’s sacrifices will matter!
Only when we have economic and political power!
Life in Slavery
Charles Ball was born as a slave in the same county around 1781. He was about four years old, when his owner died. To settle the debts, his mother, several brothers and sisters and he himself were sold to different buyers. His first childhood memory recorded in the book is his being brutally separated from his mother by her buyer: “Young as I was, the horrors of that day sank deeply into my heart, and even at this time, though half a century has elapsed, the terrors of the scene return with painful vividness upon my memory.”
By way of inheritance, sale and even as a result of a lawsuit, he is passed on to various slaveholders. From January 1, 1798 to January 1, 1800 he is hired out to serve as a cook on the frigate USS Congress. In 1800, he marries Judah. In 1805, when his eldest son is 4 years old, he is sold to a South Carolinian cotton planter, thus separated from his wife and children who had to remain in Maryland.
In September 1806, he is given as a present to the newly wedded daughter of his owner and has to relocate to Georgia to a new plantation. Shortly afterwards, after the sudden death of the new husband, the new plantation, together with the slaves, including him, is rent out to yet another slaveholder, with whom he builds up a relationship of mutual trust. He becomes the headman on the new plantation, but suffers from the hatred of his master’s wife. In 1809, when his dying master is already too weak to interfere, he is cruelly whipped by that woman and her brother. After that, he plans his escape, which he puts into practice after his master’s death. Travelling by night to avoid the patrols, using the stars and his obviously excellent memory for orientation, suffering terribly from hunger and cold, not daring to speak to anybody, he returns to his wife and children in early 1810.
War of 1812 Chesapeake Flotilla service
Charles Ball also served in the U.S. Navy during the War of 1812. In 1813, Ball had enlisted in Commodore Joshua Barney‘s Chesapeake Bay Flotilla and fought at the Battle of Bladensburg on August 24, 1814. An excerpt from his account of the battle, which was a resounding defeat for the Americans:
“I stood at my gun, until the Commodore was shot down, when he ordered us to retreat, as I was told by the officer who commanded our gun. If the militia regiments, that lay upon our right and left, could have been brought to charge the British, in close fight, as they crossed the bridge, we should have killed or taken the whole of them in a short time; but the militia ran like sheep chased by dogs.”
According to Ball’s autobiography, his grandfather was a man from a noble African family who was enslaved and brought to Calvert County, Maryland around 1730.
The 1837 edition dedicates three pages (Pages 22–24) to the description of his religion as the old man explained it to his young grandson. This description has some similarities with Islam, but there are also differences, so it is not clear, if his grandfather was Muslim or not. Other Africans whose religion Ball mentions, are explicitly called “Mohamedans” (p. 165).
The precepts of that religion are contained in a book a copy of which is kept in each house, implying that the grandfather’s African society had a high degree of literacy, whereas Charles Ball is illiterate. This may be worth mentioning because contemporary apologetics of slavery often claimed that Africans had been “civilized” by slavery.
Charles Ball’s narrative: Fifty Years in Chains