|The Joseph Ball House|
When John died sometime in the 1850's, the house went back to James' son, James W. Ball. After James W.'s death in 1861, the house went to John's son Reuben, who lived there until his death in 1891. An unknown (to me, at least) F. Hicks is shown on the 1893 map, after which the ownership is unclear. The key to pushing the history back into the 18th Century -- and to figuring out who might have built the house and when -- is Joseph Ball. But to do this, we have to go back a couple generations. I think the easiest way to do this is to go back to the beginning, and work our way up. We'll also see how this house is linked to another historic house just up the road.
The Ball family first came to MCH as early as 1689, when William Ball purchased a 400 acre tract roughly between Limestone Road and Pike Creek. In 1703, his son John purchased a 202 acre tract just to the east of his. About 20 years later, John acquired another 100 acre parcel directly north of these. This last property was the Mermaid Tavern property, which John would sell to his son William (a blacksmith like his father) in 1735. Three years later, William Ball bought another 103 acre parcel from his father, this one southeast of the Mermaid property. This was probably part of the 202 acres purchased in 1703. (This section of a DelDOT report has more detailed information about this timeline.)
|The early history of the Ball Family|
In William's 1747 will, he left land to two of his sons. To John he left "the place I now live on", which was the Mermaid property. And to his son Joseph (1739-1821), he bequeathed "the other place". This "other place" was the 103 acre parcel William bought from his father in 1738. I haven't found anything to prove it conclusively, but I believe that the land Joseph Ball inherited in 1747 (and took possession of when he turned 21) included the land on which this house stands. The next question becomes, "Was the house already there, or did Joseph build it later?"
To me, the wording of William Ball's will suggests that there was already a house on the property by 1747. The document refers to the two tracts of land as, "the two Plantations I have now in Possession". The fact that both are referred to as "Plantations", and that it doesn't specify that only one contains a house, I think implies that both had dwellings on them. If so -- and if I'm right -- then the Joseph Ball House was built by William Ball sometime before 1747, or perhaps even earlier by his father John.
Again, if this theory is correct, Joseph probably took up residency in the house (or built it) around 1760. Later censuses indicate that he continued to live there until his death in 1821. This was not his only land holding, though. In 1772, Joseph bought the Mermaid Tavern property at a Sheriff's sale, which was being sold to fulfill his brother John's debts. Joseph held the Mermaid property until 1801, when he essentially gave it to his son William. Joseph's own house seems to have gone another son, James, after Joseph's passing. James died only two years later, in 1823, and James' widow Isabella is listed in the 1830 census as the head of household in what has to be this house.
This brings us to the final mystery -- Who exactly was the next owner, John Ball? John, if you'll recall from the last post, was the father of John (father of Lewis Heisler Ball) and Reuben Ball. I believe he took over the home after Isabella's 1831 death, and lived there until his own death in the 1850's. But with as much information as there is about the Balls (even if much of it is confusing), I've yet to be able to place John within the family. His wife Ezemy was born in 1790, and I found one reference to his being born the same year. If we assume he's closely related to Joseph, there are two possibilities.
The first, but unlikely, possibility is that he's a very late son of Joseph. However, this would have made his mother Hannah (Bracken) 51 when he was born. The more likely scenario is that John was an early son of James. The family tree above does show that James was married previous to Isabella, to Mary Eaves. My best guess is that John is the son of Mary and James. This is one of those times when I really wish that the early (pre-1850) censuses listed more than just the head of household.
Regardless of exactly where he fit in, John Ball was certainly very close, as he and his son owned the house until late in the 19th Century. Eventually, as happened to most MCH farms, 20th Century development slowly crept in. Now, the home of a member of one of the largest landholding families in the area in the 1700's, and the man who owned the Mermaid Tavern as a secondary property, is stuck on an island in the middle of an apartment parking lot. However, it is amazingly still standing. I don't know what the future is for this little old house, but hopefully I've been able to piece together (and convey not too confusingly) a picture of its past.
Additional Facts and Related Thoughts:
- The reason I know that John Ball was not the son of James and Isabella Ball is, A) James and Isabella were not married until 1797, and B) Runks has an in-depth recounting of the McKnight family, including the children of James and Isabella. John is not listed.