|Born||January 31, 1765 *Looking for exact dates|
South Carolina (Born into slavery)
|Died||December 14, 1845 (aged 80) *Looking for exact birth date|
Oak Island, N.S.
|Spouse(s)||Mary Catherine (Wallace) Ball|
Path to Freedom
- November of 1775, the Governor of Virginia John Murray declared that any slave who joined the British forces and stood against the rebel insurgency would be given his freedom, this was known as "Dunmore's Proclamation". .
- Given the promise of land and his freedom, the teenage Ball fought for the British forces during the Revolution, having joined in his native South Carolina under Lord Cornwallis and then serving under General Clinton in New York. He was finally ordered to Bergen Point in the Jerseys under Major Thomas Ward
- There has been some speculation that Samual Ball was a grenadier, based off an artifact recovered on Oak Island by metal detectorist Gary Drayton, as depicted in the History Channel’s The Curse of Oak Island. The artifact was suggested to be from the butt of a pistol by Drayton and online researchers have speculated that the tag is in fact broken in half, with the full tag having originally read “Samuel Ball, Grenadiers”, having instead perhaps have come from a rifle.
Marriage and Children
- Samuel met his future Wife, Mary a former domestic in the house of Treasurer Michael Wallace of Halifax. Their wedding is recorded in the family bible in 1795. Samuel and Mary were some of the earliest inhabitants of Oak Island and he remained there until his death Dec 14, 1845. Some records list her full name as Mary Catherine Wallace Ball, which coincides with his will that only speaks of Catherine Ball, although this has not been substantiated by legal records
- They had three children, Andrew (1798), Samuel (1801) and Mary (1805) all born in Chester. Among his many friends, he could count on one of the treasure hunters, Anthony_Vaughan who was named as the executor of his will. On Lot 25 on Oak Island, Samuel and his small family built a house and worked the land, they broke it into plowed acreage and raised crops. He also maintained cattle and made a good living on this famous island, cut firewood, and breathed the clear salty air. The foundation of his home can be seen on Oak Island today.
- Post-war, Samuel Ball arrived in Shelburne as part of the three thousand Black Loyalists who were settled in Canada at the end of the war, mostly, like Ball, in Nova Scotia. The black loyalists founded Birchtown next to Shelbourne and the community would be the largest settlement of free black citizens outside of Africa across the entire globe. The black loyalists had to endure long waits for their allocation of land and were granted less than their white counterparts, they also faced heavy discrimination from fellow colonists including those who had brought their slaves from America.
- Just how much wealth that Ball could claim at this point is debatable. A regular soldier would not have had very much in the way of either possessions or finance at this stage of his life, having been paid around two to three pence a week for his service in the British forces, however, Ball’s service with Major Ward and the division of “loot” amongst the entire unit may have allowed him more coin in his pocket than most other veterans of comparative rank. Under Major Ward, everyone who took part in a raid received a share of the spoils, with a smaller share provided to those who had remained at the blockhouse, the same would be done with the profits from the lumber side of the enterprise, with shares going to each man involved in the cutting and collection to the wood, with all shares dependent on rank.
- He bought a piece of land on Oak Island and then was granted 4 acres more at lot number 32. As time went on, he eventually owned around 100 acres of land, and an island called Hook Island along with his farm on Oak Island consisting of around 36 acres.
- The census of 1791 says he was a farmer on Oak Island at that time, but his history does not back this up. If he left the US at the end of the war, 1784, spent two years in Shelburne, twenty-three more years in Chester, he would then have to be living on Oak Island no earlier than 1808 or 1809, ten years or so after the discovery of the famous Money Pit. Unfortunately, the history of black settlers was not very accurate and often lacked details. When he died at home on December 14, 1846 at the age of 81 years, those who knew Samuel Ball could say that he was a “good man”. He left behind a legacy of assistance to others and made provision in his will for them. He had at least one grandson, and was so proud of his adopted surname that in his will he declared, “None shall possess the same (land) unless they take the name Ball”. He was also thought to be Lunenburg County’s only black Loyalist. Those who recorded old memories reported that in his house, one could view silhouettes of he and Mrs. Ball.
- From his developing fields and land, he no doubt watched the frantic digging of the men from the Onslow Company of 1804 but he did not live to see another treasure hunt.
- While there are no direct contemporary accounts for treasure being sought on Oak Island, the first 1856 published account of the tale reports searches in the 1700s and the most common tellings of the tale place the event as the summer of 1795. Three “youths” reportedly see lights on the island and set about investigating, finding a depression in the ground alongside a pulley system fixed to the branch of an overhanging oak tree. These “youths” were by almost all accounts Daniel_McInnis, John Smith, and Anthony_Vaughn, yet some tellings place Samual Ball as the third participant of the venture, not Vaughn, while other more recent examples even state that all four were present.
- It seems likely that Samuel was well acquainted with at least two of the finders of the money pit, appearing to have struck up a friendship with the Vaughn family in particular. Owning lot 5, Vaughn was a neighbor to Ball and he purchased land from the family, even having Anthony_Vaughn as one of the executors of his will. The History of Lunenburg county also recalls that Ball was one of the first people summoned by Daniel_McInnis upon the discovery of the money pit, which is interesting when you also note that McInnis was also in Shelburne at the same time as Ball, purchasing a lot in the town in 1784 and also moving on to Chester where Samuel Ball would also relocate. Had the two men perhaps known each other in Shelburne, Chester and now Oak Island?
- The Truro Company’s J.B. McCully, writing the first account of the tale in the Liverpool Transcript in 1862, makes no mention of Ball’s involvement, yet the 1870 book The History of the County of Lunenburg, Ball is listed as one of the men enlisted by McInnis to aid in the initial excavation efforts at the Money Pit. In later editions, Ball’s name is replaced by that of Vaughn. Was this a simple mistake or the result of false information in one of the cases?
After living in the area for a total of 23 years, Ball petitioned the government for the land promised to former slaves in 1809 and was granted four acres more on Oak Island.
“Your Memoralist has no lands but, what he has purchased, never having got any from government, and there is a four acre lott vacant, No. 32, on Oak Island, joining a lott purchased by your Memoralist.
Your Memoralist therefore prays, Your Excellency well be pleased to grant, or otherwise order him to have said Lott – your Memoralist has but one son living.”
Samual Ball, September 9, 1809
Ball now owned nine lots on the island, namely lots 6, 7, 8, 24, 25, 26, 30, 31, and 32, a total of 36 acres with he and servant Issac Butler worked as a cabbage farm alongside other crops and a selection of cattle, his home being situated on lot 25. In all Ball would own approximately 100 acres of land as well as Hook Island, which he purchased in 1790. The island, a three-acre piece of land not far from Oak Island, was bought from Daniel_Vaughn for the sum of five pounds. Following his death, the island passed to Issac Butler and was eventually sold to Archibald Rafuse in 1884, currently being in private hands and, to all knowledge, having ever undergone an archaeological search. Hook Island is today known as “Sam’s Island.”
However, the sale of the island raises an interesting issue regarding the wealth of Samuel Ball. Many researchers and enthusiasts point to the land accumulation of Ball as evidence of extreme wealth, perhaps looking through 21st-century eyes at the issue. Here we see an entire island exchanging hands for five pounds, which by no means modest at the time, was not inaccessible wealth either and nowhere near the sale price of a private island in the 21st century.
And yet still, even if we also note that four acres were granted to him for his war service and he had been a little better positioned than most ex-soldiers, five pounds on a land purchase was a middle-class income at the least and he was wealthy enough to afford to keep his own manservant, Issac Butler. Rich enough to afford to purchase the highest priced lots in all Lunenburg County, his first in 1787 for the sum of eight pounds, which would have bought him twenty times as much land on the mainland. 1787 by most accounts is well before the discovery of the Money Pit, so what prompted him to make the leap into the extensive unknown? Even if we account for his better than average means thanks to his time with Thomas Ward, there would still seem some question over his financial means and motives.
While he could have purchased land cheaper on the mainland however, as a black man at the turn of the 1800s, Ball might not have found as welcoming a community as the one he had settled into and equally, some mainland sellers may have been unwilling to do business with him. Having reportedly suffered a bad experience during his time in Shelburne, here on Oak Island however, by all accounts, Ball was respected and well liked within the small community. Perhaps feeling that he was amongst friends and family, Oak Island, despite its many trials and tribulations, was a home. But questions still persist as to his reasoning for staying, having endured such hardships in life, would he have allowed sentiment and security to keep him tethered to the island? Or was there some other unknown reason for staying? It is here that we can only enter speculation.
Had McInnis, Vaughn and Smith uncovered the treasure at the first attempt in 1795? Perhaps shared it with Ball who had helped in the excavation? While McInnis was allegedly “swindled” out of what was rightfully his, there has also been a report that around 1925 Lucy Vaughn, a descendant of Anthony Vaughn, was in possession of a trunk from Oak Island which contained no less than 25 heavy bags of gold. What form the gold took was not reported but it appears that in the years following 1795 the Vaughn family became immensely successful in the shipbuilding and lumber industries. Smith meanwhile, like Ball, seems to have acquired a large land portfolio, buying swathes of Oak Island itself alongside parts of Birch Island, the entirety of Frog Island and in conjunction with McInnis’ family Long Island. While all these men’s success could be put down to finding treasure, it is equally possible that both of them, as previously mentioned with Samuel Ball, managed their finances in good order, had some luck and toiled through hand labour for their earnings.
Perhaps interestingly the late Fred Nolan, a 50 year veteran of treasure hunting on Oak Island, is alleged to have found the remains of at least three empty oak chests while digging in the Oak Island swamp in the 1980s over a period of three years, situated in a mere two and half feet of water and preserved thanks to the conditions. Unfortunately there is very little information on the discoveries, with no images or suggestions as to their purpose and certainly no dating.
The purchase of Hook Island is also something that at face value is unusual. Being a farmer, Ball’s acquisition of land in adjacent plots is logical (6, 7 and 8, 24, 25 and 26 and 30, 31 and 32), allowing his farming enterprise to be uninterrupted by borders, yet the possession of Hook Island would seem to stand against this. What Hook Island was utilized for, we can’t be sure, yet the mystery is one that is full of suggestions. Samual Ball’s friendship with the Vaughn family has already been noted, but interestingly it’s Vaughn’s past that might lead some clues as to more illicit activities on Oak Island beyond farming and perhaps Hook Island.
Daniel Vaughn, brother to Anthony Vaughan Sr (One of the original Oak Island inhabitants as the owner of lots 15 and 17) and uncle of Anthony Vaughn some way was a privateer in the employ of the British. In 1793 Daniel sold his own lot on the island and set up a shipbuilding business in St. Martin, the same St. Martin where there were considerable rumors of smuggling, just like in Chester. This alone might not be notable except for the fact that Oak Island had yet more connections to privateering, even excluding Samuel Ball’s on land misadventures with Major Thomas Ward’s Green Coats.
Sources (cited by OakIslandSociety, not verified by OakIslandWiki):
– The Blacks of Nova Scotia by Cherene Naugler
– The will of Samuel Ball, book 1 page 37
- DesBrisay, Mather Byles. History of the county of Lunenburg. Toronto: W. Briggs. p. 301. LCCN 01022095. OCLC 04067460. https://archive.org/stream/historycountylu00desbgoog#page/n323/mode/1up