Correspondence, business papers, estate and legal papers, plantation journals and diaries, literary compositions, recollections of life on various Ball family properties, and photographic images of individuals, family gatherings, and homes and buildings ranging from daguerreotypes to snapshots have been added to the South Caroliniana Library’s holdings of the Ball and related families whose plantations were located along the banks of the Cooper River in St. John’s Parish, Berkeley District, S.C.
The collection contains approximately two thousand, one hundred fifty-eight loose papers—letters, bills and receipts, literary pieces, and genealogical notes and recollections—ranging in date from 1746 to 1999. Three distinct units comprise the bulk of the correspondence. From 1848 until 1901, Catherine Theus, Jane Shoolbred, and Eliza C. Ball corresponded with Julia Saffery Obear, of Winnsboro, S.C., the wife of the Rev. Josiah Obear. In the 1890s, James Poyas Foster, a salesman with the Charleston, S.C., firm of Edmonds T. Brown, corresponded with his fiancé and later wife, Jane Ball, as he made the rounds of towns from the coast to the sandhills. Correspondents in the 1920s and 1930s include Jane Ball Foster and her daughter Jane, who married Gilbert Alexander Gilchrist, and Mary H. Gibbs Ball and her daughters, Eleanor Ball Combé and Lydia Child Ball. The latter was an organizer of the Plantation Melody Singers in 1925. She wrote a history of the group in 1933, recorded the lyrics of spirituals they collected, and kept a record of performances.
Among the earliest documents in the collection is Henry Laurens’ itinerary, 9 November-9 December 1779, as he traveled from Schuylkill, Pa., to Charleston, S.C., via Mepkin plantation (Berkeley County, S.C.), with a daily record of mileage and expenses. Among the loose papers are bills and receipts for household and plantation supplies, medical bills for the treatment of family and slaves, estate papers, accounts with overseers, tax returns, and sales of rice. Other documents concern the purchase and valuation of slaves and distribution of cloth and provisions. Tax returns, 1798-1809, of Elias Ball III (1752-1810) reveal that his acreage increased from 9,746 to 13, 881 while his labor force grew from 330 to 575.
Information about the family’s holdings of slaves and land is found in the collection’s forty-two volumes. These records span the period from 1783 to the post-Civil War years and include lists of slaves at Pimlico, Hyde Park, Quenby, Cedar Hill, Midway, St. James, Kensington, Belle Isle, Limerick, Jericho, and Halidon Hill plantations; the distribution of cloth, blankets, and provisions; lists of slave children giving birth date, mother’s name, and plantation; post-war labor agreements; sales of land to African Americans; and William J. Ball’s experiment with phosphate mining at Limerick plantation (Berkeley County, S.C.). In 1844 Catharine Gendron Poyas (1810-1882) composed a thirty-one page poem entitled “Limerick; or, Country Life in South Carolina.” Recollections by Lydia Child Ball include “Remeniscences of Plantation Life” and “Limerick Plantation, Part of Old Cypress Barony in South Carolina.”
Mathurin Guerin Gibbs (d. 1849) kept a record of agricultural and family activities at Rice Hope and Jericho plantations. The five volumes which he entitled “Rural Calendar” cover the period 30 July 1838 through 25 August 1846. Trained as a lawyer and classical scholar, Gibbs amassed a large private library which he sold when he and his family departed Charleston for Rice Hope plantation. In his journals Gibbs devoted more space to the flora and fauna of the natural world than he did to his crops, which may explain why he lost Rice Hope and was no more successful at Jericho. At various times Gibbs, his wife, Maria Louisa, and children suffered the effects of fever for long periods. From 3 September to 15 October 1839 the onset of malaria caused Gibbs to forego writing in his journal. When his wife and children were suffering, Gibbs made daily entries on their condition and treatment.
Gibbs paid close attention to patterns of weather. Visiting Rice Hope on 1 August 1838, he “found every thing parched with the intense heat of the sun, and the long absence of rain....The seasons have been very unpropi¬tious for the crops; high winds, floods of rain, and long droughts, have succeeded each other, so as to impair and cripple vegetation.” Gibbs always noted the celebration of Christmas among family and slaves, Washington’s birthday, and the Fourth of July, “a glorious day to the lovers of Liberty, but how has that glow of patriotism been damped by the changes that have taken place in a few years” (4 July 1841).
Describing the beauties of the day on 26 November 1842, Gibbs observed that they would be repeated on the following day—“It is thus with the great works of the Creator. Man alone is an exception. He frets and struts his hour upon the ‘Stage and then is heard no more.’” In the spring, 23 May 1843, he watched the crows building their nests “on the lofty pines over looking the fields, so as to be ready to gather their food,” and described how their rivals, the “mock-birds, fearful of the destruction of their eggs or young, give them battle whenever they approach the trees on which their nests are.”
Gibbs and his family moved from Rice Hope to Jericho in December 1844. He noted their move to Rice Hope seven years earlier, “with high and ardent hopes.” During that time “misfortunes have passed over me; my weak force in hands have rendered me unable to pay for the place, and it has been sold under a foreclosure of the mortgage, and I am again compelled to remove into another parish to seek my fortune anew.”
The Cooper River rice planters were members of the Strawberry Agricultural Society whose activities are recorded in a journal, 5 May 1847-13 April 1859, December 1859, and treasurer’s book, 1847-1859. In addition to the minutes of the meetings, the journal contains reports of agricultural experiments by various members.