Charles Ball was the third generation of an enslaved family in Calvert County, Maryland. In 1805, he was sold to a Georgia trader and spent the next several years working on plantations in the south. Seven years later, Ball made an arduous escape back to Maryland.
Declaring himself a free man, Ball worked for local farmers until war broke out in the Chesapeake. In December 1813, Ball enlisted under Commodore Joshua Barney and served as seaman and cook for the Chesapeake Flotilla. He later helped to sink the flotilla to keep it out of British hands. Soon after, he marched with Barney‘s troops from Benedict to Bladensburg and manned the cannon to the left of Barney until the Commodore was shot down.
“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” - Charles Ball, describing a scene during the Battle of Bladensburg (from Slavery in the United States, New York: Published by John S. Taylor, 1837. p. 468).
Ball served with at least two other black men in Barney’s flotilla: Gabriel Roulson and Caesar Wentworth. During the war, he was one of few black men who did not flee to the promise of freedom with the British. Ironically, perhaps the same white man who sold Ball to a Georgia trader six years earlier may have served on the same side as Ball during the war. Ball was discharged in the fall of 1814 and behaved as a free man, though he was still subject to fugitive slave laws. Black troops loyal to the United States were in constant danger of being apprehended as runaway slaves and often changed their names to avoid capture. Ball may have changed his name.
Excerpt from Grulich, Anne Dowling. “Putting Charles Ball on the Map in Calvert County, Maryland.” (http://www.jefpat.org/BallForJPPMweb2008.pdf) 2008.
Charles Ball’s full narrative, “Slavery in the United States. A Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Charles Ball, a Black Man, Who Lived Forty Years in Maryland, South Carolina and Georgia, as a Slave Under Various Masters, and was One Year in the Navy with Commodore Barney, During the Late War,” (New York: Published by John S. Taylor, 1837) is also available online.
Learn more about African Americans soldiers of the War of 1812.
Bladensburg Waterfront Park
Calvert Marine Museum
Fort McHenry National Monument
Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum
Charles Ball embodies the Maryland War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission's theme of Unity: Marylanders have always been an especially diverse people, who have led the nation when working together for a common purpose. Learn more about the Commission and its mission, goals, and themes.