Samuel Ball, man of Substance-Oak Island (1765 – 1846)
World famous Oak Island was open to the public. It was 1973 and for the first time since the treasure hunt began back in 1795, an organized, well received walking tour was being offered by the Nova Scotia Department of Tourism in conjunction with the current treasure hunting syndicate, Triton Alliance Corporation.
With this in mind, I would like to tell you another story of Oak Island. A story not well covered by the learned authors who choose to tell us the story of the treasure hunt. Oak Island has seen a more pastoral history as men, and the women who accompanied them, broke the soil, not to look for buried loot, but to grow crops, raise livestock, fish and eke out an existence in the boreal forests and headlands of Eastern Canada.
Samuel Ball was such a man. His beginnings were not the same as the farmers he shared the soil of Oak Island with. Born in South Carolina in 1765 to a very poor black family, Samuel was at the very brink of a new age for men of his comparison. You see, Samuel was born into a life of misery, a life of no hope for the future but a hard day’s work and a poor ration of food, Samuel’s family were in fact, slaves for the rich landlords of the infamous southern plantations.
Many black men were offered all sorts of promises by the British forces during the American Revolution and none were so promising than the chance for some land and to be free. Adopting the name of his former master, Ball made his way to New York serving with General Henry Clinton and then spent some time Major Ward in the Jersey’s where he served until the end of the war on January 14, 1784 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris. It was also reported that he served some time with Lord Cornwallis after the war. From here, Ball made his way to Shelburne Nova Scotia and lived there for two years. Not being at all happy with his treatment in Shelburne, he then pulled up stakes and moved to Chester where it is reported he lived for 23 years. 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, history of black settlers was not very accurate and often lacked details.
In 1795, Samuel Ball found love in Halifax and married a young woman, Mary, who worked as a domestic for Treasurer Wallace. 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 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 ploughed 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 bee seen on Oak Island to today. Somewhere along the way, his wife Mary was no more, history does not record her passing or reason for the absence from the family. In his will of 1846 he speaks of his wife Catherine.
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 that, “None shall possess 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. I wonder what he thought about it all. I wonder if at the end of another hard day he would sit and watch his children play, drink a cup of tea with Catherine and think of his beloved Mary. I wonder how often he thought about his parents, siblings and friends he left so many miles away.
I think you will agree with me, with all the trials and hardships, it seems he did very well for himself and died a happy, successful man, a free man.
– The Blacks of Nova Scotia by Cherene Naugler
– The will of Samuel Ball, book 1 page 37
– The Oak Island Mystery by Reginald Harris
– History of the County of Lunenburg by Mather Byles Desbrisay