Charles Ball was an enslaved African-American from Maryland, best known for his account as a fugitive, The Life and Adventures of Charles Ball (1837) and having served in the Chesapeake Bay Flotilla of the U.S. Navy under the command of Commodore Joshua Barney in the War of 1812.
Ball was born as a slave in the same county around 1781. He was about four years old when his owner died. To settle the debts of his owner, Ball, his mother, several brothers and sisters were sold to different buyers.
Ball is passed on to various slaveholders. From January 1st, 1798 to January 1st, 1800 he is hired out to serve as a cook on the frigate USS Congress. In 1800, he marries Judah. In 1805, when his eldest son is 4 years old, he is sold to a South Carolinian cotton planter, thus separated from his wife and children who had to remain in Maryland.
In September 1806, Ball was given as a present to the newly wedded daughter of his owner and had to relocate to Georgia to a new plantation. Shortly after the move and the sudden death of his new owner, he along with other slaves are rented out to yet another slaveholder.
Ball builds up a relationship of mutual trust with his new owner. He eventually becomes the headman on the new plantation but suffers from the hatred of his master’s wife. In 1809, when his dying master is already too weak to interfere, he is cruelly whipped by his mistress and her brother. After the horrific beating, Ball plans his escape, which he puts into practice after his master’s death. Traveling by night to avoid the patrols, using the stars and his obvious memory for orientation. During his travel he suffered from extreme hunger and frigid temperatures, not daring to speak to anybody. He returned to his wife and children in the early 1810s.
Charles Ball also served in the U.S. Navy during the War of 1812. In 1813, Ball had enlisted in Commodore Joshua Barney’s Chesapeake Bay Flotilla and fought at the Battle of Bladensburg on August 24, 1814. An excerpt from his account of the battle, which was a resounding defeat for the Americans.
In 1816, his wife Judah died and Ball married a second time to a woman named, Lucy, and was able to buy a small farm from money he had earned and saved. In 1830, he was traced down by the man who whipped him 21 years earlier, kidnapped and again taken to Georgia. He escaped again to learn that Lucy and the children were kidnapped and sold into slavery and his farm was taken by a white man. Because he was legally still a slave, Ball was not able to claim his rights but has to relocate to Pennsylvania where he wrote his 1837 memoir, with the help of the white lawyer Isaac Fisher.