Barkham residents will be familiar with the long-standing tradition that Colonel William Ball of Millenbeck (c.1615-1680), the first Virginian ancestor and grandfather of George Washington's mother, Mary Ball, was descended from the Ball family which lived in Barkham in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. This has never been substantiated, however. 'Colonel' William emigrated from England to Virginia with his family at some time during the later 1650s and the early 1660s.
Various historians have tried to trace the English ancestry of George Washington's mother, but without much success in identifying the genealogical 'missing link'. A major contributory factor is that families bearing the name 'Ball' were numerous and widespread in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, rather like 'Smith' today. The net result, unfortunately, has been the dissemination of a considerable body of misinformation.
The Rev.d P.H. Ditchfield, Rector of Barkham 1886-1930, included an essay on the subject in his collection of essays, 'Out of the Ivory Palaces', published in 1911. Ditchfield, who was an eminent historian, enthusiastically subscribed to the story that the ancestors of Mary Ball lived at Barkham in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, "when as lords of the ancient manor they ruled as long ago as A.D. 1480".
"Barkham can boast of many noble and illustriou sons, and its manor has been held by powerful and important families, but the true greatness of our little village rests on the fact that here lived, four centuries ago, the ancestors of the gracious lady, the heroic mother of George Washington, who gave to America her independence."
The reputed father of Colonel William was William Ball of Lincoln's Inn, who was born at Wokingham around 1601-03. He recorded the family pedigree before the Heralds' Visitation of London in 1634. The family tree begins with the death of William Ball of Barkham in 1480, followed by the death of his son, Robert Ball of Barkham in 1543 (1546 according to the parish registers). The family, who were yeomen farmers or husbandmen, subsequently moved to Wokingham.
William Ball of Lincoln's Inn married Alice Waltham at St Gregory by St Paul in 1627 and became one of the four Attorneys of the Court of the Exchequer of Pleas. In 1633 he bought Lock's Farm in Wokingham for £685. He was an active supporter of the Parliamentary cause, becoming MP for Abingdon in January 1646 but he fell ill and died in late 1647.
Tradition has it that 'Colonel' William was born around 1615, and married Hannah Atherold of Burgh, Suffolk in London in 1638. If so, William Ball of Lincoln's Inn, the reputed father of Colonel William Ball of Millenbeck, was no more than 14, and perhaps only 12, when 'Colonel' William is said to have been born in 1615. In the absence of any record of William Ball of Lincoln's Inn marrying before 1627, 'Colonel' William could have been no older than ten when he is reputed to have married Hannah Atherold in 1638, if William Ball of Lincoln's Inn was his father.
There is no surviving record of the birth of any of the children of William Ball of Lincoln's Inn, but his will in 1647 mentions four daughters and two sons, neither called William. It transpires that there was, in fact, an elder son called William. The evidence is to be found in a 1641 deed of appointment of new Wokingham almshouse trustees, who include William Ball of Wokingham, gentleman, and William Ball, "sonne and heir apparant" of William Ball.
At variance with the tradition that William, son of William Ball of Lincoln's Inn, went to Virginia in the 1650s to found a new dynasty, surviving hearth tax returns, a subsequent trust deed, parish registers and Trinity College, Oxford records provide strong evidence that son William continued to live in the locality until at least 1687.
Joseph Ball II's researches
Mary Ball's elder half-brother, Joseph Ball II (1689-1760), was very interested in his family history. He spent much of his adult life in England, marrying here and becoming a barrister. In 1743 he left Virginia permanently to live in England, and pursued his genealogical researches throughout the 1740s.
Joseph Ball II's quest to discover his family origins in England led in 1750 to a kinswoman called Mrs Johnson, who coincidentally was living at Wokingham. It seems that Mrs Johnson had in her possession a portrait and a pair of gloves, reputedly of an uncle of Colonel William. At the same time as he was in contact with Mrs Johnson, Joseph Ball II asked the vicar of Wokingham to enquire whether the Balls were ever lords of the manor of Barkham.
It is clear from Joseph Ball II's letter book (now at the Library of Congress) that he felt there was a connection between the Virginia Balls and the Balls of Barkham, although with what degree of conviction is not known. Amongst the surviving family papers is a certified copy by the College of Arms dated 1748 of the pedigree recorded by William Ball of Lincoln's Inn in 1634, including a drawing of the arms of the Balls of Barkham (see below). The genealogical chart was most probably commissioned by Joseph Ball II.
When William Ball of Lincoln's Inn recorded his pedigree before the Heralds in 1634, he recorded his arms as four galtraps, with a crest in the form of a larger galtrap. (A galtrap is a small iron ball with four projecting spikes which was used in mediæval warfare to injure the hooves of advancing horses.)
The arms claimed by the Virginia Balls, on the other hand, feature a lion passant on the shield, with three silver stars on a black horizontal band across the top and a crest with a demi-lion rampant holding a globe. The shield matches the shield recorded by the Rev.d Richard Ball (1570-1631), son of Lawrence Ball of Northampton, at the College of Arms in 1613, while the crest matches the crest granted to him the same year. The shield also matches that of the Rev.d Robert Ball of Lichfield (1551-1613), who may have been a kinsman, whose shield appears amongst the stained glass arms of benefactors in the Hall of New College, Oxford.
Had there been a close connection between the Balls of Barkham and Wokingham and the Virginia Balls, one would have expected to find the arms of William Ball of Lincoln's Inn, or some close approximation to them, being used by the Virginia branch of the family. Instead, the arms used by the Virginia Balls (including the crest) match the entirely different arms of the Rev.d Richard Ball of Northampton. Joseph Ball II must have been well aware of the discrepancy.
Lordship of Barkham
Although not mentioned in the pedigree recorded before the Heralds in 1634, subsequent Virginia Ball family trees invariably refer to William Ball of Barkham, who is said to have died in 1480, as lord of the manor. This misinformation is most likely attributable to Joseph Ball II.
There is no foundation at all for this claim. The Bullocks, lords of the manor of Arborfield, also became lords of the manor of Barkham from the 1330s, when Gilbert Bullock married Agnes de Neville, heiress of the manor of Barkham, until 1589, when the bankrupt Thomas Bullock sold the two manors to Edmond Standen, one of the Clerks of the Petty Bag of the Court of Chancery, for £4,000, as recounted in Chapter 7 of 'Barkham - A History'.
The ownership of the lordships during this period by the Bullock family is well documented. The lord of the manor of Barkham in 1480 was Robert Bullock. All the surviving evidence indicates that the Ball family who lived at Barkham during the sixteenth century was a well-to-do yeoman family.
The stories which have grown-up about the connection between George Washington's mother's family and Barkham also incorrectly assume that the manor house has always been located on the present Barkham Manor site, whereas in mediæval and Tudor times the manor house was located on a moated site adjacent to the parish church, and was known as Barkham Court (or the farm of Barkham). See Chapter 9 of 'Barkham - A History'.
Ditchfield unwittingly describes the mediæval manor house thus: "There is an old farmhouse near the church; it has doubtless seen better days, and has been converted into cottages. An ancient moat encircles it as if some family of distinction once lived there and wished to guard themselves and their possessions from troublesome visitors."
Whilst it would be very satisfying to be able to demonstrate a connection between Barkham and George Washington, on the basis of the genealogical evidence, as well as the heraldic evidence, there is nothing to suggest any link between the Balls of Barkham and the Virginia Balls.
Although the heraldic evidence instead strongly suggests a line of descent from the Balls of Staffordshire, Warwickshire and Northamptonshire, in the absence of any documentary evidence it cannot be excluded that Colonel William Ball of Millenbeck simply unilaterally assumed the arms of his armigerous namesakes.
For a fuller account of Barkham and the George Washington connection, please go to http://maryballwashington.com