A Short Story on the Website of
the Red Dirt Writers Society

Mary Ball Grows Up
by Gordon Eskridge (Aug 2010)


         My name is Mary Ball and in my mother’s Will she requested that at the time of her death that I was to live with Caption George Eskridge’s family. I was thirteen years old at the time and Sarah Eskridge was my best friend. I lived with Uncle George and his family since March 17of the year 1721.

         One my early adventures I helped catch the thieves who were stealing Uncle George’s cows. The three sailors turned thieves had jumped ship in Portsmouth were taken before the Judge by the County Sheriff Augustine Washington. The prisoners were found guilty. The Judge was going to sentence them to a road gang, but, Uncle George convinced the Judge that three able bodied sea men could be put to better use in the British Navy, and Uncle George convinced the Navy that if he gave them the three experienced seamen, then the Navy could take his son Samuel on as a Second Lieutenant.

         The Captain of HMS York Town said, “Yes, that could be arranged. Sergeant! Take the prisoners out and put them into the brig until after we sail.” “I, I” the Sergeant responded,” Ok! You three move along,”he ordered. The Captain then added “Samuel you must furnish your own uniforms and equipment.” Samuel said, “YES! Sir, Thank you, Sir.” and as Uncle George and Samuel left the Captain’s room Samuel jumped up and down saying, “Yes! Yes! Yes! And when he quit jumping around, he hugged his father and said, “Thank you, father.”By the end of June, Samuel had joined the ranks of the British Navy. William, George’s oldest son worked in his office learning to become a lawyer.

         The next Sunday, Sarah Eskridge found herself a young man, Willoughby Newton, from Fluvanna, Virginia. The church had a potluck dinner and pie auction after the church services. Every family brought enough food for their family and a little more. They shared it with everyone else in a communal meal. The proceeds of the pie auction were used to help pay for the repair of the church roof.

         The entertaining part of the auction was to keep the maker of the pie a secret, and the winner of the auction of that pie was able to eat the pie with the person who cooked it. Hints as to who made the pie was often found in the wrapping of the pie’s cover. Ribbons wrapping up the pie might match the ribbons in the cook’s hair or the color of her dress.

         Sometimes the other men would bid up the price as they watched the stress it brought on the buyer while he was checking his pockets for more money and the cook who was ringing her hands. Willoughby finally won the auction for Sarah’s pie and at his heavy sigh of relief everyone had a good laugh. Willoughby and Sarah sat in the shade of the tree and enjoy what would be the first of many meals they would share.

         Sarah, her ten year old brother Daniel, and I enjoyed camping in the woods just north of the house. Margret, Sarah’s younger sister did not enjoy the woods; she said that she would rather stay in the house and read or play house with young Elizabeth who was three. Sarah and I had built a lean-to and sometimes we spent the night out there in the woods. It was often cooler out there at night than in the house during the summer. At our place in the woods, George Jr., Sarah’s older brother, helped us clear the land for our “Homestead.” With the help of Jake the mule he drug some logs together to form the outline of our cabin. Then Jr. showed us how to break ground by using a plow pulled by Jake the mule so that we could plant our own garden.

         I asked, Sarah, “What would you like to plant in our garden?” And she said, “We should plant some vegetables and a cash crop.” “That sounds like a good idea,” I responded. “How about carrots, onions, radishes, and some green beans?” and tobacco for our cash crop,” she asked. Daniel said, “I can get the seeds and tobacco sprouts from Jr. while you get some water from the creek.” I said, “That sounds like a plan.”

         Tobacco was one of the main crops grown for money in Virginia. We had watched Jr. and his field hands planting their tobacco sprouts. Jr. said that we should get the ashes from the ash pile from behind the house and mix it with the soil to make the plants grow better. He also stated that we make sure that we planted them at least two feet apart and three feet between rows. The tobacco plants will grow to be two to six feet wide and they will need lots of water.   

         Sarah and I got pails from the barn and walked to the creek, filled them with water, and then we carried them to the field. “I am glad that it is not far to the creek from our field; this water is heavy,” panted Sarah as sweat ran down both her cheeks. Then she wiped it off with her handkerchief. “I could not agree more,” as sweat ran into my eyes and I wiped it away with the back of my hand. “You know that pool in the creek just west of where we got the water looks like a great place to cool off,” I said with a wink. “Yea,” she said and winked back. By the time we got back to our farm Daniel had brought the vegetable seeds and tobacco sprouts from Junior’s storage bins. We then staked out the rows, marked them with little signs and planted then watered the seeds and sprouts. “Clang, clang, bang” was the sound coming from the house. The dinner triangle had been rung so we hurried back to the house. 

         Daniel liked to explore the woods and the beach along the river. He often brought his treasures to our pretend cabin to show us, before he took them home to show his mother or Uncle George. At noon on Wednesday, Sarah and I had just set down under our lean-to in the shade to eat the sandwiches we had packed for lunch when Daniel walked into our farm’s clearing with a sack of something he had found that morning.

         “Daniel, here we are over here,” I said. “You are just in time for lunch,” as we divided up the food and poured cool clear well water from our pail into the wooden cups. Daniel opened his bag and took out his treasures and placed them on the blanket we used for a table. “I found these Clam shells and rocks near where the creek empties into the river and we can use them for plates or small shovels,” he said with a smile. “These rocks are so pretty, I might make them into something special for mother,” he said thoughtfully. “They are very pretty and I am sure that mother will like them,” Sarah said. Daniel kept most of his treasures in his room in a box under his bed. Robert used to share his room, but now he was off to school in Scotland.

         Tobacco plants are always thirsty. Sarah and I moaned at the thought of carrying all that water from the creek. Jr. said, “Why don’t you have a cart made and have Robert’s pony haul the water to the field?” “I am sure that Mr. Washington could help you build one,” he said with a wink. That is all it took for me to say, “Yes, we will do it. That sounds like a great idea.”

         Anything I could use for an excuse to see “Augustine” was good enough for me. I was going to marry him when I grew up (the fact that he was already married would not deter me in the least). Sarah and I drew up plans for the cart and planed to ride over to his blacksmith shop the first chance we got.

          Sarah said, “A pony cart would be a good thing to have around here anytime.” We were selling this idea to mother and the family after dinner, when Aunt Elizabeth said, “It is too far for you girls to ride, so you will wait until Sunday and then you can see him after church”. Uncle George added, “I will finance this project and you can pay me back from the profits of your tobacco sale.” “Oh! All right!” we said in unison with down cast expressions in our voices.

         The next day I told Sarah, “This water from the creek is as heavy to carry as we remembered and Sunday was still several days off.” Sarah said. “It must be up hill both ways.” We hoed the weeds and checked for sphinx moths in the gardens each morning. The sphinx moth in its caterpillar stage is green with white diagonal stripes and has a horn like tail; it would eat up all our profits in no time. Hand picking them off is the safest way to get rid of them. We hauled water in the afternoon and if Daniel was not around, we cooled off in the swimming hole at the creek.

         Sunday finally came and Sarah and I woke up with eager anticipation. Sarah was excited about the new pony cart and I was excited about seeing Augustine Washington again. We hurried down to breakfast where we met the rest of the family. Margaret was just starting to tell the family about a new book that she had just finished reading “Robinson Crusoe.” Richard had sent the book home from Scotland where he was going to school in preparation to become a doctor.

         Margaret said “This is a book with all sorts of adventure; it has pirates, shipwrecks, cannibals, and a story of how a man survives on an island for 28 years with supplies he had salvaged from the wrecked ship. He builds a fort, tames animals, grows crops, and hunts for his food.” “Hey! That sounds great; I want to be just like him,” Daniel exclaimed.

         Aunt Elizabeth said, “First, you have to finish your breakfast and then we will be off to church. Margaret, will you help Daniel read that book when we get back from church?” “Yes, mother I will,” responded Margaret. “And will you show him how to take care of the book?” Elizabeth questioned. “Yes Mother, I will be very glad to,” said Margaret.

         We are off to church very early in the morning. The early morning weather was still cool, the tobacco fields were green, and the assure sky had a few wispy cotton ball like clouds drifting from the west moving with the light breeze towards the river. The Sun was just rising over the trees tops and as we road into its path the early morning sun light was hinting as to just how warm it was going to be that day. The young men and boys were riding their prancing, snorting, horses and ponies with creaking saddles and rattling bits ridding behind the baroque where Uncle George, his wife Elizabeth, young Elizabeth, Daniel, Margaret, Sarah and I rode in our Sunday best.

         The miles pass easily and Margaret continued her story about “Robinson Crusoe”. The book was very new, it was only three years old written by Daniel Defoe in 1719 in England. It is based on the real life adventures of Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish sailor, who went to sea in 1704 and was marooned by his shipmates and then rescued five years later by Woodes Rogers, a famous sea captain. Uncle George added, “This was the first novel written by Defoe who was 60 years old and it is considered to be the first true English novel.”

         Uncle George said “I remember something else about Woodes Rogers. In 1718 with the backing of the Virginia and South Carolina, he conducted anti-pirate campaigns. Rogers pacified the Isle of Nassau and destroyed the pirates, Blackbeard, Stede Bonnet and Richard Worley. That made our merchant ships much safer to travel in the Caribbean Sea.”

          “That was very educational, Father, but just imagine after being alone for twenty years and while walking towards his boat Robinson Crusoe was surprised to find a naked footprint on the sand,” exclaimed Margaret. “Can’t you just feel how he would have felt at that very moment? The only sign of human life he had seen until then had been old abandon cannibal camp sites,” she exclaimed with great excitement.

         As we drove up the road leading to the church building, Sarah waved to her new friend, Willoughby Newton. He raised his hat in salute back to her and with a nod to the family. Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle George nodded in return. As the older folks left the carriage under the porch so that they might enter through the wicket door, they met their friends, shook hands and said hello. The children also said hello to their friends as they entered the church.

         This Sunday was especially important because the Yeocomico church was celebrating its fifteenth anniversary since it had been built. The Minister described the history of the church. “The Yeocomico Episcopal Church stands near the Potomac River and is shaded by trees and protected by a brick wall. The building was made in 1706 of bricks dug and fired a hundred yards from the church and is shaped in the form of a “T” with the alter at the east end of the “T”. There is a Wicket door in the south wall of the church. The Wicket door is very unusual; it is a small door built into a large door. The small door is used for people to enter the church and the larger door is used for moving larger objects into and out of the church.

         The Yeocomico Church is notable among Colonial churches because of the curious roof lines created by a gentle slope that change to a steep slope and in the gables as well, while placement of the porch and windows are also unusual. Built in 1706 almost precisely one hundred years after the settlement at Jamestown, its style of architecture is close to Queen Anne Gothic, simplicity with dignity. Yeocomico is the name of the church and the river that flows into the Potomac which divides Northumberland County from Westmoreland County.”

         After the church service the members often held a social where they shared their food and family news with each other. I was quick to spot Augustine Washington and his family. I tugged on Sarah’s sleeve trying to get her attention off Willoughby Newton at whom Sarah was making calf eyes as she ate her ham and cheese sandwich. “Sarah, let’s go find Mr. Washington and see if he can make our pony cart for us,” I said in a low teeth clenched urgent voice.

         “What? Oh, all right she exclaimed, but let’s get our drawing out of the baroque to show him what we want.” We hurried to the baroque and then to the place under the tree where Mrs. Washington was sitting on a blanket finishing her picnic lunch while her men stood nearby. Mrs. Jane Washington saw the girls approaching and said “Hello! Girls, would you like some fried chicken?” Sarah said, “No thank you, Mrs. Washington, we just ate, but we do have some business with Mr. Washington.”

         “August, Butler, and Lawrence will you come over here? “August, the girls want to talk to you about something,” Jane called out. Butler who was five years old and his little brother, Lawrence, who was three tagged along behind their dad over to where the girls were waiting. Lawrence crawled into Jane’s lap and Butler stood behind his mother with one hand on her shoulder and they all looked at the two girls. Augustine nodded his head touching the brim of his hat toward the girls said, “What can I do for you ladies?” I said with a gush, “Would you build a pony cart for me! Ah! I mean us?” “We have a drawing,” Sarah said as she held it up for Augustine to see. “How much would it cost? And when could it be ready?” I asked. “Well, let’s have a closer look at what you want,” Augustine replied as he reached out and took the picture Sarah was proffering.

         “This is a great drawing. Do you mind if I borrow it to work from?” He asked. “That would be fine.” I replied, with some of my dignity returning and my blush reseeding. “I think that I could have it ready in about a week and at a cost of five pounds. Will that be all right?” he asked. Then in a unified voice we replied, “That would be great!” I said. Then Sarah with her head bowing slightly reached out to shake his hand to seal the deal. “I mean, Thank you sir! That would be fine,” I said and also shaking his hand. Then Sarah and I turned about and giggling as we ran back to where our family was sitting under a tree near the wall. Jane was helped up by Augustine and they hugged quietly laughing together while the boys hung on to them as they watched the girls’ running back to their family.

         I said, “I’ll never wash this hand again,” as I held it out to look at it. My hand seemed somehow to have changed. It looked the same, but maybe it was warmer, maybe even glowing or maybe it was because I felt warm all over. As I hugged myself and turned around and around Daniel was walking by on top of the wall and he said, “Why?” and Sarah said, “She will not wash her hand because it is the one that she shook hands with Mr. Washington.” “Why?” said Daniel. Frustratingly Sarah said “Because he touched her hand and she doesn’t want the feeling to go away.” Daniel said “Why?” “Oh! Never mind you are too young,” Sarah stated.

         The drive home was uneventful and it turned out to be hot but a very lovely day anyway. Uncle George asked, “How did the pony cart request go.” I was in a swoon and said nothing then Sarah nudging me and as I set up straighter answered, “It went very well and the cart should be ready by next Sunday at a cost of only five pounds.” “That is a little high priced for a pony cart exclaimed Uncle George, but Mr. Washington does do good work.”

         Once the pony cart was delivered, the work in our gardens went much easier and the harvest was successful. Soon we were able to pay off Uncle George for his loan on the purchase of the pony cart with our tobacco money. With the money we had left over we bought cloth for two new dresses. I learned a lot on that farm about raising food and tobacco. The pony cart proved to be very useful as a water carrier and after I taught Margaret how to drive it she and young Elizabeth took many excursions in it around the plantation together

The next ten years passed very quickly. I often thought of Samuel as he wrote many letters about his adventures in the American Navy. I helped with the plans for Sarah’s wedding party when she married Willoughby Newton on the 2nd of Apr 1723. She and Willoughby began a family and soon had had 10 children, one boy and nine girls. Sarah and I both helped with George Jr.’s wedding and loved his wife, Hanna Rust. Hanna and George Jr. had three sons and only one daughter. William married Abigail Colbourne in 1726 and they had 4 boys. Richard lived in Whitehaven, England, where he had become a doctor and soon married Jane Biglands. Daniel had moved away to New York and I have not heard from him since. I am sure that Margret and Elizabeth will soon be married.

 Augustine’s first wife died suddenly while he was in England in1729, and he needed someone to run his home and help with his children while he built and managed his new Iron works. That is just what I had been brought up to do. So when he went looking for a new wife, I was there. I was 22 years old and he was 38. We were married two years later in Uncle George Eskridge’s Home at Sandy Point, Virginia on March 6, 1731 with the Reverend Walter Jones officiating.

Augustine and I lived in the house he had built in 1726 on Popes Creek. The house was even larger than Uncle George’s house. Our house had eight fireplaces, six bedrooms, two dining rooms, large living room, parlor, study, library, and nursery.

Augustine had sent his two older sons to his childhood school, Appleby Academy, near Whitehaven, England, Lawrence in 1729 and Butler in1731. Appleby was where both Augustine and his brother John had gone to school when they had lived with their step-father, George Gale, in England.

Augustine was part owner in two iron works one in Virginia and one in Maryland, whose partners were both in England and Maryland. Augustine was also the Justice of the Peace in Westmoreland County, Virginia at the time.

On February 22, 1732 the first son came to our marriage when the Jasmine and Jonquils were just beginning to bloom filling the air with their fragrance. The Sun had come out from behind the clouds and it was about 10:00 in the morning when he arrived with a very serious expression on his face. I remembered my guardian, George Eskridge, with gratitude and love. So we named our son “George” in his honor.

George was christened on 16 April 1732 at Appomattox Church, by the Reverend Roderick McCullock. Mr. Beverly Whiting and Captain Christopher Brooks, godfathers, and Mrs. Mildred Gregory, godmother. One year later 1733 our daughter was born and we named her Elizabeth and in 1734 another boy joined our family and was named Samuel.

1735 Jane Washington, Augustine’s daughter from his first marriage, died. We then moved to a six hundred farm to be closer to Augustine’s Iron works in Virginia. The land at Pope’s Creek was worn out from growing Tobacco on it. In 1736 our next son, John Augustine arrived and in 1738 Charles was born to complete this side of Augustine’s family. In 1738 Augustine went back to England and brought Lawrence home from school. When George was eleven years old my beloved Augustine died in April of 1743 and I never married again.

         My children and I with some farm hands lived and worked the six hundred acre farm called the Ferry Farm until 1772 when my son George purchased me a home on Charles Street in Fredericksburg, Virginia. I had a good life and brought up five strong children and I still missed Augustine. In 1789, our oldest son, George Washington became the first Constitutional President of the United States.

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