Calvert County African Americans and the War of 1812

In the history of the War of 1812, Calvert County is most famous for Barney’s Flotilla and the Battles of St. Jerome Creek and St. Leonard’s Creek.  However, the shift of activity to the Patuxent and Calvert County had special meaning for one Flotilla sailor and provided avenues to freedom for many enslaved persons in the county.  

Charles Ball [1] 

Painting of Charles Ball during the War of 1812. Credit: National Park ServiceCharles Ball was born around 1781.   His grandfather, having been taken from African around 1730 and enslaved, resided in the St. Leonard area near the Mauel family.  Charles father, enslaved by the Hantz family, also lived close to Charles, his mother and siblings.  Ball was the third generation in his family to be enslaved in Calvert County and witnessed many of the cruelties of slavery when he was just a child.  After the death of his owner around 1785, when Ball was only four years old, his mother was sold to a Georgia slave trader and his siblings to other purchasers.  Shortly afterwards, Charles grandfather overheard that Hantz planned on accusing Charles Ball’s father of theft, enabling his sale to out of state buyers.   In response, Ball’s father fled the Hantz plantation.  John (Jack) Cox, a local, purchased Charles who remained near Lower Marlboro.

John Cox’ father took control of his properties, including Charles, when John died in 1793.  Until the age of 20, Ball labored for the senior Cox.   Around 1802, Cox hired Charles out for a year to the Navy Yard in Washington D.C.  On his return, Ball resided with a Mr. Gibson as his ownership was litigated.  Levin Ballard. filed suit claiming to have purchased him from John Cox.  Ballard won the case and enslaved Charles for three years.   During this time, Charles married Judah, a woman enslaved on the nearby Symmes plantation.  In 1805, Ballard sold Charles to a Georgia slave trader.  The traders marched Charles, along with 31 other men and 19 women to South Carolina, the women bound in ropes and the men bound in padlocked chains.  In Columbia South Carolina, Charles was one of fifty enslaved persons sold at a special, Fourth of July, auction.  First enslaved on a large plantation with 260 others, in less than a year Charles owner gave him to his daughter as a wedding present forcing his relocation to the Georgia frontier.  

After six years, Ball escaped and returned to Calvert.  He reunited with Judah and hired himself out as a free man.  After war broke out in 1812, Ball enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was assigned to Barney’s Flotilla.  It has been estimated that 10 to 20 percent of persons serving in the Navy during the War of 1812 were African American.  Ball served at the Battles of St. Leonard Creek and Bladensburg.   At the latter, Ball remained to fight until Commodore Barney fell injured and the militia fled according to his autobiography.  

The Navy discharged Ball in 1814.  However, his wife died shortly thereafter.  Ball remarried and moved to Baltimore where he purchased land.  In 1830, the brothers of his last mistress in Georgia tracked Ball down and kidnapped him, returning him to enslavement in Georgia.  However, less than a year later, he stowed away in a cotton boat and successfully ran away to Pennsylvania.  Little is known of Ball after this.  Still legally considered a slave, Ball could have been forced back into slavery under fugitive slave laws.  Accordingly, he likely sought the safety of anonymity. 

[1] It is important to note that some of the names, including that of Charles Ball, were changed when he told his story in order to protect those still enslaved and himself from re-enslavement.


Paths to Freedom – The Lower Marlboro 14

Numerous other enslaved African Americans used the presence of British ground and naval forces to escape to freedom.  Aware of the region’s reliance on enslaved labor, the British offered freedom to any enslaved person who joined their military and their relocation to other British controlled land, primarily to the Canadian Maritime Provinces and Trinidad in the West Indies.  For the British, this enhanced their numbers and disrupted the local economy and social order.  There may have been a psychological aspect as well with persons returning under arms to their former places of enslavement.

It has been estimated that between 550 and 700 African Americans from the Chesapeake region were assigned by the British to the Colonial Marines, a special unit composed of the formerly enslaved.  Despite segregated training at a base on Tangier Island, the Colonial Marines received identical training, pay, and equipment as their white Royal Marine counterparts.  The Colonial Marines saw action at the Battle of Bladensburg, Baltimore, and Fort McHenry.  

After the war, the third battalion of Colonial Marines, approximately 700 men, and their families resettled in Trinidad, along the southern coast. The government provided nearly all the essentials for their first year.  During that time, these formerly enslaved persons formed communities.   However, they did not receive formal title to their land until 1847.  The last people to settle these communities consisted of refugees who originally relocated to Nova Scotia, arriving in Trinidad in 1821. Descendants of the formerly enslaved African Americans remain on Trinidad to this day, known in the local patois as, “Merikens.”

Photograph of Gabriel Hall Aged Approximately 92 years. Credit: Nova Scotia ArchivesApproximately 4000 enslaved African Americans from the Chesapeake found freedom by fleeing to the British military, 273 from Calvert County.  One such individual was Charles Stewart. Ironically, Levin W. Ballard, son of the Levin Ballard who had enslaved Charles Ball, also owned Stewart. On June 16, 1814, Steward decided to run away to the British ships anchored off Lower Marlboro.  However, Stewart wanted to bring his wife, Sarah, and five daughters, Betty; Eliza; Juliet; Jane; and Rebecca, all owned by Levin Ballard’s mother, Elizabeth.   Twelve of the persons enslaved by Elizabeth Ballard gained their freedom that evening.  

After the war, the Ballards and several other slaveowners sought compensation from the British for the escaped slaves. Elizabeth Ballard received over $3500 for lost property. Testimony provided to support their claims provides some of the best, and only, information about those who ran away to the British.  For many, all that is known is a name and nothing about their life before or after escape.  More is known for some, such as Gabriel Hall.  Hall ran away from Walter Wells’ plantation with two others, Jane or Jenny Stewart and Aaron Contee as well as Tom Sewell or Morgan, owned by James Duke.  Only 13 at the time, Hall relocated to Halifax, Nova Scotia.  When he arrived, Hall was too young to take advantage of lands being offered to the formerly enslaved.  At the age of 21, Hall petitioned for 25 acres. Hall married a woman named Lucinda and the family settled into the community of Preston.  Gabriel Hall is the only known War of 1812 African American refugee resettled to Halifax to have been photographed.  


Ball, Charles
1837 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.  1999 electronic version.  University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  Available at   

National Archives of Trinidad and Tobago
2015  The Story of the Merikens in Trinidad. Available at

National Park Service
2021 Charles Ball. Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, Star Spangled Banner National Historic Trail. United States Department of the Interior. Washington D.C. Available at  

National Park Service
2021 Colonial Marines. Star Spangled Banner National Historic Trail. United States Department of the Interior. Washington D.C. Available at    

Percoco, James A.
2022 The British Corps of Colonial Marines: African Americans Fight for their Freedom. American Battlefield Trust. Washington D.C. Available at