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Ball, Elisha (c1839 -1908) & Childs, Sarah Elizabeth (c1849 - 1936). NEW WORLD & BACK

Elisha Ball is one of the those Ringstead inhabitants whose life cautions us not to think that all the villagers were born, lived and died in one small corner of Northamptonshire. It is by following the Censuses through the years, that we begin to discover a little of the truth about his years away from everything and everyone that he had grown up with and come to expect.

He was baptised in Ringstead Parish Church on 12 September 1841. Often a baptism is a good indication of a birth date but in this case he was baptised in a, not uncommon, 'job lot' together with his brothers, James, Thomas and Samuel so we must look elsewhere for a more accurate estimate of his coming into the small village world.

Elisha’s parents were Daniel Ball, a shepherd and his wife Phoebe. Unfortunately I have not been able to find Daniel’s baptism but I believe that he was the brother of John Ball who was killed when a wall fell on him during a fire at Denford in 1821. Daniel married Phoebe (or Phebe as she is sometimes called) Whittering, who came from nearby Denford, on August 7th 1817. The couple then had children on a very regular basis with some 11 baptisms, and one burial, in the eighteen years up to 1836. It was perhaps the large number of children that meant that some had to fly further from the nest.

In the1841 Census. Elisha is two years old and living in Ringstead with his parents, and his siblings, John, James, Thomas and Samuel. Already the older children, George, Elizabeth, Anne, Sarah and Daniel have left home. By 1851 another child, Elizabeth, aged 8 is shown as a daughter but it seems odd that a second child should be named Elizabeth while the first is still alive. I can find no baptism for her although there is an Elizabeth baptised on 11 September 1842 the daughter of John Ball and Sarah Smith. Elisha is eleven years old and at this comparatively advanced age still a scholar

In the 1861 Census Elisha is 21 years old, still living with his parents and there is also a granddaughter, Elizabeth aged 18, so it appears that the girl we met in 1841 was not a late daughter of Phoebe after all. But whose daughter was she? We have discovered that she is the illegitimate daughter of Anne born  before her marriage to George Mayes. In the 1861 Census, Daniel, the father is 71 years old but still a shepherd but Elisha is a humble agricultural labourer. All the rest of the family have left home. (See their separate biographies)

Farming was constantly going through difficult years with the New World imports causing falling grain prices. In 1841 the common land around Ringstead, had been enclosed, as had already happened in the neighbouring Parishes, destituting many cottager families. The better wages in the towns were also attracting the young labourers and throughout Victoria’s reign there was a rapid drift away from the countryside into the new industrial towns and cities..

Elisha also had personal reasons for changing his life. His father, Daniel aged 73 was buried on 20th April 1863 and a few months later Elisha had married Elizabeth (or sometimes Sarah Elizabeth) Childs. His mother Phoebe also died at the good age of 79 years in 1868. Perhaps these events, together with his uncertain prospects caused him to make the great leap into the unknown. At first all we know is that Elisha and his new wife disappear from the Ringstead Censuses and parish registers.

Elisha does not appear in the 1871 and 1881 Censuses and it is only in 1891 that he suddenly reappears and some of the mystery of the missing years is solved. The1891 Census finds the family in Carlow Street in Ringstead with their children Ida and Samuel. It is only when we scan along the Census sheet to the children’s places of birth that we realise that something quite momentous has happened. Samuel, aged 20 is a shoemaker and was born in New York State, United States. Ida aged 12 was born in Upper Canada. The world is changing and even in small villages like Ringstead people are seeking their fortunes far from home, although it seems that Elisha did not find his.

Perhaps we also ought to record that Ringstead had had, from the very start people, who left its tight little community and ventured into the unknown. William Tuttle was born on 26 December 1607 in Ringstead and, on a ship called the “Planter”, he and his family, including three children also born in Ringstead reached Boston, America in April 1635. They settled in Connecticut and never returned. If you google 'Ringstead' you will find people from the New World tracing their ancestors back to this small Northamptonshire village.

Shoemakers have always been known for their radical tendencies and to 'infect' the communities in which they worked, so perhaps it was the democracy of the New World that beckoned. It is more likely that it was the same cause that drove village people into the slums of London and other big cities; the poverty and uncertainty of being an agricultural labourer in the Victorian period.

With Elisha, there is one more factor that we have discovered since we first wrote his and Sarah's story. Three of his older siblings had emigrated iin 1852 and two of them, Daniel and Sarah (Nobles), had remained in New York State. One imagines that Elisha and his family may have stayed with one of them when he first arrivedin this vast unknown country

We now have to find out where the family had been in those missing years by looking at the American Census for the 3rd Ward of the City of Elmira in the County of Chemung in the State of New York. There we find Elisha Ball aged 30 born in England with his wife Sarah E., 26, and children, George, 7 and Samuel 3. George was born in England before they left but Samuel was born in New York State. Elisha seems to be a C Laborer (or could it be General Laborer). I wonder when the Americans started dropping their “u’s”. The ages do not quite match up but this is not unusual and this is undoubtedly our family.

Elmira Map (1860)

(click on map to enlarge)


Postcard of Elmira City in Nineteenth Century


Early Elmira Photo from Stereoscopic View
Submitted by (the late) Norma Jenkins 

Elisha’s neighbours are mainly from New York or New Jersey with a few born in Ireland. Of the forty people on their Census page only Elisha, Sarah and George are born in England. There are labourers like Elisha but also painters and carpenters and a stone mason. George, who is seven years old, is shown as having attended school that year.

Mark Twain, who wrote many of his most famous books in Quarry Farm, overlooking the Chemung River valley, was often seen roaming the streets of Elmira looking for a billiards game or someone to chat to. Did the Balls stroll, unaware, past Elmira’s most famous resident? Perhaps, they even passed the time of day.

Elmira City itself was a fast growing settlement. In the Hamilton Childs Gazetteer and Business Directory for Chemung and Schuler Counties for 1868 it tells us that Elmira City had four banks, two daily and two weekly papers, a book and printing office, 12 churches, a synagogue, a female college and a water cure establishment. It also had a number of public schools It had changed its name from Newtown in 1828 and by 1870 there was a population of 20,538 the vast majority of whom lived in framed houses.

Chemung County was still mainly rural with a vast range of crops and animal products from honey and maple syrup to corn, wool and from wheat, barley and oats to milk and butter and cheese. It also grew tobacco and made wine and cider. The county also had 346 factories including 32 saw mills, 17 flouring mills, 13 copper shops, 26 carriage and wagon manufacturers, 9 tanneries and 4 boot and shoe establishments and 4 woollen factories. There was also a rolling mill in Elmira.

It must have been a shock to Elisha and Elizabeth after Ringstead. At the moment we can only speculate as to why Elisha and his family ended up in Elmira which is some distance from the coast. It was a railway centre so perhaps this was the reason. It is also possible that he knew someone from the Ringstead area who had moved there, perhaps in the boot and shoe industry. It may be that it was always just a stopping off point, a place to gain funds and become acclimatised before the next part of their journey to a new life.

Whatever the reason, by 1881 we find that Elisha and his family have left the United States and he is now described as a 'farmer' in Southampton, Bruce North, Ontario (Upper Canada).This is a journey of some four hundred miles, not a huge distance by American standards but we do not know how he and his family made the journey. Did they travel overland to Buffalo and then by boat through the Great Lakes to Bruce or was it all by land, perhaps via the railroad which had been built to Southampton in 1872.? We can only guess. The Census records that both Ida (now aged 2) and Samuel were both born in Ontario but one would expect the 1891 English Census to be right. Why would Elisha bother to give two birth places for his children if it was not correct? His eldest son, George who was born in England just before they left and is now 16 years old is also recorded as a farmer.

The Bruce Peninsular was a territory controlled until the middle of the nineteenth century by the Saugeen Ojibway Nations which included the Chippewas who had defeated the Iroquois. Like many other Native American tribes they were pushed into signing away their land rights to the Peninsular in the period from 1836 onwards. The lands were divided up by the Indian Department and sold, with the interest from the sale going to the local tribes. The Saugeen Peninsula was ceded in 1854 with the “Indians” retaining certain Reservation areas. The Chippewas believed that the white men would look after their lands. Settlers then poured in, attracted by the rich fisheries and the lush forests, both of which were destroyed over the next 70 years.

It may be that Elisha was granted a piece of land and set up a homestead there with his family. The Canadian County Atlas Project only records two E. Balls, one in 1876 in Norwich South in the County of Oxford, and one in 1878 in Clarke in the County of Durham. It seems unlikely that either is Elisha because the Gazetteer and Directory of Bruce County published in 1880 has Elisha in the village of Southampton as a “labourer”. This lists over 200 people and as it only gives heads of families unless a person also held land it must have had some 800 inhabitants. Certainly the 1881 Census records 1,141 people in the village. (Ringstead had some 950 people in it at this time).

We see included in the list, “laborers”, fishermen, (and a fish inspector), farmers machinists, carpenters, coopers, tailors, teamsters; brakesmen, a station master and track inspector; a harbour master and agent for the Inman ocean steamers, a customs officer; a crown land agent, a postmaster, a meteorological station manager and a barrister; a brickmaker, a miller a printer, a weaver, butchers, confectioners, a grocer, two hoteliers, a cabinet maker and photographer. It also lists the land that people own. Elisha has none. It may be this was before he managed to acquire some but possibly he came too late to stake his claim.

Southampton had originally been called Saugeen and in 1848 the Crown Lands Department decided to lay out a town at the head of the Saugeen River. It was surveyed in 1851 and by the end of the year it was a small village of some dozen or more families. A storm on Lake Huron sunk the supply ship and it was a difficult first winter in the cold with the heavy snow falls of an Ontario winter. Nevertheless it grew rapidly and by 1871 it had a school and churches as well as banks and shops. The real pioneer days were over and land was not available as once it had been

Under the advert for “Strong’s Lung Syrup which cures lung diseases”, D. Cascaden advertises as an agent for the “North-West Transportation Co. and the Inman and White Star Line of Ocean Steamships”. He states that “intending Emigrants for the North-West will find it advantageous to write for information which will be cheerfully given”. Already the movement is further away from the well established states into the newer, unclaimed areas. Certainly the Northampton Mercury was still continually advertising the opportunities for free farms in Western Canada in the early 1900s.

 Northampton Mercury 10th March 1905

Whatever the truth, for some reason it did not work out for the Ball family. Perhaps they were homesick for Ringstead or perhaps they could not make a living and they struggled in poverty away from their friends and family. Farming was not easy in Bruce County and it was in logging and fishing that people mainly made good money. It would be interesting to know when Elisha and his family left Southampton because on November 4th 1886, fanned by high winds, a disastrous fire broke out which destroyed fifty buildings and left over thirty families homeless. There was a collection made to help the victims but, for Elisha, was this the end of his dream?

We know that by 1891 they were back in Ringstead and Elisha is a farm labourer, Samuel is a shoemaker and Ida is a scholar. There is also a niece, Elizabeth Sykes aged 9, living with them who is the daughter of Rachel (nee Ball) and the great granddaughter of John, Elisha’s father. It seems almost certain that Daniel and John were brothers as we thought

One wonders how the family got home and how they told their friends and neighbours of their experiences of the strange peoples and places that they had encountered. Did they bring postcards back of the places they had been? Did they have their own photographs taken before they left Southampton by Thomas Davis, cabinet maker and photographer? Perhaps life seemed a little humdrum after that.

By 1901 the whole family, including George, are now living in 6 Barritt’s Yard in Ringstead. Elisha and George are “Ordinary Farm Labourers”, Samuel is a shoemaker and Ida a boot closer. There are also two boarders, William Wyman and Henry French. Henry, at twenty-four, was two years older than Ida. He was a Railway Bridge labourer, born in Paulerspury near Towcester, who moved to Blisworth as a young child. Ringstead was on the railway line from Blisworth to Peterborough. Obviously the stranger appealed to Ida and they were married within weeks of the Census.

Elisha died aged 72 (?)on 3 September 1908, possibly after being struck by lightning and his son, Samuel died just two years later on 6th April 1910. Sarah Elizabeth, Elisha's wife, has been somewhat overlooked in this account. It is often dificult to find details of women's lives through official documents. Luckily her great granddaughter Rachel Henderson was told a little about her by her father. She was known as "Air Granny" and, by his account, she was one of those women that people send for in time of trouble. One can surmise that her time in Canada would have increased her natural hardiness and resilience. I will set down the tragic story, which is one example of how Sarah had to show this resilience, in Rachel's own words.

It wasn't until I was in my forties that [my father] told me of one instance [of being sent for in a time of trouble]. It was during WW1, that there was a man in Ringstead whose wife had recently died, leaving him with two small boys and a baby girl. In the midst of all this trouble, his call-up papers came. I think that at that time Ringstead was a singularly hard place to live; people were very poor, and the 'local gentry', such as they were, obviously were indifferent to his plight (he would have qualified for exemption). The night before his departure, his daughter was being looked after by relatives. He waited until his sons were asleep before cutting their throats and then his own. (All this is quite true!) Dad accompanied his granny to the house where she helped to wash the bodies and lay them out before taking the sheets home to launder.

Sarah Elizabeth too was struck by lighning in 1910 but like many women who have had hard lives she lived to a good age and was 85 when she died, on 2nd February 1936. She and Elisha are buried in Ringstead Cemetery although I have not found a headstone.

The connection with Canada was not entirely lost because Henry French also went to work in Canada although it is not thought that Ida went with him. They also called their daughter Veve, a French name perhaps recalling Ida’s birth in Ontario. Could it have been a hidden pun? Long live the French!



Ringstead, Northamptonshire, England

1841, 1851, 1861, 1891, 1901, Censuses (via

Ringstead BMD (Northampton Record Office)

Northampton Mercury 10th March 1905 (Northampton Library) Canada advertisement

Elmira City, New York State, USA (including digitalised text of book: History of Tompkins, Schuyler,   Chemung, Tioga 1879 Chapters 35 & 46)

 1870 USA Federal Census (via

 Southampton, Bruce County, Canada which has digitalised versions of

Gazetteer and Directory of Bruce County (published 1880)

The History of the County of Bruce: and of the minor municipalities therein, province of Ontario, Canada by Norman Robertson (Bruce County Historical Society)

1881 Canadian Census for Southampton, Bruce North, Ontario (via

 Rachel Henderson, granddaughter of Henry and Ida French (by e-mail

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