Portrait courtesy of Find-A-Grave
Tucked away in a small cemetery in the churchyard of the historic Falls Church in Falls Church, Virginia lay the remains of Mottrom Dulany Ball, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Confederate Army who made his name, politically speaking, in the Alaska Territory. A U.S. Collector of Customs for Sitka and District Attorney for that Territory, Ball very nearly became the Alaska Territory's first delegate to Congress, but saw his hopes dashed when his election failed to be recognized by the house elections committee . The following write-up is of particular importance, as Ball is the first Alaskan political figure to warrant a profile here. I was also lucky enough to locate and photograph his family's plot in the aforementioned churchyard. Some photos from that trip will conclude his article here!
The eldest of seven children born to Col. Spencer Mottrom (1801-1859) and Mary (Dulany) Ball, Mottrom Dulany Ball was born on June 23, 1835 in Fairfax County, Virginia. A distinguished resident of Fairfax County himself, Col. Spencer Mottrom Ball served several terms as that county's representative in the Virginia House of Delegates. Mottrom Dulany Ball gained his unusual name due to Mottrom being the name of his paternal grandfather (Dr. Mottrom Ball) and Dulany being his mother's maiden name. While the name "Mottrom" is inscribed on his headstone (and is to be found in many other places online) the name is not without spelling inconsistencies, as it is recorded as both "Mottrone" and "Mottram". Still more sources record him simply as "M.D. Ball".
Young Mottrom would attend school in Alexandria, Virginia and after graduating from the Episcopalian High School in that city enrolled at the College of William and Mary. He earned a Master of Arts degree from that college in 1854 and for a time taught school until the dawn of the Civil War. Ball married in October 186o to Sallie Lewis Wright (1839-1923), with whom he had several children, including the following: Mary Stuart (born 1861), William Dulany (1863-1866), Sallie (born 1866), Mottrom Corbin (born 1868), Caroline Linton (born 1869) and Francis Mallory (1876-1968).
Casting his lot with the Confederacy, Ball entered into service in April 1861 when he raised a cavalry unit (Ball's Fairfax Cavalry) and was soon ordered to Alexandria. Within a short period he was captured with other members of his unit by Union troops and was later confined to the U.S.S. Powhatan, then located at the U.S. Naval Yard. After several weeks of imprisonment (during which Ball and his men were treated respectfully by their captors), Ball signed his loyalty oath and was released in June 1861. Despite his vowing not to take up arms, Ball's home at Fairfax Court House was later subjected to vandalism and looting by Union troops shortly before the first Battle of Manassas.
Portrait from the "History of the Laurel Brigade", 1907.
Ball would later serve as a volunteer aide and scout during the Battles of Manassas and Yorktown (those occurring in 1861 and 1862). He would be promoted to Major of the Eleventh Virginia Cavalry and was wounded at least twice during his service, and following injuries sustained at the Battle of Tom's River was kept out of action until February 1865.
By the close of the hostilities Ball had attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Returning to Alexandria at the conclusion of his service, he began law studies at William and Mary College and received his degree in July 1867. Ball's practice extended for several years, and in early 1872 he entered into newspaper publishing, buying an interest in the Alexandria based Standard and Sentinel, which, after its purchase by Ball and a partner, underwent a name change to the Virginia Sentinel.
Ball would continue to be connected with the aforementioned newspaper well into the late 1870s and also switched political faiths following the election of President Grant in 1868. Now an active supporter of Republican principles and reconstruction, Ball took to the stump for Republican presidential candidate Rutherford Hayes in 1876. Following his election as President, Hayes appointed Ball as U.S. Collector of Customs for Sitka, Alaska in 1878 and by July of that year had removed to the Alaska Territory to begin his duties. Ball's time as Collector in the years 1878-79 saw him as the highest ranking federal government official in the territory (as he was an agent of the U.S. Treasury Department), and as such is recorded as having been a governor of that territory.
Joined by his family in Sitka, Ball's tenure as Collector of Customs extended until 1881, when he left that post due to his not being reappointed by newly elected President James Garfield. Despite this, bigger things were in store for Ball, and in 1881 he served as an organizer and member of the Alaska Territorial Convention held in Harrisburg (now Juneau). As a territory without a territorial government, the "Department of Alaska" had been overseen by the U.S. Army until 1877 and the Treasury and Naval Departments from 1877-1884. The 1881 territorial convention later resulted in a special write-in election that September that would decide the territory's "unofficial delegate" to the U.S. House of Representatives, and after the votes were tallied Ball was the man selected!
Following this election Ball journeyed to Washington, D.C. to present his credentials as an elected delegate. Much to his dismay, his election wasn't recognized by the congressional committee on elections and ultimately was denied a seat in the house. While Ball's tenure in congress ended before it even began, the house did allocate money to pay his expenses for his trip to the Capitol.
Mottrom D. Ball remained in Washington, D.C. for a short period and continued to lobby hard for a further government recognition for Alaska. Ball lived to see the Alaska Organic Act of 1884 passed, which provided the territory with a Governor, District Judge, District Attorney, U.S. Marshal and other offices. In July 1885 he was appointed by then President Cleveland as U.S. District for the Alaska Territory and served in that capacity until his death in 1887.
Ball's last weeks were marred by impaired health and in early September 1887 left Alaska with his family on board the S.S. Ancon, hoping to reach California to restore his health. He died "on the voyage between Wrangel and Tsongas" on September 13, 1887, and is the first political figure profiled here to have died while at sea. Ball's remains were later transported to the Falls Church Cemetery in Falls Church, Virginia, where both his mother and father were interred.
On April 28, 2017 I was able to locate and photograph the resting place of Mottrom D. Ball at the Falls Church, a place of historical significance. Established in 1732, this Episcopal church could count George Washington and George Mason as two former vestrymen, and a 1769 brick meeting house on the property is considered one of the oldest existing church buildings in the United States. Interred next to Mottrom is his widow Sallie, who survived her husband by over three decades.