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Prince George's County African Americans known to have served in the War
Frederick HallIn the Spring of 1814 the slave Frederick Hall ran away from Benjamin Oden of Bellefields in Prince George’s County. On April 14, Frederick, alias William Williams, enlisted as a private in the 38th U.S. Infantry. Federal law prohibited the enlistment of slaves in the army. But, for whatever reason, he received his bounty of $50 and was paid a private’s wage of $8 per month. During the summer of 1814, he served during the Battle of St. Leonard’s Creek, when the British navy engaged the U.S. Chesapeake Flotilla and later at the Battle of Bladensburg. In early September 1814, he was at the U.S. Infantry’s encampment on Hampstead Hill in Baltimore. At Fort McHenry, he was stationed in the ditch surrounding the fort with orders to repel any attempted landing by the enemy. Records indicate that Williams was severely wounded having “his leg blown off by a cannon ball.” He was taken to the garrison hospital at Fort McHenry where he died. His final resting place remains unknown.
After the war in 1833-34, Mr. Oden petitioned the government for Williams land bounty, but since Williams was a slave, and “therefore, inasmuch as a slave cannot possess or acquire title to real estate by the laws of the land, in his own right, no right can be set up by the master as his representative.” Mr. Oden’s claim was therefore dismissed.
Charles BallCharles Ball was born in Calvert County around 1781. In 1805, he was sold to a Georgia trader and spent several years working on plantations in the south. Seven years later, Ball made an arduous escape back to Maryland.
Declaring himself a free man, Ball worked for local farmers until war broke out in the Chesapeake. In December 1813, Ball enlisted under Commodore Joshua Barney and served as a seaman and cook for the Chesapeake Flotilla. He was present during the scuttling of the flotilla and manned the cannon to the left of Barney during the Battle of Bladensburg.
“I stood at my gun, until the Commodore was shot down, when he ordered us to retreat, as I was told by the officer who commanded our gun. If the militia regiments, that lay upon our right and left, could have been brought to charge the British, in close fight, as they crossed the bridge, we should have killed or taken the whole of them in a short time; but the militia ran like sheep chased by dogs” - Charles Ball, describing a scene during the Battle of Bladensburg (from Slavery in the United States, New York: Published by John S. Taylor, 1837. p. 468.)
Ball served with at least two other black men in Barney’s flotilla: Gabriel Roulson and Caesar Wentworth. Ball was discharged in the fall of 1814 and behaved as a free man, though he was still subject to fugitive slave laws.