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This is Grandma Mary’s story, even though Grandpa William is its principal hero. So, let’s set forth what we know of her childhood and youth. Apart from her troubles, it’s not very much: nobody felt a need to document the happy parts of the career of an obscure tailor’s daughter in a New England town only twenty years from its frontier beginnings. She seems not to have undertaken the job herself: we have no evidence that she ever learned to read or write.

We do know that Mary Ball was a daughter and (on both sides) a granddaughter of founding immigrants to Massachusetts. Representing the first generation of English colonists born in America, she seems to have been the third of six children of John and Elizabeth Pierce Ball, born in 1651 in Watertown, Middlesex County, in the Province of Massachusetts. Her paternal grandparents, John and Johanna King Ball, settled further west, in Concord, and seem to have died by the time Mary was little. On her mother’s side, John and Elizabeth Smith Pierce lived in Mary’s home community of Watertown; more on them, very soon. Click here to see a nineteenth-century “Family Memorial” that summarizes what our grandparents’ contemporaries knew about the family.

The Ball household of Watertown never exemplified what our century calls “family values.” It’s very hard, at this remove, to untangle causalities and fix blame, but whoever was at fault, John and Elizabeth Ball seem to have brought out the worst in each other. John was reproved in church for beating his wife. And by 1655, Elizabeth was officially declared violently insane. The family disintegrated,* and before decamping alone for frontier Lancaster, John collaborated with the Selectmen to parcel out the surviving children among nearby relatives. Five-year-old Mary ended up in the Watertown home of John and Elizabeth Pierce, parents of her crazy mother.

Evidence suggests that Mary’s mother may have inherited some of her instability from her own mother, but no record that I’ve seen gives any insight on the eleven years that Mary spent in the grandparental household. Except that John Pierce died in 1661, half-way through those years, leaving Elizabeth Pierce alone to care for young Mary and her older brother John. By the time Widow Grandma Elizabeth died in 1667, Mary had sprouted into an apparently-attractive 16-year-old, and Uncle John was just attaining his majority. Under the circumstances, the Selectmen, apparently with at least the concurrence of the absent father, John Ball, thought it best to place unattached teenager Mary as a servant in the household of the prominent Bacon family of neighboring Woburn.
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