The Mystery Of Ninian Beall's Burial Place Remains Unsolved

by George Magruder Battey


          At a recent dinner party in Washington assembling a group of descendants of Col. Ninian Beall, Maryland pioneer, the question of where he was buried was animatedly discussed. From the conclusions arrived at it would seem that this red-haired giant, who was reputedly six feet seven inches tall, possessed the unusual faculty of occupying several places at once.*

 

*The following quotation is from Sally Somerwell Mackally, Early Days of Washington, p. 48: "In 1783 there were no public burying grounds. Prominent families had private ones adjoining their homes. Ninian Beall's lot was on Gay [N] street [Georgetown]. In recent years this lot has been built upon, and when the foundations were being dug... the body of Ninian Beall was removed. His skeleton was found in perfect preservation, and measured six feet seven inches, and his hair which was very red had retained its natural color." --En.


          The guests had in mind a proposition to erect a monument to the memory of their remarkable Scotch forebear, provided they could definitely locate his sacred dust, and provided further that the spot, once found, should be suitable to such a plan. They recalled that the matter had been mooted for many years, with the same result, and they went home.


          It is with a feeling that Colonel Beall has been scantily recognized by history and will stand further interpretation and appreciation that the writer has taken up his pen.


          Science has prolonged the life of the average man of this day to some 35 years, and in contrast with this limit we note that Colonel Beall lived to 92. In point of years, then, he lived nearly three average lives; and in point of accomplishment and hair-raising adventure (fighting Oliver Cromwell in Scotland and Indians and other troublesome elements in the new country of America) he packed at least six lives into one.


          Colonel Beall never paid any attention to the old Biblical injunction to attain a stretch of three score years and ten, and then shake off this mortal coil. At 70 he had just begun to accumulate momentum. When he turned this familiar corner he was met by various committees who suggested it was time to retire and take things easy. He waved the committees aside, got himself appointed or elected to the Maryland Legislature, continued to fight Indians and put down other unruly elements, rode his spirited horse over his numerous plantations, especially in Prince George County, which in the production of tobacco topped all neighborhoods of the Tobacco Belt.


          As a young man Colonel Beall just couldn't get started. He was born in 1625 at Largs, Fifeshire, Scotland, on the Firth of Forth, near the scene of recent German bombardments. Largs was the native town of Alexander Sclkirk, who, in the Queen Anne age, as marooned on the Island of Juan Fernandez in the South Pacific and thereby furnished Daniel Defoe with the materials for the world-famous romance of "Robinson Crusoe." Ninian Beall was the son of Dr. James Beall (or Bell), of Largs. People married earlier in that day, as they had fewer responsibilities and more money, particularly those who entertained some hope of emigrating to America and populating the broad expanses on this side. Ninian Beall is reliably reported to have married one Elizabeth Gordon in Scotland.


          The matter of coming to America in 1650 when 25 years old was an afterthought. In fact, it was not his thought at all, but Oliver Cromwell's. The thought in that connection was that the rangy young Ninian would add greatly to the Cornwellian manpower needed to produce raw materials in the American Valhalla.


          The idea came into Cromwell's head as the result of spreading his war net for canny Scots at the Battle of Dunbar across the Firth of Forth from Ninian's home. The fatal date was Sept. 3, 1650, of a morning. Cromwell's 12,000 "Ironsides" had fallen back before the 23,000 Scotch under command of David Lesley, and come to a halt at Dunbar, in a valley.


          The Scotch commanded the surrounding hills and passes and could have soon starved the Cromwell force except that dissension broke out in their own camp and led them into a monumental blunder. The sword bearing preachers who had accompanied the Scotch army prevailed upon Lesley to dismiss the Cavaliers from his ranks and to give up the high ground and meet the English on the plain. The battle raged for an hour on equal terms until Cromwell's cavalry, coming up, turned the tide.


          We can assume that as Cavalier or otherwise, Ninian Beall was in the thick of the fight, leading a detachment but powerless to stop the rout of his countrymen, who negotiated those craggy hillsides with the alacrity of billy goats and made tracks for Edinburgh. Ten thousand Scots, including our hero, were captured, and the booty consisted of all the artillery, 15,000 stands of arms, and 200 colors, not to mention the kilties.


          The Tower of London and the jails of England were insufficient to contain such a horde of prisoners, for concentration camps were then unknown. The embarrassment of housing and feeding so many was so great that Cromwell quickly released 3,000, but these did not include the doughty Ninian, who as a staunch supporter of the evanescent and exiled Charles II was considered a "rare specimen."


          The "spoils system" did not start with Andrew Jackson in the early days of the United States. It probably started before Oliver Cromwell. At any rate, Cromwell profited by it or turned it to the account of England. He packed a lot of those Dunbar prisoners off to the Island of Barbados, in the West Indies, on cockleshell sailing ships, to do time. Ninian Beall, of the flint-and-steel makeup, he who had been captured but not conquered, went along.


Barbados was a large island with highly fertile valleys and snug harbors. It was ruled by Governor Searle and his retinue of plantation grandees. Tobacco and cotton were the principal crops, with sugar cane and molasses as the minor items. The grandees were closely allied with the London merchants, who had bought the Dunbar prisoners at public auction and placed upon them the obligation of working five years, seven years or some other number of years to "pay their way out."


          Governor Searle soon had so many captives from Scotland and Ireland that he and his staff proposed to Cromwell the grandiloquent plan of driving the Spanish out of the western world; "and see," exulted the Governor, "our proud little island alone can furnish you 10,000 strong fighting men." Despite the fact that Cromwell adopted the plan, it proved unpopular with the merchants and the grandees, with the result that only 2,000 recruits left the island for the Spanish Main, and the expedition proved a failure for want of adequate support.


          We do not know how Ninian Beall figured in this mixup. We only know he showed up in Calvert County, Maryland, about 1657, with the determination to make a new start in life. Subsequently he was identified with Prince George County, which was cut off Calvert. He may have driven some kind of bargain with Governor Searle, or swam to Florida and footed it to Maryland, for he had heard that in this State the English followers of Sir Walter Raleigh put their faith in excellent smoking tobacco.


          Cromwell meanwhile, must have found some of his Scottish Barbados prisoners in the London ballrooms and ale shops, for he complained to Governor Searle, who meekly replied that if the men were leaving the grandee paradise, it was without his knowledge and consent.


          Cromwell was pocketing a nice wad of money for the English Exchequer in the business of selling captives to the London merchants, and he continued fighting the adherents of Charles II until he had either laid them out or taken them into his bag. Came the final battle of Worcester in the shire which suggests appetizing sauce--a year to the day after Dunbar, that is, Sept. 3, 1651. We mark the date especially because in the is final stand of Charles II, by an odd quirk of fate, Cromwell captured another batch of troublesome men, including one whose son was subsequently to marry into the family of Ninian Beall. Reference is to Alexander Macgregor, a member of the outlawed Highland Clan Gregor which for 150 years resisted the attempt to unite Scotland and England at the expense of those knights of the thistle who held the clan system next to life itself.


          Of the three brothers Macgregor in the Battle of Worcester, James was killed, and Alexander and John were taken prisoner and sent to Barbados, whence they proceeded to Maryland. By this time the two survivors had changed their name to MacGroother, which in time became Magruder. John Magruder died without issue. Alexander Magruder married as his first wife Margaret Braithwaite, daughter of William Braithwaite, Commander of the Isle of Kent, earliest seat of proprietary government in Maryland, member of the first General Assembly of the province, Acting Governor and cousin-german to Cecelius Calvert, second Lord Baltimore. He married secondly Sarah Hawkins, and thirdly, Elizabeth Hawkins. His son, Samuel Magruder I, born 1654 in Prince George County, married Sarah Beall, daughter of Col. Ninian Beall, and they became the ancestors of the numerous and prominent Magruders of Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, Mississippi, and elsewhere.


          At 42 years of age, in 1667, Col. Ninian Beall married secondly 16-year-old Ruth Moore, daughter of Richard Moore, a Calvert County lawyer. The children of this union were numerous and are represented in Maryland by the families of Beall, Brooke, Bowie, Addison, Balch, Mackall, Washington, Johns, Magruder and others. Mr. J. Ninian Beall, Washington business man, has estimated that Col. Ninian Beall left 70,000 descendants, who can probably be found in every State of the Union. Colonel Beall died at "Bacon Hall," Prince George County, Md., 3 miles south of Upper Marlboro, in 1717.


          As an illustration of the way the family tree branched, we may take the State of Georgia, to which Bealls and Magruders repaired from Maryland and Virginia in the great land boom following the Revolutionary War. Ninian Offutt Magruder settled as a planter in Columbus County, Ga., near Augusta, and from him descended Robert Battey, of Rome, physician and surgeon, and numerous progeny. Noble Preston Beall and wife, Justiana Hooper, settled in Franklin County, Ga., and from this union sprang (through Samuel Charles Candler and Martha Bernetta Beall) the remarkable family of Candler of Atlanta, including the late Asa Griggs Candler, of soft drink fame, and his brother, Bishop Warren Aiken Candler, of the Methodist Church, South, and former President of Emory College. On the bench, in business and political life, in science and the pulpit the Candlers, six generations down, have ably upheld the banner of the irrepressible nonagenarian who was the forbear of Maryland Governors Sprigg, Pratt, Lowe and Warfield.


          Indeed, the various other ramifications of this pioneer family have averaged high, and have set a mark for future generations to emulate.


          Some years ago, with symbolical reference to Colonel Beall's "Rock of Dumbarton" estate, on the terrace of the St. John's Episcopal Church in Georgetown was unveiled a bronze tablet, suitably inscribed and superimposed upon a massive stone.


          Writes an enthusiastic red-haired descendant, Mrs. Rufus Lenoir Gwyn, of Lenoir, N.C., to whom we are indebted for the excellent portrait:


"Unless I'm greatly mistaken, Colonel Ninian Beall is buried beneath that stone."

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