A letter to Captain Alden Partridge at the American Literary, Scientific and Military Academy in Norwich

Charleston 21st July 1823

Sir /
Altho [Mr.?] John Ball has written to you, recommending my three sons. Alwyn, Swinton, & Elias, yet permit an anxious Mother (however unacquainted with you, personally) to solicit in behalf of them also, your kind attention and fatherly care. Be assured the separation is to her a severe trial, and nothing would have induced her to consent to it, but the earnest desire of seeing them well instructed in every useful branch of Education, and fitted to fill up their stations in the Church, and World, to the greatest advantage. She would also beg leave to take the liberty of soliciting in their behalf a little indulgence, as they have not been accustomed to much strict discipline at home, or at School, and she flatters herself, that they will apply themselves to their studies with much diligence, so as to bring considerable honour, and credit, to the Institution at which they have been trained, gain the applause of their instructors and rejoice the heart of their Mother.
Yours with respect
Caroline Taveau

This is the ultimate helicopter parent letter from the past.

Alwyn, Swinton, and Elias Ball were students at Norwich in 1825. They were the sons of John Ball, the owner of five rice plantations. When their father died, 367 men and women were sold at what became one of the largest slave auctions in South Carolina. There were repercussions—rumors of uprisings abounded. Alwyn (16), Swinton (15), and Elias (14) were sent to Alden Partridge’s military academy (which became Norwich University) to learn to become good soldiers because inevitably more revolts would have to be put down. Their older brother instructed in a letter:

Recollect for what purpose you have been sent to Capt Partridge’s academy. That we will stand in need of military men before many years will have rolled over our heads I feel con-fident, for the abolition societies of Europe and of some of our own northern brethren appear very anxious to set our slaves in commotion.

Letter, Collection of Norwich University
Alwyn and Elias Ball


This receipt shows that Alwyn, Swinton, and Elias first lived with John Burton (in what today is Norwich Knits) before joining the Academy. They also ate their meals and had their washing done by Mrs. Burton or her household help while attending the school. Burton later became a staunch abolitionist. This receipt also documents the payment of Norwich bills with money accumulated through the work of enslaved people.



The boys hated Norwich University writing in 1825:

It is almost as bad as slavery here for we cannot go out of the village without being called to account and we have to at-tend four roll calls a day….

They sold their clothes and used the money to return home. One wonders how Caroline Taveau greeted them when they arrived.

Edward Ball, who wrote Slaves in the Family, is a direct descendant. This very short video is about the story of Priscilla who was enslaved by Elias Ball, the boys’ grandfather.

Letter and Financial Record, Collection of Norwich University Archives

Letter narrated by Amy Stringer, Thank You!