THE MINOT DAILY NEWS
PO Box 1150
Minot. ND 58702

 

Online edition

 

Friday, August 20, 2004

Time: 12:52:21 PM EST

 

Ten-year grave search ends

By ELOISE OGDEN, Regional Editor eogden@ndweb.com

A Minot woman's quest to find the grave of her great-great-great-great-grandfather William Ballenger, a Revolutionary War hero, came to a close with a rededication ceremony at a cemetery in Indiana last month.

Leslie Ballinger Arne and her husband Allen were among more than 100 distant relatives from across the United States who met in Williamsburg, Ind., to honor their ancestor William Ballenger. The Arnes were joined by their daughter Tracey Newgard and her husband Marshall, and their four sons Cody, Casey, Jonah and Jacob, all of Minot, along with Leslie's parents, Lester "Bud" and Eva Ballinger of Englevale, and Leslie's brother Rocky Ballinger of Verona.

The group gathered on July 16 in the Williamsburg Cemetery to rededicate Sgt. Ballenger's (1757-1825) grave site.

"Look all around and see what you started," Leslie said that day, standing near her ancestor's grave with a large group of Ballenger-Ballinger relatives looking on. "We all appreciate what you have done. So many of us expressed a feeling of connection when we walked through these grounds."

Leslie placed a laminated copy of the family lineage on the stone foundation before her dad, brother and other relatives laid William's stone. The Veterans Administration supplied the stone. Before that, William only had a crudely engraved field stone with "W.B. AE68 - 1825" chiseled into it.

The field stone will remain there, Leslie said.

During the ceremony Margaret Jackson Curie, of Sylvania, Ohio, a relative and like Leslie, a genealogist, and her husband Randy told the story of William's life.

Dressed in the attire of the American Revolution era, members of the Indiana State Society of the Sons of the American Revolution Color Guard from Indianapolis gave the musket salute.

Leslie's 81-year-old dad joined in the salute, firing a .72-caliber smooth bore musket muzzleloader belonging to his great-grandfather George Washington Ballinger of Lisbon. George Ballinger was William Ballenger's grandson and had carried the gun during the time of the Civil War, Leslie said. Bud Ballinger, a cannon maker and expert gunsmith, refurbished the musket into top condition.

How the search started

Ten years ago, when Leslie was leaving on a trip, her dad asked her to stop in Richmond, Ind., to look up her great-great-great-grandfather Benjamin Ballinger. Bud Ballinger had heard that George Washington Ballinger of Lisbon, originally came from the Richmond area, which is east of Indianapolis and near the Indiana-Ohio state line.

Leslie found Benjamin Ballenger's tombstone in Williamsburg, a small community about 10 miles northwest of Richmond. She would also learn that George changed the spelling to Ballinger when he came to North Dakota.

A relative told her there was an old, enormous Ballenger mansion built in the 1800s. "All of this sparked an interest in finding Benjamin's father," Leslie said.

Leslie searched the records of Wayne County, Ind., in the Earlham Library in Richmond, where she found William Ballenger's will. The will listed Benjamin and his 11 siblings, she said.

"There were also records of William serving in the Revolutionary War for three years from January 10, 1777, to January 10, 1780, under General George Washington in the 10th Virginia Regiment of the Continental Line Army. Sgt. Ballenger's official Army records states that he shook hands with General Washington after the successful Battle of Stoney Point," Leslie said.

"Ballenger had been part of the Corps of Light Infantry attack force whose members had been hand selected because they were 'good shots, taller than most young men and enterprising,'" Leslie said. "At midnight on July 15, 1779, under the charge of General Anthony Wayne the soldiers surrounded the fort and took it with no sounds, no cries and no shots in about a half an hour. They were armed with fixed bayonets but unarmed muskets so that an accidental shot did not alert British sentries."

"One wonders if Benjamin named his son George Washington Ballenger because of Benjamin's father's encounter with General George Washington," Leslie said.

Leslie continued her search for William Ballenger's burial site, and for more of his descendants. The Arnes returned to Williamsburg in 1999 and met more distant relatives. Leslie also visited the site where the Ballenger mansion once stood near Williamsburg.

Then about a year and a half ago Leslie received an e-mail from Margaret Currie of Sylvania, Ohio. Currie had seen Leslie's entry of her family tree on the Internet. It said her (Leslie's) father is Lester Ellsworth Ballinger. Currie wondered if they could be related because her great-great-grandmother Elizabeth was a Ballenger. As it turned out, Elizabeth and William Ballenger were siblings.

With the help of other Ballenger-Ballinger family members, Margaret and Leslie traced descendants of nine of William Ballenger's 12 children.

On Jan. 1 of this year, Margaret Currie made another visit to the cemetery in Richmond to look for William's grave. "She knew he would be buried out there," Leslie said.

"Margaret discovered the overlooked field stone on January 1st of this year just a few yards from Benjamin's tombstone," Leslie said. "It was a small field stone."

Margaret and her husband, Randy Currie, contacted the war department and a proper stone was approved by the Veterans Administration, Leslie said.

"The date of the ceremony was coincidentally set for July 16 - exactly 225 years after the Battle of Stoney Point," Leslie said.

Leslie and Margaret sent about 200 letters to William's descendants across the country inviting them to the ceremony.

After the past months of exchanging e-mails and making the plans for the rededication ceremony, Leslie and Margaret met for the first time last month at the ceremony, with more than 100 representatives from eight of William's 12 children attending.

The families toured the lands that once belonged to William, his children and grandchildren.The present owner of the land where the mansion stood "treated the group to help themselves to a pile of old homemade bricks from the Ballenger mansion," Leslie said. He also gave Leslie an old oak fireplace front and mantle that came from the mansion.

Now that William's grave has been found, Leslie said she will continue to research for more about William's life and his ancestors.