[This blog post comes from Lea Walker, North Carolina Genealogical Society Intern. The internship is supported by funds bequeathed to the North Carolina Genealogical Society by the estate of the late Frances Holloway Wynne, with supervision provided by Fran Tracy-Walls, Private Manuscripts Archivist in the Special Collections Branch.]
Accounts and Ballances
The Thomas Ballance family operated general stores in Hyde County, North Carolina in the thriving antebellum communities of Middletown and Far Creek. Frequently referred to as Middleton and Fair Creek, the businesses appear to have been active between 1846 and 1851. A new finding aid describes the six account books found in the collection.
Thomas Ballance Sr. (approximately 1798-1853) owned a warehouse and shipping business in Middletown. Records show that he owned the schooner Walter Merchant from about 1845 to 1847. He employed several other schooners as needed. The account books reveal travel to Wilmington, New York, and Charleston, presumably to purchase goods for the two stores and possibly to supply other storekeepers with goods.
When the 1850 Census was taken, Thomas and his wife Dinah Elizabeth Spencer Ballance (approximately 1800-) had seven children. Five of them were blind, including the three oldest sons. William P. Ballance (approximately 1825-), was described as a merchant, while his next youngest brothers, Thomas P. Ballance Jr. (approximately 1827-) and Caleb S. Ballance (approximately 1828-1890) were both listed as clerks. Some of the account books indicate that William had the primary responsibility for the stores under the guidance of his father. Given the clerical occupation of the two brothers, it seems likely that they had some hand in the family businesses as well.
Little is known about these men in their later years. William P. Ballance was described as a retail dealer in the New Bern district about 1865 but seemed to vanish from public record afterwards. Thomas P. Ballance Jr. and Caleb S. Ballance lived and farmed together as adults, according to the 1870 and 1880 Censuses. Caleb was also assessed taxes for distilling cider brandy. In his 1890 will, Caleb left his estate equally to his two surviving nephews. Thomas B. Spencer (1849-1936?) inherited directly, while a trust was established for Thomas D. Davis (1878-1933) until he reached his majority.
At some point, local inhabitants began referring to the Thomas Ballance family as the “blind Ballances,” perhaps to distinguish them from the many other Ballance families living in Hyde County. Today, the sites of their former homes and stores appear on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Lake Landing Historic District. In the late twentieth century, Huron Jefferson Gibbs (1903-1999) and his wife, Mildred Lee Burrus Gibbs (1908-2005) operated the Gibbs-Spencer store in Middletown, noted as a pivotal feature in the National Register nomination. The Gibbs family believed that their store was one of the original Ballance store buildings, which had been moved about a quarter of a mile from its antebellum location. There is some architectural and genealogical evidence to support this claim. The Gibbs family and others continued to refer to this historic building as the “blind Ballance store” throughout the twentieth century.