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Owen Meredith Ballou
"Pioneer Iron Man"
1766 - 1847

One of the more distinguished ancestors of Grover and Harrison Shepherd was their great grandfather Owen Meredith Ballou. Meredith was an entrepeneur who amassed large land holdings and mineral rights, established the forging of iron in Ashe County, and contributed significantly to the industrialization and development of the County during its earliest formative years.

Meredith Ballou Homeplace
Meredith Ballou Homeplace

This photograph was taken about 1915. The house was located on the New River about 1/4 mile north of the current Crumpler Post Office. It was significantly damaged by the great flood of 1940, and subsequently torn down. At the time, it was owned by Shube V. Alexander, husband of Myrtle Ballou, a great granddaughter of Meredith Ballou. Pictured in front of the house are (l-r): Shube Alexander, wife Myrtle holding son Hoke, Faye Ballou? (Myrtle's sister), and daughter Delphyne. Note: Hoke Alexander died at age two after an ailing vistor departed the home leaving Hoke and Shube Alexander with Scarlet Fever.

Meredith was born September 29, 1766 in the James River Valley of Amherst County, Virginia as the third son of Leonard Ballou and Ms. Boliew (first name unknown).

He was the first of the Virginia Ballous to come to Ashe County. At the time Meredith arrived, Ashe County had not yet been formed. Ashe County was established in 1799. Prior to that, it was part of Wilkes County. Most sources list Meredith Ballou as coming to Ashe County in 1800. This is based on the first Ashe County census of 1800. Eleanor Baker Reeves, a Ballou researcher, author and historian, feels there is “ample evidence that Meredith came some time between 1790 and 1795, the latter date having been the year of his marriage.” [1]

Meredith’s name appears regularly in works concerning early Ashe County history. He served various terms as county surveyor and many times as a member of the County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions.

The following biography of Meredith Ballou appears in An Elaborate History and Genealogy of the Ballous in America by Adin Ballou:

“Merideth Ballou spent his adult life in two several sections of Ashe Co., N.C. He was a man of distinction-wealthy in lands, mines, negroes and all the concomitants of an old fashioned Southern planter-an influential magistrate of his County-and an eminent member of the Regular Baptist denomination. Mrs. Mary, the wife of his youth, a pious Baptist, and the mother of the above named chn., d. June 12, 1831, a. 51 yrs. 1 mo. And 9ds. At the age of 70, Merideth m. his 2d wife, but had no further issue. He d. Mar. 17, 1847, a. 80 yrs. 5 mos. And 18ds. He left a large estate to his chn. He owned, at one time, 10,000 acres of land, rich in mineral ores.” (sic) [2]

Arthur Fletcher in his Ashe County: A History, provides a list of men who were developing all parts of Ashe County in the early days. He pays tribute particularly to Henry Poe, Martin Gambill, Thomas Sutherland, Timothy Perkins, John Cox, Henry Hardin, Canada Richardson, James Douglas, Daniel Dickerson, Elijah Calloway, Meredith Ballou, and Thomas Harbard. [3]

Ballou Homeplace
Ballou Mines

Red dots indicate the location of known mine sites on the former Ballou property in Crumpler, NC. The home located on the right was built by Jerome Uriah Ballou, a grandson of Owen Meredith Ballou who continued the family's mining tradition. The home is now a restaurant and inn known as River House. The Ballous also had many other mining sites in the Walnut Hill Community around Crumpler, NC. These mines were located primarly along the North Fork New River near the mouth of Big Helton Creek. Mines were located on land now owned by Clayborn Weaver, the old Walt Neaves property, the Nick Blackburn property, and others.

Married Mary (Polly )Baker

Meredith Ballou married Mary (Polly) Baker, a local resident of Wilkes County (later Ashe). She was the daughter of Morris Baker, one of the leading men responsible for the formation of the County of Ashe, and the granddaughter of James Baker, the first man to hold title to land in this area.

In regards to early setters of Ashe County, Fletcher said,

“The question, ‘Who came first?’ to Ashe County will probably never be answered to the satisfaction of anybody. Bill Sharpe in his Geography of Ashe notes that Bishop Spangenberg and his explorers were there in 1752, but he also states that history records that Peter Jefferson and his surveying party, engaged in establishing the line between North Carolina and Virginia, were on Pond Mountain in 1749. Sharpe says that so far as his research goes, the first white man to acquire title to land in Ashe County was James Baker, in 1773.” [4]

This makes James Baker a great, great, great grandfather of Grover and Harrison Shepherd. A quick view of this line follows. The direct descendent of the previous generation is in bold:

James Baker
Morris Baker
Mary (Polly) Baker
married Meredith Ballou
John Rice Ballou married Sarah Porter
Sarah Ballou married John Calvin Shepherd
Sons: Grover and Harrison Shepherd

Iron Mine
Iron Mine

Entrance to one of the old iron mines on the former Ballou property in Crumpler, NC.

Acquired Much Land

Meredith Ballou came from a mining family and embarked on Ashe County in search of iron ore. He found outcroppings of iron ore in the areas of the North Fork New River and Big Helton Creek. Meredith built a spacious home on the banks of the North Fork about 1/4 mile north of the current Crumpler Post Office and set about building his fortune. Through state land grants and purchases from individuals, Meredith eventually acquired about 10,000 acres of land in Ashe County. Fletcher includes Meredith Ballou in a list of about 30 men who could be considered “big real estate men” in Ashe County between 1799 and 1820. [5]

Mining and Iron Forging

Aside from his other accomplishments, Meredith’s legacy is in iron. His acquistion of mineral rights, mining, and subsequent forging of iron earned him the designation of “pioneer iron man.”

For about 80 years, the manufacture of iron was an important industry in Ashe, and was one of the cornerstones of the Industrial Revolution. As the county developed, there was great need for iron products such as plows, hoes, wagon wheels, axes, mattocks, scythe-blades, shovels, and other tools and equipment.

Iron Forge
Harbord Forge Site

This is the probable site of the Harbard Bloomery Forge on Helton Creek. It was first operated by William Harbard, and later purchased by Meredith Ballou. This site is known as the "Creek Lot" and is on the lower end of property owned by John Ballou, and later Grover Shepherd.

With Helton Creek as its iron-making center, Ashe County’s six or seven forges turned out sufficient iron for local needs and provided a surplus to ship by wagon to Fayetteville and other points in eastern North Carolina, and to Charleston, South Carolina.

To encourage ironmaking in North Carolina, a legislative act of 1788 offered to everyone who erected a set of ironworks and produced 5,000 pounds of iron, a bounty grant of 3,000 acres of vacant land certified by the county court as unfit for cultivation.

One person to receive such a grant was Daniel Dougherty, who later sold 2,725 of his 3,000-acre grant to Meredith in 1814. Others to receive these grants were Thomas Calloway, a close business associate of Meredith Ballou, and Jesse Ray. Fletcher says,

“That there were similar grants to Meredith Ballou, William Harbard, and others is certain, but the only grant appearing in the County Court records was to Jesse Ray…” [6]
Ballou’s Iron Forges

The first iron forge to operate in Ashe County was the Harbard Bloomery Forge, built about ¼ mile up from the mouth of Big Helton Creek in 1807 by William Harbard. The Harbard Bloomery Forge was sold to Meredith Ballou in 1813. It washed away in 1817.

Meredith Ballou set up his second forge in 1817. It was called “Ballou’s Bloomery Forge”, and was situated 12 miles northeast of Jefferson at the falls of North Fork of the New River. It was washed away by an ice feshet in 1832.

Pasley Iron Forge
Pasley Iron Forge

Photo taken about 1892 in the latter days of operation of the Pasley Iron Forge located near the mouth of Helton Creek just below the site of the Ballou Grist Mill. The man in the photo is suspected to be D.L. Grace. Note that he has a bloom of iron positioned between the large hammer and anvil.

After Meredith’s death in 1847, his son John Rice Ballou (grandfather of brothers Grover and Harrison Shepherd) set up a forge near the mouth of Big Helton Creek in 1848. This forge was reported to have been rebuilt in 1871 by Jefferson Pasley, and later abandoned. The reason this forge had to be rebuilt is not known. It could have also suffered from flood waters, or it could have possibly been destroyed by Union Raiders during the Civil War. The site of this forge would later be the site of Ballou’s Grist Mill.

Ore Knob Copper Mine

Among the many land purchases of Meredith Ballou was about 300 acres that later came to be known as Ore Knob. Meredith was in search of iron, but found that this site “was so badly adulterated with copper that it was useless.”

Meredith and his sons neglected this tract of land and never paid the taxes due. Eventually, the sheriff sold the tract for taxes in 1848. It brought enough to pay the taxes and cost of sale, leaving a balance of $11, which was divided among Meredith's heirs. Later, the Ore Knob Copper Mine was opened and became successful.

Interesting Notes

In James Larkin Ballou Physician and Surgeon, Reeves records some interesting diary entries about Meredith Ballou by Rev. Elisha Mitchell, D.D. bearing the date of July 1828. Dr. Mitchell, for whom Mount Mitchell, the highest point East of the Mississippi is named, spent some time with Meredith Ballou and recorded the following:

“Mounted my horse and rode to the North of Helton ten miles and fording the stream thirty-two times in the distance and then down North Fork to Col. Meredith Ballou’s.”

Pasley Iron Forge
Pasley Iron Forge

Photo also taken about 1892 shows the forge's stone furnace.

“Col. Meredith Ballou, at whose house I put up on Thursday, is of French extraction, a native of Amherst County, Virginia. He owns a forge, is a busy active little man still, though sixty-one years of age and the father of eleven sons and two daughters, but a wife thirteen years younger than himself and looks as if she might bear a number of children more. Between the ages of his oldest and youngest daughters there is a difference of thirty years.”

“He tells me that the first forge in this county was built on Helton Creek a little above where he lives, about twenty years ago by one Harbert. Shortly after another was built a little higher up the same creek, fourteen years ago; that on Little River, four or six years ago.”

“----- After dinner Ballou rode with us two or three miles to see his ore banks, which are numerous and rich. Indeed, I judge the range of greios heretofore spoken of to be full of ore.” [7]


While about the business of building his fortune, Meredith and his wife Mary, also propagated a large family. Their 11 children and grandchildren were: [8]

  1. Tamzon (Tamsy) Ballou, born December 5, 1797; died April 4, 1862; married Edward Weaver (b. Oct. 1, 1791, d. June 18, 1868), abt 1817; Had seven known children:

  2. Rev. James Ballou, born December 12, 1799; died 1863 in Boone, Indiana; married 1st Nancy Lewis abt 1821 ; married 2nd Frances Jones; Had 15 known children by Nancy Lewis:

  3. Rev. Leonard Ballou, born September 16, 1802: died Nov 4, 1870 in Pulaski, Kentucky; married 1st Nancy Gambill, abt 1825; married 2nd Susan Weaver, 1848; Had eight known children by Nancy Gambill:

  4. Jesse Ballou, born May 3, 1804; died November 15, 1816; No known children.

  5. Blake Ballou, born August 27, 1806; died July 26, 1880; married Pacy Urnest, December 24, 1828; Had nine known children:

  6. Baker Ballou, born October 22, 1811; died Dec. 25, 1884; married Lucy Maxwell, December 29, 1831; Had nine known children:

  7. Thomas Ballou, born April 17, 1813; died 1861 in Maryland; married Polly Maxwell abt 1839; Had six known children:

  8. Napoleon Bonaparte Ballou, born February 3, 1817; died Jan. 8, 1897; married 1st Elizabeth "Bettie" Jones (b. April 15, 1812, d. Aug. 2, 1862) August 27, 1840; married 2nd Martha Wallis (b. Nov. 17, 1837, d. Feb. 10, 1917) May 7, 1866. According to family tradition, N.B. Ballou once refused an offer of $50,000.00 (a huge amount in his day) for his holdings.

  9. John Rice Ballou, born August 17, 1819; died November 24, 1908; married Sarah (Sallie) Porter (b. Oct. 7, 1823, d. Feb. 25, 1903), about 1938; Had five known children. For more information on John Rice Ballou and family, see the article John Rice Ballou - A Third Generation Iron Man.

  10. Hugh S. Ballou, born January 7, 1822; died Oct. 30, 1900; married 1st Terresa Smith (b. ca. 1827), December 25, 1845; married 2nd Hannah Owens May 31, 1872.

  11. Ester Ballou,born April 25, 1826; died June 7, 1893; married David Smith abt 1844; Had four known children:

After Death

Mary Baker died June 12, 1831 at the age of 51. Meredith remarried five years later at the age of 70 to his second wife, Nancy, whose last name is not known. There were no children by this marriage. Meredith Ballou died March 17, 1847, at the age of 80 years. He is buried in the Owen Meredith Ballou Family Cemetery in Crumpler, North Carolina. After Meredith Ballou’s death, his children fought over the settlement of his estate in the following years. Napaloean B. Ballou and John R. Ballou continued in Meredith’s footsteps concerning iron minining and forging. (See separate John Ballou article coming soon).

Ashe County Land Purchases by Meredith Ballou

It is reported that Meredith Ballou owned as much as 10,000 acres in Ashe County. A survey of deeds recorded at the Ashe County Court House shows that Meredith Ballou made 41 purchases totaling 10,146 acres. There may have been more land purchases that were not recorded, or that I overlooked.

Apparently, Meredith Ballou received a land grant(s) from the State of North Carolina. However, it appears he did not receive a grant of 3,000 acres for setting up an iron forge. Reeves reports that Meredith received a State Grant, but does not indicate the acreage. Reeves says,

"The first State Grant to Meredith Ballou was for son to be drawn up he is said to have been asked Morris Baker's corner. Morris Baker was his father-in-law. It was entered 28th of November 1826 and registered the 8th of January 1827." (sic) [8]

I have not yet discovered an entry in the Ashe County records for this grant, or any other state grants to Meredith Ballou.

Ashe County Land Purchases
by Meredith Ballou
Grantor Date Acreage Location
John Armstrong March 2, 1807 600 acres Little River Waters on
South Side of Buck Knob
William Snow May 22, 1811 99 acres Helton Creek
William Snow May 22, 1811 50 acres Helton Creek
William Snow May 22, 1811 25 acres South Side of North Fork
New River
William Snow May 22, 1811 100 acres North Fork New River near
Mouth of Old Field Creek
William Snow May 22, 1811 200 acres Ashe County
Levi Pennington March 12, 1812 100 acres North Fork of New River
Levi Pennington March 12, 1812 40 acres North Fork of New River
Levi Pennington March 12, 1812 100 acres Ashe County
Levi Pennington March 12, 1812 25 acres Ashe County
Levi Pennington March 12, 1812 100 acres Shoal Creek
Levi Pennington March 12, 1812 100 acres Jonahtan Smith's Branch
Jesse Ray May 12, 1812 200 acres Horse Creek & North Fork New River
Levi Pennington August 10, 1812 100 acres North Fork of New River
Henry Eller June 15, 1813 150 acres Helton Creek at Mouth of Piney Branch

This 150-acre tract was later
deeded to John R. Ballou by the
Meredith Ballou heirs in 1848.
About 90 acres of this tract has
remained continiously owned by
Meredith Ballou's descendants until 2006.
Currently 51 acres of this tract is still owned
by great, great, great grandsons,
Brodrick and Ryland Shepherd.

Henry Eller July 1, 1813 100 acres Seven Islands in
North Fork New River
William Harbert May 11, 1814 3,000 acres Silas Creek and
North Fork New River
George Bower July 8, 1814 100 acres North Fork New River
George Bower July 8, 1814 100 acres North Fork New River
George Bower July 8, 1814 100 acres North Fork New River
Daniel Daughtery August 9, 1814 2,725 acres North Fork New River
& Big Helton Creek
Daniel Daughtery August 9, 1814 1 acre Iron Works on Helton Creek
Daniel Daughtery August 9, 1814 50 acres Big Helton Creek near
Mouth of Roberts Branch
Samuel Cox September 21, 1815 75 acres North Fork New River
William Pennington & Peter Eller February 6, 1816 100 acres North Fork New River
Micajah Pennington April 29, 1817 20 acres North Fork New River
Luke White December 9, 1817 300 acres Horse Creek
James Lewis December 17, 1817 50 acres North Fork New River
James Lewis December 17, 1817 100 acres North Fork New River
James Lewis December 17, 1817 80 acres Big Old Fields on
North Fork New River
Thomas Calloway February 23, 1818 49 acres West Side of Big Helton
Samuel Cox May 11, 1819 35 acres Big Helton Creek
Levi Pennington September 3, 1820 100 acres South side of North Fork New River
Young Standifer December 1, 1823 241 acres Long Shoal Creek
Jesse Ray January 19, 1829 100 acres West Bank of Horse Creek
Coonrod Smitteel March 15, 1830 100 acres White Rock Branch
James Mulkey November 19, 1831 100 acres Nathans Creek
James & Ann Baker August 29, 1832 300 acres North Fork New River
James Brown October 11, 1832 100 acres Dog Creek
Jesse Ray November 15, 1832 153 acres Sugar Tree Branch
Hiram Baker January 9, 1833 28 acres North Fork New River
near Seivers Mill Branch
Moses Brook and
John King,
February 2, 1839 100 acres Big Piney Creek and
North Fork New River

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  1. Eleanor Baker Reeves, James Larkin Ballou Physician and Surgeon, 1969, page 81. Return
  2. Adin Ballou, An Elaborate History and Genealogy of the Ballous in America, (Proprietary Publishers, 1888), page 1225. Return
  3. Arthur L. Fletcher, Ashe County: A History, (Jefferson NC., Ashe County Research Association, Inc. 1963), page 116. Return
  4. Arthur L. Fletcher, Ashe County: A History, (Jefferson NC., Ashe County Research Association, Inc. 1963), page 39. Return
  5. Arthur L. Fletcher, Ashe County: A History, (Jefferson NC., Ashe County Research Association, Inc. 1963), page 48. Return
  6. Arthur L. Fletcher, Ashe County: A History, (Jefferson NC., Ashe County Research Association, Inc. 1963), page 86. Return
  7. Eleanor Baker Reeves, James Larkin Ballou Physician and Surgeon, 1969, pages 87, 88 Return
  8. Lists comprising the children of Merdith and Mary Ballou list the aforementioned 11 children. Other sources report 13 children, but names of the other two children are not given. Return
  9. Eleanor Baker Reeves, James Larkin Ballou Physician and Surgeon, 1969, page 84. Return