The Ringing of the Bells: Part One– An Introduction: Colonel Ninian Beall (1625-1717)

Col. Ninian Beall (1625-1717)

Col. Ninian Beall (1625-1717)

“Did you see the article about Col. Ninian Beall?”

Howard’s voice rang excitedly over the telephone. Puzzled, I frowned before responding–

“Col. Ninian WHO?”

“My ancestor! It’s in the paper on the picture page.”

By now it was early 1964. Howard and I were to be married in the spring. I opened the paper to the picture page and read that Jacqueline Kennedy bought a house once belonging to the Bealls in Washington D.C.  Thereafter, I was regularly fed a steady diet of Bealls and their ancestry to the point of exploding. Making matters worse, these feedings often degenerated into arguments of which side of the family had the better ancestry: the Bealls or the Warfields.

“Warfield!” my mother asked when I mentioned the name. “Is she related to the Duchess of Windsor?”

“Fourth cousin–or something like that,” I answered

Howard’s aunt, Belle Beall (pronounced Bell) of North Carolina did the original research concerning the Bealls and related families. She was married to his uncle, George Beall, my father-in-law Edward Beall’s brother. They had no children, so Belle devoted her life to libraries, court houses, and state archives in search of Beall and related family ancestry. After YEARS of research, she sent the completed packet to family members. As far as I know, Howard’s family’s packet was kept in an attic trunk until the day Mrs. John F. Kennedy’s new residence was announced. And then, I heard nothing BUT! I really sprang to life when Howard made an announcement one evening.

“If we have a boy, his name will be NINIAN!”

“OH NO, HE WILL NOT!” I announced. “Do you want all the kids calling him Ninny or Nincompoop?”

Then I fell silent, wondering whether I really wanted to become a member of this clan!

No doubt realizing the complete look of boredom on my face, my future mother-in-law added the following comment:

“Well, Barbara, I suppose your ancestors were all poor farmers!”

How little we all knew at the time!


Describing Col. Ninian Beall as a colorful figure is a gross understatement. I retired from teaching in 2009 and recall an incident that happened my last semester at Metro State. I was heading down the hallway toward my office when the office administrator’s voice rang through her open doorway.


I stopped in my tracks and turned.

Did she say Ninian Beall?

Returning to her doorway I peered inside.

“Ninian Beall!” she repeated.

“My husband’s ancestor,” I told her.

“I thought so when I read the comic strip. The name was spelled the same as yours.”

“Comic strip?”

“The Washington Post ran a series of cartoons about him several years ago.  I saved them because I thought there was some connection with you, and I ran across them the other night. I’ll bring them tomorrow and put them in your box.”

Col. Ninian Beall awaited me in my mailbox on my return to campus a day or so later. I had already told Howard about the cartoon series–something that excited him immensely and delighted him more so when I arrived home with the collection. I had also discovered that the internet was full of stories about the series, per the following messages on a genealogical bulletin board:

“Magruders who have associations with Ninian Beall will be interested in the “Flashback” series in the color comic pages of The Washington (DC) Post. While taking a few “liberties” with history, the 17 Mar 2002 strip was on “Showdown at Dunbar,” on 24 Mar “Scottish Slaves” and 31 Mar “The Beall Land Grant” which details Ninian Beall’s rise from “imprisonment” to owning more than 20,000 acres “which covered much of present-day Washington, D. C. including Capitol Hill, the White House and Georgetown.” Creator Patrick M. Reynolds shows the latest strip on his web page ; along with some books on Scottish heritage and wars (and references to some of his other strips on NY, PA and TX). It’s not every day you can cite the “funny pages” in your family research!”(1) 

[NOTE: The “Red Rose Studio” link is no longer working. BB 24 Dec 2015]

This message garnered interest, as noted below, posted by RRatliff0932:

“Magruders are linked with Bealls in the 7 Apr 2002 “A Brain Tonic” on The Washington Post Sunday color “funny pages.” Ninian Beall “owner of most of what is now Washington, DC, married Ruth Moore in 1667. He was 42; she 16 . . . One of their daughters, Sarah, married Sam [sic.: Samuel] Magruder. Sam’s father [Alexander, the immigrant] fought in the Scottish army alongside Ninian and was also captured.” A century later some of the two families moved to Georgia where Martha Bernetta Beall married into the Chandler family and a son of that marriage bought a “brain tonic” from an Atlanta chemist, changed the formula but kept the name: Coca-Cola! “(2)

Dang, if this isn’t funny! I thought when I carted Col. Ninian home inside my briefcase.

As previously noted, Howard was elated! No sooner did I hand over the series when he raced toward the car, drove to the local UPS store and had the whole series laminated for safekeeping.

I wish I could say this series still exists online, and I suppose it does in archived issues of The Washington Post. The artist’s website is no longer available. (Well, how many websites still exist after thirteen years! I kept one for ten, another for five, and this blog for the last year!) However, while searching for the cartoon series, I did make an interesting discovery from “The Strange Rock of Georgetown: Colonel Ninian Beall”:

With such a lineage, it’s no wonder that the legendary Ninian Beall earned himself a monument in Georgetown. It took almost 200 years but on October 30, 1910 hundreds of family members and friends gathered at St. John’s Episcopal Church on O St. NW for a special ceremony. Among the attendees were members of the Society of Colonial Wars, American Clan Gregor, and many relatives of the Beall family. In Ninian’s name, a bronze-plated rock was placed on the lawn of the church. The plaque read: “Colonel Ninian Beall Born Scotland 1625, Died Maryland 1717, Patentee of Rock of Dumbarton, in grateful recognition of his service.”[3]

That’s all fine and good, but not really all that remarkable. After all, we live in a city of monuments and memorials… Yes, but not a memorial quite like this. According to the Washington Post account of the dedication ceremony, the stone mason in charge of the rock hid something special inside the marker:

Few of those attending the services knew that in a hole hidden by the tablet were a number of articles placed there by I.B. Millner who secured and cut the stone. Mr. Millner is an enthusiast on aviation and placed in the hole a photograph of a Curtiss biplane in flight, an editorial on aviation cut from a Washington newspaper, and a program of the exercises and several pictures. He predicts that some time in the far-distant future the stone will fall apart, and future generations will read wonderingly of the beginnings of flying.[4]

Wait, what?

Apparently I.B. Millner really liked airplanes and decided to turn Ninian Beall’s memorial into a homemade aeronautics time capsule. You know, just because… (No word on whether he included anything about the 1903 Langley Aerodrome, but if not he totally should’ve.) Bizarre.

As far as we can tell, Millner was going rogue with this one. There doesn’t seem to be a connection between Ninian Beall and the miracle of human flight. Then again, Beall accomplished a whole lot during his extra-long lifetime. So maybe he was working on a flying machine, too. But probably not…

And so – at least until the rock breaks open – the story ends with a weird guy receiving a rather weird monument filled with some weird articles about airplanes. Like we said before, bizarre.(3)

I have a feeling this whole series is going to be bizarre!

To be honest, I’ve been dragging my feet in the search for Ninian Beall. Colonel Ninian was Howard’s special focus. I had my own family tree to climb.

Howard began his research in 1990 by using Belle Beall’s manuscript as his starting point. I retyped it for his father in 1989, making an extra copy for Howard. Then I punched Howard’s copy and placed it in a notebook. And my warning?

“Don’t take those pages out of the notebook! You will lose them forever.”

He did!

The pages are lost and extend all over the house in various boxes, etc. Howard would remove pages and take them to the local Family History Center or to the  library whenever we went out to do our research. But those pages were never returned to the notebook. As a result and after my retirement, I had to rebuild Howard’s entire tree on Ancestry!

But the story doesn’t end here.

I’ve been climbing my family tree since 1991 when I first accompanied Howard to the Denver Public Library. We went to the genealogy section, and he directed me toward the county history collection.

“You will find your ancestors in these books!” he told me.

“My ancestors aren’t going to be found in ANY of these books!” I argued, harking back to my mother-in-law’s early comment regarding  poor farmers!

To humor him, I located the Adair, Iowa County History. When I found my great-grandfather, Levi Clay, listed in the Index, I selected two additional histories: one for Floyd County, Iowa–my Dad’s Inman family–and one for Jasper County, Missouri–my mother’s Spence line–and hauled them to a table.

“I thought you said you wouldn’t find your ancestors in those books!” Howard teased.

“Apparently, they were more than poor farmers!” I retorted,

They were!

Col. Ninian Beall was Howard’s seventh great-grandfather.


Col. Ninian Beall was my eighth great-grandfather!

(Something I did not discover until this past year and something I have several DNA confirmations to support!)

Not only that, but Col. Ninian Beall was a direct ancestor of my mother-in-law, Mildred Lee Warfield (Beall) (1917-2007).

And after all those Warfield vs. Beall discussions I heard years ago! Something she never knew!

Thus begins the saga of Howard’s eccentric Beall line and related families and more of my strange ancestors as well.

I hope to present a new episode each week until the series is finished. However, there are other lines I am working on from my family, so I will be working on articles from those lines from time to time as well. As noted in a previous entry, the articles on this blog are all linked here by surname and/or topic, so the Beall families will all line up under Beall, etc. (At least I think they well. They have a habit of doing their own thing!)

This series is guaranteed to be a wild ride!


(1) “Ninian Beall Makes Comic Pages”, posted by Robroyr 30 Mar 2002. Magruder Message Board, Ancestry. com, Provo, Utah. Date Accessed: 24 Dec 2015. Available online at

(2) “Ninian Beall Makes Comic Pages”, posted by RRatliff0932 06 Apr 2002. Magruder Message Board,, Provo, Utah. Date Accessed: 24 Dec 2015. Available online at http:://

(3)  Ariel Veroske. “The Strange Rock of Georgetown: Colonel Ninian Beall”. From Boundary Stones: WETA’s Local History Blog. 15 Jul 2013. Date Accessed: 24 Dec 2015. Available online at


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