Martha Ballard, Midwife

A famous and highly successful woman of the Kennebec Valley

When Arnold’s men reached the remains of the old British fort known as Fort Halifax in present-day Winslow, Maine, they encountered a curious fellow who was acting as the caretaker of the property for its private owner.

The men of the expedition described Ephraim Ballard as a “rank tory” but not altogether undesirable. One soldier described him as “an honest man, of independent principles, and who claimed the right of thinking for himself,” adding that they exchanged a barrel of salmon with Ballard for one of pork “upon honest terms.”

Two years later, Ephraim’s wife Martha joined him in the Kennebec Valley and they settled in Hallowell, in an area now part of Augusta, Maine.

Born in Oxford, Massachusetts in 1735, Martha Moore married Ephraim in 1754. They had nine children. In 1777 she moved to Hallowell (now Augusta), Maine, and later began keeping a diary. Martha quickly became essential to the Kennebec Valley community as a midwife
of remarkable skill. From 1785 to 1812, she guided local women through eight hundred sixteen births, losing only five children—a rate of infant mortality that modern medicine would not achieve in the United States until the 1940s.

By 1785, all of the Colburn children were already born so Martha probably did not attend any Colburn births, but she knew the Colburn family well and wrote of them in her diary.

Here is a link to the PBS television network’s site on Martha Ballard