Saturday, July 31, 2021

The Forgotten Dead

The Harris family of old Anson, and later Montgomery, North Carolina are an enigma to me. Mainly because there is so much information on this one family, yet there still does not seem to be enough to pull together their origins. Even DNA testing seems to have presented more problems than it has solved. I think some of the confusion is generated by books written years ago making claims that may not have been fully proven. DNA testing has certainly questioned some of the early research. 

Those men who descend from West Harris of Montgomery County and have Y-DNA tested are in Group 4 at the Harris Project at Family Tree DNA. See for some enlightened, albeit heated, discussions on the Harris origins. 

I am not here to debate or solve Harris origins. I will leave that to those who descend from the many Harris lines in Virginia. To my knowledge, I do not directly descend from West Harris, or any other Harris line, but what would a Blog about Montgomery County be without a mention of this famed man who is still talked about today? 

West Harris Senior was born, according to his gravestone, Aug 13, 1715. Most researchers believe he was born in Isle of Wight County, Virginia. West died, according to his gravestone, May 14, 1795, in Montgomery County, North Carolina.

After being buried more than 120 years, in 1916, his remains were moved to the Old English Cemetery in Rowan County, North Carolina due to the damming of the Yadkin River that was planned to flood the old Harris cemetery, where West Harris and other family members rested on land near Beaverdam Creek that was once owned by the Harris family.
West had migrated to Granville County, North Carolina probably as early as 1746, at the age of about 30, when the county was formed from Edgecombe. He was listed as an officer of the county when it was created. West can be found on very early deeds for Granville, dated 1748.
West can be found in Bute County, created from Granville in 1764, as late as 1767 when he was ordered to help find the most convenient way to lay off a road between Jumping Gut and Hub quarter Bridge, directing its course up stone House and to intercept the main country road leading to Halifax, and report back to the court. I know for sure that this is West Harris Senior as West Junior was only 11 years old in 1767.
In 1770, West Harris attended the estate sale of Jane Harris. I think Jane may have been his sister-in-law and wife to his brother Daniel. This record is one of the latest I have found, and I believe West left for Anson County soon afterwards.

Land records in Anson County show West Harris Senior may have moved to Anson County about 1773-1774, about 5 years prior to Montgomery being carved from Anson County and about a year before the Revolutionary War began. He would have been about 60 years old. I find it hard to believe that he fought in the Revolutionary War, mainly because I have not seen any evidence or proof to the claim; yet, I have seen many researchers who do list him with rank of Major or Colonel in the Revolution. I have seen references made to Captain West Harris who served in the Anson County Regiment of Militia from 1776. This certainly could be either West Senior or West Junior and I tend to think it was probably West Junior who would have been about 21 years of age versus his 60-year-old father. 

In 1774, West Harris Senior of Anson County, purchased a tract of land from Thomas Jones of Rowan County, who had acquired the land from Thomas Fry, who had been granted the land in May 1773. The land lying in the county of Anson on the north-east side of the Yadkin River beginning at a pine in McCulloh [Henry McCullough] line about a quarter and half quarter of a mile from the mouth of Beaverdam Creek near the Deep landing...containing 200 acres. 

The deed was witnessed by Roger Williams and Roland Harris and proved in open court by Roger Williams and ordered registered.

Anson deed records also show West Harris Senior purchased 100 acres of land from John Hopkins of Guilford County in February 1775 for 20 pounds proclamation money. The boundaries of the land were laid out on the north-east side of the Yadkin River beginning at a large red oak in McCullok's [Henry McCullough] line on the north-east side of Plumb Branch of Beaverdam Creek. This land had been granted to John Hopkins by His Majesties Patent bearing date 22nd January 1773. 

The deed was witnessed by Walton Harris and Roger Williams and proved in court April 1775 and ordered registered.

I am not sure who Roger Williams is yet, but whenever I see a name repeat itself in association to a family I am researching, I will attempt to find information on who the person is, mainly because researching neighbors or associates of a family leads to clues on the family. Roger Williams looks to have served in the Revolutionary War as there is a pay voucher found for him, but no mention in pension file is found. He died around 1819 in Montgomery County. Arthur Harris qualified at October term 1819 as Administrator to the estate. An ad was published in 1820 asking all persons with demands against the estate to present them for settlement.
West Harris went on to obtain many more acres of land through land grants. At least 3 of the grants we can be sure of because they list him as Senior. His son, West Harris Junior, is also listed and we can be sure of those grants. West Harris Junior was born in 1756 and would, in 1777, when he obtained the age of 21 years, be able to legally own land and apply for land grants on his own; so, the other grants while most likely some belonging to Senior, would also imply that some may have belonged to Junior.
Beaverdam Creek, close to the Montgomery-Davidson County line, flows into what is now Badin Lake, formed about 1917 from the damming of the Yadkin-Pee Dee River. I would guess that either most or all the land that West Harris owned is now under Badin Lake. Certainly, the old Harris cemetery is.
In 1796, an article was published in The North-Carolina Journal, a publication in Halifax, by Arthur Harris, Executor of West Harris, deceased, forewarning all persons from purchasing a bond given by West Harris Senior and Rowland Harris, security, to George McCulloh for one hundred and sixty nine pounds, dated 15 December 1794 and payable June 1795 witnessed by Samuel Warren and West Harris Junior for land lying in Montgomery County for which George McCulloh had no right or title to sell or dispose of. At this time, I have no clue who Samuel Warren is but find the name intriguing as I have seen it before in relation to this Harris family – more to come in another Blog on that.
West Harris (or his son, West Jr) was not the only one who had problems with McCulloh land grants. Jesse Harris, John Baker, Thomas Williams, Joseph Bell, Richard Tillman, Cary Pritchard, and John Stewart, in 1786, petitioned for title to lands they had purchased from Henry McCulloh. His son, Turner Harris, had issues getting title to land he had bought. Moses and Nathaniel Steed, brothers who migrated from Virginia to Montgomery County, also had a run in with George McCulloh.

In a Newspaper article dated 1879, an article, The Forgotten Dead, was published that provides some insight into the West Harris family at a time before the land on Beaverdam Creek was flooded and the old Harris cemetery lost to history with the bodies moved to other cemeteries. The author of this article, even though many years removed from West Harris (though not as many as I am), still lived in an era where some of the gravestones could still be read and other, elderly citizens, and possibly the grandchildren of West Harris, may have been able to remember some of the stories told. 

The Newspaper article tells us that in 1879, the West Harris land was known as the Smith Place and was about a mile from the Narrows of the Yadkin. The author of this article, knelling down, recorded the writing on West Harris’ gravestone, as well as others found in the cemetery. He wrote about the traditions he had been told by those elders in the community and told us what type of stone was on each grave. 

He informed us that West Harris was the father of six sons and two daughters, Isham, Turner, Dred, Roland, West, Arthur, Martha, who married Buckner Kimball, and Patience, who married Richard Parish. Nemo, the author of the article, goes on to praise the descendants of West Harris Senior, who are scattered all over North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia. 

"It is supposed his posterity, if brought together, would constitute an army of immense size and among them many who are worthy of the high toned and virtuous English stock from which they sprung."

Clearly, West Harris Senior lived a life worthy of the calling he had received.


  1. I haven’t been able to prove Sr’s military service ( officer?)

    1. I do not believe West Harris Sr. ever served in the military. West Harris Jr. did serve, as did his brother, Etheldred Harris.

  2. Excellent write up. I am an actual descendent of the family, From Jarrot Harris, who was the son of Dred Harris. Many years ago I went to a Harris reunion in Montgomery co. A man actually drove me out to a small cemetery and I was able to view a few old Harris gravestones on private property. From what I remember, the family originated obviously from England, where one of our ancestors swords is still on display.

    The family evidently was rather wealthy as you pointed out. Much like the Dennis family of the era, they also married off quite a lot. A few of my non-Harris relatives of the time married back into the Harris family often.

    Id love to chat to see if you have come up with any other information. I am trying to find information on Elizabeth Britt, the wife of Samuel Branson Harris, my 3rd great-grandfather. I am not sure that her name was correctly recorded, as her daughter Catherine Harris, who I am descended from, lists her name on her death record as Elizabeth Kelly.

  3. Elizabeth 'Betsy' Harris is mentioned as both Betsy Britt and Betsy Kelly. Her daughter, Nancy's death certificate states mothers maiden name is Britt, reported by C. S. Dawkins. Nancy died May 13, 1917. Daughter Catherine Davis's death certificate states mothers maiden name as Kelly as reported by J. F. Davis. Catherine died Oct 25, 1918. DNA testing of descendants might be able to determine if Betsy Harris's maiden name is Britt or Kelly.

    1. Thanks for the quick response!

      Yes, I found the same thing for the sisters. An interesting thought I had, Catherine’s husband, Eli Franklin Davis, his mother was a Kelly. I was thinking that if EFs mother was a Kelly, and if Elizabeth may indeed had been a Kelly, we might have a case of cousin marriage, which was common. I can’t explain the Britt/Kelly names though. I’ve also never been able to find a Kelly family that Eli Franklins mother came from.