Friday, June 27, 2014

The Harrison Family

The Harrison family has its origins in England. Beyond that, the exact origins are unknown. At least three different genealogists have tried to uncover English records for this Harrison family. Best guesses are that the family is from either Cambridge or London. But neither of these theories is supported by solid evidence. What is clear is that our line NOT connected within America to the "famous" Harrison line, which includes two presidents and a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Our story starts with Andrew Harrison Sr., who was born sometime between 1640 and 1660 in England. He immigrated to Virginia colony sometime before 1683. Records indicate that Andrew Sr. came to the colonies under a "headright" contract with a colony official named Cadwallader Jones.

The Headright system was established by the colonial government as a method of solving the colony's chronic shortage of laborers. Passage to the Americas was not cheap, and often those wealthy enough to afford passage did not wish to pay for a number of servants to accompany them. The headright system gave these future landowners a bonus of 50 acres per person they paid to bring over from England. Many wealthy landowners saw a business opportunity, and established headright contracts, where the landowners paid for the passage of an indentured servant, who then worked for a set amount of time afterwards until the cost of the passage and the cost of the land was paid to the landowner, at which point the servant was freed and received title to the 50 acres.

Location of Andrew Harrison's Plantation in Virginia

If this is how Andrew Sr. came to Virginia, then within a few years Andrew Sr. had made enough to free himself of the debt, because he is listed as a freeman in the mid-1680's. Further, in 1686, Andrew Sr. and some friends entered the lucrative headright business themselves. Andrew Sr. purchased several thousand acres on Golden Vale Creek in Essex Co, Virginia (Now Caroline Co). He lived on 130 acres of the land, and used the rest for headright contracts. At one point he owned 1800 acres as part of his plantation. All this land is now part of the Fort A.P. Hill military training center near the town of Bowling Green, Virginia.

Andrew Sr. was probably a wealthy man by colonial Virginia standards. He was a tobacco plantation owner, with several slaves and indentured servants, and he (and later his son Andrew Jr.) served in the office of Constable for his part of Essex Co. for a number of years. Holding an office in the colonial government speaks to the fact that Andrew Sr. was a man of wealth and privilege.

Picture of a Tobacco PlantationA Tobacco Plantation
Like most colonists, Andrew Sr.'s life revolved around tobacco. The rise and fall of tobacco prices governed not only the wealth of the planters, but also the stability of the government. At least twice during Andrew Sr.'s life rebellions occurred in Virginia colony directly related to tobacco laws imposed by the British. It is likely that Andrew Sr. or his son Andrew Jr. were involved in at least one of these rebellions, when in 1714 a group of planters burned British-controlled tobacco warehouses in Williamsburg, where Andrew Sr. took his tobacco to market. Andrew Sr. was one of a group of planters who sold their tobacco to private warehouses run by free black merchants, who offered better prices than the British government. When the British government tried to ban private wholesalers, the planters rebelled and burned the British-controlled warehouses. We have no record of Andrew Sr. or Jr. directly participating in any of these rebellions, but it is likely that they were somehow involved as they had a large stake in the matter.

One of Andrew Sr.'s closest friends was John Battaile, a fellow headright who became his neighbor in Virginia and had remained a close family friend of the Harrisons. John Battaile had connections to many of the elite members of Virginia colonial society, which both the Battailes and the Harrisons exploited. John had married into two very important families, the Taliaferros and the Smiths, who had received very large grants of land in the colonies and were prominent members of the aristocracy.

In 1708 John Battaile died, leaving his daughter Elizabeth in the care of the Harrisons. Andrew Sr. was made her guardian. Two years later, Elizabeth married Andrew Sr.'s son, Andrew Jr. The couple inherited several hundred acres of land along Golden Vale Creek when Andrew Sr. died in 1718.

Andrew Jr. was a tobacco plantation owner like his father. He also served as an Essex Co. constable, and later, as an officer in the Spotsylvania county militia and a road overseer for Spotsylvania county. The records that survive show that Andrew Jr. was well-connected and a savvy businessman. For example, in 1727, Andrew Jr. was arrested as part of a suit by a business partner, but Andrew used his connections in the colonial government to turn the tables on his opponent. The court record books of Essex Co. contain the following colorful entry:

"Andrew Harrison, being arrested at the suit of James Gillison, in debt, and he having rescued himself by a superior force out of the sheriff's custody, order is granted to the said plaintiff against the said defendant for what shall appear due at next Court unless the defendant then appear and answer the said suit."
The next year, Andrew Jr. began courting a group of wealthy landowners in the hopes of receiving a choice land patent. A patent is a grant of unclaimed land.

Sir William Gooch, Colonial Governor of Virginia, 1727-1749Sir William Gooch, Colonial Governor of Virginia, 1727-1749

In December 1728 Andrew Jr. sold 600 acres he had bought in Spotsylvania county to a group of wealthy colonists who included the Colonial Governor, William Gooch. In exchange, Andrew Jr. received a patent on 1000 acres along Harris Creek in Spotsylvania county, near Fredericksburg, Va. The land was adjacent to land owned by several prominent members of the colonial militia. Andrew started a new tobacco plantation on this land, which eventually grew to 1800 acres. The land became a part of Orange County when it was formed out of Spotsylvania. Andrew Jr. lived there for the rest of his life. In 1747, he deeded 200 acres of the Harris Creek land to his oldest son, Battaile Harrison.

Battaile lived for a time on the land granted to him by his father, but eventually decided to get into the land business for himself. Battaile used the land given to him by his father, as well as land given to him by his father-in-law in nearby Culpeper county to secure a large land grant in Amherst county, near Lynchburg. Battaile moved there, where he ran a plantation and also acted as road overseer for a nearby road. In addition, Battaile ran an inn along the road, a profession which was generally only undertaken by the aristocracy in colonial Virginia.

Battaile was also lieutenant in the Virginia militia,.  In June, 1776 he joined the Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment, commonly called Rowling's Rifle Regiment, a light infantry unit of riflemen in the Continental Army. After the men were recruited the regiment joined up with the main body of George Washington's Continental Army in New York.  Washington had recently been defeated by the British at the Battle of White Plains, and was in the process of retreating to New Jersey.  The regiment was tasked with defending Fort Washington, on the northern tip of the island of Manhattan.

On November 16, 1776, approximately 3,000 Continental Army troops faced approximately 8,000 British and Hessen troops at Fort Washington.  Hearing of the size of the opposing force, General Washington ordered the fort abandoned.  However, Col. Robert Magaw, the fort's commander, declined to follow the order as he believed he could successfully defend the fort.  This proved to be one of the most disastrous errors made in the course of the war.  The result of the battle was a complete rout of the American forces: 59 killed, 96 wounded, 2,837 captured.  Lt. Battaile Harrison was one of the officers killed in action on that day.

Battaile's eldest son was named Reuben (Sr.). Reuben Sr. also served in the Revolutionary War, as an Ensign with the Amherst County Virginia Militia. After the war, a family dispute over the inheritance of his father may have led Reuben to move west. He moved west twice, eventually settling in Barren County, Kentucky by 1811. His son, Reuben Jr., had gone with him to Kentucky. Like his father and grandfather, Reuben Jr. was a military man. He served as a Major in the Kentucky Mounted Milita during the War of 1812. Late in life Reuben Jr. chose to move west again, settling in Miller County, Missouri in the early 1830's.

Reuben Jr. was the father of Samuel Toliver Harrison, who was the father of 20 children by two wives (16 with the first wife!). Samuel was a farmer in Miller county, near Eldon, Missouri. His 10th child was Robert Berry ("RB") Harrison, who married Phoebe Ellen Crisp, daughter of James Layette Crisp and Rebecca Waddell on February 22, 1883. RB and Phoebe Ellen moved to Callaway County, Missouri, to the north of Jefferson City. He was a melon farmer, and did well enough for himself that he managed to pay off his farm's mortgage after just the first year's harvest. RB lived in Callaway County until his retirement, when he went to live with his daughter Pearl in Kansas City. RB was the father of Lela Harrison, who married Forrest Frank Sr.

Below are links for more information on the Harrison family. I highly suggest reading Part II of Abner Harrison's manuscript "Andrew Harrison and Other Early Harrisons," which is the source for much of my information and provides a much more detailed look at the world in which Andrew Harrison lived.

Phoebe Ellen Harrison Death Certificate
Robert Berry Harrison Death Certificate
Ancestors of Lela Harrison(PDF)
R.B. Harrison 1930 Census
R.B. Harrison 1920 Census
R.B. Harrison 1900 Census
"Andrew Harrison and Other Early Harrisons," by Abner Harrison
A Chronological Listing of Events in the Life of Andrew Harrison
Harrisons of Miller County, Missouri


Daphne said...

I have awarded you the Kreativ Blogger award!

Unknown said...

Hey there, my name is Cheryl.
I was just wondering if you are familiar with Cuthbert Harrison Esq, of Ancaster England or Burr Harrison of Virginia?
I was just wanting to know, because they are my 10th and 11th grandfather on my father's side. I have more information if you would like to know more.
Feel free to email me:

Anonymous said...

Andrew Harrison Sr absolutely was a cousin of the Berkeley Harrisons. Their common ancestor was their mutual many times gt grandfather David Harrison, and also his father, the more known Judge "John Harrison. Their are ample primary records in the church and civic marriages and baptisms to show this. Start with this;,_Middlesex_Genealogy

Anonymous said...

Sorry to say your infomation on Battaile Harrison is incorect. Battile Harrison was in Lee's legions. He married Frances White. You are refering to Battle Harrison as a Lt. at Fort Wasington, these are 2 differant people. Battaile Harrison was fron Ohio Never married and his nephew inherited his land becouse he never married.Papers and oaths was given so that he could get his uncles land.. as for me I would be the 7th great grand son of Battile Harrison

Anonymous said...

Sorry above post should say that Battle Harrison is from Ohio..Lt at Fort Washington Battile Harrison is from Virginia. This is what my research found Battle Harrison had no kids as he was never married..Iam 7th grandson of Battiale harrison

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