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Harris  Hunters

By J. Phillip Harris,                                 May 1, 2001

                           Richmond, Virginia                 

Part 1 - The introduction to William Harris of Jamestown

A few weeks ago, while gathering information about the possible English origins of Capt. Thomas Harris, I stumbled across something that turned out to be a major discovery in a mystery I have long been trying to solve.  It had nothing to do with Capt. Thomas Harris.  It was about William Harris who came to Virginia with William Claiborne in 1621.  For over twenty years I have been gathering bits and pieces of information about this William Harris but I could never really get a sense of identity on him.  It has always appeared that he left no distinct Harris descendant lines like the other Harris immigrants.  For this reason, no one ever seemed interested in finding out who he was or connecting back to him.  I believe that is about to change.

If you are a descendant of the William Harris/Temperance Overton line or the Robert Harris/Mourning Glen line of Hanover County, you will be very interested in this.  If you are a descendant of the Matthew Harris/Elizabeth Lee line of Louisa, Albemarle and Nelson Counties and beyond, you will be interested in this.  If you are a descendant of the George Fuller Harris line of Pittsylvania County, Virginia and Lincoln County, Kentucky, you will be interested in this.  I now believe William Harris, who came to Virginia in 1621, is your immigrant Harris ancestor.

The key to this was discovering the village of Willingale Doe in Essex, England.  Willingale Doe is about eight miles west of Chelmsford in Essex.  For those who were upset by my attack on the misuse of LDS databases, you will be glad to know that it was discovery of the extracted parish records for Willingale Doe on the LDS International Genealogical Index that first opened the door on all of this.  I hope I have sufficiently "eaten crow" for my misdirected attack.  I now think the IGI is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Incredibly, what we have within a ONE SQUARE MILE area around Willingale Doe in the year 1600 are the following places:

1. Shellow Bowells - the village where Edward Harris resided for most of his adult life.  Edward Harris was the youngest overall son of William Harris of Southminster by his third wife, Agnes Rutter.

2. Torrell Hall - the home of the Henry Josselyn family and his daughter Mary who married Edward Harris as his second wife in 1583.  The Josselyns were cousins to the nearby family of Sir Thomas Gates of Good Easter, who became one of the early governors of the Virginia colony.

3.  Little Burch Hall - the home of the John Butler/Jane Elliott family and their daughter Elizabeth, who was to marry William Claiborne in Virginia c1635.  This family also included Elizabeth's older brothers John and Thomas Butler who both eventually came to Virginia and settled in Claiborne's Kent Island settlement in the upper Chesapeake Bay.  The brother of the senior John Butler was Capt. Nathaniel Butler of nearby Roxwell who was to become the Governor of Bermuda from 1619 to 1622 and who later sat on the Council of Virginia with William Claiborne.

4.  Willingale Doe - the village where we find the parish records for the entire William Harris/Joan Hardings family including their son William, who was born in 1596.

When we begin to expand out from these four families and look at the marriages of the children and other associated families in the Willingale Doe, Shellow Bowells and Roxwell parish records, we find a number of interconnections between all four of the families.  As it turns out, the key to discovering our Harris history in England AND Virginia lies not in the association with William Claiborne but in the various connections to the Butler family.

I am first going to propose the entire line as I now believe it occurred.  It will cover the six generations starting with William Harris of Southminster and going through the first three generations in Virginia.  What will follow after that will be a detailed explanation and discussion of existing evidence that hopefully will support my conclusions.

Please understand, this is all new.  You will not find this proposed anywhere else.  I am the first to go down this path.  For this reason, I do not expect nor desire any of this to be accepted until others have followed the same path and come to similar conclusions.  My objective in this is to leave a clear path of evidence and logic that others can follow, but each of you must do the research and arrive at your own conclusions.

William Harris of Southminster, High Sheriff of Essex
married 1st Johanna Smith c1515
Had a total of three wives and thirteen children, the oldest being son William Harris.

William Harris
married Jane Semer of "Brawghinge" (probably Bocking) c1540
Only one known child, a son William Harris.

William Harris of Willingale Doe, Essex.
c1545- after1601
married Joan Hardings 6 May 1576
i. Ellen 1586
ii. Elizabeth 1590
iii. John 1593
iv. WILLIAM 1596
v. Thomas 1596  (William and Thomas were possibly twins)
vi. Edward 1599
vii. Alice 1601

William Harris - came to Virginia in 1621 as a surveyor with William Claiborne.
1596-c1656  (born in Willingale Doe, Essex - died at Jamestown, Virginia)
married (possibly) Ellen Burrows c1624, daughter of Anthony Burrows.
i. James
ii. William
iii. Robert

1. James Harris c1625-after 1667 - settled first in York County c1647, later in Westmoreland County c1662.
2. William Harris c1630-unknown (est. c1690) - lived at Jamestown in 1658.
i. Robert - see Generation 6.
ii. William - in James City County in 1704, died in York County c1739
iii. Thomas - died in York County c1728, married to Beatrice.
3. Robert Harris c1635-1701 - settled on Ware Creek in New Kent County c1659.
i. -------> William Harris/Temperance Overton line of Hanover County.
ii. -------> Robert Harris/Mourning Glen line of Hanover County.

Robert Harris c1660-1716 - settled in York County near Yorktown c1682
married 1st Mary Albritton c1693
i. Robert Harris - married Mary Starke  ------> George Fuller Harris line
ii. Matthew Harris - married Elizabeth Lee  ------> Matthew Harris line
iii. John Harris - remained in York County.
married 2nd Anne Fuller, widow of George Fuller.

For the most part, all of the information needed to construct this can be found in commonly available sources, either online or at most larger libraries.  The predominant sources are:
1. The IGI parish records at LDS FamilySearch (batches begin with prefix "C" or "M").
2. The Visitations of Essex of 1552 and 1558
3. Cavaliers and Pioneers Volumes I and II (Nugent I and Nugent II) - land patent records.
4. Various volumes of the Virginia Genealogies series (also on FTM CDs or online at if you have a subscription).
5. A biography on William Caliborne called Virginia Venturer published in 1954, or any other suitable biography on William Claiborne.

I would also suggest a good map of Virginia, preferably the DeLorme Atlas of topographical maps that exists for each state as well as a detailed driving atlas of Great Britain showing the towns and villages.


                PART 2 - 

  Why I believe William Harris of Willingale Doe was the grandson of William 
  Harris of Southminster.

The main records we have to rely on for William Harris of Southminster are the Visitations of Essex 1552.  Essentially that information tells us the basics about the first three generations.  William Harris first married Joanna Smith, had son and heir William who married Jane Semer, and who likewise had a son named William.  The Visitations of Essex 1558 go on to list all three wives, all thirteen of his children, as well as a number of his grandchildren.  Since he was a prominent Essex official, there are other court records that substantiate the time period in which he lived.  His will in 1556 confirms five of his sons, that his last wife was named Agnes (Rutter), and lists the properties he owned.  The five surviving sons that were still living in 1556 were William and Vincent by the first marriage, Arthur by the second marriage, and Christopher and Edward by the third marriage.  (A full copy of the will submitted by Noël Robertson can be found in the archives of Harris-Va on Rootsweb.)  Even if the Visitations of Essex are inaccurate, we know that he did have those five sons, and he names them in that order in his will.  The oldest son William actually does not receive a legacy from his father in the will.  Wording in the will implies that the son William Harris had already been provided for and was well established in 1556.  It is stated that he had already been assigned property that was not named in the will.  We do not know the location of that property.

Although there are few actual parish records for the early 1500s, we can estimate by various sources that William Harris married his first wife Johanna Smith around 1515.  With thirteen children, if William Harris averaged one child every two years over all three wives, that would put the last child being born in 1541.  We already know from the 1556 will that Christopher and Edward Harris were still underage in 1556 confirming that Edward, the last son, was probably not born until around 1540-1545.  If William, the first son, was born shortly after the 1515 marriage, then he was just coming of age, marrying, and having his first son William in that same 1540-1545 time period.  That means William Harris of Southminster had a son Edward and a grandson William who were approximately the same age.

The parish records of Willingale Doe (IGI M058661) tell us that William Harris married Joan Hardings on 6 May 1576.  That is a perfect 30 year cycle from 1516 (1516-1546-1576), giving the distinct possibility of William Harris of Willingale Doe to be the third generation William.  Edward Harris married Mary Josselyn 8 July 1583 in Shellow Bowells (IGI M042611).  He had first married Elizabeth Barrington around 1575 (no IGI record).  The Barringtons were from Hatfield Broad Oak about six miles from Shellow Bowells and Willingale Doe.  It is very apparent that Edward Harris and William Harris were almost the same age and lived within a half mile of each other.  They have all the appearances of a family relationship.  The only possible relationship in the known family that would fit this criteria of a William being the same age as Edward Harris would be that of the uncle and nephew described above.

One other connection can be gleaned from the 1556 will.  Thomas Kinge was listed a number of times as the personal servant of William Harris of Southminster and received a small legacy.  The will also listed a daughter (unnamed) of the third wife, Agnes Rutter, by her previous marriage and the daughter was stated to be the wife of Richard Kinge of Bockinge.  Bockinge was also the home of Joanne Cooke, the second wife of William Harris as well as the home of Jane Semer who married the second generation William Harris.  Bockinge is twelve miles from Willingale Doe straight up the old Roman road from London.  Two of the children of William Harris of Willingale Doe married members of the Kinge family of Halstead.  Halstead is just a couple of miles outside of Bockinge along the same road.  The two marriages were Thomas Harris to Sarah Kinge 25 Mar 1617 and Alice Harris to Thomas Kinge 24 Nov 1618 (IGI 8205631).  Sarah and Thomas Kinge were the children of Richard Kinge, both christened in Colchester, Essex in 1587 and 1592 respectively (IGI 812134, 812135).  It appears that Richard Kinge was the grandson of Agnes Rutter who, of course, was also the mother of Edward Harris.

Considering the compelling evidence, I feel very comfortable in drawing the conclusion that William Harris of Willingale Doe was the grandson of William Harris of Southminster and nephew of Edward Harris of Shellow Bowells.

Side Note: I will not use any of the possibilities concerning Capt. Thomas Harris in support of my conclusions about the identity of William Harris since none of the theories about Capt. Thomas Harris can be proven yet.  One of those theories is that Thomas Harris was the son of Edward Harris and Mary Josselyn.  Obviously, if that theory were to end up being validated, it would not only support my conclusions about William Harris, but taken together would have major implications concerning the whole history of the Harris family in England and their involvement with the settlement of Virginia.


PART 3 - Why I believe William Harris born in Willingale Doe in
1596, son of William Harris, is the same William Harris who came to
Virginia in 1621 with William Claiborne.

We need to start with the one major piece of information that has always been there concerning William Harris who came to Virginia in 1621.  That is the first land patent for William Claiborne that was recorded on 3 June 1624 (Nugent I pg6).  It was for the property that would form his
first plantation at "Kecoughtan" (Elizabeth City or later Hampton).  In it Claiborne claims the patent for transportation of three persons, William Harris who came in the "George" in 1621 and John Phipps and William Morris who came in the "Tyger" in 1621.  All of this information is contained within the patent itself.  These four men represent the survey crew sent over by the Virginia Company in 1621 to start laying out a new town at Jamestown, with William Claiborne in the new position as Surveyor General.

The obvious connection between William Harris and William Claiborne is with Elizabeth Butler.  She was practically the next-door-neighbor of William Harris in Willingale Doe and then married William Claiborne in 1635.  But this connection has more to do with explaining how William
Claiborne eventually met his wife than it does with linking him to William Harris in 1621.  In 1621, William Claiborne had not yet met his future wife nor any of her family.  So the big question comes in "how did these four men come together to become the new survey crew in 1621?"

First we need a little background on William Claiborne.  This is where a biography on Claiborne comes in handy.  Since he later became Secretary of State and Deputy Governor of Virginia and played such an active role in the early history, there is a wealth of material on him.  Actually,
the best genealogical study of William Claiborne was made by Clayton Torrence for a series in the Virginia Magazine of History.  A consolidated version can be found in Genealogies of Virginia Families, Virginia Magazine of History, Volume II, pages 39-70.  It is totally factual, contains no speculation, and refutes a number of incorrect myths previously written about William Claiborne.

Claiborne was born in Crayford, Kent in 1600.  His father, Thomas, died when he was young and his mother, Sara, never remarried after that.  She had first been married to Roger James, a prominent minister in Stepney.  While Claiborne was growing up, his mother maintained homes both in Stepney and in Crayford.  She was quite a socialite in London society and William Wiseman, a prominent attorney who lived in Laindon, Essex, attended to her affairs through both husbands and beyond.  Claiborne attended Cambridge and majored in math and science.  He gained the
reputation of being somewhat of a student activist during a time when the colleges and universities of England were involved in a period of liberal enlightenment.

At about that same time, the Virginia Company was facing a crisis.  The settlement in Virginia had not been profitable and the company was facing a threatened dissolution by the king.  The leadership of the Company was split between the older military group led by Sir Thomas Smyth, and the younger more business oriented group led by Sir Edwin Sandys and Nicholas Farrar.  Farrar had strong ties to Cambridge and William Claiborne had caught his eye as a result of Claiborne's involvement in student affairs.  A new leadership group, from Governor on down, was being formed to send to Virginia.  There was a lot of internal political maneuvering to see
which group could place their preferred candidates in which positions. 

The position of Surveyor was to go to Richard Norewood.  He had been the surveyor to Virginia in 1616 under Samuel Argall.  Sadly to say, Argall had governed in such a way that Norewood left no records of his work during that time.  That is why the land records we have available today
do not start until 1624 with Claiborne's work.  Richard Norewood had next gone to Bermuda as surveyor in 1619 with Capt. Nathaniel Butler, the new Governor to Bermuda.  Remember that Nathaniel Butler was the uncle of Elizabeth Butler and was from Roxwell, just three miles from Willingale Doe.  For some reason, probably the organizational politics within the Virginia Company, negotiations with Richard Norewood broke down at the last minute, and the 21 year old William Claiborne found himself appointed to the surveyor position.  He had little over a month to go
before departure and had no experience as a surveyor.

How did Claiborne come in contact with his three-man survey crew on such short notice?  There is no indication he had met any of them prior to that.  William Harris was 25 years old from Willingale Doe.  John Phipps appears to be from Hornechurch, Essex, the son of Alexander Phipps and Agnes Bright (IGI C042221 and M042221) and was born in 1602 making him 19 years old.  I might mention that the will of William Harris of Southminster in 1556 mentions a parcel of land "bought from Phipps." William Harris and John Phipps would maintain a close relationship all
the way into the 1650s in Virginia.  William Morris was the son of William Morris and Agnes Petchie of Blackmore (IGI M035981), just three miles south of Willingale Doe.  He was 18 years old.  There is no answer to our question in the records, but we might speculate at this point.

Theory #1.  William Harris, being 25 years old in 1621 and closely associated with Capt. Nathaniel Butler, may have already gone to Bermuda with him in 1619 and learned the surveying trade under Richard Norewood.  Harris may have already recruited the other two younger Essex men to be
ready to go when it appeared Norewood would be appointed to the surveyor position.  Even if William Harris had not gone to Bermuda and didn't know Norewood, his association with Nathaniel Butler may have set him up for the job.  Claiborne may have just inherited the whole crew by default as a result of Norewood's preparation.

Theory #2.  William Harris, Phipps and Morris may have already been an established survey crew in Essex.  Claiborne's family attorney, William Wiseman, was located just 12 miles from Willingale Doe in Laindon and perhaps William Harris had been involved in doing work for him previously.  When Claiborne needed to put together a crew on such short notice, he would no doubt have turned to Wiseman for help.

Whatever way they came together, on 24 July 1621 the group of young surveyors were ready to depart for Virginia; William Claiborne 21, William Harris 25, John Phipps 19, and William Morris 18.  The Virginia Company was to pay the passage for Claiborne and two assistants.
Claiborne would pay for the other assistant.  They had a three year contract and their objective was to lay out a new town at Jamestown and establish an orderly system to provide for the individual ownership of land in Virginia.


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