PART 4 - William Harris in Virginia.
of the historical information in this section can be pulled from
with Claiborne and Harris reached Jamestown in October without any problem.
The "Tyger", with Phipps and Morris was blown off course and chased by
pirates and ended up two months late. Also on board the "George"
were Sir Francis Wyatt, the new Governor, and Dr. John Potts, the new physician.
Normally, upon reaching Jamestown, all new settlers were housed in the
"Block House." Claiborne, however, was invited to live with Governor
Wyatt, while William Harris lived with Dr.
Initially, the surveyors worked on laying off a new town for Jamestown. Jamestown was not really an island at the time and the location of the new town was on the "back of the island" where the neck of the Jamestown peninsula attached to the mainland. Also located at this point on the mainland was the "Glass House" where the colonists had a glass blowing operation until 1624. The Glass House was located about where the Jamestown Festival Park is located today. Again, this will become important later in land deals involving William Harris.
the surveyors began to branch out and do work in other locations, going
as far up the James River as Henricus and across the Bay to the recent
Eastern Shore settlements. They traveled everywhere by water, with
Claiborne being supplied with a small sloop. Claiborne became particularly
interested in exploring farther up the Chesapeake Bay. He was very
ambitious and wanted to establish settlements for the
expansion away from Jamestown was thwarted somewhat by the massacre of
1622. The surviving colonists, who had begun to spread out to individual
land parcels, tended to pull back temporarily into the original settlements
for protection. You can readily see this in the muster of 1623.
We find William Harris listed among the names of those at Elizabeth City,
the new name for the Kecoughtan settlement. That was one of the few
places that had not been attacked in the massacre of 1622.
Harris was located at Elizabeth City because he was acting as overseer
for William Claiborne's plantation at Kecoughtan. The Virginia Company
was dissolved in 1625 and another new leadership group was established
with Virginia as a royal colony. Claiborne had friends in high places
and was named to the Council of Virginia at age 24 and appointed Secretary
of State at age 26. He had already begun to become involved with
the exploration of the upper Chesapeake Bay all the way to
the expansion into other areas of the lower Virginia Peninsula began to
occur. To understand the migration patterns of the next two generations
of this Harris family, even in such a small area, one needs to understand
a little about the geography of the Virginia Peninsula. The whole
center section of the Peninsula running almost up to Williamsburg was one
big cypress swamp back in the early 1600s. The swamp was the headwaters
of the Back Bay and Poquoson River. The only
for carrying out his duties as Surveyor, Claiborne received a grant of
250 acres at Archer's Hope just below Jamestown in Dec 1625. In May
1626 he received an additional grant of 500 acres near Blount Point on
the neck of land between the Warwick River and Deep Creek. At about the
same time William Harris received a grant at Blount Point in partnership
with Anthony Burrows (see Leyden, Nugent I pg11). The location of
this parcel was inland from the main river, directly across
are a couple of things significant about the partnership arrangement with
Anthony Burrows. Burrows was older, born in London in 1581 (IGI P001531).
His age was stated to be 44 in the muster of 1625. He had been in
Virginia since 1614 and had apparently brought his family with him.
He had a brother named James and that was also the name of his only son
born in 1607. His daughter was named Ellen and she was born in 1599
in London (all the same IGI record). Although there is never any
made his first return voyage to England in the fall of 1630. He would
return to Virginia in the May of 1631. The purpose of the visit was
to secure financing for his Kent Island venture in the upper Chesapeake
and to recruit settlers. There are records that could be interpreted
to show that William Harris accompanied him to England. Two patents
by neighbors of Claiborne almost 40 years later contain the list of headright
claims that resulted from the return voyage to Virginia (see
William Harris accompanied Claiborne or not, Claiborne apparently made
a visit to Willingale Doe, perhaps to consort with Nathaniel Butler who
was trying to establish a settlement of his own on Providence Island in
the Bahamas. For whatever reason, Claiborne was introduced to the
household of John Butler at Little Burch Hall. It was here that he
met the 21 year old Elizabeth Butler. He also met her older brothers,
John and Thomas. John Butler was the same age as Claiborne, born
7 Dec 1600 in Roxwell Parish (IGI C042551). Thomas Butler was slightly
Part 5 - William Harris at Jamestown.
Back in Virginia around 1630 the idea was proposed to build a palisade across the Peninsula for protection against the Indians. Dr. John Potts donated a portion of his land behind Archer's Hope and the palisade (a ditch and a berm - a symbolic fence) was built across the ridge between Archer's Hope Creek, which flowed into the James and Queens Creek, which flowed into the York. The settlers were given incentives to build their homes along the palisade to act as watches. The settlement became known as the "Middle Plantation" and later Williamsburg. Among the first to take advantage of this were the two sons of Raleigh Croshaw, the old Claiborne cohort from Elizabeth City in the 1625 muster. They were Joseph and Richard Croshaw. The Indians at Yorktown soon got the hint they were on the wrong side of the fence and moved out by 1635 allowing the settlers to begin moving into the area along the banks of the York River. This all provided opportunity for William Harris and John Phipps as the official surveyors and much of the land patent activity they are involved in reflects this. Surveyors at that time were more like the real estate agents of today. They knew about the land opportunities and would "retain" any deserted and left over properties. The official surveyors controlled the headright claims which were used much like vouchers, often sold for cash or tobacco. This provided the "financing" that someone might need to acquire the property by patent. Many of the patent records in which Harris and Phipps are listed have them assigning property to others. One of the best examples of this is the patent for the old "Glass House" property at Jamestown acquired by Col. Francis Morrison in 1653 (Nugent 1 pg240 & 313). There are no less than three known surveyors listed among the numerous people this property passed through including Harris and Phipps. Other surveyors working around the Jamestown/York County area were John Senior and James Cockett (see note, Nugent I pg160).
William Harris and John Phipps, both together and separately, appear to have accumulated various parcels and lots around Jamestown. Later patents indicate that William Harris's main residence was probably just west of the Glass House at Jamestown about where the ferry landing is today (Nugent I pg305). John Phipps was involved with a parcel of land in Jamestown that was part of the original parcel patented by Dr. John Potts, and he was also involved with a deal that included the ruins of the old Block House at Jamestown (Nugent I pg340 & 451, Knowles). Later in 1674 the son of John Phipps, who was also named John, patented 1100 acres just north of the William Harris property (Nugent II pg152).
By 1637 the York County settlers had already begun to breach their own palisade and move into Indian land on the other side. The area between Queens Creek and Ware Creek was called the "Indian Fields." It was a series of vast communal fields the Indians used for planting corn. Again, it was Joseph and Richard Croshaw who were the first to move into the area. In 1637 and 1638, they each patented a few thousand acres about where the Camp Peary government center is located today (Nugent I pg222). They controlled most of the land in that area for the next 20-25 years. Around 1647 we begin to see a number of mentions in the old York County court records for James Harris who appears to be the oldest son of William Harris. Court and patent records show that his property was a straight assignment/sale from Joseph Croshaw that did not use headright claims. The parcel was located about where the Camp Peary exit on Interstate 64 is located today. This is only about six miles from the William Harris land at Jamestown. (Nugent I pg222 Croshaw; Nugent I pg440 Meekins; Nugent II pg324 Hansford).
Meanwhile, up north, Claiborne's Kent Island settlers were coming under increasing harassment by the Maryland Catholics under Lord Baltimore who was pressing his claim for the Island. A number of these settlers left Kent Island and settled along the southern shore of the Potomac River in what was to become Westmoreland County in Virginia. At the time this was land that was designated Indian territory and was not supposed to be open to the colonist. This type of thing was happening in other areas of Virginia as well and finally resulted in another Indian uprising in 1644. As a result, William Claiborne was given command of a militia that attacked the Indians at their main town just above what is now West Point, Virginia at the head of the York River. The town was destroyed and most of the Indians soon migrated west to the mountains, completely out of the region. This opened the way for the colonist to freely pour into the former Indian lands. Around 1650, Claiborne finally gave up his battle to keep Kent Island under Virginia rule. Most of the rest of the settlers at Kent Island left and joined the other refugees on the Potomac in Virginia, including the remaining Butler family members. As compensation for his loss, William Claiborne received a grant of 5000 acres in 1652 that was the site of the former Indian town he had annihilated in 1644 (Nugent I pg244 - renewed in 1653 due to an error). The headright claims used for the grant consisted of the names of many of the settlers from Kent Island. Included on that list was his nephew, John Butler, the son of Elizabeth's brother John. William Claiborne soon began to build on the new property and finally made the move from Elizabeth City to "Romancoke" in 1661. John Butler joined his uncle in the Tidewater Virginia area and on 17 Feb 1652 patented land on the south side of the York River very near James Harris. Incredibly, the land was by assignment/sale from Joseph Croshaw (Nugent I pg271).
It actually gets even better.
After the Restoration in 1661, Charles II promised all the unclaimed land in the Northern Neck to seven of his rich cronies. This started a mad scramble by the current Northern Neck settlers to establish valid claims on their property. It was a surveyor's dream. Apparently James Harris and the younger John Phipps had learned the art (and business) of surveying from their fathers. Beginning in 1662, John Phipps, James Harris, AND John Butler, all second generation offspring, start appearing in a number of Northern Neck patents. These patents follow the same multiple-assignment pattern that was typical of the earlier William Harris/John Phipps patents at Jamestown (see Nugent I pg432, Boswell). In one Westmoreland County patent, James Harris received 60 acres by sale from Thomas Butler, the brother of John Butler (Nugent I pg471). Another patent was a partnership deal through assignments by John Butler to Christopher Butler, a third Butler brother (Nugent I pg537). Most likely, James Harris, like Phipps, eventually returned to the Jamestown area after things settled down in the Northern Neck.
after forty years, we have come full circle. We have the second generation
descendants of two Willingale Doe families still showing an association
with each. All five men, Harris, Phipps, and the three Butler brothers
can be linked to members of the original survey crew of 1621.
Of the original members of that crew, only William Claiborne himself was
still left. His last official correspondence was in 1677, and he
is thought to have died around 1678 at Romancoke.
Part 6 - The Harris descendant lines.
With an identity for James Harris and his association with Joseph Croshaw now established, we can turn our attention to Robert Harris, whom I believe was the third son of William Harris. I will return to the second son, William, shortly. The first record referring to Robert Harris occurs in 1659 (see Browne, Nugent I pg389). From this and a number of other records, it can be established that the land of Robert Harris was on the northern side of Ware Creek just east of present day Barhamsville, Virginia. This also establishes that Robert Harris was probably born about 1630-1635. It has been stated in various studies on Robert Harris of Ware Creek that there was no patent recorded for his property there. That is not correct. The patent (Nugent I pg489) is incorrectly listed as Robert Harrison. It is probably a transcribing error that could have occurred at any number of times. An extensive search shows there was no one named Robert Harrison in that place at that time, and the property described in the patent is precisely that which, in all other cases, is listed as Robert Harris. The patent was recorded on 6 Dec 1662 and is for 389 acres. Although the property had been patented previously, the transfer to Robert Harris came as an assignment from none other than Richard Croshaw. As with the earlier assignments by Joseph Croshaw to James Harris and John Butler, there were no headright claims so the property was either sold or a gift by Richard Croshaw. There definitely appeared to be an on-going relationship between the Croshaw family and the Harris family, probably indicating a marriage somewhere in that second generation.
Most of the property patented in the Ware Creek area at that time was being settled by people from the Jamestown area. This 389 acre parcel had first been patented by James Houlding in 1653. Houlding had been listed as a headright claim by Thomas Nowells in 1648. Nowells (Knowles) and his brother were property owners in Jamestown and were part of the deal with John Phipps on the Block House property. There was an old Indian road, Rickahock Path, which led straight out from the Middle Plantation area. Today, Route 60/30 roughly follows the old path and passes very close to the Robert Harris property, a distance of about 15 miles from the William Harris property at Jamestown. Of course, it is important to show that one of the neighboring property owners of Robert Harris was William Overton who was the father of Temperance Overton (Nugent II pg218).
The one thing I refuse to use as support for my conclusions is the myth about Mary Claiborne Rice being the wife of this Robert Harris. It simply is not true. There is a very valid explanation for this whole story. One simply has to examine the factual records as well as Rice genealogy. Thomas Rice came to Virginia in 1683, which is confirmed by records in the Bristol Register. He married a woman named Marcey, and St. Peter's Parish records in New Kent County show them having a son, Edward, born on 17 April 1690 (IGI North America C504901). This Edward Rice died in Goochland County in 1769 and in his will named his wife Mary who was said to be a Claiborne. The name "Claiborne" often appears as a given name among the Rice descendants. Whether this Mary Rice remarried a Harris is not known nor does it matter. The whole story occurred two generations after the traditional Harris genealogy has it happening. The sad thing is that Rice researchers figured this out a long time ago, but Harris researchers continue to hang on to the false information. William Claiborne had only one daughter, Jane, who married Thomas Brereton about 1658. There was no Mary Claiborne in Robert Harris's time. There was no Edward Rice in that time. You will not find a single valid record that lists anyone by either one of those names in that period of time. It was always said that Robert Harris named his first son William after his famous father-in-law. That, of course, cannot be true because William Claiborne was not his father-in-law. But he probably did name him after his own father, William Harris of Jamestown.
I will not examine, nor challenge the traditional Harris genealogy that names the two sons of Robert Harris as William and Robert and has them migrating up river to "The Forks" area around what is now Doswell in Hanover County. Traditional Harris genealogy has Capt. William Harris of Hanover marrying Temperance Overton and establishing a long line of well documented Harris family history including his son, Robert Harris who married Mourning Glen. While the descendants of Robert Harris may not be in dispute, his ancestry has always been one of wild speculation. Most reasonable Harris researchers have already determined that he could NOT be the son of Capt. Thomas Harris of Henrico, nor that he came from Wales in 1650 (proven to be a concocted newspaper story). Hopefully now, this will give the William Harris/Temperance Overton people something more substantial to follow.
Interesting Side Note: According to the records of St. Paul's Parish, Hanover, when the parish was formed in 1704, William Harris was immediately appointed to be Surveyor for the parish. Was the knowledge of the profession something that was handed down from generation to generation?
We will now return to the second son of William Harris of Jamestown. There is so little information in the records on this son, named William. What there is, however, is pretty precise. A James City County patent record dated 1 Oct 1658 (Nugent 1 pg388) states that William Harris, son of William Harris "late deceased" records a claim on a 1/2 acre lot just above the "dwelling house" of said Harris and running into the Island. What this tells us is that this William Harris is definitely the son of William Harris of Jamestown, and that William Harris, the immigrant from Willingale Doe, has recently died. We can also infer that the lot involved is one of those in the town of Jamestown and William Harris the son still resides on the property just to the west of Jamestown. Since James City County records were so completely destroyed, we have no other court records to rely on. The next mention of a land record is with the Quit Rents of 1704. Those records list William Harris as having 140 acres in James City County. Since William Harris, the son was already "of age" in 1658, he had to have been born around 1630. In that case, he would have been in his 70s in 1704. Perhaps the William Harris in 1704 was a next generation, the grandson of William Harris of Jamestown.
The colonial capital of Virginia was moved to Williamsburg in 1698. After that, Jamestown fell into ruin as an active town and port while Yorktown began to flourish. While there are no further indications of anyone named Harris in what few James City County records exist, there are three men who appear to be in the same generation in the York County records in the early 1700s, a William Harris, Robert Harris, and Thomas Harris. The one we know the most about is Robert Harris who wrote his will in 1712 and died in 1716. Land patent records first establish him in 1680 (Nugent II pg207, Whittacar). The property can be precisely located to be just inside the York County line right at the point where York County, James City County, and Warwick County (now Newport News) come together at one point (Nugent II pg317). The main road from Williamsburg to Yorktown was referred to as the "Horse Path" and the Robert Harris land was just on the western side of this road. It is now located inside the Naval Weapons Center and is about 10 miles from Jamestown. The property first belonged to William Brocas of Warwick County and was adjacent to the property of Henry Lee on the north and Edward Baptist on the east. There would be marriages involved with both of these families. When Robert Harris died in 1716, his sons were just coming of age. Only Matthew appeared to be married at that time. That places the sons as being born in the 1690-95 period which works out with Robert Harris being born around 1655-60 and that, in turn, works out with the William Harris at Jamestown coming of age around 1655. Although there appear to be no firm records to definitely link Robert Harris of Yorktown to William Harris of Jamestown, the proximity, demise of Jamestown, and near-perfect timeline would certainly seem to suggest the connection.
The unidentified William Harris who appears in the same generation as Robert Harris in York County died in 1739. He may have been the William Harris who still retained the Jamestown property in 1704. There was also a Thomas Harris who shows up in the Charles Parish records as being married to a Beatrice. York County records show his inventory being taken in 1728. It will take further research to establish a definite connection between these two men and William Harris of Jamestown. For now it just appears to be a likely assumption.
Two of the sons of Robert Harris of Yorktown lead to well documented Harris descendant lines, which I will not examine or question in this text. Matthew Harris married Elizabeth Lee and their offspring migrated up the York River watershed, leaving descendants in various counties all the way to the mountains of Virginia around Albemarle County. The oldest son Robert Harris married Mary Starke and that, in a roundabout way, led to the George Fuller Harris line. George Fuller Harris migrated to Pittsylvania County, Virginia by 1782 and then to Lincoln County, Kentucky by 1810, leaving descendants in both places. Youngest son John Harris remained in York County where he left descendants who are, as yet, undocumented.
That actually brings us to six complete generations of the Harris family and into a seventh, beginning all the way back in 1500 in Southminster, Essex and running through the late 1700s in Virginia and beyond. This is only a beginning. I feel there is much more to discover throughout this. I hope anyone who reads this will go back and look through all the records they can. I hope this leads others to discover some new path I may have overlooked. As I said in the beginning, this should not be accepted until others have examined the records and arrived at the same conclusions. I will be glad to answer any questions or discuss any challenges concerning the ideas I have proposed in this text. I would very much like to hear from you if this helps you. You may contact me at my e-mail address and I actively post on and monitor the Harris-Va mail list. I am afraid I have little beyond these six generations and can supply few details on the descendant lines once they leave the Virginia Peninsula. For anyone looking for that kind of information, I would refer you to the discussions on the Harris-Va mail list on Rootsweb.com and the archives for that mail list. I am posting this text on the Harris-Va, Harris-Hunters, and Harris mail lists. I will also supply it to the Harris-Hunters website. Unfortunately, I have to break it down into smaller sections to post it on the Rootsweb lists. Anyone who would like the entire file intact can contact me. I will be able to supply it as either a text file or Word file in an attachment.
Census Records | Vital Records | Family Trees & Communities | Immigration Records | Military Records Directories & Member Lists | Family & Local Histories | Newspapers & Periodicals | Court, Land & Probate | Finding Aids