May 1, 2001
By J. Phillip Harris
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.
married Jane Semer of "Brawghinge" (probably Bocking) c1540
Only one known child, a son William Harris.
William Harris of Willingale Doe, Essex.
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.
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 Edward 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 Genealogy.com 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.
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.
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.
(Most of the historical information in this section can be pulled from various sources on the history of Jamestown as well as from the biography of William Claiborne.)
The "George", 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. Potts in the house provided to him. We might assume Phipps and Morris received the same privilege. This is important because later, we see a few instances of land deals involving Potts, Harris, and Phipps. It was Dr. Potts who patented the large piece of property behind Archer's Hope that he called "Harrop". Much of the interior part of this parcel was later sectioned off to become the "Middle Plantation" which we know eventually became Williamsburg. More on that later.
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.
Eventually, 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 production of tobacco in various locations. By 1626, Claiborne had established active plantations at Kecoughtan, Archer's Hope, and Blount Point on the lower Peninsula and also over on the Eastern Shore. Kecoughtan (Hampton, Va.), being the more centralized location, became Claiborne's home base of operations.
The initial 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. Also listed at Elizabeth City were the names Alice Harris and Elinor Harris. Since many of the newer computer files listing the muster records alphabetize the names, it makes it appear that there was some association between these three Harris people. When you view original listings, however, you will see the three are named in separate locations. In the same listing, other known families always appear together. Harris was a very common name, and the fact that the three were not listed together makes me believe there was no connection between them. I did pursue records on these two women but found nothing that would make me change my opinion at this point in time.
William 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 what is now Pennsylvania. While William Claiborne was involved with his explorations and the official affairs of his position, William Harris managed Claiborne's plantation affairs on the Peninsula. Also located at Elizabeth City at this time was Anthony Burrows and John Laydon who had married Burrow's sister Anne in the first marriage in Virginia. John Laydon had come to Jamestown in 1607 with the very first voyage. The local official in the Elizabeth City area was Capt. Raleigh Croshaw who had come to Virginia in 1608 on the second supply. Croshaw had accompanied Claiborne on his explorations and, with just a few men, had successfully defended a remote trading outpost up on the Potomac River in the 1622 attack. Burrows, Laydon, and the Croshaw family would all have future involvement with William Harris and his family.
In 1624, 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 high land was along the banks of the James and York Rivers, which consisted of sediment deposits washed down by ancient floods. The Chiskiak Indians (under Powhatan) lived along the banks of the York River. The colonists lived along the banks of the James River. The swamp in the middle was as impassable as a river. In fact, it was more impassable because, you could at least float across a river. To get from one side of the Peninsula to the other, one had to go up the river to near Williamsburg before crossing over and coming down the other side. This fact allowed the colonists and the Indians to co-exist on opposite sides of the Peninsula until almost 1635.
In part, 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 Deep Creek from the William Claiborne patent and adjacent to John Laydon. Deep Creek could be entered by large sailing vessels so this effectively gave Claiborne, Harris, Burrows and Laydon control of the creek as the only deep water harbor in that area. William Harris patented two additional parcels at Blount Point in 1628 on the main river (Nugent I pg12). While Claiborne's grant was permanent, the grants for William Harris, Burrows and Laydon were all ten year leases payable with annual amounts of tobacco. This indicates the land was for tobacco planting only, and there was no intention of residing there. It is almost certain that William Harris returned at this time to reside at Jamestown while managing all of the various properties along the river from Jamestown to Blount Point for himself and Claiborne. He would reside at Jamestown for the rest of his life. In 1636, at the expiration of the leases, John Laydon permanently re-patented all of the above parcels at Blount Point (Nugent I pg38), although he continued to live at Elizabeth City as William Claiborne's neighbor. Laydon apparently retained the Blount Point properties until his death around 1650 (see Hall, Nugent I pg396).
There 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 direct statement, it later appears that James Harris of Yorktown is the son of William Harris. Since James Harris first begins to appear in the York County court records in 1647, he would have to be the oldest son of William Harris and would have to have been born around 1625. This all leads me to believe that William Harris had married, most likely to Ellen Burrows, the daughter of Anthony Burrows and had named his first son James, after (or perhaps in honor of) Ellen Burrows' brother. William Harris being married to Anthony Burrows' daughter and John Laydon to Burrows' sister would account for the land relationship between the three at Blount Point in the 1620s and 1630s.
Claiborne 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 Talbott & Downes, 1667, Nugent II pg27 and Goodrich, 1672, Nugent II pg116). Claiborne never used these claims and assigned them to others at some point. We know they were from the 1631 voyage because of a number of the names on the list, in particularly that of William Dawson. Both Claiborne and Lord Baltimore laid claim to Kent Island, resulting in a 20 year dispute that Claiborne eventually lost. On 23 April 1635, a ship belonging to Lord Baltimore fired on one of Claiborne's ships, killing three men including William Dawson. Ironically, Dawson's headright claim wasn't used until almost 40 years after his death. William Harris, who in 1667 had died a decade earlier, was the first name on the list behind Claiborne's, followed by John Phipps and William Morris. Does this mean they all made the voyage, or is it just an example of the flagrant abuse of the headright system that was common at that time? I now tend to interpret this as being the latter. It just doesn't make sense that William Harris would go back to England with Claiborne. If Claiborne was going to be gone for nine months, he would need William Harris to remain in Virginia to manage the plantations on the Peninsula.
Whether 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 younger and in 1625 had married Joan Mount-Stephen of Stepney, who was the widow of a personal friend of Claiborne's brother Thomas Claiborne. When Claiborne returned to Virginia in May 1631 he was accompanied by his own brother, Thomas Claiborne and his wife Jane, as well as by Thomas Butler and his wife Joan. Both families would be among the first settlers on Kent Island. Thomas Butler would eventually return to England, but in 1635, John Butler and his entire family came to Virginia. John Butler brought with him his younger sister Elizabeth, now 25. Elizabeth Butler and William Claiborne were married at the plantation at Kecoughtan where they continued to live for a number of years. Capt. John Butler became the primary official at the Kent Island settlement for Claiborne. He died in 1642 but left a number of sons on Kent Island. While this may all seem irrelevant to William Harris, it will soon become apparent how it all ties in.
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.
Thus, 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.
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.
May 6, 2001
When I wrote the essay on William Harris of Jamestown, I was hoping it would open the doors to explore some new ideas on the many mysteries that have plagued Harris researchers. Sometimes taking a different approach just seems to make things start to fall into place. One such Harris mystery has always been to determine the identity of the William Harris found in the group of investors who purchased the Berkeley Hundred property in 1636 (Patent Book I, page 410 as shown in Cavaliers and Pioneers, Volume I, page 53). I believe it can now be shown conclusively that it was William Harris of Jamestown. This does not add anything that would change the story about William Harris, but only serves to enhance what I have previously written. It takes care of one more thing that Harris researchers have always had to ponder over before.
The patent record is written (with corrections) as follows:
WILLIAM TUCKER, MAURICE THOMPSON, GEORGE THOMPSON, WILLIAM HARRIS, THOMAS DEACON, JAMES STONE, CORNELIUS LLOYD of London, Merchant, & JEREMIAH BLACKMAN of London, Mariner, & their Associates & Co., 8000 acres Charles City Co., being a tract of land commonly known by the name of Berkeley Hundred, 9 Feb. 1636, p410. .............................................(description of property)............................. Due by deed of sale from the Adventurers & Co. of Berkeley Hundred.
Note: in Cavaliers and Pioneers there are a number of typos and misspellings in this entry including mixed up lines that make it read confusing. The most confusing thing is that the word "Merchant" is listed as plural making it seem like all parties were London Merchants. A check of other sources shows that title was only supposed to apply to Cornelius Lloyd.
Over the years I have seen various ideas proposed about the identity of this William Harris.
1. He was Sir William Harris of Creeksea. Unfortunately Sir William had been dead for 20 years.
2. He was William Harris the son of Sir William of Creeksea. He too, had been dead for 14 years.
3. He was the William Harris who was the son of Capt. Thomas Harris. Sorry, had not been born yet, or at best, just an infant.
4. He was a son of John Harris of Shirley Hundred. Even if proven could have only been 11-12 years old at the most.
5. Various proposals that he was an unknown William Harris including the idea that he had been hung for his role in Bacon's Rebellion. No proof has ever been found that such an event took place.
6. That it was really William "Harrison" since this property was to go to the Harrison family 100 years later.
I have never seen anyone try to identify him as the William Harris who came with Claiborne and was a landowner in Warwick County. I assume that was because no one was ever interested in tracing to that William Harris. The conclusion as to the identity of this William Harris can be reached by examining each of the other men listed in the patent record. Biographical information on Tucker, the Thompsons and Lloyd can be found in the book Colonial Virginians and Their Maryland Relatives by Norma Tucker, also on FTM CD550. The other men can be identified through land patent records in Cavaliers and Pioneers, Volume I.
WILLIAM TUCKER. Capt. William Tucker was born in 1589 and came to Jamestown in 1610. He was from a merchant family in England that was interested in the shipment of goods between England and Virginia. He was married to Mary Thompson, the sister of Maurice and George Thompson. He resided at Elizabeth City and his property was adjacent to William Claiborne's Kecoughtan Plantation. He received his commission after the 1622 massacre and led numerous expeditions against the Indians in the upper Bay. He owned the "Sea Flower" and evidently made annual voyages back and forth to England. He became a Burgess, Justice, and Councillor and died in 1644 a very wealthy man with a number of properties in Virginia.
MAURICE THOMPSON. Maurice Thompson was born in 1604 and came to Virginia in 1620. He received a grant of land above Newport News Point in 1622 at the age of 18. He returned to England in 1624 and became involved in shipping, eventually owning a number of the ships that made annual voyages to Virginia. He was constantly back and forth between Virginia and England and resided at Elizabeth City when in Virginia. He, like William Claiborne owned a 1/6 share in Claiborne's Kent Island venture. In 1639 it was proposed to the King to give all of the Northern Neck and the Virginia portion of the Eastern Shore to William Claiborne and Maurice Thompson to establish a separate colony just as had been done with Lord Baltimore and Maryland. Obviously it did not come to pass. Maurice Thompson has been called Virginia's greatest merchant adventurer. He started with practically nothing but died in 1676 in England a wealthy man.
GEORGE THOMPSON. Brother of Maurice Thompson, he was born in 1603 and came to Virginia in 1623 with his sister Mary, who married William Tucker. He resided in Elizabeth City initially where he received a commission as a lieutenant and was a Burgess from there in 1629. By 1638 he had gone to Kent Island where he became a member of the Maryland Assembly in 1642. He returned to Virginia with the Kent Island refugees and lived in Westmoreland County. He had a number of properties in the Northern Neck area.
THOMAS DEACON. Thomas Deacon can be shown to have land in York County on Felgates Creek at Yorktown in the late 1630s. Later in 1646 there is reference to a settlement on the Eastern Shore under the control of Thomas Deacon & Co.
JAMES STONE. Listed as James Stone, Merchant, he held land in York County in 1647 on the north side of Queens Creek. This property was later transferred to Robert Vaulx, Stone's administrator and can be shown to be adjacent to the property of James Harris in 1651. He is said to be related to Governor William Stone of Maryland whose daughter married William Tucker, the son of Capt. William Tucker of Elizabeth City.
CORNELIUS LLOYD. Although he is listed as being a merchant of London, he did reside in Virginia in Lower Norfolk County where his brother Edward was a Burgess. Cornelius Lloyd was named as agent for Capt. William Tucker a number of times. He was Col. Cornelius Lloyd when he died in 1655.
JEREMIAH BLACKMAN. A ship captain and mariner, by 1638 Jeremiah Blackman owned property at Skiffes Creek on the James River between Jamestown and Blount Point. In 1639 he was part of a deal with Thomas Stegge to ship the first horses from England to supply all of the plantation owners along the James River.
Looking at this list of people, one can see the fingerprints of William Claiborne all over this deal. It may very well be that William Harris was included more or less as an agent for William Claiborne. William Harris was probably in this because of his role as surveyor. It is sort of like a real estate agent who puts a deal together and then gets an investment as part of the compensation. Most of this property was eventually sold to Giles Bland who had it confiscated because of his role in Bacon's Rebellion. It then went to the Harrison family in the early 1700s.