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The Harris Letters

by Charles Wilson Harris


Note: This book is online at Google Books which has a number of letters and recollections written by members of the Harris family outlining information about various North Carolina families, including many from Granville, Halifax and Warren Counties.     It is 91 pages and can be read in its entirety online or downloaded to your computer to read. What follows is the preface from the book, pgs 5-7, giving a brief description of some of the Harris families.

The Harris letters which appear in this issue of the James Sprunt Historical Publications represent, for the most part, a collection of the letters of Charles Wilson Harris (b. 1771, d. 1804) to his uncle, Dr. Charles Harris, and to his brother, Robert Wilson Harris. They were donated by William Shakespeare Harris, a son of Dr. Charles Harris, to the North Carolina Historical Society at an unknown date, but probably before the Civil War. The other Charles Wilson Harris letters. those written during his connection with the University of North Carolina (1795-1796), were found in a bound volume of manuscripts in the early faculty records of the University. They are about ten in number, and along with them have been inserted two Caldwell letters to Harris. There are two other Harris letters in addition, one by Robert Harris, father, and one by Robert Wilson Harris, brother of Charles Wilson Harris. The sources whence these were obtained are subjects of a foot-note to the respective letters. The chronological order has been preserved in the presentation of the whole series, this method appearing better to reflect their interest than the other alternative of grouping those to the same correspondent.

The name "Harris" is perhaps one of the most frequent in North Carolina. This must have been true at a very early period also, since the name covers full four and one-half pages in the index of the Colonial and State Records. The particular Harris family from which Charles Wilson Harris sprung was a very prolific one and has a large number of surviving representatives in the state at the present time. It traces its descent back to one Edward Harris of Wiltshire, England, who removed to Ayreshire, Scotland, in the latter part of the 17th century and there brought up a large family. One of his sons, Edward by name, married Flora Douglas of the celebrated Scotch border family of that name. Five sons of this union, James, Samuel, Thomas, Richard, and Charles, appear to have emigrated to America sometime in the second quarter of the eighteenth century. Some of them settled in Pennsylvania and the others in Virginia. Later, probably about 1751, Charles came from Virginia to North Carolina and purchased a large tract of land on Rocky River in the Poplar Tent district of the present Cabarrus County, but at that time in Anson. This district was at the time receiving a strong tide of Scotch-Irish immigrants and soon became a populous Presbyterian stronghold. This Charles Harris was twice married; first to Jane Mcllhenney and, second, to Elizabeth Baker. From the first marriage was born in order Robert, Martha, Jane, Thomas, and James; and from the second, Charles and Samuel Harris. Robert Harris, the eldest of these offspring of Charles Harris, inherited "Mill Grove," the home seat of his father on Rocky River, and became a man of fortune and influence in his county. He married Mary Wilson, daughter of Zaccheus Wilson, a signer of the "Mecklenburg Declaration," and of the same strong Scotch Presbyterian stock as himself. As a Revolutionary patriot and soldier Robert Harris, "Esquire," served in General Joseph Graham's command until he lost his arm in the skirmish at Clapp's Mill, a preliminary incident of the battle of Guilford Court Courthouse in 1781. With slight hopes of his recovery, his companions gave him into the care of an old German settler and wife, with the injunction to "care for him well, as he was a man of consequence, and they would be rewarded." (See Graham's General Joseph Graham and His Revolutionary Papers, pp. 335-337.) Harris' descendants state that Mrs. Harris dreamed her husband was wounded and on the faith of the dream traveled with a slave, Jack, as her only attendant from her home on Rocky River to the scene of the battle, seventy-five miles away, found her wounded spouse with his caretaker, nursed him to convalescence and brought him safely home. To him, by this stouthearted wife, were born three children, each proudly bearing "Wilson" in their Christian names. They were Jane Wilson Harris, Charles Wilson Harris, and Robert Wilson Harris. Jane, the eldest, married Nathaniel Alexander, son of JohnMcKnit Alexander, secretary of the "Mecklenburg Convention." They had nine children and numerous descendants survive.
Charles Wilson Harris was born in 1771, and Robert Wilson Harris in 1779. Their mother died a few years after the Revolution, their father subsequently marrying the widow of General William Lee Davidson, who fell in the Revolution. Robert Harris lived to a ripe old age, dying in 1808 and lies buried at Poplar Tent Church, where he was for many years ruling elder.

Charles Wilson Harris graduated at Princeton in 1792 and was awarded the Mathematical oration. He then spent one, or two, years with his half-uncle, Dr. Charles Harris, at "Favoni," the home of the latter upon an estate adjoining that of Robert Harris and part of the original property of the eldest Charles Harris. Here he applied himself to the study of medicine under his uncle's guidance, apparently with the intention of entering that profession. Nevertheless, in 1795, at the date of his election to the tutorship of Mathematics in the University of North Carolina, he was teaching in Prince Edward County, Virginia. His letters thereafter, with the notes subjoined, sufficiently outline his life and services. They disclose a character of worth and dignity. At twenty-five years of age he was presiding over the fortunes of the state's infant University and in this role he manifests a maturity unusual even in that period of our state and national life in which abilities ripened early. The trustees relinquished his services with great reluctance. His seven years of life after entering upon the practice of law at Halifax were filled with earnest and successful endeavor and undoubtedly would have been crowned with high achievement but for his early death.

The editor wishes to express his appreciation and thanks to Mrs. Maud Craig Matthews, of Atlanta, Georgia, and to Mrs. Atwell C. Mcintosh, of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, great-grand daughters of Robert Wilson Harris, for their kindness in placing at his disposal certain of their family records that bear upon the genealogy of the Harris family.

H. M. Wagstaff.

Chapel Hill, N. C, Jan. 15, 191G.

2011 by   Deloris Williams for the NCGenWeb Project.  No portion of  any document appearing on this site is to be used for other than personal research.  Any republication or reposting is expressly forbidden without the written consent of the owner. Last updated 08/08/2012


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