Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Harrisons of Our Past

Note: I did not write the following text.  I found while digging around on Ancestry.com.  My father's ancestry records indicated that our family might be connected to two United States Presidents.  There was also mention of the connection via some Columbia, SC records that came my way.  My great-great grandmother on my father's side was a Harrison.  Nothing concrete to connect these Harrison families, but a few yellowed notes here and there.  I set out hoping to find out if were or were not akin My question was answered.  No.  We are not related to Presidents Benjamin or William Henry Harrison.  Nevertheless, the story that I did come across was very interesting and thought I'd share it with you here.  These are not my words or my research.  I am just fortunate to have stumbled across this information and now place it in your path to enjoy as well.

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

Our story starts with Andrew Harrison Sr., who was born sometime between 1640 and 1660 in England. He immigrated to Virginia colony sometime before 1683. Records indicate that Andrew Sr. came to the colonies under a "headright" contract with a colony official named Cadwallader Jones. The Headright system was established by the colonial government as a method of solving the colony's chronic shortage of laborers.  Passage to the Americas was not cheap, and often those wealthy enough to afford passage did not wish to pay for a number of servants to accompany them.  The headright system gave these future landowners a bonus of 50 acres per person they paid to bring over from England.  Many wealthy landowners saw a business opportunity, and established headright contracts, where the landowners paid for the passage of an indentured servant, who then worked for a set amount of time afterwards until the cost of the passage and the cost of the land was paid to the landowner, at which point the servant was freed and received title to the 50 acres. 

Location of Andrew Harrison's Plantation in Virginia.  If this is how Andrew Sr. came to Virginia , then within a few years Andrew Sr. had made enough to free himself of the debt, because he is listed as a freeman in the mid-1680's. Further, in 1686, Andrew Sr. and some friends entered the lucrative headright business themselves. Andrew Sr. purchased several thousand acres on Golden Vale Creek in Essex Co, Virginia (Now Caroline Co). He lived on 130 acres of the land, and used the rest for headright contracts.  At one point he owned 1800 acres as part of his plantation. All this land is now part of the Fort A.P. Hill military training center near the town of Bowling Green, Virginia.  Andrew Sr. was probably a wealthy man by colonial Virginia standards.  He was a tobacco plantation owner, with several slaves and indentured servants, and he (and later his son Andrew Jr.) served in the office of Constable for his part of Essex Co. for a number of years.  Holding an office in the colonial government speaks to the fact that Andrew Sr. was a man of wealth and privilege.

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

One of Andrew Sr.'s closest friends was John Battaile, a fellow headright who became his neighbor in Virginia and had remained a close family friend of the Harrisons.  John Battaile had connections to many of the elite members of Virginia colonial society, which both the Battailes and the Harrisons exploited. John had married into two very important families, the Taliaferros and the Smiths, who had received very large grants of land in the colonies and were prominent members of the aristocracy.  In 1708 John Battaile died, leaving his daughter Elizabeth in the care of the Harrisons.  Andrew Sr. was made her guardian.  Two years later, Elizabeth married Andrew Sr.'s son, Andrew Jr.  The couple inherited several hundred acres of land along Golden Vale Creek when Andrew Sr. died in 1718.  Andrew Jr. was a tobacco plantation owner like his father.  He also served as an Essex Co. constable, and later, as an officer in the Spotsylvania county militia and a road overseer for Spotsylvania county. 

The records that survive show that Andrew Jr. was well-connected and a savvy businessman. For example, in 1727, Andrew Jr. was arrested as part of a suit by a business partner, but Andrew used his connections in the colonial government to turn the tables on his opponent. The court record books of Essex Co. contain the following colorful entry: 
"Andrew Harrison, being arrested at the suit of James Gillison, in debt, and he having rescued himself by a superior force out of the sheriff's custody, order is granted to the said plaintiff against the said defendant for what shall appear due at next Court unless the defendant then appear and answer the said suit."  
The next year, Andrew Jr. began courting a group of wealthy landowners in the hopes of receiving a choice land patent. A patent is a grant of unclaimed land.

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

In 1747, he deeded 200 acres of the Harris Creek land to his oldest son, Battaile Harrison.  Battaile lived for a time on the land granted to him by his father, but eventually decided to get into the land business for himself.  Battaile used the land given to him by his father, as well as land given to him by his father-in-law in nearby Culpeper county to secure a large land grant in Amherst county, near Lynchburg.  Battaile moved there, where he ran a plantation and also acted as road overseer for a nearby road.  In addition, Battaile ran an inn along the road, a profession which was generally only undertaken by the aristocracy in colonial Virginia.  Battaile was also lieutenant in the Virginia militia. He died in November of 1776 at age 69, so it is unlikely he participated in the Revolutionary War, but likely did participate in skirmishes with local Indian tribes, which were being upset by rapid, illegal expansion by settlers in the Appalachian mountains to the west.
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