Select Harris Miscellany

Here are some Harris stories and accounts over the years:

Harris DNA

The majority of Harrises tested so far belong to R1b1 (Western European) or I1 (Scandinavian) haplogroups. Some Harrises were also found to have E3 (African), J (Middle Eastern/Mediterranean), and R1a (Eastern European) haplogroups.  R1b1 originates from all over Britain.  But I1 is mainly to be found in East Anglia and the northeast of Scotland where there were Danish settlements.

The Harris surname project was one of the largest DNA surname projects undertaken, with almost 300 participating.

Harrises in Essex

Some Harrises from Essex claim to derive their surname from the French term le herisse. The original name had been a nickname, Crispin, from the Latin meaning “sticking-up hair.”  The French translation of Crispin is le herisse.  There was a Crispin de Bec so nicknamed and his son, Guy "Le Herisse" de Bailleul was perhaps the first to assume the French translation of the name.

Branches of this family were said to have migrated to Britain and were known as de Heriz and Heris in the 12th century.

The Tombstone of Sir Thomas Harris in Cornwall

Sir Thomas Harris was buried on May 25, 1610 and his wife Elizabeth on April 18, 1634 in Cornworthy parish church.  Their tombstone was enscribed as follows:

"This worthy gentleman deceased his life
The seventeenth day of May in the year of our Lord God 1610.
Here lieth the right worshipful Sir Thomas Harris, knight sergeant at law
And the lady Elzabeth his wife
With their four children.
Their eldest son Edward,
Their second son Christopher slain in the wars at Zealand in Flanders,
Their eldest daughter Anne married to Sir Thomas Souphwell
Their youngest daughter Honer married to Sir Hugh Harris, knight of Scotland."

William Harris and Charles II

This story of Hayne connects the Harrises there with Charles II.  The prince - as he then was - had passed over from Holland to Scotland after the death of his father in 1649 and been crowned King of England at Scone.  He then advanced into England with a small army but was stopped by Oliver Cromwell who defeated him at the battle of Worcester.  Charles then fled to the west.

One night a servant came to inform William Harris at Hayne that three horsemen were in the courtyard who desired to speak to him.  He went out and found the King with two attendants.  The staunch royalist received the fallen monarch readily.  There was a concealed room in the middle of the old house and here Charles was loyally cared for during some days while preparations were made for his escape.  The concealment was successful and Charles escaped to France.

William received a large gold medal struck by Charles in commemmoration of his enterprise.  The Harrises were later created baronets by Charles when King.

Harries, Tregwynt and Buried Treasure

The story started in 1996 at Tregwynt Mansion, not far from Fishguard in Pembrokeshire, where the owners were building a tennis court.  As they levelled the site and removed the topsoil, a few coins were uncovered. As more soil was removed, more coins were found.  After a few days 87 silver and gold coins had been uncovered dating from the 16th and 17th centuries.  Further searching, helped by a hired JCB, brought the grand total to 33 gold and 467 silver coins, fragments of pottery, a sheet of lead, and a gold ring! 

The latest coin to be discovered was a single shilling bearing a sceptre, in use in 1647 and 1648.  Thus the hoard was thought to be buried no earlier than 1647. 

The occupier of Tregwynt at that time was Llewellin Harries, an important farmer who died in 1663 and who had at least twelve children.  As the hoard was buried in a pot covered by a lead sheet in an outbuilding, it suggests that one of the family was probably involved in its burial.   In the confused times of the Civil War then almost anything may have been possible.  There was some evidence that these Harries were Royalists and this may have been their hoard to be kept away from the rampaging Roundheads.   

John Harris, Father and Son, and Harrisburg

The first John Harris, born in 1673 in Yorkshire of Welsh parents, emigrated to America late in the 17th century.  He came with little money but he began to improve his fortune through contracts to clear land and open streets in the city of Philadelphia.  In so doing, he formed a firm and lifelong friendship with Edward Shippen, its first mayor. 

He received a trader's licence in 1705 to "seat himself on the Susquehannah" and "to erect such buildings as are necessary for his trade and to enclose and improve such quanties of land he shall see fit."  At first a roving trader, he eventually established a trading post at a spot on the Susquehannah where an existing Indian village existed and where dozens of Indian trails intersected.  He also started a ferry across the Susquehannah and acquired the land adjacant to his ferry.

He became known for his dealings with the Indians: 

"On one occasion a band of Indians came into his house and asked for rum.  Seeing that they were already intoxicated, he feared mischief and refused.  They became enraged, seized, him, and tied him to a mulberry bush to burn him.  Luckily he was, after a struggle, released by other Indians in the neighborhood.   In remembrance of this event, he afterward directed that on his death he should be buried under this mulberry tree."

When he died in 1748, his son John - said to have been the first white child born west of the Conewago hills - took over the management of the trading post and built on higher ground a plantation of three farms and a family home.    

At the end of the Revolutionary War, there was agitation among the newer settlers of Pennsylvania for the creation of new counties.  John Harris was instrumental in the establishment of Dauphin County in 1785 and in the location of a new county seat "near Harris's Ferry."  The Government accepted his proposal to lay out a new town, which was to be called "Harrisburg."

Alexander Harris Arrives in Sydney

It was the latter part of 1826 or perhaps 1827.  Summer had come to the Australian colonies and the hot southern sun was beating down upon the clear blue waters of Sydney Harbour.  A young man had arrived in port from England, having stopped off at Hobart en route to see his brother who was a free settler there.

The young lad was alone, with perhaps £130 in his pocket, a letter of introduction to the Governor requesting a grant of land, and a collection of agricultural implements to set himself up on a small farm.

His departure from England was shrouded in mystery.  Rumor had it that he was a "remittance man," a deserter from the Army who was unable to stomach the harsh discipline and floggings he received as punishment for his various misdemeanors.  As a result, he had taken on a new name, a new identity, and hoped to start afresh in this distant penal colony so far from England.

William Wade Harris

William Wade Harris was a Liberian Grebo who had been brought up a Methodist, but later worked for the Protestant Episcopal Church as a teacher.  He fought Americo-Liberian rule and was imprisoned when implicated in a rebellion which would have invited the rather more enlightened British rule into Liberia as a liberation from Americo-Liberian oppression.

When in prison he received a vision from the Archangel Gabriel who proclaimed him a prophet sent to prepare the way of Jesus Christ.  The Archangel, however, commanded him to abandon the European clothes he took pride in and particularly the shoes he had just ordered from Europe.  Rejecting European clothes would be the sign of his conversion and the symbol of the simplicity and humility of the gospel message.

However, Harris's wife Rose, on hearing this news, assumed that her husband had gone mad.  Overcome by grief, she fell ill and died.  William Wade Harris went on to become the prophet and leader of a West African mass Christian movement.

Richard Harris from Limerick

Hartstonge House is a tall narrow townhouse with no garden standing alone on Hartstonge Street towards the park.  It had been the home, in the late 1800's, of a wealthy Harris family who had owned Harris's bakery on Henry Street. 

Fifty years later this family was not so wealthy.  Ivan Harris had once been a well-to-do flour mill owner, but had fallen on hard times.  He and his wife Mildred brought up eight children in near-poverty. 

The fifth of these children was Richard, later to be the celebrated actor and hell-raiser.  Regarding his Irish birth, British residency, and well-deserved drinking reputation, he once commented: "When I'm in trouble, I'm an Irishman.  When I turn in a good performance, I'm an Englishman."  Following years of drug abuse and decades of heavy boozing, Richard Harris finally gave up drinking in 1982. 

He died in 2002.  Five years later, a statue of Richard Harris was erected on Bedford Row in Limerick.  It depicts him in the role of King Arthur.  The statue when erected proved to be controversial, just like its subject!

Reader Feedback - Irish Harrises in South Africa

Would you have any information on Irish Harrises coming to South Africa in the 1800’s?  My father was Anthonie Cornelius Harris, born in 1929; my grandfather Ettienne Frederick Harris, born in 1878, and I think his father was Anthony Harris from Ireland.  

Kind regards  
Llewellyn Harris (

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