Harris Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Harris Meaning
Harry was the regular pronunciation
of Henry in the Middle Ages, although Henry always appeared in official
documents. From Harry came Harris, mainly found in
the south of England, and Harrison, mainly found in the

There are local
variants of the Harris name, Harries in Wales, Harriss in pockets of
the Midlands, and Herries in Scotland. One Harris branch in
Essex, dating back to the 1500’s, claimed to derive their surname from
the French

Harrises and its variants from Britain can be found in America.
Some Harrises in America may have German or French ancestry.

Harris Resources on

Harris Ancestry

England. Early references
to the Harris surname are William Herry in Colchester in 1337, William
Harrys in Oxfordshire in 1406, and Lawrence Harryes in Hertfordshire in
1468. Guppy, an early researcher on surnames, had the following
comment on the Harrises:

“In the struggle between the Harrises
and the Harrisons, the former have been worsted. The Harrises in
fact have been entirely on the defensive. Not only have they been
unable to make any successful inroads into the northern territory of
the Harrisons, they have not prevented their foes from forcing a way
through their ranks and reaching the south coast.”

SW England
The Harrises of Radford manor in Devon date from about
1450. They subsequently became the Harrises of Hayne and there
were family
outposts in Cornwall
and Somerset as well. The Harris
also appeared in the Channel islands of Alderney and Guernsey,
following a family migration from Devon in the 1840’s. A Harris
family from Salisbury in Wiltshire produced James
Harris, a noted English diplomat at the time of the French
Revolution. His grandson James was briefly Foreign Secretary in
the 1850’s.

SE England A
Harris family from Southminster in Essex traces itself back to
around 1500. Sir Arthur Harris from this family was a member of
the Virginia company in London which helped organize the early
settlement there. Another Harris family, originally from Harlow in
Essex, have descendants who settled in Prince Edward Island, Canada in
the 1850’s.

Wales. The Welsh Harries
name was mainly to be found in Pembrokeshire. A Harries family
had settled at
and at Priskilly in the
1600’s. They
built their
family home at Heathfield in Letterston in the early 19th
Later Harries were to be found in Glamorgan.

. The Herries name first appeared in
Dumfriesshire on the Scottish borders, the origin being the Norman
family de Heriz. A Herries family,
dating back to Herbert Herries in 1490, were the lords of
Terregles near Dumfries.

Some might think that Harris is a
name because of the Harris tweed which takes its name from the isle of
Harris in the Outer Hebrides. This Harris name is derived from
the Gaelic na hearadh. 

AmericaWilliam Harris, who arrived on the Lion, was one of the early settlers of Providence, Rhode Island. Elisha Harris from this family was the Governor of the state in 1847. Nathan Harris from Rhode Island became an early convert to the Mormon movement.

Virginia.  John Harris from the Essex Southminster family came to Virginia in the 1620’s. His son Thomas started a tobacco plantation in Isle of Wight county. Descendants later moved onto North Carolina and Georgia.

Other Harrises in Virginia went to Tennessee, Indiana, and Texas. Harris county in Texas was named after Richardson Harris, an early settler in the area in the 1820’s. William Harris from Georgia came to Mississippi in 1837. Hie three sons, Nathaniel, James, and William, all served in the Confederate Army, Nathaniel in particular distinguishing himself in battle.

Pennsylvania John Harris
from Yorkshire
had arrived in Pennsylvania in the early
and founded Harrisburg (which bears his name today). His family
operated a trading and ferry business and were one of principal store
keepers for the emerging American frontier at that time.

Canada. The first Harris
arrivals were originally of Dutch extraction, but living in New York
state at the time of the American Revolution. After the war,
Myndert Harris took his family to Port Hope in Ontario. Another
who departed at that time was Eli Harris. He left New York for
Ingersoll, Ontario in 1805. His line produced pioneer Baptist
ministers and the painter Lawren Harris.

John Harris came over in 1821 from Ireland (although of English stock)
and settled in Wellington county, Ontario. Another John Harris,
this time from Devon, built Eldon House in London, Ontario in
1834. John died soon after; but his wife Amelia lived on for
another twenty five years. Her diary has been preserved and gives
an interesting account of 19th century family life. Eldon House
itself remained in family hands until 1959 and has now been restored as
a museum.

Australia. Two John
Harrises from very different backgrounds contributed to the early
history of Australia:

  • the first Harris was Jewish, convicted of
    burglary in London and transported with a life sentence on the First
    Fleet to Australia. His enterprise soon won him a pardon and he
    was one of the earliest innkeepers with a liquor license in the new
  • the second, a surgeon with the Royal Navy from Ireland,
    arrived in 1790. He was very much involved in the early politics
    and died in 1838 a wealthy man.

Alexander Harris
came from England in 1826 and lived a wandering life in the new colony
for many years. His autobiography Settlers and Convicts provides a
very vivid account of life at that time there.

George Frederick Harris, a portrait painter from Merthyr Tydfil in
Wales, made his arrival in Australia much later, in 1920. His
talents were passed down. A daughter was Pixie O’Harris, an
artist and book illustrator; and a grandson Rolf Harris who made the
reverse trip to England bringing his novelty song Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport along
with him.

Africa. Desserline
Harris, a free black from Virginia, emigrated to Liberia in 1848 and
the Harris name has lived on in that country. The most famous of
these Harrises was probably William Wade Harris, the
Christian prophet. Jeremiah Harris founded the Bank of Liberia in

During the recent troubles in Liberia there have been some
Harrises who have stayed, such as the psychiatrist Benjamin Harris, and
others who have left, such as Cleo Harris who joined other Liberian
emigrants in Minnesota in the United States.


Select Harris Miscellany

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
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

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

William received a large gold medal struck by Charles in
commemoration 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.

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
adjacent 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

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

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

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 (harri03@vvsa.co.za)


Harris Names

was one of Lincoln’s successful generals who later
became Governor of Ohio.
Joel Chandler Harris from
Georgia was the American journalist who wrote the Uncle Remus stories.
Frank Harris, of Welsh origin
who settled in America, is best known for his autobiography, My Life and Loves published in
1922, which scandalized society at the time for its description of
sexual encounters and liaisons.
Lawren Harris
was an accomplished Canadian painter of the first
half of the 20th century.
Sir Arthur “Bomber” Harris was
head of RAF Bomber Command
during War World 2.
Richard Harris
was an
Irish-born international actor.
Thomas Harris is an American
author of crime novels, notably The
Silence of the Lambs

Select Harris Numbers Today

  • 162,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Hampshire)
  • 210,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 72,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)




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