History of John Harris

This story begins far away from Walton County, Georgia…

The year was 1774. The resentment of British rule over the colonies in the “new world” drew many men together. This was a rebellion unlike any the world had ever seen. It was planned by prosperous, educated, free thinking men such as George Washington, a Virginia plantation owner who had the most military experience of the rebel colonials; Samuel Adams of Massachusetts, an outspoken activist and leader of the Boston Tea Party in 1773; Thomas Paine, a Britton whose principles helped to shape the Declaration of Independence; Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration of Independence in three weeks. Jefferson was aided by John Adams of Massachusetts, a lawyer who would become the nation’s second President.

When they crafted the Declaration of Independence, it was a vision of each person’s individual claim to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as a birthright.

This was the birth of our nation. The call to the Patriots brought people from near and far to demand their rights as human beings and equal justice for all…one of these patriots was one of our own…this is where our story begins.

Thomas and Sabra Harris, parents of John Harris, father of William Harris of Walton County, Georgia:

Little is known about the lives of Thomas and Sabra Harris. Thomas served his country as a patriot in the American Revolution. He and Sabra lived on the north Anna River, which forms the border with Louisa County, Virginia. This land is also where the Bollings, Bells, and Bledsoes lived. In fact, Thomas, John and his brother, Lindsay all were in the same district with them. In 1776, Thomas Harris and his family moved from Louisa County to Orange County, Virginia and lived there until he died in 1782.

In 1803, Sabra decided to give up the land that had been left to her in Thomas’s will. This generated a court case to partition the land among the heirs. In the will, he had named a son, John. John’s bequest was to be distributed “when he comes of age or marries.” Therefore, when Thomas died in 1782, John was a minor. The first time John shows up on the tithable tax rolls was in 1785, but not as a tithable . His name was listed with his brother, Thomas, as head of household, which means that John was over 16 but not yet 21. Then in 1789, John pays a tithable tax for the first time, so he was twenty-one by that date. This places his birth date between 1765 (under twenty-on in 1785) and 1768 (twenty-on by 1789). Following the court case, John received a well-described piece of land bordering the parcel where Sabra, his mother, lived.

John Harris

John Harris was born between 1765 and 1768. On July 17, 1792, John married Mary (Polly) Walker, daughter of Peter Walker. John and Polly had five children: Charles W. Harris married Polly Strong; James Walker married Sarah Strong Thompson; Sarah (Sally) married William Thompson; Polly married James Smith; Nancy married John Kilgore. It is not known when Mary (Polly) Walker Harris died.

On November 2, 1800, John married Milly Bolling Price, a widow born about 1772, who also lived in Louisa County, Virginia. She was the daughter of John and Ursula Bell Wisdom Bolling. Milly’s father owned property on the banks of the Pamunky River, land he inherited from his father, William. John Bolling was also a patriot during the Revolutionary War. He had four brothers, Thornberry, Samuel, William, and Jesse, all of whom fought in the war. Brother William died at Valley Forge on August 20, 1778. Milly’s parents eventually sold their land and moved to Oglethorpe County, Georgia. Milly had been married to Thomas Price, who was from Oglethorpe County, Georgia. As far as can be determined, Milly and Thomas did not have any children. He died before 1798. According to Oglethorpe County Administration Guardian Book, 1799-1807, Milly was in court on August 26, 1799 asking for twelve months support from Thomas Price’s estate. Sometime after that date, she moved back to Orange County, Virginia. In 1800, she met and married John Harris.

John and Milly had ten children: Elizabeth; John D., who married Lucy Hawkins; Lewis, who married Nancy Stroud; Patsy (Martha), who married Ransome Kimball; Clary, who married Seaton Cochran; Thomas, who married Caroline Brown; Susannah, who married Willis Kilgore; William, who married Harriet Amanda Davenport; Gerdine (Jordan), who married Comfort Whaley; and Jesse Mercer.

In 1803, John and Milly sold the property he had received from his mother’s court petition. The deed says that “Mildred” was unable to come to the courthouse to be examined concerning her dower rights, so they went to her at home. It is thought that she was pregnant or had just delivered. This could explain why “Milly” got recorded as “Mildred” by the court clerk. This 1803 sale coincides with the move to Oglethorpe County by 1805-1806.

Moving to Georgia

According to deeds, census records and yearly returns, John and Milly were living in the Big Creek area of Oglethorpe County. In a deed dated May 15, 1808, John bought 350 acres of land, including the house where he was already living, from Ruben Radford. This same deed speaks of a cotton machine on the property. After John’s death in 1821, the yearly returns state that the mill wheel was repaired, cotton bagging was bought, along with ink for a printing machine. These items indicate that John probably ran a cotton gin. Perhaps some of his sons were helpers and may have continued the cotton gin operation after his death. One of John’s grandsons was a wheelwright by trade, and another grandson was a mechanic.

At the time John arrived in Oglethorpe County, the main cash crop was cotton. The years following the War of 1812 were very prosperous for the residents of Oglethorpe County. It was during this time that the plantation system was well-established in Georgia. Just prior to their arrival, several early churches were formed. Indians were still a big concern for John and his neighbors. Many congregations met in the homes of its members. It is thought that they attended Big Creek Primitive Baptist Church. We know the Bolling family records show that members of Milly’s family were some of the first members. The church was close to their home. Milly was a charter member of Sorrells Springs Primitive Baptist church in Walton County.

In the early 1800’s in Georgia, areas were becoming more populated. The land was showing the potential of its yield and plantations were numerous. The growing problem resulting from the planter’s life was slavery. Slavery enabled this southern economic development and was the basis of its foundation. A few doctors, traveling over many miles, provided what healthcare there was at that time. Times, though good, were very hard.

In 1818, the Creek Indian Nation was paid $120,000 for about 1,500,000 acres in two tracts, one south of the Altamaha and the other around the headwaters of the Ochmulgee. It was from the latter tract that Walton 3 County was formed in 1818, comprising 394 square miles, the area being increased four days after establishment by annexation of ta tract from Jackson County. Indians lived along the banks of the Apalachee and Alcovy Rivers, both of which traversed Walton County.

In order to get settlers to come into the newly formed Walton County, land lotteries were held. In 1820, there were two properties, in particular, that were awarded that were of future interest to the Harris family. Land Lot 122 was granted to Barbary Wilson, a widow of Washington County. Land Lot 149 was granted to James Gardner, of Richmond County. In 1821, and later in 1823, both the land lots (500 acres) were sold to Mr. William Carr, of Twiggs County for $800.00. Mr. Carr moved to Walton County and built the log house in 1825. This log house still stands today. He was listed as Head of Household in the Census of 1830.

In 1832, the Cherokee and Gold Lotteries were held and William Carr received two prizes. As a result, he sold the original land lots in Walton County to Willis Kilgore, son-in-law of Milly Harris, and to John D. Harris, son of Milly and John Harris (brother of William) for $2,000. Early the next year, Willis and John conveyed this land to Milly Harris who, following John’s death in 1821, had continued to live in Oglethorpe County with her younger children. Milly then moved to Walton County with her younger sons. William would have been about eighteen at this time. Before or at the time of her death, conveyance of the land was made to William Harris.

The William Harris Homestead Foundation is a charitable 501(c)3 organization whose mission is to provide heritage, agricultural and environmental scholarship.