History of Thomas Harris

Their story begins far away from Walton County, Georgia

By the year 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 Briton whose principles helped to shape the Declaration of Independence; Virginias 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 nations second President.

When they crafted the Declaration of Independence, it was a vision of each persons individual claim to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

During the the time of the birth of our nation, the call for colonial patriots to free themselves from ties to Great Britain brought people from near and far to serve the Continental Army under General George Washington.  One of these patriots was William Harrris’ Revolutionary War grandfather, Thomas Harris, of Orange County, Virginia.  He was married to Sabra Harris, and 

had six children:  Lindsey, Thomas, John, Lewis, Betty and Mary.  John Harris, third child born in 1768, was the father of William Harris. Thomas Harris served in the Revolutionary War in Taylors Virginia Regiment, as a Corporal in Captain Garland Burnleys Company of the Regiment of Guards.  

Little is known about the lives of Williams grandparents, Thomas and Sabra Harris.  Thomas and Sabra lived near the north Anna River, which forms the border between Louisa County and Orange County, Virginia.  This district was home to other familiesthe Bells, Bollings, and Bledsoeswhose members played a part in the Harris family history.  In 1776, Thomas and Sabra Harris and their family moved from Louisa County to Orange County, and they lived there until Thomas died in 1782.

In 1803, Sabra decided to give up the land that had been left to her in Thomas’ will.  This generated a court case to partition the land among the heirs.  In the will, Thomas named his children.  One son, John Harris, was given a bequest of land, which was to be distributed to him, when he comes of age or marries.”  This was proof that 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.  Johns name was listed with his brother, Thomas, as head of household, which meant that John was over sixteen but under twenty-one years of age.  In 1789, according to tax records, John paid a tithable tax for the first time, so he was twenty-one by that date.  This places his birth date between 1765 (under twenty-one in 1785) and 1768 (twenty-one by 1789).  Following the court case in 1803, John received a well-described piece of land bordering the parcel where Sabra, his mother, lived.

John and Milly Harris

John Harris was born between c.1768.  On July 17, 1792 John married Mary (Polly) Walker, daughter of Peter Walker.  John and Mary (Polly) had five children:  (1) Charles W. Harris (married Polly Strong), (2) James Walker Harris (married Sarah Strong Thompson), (3) Sarah (Sally) Harris (married William Thompson), (4) Polly Harris (married James Smith), (5) Nancy Harris (married John Kilgore).  

Mary (Polly) Walker Harris died before or during 1800.

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.  Millys father, John Bolling, owned property on the banks of the Pamunky River, land that he inherited from his father, William Bolling.  John Bolling was a patriot in the Revolutionary War, along with his four brothers,, Thornberry, Samuel, William and Jesse.  Brother William died at Valley Forge on August 20, 1778.

Millys parents, John and Ursula Bolling, eventually moved to Oglethorpe County, Georgia.  Milly married Thomas Price, who was from Oglethorpe County, in the late 1790s, and he died shortly afterwards.  As far as can be determined, Milly and Thomas did not have any children.  According to the Oglethorpe County Administration Guardian Book, 1799-1807, Milly was in court on August 26, 1799, asking for twelve months support from Thomas Prices estate.  Sometime after that date, she moved back to Orange County, Virginia.  In 1800, she married John Harris, widower.

John and Milly Harris had ten children:  (1) Elizabeth Harris, (2) John D. Harris (married Lucy Hawkins), (3) Lewis Harris (married Nancy Stroud), (4) Patsy (Martha) Harris (married Ransome Kimball), (5) Clary Harris (married Seaton Cochran), (6) Thomas Harris (married Caroline Brown),  (7) Susannah Harris (married Willis Kilgore), (8) William Harris (married Harriet Amanda Davenport), (9) Jourdan Harris (married Comfort Whaley), (10) Jesse Mercer Harris.

In 1803, John and Milly sold the property he had received from his mothers court petition.  The deed said that Mildred” was unable to come to the courthouse to be examined concerning her dowager 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 of land coincides with their move to Oglethorpe County, Georgia 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, Georgia by 1806.  In a deed dated May 14, 1806, 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 Johns 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 operations after his death.  One of Johns grandsons was a wheelwright by trade, and another grandson was a mechanic.

At the time John Harris 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 John and Millys arrival to the area, several early churches were formed. Many congregations met in the homes of its members. It is thought that the Harris’ attended Big Creek Primitive Baptist Church.  The Bolling family records show that members of John and Millys family were some of the first members.  The church was close to their home.  After Milly moved to Walton County, Georgia (around 1836), she was a charter member of the Sorrells Springs Primitive Baptist Church.

Background on the Harris farm

In 1818, the Creek Indian Nation was paid $120.000 for about 1,500.000 area in two tracts in Georgia, one south of the Altamaha River and the other around the headwaters of the Ocmulgee River.  It was from the latter tract that Walton County was formed in 1818, comprising 394 square miles, the area being increased four days after establishment by annexation of a tract from Jackson County.  Indians lived along the banks of the Apalachee and Alcovy Rivers, both of which traversed Walton County.  

In order to bring settlers into the newly formed Walton County, land batteries were held.  In the Georgia Land Lottery of 1820, there were two properties, in particular, that were awarded that were of future interest to the Harris family.  Land Lot 122 was awarded to Barbary Wilson, a widow from Washington County.  Land lot 149 was granted to James Gardiner, 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 his new property in Walton County, and built the log house and smokehouse around 1825.  Mr. Carr 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 in Floyd County.  As a result, Mr. Carr sold the original land lots in Walton Count for $2,000.00 to Willis Kilgore, son-in-law of Milly Harris, and to John D. Harris, son of Milly and John Harris.  Willis was married to Williams sister, Susannah, and John D. Harris was a brother of Williams.  In 1836, Willis Kilgore and John D. Harris conveyed this land to Milly Harris, who was still living in Oglethorpe County with her younger children (John Harris, her husband, died in 1821).  Milly then moved to Walton County with her younger sons, William, Gerdine (Jourdan), and Jesse Mercer.  Before or at the time of her death (around 1858), conveyance of the land was made to William Harris, who was living on the property with his wife, Harriet, and their children.


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