By Stephen Harris
A mysterious 18th century pioneer and his young son roam backwoods Wilkes County, NC, in search of a new home while the American Revolutionary War rages in the Southern USA. Their story introduces "The Harris Family of Pleasant Ridge," a manuscript of my family history that is still in the process of being written. This home page summarizes my story of William Harris and his descendants in the eastern Wilkes County community of Pleasant Ridge. It is the result of more than 20 years of research into my Harris ancestral line.
This family history tells of seven Harris men whose lives reflect the story of America. Through seven generations, this family moved from pioneering a wilderness to entering the industrial age and a post-industrial age. It's a story for the family, but the story also has a broader interest for anyone interested in the community or local history.
Here are the seven generations covered:
1. William Harris, b. 1750/51 in Culpeper, VA, d. after 1834 likely in Wilkes County, NC.
As a guard for Gen. George Washington in the Revolutionary War for three years, William undoubtedly was an eyewitness to the major battles and events - from Boston to New York to Valley Forge and finally to New Jersey - that gave America its independence. As William recounted later, as a teenager he "was in several skirmishes" including the important battles of Brandywine and Monmouth, then viewed "the capture of Lord Cornwallis" at the war's end.
Belived by some to be a descendant of Sgt. John Harris, of the prominent family of the Virginia colony' first years, William chose after the war to start a new life in the North Carolina wilderness, for reasons lost to history.
2. Silas Harris, b. ca. 1775 in VA, d. in Surry County, NC.
3. Henderson Harris, b. ca. 1815 in Surry County, NC., d. in Wilkes County.
Henderson and an older brother would marry sisters and take up residence along Big Elkin Creek north of Elkin, NC, and near a rapids called Carter Falls.
4. Virgil Harris, b. 1845, d. 1932 in Wilkes County.
Virgil would tell his grandchildren of his time as a soldier in the Civil War. But did he fight for the North or the South? In Wilkes County, a bastion of Union sympathy, where counter-rebels to the Confederate rebel cause encamped and formed their own militia, and where one objector created local legned by clandestinely raising the U.S. flag at the county courthouse, the answer could believably go either way. Following war, he built a log cabin for his family and built a life of his own.
But the memory that survived best is a story still told about Virgil's colorful wife, "Granny" Jane Young Harris, who took to riding a motorcycle sidecar in her old age and waving her bonnet up and down the Ridge.
5. Jim Harris, b. 1884, d. 1955 in Wilkes County.
He continued the family farm and maintained a self-sufficient farming life even through tough Depression years. But he also helped build a colorful community, close-knit and at ease with itself, a trait that remains to this day.
6. Sherman Harris, b. 1920, d. 1990 in Wilkes County.
He left the farm as a young man, like so many of his generation in the community, to join the industrial revolution. He found himself joining World War II as well. His is a story of an emerging textile-mill culture in the South. But when given a chance to return to the farm, he was blocked by circumstances beyond his control.
7. Stephen Harris, b. 1955 in Wilkes County.
He took the next step into a profesisonal life but could not bear to leave the legacy behind.
Look for more details as I develop the manuscript and this home page. One aim is to share genealogical information and obtain more details. I invite you to share in the project. Questions, comments, additions and corrections are welcomed and desired. See below to contact me.
About the author: Stephen Harris is a retired newspaper reporter and editor and an alumnus of UNC-Chapel Hill.