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Col. Thomas HARRISON

Male 1665 - 1746  (80 years)

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  • Name Thomas HARRISON 
    Title Col. 
    Born 7 Sep 1665  VA Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Gender Male 
    AFN 8LCN-C9 
    Title Capt. 
    Died 13 Aug 1746  VA Find all individuals with events at this location 

    • (1) Source: The Harrison Genealogy Repository <>.

      (2) Alcock, John P., Five Generations of the Family of Burr Harrison of Virginia 1650-1800, Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, Inc., 1991, pp. 43-52:

      The page of the vestry book of Dettingen Parish that gives the date of birth for the immigrant, Burr Harrison, also notes that "Thomas, the son of said Burr Harrison, was born September the 7th day, 1665 and departed this life on the 13th day of August at 2 in the morning, 1746." This man's lifespan of eighty-one years covered almost half the period between the first settlement at Jamestown and the Declaration of Independence. In his lifetime, the population of Virginia increased sevenfold from 35,000 to about 235,000. The frontier in northern Virginia moved from the area where he was born, a few miles from the Potomac, across the Blue Ridge into the Valley of the Shenandoah. Having begun life as the child of a small farmer working rented land, Thomas Harrison became the largest grower of tobacco in his county and reached the posts of commander of the county militia and presiding justice of its court. His career demonstrates that upward social mobility on the frontiers of America began well before the Revolution.

      In following the life of this Thomas Harrison, the problem is how to distinguish him from contemporaries of the same name in the region. A Thomas Harrison purchased land in Stafford from William Green in January 1685/6. The buyer could not be Burr Harrison's son, who was not yet twenty-one and therefore could not buy real estate. When Sarah Matheney was ordered in November, 1690 to pay Thomas Harrison 80 pounds tobacco for two days attendance at court, it is impossible to ascertain which man was the witness. When the lengthy legal struggles of Burr Harrison Sr. with Robert Brent and Richard Gibson were decided in 1691, Thomas Harrison, obviously Burr's son, was paid for his attendance as a witness in the Brent case. However, in the other suit, Gibson subpoenaed him to testify to what he knew of the matter, and when he did not appear, he was fined 350 pounds tobacco.

      Because so many of the Stafford records are missing, the next mention of Thomas Harrison is found in 1700, when he signed a petition to Governor Nicholson from the civil and military officers of the county requesting "a forse to range and scoute on the fronteares." Harrison was one of four militia captains under the command of Colonel George Mason, Lt. Colonel Rice Hooe, and Major William Fitzhugh. The other captains were Charles Ellis, George Anderson, and John West. From then on Thomas, the son of Burr, was usually referred to as "Captain"; after 1731 as "Colonel." In court documents he was termed Gentleman, distinguishing him from others of the name who were "planters." He and his son were the only Thomas Harrisons of the period in northern Virginia who could sign their names; three others made their marks.

      Several records naming Captain Thomas Harrison add to the picture of life in the first decade of the eighteenth century. He was among the buyers at an "outcry" (auction) of William Betty's estate. Such sales of part or all of the deceased's personal property were common, especially when the assets of an estate were insufficient to satisfy the creditors. Captain Thomas witnessed a deed, whereby a young neighbor, Samuel Gibson, aged twenty-two, sold land inherited from his father, the lawyer Richard Gibson. The county accounts for 1701 showed he was paid 800 pounds tobacco for the heads of three wolves; one each killed in a trap, by gun, and by pit. The Captain was one of twenty-two prominent citizens of Stafford signing a memorial of condolence to Queen Anne on the death of her brother-in-law, King William of Orange. In 1706 Charles and Mary Christmas apprenticed to Harrison her son, Thomas Cross, until he reached the age of twenty-one. A codicil to the indenture required "Harrison and his heirs to bring this said Cross to read."

      About 1700 Captain Harrison left the Chopawamsic area to live at Hunting Creek, twenty-five miles or so to the north within the present city of Alexandria, on the land bought by his father from the Nixons. That this area was less settled than the older parts of the county may explain why Harrison collected the bounties on so many wolves. There is a bit of a mystery about his move. Why did he leave his late father's plantation on the Chopawamsic, to which he returned after only three years and which he bequeathed to his eldest son? Maybe his mother was still alive and utilizing her dower rights to the family's home plantation. Harrison had recently married, and his bride may have wanted a home of her own. They might have returned after the mother died.

      Soon after his return from Hunting Creek, Captain Thomas began a flurry of land purchases from the Proprietors. Their agent in Virginia was now Colonel Robert "King" Carter, king because of the enormous land holdings he arranged to obtain for himself and his family through the office. In 1705 Harrison in association with Thomas Walter received a grant of 112 acres on the Occoquan River and Morumpsco Creek "just below the main road." His next purchase was made through a syndicate composed of John West, William Harrison, Thomas Pearson, and himself, which was granted 4639 acres on Hunting Creek in 1706. Fairfax Harrison in Landmarks of Old Prince William opined that the partners were kinsmen and that John West was probably married to a daughter of Burr Harrison, the immigrant. West and Pearson were definitely cousins, West's mother being a Pearson. According to family tradition, the two Harrisons were brothers, but this has not been confirmed (nor refuted). Similarly, no proof has been found that West or Pearson was an in-law of either.

      A plat of this property has survived showing how the partners divided the tract into eight equal pieces. Each partner received two of these, those of Thomas Harrison being on the opposite uppermost corners of the U-shaped plot. Harrison sold half of each of his pieces to Captain Simon Pearson, son of the partner in the patent, in 1718.

      The survey for the division started at a "pickhiccory" (pignut hickory) and ran through twenty-seven angles, most of which were marked by trees; there were seven white oaks, four red oaks, four "Spanish" (southern red) oaks," three black oaks, two hickories and one maple. They were probably representative of the composition of the virgin deciduous forest covering the region at the beginning of the eighteenth century.

      After the grant to the partnership the Captain on his own account obtained 294 acres in the fork of the Chopawamsic main run adjoining land belonging to William Brent, on which Harrison held a "lease-for-lives." A year later with Abraham Farrow he patented 800 acres on branches of the Chopawamsic and Quantico Creeks. The deed mentioned a path which went from Thomas Harris's to Quanticutt (Quantico) Mill.

      Captain Harrison received his last patent from the Proprietors in 1710 in partnership with his brother-in-law, Thomas Whitledge, husband of his sister Sybil. The 938 acres on Cedar Run were later split into quarters, two non-adjacent ones going to each partner following the pattern of the Hunting Creek division.

      In 1724 the register of Overwharton Parish has a list of quitrents paid to the Proprietors. Capt. Thomas Harrison paid on 1639 acres. On 200 acres more the fees were paid by his eldest son Burr with the notation that the land belonged to Capt. Harrison. His share of the five land-grants less the sale to Simon Pearson totalled 1799 acres. Since title to the lands held by the first Burr Harrison traced back to original grants by the administration of the colony rather than ones by the Proprietors' office, property that Captain Thomas had inherited was probably not subject to quitrents to the Proprietor. The difference of only 40 acres suggests that the grants accounted for almost all his acquisitions of land.

      Also in the Overwharton register is a census of tobacco planters made in accord with a 1723 law regulating the planting of tobacco in an attempt to maintain its value as the principal export of the colony. The statute limited production to no more than 6000 plants per laboring person plus 3000 per male between the ages of ten and sixteen. The type of tobacco grown is given as Arronoco. In the part of the parish between Aquia and Quantico Creeks, Harrison was growing 44,929 plants with six men and four boys, including himself and his son Thomas Jr. Two of the men and two boys were Negroes. He was the largest grower in the area. His married son Burr and two men working a separate farm had 11,042 plants.

      This tobacco census confirms that by 1723 new immigrants paying for their crossing of the Atlantic by an indenture contract had become difficult to obtain. Convicts exiled from Britain were the major new source of agricultural labor. Slaves, mostly coming from the British West Indies, were not yet common in the region north of the Rappahannock. In contrast, when a son of the Captain died fifty years later, his estate counted more than seventy-five slaves.

      The public career of Captain Thomas, except for his militia service, did not begin until he was fifty years old. Infrequent lists of the commissions of peace for Stafford County show he was not a justice in 1714, but had become one by 1726. In 1729 he was second in the commission after Dade Massie.

      When the new county of Prince William was formed out of Stafford in 1731, with the Chopawamsic being its southern boundary, Harrison, now sixty-five, headed its list of thirteen magistrates. In addition, the governor appointed him county lieutenant, commander of the militia with the rank of colonel. He continued as the presiding justice until his death, although in the final years of his life the designation was evidently honorary. In fact, Dennis McCarty, number two in rank officially, was called first justice on a receipt for an administrator's bond in 1740. In the commission named for Prince William in 1742, after Fairfax County had been split off, Harrison remained as first justice with Robert Jones and Thomas Harrison Jr. following in order. On a 1743/4 bond Jones was termed first justice. Because the court order books for the period from the formation of Prince William in 1731 until 1750 have been lost, we cannot tell when or to what extent the state of the old gentleman's health allowed him to attend the monthly court sessions or prevented him from doing so.

      Harrison's service as the commander of the county militia was interrupted in 1741, when William Fairfax came to reside in the county. Fairfax, who was a relative of the Proprietor, Lord Fairfax, and his agent in the land office, was made the county lieutenant. The next year he became the first county lieutenant of the new Fairfax County, set off from Prince William, and Harrison was restored to the position in Prince William. Presumably, this time the office was given to recognize his long service and to avoid political problems in choosing among the younger leaders of the county. When Harrison died in 1746, he was succeeded as presiding justice and as county lieutenant by his son Thomas.

      In 1732 the now Colonel Harrison faced an uprising similar to that in which his father had been accused of being a ringleader forty years earlier. Ironically, this time he was the person charged with restoring order. A minute of the Governor's Council noted receipt of an express letter from the colonel advising that "a number of the meaner sort of people of that county [Prince William] consisting of fifty men were got together in arms designing to destroy the public warehouses in that and the adjacent counties expecting to be joined by other malcontents from the neighboring counties." To suppress the insurrection, the Council ordered that the commanding officers of the militia in the counties of the Northern Neck should call together their troops, read the Act establishing the militia and inform them that they were bound to march against the mutineers, if the rebels did not lay down their arms. Evidently, these orders were successful, for nothing more was heard of the affair in the proceedings of the Council.

      In 1737 the Council noted "whereas information is given to this board that Colo. Thomas Harrison of Prince William County may be a material witness to prove the boundarys between His Majesty and the Lord Fairfax as the same have been constantly held and respected since the granting of the Northern Neck, it is ordered that the Clerk of the Council write" Harrison asking him to attend the next court in Williamsburg and assuring him that his expense and trouble should be amply repaid.

      The dispute between the government of the Colony and the sixth Lord Fairfax, who was now sole Proprietor of the Northern Neck and had come over to Virginia to look after his interests, began when Governor Spotswood made a land grant in the northern Shenandoah Valley to set up a buffer against the Indians. The boundaries of the Proprietorship had been fixed by its charter as lying between the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers from their headwaters to their confluence. When King Charles II made the gift to his friends in 1664, no one had the least idea where those headwaters were, nor did they in 1689 when King James II reconfirmed the charter. A commission was set up comprising representatives of each side, with Colonel William Byrd of Westover heading the colonial government's group. By 1737 it had been agreed that the Rappahannock began at a spring in the Blue Ridge in what is now Madison County, Virginia. This spring discharges into the Rapidan, which is the southern fork of the Rappahannock. The government side argued that the headwaters of the Potomac were at the confluence of the Shenandoah and the Potomac, now Harpers Ferry. Their main justification was that the Indians used the name Potomac only to that point, calling the two branches by other names, Sherando and Coonemara.

      Harrison's testimony was intended to strengthen the government's case. He stated that he had lived "ever since he was a child" on the plantation where he was then living on Chopawamsic Run about forty miles below the falls of the Potomac, except for three years when he lived at Hunting Creek. In 1675 that creek, some fifteen miles below the Falls, was roughly the upper limit of settlement on the Potomac, but the few families living there had been forced to withdraw back down the river during the war with the Susquehanna Indians. He had first heard of the Falls about ten years later, but it was not until he himself moved to Hunting Creek "about 36 or 37 years ago" (i.e. around 1700) that people began to venture to the Falls to fish. Before then the Indians had frightened off anyone who had attempted to go so far. The point was that when James II had confirmed the charter, people knew only vaguely of these falls, still a very long way from where the Potomac began. Harrison was paid five pounds, seven shillings, sixpence for "attending at Williamsburgh."

      The final verdict was given in England in 1745. It very much favored Lord Fairfax. With respect to the beginnings of the Potomac, the North Branch (which divides Virginia and West Virginia from Maryland) was chosen. From its headspring (located on today's maps as the southwesternmost point in Maryland) a west-east line was drawn to the spring in the Blue Ridge fixing the area of the Proprietorship at 5,282,000 acres. Part of the dividing line is visible on current maps as the northern boundary of Rockingham County. The solution avoided problems with the governor's numerous grants south of the line in Augusta County, of which Rockingham was then a part. The governor no longer was permitted to authorize grants to the north of the line. Lord Fairfax was supposed to honor the few that already had been made there, but he did not comply, nor did he correct a few grants he had made just south of the line. Some of the resulting law suits dragged on until the turn of the century.

      Harrison's clear deposition coupled with the fact that he was able to undertake the journey to the capital demonstrate that he was still physically vigorous and mentally capable at age seventy-two. During his long life he had made and kept several good and loyal friends. One of them was John West, partner in the land purchase and the man who had been charged as co-conspirator with Harrison's father in Waugh's Tumult. West was commissioned ensign about 1690, made lieutenant in 1692, and became captain some years before Harrison in the 1690s. Eventually he reached the rank of major. He was a few years older than his friend, as he had a son born before 1683, when Harrison was only eighteen. West died early in 1717. In his will he asked his friends Capt. Thomas Harrison and William Simon to assist his wife in administering his estate and in bringing up and educating his son John "in the reformed religion according to the Church of England." Apparently he had reason to be worried about the religious aspect of this charge. His young widow had been married first to a Turley, and the Turleys were Catholics. Thirty years later the Fairfax County list of titheables noted that John West (the son) was formerly a "Papist" but lately a vestryman.

      Besides witnessing to the esteem in which West held Harrison, this will provides the only remaining record of the given name of the Captain's wife. Among the bequests is one to "Seith Harrison, the wife of Captain Thomas Harrison," of 500 pounds tobacco to buy a mourning ring. Such rings of gold or silver had an enameled band with the name of the deceased, his age at death, and the date of death. Bequests for this purpose by wealthy persons were a fairly common practice in Virginia as well as England during the eighteenth century. Other dispositions in West's will included a young horse to Will Harrison Jr. (son of the partner in the land grant); the gun that "I commonly use" to Burr Harrison, the son of Captain Thomas Harrison; two cows and their calves to Seith Anderson, the daughter of Jacob Henderson; and 1000 pounds tobacco to Seith Lucas, the wife of Henry Lucas.

      Is it only a coincidence that the three women who received bequests as friends, not immediate family members, shared the first name Seith (Seth), or were they related to West and to each other? This name for a woman is now forgotten and was uncommon even then. In fact, other than these three ladies the only women known to have the name were a daughter and three granddaughters of Captain Harrison and a Seth Linton, the daughter of Moses Linton.

      This last was surely a godchild of the Harrisons and may have been their niece. The 1729 will of her father Moses Linton included a bequest to her of one hundred acres adjoining a "tract given her by Capt. Thomas Harrison on Morrumpsco Creek." . . .

      Seth Lucas had another more tenuous connection to the Harrisons. In 1723 Thomas Harrison, denoted as of the "Retirement," leased one hundred acres, part of the West-Pearson-Harrison-Harrison patent, to Seth's second husband, John Summers, for the "natural lives" of himself, herself, and their son John. Such a "lease-for-lives" was a common form of long-term lease throughout the eighteenth century.

      We wonder why Harrison called his residence the Retirement, the name assigned by "old Captain Brent" to his home at Aquia Creek, some miles south of the Chopawamsic. Perhaps the whole area claimed by Brent running from the Aquia to north of the Chopawamsic came to be known by that name. It included part of the Harrison plantation.

      It was not only John West who wrote a will entrusting his family to the care of Captain Thomas. Fifteen years after West's death, Captain Simon Pearson, son of the member of the consortium, bequeathed "all that tract of land bought of Captain Thomas Harrison on branches of Great Hunting Creek" to his daughter Margaret. After other bequests he named his son Thomas executor and asked him to pursue and follow the "advise" and directions of "his very good and trusty friend, Captain Thomas Harrison," in the management of the estate and the care of his two underage daughters. Pearson left his friend Harrison twenty shillings to buy a mourning ring and offered to pay for the requested assistance, but Harrison did not charge for it.

      Margaret Pearson later married William Tenet. She and her husband sued Harrison over the Great Hunting Creek land, after the heirs of the lawyer William Fitzhugh had proved that the 1707 survey had overlapped part of their 1690 Ravensworth tract. Since Captain Thomas had guaranteed the title to the area under contention, as was the custom in all land sales, he agreed to replace the lost land with the adjoining part he still held. Conflicting surveys of early grants occasioned many such law suits in later years.

      It is a pity that all we know for certain about Mrs. Seth Harrison is that lone mention in John West's will. She was said to have been born Sithia Elizabeth Short by the same source that gave a maiden name for her husband's mother, i.e., a lost journal kept by a great-grandson. She and Captain Harrison had at least five children. The three sons were Burr, Thomas Jr., and Cuthbert. One known daughter, Seth, married John McMillion. Elizabeth wed Benjamin Bullitt, and his first wife, Sarah, was possibly her older sister. . . .

      Captain Harrison was the first of his family to reach the social status of "gentry." He was in the right place at the right time for such a move "upward" in a society generally dominated by class distinctions. In Prince William County of his day there were few representatives of the ranking Tidewater families and fewer still upper-class English immigrants. The Fitzhughs, Masons, Alexanders, Washingtons, and other sons and grandsons of the region's leading citizens in the seventeenth century, mostly resided in the area that remained Stafford in 1731 or the portion that became Fairfax in 1742. The Scottish merchants who supplied many of the area's leaders in the second half of the eighteenth century were just beginning to arrive in Virginia.

      His unusually long life was a factor in his advancement; seniority gave privileges even then. Physical characteristics, personal popularity, as well as leadership capabilities, could make him a militia captain in his early thirties, an age about equal to that of his fellow officers of the rank. Yet it took the passage of about twenty more years to gain him appointment to the commission of peace, membership in which signified acceptance into the ruling class. Once on the commission his age as well as his competence moved him up the ladder to the first justice post very quickly.

      By no means do these considerations minimize Captain Harrison's achievements. He must have been an excellent farm manager, since his wealth was gained from growing tobacco. If measured by landholdings, his riches were appreciable, but less than that of some twenty others on the 1723 quitrent list. Even more responsible for his success, in our opinion, was his trustworthiness. Not only do we see this in the West and Pearson wills, but it is apparent in his treatment of the Terrett land suit in which he immediately agreed to arbitration and to a result that left the Terretts with more acres than they had had originally.

      Thomas Harrison built on the foundation set by his immigrant father and left his children and grandchildren a secure base on which they could construct their own careers as Virginia advanced toward statehood.
    Person ID I16152  Frost, Gilchrist and Related Families
    Last Modified 5 Jul 2018 

    Father Burr HARRISON, I,   b. Bef 3 Jan 1638, Westminster, London, England Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 1697, Stafford County, VA Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age > 58 years) 
    Relationship natural 
    Mother --- (HARRISON) 
    Relationship natural 
    Family ID F7210  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

    Family Seth (HARRISON) 
    Married Abt 1696 
    Last Modified 5 Jul 2018 11:25:31 
    Family ID F7217  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart