Amherstburg Freedom Museum


Harris Family

The Harris Family Part 1 – Defending Your Country

-Did you know Jeremiah Harris fought in the 1837-1838 Upper Canada Rebellion. Read more below.

Members of the Harris family generously shared a wealth of information on the ancestors of Mr. Donald Herbert Harris who was born and raised in Amherstburg and just a few months ago celebrated his 99th birthday.  It is because of this that we are sharing the history of Donald’s family for this month’s family history.

The earliest presence of the Harris family in Essex County is with Jeremiah Harris, who was born in Kentucky circa 1807. He fought for the Crown in the 1837-1838 Upper Canada Rebellion, which places Jeremiah in the Amherstburg area before 1838. With last month’s Mulder family history, it was mentioned that John Joseph Mulder also fought in this war as a member of Captain Caldwell’s Company of Colored Volunteers; Jeremiah Harris fought as a member of the Essex Colored Militia in the same war. The 1837-38 Rebellions occurred in Upper and Lower Canada and was a result of political unrest that developed soon after the War of 1812.  This caused resistance against the British Crown, which ruled the colonies of Upper and Lower Canada. There were numerous Black soldiers who were loyalists and they assisted in defending against rebel attacks.

In the book A Fluid Frontier: Slavery, Resistance and the Underground Railroad in the Detroit River Borderland, Irene Moore Davis’ article “Canadian Black Settlements in the Detroit River Region” discusses the participation of Black Canadians in defending Essex County. She says “In December 1837, during the 1837-38 Mackenzie Rebellion, the Reverend Josiah Henson’s company of black volunteers attached to the Essex Militia was part of the group that captured the rebel schooner Anne and made prisoners of its crew … Josiah Henson’s unit defended Fort Malden [in Amherstburg] from Christmas 1837 to May 1838 … The black volunteers showed such bravery that Lieutenant Governor Sir Francis Bond Head commented on their service in his remarks to the legislature of Upper Canada in March 1838.”

Jeremiah married a woman named Elizabeth who was born circa 1821 in Virginia. Following Jeremiah’s passing, Elizabeth later married John Lang. The 1851 Census lists a “Jaramiah” and Elizabeth living on the 6th concession in Colchester and they owned a 50-acre farm of which 6 acres were under crops, while the remaining 44 acres were wooded. Some members of the Colored Militia were granted land for their loyalty and service to The Crown, so it is certainly possible that Jeremiah gained his land through his military service.

Jeremiah and Elizabeth had two children: Francis and James. Francis ‘Frank’ Harris was born in 1836 and later married Nancy Simpson (born 1839). Francis and Nancy had 4 children: Mary, Lavina, Cora Ann and Jerh. H. Harris. Mary was born in 1864 and Lavina Ellen Harris was born in 1864 and married David Foster (born April 1861). Lavina and David had three children: Fredrick (1893), David II (1897) and Willfred Foster (1903).

Lavina’s sister Cora Ann Harris was born in 1866 and married Mead Mitchell (1857) on September 15, 1886. They had five children: Emerson Lester Mitchell (1888), Elmer Harris Mitchell (1889), Hazel Mitchell (1894), Otto Eugene Mitchell (born August 12, 1896) and Harold Mitchell (1899). Cora Anne’s brother, Jerh. H. Harris, was born in 1868. After Francis Harris’ passing, circa 1875, Nancy married Franklin Wells and had four more children: Albert, Maude, Lilian and Levi Charles. Nancy then married Robert Thomas in 1904.

What we publish is not a complete history of any family and is based on the documents that are available. We welcome photos and information to fill in the gaps.  See you next week for part 2.The Harris Family Part 2 – Irish Roots

-Did you know that there are Irish roots in the Harris family. Read more below.

The second child of Jeremiah and Elizabeth Harris is James who was born circa 1839 and went on to marry Mary Anne Pearl (born November 29, 1840) in roughly 1866. Mary Anne Pearl was the daughter of Bozzle ‘Basil’ Pearl (born circa 1814) and Catherine Smith (born circa 1816).  Bozzle and Catherine had at least nine children: Rachel, Alfred, Mary Anne, William, Caroline, Nancy, Hannah, Thomas P. and Joseph. We were able to find a few details for each child, beginning with Rachel.

Rachel was born circa 1835, married William Fowler and had eight children: Elias, Salathiel, Leroy, Albert, William, Mary J., Walter and Sylvester. Rachel’s brother, Alfred, was born circa 1837, married a woman named Miranda and had three children: Mary E., John D., and George W.

Rachel and Alfred’s brother, William, was born circa 1843 and married Alice McCurdy, while the next child of Bozzle and Catherine Pearl, Caroline, was born circa 1844, married Isaac Leek (born 1841) and had eight children: Simon Peter, Mary Elizabeth, William, Amanda, Nancy, Susie, Clara, and Minnie. Simon Peter married Marthie Jane Matthews but married a second time to Medora Myles.  Mary Elizabeth Leek married John Mulder and had four children: Charles, Harvey, Lucille and Viola. There wasn’t any available information on Caroline’s next child, William, but Caroline’s daughter Amanda married George Jones.  Amanda’s sister, Nancy, was born circa 1883 and married into the Adams family. Susie Leek, Caroline’s next child, married Arthur Coates. Clara Leek was born circa 1884 and Minnie Leek was born circa 1886 and married William Shoffner but married a second time to John Dickerson. Minnie and William had four children: Katherine (born 24 January 1936 and married Walter Williams), Theodore (born circa 1909), Marguerite (born April 1907) and Evelyn (1918).

Caroline’s sister Nancy, the next child of Catherine and Bozzle Pearl, was born circa 1886 and married Gilbert Lambert Green. Nancy and Gilbert had six children: Arthur, Joseph, Rosie, Frederick, Georgia and John. Arthur was born circa 1869 and married Nellie McCurdy.  Arthur and Nellie had 5 children: Chauncey, Jessie, Bessie, Wavy and Olive. Nancy’s next child, Joseph was born on October 2, 1873, married Verlita Medesta Wilson (born January 31, 1900) and the couple had one son, Joseph Green, who was born circa 1927. Nancy’s third child, Rosie was born June 20, 1877, while Frederick ‘Freddie’ Green was born on May 15, 1879 and married Sarah Bibb (born circa 1884). Frederick and Sarah had three children: Ruth, Dorthy and Frederick Jr. No further information could be found on Nancy’s remaining children, Georgia and John.

We’ve discussed several siblings (Rachel, Alfred, William, Caroline and Nancy) of Mary Anne Pearl (daughter of Bozzle and Catherine Pearl) who married James Harris, but there is also information on three more of her siblings: Hannah, Thomas P. and Joseph. Hannah was born circa 1847, while Thomas P. was born on May 27, 1853.  Thomas married Olive H. Butler (born March 1866) on July 11, 1897.

An interview from May 20, 1938, found in the Museum’s collection, shares further information on Thomas.  It says “Many things crumble and decay but when a man works with stone his handiwork usually is enduring. Thus Thomas Pearl, a member of the colored race who moved the Amherstburg recently from Windsor, can still see here and in Detroit many buildings which he helped to construct while he worked at his trade as stone mason. One of these is the Wayne County building in Detroit; another is the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, Jeferson [sic] and Antoine, Detroit; the Art Loan building. These and many others he worked on while in the employ of the late Alexander Capoton, one of Detroit’s best known building contractors, grandfather of Mrs. J.H. Sullivan of Amherstburg. Mr. Pearl also worked on a number of buildings in and near Amherstburg that are well known. The merry-go-round building at Bob Lo and other stone buildings there; the stone schoolhouse on the Pike Road; the Laramie house on North Street, Amherstburg.  He learned his trade with Walker Brothers of Ann Arbor, Michigan having gone there in the year 1867. Born in Green County Pennsylvania in 1853, he came to Canada with his parents Basil and Catherine Pearl, when 13 years of age. They settled on a farm in Colchester North, near where the Gilgal cemetery is now located.”

The interview continues by saying “After staying with the Walker Brothers for six years he went to Detroit and was with the Capotons for 16 years. Returning to Amherstburg district he worked here for some time and lived on the farm on the seventh concession of Colchester North, now owned by Eccles J. Gott of Amherstburg. He was married to Olive Butler of New Canaan, who predeceased him some years ago.  He is the only survivor of his family and has been living retired for the past six years. Mr. Pearl was in his younger days a hearty supporter of the Liberal party and worked among his people at election time for the Grit candidates. He says he is glad to return to Amherstburg to spend the rest of his days.”

The last sibling of Mary Anne Pearl is Joseph who married Charlotte Fowler.  Their children include: Nora Pearl who married Clinton Elmer Wright in 1900; Orrin Pearl who married Ellen; Josephine Pearl, who married George M. Bell (Josephine’s second husband was Willie Jones); Mandie Pearl (1886); Maude Pearl (born August 1886) who married Edgar G. Mifflin; Florine Flossie Pearl (born June 1888) who married William James Wright and had 5 children: Donald L, Donald Morrelle, William Waldo, Vivian Roxanna and Ruth E. Did you know that Flossie wrote records of people’s birth in her recipe book? In addition to the children already list, Joseph and Charlotte’s children include Cecilia Pearl (b. June 1890), Joseph Jr. Pearl (born March 20, 1894) and Dorman Pearl (born November 1901) who married Helen Ruth Johns.

Now that we have discussed the details of Mary Anne Pearl’s family, we can share more information on her.  Interestingly, the 1871 Census lists James Harris as “African” while Mary Anne (Pearl) Harris is listed as “Irish.” Also listed are some of their children: Mary C., Jeremiah and Caroline. James was a farmer, but the Harris family also had a brick making business. Did you know that James Harris made the bricks for a local builder, James Atkinson, who used the bricks to build the first Malden (Amherstburg) Town Hall?

James and Mary Anne later moved their family to Michigan around 1879.  They are listed in the 1880 United States Census, but the spelling of their last name appears as “Harice.” The 1880 Census lists them as living in Augusta, Washtenaw, Michigan, and also gives us an updated list of James and Mary Anne’s children: Jeremiah, Caroline, Mary, James William, and David Harris.

James passed away on July 2, 1884, in Ypsilanti, Michigan, and several years later, Mary Anne moved back to Amherstburg and married Otto/Ortho Taylor in 1887 in Michigan, then married Robert East (son of William East) in 1908 in Colchester.

What we publish is not a complete history of any family and is based on the documents that are available. We welcome photos and information to fill in the gaps.  See you next week for part 3.The Harris Family Part 3 – The Wedding

-An interesting wedding day for Nathan and Lilly Ward. Read more below.

In this section of the family history, we will begin to discuss the children of James and Mary Anne (Pearl) Harris, starting with Jeremiah who was born in July 1867 in Colchester.  He married Emma Leona Ward on August 20, 1898 in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Emma was born in 1881 in Indiana and was the daughter of Nathan Ward (born circa 1854 and the son of John and Julia Ward) and Lilly Smith (born 1861 and the daughter of Garrett Smith and Mary Jenks).

Members of the Harris family shared an article from the South Bend News in October 1881 which discusses interesting details of the wedding day of Nathan and Lilly.  It says “The invitations to the wedding were issued from Sheriff Johnson’s office, where the bridegroom has been visiting for some time, anxiously awaiting the arrival of his friend Judge Noyes, to settle a little misunderstanding between himself and Lillie.  The fair bride, in fact, was afraid that Nathan’s love was not so warm as of yore, and being especially desirous that the marriage ceremony should take place within a stated period, she … had him placed in Sheriff Johnson’s keeping in order to give him an opportunity to reflect.  Nathan reflected, and concluded that he was willing that the wedding day should be fixed at any time, without asking Judge Noyes’ opinion in the matter.”

The article continues “Consequently, the time was set for this forenoon at 9 o’clock. Only a few relatives and immediate friends of the parties were present. The groom was accompanied by Sheriff Johnson, and the bride was attended by her sister, Mrs. Hannah Smith Patterson Henderson, whose smile of satisfaction was broad and deep, and wide and far-stretching, even gorgeous. The officiating justice dispelled his judicial frown for the moment, and his face shone with a radiance suitable to the occasion, as he arose dignifiedly and requested the two candidates for matrimonial honors to do the same and join their right hands.  Nathan jumped up, facing the northwest, and Lillie arose calmly and looked seriously towards the southeast. Harbou spit and was about to begin the words of the ceremony when he noticed the predicament his couple were in. The frown returned to his brow as he remarked authoratively [sic], pointing to the groom: ‘Here you, git around on the other side.’ Nate let go Lillie’s nankeen palm and … Around to the other side, while Lillie sashayed slightly to the left and soon they waltzed on to the caller again in proper position.”

The article ends by saying “The ceremony was then pronounced impressively amid a solemn stillness, and at its close the happy couple went forth from the place with the benediction of the officiating justice and the hearty congratulations of the assemblage, and Hannah’s smile grew deeper and wider and broader and more gorgeous than ever.”

Emma’s parents, Nathan and Lilly, were married for a few years, but according to the Harris family history book, Nathan passed away while travelling in Northern Michigan after a wagon rolled over on him.  This occurred between 1885 and 1889.  Following his passing, Emma’s mother Lilly married William Parker in 1889.

Emma and Jeremiah had eight children: Charles Franklin, David Leonze, Ernest, Chester, Sylvere, Fitzgerald ‘Jerry’, Howard and Betty June. Charles Franklin was born in September 1899 in Ypsilanti, while David Leonze was born on September 24, 1900 in Detroit.

What we publish is not a complete history of any family and is based on the documents that are available. We welcome photos and information to fill in the gaps.  See you next week for part 4 where we will share more about David Leonze Harris.The Harris Family Part 4 – A Growing Family Tree

-Did you know David and Sadie Harris had at least 11 children.  Read about them below.

David Leonze Harris married Sadie Allen who was born in 1902 in Detroit and was the daughter of Arthur Allen and Tempia Marinda ‘Tempy May’ Artis. In addition to Sadie, Arthur and Tempia had two other daughters named Elba and Norma. Sadie’s mother Tempia was born in May 1872 in Colchester and was the daughter of Matthew Artis and Martha Elizabeth Kersey (born 1853 and the daughter of Ephraim D. Kersey and Tempy Acoch). Tempia’s siblings were: Alfred, John Randall, Adline, Matthew and Elwood.

Both of Tempia’s parents married more than once.  Tempia’s father, Mathew Artis, was first married to Amanda Pierson and they had four children: Nancy, Joseph, Cornelius and Henrietta. Tempia’s mother, Martha Kersey married a second time to Ryal Thompson and then to George Turner.

Sadie’s father Arthur was born in July 1875. Arthur was the son of Benjamin Allen (1818) and Nancy Chavis (the daughter of Wiley Chavis and Eva Chandler). In addition to Arthur, Benjamin and Nancy had ten other children including: Mary Allen (born 1867 and married Frank Norris and Jessie Hall), Martha Allen (born 1868), William Benjamin Allen (born 1870 and married Victoria Brookes and Annie Harper), Salvina Allen (born 1872), Dara Allen (born 1874), Lucy Allen (born 1878), David Allen (born 1879), Eva Allen (born 1880), Allonzo Allen (born 1881) and Eliza Allen (born 1883 and married Lewis Hulben and Albert Davis).

Sadie Allen married David Leonze Harris in 1920 and they also had several children who we will discuss next.  They include: Donald Herbert, Grenville ‘Brother’, Orla, Clayton, Shirley Jean, Bobby, Helen, Allan, Nancy, Betty Lou and Ethelda Marie ‘Pye.’

Donald Herbert was born on April 25, 1920 in Amherstburg. He was first married to Mildred Ethel Taylor who was born on August 30, 1922 in Puce and was the first of thirteen children to James Henry Taylor and Myrtle Ethel Walls.  Donald and Ethel were married on June 31, 1942 and their children are: Donald Frederick Harris (m. Elaine Banks), Gary Wayne Harris (m. Carolanne Caldwell), Diana (m. Lionel ‘Lonnie’ Hanson), Dennis (m. Elaine Langlois), Byron Cecil Harris (m. Lyric Crocker), Dwight Colin Harris (m. Anna DiPasquale), Cheryl (m. Lyndon Whited), Jacqueline (m. Richard Brown), Paula (m. Les Chiswell), Vaughn Keith Harris (m. Theresa France), Tamara (m. Gary Ross) and Blair Craig Harris (m. Carolin Armstrong).

Sadly, Mildred passed away on July 18, 1997 and she was described as “an active Church member, Sunday School Superintendent and teacher, and served in the ministry of Hospitality. She was a wonderful homemaker and worked at S.K.D., Canadian Canners and Bob-lo Island.” Following Mildred’s passing, Donald married Janice Taylor who was born on January 24, 1942 and they married on May 27, 2000. They recently celebrated 19 years of marriage!

So far, we have shared information on David and Sadie Harris’ first child, Donald.  Now we’ll take a look at their other children: Grenville, Orla, Clayton, Shirley Jean, Bobby, Helen, Allan, Nancy, Betty Lou and Ethelda Marie.  Grenville ‘Brother’ Harris was born in 1921 in Amherstburg.  He married Eunice Taylor and their children are Brian, Duane (m. Lisa and Karen) and Larry (m. Mary Ann).

Grenville’s sister Orla was born on April 29, 1923 in Amherstburg and married Clarence ‘Jake’ Simpson.  Their children include: Marilyn (m. Carvin McBounds), Reginald (m. Sherry Wilson), Ricky, Linda (m. Artie), Allen (m. Shelley), Clarence (m. Gladys Sims) and Darrell (m. Emma Scott).

Orla’s brother Clayton was born in Amherstburg in the 1920s and married a woman named Irma.  The couple had the following children: Rozell (m. Rick Nichols), Ronald (born 1966 and married Sumreen) and Abena (1968).

Clayton’s sister Shirley Jean was born on February 6, 1929 in Essex and married William ‘Bill’ Lavern Handsor.  Their children are: Gloria Jean (born 1947 and married Robert Britton), Bonnie Lee (born 1949 and married John Paul), Brenda Lee (born 1950), William Paul (born 1952 and married Debbie Wilson and Susan Lynn Metcalfe), Shirley Louise (born 1953 and married Roger Baylis), David Lavern (born 1954 and married Laura Gardin), Gregory Edward (born 1955 and married Mary Matt and Patty Grayer), Mary Vanessa (born 1958 and married David Racz), Belinda Hansor (born 1959 and married Larry Bernard), Murray Alonzo ‘Peter’ (born 1960 and married Dolores Bratt), Kim Tracey (born 1962 and married Cindy Brush), Anthony Quin (born 1963 and married Tonya Osman and Sandra Barber), Sherry Lynn (1965) and Michael Douglass (1967).

The next child of David and Sadie Harris is Bobby who was born in the 1930s in Essex. His sister Helen was born on March 5, 1932 and she married James Matthew Jr. Harris.  Helen and James had a son named James ‘Jimmy’ III.  Helen’s brother Allan was born in October 1937, while Nancy Harris married Joe Elliot and had several children including Leonard, Nancy, Valerie, Claudette, Dana and Lenora.

Nancy’s sister Betty Lou Harris also had several children including Natalie, Constance, Jeanna, Timmy, Roger, Wanda and Tyrone. Betty Lou’s sister Ethelda Marie ‘Pye’ Harris was born in Amherstburg in 1941. She had three children named Clinton, Guy and Vinnie.

What we publish is not a complete history of any family and is based on the documents that are available. We welcome photos and information to fill in the gaps.  See you next week for the final part of the Harris family history.The Harris Family Part 5 – A Hard Worker

-Did you know Jeremiah Harris was known for his teamster work on the streets of Amherstburg? Read more below.

For the last few pages we have been discussing David Leonze Harris’ children, but we still need to discuss the rest of David’s siblings (Ernest, Chester, Sylvere, Fitzgerald, Howard and Betty June). David’s brother Ernest was born on May 31, 1902 in Essex and he married Viola Woodlynn on May 27, 1932.  Their children included: Milton (married Penny), Joyce, Herbert (married WilliMae Baylis), Wanda (m. Barry Rusell), Veronica, Patricia (m. Robert O’Neil), Elizabeth (m. Marion Jamison), Doreen, Clayton (m. Betty), Gloria (Riley), Ernestine (m. Timothy Dungy) and Ernest Jr.

The next sibling is Chester who was born in April 1905 in Ypsilanti.  He married Juanita Wilson on October 16, 1936 and they had three children: Juanita (m. Robert R. Bell), Denise (m. Gerald Talbot) and Cynthia (m. Wilbur Mulder).

Chester’s brother Sylvere was born in December 1909 and he tragically died in a car accident on Sandwich St. near the old Seagrams in Amherstburg. Sylvere’s brother Fitzgerald ‘Jerry’ was born on March 13, 1913 in Colchester and he married Ethel Mac ‘Babe’ Goodman who was born in 1920.  Jerry and Ethel’s children include: Gerald (twin born 1938), Earl (twin born 1938), Fitzgerald II (born 1943 and married Natalie and JoAnne Green), Angelo (1st wife was Andrea, 2nd Maria Almanza), Broderick (1st wife Shannon Walton, 2nd Lydia), Lorraine (m. Bennie D. Harris) and Stanley (m. Mary Ann Davis in 1980).

Howard is the next child of Jeremiah and Emma and he was born in Gesto in 1916.  Howard married Evelyn Sims and they had the following children: Larry James (born 1947), Sandra Harris (Nivens), Susan Harris (m. Clevester Gooch), Brenda Harris (Johnson), Howard Jr. (1st wife Arlene Ogrodnik, 2nd Jackie Dumas), Jane Harris (Adams) and Leona (m. Dan Woods).

The last child of Jeremiah and Emma is Betty June Harris who was born in Amherstburg in 1926, but sadly she passed away a few years later in 1928 in Essex.

We’ve spent the last several pages discussing the children of Jeremiah and Emma Harris, but it should also be mentioned that Jeremiah was especially known for his teamster work on the streets of Amherstburg, especially during the snowy winter months.  An article from the Amherstburg Echo talks about his career and says “Jeremiah Harris and his team of two powerful horses were under contract with the town to scrape and sweep the streets of the ‘Burg in the summer and clear snow in the winter … Another position he held was dog catcher for the area.”

We also still need to discuss the rest of Jeremiah’s siblings (Caroline, Mary Helen, James William and David).  Jeremiah’s sister, Caroline Melinda was born circa 1868 and later married Albert White on December 6, 1888.  Following Albert’s passing, Caroline married John Franklin Chavis in April of 1891 and lived on a farm on Lot 13 on South Malden Road in New Canaan.

The couple had the following children: William Chavis (1892), Frederick Edward (born in 1894 and married Laura E. Woodson), David (1897), Ida Belle (born in 1900 and married Forrest Grayer – read more of Grayer family history at and Phoebe Ann (1906). John also had children from a previous marriage.  He first married Dinah Scott and his 2nd wife was Pheobe Milton with whom he had the following children: Isaac Thomas, Cortny, John Miley, Daisy May and Eva A.

Caroline’s sister, Mary Helen Harris was born circa 1872 and later married Walter Brooks.  The couple had several children including: Harry Oley Brooks (born March 1891), Sarah (born 1895 and married Harry Baylis), Earl Brooks (born May 1896 and married Leona Anderson) and Oliver Brooks.

Next is James William “Willie” Harris who was born circa 1876 and married a woman named Emma.  William and Emma had at least two children: Helena “Lena” who was born circa 1928 and later married Robert Dorsey) and Leslie who was born circa 1929.  The last Harris family member that we will discuss is James’ brother David was born in 1879, but sadly passed away in 1885.  No further information was available for him.