Written by Bill Harris
If one drives through the Old Granville region (Franklin, Granville, Vance & Warren Counties) on the major highways of the area you may see an old house or two sitting off in the distance. Some are restored and some are not, but it’s when you get away from the highway and drive down the rural back roads that you’ll find the real treasures the area has to offer. From Pilot, in southern Franklin County to Virgilina in northwestern Granville County, there are plenty of areas to explore in the four county area. There are interesting people, stories and old houses throughout the region. Small communities like Schloss, Dexter, Ingleside, Drewry, Shoo Fly, Bearpond, Afton, Watkins and many others dot the area. Most are no more than just an intersection, but at one time these were thriving communities when life was slower and there were no interstates. Many of these communities had schools, a general store, churches and a post office. Most of the smaller communities have lost many of those establishments although a few remain such as Ridgeway in Warren County which still has a post office. The Dickerson area of Granville County is one of these places. Located near where Tabbs Creek crosses Dorsey Road, Dickerson is now an intersection where Fairport Road, Ed Harris Road and Antioch Road all come together.
I live at Ingleside in Franklin County and I often take the back roads to Oxford. Driving this route I go through the Dickerson community via Fairport Road. On a recent trip to visit the George Whitfield Harris home I noticed the rural landscape beginning to see development with new housing. As Wake County grows the smaller communities in Franklin and Granville counties will also grow. With that growth, developers will be looking to purchase land, changing these small communities forever. That also means that long standing homes and buildings such as the George W. Harris home could be lost to all of this growth, change and progress. For now, the George W. Harris home still sits on a path at a curve on the Ed Harris Road in the Dickerson community as it has since the late 18th or early 19thcentury.
Like many of these older homes, no one has lived in it for years, but current owner Dennis Harris has kept the roof in good shape and does his best to care for the old place. While Mr. Harris isn’t a relative of George W. Harris, descendants live close by. Sorting out the various Harris family lines can be a nightmare. Every line, whether they are connected or not, has so many males with the same name, (William, Thomas, George, Robert) that figuring out which William belongs to which Thomas and so on, can make one want to run very far away and never work on family history ever again. Most, if not all, of the Harris families in Franklin, Granville, Vance and Warren counties are connected. For me, personally, DNA shows my line of Harris’ to be separate from those here. My dad was from Pitt County so I don’t have to wade into these tangled vines of Harris genealogy. Or so I thought. I will do my best to sort through some of this for the purpose of this article.
Keeping in mind that the Harris family lines are a tangled mess, I will reference Amy Harris Lue’s family tree. She is a descendant of George Whitfield Harris and still lives in sight of the house on Harris land that’s been in the family since the 1700s. According to Lue, this branch (or vine as I have heard it referred to) begins where Virginia begins: Jamestown. Major Robert Harris, born in 1630 at Jamestown, or possibly an immigrant who came to America in 1650, married Mary Claiborne. However, I believe that he was the son of Capt. Thomas Harris and Joan Osborne. The Major served in the House of Burgesses in Virginia and died in 1701 in New Kent County. The records of New Kent County were lost to a fire in 1787 which makes proving the facts a daunting task. Lue cites the book Tidewater Virginia Families by Virginia Lee Hutcheson Davis and Davis tells us that Robert Harris married Mary Claiborne Rice. One of their children is said to have been yet another Robert Harris, born 7 June 1663 in York County and died 10 Jan 1722 in Hanover County. He married Elizabeth Turner of Williamsburg. They had 10 children including Richard Harris who appears to be the first of this Harris line to come to Granville County. There are certainly other Harris lines, likely all related, that also came to the area but Richard appears to be the first of the George Whitfield Harris’ ancestors to have come south from Virginia. This appears to be corroborated in the publication “Roaming Around Southern Granville County and Vicinity”, written by John Wilson, which calls Richard Harris a pioneer of the area. Richard married Margaret Kimbrough. In researching these ancestral connections it appears that many Harris researchers struggle to prove these connections. Some of this is due to lost records, some due to the repetition of names throughout the Harris families. Amy Harris Lue’s research could be very accurate or not. I do not want to disrespect her work, but want to point out that there are differing opinions on these ancestral lines. I do think that Amy is close to the truth in her genealogy
According to Granville County records a Richard Harris purchased two tracts of land from Lord Granville. The first, 400 acres, on the west side of Nutbush Creek and the second, consisting of 632 acres, on either side of Poplar Creek. These were recorded in 1749. Today, Nutbush Creek runs from just north of Henderson to Kerr Lake and Poplar Creek basically runs parallel to Dorsey Road where in empties into Tabbs Creek, very near to the location of the George Whitfield Harris home. According to Amy Harris Lue, Richard was born 21 Jan. 1709 in New Kent County and dies in Granville County in 1768. His wife dies in 1739 at the age of 29. During her short life, she supplies Richard with, possibly, four sons. One of these sons is John Harris, born 1730. John died 1820. So ten years after the death of his wife, Richard packs up his children and comes to a sparsely populated Granville County. Did he re-marry? How did he take care of his children? There are numerous records that show a Richard Harris married to someone named Priscilla. If this is the same Richard, then this is likely his second wife. In the Virginia Genealogist, Vol. II published in 1967 it states that Richard’s wife in 1749 was Priscilla. This would have been when Richard received land from Lord Granville, ten years after his first wife dies.
In his book Sketches, Thurston Titus Hicks tells us that John Harris was married to Elizabeth Watts, purportedly the sister of the famous hymn writer Isaac Watts. Once again, nothing is available to prove this. John and Elizabeth had at least three children and quite likely more. One of these was George A. Harris. According to Hicks, George A. Harris’ homeplace was very overgrown with thick cedar trees planted at the graveyard. These trees were so thick that a rabbit would find difficulty getting through them. When George A. Harris died in 1820 he was buried at the cemetery Hicks described. Hicks also says that there was an ordinary rock used as a tombstone with the date 1820 carved into it along with the initials G. H. He documented the existence of the stone in 1926. This cemetery would be near West Tom Parham Road not too far from Tabbs Creek. There is a clearing in the woods at the site which would seem to indicate that there may indeed have been a house and cemetery there at some point.
While researching this particular line of Harris’ I had the opportunity to look over the work of local genealogist Annice Cannady. Her research can be found in Thornton Library in Oxford. In one of the documents, Cannady’s research agrees with George being the son of John. She states that George died in May of 1820 and is buried near the Cozart Place, near Oxford. There was another John Harris in the area around the same time who appears to have married Rachael Kittrell, a daughter of Jonathan Kittrell and Tabatha Bryant. It’s easy to confuse these two Johns as I found out in my research.
George Harris married around 1772. His wife was Keziah Earl who was born in 1753 to John Earl and Mary Elizabeth Watts. But wait! Wasn’t John Harris’ wife Elizabeth Watts? It’s not exactly clear, but it appears that John Harris married an Elizabeth Watts and that Keziah Earl’s father married Mary Elizabeth Watts. However, it is not certain if either was related to Isaac Watts. Considering that many families had close ties with one another and intermarried multiple times, it would seem very possible that Elizabeth and Mary Elizabeth Watts are from the same family. For those who are unfamiliar with Isaac Watts, he was the writer of hymns such as “Joy to the World” among others. For more on Isaac Watts it is suggested to visit this website: https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/poets/isaac-watts.html
George, as we know died in 1820 and was possibly buried at the site of his home on or near Tom Parham Road, but what of his wife? She’s a bit better documented. Her burial site is at the Anderson Paschal graveyard near the George Whitfield Harris home and not far from where her husband was buried. Anderson Paschal had married Mary Harris, daughter of George and Keziah. Keziah died in 1849. According to Amy Harris Lue ten children were born to George and Keziah with George Whitfield Harris being their third child, born in 1778.
If you drive from Henderson to Oxford on US 158 Business you will find a North Carolina historical marker for the Harris Meeting House near the intersection of US 158 and Tom Parham Road. This building no longer exists but it is thought to have been built about 1799 on the William Hicks tract adjoining George Harris’ land.
The Hicks and Harris were intermarried and, according to Thurston Titus Hicks, the Harris Meeting House, while built on Hicks’ land was constructed by the Harris family. It served as the Methodist church for that section of the county. Very near this same intersection is the Hicks Cemetery, also known as the White Oak Villa Cemetery, now overgrown but containing many of the early Hicks family.
George Whitfield Harris was a young man of 21 when the Harris Meeting House was built and likely eager to have his own home and family. He married Sarah “Sally” Wright in 1802. Wright was born in 1784 and was the daughter of Griffin Wright and Delphia Glenn. The Wrights and Glenns were large property owners in the Rocky Ford – Epsom area of Franklin County.
Her sister, Mary D. Wright, owned one of the great Franklin County houses, the Jones-Wright House now owned by Joanne Carpenter who has restored it. The Jones-Wright House was built around 1790 and it has been estimated that the George Whitfield Harris house may be almost as old.
The house has been altered on several occasions. Surveyed by the State Historic Preservation Office in 1987, it was listed as a Federal style house. The Federal style was in use from approximately 1780 to 1820. The George Whitfield Harris house keeps much of that style today despite its alterations over the years. The rear ell of the house appears to be the oldest section and likely built around the time of Harris’ marriage to Sally Wright.
As children were born, there was the need for more room. Heritage and Homesteads: This History and Architecture of Granville County North Carolina, published in 1988, states that the later, main block of the house could also have been constructed early in the 19th century but shows some transitional elements between the Federal and Georgian styles along with some early Greek Revival elements as well. The Georgian style was popular through the very early 1800’s before being replaced with the Federal style. It is not uncommon to see houses share different styles.
The house remained with the Harris family until 1885 when it was purchased by David Young Hunt and his wife, Caroline V. Hobgood. The Hunts owned the property for just over twenty years selling it in 1906 to Jim Wrenn and his family. In 1958, J. B. & Hazel Harris purchased the place. The current owner, Dennis Harris, was raised in the house. Over the years he has done his best to keep looters out. He’s kept it boarded and keeps a close eye on the property.
According the Heritage and Homesteads, the one story, flush gable end ell has patternboard at its boxed cornice and had quarter-round molding. The cut stone chimney, which is flanked by a 9 over 9 window, has a detached brick stack. Inside its transitional Georgian/Federal style mantel has three upper recessed panels set into a three-part frame.
The front block has chimneys similar to that of the ell and its flush gable end roof has a particularly steep pitch. Although altered, 6 over 9 windows light the second floor. Exterior changes include the addition of a facade gable and Victorian style front porch. The interior retains wide hand-planed, horizontal boards in the center hall; door formed of vertical boards; and a post and lintel, Greek Revival style mantel also suggests a construction date later that that of the ell. There are doors and door locks that are also original to the home.
Photographic evidence indicates there have been at least three porches. Ghost marks on the front of the house indicate an earlier porch.
During the Wrenn’s ownership, a double front porch was a prominent feature. The current porch is much less elaborate. The date of the addition of the façade gable on the front of the house is unknown but it drastically changed the look and feel of the house. George Whitfield Harris and his wife had nine children. These included Richard W. Harris and Thomas D. Harris who, according to North Carolina post office records, were both postmasters at the Tabbs Creek post office which operated from 1848 until 1866. The post office building still stands a few hundred yards from the Harris house. Inside, written on the walls, are the names of those who picked up the mail at the Tabbs Creek post office.
Thomas D. Harris married his cousin, Harriet Fletcher Harris, who was a grand-daughter of George A. Harris.
Richard W. Harris never married. Of him, Thurston Hicks stated “According to Thurston Hicks, “He was a man of wit and genius. A strong and forceful writer. No brighter or better man has lived in the range of my acquaintance. He lived first at Harris’ store, then at Oxford. At his death his home was in Henderson with his nephew George B. Harris.” He is buried at Elmwood Cemetery in Henderson. Other children were Benjamin Franklin Harris who married Ann Eliza Rogers, Cynthia Ann Harris who married Isaac Cheatham, Amanda Melvina Harris who married a cousin, Philip Wiley Harris and, secondly, William Allgood Harris. Another son, Henry W. Harris never married. Julia Harris married Lemuel Hobgood and Sallie Willis Harris married James Gooch. These nine children had many children of their own and you will many Harris descendants throughout the area.
In front of the George Whitfield Harris, near the road, is the Harris family cemetery. The cemetery is not a large family cemetery but contains roughly twenty graves. These include:
Charlie Cheatham, 16 Oct 1860 – 5 Apr 1907
Kate Mildred Hunt Cheatham, 8 Oct 1867 – 8 Jun 1925
Leo M Cheatham, 23 Feb 1892 – 28 Jul 1939
Benjamin Franklin Harris, 22 May 1806 – 6 Mar 1895
Benjamin Franklin Harris, Jr., 16 Jul 1857 – 29 Jul 1876
George Whitfield Harris, 4 Feb 1778 – 29 Apr 1858
Sarah Harris, 1740 – unknown
Sarah L. Wright Harris, 4 Jun 1784 – 1853
Thomas Harris, 1740 – 27 Oct 1779
Caroline V “Carrie” Hobgood Hunt, 22 Aug 1844 – 11 Jan 1906
David Young Hunt, 7 May 1844 – 23 Apr 1920
Not every grave is marked but there are depressions around the cemetery that indicate further burials.
The George Whitfield Harris house is a fine example of early 19th century architecture and, like the Harris family, has stood the test of time and is worthy of preservation. Currently the house is stable and will likely remain so as long as it stays with Dennis Harris. Perhaps, at some point in the future, the house can be fully restored. Interior video tour at top of post.
Without the help of several people this article would have taken much longer to write and they all deserve a big thank you: Dennis Harris for welcoming me out to the property and showing me and Michelle Bowers around, Amy Harris Lue for the use of her family information, Jackie McNamara for supplying further information, Rosalie Ann and Findagrave.com for use of some of the pictures in the article and especially to Mark Pace at Thornton Library in Oxford, who answered my call of desperation with a multitude of in depth information including access to Annice Cannady’s research. For anyone looking into local history of the Old Granville County area, start with a visit to Mark Pace at Thornton Library in Oxford. His knowledge of the area is unsurpassed.