I humbly present this previously posted writing to you now, on this eve of July 4, 2021:
The 4th of July has come and gone. My original intention was to write this post to coincide with the date, but I just couldn’t get the words together. I submit my effort now.
Benjamin Harrison V, the Signer, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
His son, William Henry Harrison, is our direct ancestor, according to our Harrison oral family history. William Henry Harrison (1773-1841) was the ninth president of the United States.
I learned of this oral history in March 2011, from our dear cousin, Clyde McDaniel. He shared with me that we’re “directly related” to William Henry Harrison and that he was told of this by our Harrison cousin, Jeanette Harrison Anderson, the daughter of Norfolk attorney, James Minnis Harrison (1873-1940).
I quickly checked the genealogical paper trail. Sure enough, I was able to locate Samuel Harrison (grandfather of Louise, James, Josephine, etc) in Charles City County, VA. Charles City County is the location of Berkeley Plantation, birthplace of William Henry Harrison.
I followed-up by reaching out to Judy Ledbetter, historian at the Charles City County Center for Local History. She was very helpful and accommodating of my requests; however, at the time, she did not seem particularly inclined to believe that our family was blood related to the scions of VA history themselves, the James River Harrisons.
Still, Judy provided a wealth of information in terms of detailing the complexities of these wealthy Virginia planter families and inter-marriages amongst them. Had we only the paper trail to follow, we’d be in a labyrinth of names, marriages, and inventories.
This made me consider the history of Walter F. White. Early on, while gathering facts about William Henry Harrison and slavery, I read about White’s own Harrison connections.
His oral family history also held that they directly descended from William Henry Harrison. They hold that Harrison had six children with an enslaved woman by the name of Dilsia. According to their history, William Henry Harrison sold his “bastard slave children” off when he ran for president of the United States. White’s maternal grandmother, Marie Harrison, was one of these children. She was sold to Joseph Poythress of LaGrange, GA.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill African-American professor, Kenneth Janken, Ph.D., researched and wrote about Walter White’s family history in his 2003 biography, White: The Biography of Walter White, Mr. NAACP.
In July 2011, I emailed Prof. Janken. I informed him of our own family’s oral tradition and asked if he had the names of the other Harrison children that were sold. He responded enthusiastically, but did not, unfortunately, have further information. All that he knew of Dilsia and her descendants was contained in his book and its footnotes.
Cousin Bernard Harrison graciously undertook y-DNA testing in the Summer of 2011. We soon learned that any possible DNA connection to William Henry Harrison was not passed from father to son, as Bernard’s haplogroup was an African one. A female carried the Harrison blood.
Autosomal DNA, the DNA that we inherit from both parents, would have to be the testing route to learn if there was merit to the myth, as it were.
As Providence would have it, the technology and accessibility of autosomal DNA testing had advanced just as we sought to confirm this Harrison history.
I tested with 23andMe and AncestryDNA around the same time, late 2013/early 2014. Both of these companies provide autosomal DNA testing. Genealogically speaking, the tests can yield ancestral “answers” going back around 500 years.
I was matched with numerous persons who listed themselves as descendants of William Henry Harrison’s family. Likewise, I matched Harrisons who were descendants of the Long Grey Trail and Oyster Bay Harrisons. According to researchers, these families are related.
I’m not the only one of our known Harrison cousins who’s DNA tested. There are at least 8 of us, and the most recent who’s tested is a very prominent one. Answers unfold. Perhaps most striking, was a high confidence, 5th-8th cousin AncestryDNA match that I received in March of this year. This match is a relative of Walter F. White, descended from White’s sister.
Through this trekking to confirm our Harrison history, I’ve occasionally reached out to Prof. Janken, informing him of our family’s DNA undertakings and results.
In the Spring of 2014, Prof. Janken referred me to Jim Corridan, of Indiana. Mr. Corridan was concerned about William Henry Harrison being named as an ancestor of Walter White’s and basically felt that there was no proof of it.
I sent Mr. Corridan an email and expressed that my own family has an oral history of descending from William Henry Harrison. I added that we have DNA tested and matched with descendants of Harrison’s family. Mr. Corridan responded and scheduled a phone conference with me.
In May of 2014, I spoke with Jim Corridan, state of Indiana archivist and president of the Grouseland Foundation. Grouseland is the historic Vincennes, IN home of William Henry Harrison.
In speaking with Mr. Corridan, he’d obviously done his homework before our scheduled phone discussion. He indicated that we’re (our collective Harrison family) “definitely Harrisons,” but he wondered if we’re possibly related to an uncle or other family member of William Henry Harrison, instead of William Henry Harrison himself.
I responded that his wonderment wasn’t unlike the Jefferson/Hemings matter and Mr. Corridan agreed. I further explained that there is much that our family doesn’t know, and that we only seek to go where the truth takes us.
Such was then and such is now. The objective of this search is to go only where the truth directs. Through all of the selling, shuffling, and shell games, we declare that we remain.
*Concerning Jeanette, keeper of the history:
In August 2012, Jeanette Harrison Anderson passed away. I would have loved to have heard our family’s story from her. Just as I would be overjoyed to share the latest DNA findings with her. In her stead, I update her son and with our latest genealogical news. He’s taken to genealogy and has been an invaluable source of primary documentation and photos of the family. We search in Jeanette’s honor.