Harness Family Research
John L. Tevebaugh
On 04 June 2000, in WVHardy-L (e-mail discussion group) Digest V00 #78, in message #9 there
were four statements made about Michael and Elizabeth Harness that are attributed to page 39 of
an unidentified book. I do hope we will all get into the habit of clearly identifying valid sources for
the information we exchange. We all need to help move genealogy into the modern world of
documentation, I would like to support that maxim by critiquing the four statements mentioned
The four statements are:
Readers must bear in mind that the Harnesses referred to in all four statements are the two most
often called Michael Harness, Sr., and his wife, Elizabeth. I will discuss each statement in
- "The Harnesses came from Holland about 1675 at the urging of William Penn."
- "Michael Harness was born in Pennsylvania in 1700."
- "He married Elizabeth Zephebe, a relative of Penn."
- "He (Michael Harness) settled on the Potomac on a portion of his 9,000 acre Fairfax Grant."
Number 1. This statement contains four errors of fact:
- The first error is in the expression "Harnesses came from ...." The family referred to did not
come from anywhere else, at least with that surname. Instead, the head of the eventual family
arrived in New York as Johann Michael Ernst (or Ernst-Hoerner, or vise-versa). Extant records
indicate that he seldom, if ever, personally used the name Harness during his lifetime, even
marking his name on his 1779 will (proved 1785) as ME. Incidentally, whoever wrote the will
spelled the surname Ernest/Ernesst, which suggests that he didn't know German well either. In
that will, only the names of his acknowledged sons were given as Harness. Others referred to him
as Harness, but not Michael himself that we know of. (Henry Z. Jones, Jr.,
The Palatine Families of New York (2 vols., Picton Press, 1985), Vol. 1, p. 378;
Jones, More Palatine Families (Universal City, CA, 1991), p. 342; Will of Michael
"Ernest," Estates File, Hampshire Co., VA; and Hampshire Co., VA, Will Book 2 (1780-1794),
- The second error is in the words "came from Holland." In common usage, this phrase implies
that Holland was "their (his)" home. Not correct. He, his father, and a brother were from
Germany, the northern part of Baden, just south of Heidelberg. They "came from Holland" only in
the sense that they, like thousands of other 18th century German emigrants, came down the Rhine
River from their homes to its mouth at Rotterdam. From that point they seem to have taken ship
to England, after which they went to North America (see the Jones references above, and other
studies of 1709-1710 Palatine emigration; also Marie Knorr Graeff, ed., 1723-1973; Two
Hundred Fifty Years; Tulpehocken; ...., (Womelsdorf, PA, 1973), pp. 11 et passim.) The same
was true of his wife, Elizabeth, as will be shown more fully below, under statement 3 (see also
Jones, I, pp. 158-159).
- The third error is "about 1675." To have done this, Michael would have had to come to
America twenty-five (25) years before he was born; and 35 years before his father left Germany;
and Elizabeth would have had to arrive 30 years before she was baptized in Wiesloch, Baden.
(see Jones, as above)
- The fourth error is "at the urging of William Penn." This statement absolutely has no validity,
if only because William Penn did not even receive his proprietorship of Pennsylvania until 1681!
There are no supporting documents, anyway.
Number 2. This statement contains two (2) errors of fact: a). the name problem is treated in 1, a,
above; b). the second error is "born in Pennsylvania in 1700." For that to have happened,
Michael would have had to grab a diaper and hurry back to Baden to get ready to descend the
Rhine with his father and brother in 1709. Further, he did not arrive in Pennsylvania until at least
1723. Yes, he was said to have been born in 1700, perhaps about 01 Jan, but in Germany (see
Jones and Graeff, above.).
Number 3. This statement contains two (2) errors of fact:
Number 4. This statement has one big error of fact: there was no "9000 Acre Fairfax Grant" ever
given to Michael Harness, or Ernst, or whatever, or to anyone else by the good Lord Fairfax. The
various manors (South Branch, Patterson Creek, New Creek, etc.) all were managed in the same
manner: leases (called farmlets) of from 203 to 456 acres were given out on strict terms. The
Harness or Ernst name does not even appear among the farmlets granted on the South Branch or
the South Fork in the first leases in 1748 and 1749, or for several years afterward. (see Gertrude
E. Gray, Virginia Northern Neck Land Grants, 2 vols., 1694-1742, 1742-1775
(Genealogical Publishing Co., 1997 and 1998); and Charles Morrison, "Early Fairfax Land Grants
and Leases Along the South Branch of the Potomac," in West Virginia History,
XXXVIII, No. 1 (Oct 1976), pp. 2 et passim.) Such prestige-seeking inflation of acreage gives a
bad name to family history and is insulting to anyone who knows anything about the Fairfax
- The first is "He married Elizabeth Zephebe, ...." The most important problem with this is that
there never was a person by that surname. That surname is totally synthetic. It somewhat
resembles one made up out of whole cloth by clerks in New York Colony who were trying (and
not very well, at that) to write a name pronounced by an immigrant German who, of course, could
not write or speak English. English clerks, and especially those with Irish or Welsh roots,
frequently created such names (and would continue to do so until after 1800). One clerk certainly
did when a particular German immigrant took the oath of allegiance to the crown at Albany, New
York, on 31 Jan 1716. That German was Johann Conrad(t) Dieffenbach, who on that occasion
was recorded as "Johan Coenraet Jefbach." Much later, when he clearly signed his 22 July 1737
will as "Johan Conrad Dieffenbach," it was indexed (probably by a Welshman) as that of "John
Cynraed Tiffebogh" after the will was probated. That Johann Conrad(t) Dieffenbach had a
daughter, Maria Elisabetha (baptized, Baden, 1705), whom he acknowledged in his will as
married to an Ernst in Tulpehocken. Michael was the only Ernst there at that time. It becomes
obvious that later members of families allied to the Harnesses, separated by generations and time
(Helen Black, for example, was writing about a man and wife who were born about 175 years
before her letters!), began to use combinations of clerk-given surnames, and easily arrived at
"Jephebe" and "Zephebe" and other forms. No known records counter that this Elizabeth was the
mother of all 13 of Michael's children. (Jones, as above; the Dieffenbach Will, Tulpehocken, 22
Jul 1737, as recorded 11 Oct 1738 in Philadelphia County at the Courthouse; Ray J. Dieffenbach
and George L. Irgang, Johann Conrad Dieffenbach of Tulpehocken, Berks County, Pennsylvania
(typescript, 1982, pp. 3-5, 7, 10-13); and Graeff, as above).
- The second error of fact is in the phrase, "a relative of Penn." This completely is without
basis, unless Penn initiated a family "on the other side of the blanket" when he was on the
continent in 1677 with George Fox. We almost have to blame this phrase on the unrestrained
imagination of several descendants who seemed to long for descent from nobility, and the like.
Statements like the original four noted above should, after all these years, never be included in
material circulated today about South Branch families. Proof is a demanding concept, not one
satisfied by saying , "oh, I found this in a book (or FGS) by ...." or by generalizing to such an
extent that the result makes a mockery of common sense. Can you imagine trying to prove (from
Message I of the above submissions) that Stumps "swarmed out of the Black Forests (sic.) in
Germany to meet Caesar ...."? That would be especially difficult because that region of
"Germany" was first invaded by later Caesars; and, the Visagothic and other Germanic invaders
who were to form the basic German population were not to arrive until some 300 years after
I'm relatively new to intensive South Branch area research. I started into this area trying to find
sound Harness, etc., data to help me find sound connections for my Tevebaugh ancestors. What
I've examined above is like much of what I've encountered. My job has been made difficult and
lengthy because of it but, thank heavens, I have found family researchers here I can trust.
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