4 — THE SON
CONRAD HARNESS

 

Conrad's name was the second of the names to appear in a public public document.66 This occurred in Augusta County among the members of the well-known Samuel Decker Coroner's jury which met on 14 April 1749 on the South Branch of the Potomac River.67 Conrad was identified, with his father, as a "Hoerner." There are several facts about Conrad and his family that logically derive from this document: (a) that the use of the surname, "Harness," for the boys in that family had not yet, in 1749, become a fixed practice; (b) because the father was identified on that jury list as "Johann Michael Hoerner," it firmly identifies that Michael as Conrad's father;68 and (c) that Conrad's age by April of 1749 was at least 21, because 18th century Virginia law required that to serve in that capacity, or to enter into deeds or bonds or many other formal public instruments and relationships a person had to be at least that age.69

Being at least 21 by early 1749 also means that he had been born several years before the family left Tulpehocken, and born before that area was considered a part of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.70 The considerable time that Conrad resided in the succeeding Lancaster County opens the possibility that he may have married before coming to Virginia. No documents have yet been found even to hint when he married or to whom. Family tradition tells us that he married a Mary/Molly Yoakum/Yocum and had a daughter, both of whom were killed when he was. But, there is absolutely no proof of a wife's name or child's gender. Only the inventory and appraisement of Conrad's estate showed such personal items as "two womans Gowns," four Pettycoats" and "Childs Cloaths" to testify to a marriage and a child.71

The death of Conrad has been the focus of three long-standing traditions in the Harness family. Probably the most often quoted story comes from an interview with Conrad's nephew, George Trumbo, done sometime in the 1830s in Bath County, Kentucky. This was part of a collection of interviews by John D. Shane, whose collection ended up as part of the famous Draper Manuscripts.72 George's birth twelve years later to Conrad's sister would normally have placed him in an advantageous position to hear the story told by the closest family members as he grew up along the South Branch.73 But, there are two other contributors to the tradition. One was the most generally quoted source for Harness tradition, Helen Yoakum Black, who was born at the very end of the 1700s and was a granddaughter of one of Conrad's sisters. Helen's letters in the 1880s to other descendants have served as the most prominent source of family tradition and detail. The third contributor to the family tradition, apparently not nearly as widely used as Black, was William Fisher, another grandchild of a sibling of Conrad.74 These three tradition bearers provide an interesting mix of stories about the deaths of Conrad and his family. Trumbo's tale was basically that he and his wife and child, on their way home from church after the child's christening, were set upon by Indians and all killed. Black does not repeat this, but instead told an elaborate story about finding the bodies of wife and child. Fisher told an entirely different story about the deaths in his early 1879 letter. His account completely changed the circumstances of the deaths, and even had the wife rescued from the Indians after the child's death.

How do we use these stories? What kind of documentation do they provide for Conrad and his family? The answer is: virtually none! All the three agree upon is that Conrad and his wife had a child, and that Conrad and the child were killed before the incident ended. That much was told us with as much validity by the inventory of his estate. That is the only documentation we have in addition to the administrator's bond. All the interesting and conflicting detail must be left in the realm of legend until something valid is found to corroborate it.

Married early or later, Conrad was active in public affairs during the years on the South Branch under Augusta County regulation, and well into 1755.75 On 28 November 1750, Conrad, referred to here as "Harness," was one of 4 men, perhaps including his father, ordered by the Augusta Court to "value and appraise" the estate of the prominent James Rutledge on the South Branch.76 He also was among 4 men ordered to perform the same duty three months later for John Mitts' estate; but that time he did not participate in the final inventory and appraisal.77 Yet, he did so the next day for the estate of Henry Thorn. In that instance, Conrad and the other two were unable to complete their task for two years, bringing their appraisal back to the court on 27 April 1753.78

He expanded his community involvement somewhat that Spring of 1753 when, on 22 March, he took the oath required by his new commission as a militia Lieutenant in a company of foot soldiers.79 His appraisals of neighbors' estates continued. On 21 November 1753, Conrad and two nearby residents returned two appraisements for the unfortunate Scott family. Significant on each of these was Conrad's first recorded use of a signature "mark," a simple "C. H." between his first and surname that were written by someone else.80 After a year of no evidence of such activity, he and two neighbors returned their appraisal of Daniel Richardson's estate to the Augusta court on 5 March 1755.81 This proved to be Conrad's last documented public service.

Harness family historians and descendants have almost always dated Conrad's death as taking place shortly before February 1764; and they have pointed to his younger brother, John, as his estate administrator. They were wrong. Probably less than half a dozen have found an earlier date, but they never have made their case. Those who say 1764 think their documentation sound; and it is to a point. But, the point is that the administration bonded in February 1764 was the second administration of Conrad's estate, not the first! Therefore, 1764 has no direct bearing on the year of Conrad's death. Those searchers just were not diligent enough, for the documents for the first one were in the same box as the documents for the second, just in a different envelope!

Conrad Harness died some six years before 1764! The administrator's bond, the only document there seems to be, is dated 14 December 1757, and the administration was undertaken by Conrad's brother, Michael. We know this is his brother because Michael's signature "mark" is the same one that he used consistently on all Hampshire County documents: a somewhat large cross with a cross-arm that slopes slightly down on the right side.82

What errant Harness searchers failed to consider was that, when brother Michael himself was killed in 1763, a new Administrator would need to be appointed for Conrad's estate. Until that time, however, the management of Conrad's estate moved ahead. Probably somewhat slowed by actions during the waning years of the French and Indian War, George See and three other neighbors completed their appraisement of Conrad's estate and returned it to the Hampshire County Court on 11 May 1763. Their listing of personal clothing items was mentioned earlier as corroborating the existence of a wife and child.83 Then, the death of brother Michael the ensuing August necessitated the appointment of a second Administrator, which the Hampshire Court did on 15 February 1764 by appointing Conrad's brother, John, to that position.84 Later, on 12 December 1764, the Hampshire Court ordered a final settlement of the Conrad Harness Estate's previous administration [by Michael, Jr.] and the balance of £156-80-0 [Virginia pounds] turned over to John.85 A subsequent settlement was received and ordered recorded on 12 March 1765; and finally, on 10 March 1772, the court received the final account of Conrad's estate by John Harness. This seemed to contain the proceeds of rents and sales of some horses, all of which were examined and settled by officers of the court. There were no statements made as to the disposition of the estate's final balance of £162-19-0.86

Thus, the existing documents have told us these things about Conrad Harness: (1) that he, like his father first, was known on the South Branch as a Hoerner, at least for a short time; (2) that he probably was one of the two eldest sons of Johann Michael Ernst Hoerner, born in Pennsylvania in the 1720s; (3) that he was active in the public affairs of his area, especially making inventories and appraisements of estates of deceased neighbors; (4) that his own estate inventory supports the family tradition that he was married and had a child, but nothing exists to document the name of his wife or the gender of his child; (5) that he died 7 years earlier than nearly all family accounts have said; and (6) that his first estate administrator was his brother, Michael.

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5. —The son, Adam Harness


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