7 — THE SON
JACOB HARNESS (II)

 

The death of the first Jacob Harness at the end of 1758 or the very beginning of 1759 has very important implications for what we know of the life of the second Jacob Harness. The most important seems to be a more accurate determination of the age of the second.

As researchers of German immigrant families in the American colonies in the 18th century know, the death of a son or daughter in a family very often was followed by the naming of the next-born infant of the same gender for the departed child. This was a familiar custom in families of other national origins, but it was a "trademark" among German families.

This custom, applied to the German immigrant family of Elisabetha and Michael Ernst [Johann Michael Ernst Hoerner], strongly suggests that their second son named Jacob [here referred to as Jacob (II)] must have been born at or just after the end of 1758, for the duplicate naming of live children was quite rare among these families. A birth at this time has important ramifications for the genealogy of this family. For one thing, it would mean that Elisabetha would have been 53 when this second Jacob was born, for she had been born/baptized on 07 August 1705.105 Admittedly, this was an advanced age to bear children, but not unknown. This is implied by other circumstances in the family, and not documented. As yet, there is no other evidence; or is there? 106

Later events in the family's history also strongly support the suggestion of a later, by as much as a decade, date of birth for the second Jacob. A 1758 birth would make him conveniently 21 when Michael Ernst drew his will, a will for which none of the usual reasons were present. He was not ill, and had not been; in the will itself he even comments on his "Good health at present." What Michael does say is that he wanted to dispose of his affairs in a manner to prevent "any Dispute, or Lawsuits" after his death. After specifying Elizabeth's one-third, Michael deliberately mentions that he had "before in Former Times" given "my Elder Sons . . . Land and other Necasaries[sic.]." He orders the division of remaining money equally among all the living children by name. However, he devises everything else -- land, livestock, buildings and slaves -- to this "you[n]gest son Jacob." There seems no doubt that Michael was taking every legal step to assure young Jacob a full inheritance. Michael followed the enumeration of Jacob's inheritance in the will, late the next year, by giving Jacob the lease to Michael's 249 acres of land on the South Branch.107

A second set of later circumstances supporting a later birth for the second Jacob Harness are the times of his two marriages and the births of his children. We have been left no documented specific dates for his first marriage, said to have been to Eunice Petty, the niece of his brother John's wife; nor do their three daughters have confirmed birth dates. The marriage date of daughter Sarah (1820),108 and the approximate life dates of daughter Mary Ann (1790-1881?), coupled with the death of Eunice before 1801, strongly place their births in the 1790s, suggesting again that this second Jacob probably married first in his mid to late twenties, in the 1780s, a common occurrence then. Jacob married again on 14 Oct 1801, in Hardy County, to Elizabeth Rohrbaugh,109 and they subsequently had two children of their own.

Several things, therefore, support a much later birth year for the second Jacob Harness: (1) the 1758/59 death of the first Jacob; (2) the German practice of naming later children for those who had died; (3) the father's drawing his will at a time when he was not, and apparently had not been, seriously ill, but at a time which coincided with his much youngest son attaining his majority; (4) the late first marriage of this second Jacob; and (5) the late probable birth dates of his first three children.

The purpose of this study of Jacob (II) Harness was not intended to go beyond recognizing, for logical, common sense reasons, that this son probably was born much later than always thought; and that a later birth better explains both of his marriages, as well as explaining his father drafting a will several years before his death and when he was not ill.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about both of the foregoing studies is that no new documentary evidence was utilized. These sources have been around for as long as the events described. They even have been available in books or on microfilm for nearly half a century. The family in question has deserved far better from its historians than that. Yet, it is not too late to repair this and the dozens of other problems similarly ignored over those years by those historians. With careful research, this Harness family could still have an accurate history.

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