3 — THE SON
MICHAEL HARNESS, JR

 

Michael's name was the first of the names to appear in an extant public document. The somewhat uncomplimentary occasion was documented in an Augusta County, Virginia, court suit of Richard Crunk vs Michael Harness, et al., begun as early as April or May 1747. Crunk accused Michael and several other young men from the South Branch Valley of the Potomac River of trespass and assault. The case slowly made its way through the court dockets until 20 August that year, when all the accused consulted with the plaintiff and agreed to pay his costs if the suits were dropped. The case ended with that decision, and the Court Order Book recorded no further details. It would seem that the occasion involved younger men of Michael's age, rather than of the age of his father.45

There is no documented birth date for young Michael, despite so many having been assigned for him by descendants of the family. It is likely that he had attained his majority by the time of the suit; and consequently, that he had been born in the Tulpehocken settlement in Pennsylvania, where his parents had lived before coming to the South Branch. Had he turned 21 a year or so before the suit, he might have been the Michael Harness who was ordered by the Augusta County Court to inventory the John Bogard estate on 18 June 1747. 46

Like his father, Michael, Jr., was active among his neighbors assisting in the appraisement of their estates and offering surety for their administrator's bonds. His first documented involvement was when he witnessed the last will and testament of one Jacob "Wevebaught," of the lower part of the South Branch Valley, in January 1750/1, when that area was part of Frederick County, Virginia.47 There is no question here that young Michael was the person involved, for the clerk or copyist not only wrote the name clearly, but added a signature mark, "M," and added a "Junor" when it was copied into the formal will book after its proof on 13 August 1751. It was done that way again when Michael was recorded as surety for the widow, Margaret, on the 18th.48

Only his second involvement with an estate was with that of his new father-in-law, Eurie Westfall, who was, with his wife Blandina, a relative new-comer to the South Branch area.49 This couple, said to have married in 1719 in Kingston, Esopus County, New York, had some six children, at least one of whom, a daughter named Catharine, came with them to Augusta County, Virginia.50 Were it not for an almost incidental comment in the Court Order Book, we might never have known of his relationship with that family. When naming the Administrator of Eurie's will, it reads: "Michael Harness (soninlaw of Eurie Westfall) moved according to law to be named Admr of the Estate. Court granted him Certificate for letters of Admin."51 This statement was crucial to validate the full identification of Michael's wife and children later.

On the very same day his administrator's bond for the Westfall Estate was approved, he signed as surety for a fellow administrator, Benjamin Scot, who returned the favor to young Michael on his bond.52 This one occasion provides an excellent example of how the lack of thought by copyists could provide confusing leads to the identification of an individual. On 22 March 1753, in the same court record of two successive events, we find the same person's name written six different ways: "Michael M Harness," "Michael Harns," "Michael MH Harns," "Michael MH Harness," "Michael Harness, Jr.," and "Michael Harness(soninlaw . . .)." There were at least two spelling varieties on each page. Such careless recording of surnames on documents is made worse for researchers when there are other persons living in the area with surnames such as Harris, Hanna, Horn and Horner; it is even more confusing when the father of young Michael is frequently referred to only as "Michael Harness."53

Later in 1753, Michael's wife suffered another blow when her mother died. On 21 November 1753, court records disclose the return of an inventory of the estate of Blandina Westfall to the court, and that "Michael Harnes Administrator" had sold the contents. It had been valued at L95, consisted mostly of livestock, and probably represented also what remained of Eurie's estate.54

With the advent of Hampshire County after 1753 as their new controlling county government, Michael Harness, Jr., adopted a new signature mark, "Michael + Harness," with the cross often exaggerated and with the cross-bar sloping slightly down on the right side. It first was found used in December 1757, when young Michael assumed the administration of his brother Conrad's estate.55 We see the mark again the next February when he and William Cunningham guaranteed the bond of George See, when George began the administration of his wife's estate.56 One year later, to the day, Michael appeared in the Hampshire court with his frequent associate, Henry Lancisco, to provide surety for neighbor Bastian Hagler, Administrator of the Jacob Hagler Estate. This time he "signed" as "Michael + Harness, Jr.,'' as he would do twice more that same day when his father, "Michael M E Harness" was appointed administrator of the estates of his brothers Adam and Jacob Harness.57 This double tragedy for the family seems to have left its mark. As was true of the father, Michael Ernst, also was true for his namesake; neither of them thereafter could be found involved with administrations of estates. The next and last records for Michael Harness, Jr., suggest that, with the departure of the French and their Indian allies from the Northern Neck, he had begun to acquire land around the "Luney's" Creek area, north and west of [later] Petersburg. Two parcels of 202 and 143 acres were bought by him in 1762 from David Craige, who had already had their bounds determined by surveyor John Moffett late in 1760 and 1761. A third parcel of 125 acres he had Moffett survey early in 1761. Michael had piloted the survey team for the last one, and had served as chain carrier for Craige's 143 aces.58

The life of Michael Harness, Jr., came to a sudden end on 20 August 1763. The newspaper, New York Post Boy, reported in its 6 October 1763 issue that Michael and Jonathan Welton were killed on that date by Indians in Welton's meadow, on "Loony's [now Lunice] Creek" in the colony of Virginia.59 It was not until 25 February 1764 that Catharine Harness had her Administratrix's Bond secured by John Harness and Nathaniel Kuykendall, and accepted by the Hampshire County Court.60

Because Harness descendants for so very long could not separate the life of Michael Ernst, whom they exclusively referred to as Michael Harness, from the life of Michael Harness, Jr., they also could not decide, to everyone's satisfaction, the identity of Jr.'s wife. One candidate for many years was a Catherine Van Meter, for whom no confirming evidence was ever found. Occasionally someone would confuse the two Michaels long enough to place an Elizabeth Westfall, whose existence they could not even document, with Junior. Later, the correctly named daughter of Eurie and Blandina Westfall was recognized as the wife of whichever Michael Harness it was who was called the son-in-law of the two Westfalls. Finally, most descendants recognized Catharine Westfall as the wife of Michael Harness, Jr. Very, very few Harness descendants have come close at all to the names of the children of this couple. Only a small handful of descendants today are certain who those children were. Yet, anyone who had looked for Harness in Hampshire County Deed Book 4 (1773-1778) would have found, on pages 203 and 209, the name of Michael's direct heir at law, and the name of the next husband of Michael's widow. Using that husband's name, Abraham Kuykendall, and by following through his deeds and will, even the casual searcher would have found the other two children.61 The answer was under their noses for over 200 years.

Under Virginia Law, the sole heir of an intestate at that time was the eldest son, which in this case was Adam Harness, as noted clearly in the above deeds. Another son, Isaac, was mentioned in Kuykendall's will as the recipient of half of Kuykendall's "plantation" after the death of Isaac's mother, Catharine. One explanation has been advanced that Isaac may have been devised land on 20 February 1777 in Abraham's will; but, it probably was the same Isaac said to have been killed the next September in a militia ambush. In that case, Isaac would have ceased to be a will factor before the will was proved in 1779.62 There is no further record of Isaac in the Kuykendall-Harness documents. The other child was Sarah Harness, also named in Kuykendall's will, who inherited money and land in that will. She married, probably before 1782, a Luke Decker. Luke, Sarah, the widow Catharine Kuykendall, and eventually Adam Harness and his family, moved from the South Branch to near Vincennes, in the Northwest Territory, the first three about 1784, and Adam at the end of the 1790s.63

The Michael Harness, Jr., Estate took a long time to be settled. It was not until 21 and 22 January, 1765, that his estate was appraised, and not until 11 June that year that it was returned to the Hampshire County Court for recording.64 It was an extensive inventory, including livestock, two slaves, clothing, household goods and farm implements. It was appraised at about £575. For whatever reason, the final settlement with Catharine was not made until 1782, and accepted by her shortly thereafter.65 The settlement may have been concluded as part of her preparation for leaving for the West.

Now, it may help to summarize the key elements in this study of the young man called Michael Harness, Jr. No documented birth date has yet been found, yet several documents suggest that it was in the 1720s in the Tulpehocken settlement. We know the date his estate administration was approved in Hampshire County, Virginia; and, the New York newspaper offers what seems a valid date for his death. Use of deed records, court order books and estate documents, especially wills and appraisements, confirm: (1) the various names by which he legally was identified, and the means to distinguish him from his father; (2) his active social and legal involvement in his region; (3) the identity of his wife and children, and his wife's parents; (4) his acquisition of land; and (5) his contacts with his father and some of his older siblings, and confirms their identity and some of their personal data. The principal focus of this study has been on the Ernst/Harness son, and not on his wife and children, even though several documents with which to pursue them were identified. Underlying this entire study was the use of original documents from the counties which had jurisdiction over the South Branch area.

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4. —The son, Conrad Harness


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