Great-great grandfather Dewitt E. Harris was the son of Benjamin J. (B.J.) and Caroline E. Harris (formerly Dupree). B.J. was one of fourteen children born to George Carroll Harris (b. January 12, 1781, d. May 8, 1865 in Madisonville, Tennessee) and Sally McCray Harris (b. 1787 in Jonesboro, Tennessee, d. 1853 in Madisonville, Tennessee). Caroline was a daughter of Lud W. Harris (b. 1771, d. 1832) and his second wife Eliza Walker (b. 1785, d. 1825). Both DeWitt and Caroline descended from Harris families, although they were different families. Since B.J.'s family, George C. and Sally Harris, ended up playing a significant role in my family history, while Caroline's apparently did not, the former is detailed elsewhere.

Lud William and Eliza Walker Harris

Caroline E. Harris was one of 10 children of Lud William Harris and his second wife Eliza Walker. Lud was a son of Benjamin Harris (b. 1739, Richland, South Carolina, d. 1817, Columbia, South Carolina) and Sophia Williams (b. 1750, d. 1819). South Carolina had been a Spanish colony, although it served mainly as a port for ships sailing between St. Augustine, Florida and Spain. In the late 1600s, English began to arrive, a good half initially coming from plantations in Barbados. Benjamin Harris' and Sophia Williams' parents may have been among those early arrivals. According to Edgar, the year Benjamin was born, South Carolina had experienced a smallpox epidemic, followed by a yellow fever epidemic, and was anticipating war with Spain because many slaves were running away to St. Augustine. 

Benjamin and Sophia married in Richland in 1770, then moved to Beech Island in Edgefield County. Edgefield, which had not yet been established as a county, lies on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River, which divides South Carolina from Georgia (at that time, the boundary was still in the process of being established.) Most likely, the Harrises established a plantation with slave labor. According to Edgar, from 1730 onward in South Carolina, rice and indigo production grew rapidly, fueling demand for importation of enslaved Africans.

Lud W. Harris was born in 1771 in Beech Island, Edgefield, South Carolina. Somewhere around 1798 he married his first wife Sarah Wright; they had a son, Lud Jr., who later bought land in Georgia. (Sorting out which Lud Harris did what in historical records has been a challenge.) Sarah died in 1801. Two years later, Lud married Eliza, and their first child was born a year later. He began buying land, showing up in Edgefield County deed books.

Sometime before 1820, the family moved to Montpelier (now known as Blacksher), Baldwin County, Alabama, where they appear in the 1820 Alabama census with 30 slaves. Baldwin County is located on the Mississippi delta, north of what is now Mobile, Alabama. Before the area became part of the U.S., it had been home to the Creek Indians. The area had also been claimed by Spain, then France; the British won the territory in the French and Indian War, but the Spanish briefly reclaimed it a few years later. Many British remained, and in 1809 established Baldwin County as part of the Mississippi territory. In the War of 1812, the U.S. took the territory from both the British and the Creek Indians. In 1813, the British exploited a division within the Creek nation, inciting the Red Sticks Creek to attack and kill about 500 Americans and mixed-blood Creeks who were in Ft. Mims (located about 18 miles away from Montpelier). Creek warriors killed most of those who were in the fort. Tennesseans under Andrew Jackson retaliated, defeating the Creek at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, farther north in what is now Alabama.

It was shortly after that, that the Harris family relocated from South Carolina to Baldwin County, Alabama, establishing a plantation worked by slaves. This is where Caroline, who was born in 1816, spent her childhood and probably where she met and married her first husband Thomas C. Dupree (a Dupree family appears in the 1820 Census in Baldwin County). Her father Lud W. Harris became active politically and in the slave trade. The U.S. government had outlawed the importation of slaves in 1808, but the practice continued in Alabama until 1859. In 1818, three slave ships arrived in Alabama; the U.S. government ordered the slaves to be held until a decision was made about what to do with them. According to the 1823 Alabama Senate Journal, Lud Harris was appointed slave agent, charged with "safe keeping and prompt delivery of the slaves to the order of the court." In 1822, Lud was elected an Alabama State Senator for a year, representing Baldwin County. Lud Harris, Jr. (the son of Lud Sr.'s first marriage) also established a slave plantation in Alabama, marrying Mary Ann Bates in 1827; he died ten years later.

Lud W. and Eliza Walker Harris had 10 children:
  • Mary Ann (b. 1804, d. 1854)
  • Louisa S. (b. 1806, d. 1868)
  • John R. (b. 1807, d. unknown)
  • Jane Agnes (b. 1808, d, 1863)
  • Emily DeWitt (b. 1811, d. 1878, married John Rain)
  • Benjamin G. (b. 1812, d. 1880)
  • David Nelson (b. 1813, d. 1900)
  • Caroline E. (b. 1816, d. abt. 1890, married Thomas C. Dupree, Benjamin J. Harris, and Bartholomew Jones)
  • Edward Richard (b. 1818, d. unknown)
  • Henry Lewis (b. 1821, d. 1891).
Eliza died in 1825 and Lud died in 1832. Because of what appears to be dire financial straits that Caroline found herself in several years later, it is likely that she inherited relatively little from her parents' estate. While some southerners divided their estate equally among their children, others left their land to their sons, and their daughters received proceeds from the sale of everything else, presumably following the idea that their husbands would look after them.

Benjamin (B. J.) and Caroline E. Harris

Caroline's mother Eliza died in 1825 when Caroline was 9 years old. When she was about 14, she married Thomas C. Dupree, and they relocated to Arkansas. Benjamin J. (B.J.) was born sometime around 1810, and probably grew up in Jonesboro, Tennessee. He moved to Hempstead County, Arkansas during the 1830s; I have no information about him prior to that. However, the few details of his life that I have found fit Oakes' general description of small-scale slaveholders. Oakes posits that, "For most slaveholders acquisition was a way of life" (p. 67). Sons of slaveholders were commonly sent westward, pressured to buy land and slaves in order to become prosperous; sometimes they were sent off with a few slaves and some capital. George Harris's land accumulation fits this pattern of material acquisition, as does B.J. Harris's relocation to Arkansas, where he subsequently acquired land and slaves.

Hempstead County was established in 1818, a year before the Arkansas Territory was established. By the time B.J. Harris arrived, steamboat traffic on the Red River was bringing in streams of white settlers. According to Houston, there had been slavery in the area since the 1700s when it was owned by France; slaves worked in agriculture and shipping, and as artisans and Indian fighters. In 1803, when the Louisiana Purchase transferred what became Arkansas from France to the U.S., the institution of slavery was undisturbed, and many new arrivals brought slaves with them. By 1820, out of a population of 2284 in Hempstead County, 481 were enslaved.

The fertile land of the southwest corner of Arkansas, where Hempstead County is located, attracted farmers, although the area also had a "wild frontier" reputation due to ongoing general lawlessness and wars with indigenous peoples. The Caddo were the main group of Indians who were native to this area. According to Glover, the Caddo had attempted in remain on friendly terms with the U.S. government, even though the Creek had tried to recruit them as allies against the U.S. in the War of 1812. However, in the early 1830s, the Caddo decided to sell their land in Arkansas for three reasons: 1) the continued arrival of whites claiming land regardless of federal laws prohibiting their doing so, 2) the U.S. government's policy of relocating other bands of Indians to Caddo country, which the Caddo did not mind in principle but grew to resent due to conflict over resources, and 3) invitation plus moving expenses by the Spanish for them to relocate to Texas. The Caddo made a treaty with the U.S. government in 1835 selling one million acres in Arkansas, but ended up getting less in return than they thought they had agreed to. As soon as the Caddo were gone, the U.S. government made this land available for purchase by white settlers, and in 1836, admitted Arkansas as a slave state.

B.J. did not become a planter, but did live in proximity to large plantations. Although most of Arkansas' larger plantations were located to the south and eastern part of the state, because of its proximity to the Red River, Hempstead too had several plantations. According to both Taylor and Houston, the main crops grown in the county at that time were corn and cotton, with cotton rapidly outstripping any other crop because it was very profitable. Corn was milled locally for human consumption, as well as being fed to livestock.

I am not sure exactly when B. J. Harris arrived, but on November 29, 1838 in Hempstead County, he married Caroline E. Dupree who by then was a recent widow. In 1837, Thomas Dupree had obtained land warrants for over 1000 acres. He died a year later, leaving her with three small children: Eliza, Thomas, and Arabella. According to Arkansas Supreme Court records, B.J. Harris was administrator of his estate. B.J. married Caroline in November, 1838, and a year later, obtained 40 acres from one of Thomas Dupree's land warrants.  When the census was taken in 1840, the Harrises were living with Caroline's three children, plus their first child together; they also had 6 slaves, 2 of whom were children. 

By then, due to the profitability of cotton and the demand for cheap labor to work the fields, about 40% of Hempstead's population was enslaved. The poster, from 1842, announces a slave sale in Spring Hill, near where the Harrises lived (from Finkelman, 1998).

 I don't know anything of the day-to-day life of the Harrises, but Oakes' depiction of small-scale slaveholders gives clues. According to Oakes, “The average slaveholder was forty-four years old, most likely male, still more likely white. Whatever his ethnic heritage, by 1850 he was almost always native-born, and more than nine times out of ten he was born in the South.” (p. 51) The average number of slaves such a person owned was 8-9. Most slaveholders, even those were wealthy, lived like paupers, in roughly-made cabins, eating a plain and repetitive diet (pork and corn were common). Roads were unpaved and transportation was difficult. Profits from farms were used to acquire more land and slaves, more often than to improve the family's lifestyle. The majority of slaveholders were also evangelical Christians, attending camp meetings (that sometimes lasted a week) parly for religion and partly for social activities. Oakes argues that slaveholders faced an on-going moral dilemma about the institution of slavery. On the one hand, the "gospel of prosperity," as he put it (p. 127) led most to drive themselves and their slaves hard, using violence or threats of violence to maintain control over the slaves. On the other hand, evangelical Christianity posited that all are equal in the sight of God, and that people should treat others well. Letters by slaveholders are filled with uncertainty about its morality in the eyes of God, and fear that slaveholders will go to hell after they die. But because of the practicalities of using slave labor to strive for prosperity in the context of a widely shared ideology that only whites were fit to govern and attain prosperity, most slaveholders simply went along with the system. It is likely that this description fit the B. J. Harris family, as well as the Harris family in which Caroline had grown up.

B.J. and Caroline E. Harris had three children:
  • Dewitt Edwin (b. 1839, d. 1919), married Susan C. Bogart
  • Emma Penelope (b. 1841, d. unknown)
  • Eglentine Arkansas (b. 1845, d. 1931), married Dwight V. Culver
B. J. Harris died March 16, 1846 of a wound he had received two months previously in a "rencontre" with someone named Mr. Bankhead, according to the Arkansas Gazette (ArkansasTies). By 1850, the three Harris children had been moved to Monroe County, Tennessee to live with their grandparents George C. and Sarah Harris. At the time, according to both Oakes and Dougan, many white settlers in Arkansas, attracted by possibilities of becoming rich, were living beyond their means, and when they died, their estates went to their creditors. Reference is made in Arkansas Supreme Court records to a guardian of the Dupree children having gathered funds from "the wreck of the estate" after Mr. Harris's death, which suggests that he was in debt when he died and left little besides debts. At the time, widows had little legal protection. Prior to 1839 in Arkansas, it was unclear how much legal claim a widow had to the estate of her husband. Some fell into desperate poverty when their husbands died, especially if they died owing money. At the same time, the shortage of single white women in Arkansas meant that widows usually received marriage proposals right away. In 1835 the state legislature passed a law specifying that women could keep property they had received before or during marriage, and in 1939 (signed into law in 1846), this was extended to protect her property from being used to pay debts of her husband. But to benefit from this law, women had to record property that was to be protected in the courthouse. 

This happened probably too late to help Caroline, especially if B.J. had died owing money. So the three Harris children were sent to Madisonville, Tennessee to live with their grandparents. I do not know what happened to the Harris slaves; Oakes explains that when masters died in debt, slaves were treated as part of the property in paying off the debt. As far as I know, Caroline never saw the three children again.

In 1846, the same year B.J. died, Caroline married Bartholomew Jones, another small farmer with 6 slaves. Caroline and Bartholomew had at least three children. By 1870, they were living in Texas, and Bartholomew was working as a farm laborer, having fallen from being a land-owner to working for someone else. He died the following year. Caroline then moved to San Diego, where she lived out the remainder of her life with her daughter Arabella Reed and family.


ArkansasTies. (March 30, 1846) B. J. Harris. Arkansas Gazette News, No. 17 - Whole No. 1369. www.ArkansasTies.com.

Alabama Legislative Acts, House Journals Senate Journals, Annual Session, 17 November - 31 December, 1823. Retrieved February 7, 2010 from http://www.legislature.state.al.us/misc/history/timeline.html

Cummings, Herman C., Ancestry.com Public Tree (get a littlle more info)

Dougan, M. R. (1987). The Arkansas married women's property law. The Arkansas Historical Quarterly 46 (1), 3-26.

Fort Mims Massacre, Wikipedia, Retrieved February 7, 2010 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_Mims_massacre.

Glover, W. B. (1935). A history of the Caddo Indians. The Louisiana Historical Quarterly 18 (4). Retrieved May 4, 2009 from http://ops.tamu.edu/x075bb/caddo/Indians.html#II

Houston, K. E. (2008). Slaveholders and slaves of Hempstead County, Arkansas. Unpublished Master's thesis, University of North Texas.

Oakes, J. (1998). The ruling race: A history of American slaveholders. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.

Taylor, O. W. (2000). Negro slavery in Arkansas. Fayetteville, AR: University of Arkansas Press.

Wells, C. (2008). Edgefield County, South Carolina: Deed Books 42 and 43. Heritage Books.