NameCaptain John HARNESS
Birthabt 1735 or later, Tulpehocken Creek Settlement, Pennsylvania colony
Deathabt 1806, Hardy County, WVA
Birth20 Feb 1737, Isle of Jersey
Death16 Jun 1823, Hardy County, WVA
Marriage1757, Hampshire, WVA
Notes for Captain John HARNESS
According to Mike Crites of Moorefield, WVA, on August 3, 1773 John Harness was granted a lease by Lord Fairfax for Lot # 48 (260 acres) and Lot #50 (11 acres) located on the west side of River Road and the South Branch of the Potomoc River at the community of Fisher, southeast of Moorefield. Fort Harness was located on Lot # 48 and a portion of it still existed until early 2010 when it was destroyed by fire. It firmed the central portion of the house at Water Edge Farm which had been owned by members of the Fisher family since the early 1830’s. It is likely that the John Harness family lived at Fort Harness even prior to acquiring a formal lease. According to Crites, On September 10, 1799, Lot # 48 was sold outright to John Harness by John Marshall, who had been an attorney for the Fairfax family and had purchased the South Branch Manor properties from the estate of the late Lord Fairfax in 1794. According to the deeds, John Harness paid 70 pounds and 12 shillings for Lot # 48.
NOTE: Attorney John Marshall shortly thereafter became Secretary of State and in 1801 was named Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, a post he held for 34 years.
Reports in several historical journals indicate that John Harness was involved as a frontier rifleman in some of the eary skirmishes with Indians in the Ohio River valley and later in Dunmore’s War in 1773 and 1774.
During the Revolutionary war itself most of the defense of the western frontier of Virginia was left to local Militias that were put together and operated for a period of several days or several weeks or months, depending upon the circumstances. That freed the regular Continental Army to fight in major battles elsewhere. It appears from numerous reports that Captain John Harness headed up some of these militia companies that were called up from time to time during the war to defend the western frontier settlers, primarily from British-inspired Indian raids.
The earliest reported involvement of John Harness in the Indian wars can be found in an account attributed to a Dr. Charles A. Turley in "A History of the Valley of Virginia" by Samuel Kercheval, originally published in 1909. Turley describes what has become known as "The Battle of the Trough" which occurred in the Spring of 1756.
NOTE: Near chaos reportedly prevailed on the South Branch during this period. Many if not most of the settlers had fled the area in fear of more Indian attacks. Those families that remained often sought refuge in makeshift forts which George Washington (then 23 years of age and commander of the Virginia Militia) had been ordered to put up by Virginia's Royal Governor Dinwiddie in order to offer some minimum degree of safety for the embattled frontier settlers who remained on the South Branch.
According to Dr. Turley eighteen frontiersmen, most of them from Town Fort and a few from Fort Buttermilk, pursued some Indians who had kidnapped two women from the home of one of the women (a Mrs. John Brake) on the south fork of the South Branch of the Potomoc, not far from Moorefield. The Indians killed one of the women (a Mrs. Neff) when she could not keep up with them as they fled the scene. The attack on the women was led by Shawnee Chief Killbuck, described in various historical accounts as particularly ferocious, cunning and vengeful. Chief Killbuck led many of the raids on settlers along the South Branch during the years 1753 to 1761. He could understand and speak English and was well acquainted with many of the frontiersmen and their families as he had lived among them before the Indian wars broke out.
Dr. Turley said that the eighteen frontiersmen (John Harness among them), who left the forts in pursuit of the Indians "were men notorious for their valor and had been well tried on many such occasions." The men and their families who had sought refuge in the forts from the ongoing Indian raids in the area, found a "plain trace" left by the Indians, apparently a little too obvious a trace for John Harness. Turley said "Mr. John Harness, who was well acquainted with the manners and modes of warfare of the Indians" warned of a possible Indian ambush. When the frontiersmen arrived at "the trough" they found the Indians encamped and started to quietly sneak up on them. Unfortunately, a stray dog that had followed the frontiersmen, spotted a rabbit about that time and went yelping after it, thus alerting the Indians to the presence of the frontiersmen. The men were trapped in the trough between the mountain and the rain-swollen river. More than half of the frontiersmen were killed in the ensuing battle. The others, including Harness, swam across the swollen river to safety.
NOTE: In another account of "The Battle of the Trough", George Yokum, in an interview in the Draper papers (circa 1843) said that John Harness was wounded in the battle. He also said that even though the battle scene was only a mile from Van Meter's fort, and some of the men in the fort wanted to go to the aid of the eighteen frontiersmen during the battle, British Captain Thomas Waggener who was in command of the garrison at the fort at the time, not only refused to let them go, but ordered the fort gates closed and locked. As a result, the frontiersmen fleeing for their lives from the Indians had to run two miles or so to two other nearby forts to get to safety. Some time later, according to Yokum's account, Captain Waggener ordered some of the men involved in "The Battle of the Trough" whipped for having called Waggener a coward for not opening the gates of the fort and letting the men in to safety on the day of the battle.
From 1766 until the start of Dunmore's war in 1774, relative peace apparently prevailed on the frontier as far as Indian skirmishes were concerned. Professor Jacobs described it this way in the Kercheval book: "At the start of the year 1774, there existed between the settlers and the Indians a kind of doubtful, precarious and suspicious peace."
By 1774 John Harness appears to have become a member of Captain Michael Cresap’s informal company of frontiersman who engaged in a number of battles against Indians who, encouraged by the French, were hostile to the British settlement of the Ohio River Valley. Captain Cresap at the time had retired with his family to Maryland. But he became distressed about the inhabitants on the western frontier and their perilous situation. So he left his home and family, raised a company of volunteers, including John Harness, and marched to their assistance. Cresap's company was made up informally of backwoods Virginia frontiersmen, primarily from the South Branch area who, increasingly alarmed at the increasing number of Indian raids against frontier settlers in the Valley, and the safety of their families, armed themselves in self defense and went looking for hostile Indians and engaged them in sometimes very bloody battle. Cresap placed his troops under the command of Major Angus McDonald.
In one anecdote found in “A History of the Valley of Virginia” by Samuel Kercheval, a Reverend Mr. Jacobs tells about John Harness’ reported involvement in one of those skirmishes with a party of Indians and his apparent ability as a musket rifle sharpshooter.
According to the story, when Captain Cresap’s company of frontiersman arrived on the near bank of the Muskingum river (in Ohio country) and lay in wait....”an Indian on the opposite shore got behind a log or old tree, and lifted up his head occasionally to look at the white man’s encampment on the other side. One of Captain Cresap’s men, of the name of John Harness, seeing this, loaded his rifle with two balls and placing himself on the bank of the river, watched the opportunity when the Indian raised his head and, firing at the same instant, put both balls through the Indian’s neck, and laid him dead."
The Reverend Dr. Joseph Doddridge in the Kercheval history, recounts the same event, and notes that the Indians dragged off the body of the dead Indian "and buried it with the honors of war. It was found the next morning and scalped by Harness."
John Harness remained an active frontier rifleman in Captain Michael Cresap's company when the aggressive Royal Governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore, called out the colony's militia to crush the Ohio Indian tribes once and for all in 1774. Family legend has it that John Harness was among those present at the peace ceremony with Shawnee Chief Cornstalk near Chillicothe, Ohio on October 26, 1774 that brought an end to Dunmore’s War.
There are numerous modern day descendents who, in listing their ancestors on the internet who served in Dunmore's war, specifically mention that that ancestor served under Captain John Harness' company, (or in some cases, they call it Captain Harness' Rangers).
There are also numerous historical references by various sources to the Romney Pay Roll which lists a group of militia companies whose members were paid at Romney, West Virginia "for services performed in the 1774 excursion against the Indians," (Dunmore's War.) One, dated October 17, 1775, is said to be the list from Captain John Harness.
(The following abstract is taken from the records housed in the Archives Division of the Virginia State Library):
Captain John HARNESS October 17, 1775
John HARNESS, Captain Stephen RATCLIFF, Sergeant
Job WELTON, Lieutenant Makenny ROBINSON, Sergeant
Sylvester WARD, Ensign James Christy, Sergeant
ASHBY, Benjamin HICKS, John RATCLIFF, Edward
BARNETT, Edward HINKLE, Paul RATCLIFF, William
BORRER, Burgard HORNBACK, Benjamin RENNICK, James
BOGARD, Cornelius HORNBACK, James ROBERTS, Edward
BUSH, Leonard HORNBACK, John RYAN, James
BRYNS, Philip HORNBACK, Michael RYAN, John
CAMP, Richard HAWE, Sickman SCOTT, Benjamin
CARR, Conrad HYAR, John SELLERS, Frederick
CARR, John JOBE, Leonard SIMPSON, John
CARTWRIGHT, Samuel JOHNSON, John SIMPSON, Jonathan
CASEY, Benjamin JONSON, John STANGLEY, Jacob
CIMBELL, Lambert McCARTY, Edward SREEVE, James
CLARKE, Daniel McDONALD, James SREEVE, Joseph
CLARKE, Henry MILLER, John STROUD, Adam
CLARKE, John MILLER, Michael TERRY, George
CLERK, Abraham NASE, Henry WEASE, Adam
CRITES, Jacob PANCAKE, Joseph, Sr. WELTON, John
CROSS, Richard PANCAKE, Joseph, Jr. WERLY, John
DOYLE, Terrance PARENS, William WHETSTONE, George
ELZEWEEK, Thomas PARSON, Charles WHITMAN, George
FITZPATRICK, James PARSON, George WISE, Jacob
FOSTER, WILLIAM PAUGH, Michael WAGGONER, John
HALL, Zachariah PAUGH, Nicholas WOOD, Ebenezer
The American Revolution started shortly after the end of Dunmore's War but there is no verified evidence that John Harness ever actively served in the Continental Army itself. He would probably have been about 40 years of age at that time. An internet account by a Don Norman discusses a John Waggoner (whose name is on the list above). The account says that "John Waggoner appeared in Lewis County, Virginia Court August 7, 1832 regarding his service in the American Revolution. He stated that he was first drafted in 1778 to serve under Major Carroll Van Meter and Captain John Harness to join an expedition to Ohio to build Fort Lawrens. He served a tour of 6 months and 15 days and was discharged at McIntosh's Fort."
NOTE: Waggoner was apparently referring to Fort Laurens, built in late November, 1778 on the banks of theTuscarawas river near what is now Bolivar, Ohio. It was the only Revolutionary War fort in Ohio. General Lachlan McIntosh named it in honor of the president of the Continental Congress, Henry Laurens. Fort Laurens was an active American military post from November, 1778 until August, 1779. It was perceived by the British and their Indian allies as a serious threat. The Indians, Loyalists and British soldiers attacked the fort on numerous occasions. More than 20 American soldiers were killed there. Some of the soldiers who built the fort, remained there to defend it from the attacks.
In a publication entitled “West Virginians in the American Revolution”, there is a brief biography of a man named Nicholas Casey who indicates that he enlisted in a Virginia militia cavalry unit in April, 1781 “under First Lieutenant John Harness and Second Lieutenant Robert Cunningham” and was engaged in scouting and guard duty.
Other than those two accounts, nothing has been found to verify John Harness' service as a regular in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. It seems likely that Harness, with a rank of Lieutenant and later Captain, led a Virginia Militia company on one or more occasions during the Revolutionary War, probably in defense of the settlers on the western frontier.
All available information indicates that he returned to his home in Hardy County after the conclusion of Dunmore's War. He is listed as a Revolutionary War non-military patriot, providing beef from his farm for the Continental Army.
*Captain John Harness is listed in lineage books of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution in Volume 117, page 177, and Volume 125, page 49.
A manuscript in the Virginia State Library at
Richmond, copied by Anne Waller Reddy, names persons
who furnished supplies under the Commissioner of Provision
Law, the supplies to be applied to Continental purposes. John
Harness is listed as among those who provided beef. Several
of his brothers also are listed as non-military "loyalists" who also
provided beef or other goods and services for the Revolutionary
Indeed, one historian says that cattle from the settlers on the South Branch kept the Continental Army at Valley Forge from starvation. While that may be something of an exaggeration, the cattle contributions obviously played a major role in feeding the troops during that crucially seminal moment in American history.
John Harness’ will, dated July 25, 1806 and recorded and probated in Hardy County, West Virginia in June, 1810 following his death, indicates that Harness had accumulated a considerable amount of land, especially in Randolph County, just northeast of Hardy County, his place of residence at the time of his death. All, or at least a great deal of the land he had accumulated, is likely the result of government warrants and grants for his service in various militias and other military endeavors throughout his life.
NOTE: An index of abstracts of Patents and Grants in Rockbridge, Rockingham, Russell and Randolph Counties, Virginia indicates that John Harness on September 3, 1789 acquired 166 acres in Russell County, and several parcels of land in Randolph County dated August, 1796 amounting to a total of 1,087 acres, and an additional 107 acres dated December 26, 1800.
Harness bequeathed his widow, Eunice, one third of his whole estate, both real and personal. He bequeathed his son Adam “all my lands whereon I now live which are contained in one patent.” That provision apparently referred to Fort Harness in Fisher, (Hardy County) West Virginia.
He also beqeueathed son Adam half of a tract containing 900 acres along Black Water Creek in Randolph County. The other half of that tract he wanted sold at a public sale following his death.
There were several other properties in Randolph County that he bequeathed in his will.
He gave the children of his deceased daughter Rebecca (Cunningham) a tract of land of undetermined amount in an area known as Buffalo Lick Flat in Randolph County. He also wanted those children to divide among them a small survey of land of undetermined amount adjoining the property of John Yoacum on Lime Stone Ridge, also in Randolph County.
He bequeathed daughters Sarah (Cunningham) and Hanna (Hull) two tracts of land on Black Water Creek in Randolph County, to be divided equally between them. One of the tracts was about 500 acres, the other a small survey of undetermined amount.
He requested that a tract containing 160 acres of land on the flat ridge between the head of Black Water and Red Creeks in Randolph County be sold at a public sale following his death.
He bequeathed Elizabeth Exline what he called “the family tract” of 250 acres in Randolph County, adjoining the lands of Jacob and George Yoacum. According to the will, Elizabeth Exline was currently living on that tract of land.
Ms. Exline, who is believed to have been in her early 20’s when the will was written, had apparently been taken into the John Harness family as a child, following the murder of her father, George Exline, In Moorefield, West Virginia in 1801. It is not known why the Harness family took her into their family.
John Harness specifically provided in his will that “my sons George, Solomon, Joseph and the heirs of my son John and my daughter Elizabeth (Welton) shall have no part of my Landed Estate, they having heretofore received their full portion thereof.” That would seem to mean that he had provided them parts of his estate prior to writing his will.
Finally, he wanted “all the rest residue and remainder of my personal estate of what kind and nature so ever” bequeathed to his daughters Jeremiah (Cunningham), Elizabeth (Welton), Sarah (Cunningham), Hannah (Hull), son Joseph and the heirs of his deceased son John and deceased daughter Rebeccah (Cunningham)....each family to draw one share.