Michael Ernst Hörner (later known in America as Michael Harness,Sr.) was
born in 1701 in Unteröwisheim in the Baden region of Europe’s Rhenish (or Lower) Palatinate, and arrived in New York Harbor with his father Joachim Ernst Hörner, his mother Apollonia, and an older sister and brother, in June, 1710. They were among a group of Palatine German emigrant families from all along the Rhine river south of Heidelberg. They had travelled from their home in Germany to Rotterdam and sailed from there to London, and finally to America.
Professional historian and historical researcher John L.Tevebaugh
completed and published in 2001 an extensive research study of the life of the man earlier researchers had identified as “old Michael Harness” who lived in the early 1700’s in colonial Virginia . Tevebaugh’s well documented study, which reveals, among other things, that old Michael’s surname was actually Ernst, may be found at:http://www.wvgenweb.org/hardy/harness/harness.htm
In 2002 Tevebaugh completed a detailed analysis of new information that documents the exact birth date, place, parentage and other information concerning Michael Ernst Hörner (later known as Michael
That information and analysis may be found at:
Much of the information on this notes page reflects the information in the two Tevebaugh research papers cited above.
After their arrival in the New York colony, Michael and his parents and siblings lived at first in an emigrant camp on Nutten Island (today’s Governor’s Island) in New York Harbor. The children’s father, Joachim, died only a month or so after his arrival in America, at West Camp, a Palatine emigrant camp on the Hudson river in Ulster County, New York. It is likely that his mother, Apollonia, died in October of that year, also probably at West Camp.
According to historian Tevebaugh’s research, New York Governor Robert Hunter, on November 23, 1710 apprenticed Michael’s older brother, Conrad (then age 15) to a New York City man (Enoch Freeland), leaving Michael, under the age of 10, by himself to find a new “home”. By the end of December, 1710, Tevebaugh’s research indicates that Michael appears to have joined the subsistence list of his sister, Margaretha and her new husband, Johannes Keyser, probably at West Camp, north of present day Saugertus in Ulster County, New York. Michael apparently remained with his sister and her husband at least until the end of September, 1712.
New York Governor Hunter stopped subsistence payments to the Palatine emigrants after 1712, and the Keyser family left West Camp on the Hudson river and eventually moved to Stone Arabia Patent along the Mohawk river, according to Tevebaugh’s research.
Sometime between 1722 and 1725, Michael Ernst (later known as Michael Harness Sr.) , in his early 20’s, was among a group of Palatine emigrants who left New York state for the Tulpehocken Settlement in what was then Chester County, Pennsylvania (later Berks County)
Michael Ernst is listed on the January, 1725 tax assessment list as a landowner in Tulpehocken Creek Township. His farm land adjoined Tulpehocken Creek and was east of a lot owned by Conrad Dieffenbach, whose daughter, Elizabeth, Michael had married a year or so earlier, probably at one of the settlement’s in New York state, but possibly after he arrived in Tulpehocken. It is believed that seven of the couple’s 13 children were born at Tulpehocken Township in Pennsylvania. The other 6 were born in Virginia, probably in Frederick County.
Maria Elizabetha Dieffenbach left the Rhenish Palatinate for America with her family on May 15, 1709, according to researcher John Tevebaugh. Elizabeth was born sometime before 1705 in Wiesloch, Baden. She was one of three children. She and her mother and siblings were with her father for a few years after their arrival in America, living first in a Palatine settlement along the Scholarie river in the New York colony, near present day Albany. About 1724 they made their way to the Tulpehocken Creek settlement in Pennsylvania. She and Michael are believed to have married sometime around 1723, probably at a New York Palatine settlement, but perhaps in Tulpehocken. NOTE:
Michael was known by several surnames (and combinations of surnames) over the years. According to researcher John L.Tevebaugh, when Michael arrived in New York as an emigrant he was “Johann Michael Ernst Hörner.” In 1733, in Tulpehocken, Pa, he was sometimes known as “Michael Ernst Krafft-Hörner.”. When his daughter was baptized in the South Branch Valley of VA in 1743, he was again “Johann Michael Ernst Hörner.” He was referred to in several documents in Pennsylvania in 1725, 1727 and 1732 as simply “Michael Ernst.” He went by that name when Moravian missionaries visited him on the South Branch in 1749. He also identified himself as “Michael Ernst” in his 1779 will. (see entire will later in this file). With a few exceptions, all of his children were always identified by the surname “Harness.”
How did Ernst become Harness?
Here is how researcher Tevebaugh thinks the name transition might have happened:
The closest name to Ernst in English was probably Ernest (or Earnest). Those surnames appear often on documents with Michael’s given name after he arrived in South branch.
Englishmen often drop the initial “H” from their spoken words, but include it when writing. A final “t” often would not be said very distinctly and the English ear would not be expecting it combined in the harsh German ”st” sound. So the written result in the 1750’s and 1760’s moved easily away from Ernst to Earnst, to Earness, to Herness and eventually to Harness.
Researcher Tevebaugh says that Michael was involved in a long war of attrition with Virginia record-keepers over his surname. Hampshire County Clerk Andrew Woodrow during the proving of Michael’s will changed the identification of it by lining out the “Ernst” written in the proof notification and inserted “Harness”.
Researcher Gary A. Schaefer has another theory on how “Ernst” became “Harness” shortly after the family’s arrival in America. He says that in spoken and written German (and depending on when) there is a gender bias in surnames. The male names will get a “s” or “tz” ending added to them when spoken that may or may not belong there when written. He says it varies from town to town and duchy to duchy but it is there. So, within a community of German speaking people “Hörner”, which would sound like “Harner” anyway, with a typical German male ending could easily sound like ‘Harners’, and easily be written down by the English-speaking registrar of the new emigrants as “Harness”.
We will never know whether either explanation or some other one is correct. But we do know that somehow in the translation from German to English “Ernst” or “Harners” got written down as “Harness.” And that became the family’s new name, although Michael Ernst Harness never accepted the new surname and til his death identified himself as “Ernst.” His children, however, seem to have had no trouble adopting the new name of “Harness.”
Family tradition has it that while a resident of Tulpehocken Township Michael learned of a valley along the South Branch of the Potomac river (known then as the Wappocomo) in Virginia from four men who had been sent out from Winchester, VA in 1737 to make an initial survey of the vast estate inherited by Lord Fairfax.*
Major William Mayo was the head of that survey expedition. He represented King George I, while the other 3 men represented Lord Fairfax. Their survey result provided the first useful map of the region. The favorable report of this initial survey in some way reportedly came to the attention of old Michael Ernst Harness, Sr. and some of his friends. In the spring of 1738 Michael along with Mathias Yoakum and George Stump, according to family tradition, set out to see for themselves whether the South Branch Valley of the Potomoc would be a suitable new home for them and their families to settle. They are said to have set out from Winchester. George Yocum, grandson of Mathias Yocum (Yoakum) in an interview contained in the Draper Papers, said the three men “came by way of Winchester, then up Big Capon, Lost River and to the mountain (probably the South Branch mountain). Crossing over the mountain they came to the south fork of the South Branch.”
NOTE: The mountains east of the Alleghenies (Blue Ridge, etc.) were for the most part pierced by gaps and passes that made it unnecessary in most cases to actually climb the mountains.
According to family tradition, Michael, Sr. and his family settled on a large tract of land on the west bank of the South Branch of the Potomac river. The land was said to have been located between Buzzard’s Ford, which is near the modern-day Fisher community to the west of Moorefield, West Virginia, to a place now known as Mike’s Ford about five miles to the south. Michael’s original “tomahawk” land claim may have stretched 3 or 4 miles along the west side of the river and may have included at least some land on the opposite side of the river, although none of this has been verified by researchers.
The land on which Michael staked his claim was within the boundaries of Lord Fairfax’s South Branch Manor, although it is not clear whether Michael was aware of that initially. Like others on the South Branch, he simply moved onto the land and claimed it as his own.
Lord Fairfax’s South Branch Manor encompassed virtually all of the Valley south of the Trough into present day Grant County, West Virginia. Historian John Tevebaugh said that eventually, in 1773, Michael Harness, Sr., obtained a lease from Lord Fairfax on at least a portion of his original land claims. While the original lease has never been found in the South Branch Manor or Hampshire County records, Tevebaugh said it is acknowledged and quoted from in a later lease dated December 22, 1780. It can be found in Hampshire County, VA., Deeds, Vol. 5 (1779-1781), p. 153, in which “Michael Harness, Sr.(Ernst)” conveyed to his son, Jacob, a parcel of land “lying and being on the South Branch whereon I now live, which I hold by a lease from the Right Honourable Thomas Lord Fairfax dated Aug. 3, 1773 and containing 249 acres”. And so many years after he had moved onto the land, Michael, Sr. started paying rent to Lord Fairfax, at least on the 249 acres, which would appear to be his original homestead, Lot # 49 on the west bank of the South Branch. But by that time some of Michael’s sons occupied nearby lots totaling over 400 acres, probably part of the original land claimed by Michael, Sr. as early as 1739.
NOTE: Researcher Tevebaugh says that the earliest confirmed date for Michael being on the South Branch is December 31, 1742, but he concedes that the family could have been there a year or so earlier.
Members of the Harness family built a small family fortification by 1750 which was called Harness’ fort in several references in George Washington’s papers. Washington was head of the Virginia militia at that period in time. Harness’ fort was located southeast of today’s Moorefield, West Virginia as a family fortification against Indian raids.
In the summers of 1756 and 1757 during the French and Indian War, Fort Harness was ordered garrisoned by Colonel George Washington, commander of the Virginia militia, to help protect South Branch settlers in that area from increasing Indian attacks. In May, 1756, 50 men were garrisoned at Fort Harness.
NOTE: *Fort Harness is referenced (as "Harnesses fort" )a number of times in The Papers of George Washington-The Colonial Series, the original of which is housed at the University of Virginia.
Remnants of old Fort Harness remained standing until early 2010 but it was then known as “Water Edge Farm”, about 3 and a half miles southwest of Moorefield, WV in a community on the west side of the Potomoc known as Fisher. Old Fort Harness formed the central portion of the existing house structure in 2010 when the entire building was destroyed by fire. Fort Harness/Water Edge Farm passed to the Fisher family in a series of transactions between 1830-33 and Fisher family descendants still owned the property, according to Mike Crites of Moorefield, who was raised in the area, and has done research on the history of some of the original property owners in the Fisher community.
According to family tradition, Michael Harness, Sr.and several members of his family were buried at a family graveyard located on a hill in back of their log cabin ( which he called Hawthorne) , but no trace of that cemetery has ever been found. Hawthorne was located just over a mile from Fort Harness.Historian John Tevebaugh said that 1802 and 1877 Hardy County deed books indicate that the 154 acre lot (or “farmlet” as Lord Fairfax called it ) on which Hawthorne was located, known as Lot # 54 in Lord Fairfax’s South Branch Manor, was conveyed on August 3, 1773 by “Lord Fairfax to Michael Harness and Catharine his wife and Elizabeth his sister,and the longest liver of them renewable…fprever.” This Michael Harness was the son of Adam Harness and grandson of Michael Harness, Sr. Tevebaugh said that the original 1773 deed is among many missing Hampshire County deeds from that period, but it is clearly referenced and summarized in the two later Hardy County deed books. (Tevebaugh said the 1802 deed can be found in Hardy County, Deeds, Book # 5, pp.474-7 while the 1877 deed can be found in Hardy County,Deeds, Book #32, p. 44 ), Lot # 54 changed hands many times over ensuing years. The 1802 document indicates it was sold by Michael Harness and his wife to William Cunningham, Sr. whose wife was Jemima Harness, a daughter of Michael Harness, Sr’s son, John Harness. It changed hands many times in the ensuing years.
Hawthorne, or at least a shell of it, remained standing into the 1970’s when it was finally torn down becaise pf severe termite damage, according to researcher Mike Crites who lives in nearby MoorefieldNOTE:
Benjamin F. VanMeter, in his book “Genealogies and Sketches of Some Old Families Who Have Taken A Prominent Part In the Development of Virginia and Kentucky,” first published in 1901, said of the Harness family on the South Branch: “The Harness family were not only enterprising, but a fearless, daring and reckless family. Three of Michael’s sons were scalped by the Indians, and the family had many reckless adventures and narrow escapes.”
. NOTE: According to research by Sara Stevens Patton, entitled Men and Manors in the South Branch Valley, between 1745 and 1797 the South Branch Valley lay within the boundaries of the Fairfax "Northern Neck" land grant, bordered on the north by the Potomac River and in the south by the Hardy-Rockingham county border, extended through Cabins, WV to the headwaters of the northern branch of the Potomac. Within this South Branch portion of his proprietary lands, Lord Fairfax created at least four separate tracts or manors including the South Branch Manor, the South Fork, the Wappacomo or Great South Branch of the Potowmack (sic), and the Patterson Creek Manor. Each was subdivided into lots of a few hundred acres, most leased out for the term of 21 years or the life of the tenant, at an annual fee of 25 shillings per hundred acres. Other researchers say that Lord Fairfax kept 561 acres in Patterson Creek Manor for himself. His lot(s) fronted on both sides of the river, according to most reference sources.
Michael and Elizabeth (Dieffenbach) Harness had 13 children (9 sons and 4 daughters.) The children and their siblings intermarried with the Cunningham’s, Stump’s, Rennick’s, Rohrbaugh’s, Yoakum’s, Van Meter’s, and Kuykendall’s.
NOTE: Some researchers believe that Michael’s wife, Elizabeth Dieffenbach, died around 1753 and that Michael shortly thereafter married another woman who also had the first name of Elizabeth. Other researchers disagree and say that Michael’s wife, Elizabeth Dieffenbach, lived a decade or so after her husband’s death and that he never had a second wife. Later research may resolve the matter. For the present, the best available information would seem to indicate that Elizabeth Dieffenbach was Michael’s only wife.
Michael Ernst Harness, Sr. and several of his sons and grandsons had become substantial cattlemen on the South Branch by the late 18th century. Based on 1782 Hampshire County tax lists the Harness family collectively had at least 150 head of cattle and 93 horses at that time. After members of the Harness and Renick families headed west to Ohio Country and established cattle raising operations there early in the 19th century, an ongoing business relationship, including cattle breeding and marketing to major eastern population centers like Philadelphia, appears to have developed between the Renicks and Harness families of Ohio and those who remained in Virginia.
Michael, Sr.’s sons Peter and Leonard seem to have farmed on a much smaller scale than their father and brothers. They each had only a few cattle and horses in the years they lived on the South Branch. Both would leave Virginia and head west, Leonard and his family becoming early pioneers in Illinois Country, and Peter and his family going west to the new state of Ohio.
In 1782, Michael was taxed in Hampshire County, VA as owning 14 slaves, 39 cattle and 24 horses. He also appears in the 1782 and 1784 census of Hampshire County. In his will Michael left his wife 2 slaves, one-third of his property and one-third of “other effects and moveables” along with one third of the money. He gave a slave to his son, Peter. He bequeathed the rest of his property, slaves, farm tools and livestock to his youngest son, Jacob. Michael then divided the rest of the money equally among all of his children and 2 grandchildren.
A ‘Widow Harness” (apparently Elizabeth Dieffenbach) is listed in the 1785 tax list of Hampshire County (the year after Michael’s will was proved) as possessing 2 slaves, 4 horses and 19 head of cattle. In 1786 “Widow Harness” was taxed as owning 83 acres of land in what had now become Hardy County, WVA. That tax listing continued under the name ‘Elizabeth Harness” through 1796, according to researcher Tevebaugh.
Miichael Harness, Sr. lived to see the British colonies become a sovereign nation (United States) in 1776. But he died about four years before George Washington was inaugurated as president of the new nation.
The following is a typed copy of the will of Michael (Ernst) Harness, Sr. transcribed by John L.Tevebaugh on May 22, 2000: THE WILL OF MICHAEL ERNST HöRNER
(later known as MICHAEL HARNESS, SR.)
[p. 1] In the Name of God, Amen. I. Michael Ernest.
of the South Branch, in the County of Hampshire, State,
of Virginia, being in Good health at present, an[d] Considering
the uncertenty of Humen Life and that it is Nesessary for
all Persons while the[y] have the happeness to Enjoy their Sences
& Memory perfect, to Set[t]le and Dispose of their affairs, in
Such manner, as may Prevend[t], any Dispute, or Lawsuits
after their Death, amongst their Freinds and Relation[s]. I
Therefore to prevent the Same as Much as Possible in my
own Family And Dispose of my Estate in man[n]er Following
First. I Recom[m]ant[d] my Body after my Decise[decease] to the Earth from
whence it Came, to be Buriet[d] in a Decent Man[n]er, and my
Soul unto my He[a]venly Father, and it is my Disire that all
my Funeral Expence and other Lawfull Debts to be paid
as Sun[soon] as Convinient Can be Done after my Decise[Decease]//
Item I. Give and Devise unto my beloved Wife Elizabeth
one Third pard[t] of my Pland[t]ation, Massuage or Tenement
Ordgard and all belonging do[to] it. Induring[and during] hir[her] Life, as also
Two Slaves, one Negro Man Named Manuel. & one wench
Named Rachel to Labour for hir During hir Life. And if
Said wench Should Bear any Children, the one halfe of
them to be my Wife’s own for hir and hir Heirs for Ever.
And after hir Decise[decease], The above Named Manuel & Rachel
and the other Halfe Increas[e] of Said Negro[‘]s Childern to be
Returned unto My Son, Jacob Harness, to be his own for him
and his Heirs for Ever. And I give [and] Devise also to my
beloved Wife the one Third of all my other Effects, or Moveables
and also hir Thirds in the Mony Left by me, to be hir own for
Item. I. give Feoff[possession of land] and Devise unto my You[n]gest son Ja[xed out]
Jacob Harness my Plantation, DwellingHouse, Baron
Ordgard and all utent[s]ials of Husbandry, & all the Household
Furniture (my Wifes part Exepptet), the Living Stock
[ p. 2] As also my Shlaves, ex[c]ept one for Peter, in Short he is to
have Every thing Left by me on the Plantation and he is Like=
vice to have one Equel part of the Money Left by me, and
This is for the Good Cause, and Reason, that I have Furnishet[d]
and Suployed[supplied]my Elder Sons with Land and other Necasaries
before in Former Times, all to be his with out any Mollastation
Item I Give and Bequeath to my Son John Harness, one
Equel Part of the Money Left by me, for him and his
Heirs for Ever and no more//
Item I Give and Bequeath to my Son George Harness one
Equel part in the money Left by me to be for his
Share for Ever and no more//
Item I Give and Bequeath to my Son Leonert[d] Harness one
part of the money Left by me to be for his Share for Ever
and no more//
Item I Give and Bequeath to my Son Peter Harness one
Negro Named Will. as[and] also one Part of the money
Left by me for his Share to be his own for him and
his Heirs for Ever.
Item I give and Bequeath to my Gran Son Michael Herness
and his Sister Elizabeth Robinson one Equel Share
of the money Left by me, to be Dividet[d] amongst
them for their part and no more//
Item I Give and Bequeath to my beloved Daughters
Elizabeth Yoakem & and Barbara Zee &
Lickevice and: Dorothea Horn[b]eck & and
Margaretha Trumbo Likevice. Each one of
Them, to have on[e] Equel Part, or share in the
money Left by me, To be Equelly Dividet[d] amongst
all my Childern, above here Mentionet[d]
[ p. 3]
And Lastly I Do here by Nominate & Opoint[appoint] my Son
John Harness, and my SonenLaw Samuel Hornbeck
Whole and Sole Executors of this my Last Will and
And I Do Here by Revoke and Mak Void all Former
Wills, Declaring this to be my Last Will & Testament
and no other. In Wittness where of I have here
unto Set my hand Sign and Seal This
Day one Thousend Seven hundert and Seventy
Signed Sealed, and Pupplishet
by the Testator in presence his
of us Michael ME Ernest
Anthony Baker mark
At a Court held for Hampshire County this [8th] Day of March 1785
This last Will & Testament of Michael [Ernst lined out] Harness dec’ed was
presented in Court by John Harness one of the Executors therein named an[d] proved
by the Oaths of Joseph Petty & Jacob Yoakam Witnesses thereto and Ordered
to be recorded, and on the Motion of the Said Executor who made Oath
according to Law[,] Certificate is granted him for obtaining a Probate
thereof [in due] Form giving Security. Whereupon he together
with Jacob Yoakam & Daniel Teverbaugh his Securities entered
into and acknowledged Bond in the penalty of Five Thousand Pounds for his due and
faithful Administration of
the said Decedant’s Estate & performance of his Will.
And Wodrow Co. Cur[Clerk]
This last portion and a spot or two earlier were damaged in the original copy, so copy was taken from the Will Book. The entire will was copied into Hampshire County, Virginia, Will Book 2 (1780-1794), pages 110-112 [the index reference is to page 111], from the original which was presented as shown above, and ordered to be recorded. The copyist altered spelling and changed capitalization in many, many places, but did not alter the names or meaning at any point. The original will has, written on the verso of the third page:
“ Last Will and
For Michael Ernest
Recorded & Exam.d
Maid[sic.] in the Year
Recorded / Will Bk 1-22
Examined / Page 18 “
There is another so-called “Will Book” copy of this will in a book of Hampshire County miscellaneous wills [but with no appraisals or sales], 1756 through 1860, but only for deceased with surnames A-J. This is all typed! It is labeled Hampshire County Wills, Vol. 1, but it is not the volume 1 there should have been. On page 15 of that book, Michael Harness’s will was entered, but without some sections [eg., slaves], and with name spellings “corrected[read, confused]” and word order changed.
John L. Tevebaugh
22 May 2000